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Wilted

A Short Story

A sun soaked afternoon found a man lying in bed beside his wife. His body laid in purgatory, exhausted and unable to ascend to a world above the bed sheets. As his tired gaze fixed on a bookcase he grew saddened at the sight of all the books he had bought but never read. Lost in bibles of thought he held his wife’s hand tightly as if he was afraid of her sinking into the decade old mattress. His wife laid her head on his tense chest, and in a contrasting state of comfort, her body rested like oil paint on canvas. While the man took to bed to recharge himself for the next wave of chores his wife took to bed to meditate on the blessings of a warm fall day. She looked outside the window and although restrained by bones and concrete the light palpitations of her heartbeat competed with the sun to play a symphony with the chirpings birds and swaying trees. Time passed to reveal a gap in the clouds and the man caught a glimpse of the shadows casted by the sun. As if practice and looking in different directions, they both exclaimed in unison “The trees are very beautiful today”.

***

Laughter filled the dining hall as a pair of forks stuck into potatoes became dancing feet. Paying homage to Charlie Chaplin, Derrick’s heart warmed as he enticed the joyful smiles of his family. It was thanksgiving and the Getzs’ were having their annual meal of roasted potatoes and stuffed turkey. The aromatics of the home-cooked meal evoked a sense of nostalgia for the 71-year-old Derrick, and he hoped that his kids would remember this dinner and too, one day, find solace in reminiscence. 7 decades of life saw a happy marriage, a fruitful career and many grandkids for Derrick. A natural born leader he cruised through his years positively impacting everyone around him. He was loved as a father and a friend, and praised as an innovator, and a scholar. But none of that mattered to Derrick. He was content with his life and the path he paved for his children, he sought nothing more than being with his family, and the opening of his curtains in the morning to reveal the inspiring firmament. “This turkey looks absolutely astounding” said Derrick as he reaches for the plated bird. He dug in carelessly, and his life ended in a 7-minute decrescendo, conducted by a turkey bone.

***

His vision clouded clear, as though covered by a cotton bedsheet. His thoughts explored the absurd cruelty of his circumstances, his ordered limerick of life. He was prepared to accept what had happened once the sheets cleared, but when the moment came he found himself strapped to what seemed like a fabric-wrapped steel cot. “What happened? How did I get here?”. The haze of confusion lingered, sinking his surroundings as though through a reverb pedal. He breathed deeply, and was shocked to feel the rush of air to his lungs. He contemplated his history of youth and vitality, and as his rib cage expanded, contracted, he felt the long unfamiliar feeling of morning runs during his 20s. He felt years slip off of his shoulders like freshly mixed cement. He figured he must be drugged, just like morphine drip when he’d had his appendix removed, but he looked to his inner elbows and found his veins unpolluted. His arms felt heavy, but they looked much lighter than he remembered, and in the fluorescent panel lighting his age-whitened arm hairs appeared almost black. He made the calculated guess that this was not how light usually functioned. This wasn’t his body, and in fairness, it hardly felt like his mind.

It was a whole 6 hours before the man trained himself to deny his own name. Derrick, as the hospital staff had explained in response to his yell, was not his identity, but an immersive virtual reality simulation he had signed up for 9 months prior. Clearly disturbed by the surrealism of his situation the man was driven home with hopes that he would find consolation in a place of comfort. But when he arrived he was hit with a wave of grief at the sight of his trashed co-op apartment. He made his way to the living room as one would wade through a shallow pond. As he traversed the shallow depths of pizza boxes and empty liquor bottles he spotted a video tape. The unassuming recording of footage became a lighthouse mysteriously guiding the man towards it. He picked it up, impatiently shoved it into the tape player and pressed play.

“Hey, how are you doing buddy?... You can’t really answer me… Jesus, I feel like an absolute idiot. Anyways the doctor told me to make this video, a precaution for amnesia or something, they said you still won’t remember anything but that this will help you feel more comfortable… So here we go… my name… Our name I guess is Xavier, we are 35 years old. We used to work at the café downtown... you know the one that sells those espresso muffins… god we downed 6 of those at once one time to spite our boss for telling us we can’t eat in front of the customers… ah shit you have no idea what I’m talking about… I apologize I may have had a few drinks, this wasn’t an easy decision… you see our wife Cheryl just left us. Beautiful, intelligent women. Jesus, she was everything, you know… and when you lose everything, you got nothing. So we signed up for this “virtual reality experience” as they call it, apparently it’ll let us experience a different identity, live in someone else’s shoes for a while you know? ah you know better than me you already lived it… I don’t know how this will turn out but I need to forget about this-”

Xavier was unable to take in any more information, he rolled x a v i e r off of his tongue slowly, then quickly, backwards, as many times as it took to swallow all 6 letters. His name couldn’t’ve felt any more foreign, he felt as though he might’ve been informed that he was not a person, but rather a small Icelandic village. Xaviertown. Still, he felt some of himself return, and he knew that what he needed was wholeness. For this, he would have to find his wife. The air surrounding his ankles felt like 2-centimeter scale tornadoes, his heels rooted at the eye. He stumbled forward regardless, not noticing the storm at his feet tearing splinters from the floorboards. How does one - when one has no memory of his past and no sense of self - find a lost person from that forgotten past?

Xavier collected scraps of paper, notebooks, scribbled-on envelopes stuck to the refrigerator, scanning every word for remnants of his wife. He found, through hours of collection, three pieces of paper evidence concerning his wife; a wedding photo listing their names as Xavier and Cheryl Murphy, a letter from an assumed old friend that referenced his wife’s affinity for figure skating, and a slip of paper in an empty tape case reading “Cheryl and Xavier Halloween 2009” in writing too clean to be his own. Finally, he located the heaviest address listing book he could find, skimmed to Cheryl Murphy, and started for the address.

One shoe in front of the other, a perfected rhythm of footsteps propelled Xavier through the streets. Gaze fixed on the names of the streets, Westminster, 21st, Grange, he suddenly felt a large force coming into contact with his lower abdomen. He looked down and met the eyes of a young child. Xavier felt his rib cage clamp like a Venus fly trap, hit with a swarm of various emotions. The grounded child bore a striking resemblance to Derrick’s son. He tried to speak but his voice escaped into feint whimpers. His mouth felt like a confused mess of tooth and tongue, he stood there and stared at the boy as a father would a son after years of being apart. Before he had a chance to recollect his thoughts the boy broke the silence, “Are you ok mister”, he slowly got back to his feet. “Sorry” said Xavier, “I’m truly sorry you just reminded me of someone I know”. “Of course I do”, said the child, “I’m superman” he looked down to his blue and red t shirt. Xavier caught by surprise replied, “I guess you are”. The child picked up a sweater from the ground that he had dropped, draped it over his shoulders and ran away, the sweater cape chased after him with a majestic quality. “Sorry about that”, Xavier looked to see a woman who must have been the child’s mother. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him he wasn’t a superhero either, kids you know, you gotta let them be everything and anything, and hope that something sticks with them.” As she spoke a light unknown accent sounded through. The women walked after the child, face glued into a smile, and left Xavier in a trance of thought, be everything and anything.

Xavier arrived in front of his wife’s house. After taking a moment to regain his thoughts he struck the mahogany door, withering at the slight sensation of pain, he had realized that he was getting use to his body as his movements were no longer fatigued and limp. He awaited a response but after 5 minutes of countless knocks there was no answer. Disappointed Xavier walked away only to hear the door open behind him. He turned around quickly, as though he had just heard his name being called from a distance, straining his neck and coming face to face with an elderly woman. “ah you must be the cleaning lady”, said the archaic woman. Xavier experienced a moment of bewilderment, which abruptly ended as he escaped into a fit of restrained chuckles. He didn’t correct the woman’s mistake, and realized that his wife must have moved away a long time ago. “My bad I am a cleaning lady but this is not the house, you have a good day miss”, said Xavier and he made his way back home, one shoe in front of the other.

Back in his co-op Xavier spent countless hours making use of his reborn back and cleaning his apartment. Having no sentimentality with anything in his home, he had no difficulty throwing every undesirable addition out. His old notebooks and letters found a place with the pizza boxes and empty bottles in the garbage. The exhaustive work brought the night time and Xavier retreated into the room he guessed must have been where he slept. He walked in to find a bookcase completely stacked with books. “At least I get to read these books again”, thought Xavier. He picked up the first book in his sight and as he got into bed he noticed a window, outside of which were the most beautiful trees he had ever seen.

science fiction
Bennie Trang
Bennie Trang
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