The Memory of a Memory by Marc A. Criley

I crack time. Part the seam, step into gray-green gloom. I wait as eyes adjust, hear the seam flutter closed. Bookshelves line the corridor, extend into the past. Shelves crammed with books, spines to the wall, smelling of ozone and rose water. Hardcovers, paperbacks, trades, loose leaf. The past as hardcopy, minutes pressed against minutes, fossilizing through time.

Hand-inked bookboard sign hangs from the ceiling: “Uhrbuch Collections”.

***

I walk along the shelved past, brush fingers across fore edges emanating hot/cold/wet/arid. I touch history, literally touch history, re-experience its shadow. I seek a specific time, a specific place. Close my eyes, tactile sensations only. Seek by touch. I feel the beat of seasons, fingertips warmed and chilled. Zeroing in on a humidity, an odor of grass and burnt rubber, hot black asphalt, a child’s still warm skin, slick blood.

***

This is the book—the uhrbuch.

Squealing brakes, dull thud and muffled crack. My beautiful baby boy, smashed on star-halo glass, rasped by asphalt and gravel. Become a baby rag doll before my eyes.

Over and over in my dreams. My waking dreams, my sleeping dreams. I lost my footing that day. Swimming against a riptide of memory each day, every day. Cannot move on—failed so many days, so many ways.

Until today. I can do this. Cut one page—cut one day. The memory of a memory is sufficient.

***

I find it in hardcover. Hoped for loose leaf—simply spread the covers, find the page, snap/pop. Out and over and done. Hardcovers are hard. But I prepared. A craft knife, my “time cutter.” Spring clamp holds a laser-cut, laser-honed hook-tip blade.

I push a fingernail in, twist to spread a gap. Force space for a finger, for two, for three. Fingers brush black asphalt, gravel, grass blades, curly hair. I stifle a gasp, choke a sob. Between the pages I slip the knife, seesaw to the binding, millimeter by millimeter.

I still my breath, hold the blade—flush to the binding—count one-two-three. Just like I practiced.

Draw up firmly and without hesitation.

I catch the severed page. It is hard to see, to read in the gloom of the stacks. Raised ink, ever so slight, forms dim letters, symbols, codes, line drawings. The shade of my son, in midair; myself, uncomprehending. The page crackles and whispers: a crunch, squealing brakes, a howling come to engulf my soul. No more. This leaf will crumble, a page of memory crumbling to dust and fiber. I exhale, loosen my grip, let it flutter to the floor, let it flutter to dust.

My fingers slip from the book.

***

Pages burst from hardcovers. I jam my hands against the thrumming blizzard. Panicked sobs as pages scatter. The binding is torn. My blade. I cut too deep, severed the binding of time and memory. Time compacts the past, ejects unbound memories.  An avalanche of memories. I can’t catch them. There’s no time. I can’t remember them all again.

Those weeks, months, that year? All fade. Sharing a glass of wine, a fancy burger, a bed warm as fresh bread; my child’s last, best birthday, Christmas morning under crystal stars, strewn wrapping paper, bows, squealing joy; spring peepers calling out an unseasonal February twilight. Pages cascade, splash at my feet. I flail, grab at crumpling memories, fading, dissipating, un-recollected memories.

***

I don’t remember dropping to my knees.

Pages crack and tear, I claw up what I can.

Happy Hour beers and anchovy pizza, Band-id on my child’s knee, kissing a forehead, a car too cold to start, calling in sick, playing Chinese checkers.

My hands gnarl into fists.

I gasp, “The memory . . .”

Pages turning to fragments, turning, to flakes, turning, to dust.

“. . . of a memory . . .”

An undone binding, something I once remembered.

“. . . is sufficient.”

END

Marc A. Criley avidly read fantasy and science fiction for over forty years before deciding to try his hand at it. He has since been published in Beneath Ceaseless Skies and Abyss & Apex (with more forthcoming), so rest assured it is never too late to start writing. Marc and his wife “manage” a household of cats, along with Tammy the Dog, in the hills of North Alabama. Find him on Twitter as @That_MarcC or www.kickin-the-darkness.com