The Curse of the Silver Lining

Submitted into Contest #75 in response to: Write about someone whose job is to help people leave their old lives behind.... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction

He could erase your mind if you asked. Every drop of memory, from deeply imbedded past lives to your latest thought about the most recent news report. He could erase all of it. But you wouldn’t know it, unless you knew to ask.

His massage suite was just off 85th and Lex. Very unassuming, as most small businesses are in New York City; you wouldn’t necessarily even know it was there unless you read the listing on the sign: Baden’s Bodywork, LLC, Suite 5, 2nd floor.

He had a steady business; he was a talented therapist with a solid following, many repeat customers and a business built solely through word of mouth. Some say he was gifted in deep healing. Others simply supposed he was a nice treat post-workout. The distinction seemed to depend on the person’s level of self-awareness, and not much else.

When it came to memory erasing, this was Robert Baden’s incarnate gift – or curse, depending on how you viewed it – and for the past 20 years he had been committed to this hidden undertaking. He didn’t really have a choice, as most gifts – or curses, depending on how you viewed them – are not ours to choose. Mondays through Saturdays, Robert was a normal human being with a balanced life of work and play, but on Sundays, he was bound to this destined obligation, offering what he began to call some time ago, Acts of Forgetment.

The Sunday darkness started on Robert’s 21st birthday. He had been out late that Saturday night, celebrating with his mates down in the East Village, only to stagger to one of their flats in the wee hours of the next morning for more after-hour celebrations. The had just stumbled through the door when, as the sun rose to the horizon’s peak, Robert immediately dropped to his knees in unspeakable agony. His body trembled and convulsed on the outside, while on the inside, pain shot like daggers through his bones and black blood boiled through his veins; the darkness had arrived. As he writhed on the floor, his friends stood in shock; it was only when Robert went completely limp that one friend sobered up just enough to call an ambulance.

But despite Robert’s poor state, tests at the hospital showed nothing. Nothing wrong, no signs of trauma, not even a heightened heart rate; and when they released him Monday morning, he himself felt no evidence of anything gone wrong.

But the same scenario repeated itself again the following Sunday, and again on the next. The darkness seemed to rise with the sun, and depart when it set.

On this third Sunday, a stranger showed up to make the darkness go away. He was a simple old man, with wise, old eyes and a stoic sense about him. When Robert was able to open the door, the old man just stood there, as if waiting, not for an invite in, but rather an insight, or sign as to what to do next. Holding nothing other than a small satchel in his left hand, he did and said nothing. But when Robert convulsed again, the old man let himself in. 

Despite his reserved arrival, upon entry he got straight to work, moving furniture around, creating space in the front room for Robert’s only two armchairs to face each other. He picked up Robert with incredible ease, and placed his almost lifeless body in one chair, and sat down calmly in the other. He then opened his satchel, and with care pulled out a long, silver thread. It was much thicker than regular thread, even thicker than yarn, but not quite as broad as rope. It glistened whether light hit it or not, and although it was heavier than it looked, its density seemed more visceral than palpable. Unlike a silver chain, it had no links. More similar to liquid metal, the tangible thread seemed to flow to the touch. And from beginning to end, the line itself was 1.7 meters, or five feet and five inches, no more, no less.

With careful intent, he placed the ends of the thread in Robert’s limp hands, one in each, and held gently on to the middle with both of his. In that moment, it was quite the juxtaposed scene: a catatonic Robert draped in an armchair, where the only signs of life were his fixed, open eyes, staring at the old man, and the old man himself, who was sitting upright and on the edge of his chair, with his fingers relaxed and the line draped thoughtfully across his open palms.

And the next moment happened in less than an instant.

The old man closed his eyes, grasped the silver lining, and spoke in a deep, clear voice, “Please help me remember, so I do not forget.” Robert’s hands reflexively grasped the ends of the line, his body jolted in a cadaveric spasm, and his eyes opened wide.

In that less than an instant, his pain was gone, and so was the old man.

Even after twenty years of observed duty, and even after giving them a clever name, Robert never understood how his Acts of Forgetment actually worked. However, following the old man’s visit and after many a trial and error, Robert did learn that if he withheld his gift from someone in need, he would spend Sundays bearing all the pain of the world; holding all the world’s suffering within his own muscles and bones. And avoiding this was enough motivation for Robert to surrender to just about anything, so he learned to stay open to what this curse was meant to teach him.  

“Please help me forget, so I do not remember.”

It was always a stranger, and always on a Sunday. And unlike his weekly massage schedule, Sundays were a complete unknown. Blank slated in the datebook, people in need did not need appointments. They just showed up, sensed, but unannounced, and spoke the words they somehow knew to speak, “Please help me forget, so I do not remember.”

They never asked questions, and Robert learned to do the same. He never knew how people knew where to find him, or how they knew to ask him for help, and he never knew what happened to them after they left the encounter. All he knew was that on any given Sunday, from sunrise to sunset, Randoms – as he liked to call them – would arrive alone and in their own time, never overlapping, and never coinciding. It was as if they booked their appointments directly with Sunday’s personal timekeeper. After speaking the words they knew to say, Robert would open the door, and then gesture for them to have a seat in one of the two armchairs in the center of the room. He would then sit in the other, and face them while holding the 1.7 meters of silver lining in his left hand. He would give the Random the two ends, and then sit back in his chair while gently holding the line’s middle. With his fingers relaxed and the silver thread draped thoughtfully across his open palms, Robert would close his eyes, and the Random would somehow know to speak again, “Please help me forget, so I do not remember.”

And in less than an instant, the Random would forget everything, and Robert’s line would remember it all.

On this particular Sunday, Robert was feeling quite good about life. Mondays through Saturdays, things couldn’t get any better. Work was steady as always, his girlfriend had just agreed to move in with him, and they were headed for a quick two-day getaway on Thursday to celebrate the momentous event, along with his 42nd birthday, which was on Friday. But as it was a Sunday, there was no room or time to spend enjoying thoughts of the future, so he began his Sunday morning as he had learned best how to do. Arising before sunrise to assure arrival before any Randoms, Robert left his place to catch a cab uptown to 1261 Lexington Avenue. He entered his space, set the two armchairs facing each other, and removed the small satchel from the chest he kept locked in the corner. He then dimmed the lights, lit a small, worn down candle in the other corner of the room, and sat down to simply wait, as he had learned to do.

It was a quiet morning, and Robert was just leaving to go to the washroom when he sensed his first Random. He paused, anticipating words from the sometimes frantic, more often despairing voice on the other side of the door.

But seconds passed, and no voice.

Then a minute passed, and still, no voice.

“That’s odd?”, he thought, as the sense had always been right, and always right on time.

Another minute passed before he heard it.

It was a small voice; and quiet, almost like that of a child. And it had a feel to it, an essence of echo that seemed to inflict all the senses. However, the voice was not coming from outside the door, but instead from inside his head. And it spoke the words Robert was expecting to hear, but with a critical distinction:

“Please help me remember, so I do not forget.”

These were not the words of a Random. He had only heard these words spoken once before, from the old man so many years ago. Not sure what senses to trust, Robert slowly cracked the door and peered out.

Standing there was a young girl, about seven or so. She looked up at him with wise, thoughtful eyes, but said nothing.

Robert was about to speak, but felt the creep of blood in his veins start to burn, a definitive reminder that no questions are to be asked. But he couldn’t help thinking about asking if she needed help, and apparently, this was enough to get an answer.

“Thank you sir, but I am not in need of help. I am here to help you.” The soft voice spoke again inside his head. Robert looked at the young girl, and she smiled back.

He paused for a moment, taking stock of his thought inventory and thought best to avoid any desire for understanding. He opened the door, and gestured for the young girl to come in.

“Thank you,” the voice said, as if the young girl couldn’t help her own desire to converse.

The girl chose an armchair before Robert even had a chance to offer, and as she sat down, Robert reminded himself again to hold his resolve; to not ask questions and stick with what he had learned to do. He walked over to the chest, cautiously removed the satchel, and then dimmed the lights. He then lit the candle in the other corner of the room, and finally sat down to face the young girl.

It was only seconds, but sitting in limbo before his next action seemed like an eternity; his brain was muddled. “She’s not here for help, but she’s here to help me… do I give her the ends of the line?”

“You are right, dear Robert, this visit is not for me today. I am here for you. But it is not only the thread’s ends I need. If you would be so inclined, may I please have your satchel?” The girl never moved her lips, but when the voice asked for the satchel, her left hand gently reached out and opened in time with the words.

Robert just stared at her hand, doing his best not to blink, hoping on some level this would help keep his thoughts clear. But despite his gift – or curse, depending on how you viewed it – he was still human, and his monkey mind could not stay quiet for long.

“I… I don’t know what to do…” part reckless, part intentional, his mind couldn’t help but speak itself.

“Oh dear Robert,” the voice said, now taking a slightly deeper tone, more motherly in nature, but still undeniably connected to the girl in front of him, “It should have never been you. How or why this wrinkle occurred is still unknown for all of us, but the time has come, my time has come, to release you from this calling. It is no longer your burden to bear.

Please, Robert, please, hand me the line.”

Human or not, this was too much for anyone’s monkey mind. Robert stood up. He couldn’t help himself. “What is happening right now?!?” He hadn’t meant to, but it came out as a shout. And with it, the stabs of pain began. He dropped back into his chair, wanting desperately to control his inciting actions but feeling it to be impossible.

“Robert, please. There is not much time to explain, but please trust, please know I am here to help you. Do you remember the old man who came to see you not long after you turned 21?” Robert nodded, not sure if it happened in real time or just in his head, but in either case the girl’s voice continued, “he was supposed to live for another 21 years, waiting for the next in line to turn seven years of age and take on the role. Somehow, somewhere, your soul got mixed in the line, and it was all he could do to help you not carry the pain of the world any longer.”

Robert had been right. This Sunday darkness was not his own. And once again it was spreading from his heart and diffusing through his veins, and the torture was close to its tipping point, soon to spill into convulsions and eventual blackout. It had been so long since Robert had been in this state, and his mind was done struggling to comprehend.

So this time, it was his heart that spoke, “how do I make it go away?”   

“Surrender… Robert, surrender.”

The voice… was right. He had to stop. Stop the thinking, stop the questioning, stop the desire to know. Pain was his greatest teacher, and surrender was his only way out.

He mustered up the strength to give her the satchel.

She opened the small bag, and with care pulled out the long, silver thread. It still glistened whether light hit it or not, and its tangibility still flowed to the touch.

With careful intent, she placed the middle of the thread in Robert’s hands, and gently held on to each end as she sat back down. Robert found himself juxtaposed once again, but this time facing a serene seven-year-old, poised on the edge of her chair with her petite fingers wrapped lightly around the threads ends.

The young girl then closed her eyes, and spoke in a calm, clear voice inside Robert’s head, “Say the words, Robert. Say them the way you know they must be said.”  

Robert stared into the girl’s deep eyes. He breathed slowly, his mind now calm with only one thought in the center; one question they both clearly knew the answer to.

Another eternity-filled moment passed, and Robert’s lids closed for the final time. With his heart still, his final lesson learned, and his soul ready to relinquish, he spoke the words he needed to say.

“Please help me remember, so I do not forget.”

And in less than an instant, Robert Baden was gone, and only the girl remained, holding the lifeless ends of an empty silver lining.

January 09, 2021 00:31

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