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Fiction Science Fiction

“This isn’t dinner. It’s a disaster.”

Margot shrugged. “Your fault for leaving me in charge of food.”

Honestly, what had he expected? She’d never constructed a meal more complex than beans on toast, and her father should have known as much. Her sorry attempt at pasta sputtered sadly on the stove. 

Before he could say anything, Margot poured herself a tall glass of lemonade and grabbed an entire punnet of strawberries. “I’m going in the garden.” 

Her father sighed. He was still in his work clothes. “Chinese? Or pizza?” 

“Your choice.” 

Balancing everything carefully, she tucked a hardback book under her arm and stepped out. 

*

Margot loved the summer. Waking up late, the long evenings, no school, and a bit of peace and quiet for once. Most people associated spring with rebirth and new beginnings, but Margot thought the height of summer was when everything truly came alive; the trees, the sky, even the people. Everything lived again in full bloom. 

A new page. 

The sun was beginning to set, painting its pretty rays over the clouds. Margot sprawled across the grass on her stomach and tore back the plastic film. Pinching a strawberry by the stalk, she bit into the flesh and wiped the juice off her chin with a sleeve. Tart and sweet notes danced across her tongue, making her mouth water for another. 

She ran a finger over the embossed title of her book: ‘The Tales of Ella and Titch.’

Taking care not to stain its pages, Margot turned to the first few lines of the story.

#

“Ella and Titch gazed up at the night sky, whispering like excited children. Such were their conversations every night; moments of sweet solitude, wherever they were in the world.”

#

“What’s it like to touch one?” Ella wondered. 

“Painful, I imagine.” Titch replied. “I don’t think anyone’s ever been up there.” 

“I bet old Pete says he has.” She sniffed. 

Titch laughed. The sound tugged her lips into a soft smile. “Old Pete claimed he was there when the moon was born.” 

The silence that followed was a comfortable one. Years of companionship had stitched such moments together into a beautiful tapestry Ella knew she was lucky to be a part of. She stretched, relishing the feel of prickly grass against her bare legs. It was another warm night and the smell of lemonade and strawberries hung in the air. 

“Whenever I see them, I feel so insignificant.” Titch murmured. ”As though my problems don’t matter so much.”

“I guess they don’t in the grand scheme of things.” Ella replied. She threaded her fingers through his hair, playing with the strands. “We have our life and the stars have theirs.”

She spied the familiar stories sketched across the sky; the lion, the swan, the wolves, the twins. The archer with his steady aim. Could they see her, just as she could see them? 

“This is going to sound crazy.” Titch began, bringing her back to earth. 

She giggled. “I’m used to that by now. Go on.”

*

Margot was suddenly gripped by a thought so intriguing that she hadn’t made it past the first paragraph. 

Who had these characters been before she’d started reading? Could they be living, breathing, and thinking behind the cover… or did they exist solely for her, the reader? Were they trapped in the pages, completely unaware that their moments were being observed by an other, an invisible bystander consuming their every word? 

And though she’d met them at the beginning, surely this wasn’t their beginning, was it? Before they’d been shackled to someone else’s plot… had they lived a life before chapter one? 

Margot wondered if somewhere, in another universe, someone was reading about her too?

She shivered. 

Then she bit back a laugh. She reached for another strawberry and lay on her back. Slowly, she closed her eyes, and allowed a wave of sleepiness to take her. 

The book remained open on the first page, momentarily forgotten. 

#

 “But… do you ever find you don’t remember yesterday?” Titch continued. 

“Not really,” Ella frowned. “I mean, yesterday we…” 

She trailed off. For some strange reason, Ella found it impossible to recall the events of the past day. The images escaped her, dancing just out of reach as she tried to grab them, like threads disintegrating at her touch. The more she tried to concentrate, the less she was able to pin down. Every fading memory led her to nothing but a blank wall.

She thought for long minutes and the silence stretched out between them, deafening and final. 

“What did we do yesterday?” She whispered fearfully. 

Titch propped himself up on an elbow and looked down at her. “Or last week? Last year?” 

She sat up too. “Titch, what’s going on? Can’t you remember either?” 

Why hadn’t she realised it before? Had she lost her mind? Was it amnesia? An illness? 

Titch gently took her hands, circling his thumbs over her knuckles. She focused on the gesture, feeling some of her tension melt away. “I remember us. I remember you as my wife. I know that as clearly as I know my own name. And I know we’ve been together for years.” 

“Me too.” She nodded slowly. “But…” 

“But I don’t remember the years themselves.” He sighed. “I know we’ve lived them together, but… I can’t recall anything that’s happened in that time.” 

Neither could she. Now that she really thought about it, Ella found that she couldn’t remember a single detail about her life with Titch. Or her life before Titch, she realised with horror. She couldn’t even remember how they’d arrived to this garden, to this very moment.

Where were they? 

“Titch, are we dreaming?” She asked. 

That had to be it. Time made no sense while one slept. She pinched her knee, and winced when the pain bloomed across her skin. 

“I thought that too.” He sighed. “And then I wondered… if I was still alive.” 

Ella fixed him with a stern look. “Does this feel dead to you?” She took his hands and placed them in the centre of her chest. And perhaps to convince herself, she pressed hers against his chest in turn. Sure and steady, albeit a little fast, their hearts pounded defiantly. 

“So we’re not dead, and we’re not dreaming.” He concluded. “But we’re still none the wiser.” 

She chewed her lip. None of this was making any sense.

She looked up at the stars again, twinkling perfectly. The sight comforted her, and she rested her head on Titch’s shoulder, breathing in his scent. Carefully, slowly, she lay them back down onto the grass and held his hand. 

“Why don’t you tell me what you can see.” She asked softly. She breathed deep, trying to calm her heart. “We can’t remember yesterday, so for now… let’s just start with today.”

*

“Margot! Dinner!” 

Margot sat up abruptly, blinking the sleep from her eyes. She hadn’t meant to doze. Her mouth tasted strange and she finished the last of her lemonade with a sigh. 

The evening was considerably darker and all traces of orange and pink were hiding behind the sky’s shadows.She could hear the dogs, the cars, the sounds of summer all around her. Countless stars winked down at her, casting their little dots of light over the lawn.

Next door’s baby began to wail. 

#

“That sounds like a good idea.” Titch offered her a small smile. He brought her hand to his lips and placed a soft kiss on her fingers. 

“I see the tall houses around us. The people indoors are watching TV. You can see the flickers from behind the curtains.” 

His voice soothed her, grounding her to the present. 

“I can hear cars.” He continued. “Oh, the dogs from the house opposite must’ve been let out just now. Their barks are much louder.”

The sound of a baby crying tore through the night and they both laughed. 

“Someone’s not happy.” Ella chuckled. 

It didn’t matter, she decided. They had today. They had the years ahead, and she made a promise to remember every second.

*

“Margot!” Her father called again. 

He must be starving, she realised.

Deciding it was best to hurry, Margot left everything on the grass. She jostled her legs, trying to shake some feeling back into them. 

As she stumbled to her feet, Margot closed the book with a quiet snap. 

#

 Ella closed her eyes and took a deep breath. 

A loud thud halted her exhale. 

The ground shuddered strangely, like a stifled sneeze. Titch jolted next to her.

Now what? 

“El?” His voice was full of alarm. “Everything’s dark.” 

Ella tried to open her eyes again before realising they were already open. She could no longer see the sky. She couldn’t see anything. And besides her own shaky breaths, the sounds of the night had been swallowed up entirely. 

“Ella? Can you hear me?” Titch trembled.

“I can.” She whispered.

She felt claustrophobic. She tried to move her body, flex her fingers, force herself to sit up, but it felt like a ceiling had been clamped over her face. No, not just her face, but her entire body felt compressed and flattened by something huge and immovable. Like she was trapped in an invisible coffin. 

Panic tightened her throat, and she gripped Titch’s hand as tightly as she could. She no longer had a voice. She could no longer breathe. She couldn’t even scream. 

And just as her surroundings had vanished from sight, Ella felt the memories of this night begin to slip into darkness

*

“Pizza again?”

Her dad frowned around a particularly big mouthful. He swallowed painfully. “What do you mean?” 

“We had it the other day, remember? When you…”

But Margot couldn’t remember. In fact, she couldn’t remember a single thing before this very evening. 

July 26, 2023 07:58

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5 comments

Susan Catucci
01:12 Aug 03, 2023

What an experience, T! You have done a wonderful job of crawling into a character in a book and what life would be like if that is where your world began and ended. I found it entertaining, effective and I sided with the character every time. Ella and Titch are forever lovable and Margot IS us. The link between existence and memory that you've explored here is legitimate and telling. Fictional characters must feel like those who suffer with Alzheimer's. If I can't remember it, did it really happen? This is nice work and I look forw...

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T Mithawala
15:26 Aug 03, 2023

Aw thank you so much Susan! That’s really touching of you to say. You really explored my little short story in a way that I didn’t think about myself! I’m happy you enjoyed it and thank you for your comments. I did notice that we’d been grouped in the critique circle for this week, but when I clicked on the link to your submission it wasn’t something I was comfortable reading. Thank you for making the warnings so clear either way :) I will try and check out some of your other stories in exchange! Thank you again :)

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Susan Catucci
15:59 Aug 03, 2023

Of course, that's perfectly fine, T. You are free here to read, write and learn your way. Thank you for writing!

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Rabab Zaidi
03:35 Jul 31, 2023

Very interesting !

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T Mithawala
04:30 Jul 31, 2023

Thank you for reading!

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