“How much does this cost?” I asked the seller, holding out my selection of bread and fruit.
“Just a small memory,” he answered. “A happy one, if you don’t mind, Estelle.”
I nodded and pointed to my head. He did the same, and I thought of a small happy memory. Fifth grade, answering a question right. Small but happy.
The seller smiled, satisfied. He would watch the scene once, but the memory was not his to keep. It would go in The Book, full of memories playing over and over like a long movie. He would receive food for every memory he was paid.
When I tried to remember what the question I answered right was, a block in my brain denied access. You had to be careful when selecting memories to give, because you could never truly remember it again.
I made my way back through the Memory Marketplace, hoping to head home and eat dinner. Now that I had graduated from Last School, I owned my own apartment on the premise that I visit my parents every Saturday. Instead of paying them with memories, my job was to help make memories with them. I liked the trade.
A sight at the end of the Market road made me stop in my tracks. An old woman, down on her luck, with a sign that asked, ‘Memories?’
Mom and Dad always said to ignore Memory Beggars. They were faking it to get compensation from The Book. They weren’t really poor. They would take your memories and sell them to dealers on the black market.
But Josh always stopped and gave them a memory.
The thought of him made me light headed. It had been almost a year since Josh died. I was with him as we walked across the street. I made it to the end. His keys had fallen out of his pocket, so he stopped to pick them up.
I think that was when the car hit. The driver must not have seen him. I sold that memory almost immediately, not wanting to remember the driving pain that struck my heart that day. I remember the therapist’s face when I handed the memory over. I would hate to be a therapist. To take every client’s terrible memories, and watch it, and then to be paid for it once it was held in The Book? I couldn't imagine.
Josh had such a kind heart. Always open, always thoughtful, always loving. I treasured every memory of when he was still alive. My hands trembled like the old woman’s as I watched her, thinking of Josh. My Josh. The boy who nervously asked me to Prom years ago. The boy who took me on my first date, the boy I shared lunches and dinners and brunches with. We shared smiles, and inside jokes, and moments stuck in time forever I can never get back. The boy who stole my heart. The boy whose mother told me was planning to propose in a week. The boy who I wept and wept for until my heart drowned in my tears.
I propelled myself over to the old woman, who looked up at my watering eyes. “Memories?” she whispered, lifting a finger to her tired, wrinkled face.
I pointed a finger at my head. A small memory, maybe one of my dog, Pickles. That always made people smile. As I prepared my memory, she grinned, a nasty, ear to ear grin, one that made me want to tear my finger away from my head.
My head was slammed with an imaginary hand, as if I was slapped. Memories flew past my mind, pictures and videos playing. The old woman was there; I could feel her presence. She was watching them too.
“Which to choose? Which will fetch the most money?” she cawed. Anger boiled through my veins, and guilt filled my bones. Mom and Dad were right. The so-called memory beggar was really part of the black market, full of stolen memories and unhappy victims. Instead of me choosing which memory, she could choose.
I saw my blurry memory of my first steps. Then one of my little sister and me, fighting over some dolls. A brief capture of Josh, holding his hand out to me. A tear slipped out from under the pretend fence I built after he died. The old woman cackled.
A memory surfaced, one I knew would indeed fetch the most money. I screamed when it appeared, the one that always played in the back of my mind and had gotten me through the last year.
My last date with Josh, running in the rain, splashing each other with water and listening to the foreboding thunder cracks in the sky. My last kiss with Josh, sweet and short but eternal. I wanted to preserve that moment forever. That moment when I never loved him more, and I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.
But that was ripped away from me, just like this memory was about to be.
As I expected, the old woman chose this one. She muttered, “Thank you,” as my vision went dark and I was left with a brutal headache.
I thought I had woken up. Instead, a bubble seemed to have formed around me, and a voice kept repeating the same words.
“What do you need?”
“Where am I?” I responded.
The voice repeated its phrase, this time more urgent. “What do you need?”
I was about to say that I needed to get home when I realized what I really wanted. “I need a memory back.”
The darkness faded around me. A young boy stood in front of me, his doe eyed face shrouded in mystery. “A memory?”
I nodded. With a giant burst of air, a book the size of a sunfish appeared in front of the boy.
“Is that The Book?” I asked in a hushed, awed voice.
The little boy nodded. I said to him, “Are you The Book Keeper?”
He nodded and said, “What memory are you looking for? How was it taken?”
“From a Memory Beggar,” I said hurriedly. “I’m looking for one of my last memories with my boyfriend, Josh.”
He opened the book and flipped page after page. I peeked over and saw clips pass by on each page. They were not only mine, but strangers with lives as intricate and special as mine. But right now it was not about them. It was about my memory.
“Is this what you’re looking for?” the boy asked, his pointer finger landing on a blurry video in The Book.
“I can’t see it. It’s blurry.”
He nodded. “Then I will describe it. A girl and a boy, in the rain. They’re smiling. They’re splashing. They…” he paused, his voice cracking. “They love each other.”
I watched his small face, so gloomy and serious and the face of someone who was forced to grow up too fast.
“We did,” I whispered. “But how can I get the memory back?”
“There is only one thing I desire more than memories for The Book.”
“What is it?” I was desperate. I needed that memory back.
“You look at him like he was the best, most important thing on Earth. Like you would do anything for him. Dive to the bottom of the sea or climb to the top of every mountain.” Disdain began to leak into the boy’s voice. “No one has ever looked at me like that.”
I stood speechless. This mystical boy, both real and nonexistent, had never been loved. Not even by a mother or a father.
“My one request, trading for your memory, is that I can take one emotion from you. Love.”
“You can still remember your love for Josh,” he said hurriedly. “But any love you give from now on is not genuine, or heartfelt, or honest.”
I stared at him in disbelief.
“And you would have your memory,” he murmured.
My memory. It pulled at me, like a lasso wrapped around my neck. I thought of life without it, and the lasso tightened and tightened until I was choking for air.
I needed that memory back. And he could have my love, because my heart died with Josh that fateful day. I decided that moment that I didn’t care if I made a rash decision. I absolutely didn’t care about anything, just getting my memory back.
“It’s a deal, Book Keeper.”
The boy smiled sweetly as I was hit by an invisible wind that knocked the breath out of me. The darkness and the boy disappeared with nothing more than a faint humming sound. I woke up sitting on a bench, with strangers fanning me with their hands.
“Darling, I thought we just about lost you there,” said one lady.
I pressed my hand to my heart. Something was different. Something was missing. My heart felt as though someone came through with a jackhammer and twisted everything up. There was an empty hole, no doubt.
I remembered the memory. It was not blurry or fuzzy. It was vivid and beautiful and all I ever wanted. For a moment, the warm memory filled the empty space in my heart.
For a moment.
And the fleeting moment was gone, leaving a gaping hole. I reminded myself that the memory was important, and I made the right choice. In my mind, I could picture the Book Keeper, finally loved.
The thought comforted me, especially when I realized what I had given up. Though, I suppose we all do stupid things for love. I pondered my choice for a moment, sitting on that bench, thinking of how much a memory costs.