Julie was flustered, again. She walked stiffly along the bustling city street looking for the store. She swore it was just down Brook street, past the Golden Dragon. That gleaming golden sign of a writhing dragon, then the Target bullseye
She stopped. Traffic piled up against the swinging red lights. She stood, waiting for the walking sign to flash, mulling over what sort of dinner to make for herself and Diane.
"Ma'am," a sandy-haired young man tapped her on the shoulder.
"Excuse me," he gestured across the walkway. The red hand flashed at 20 and began counting down.
"Oh, thank you." She started forward.
"Ma'am, you've forgotten something." She glanced back. She'd left her cart behind? It was full of groceries? She must've been pulling it this whole time.
"Thank you much" she smiled at him and he smiled back with brief hesitation. She felt his eyes on her back as she shuffled across the road.
She hadn't remembered doing the groceries. She'd always been forgetful though; at least she could head back now. She dug in her coat pocket and pulled out a yellowed slip of paper with the words 287 Cherry Street written in a minuscule and perfect script. She shuffled along with her cargo until she reached the spot where Cherry street passed through Brook street and took a right. She took a deep breath and clutched her chest. In the wind swung the Cherry Apartments sign, two weathered cherries knotted together beneath a looped and curving script.
Now outside her apartment gate, she pulled out a keyring and flicked carefully through until she found the gate key. She stepped through, shut it carefully, and stooped by her garden. The tomatoes grew in nicely, plump and ready to pick. She could make tomato soup. And she could make a salad from the zucchini...
"Excuse me, you've forgotten something," came a soft voice from behind her.
A brown-haired girl with a nose ring stood by the gate, holding her keys.
Julie closed the distance and pulled the keys from the girl's clasped fingers.
"Thank you honey. Have you seen my garden? Julie gestured behind her dreamily. I've been working on it for nearly forty years with Diane, the late frosts nearly killed my sproutlings, but I managed to save them. Would you like to pick something?"' Julie's eyes glazed over, staring far beyond the girl.
The girl smiled congenially, muttered an apologetic "no thank you," then started back down the street before Julie could reply, her flowery skirt rustling with each stride. Julie's eyes settled onto the familiar pattern. She tilted her head and brought the tips of her fingers onto her chin as her eyes began to tear up.
She had spent so many summers nearly living at the beach, some 60-odd years ago. The details had faded over time, though she had some pictures in a scrapbook. She should pull it out and look over them with Diane.
Her eyes darted up her narrow apartment building's brick facade, settling on the window with curtains of sunflower accents on a soft blue background. A peace settled over her, and she drifted ghostlike through the apartment's engraved oak double doors.
In the apartment's entranceway, she glanced up the stairwell, where the rails made smaller and smaller concentric circles up the ten stories of the building. Fortunately, she was only on the 3rd floor. She gripped the balustrade tightly and stepped up.
"Hey Julie, you've forgotten something!" The stout office clerk called to her from the entranceway and pointed to the row of rectangular mailboxes lining the entrance wall.
"Don't move, I'll grab it for you." He pulled out a hefty ring of keys, unlocked her box, pulled out a few envelopes, then jogged over to her. He handed her the envelopes; his hands were so smooth. She examined her veiny, gnarled hands and sighed.
"Are you alright Ms. Julie? Would you like me to help you?"
"You know I never need your help, Ben."
"Okay Ms. Julie, see you later."
You've forgotten something.
She had, so many things. She shushed the panic rising in her chest. She just needed to get home and talk to Diane and sort these things out. The stairs were rough, narrow, pitted from decades of use: her use. She pulled herself along with the balustrade, dragging her cart behind her. She stopped on the 2nd floor, took a few deep breaths, massaged her hands, and continued up.
Now, she stood at the threshold of her hallway, staring down again at her hands, closing her eyes, breathing in and out, wincing slightly. She started forward; the old boards groaned under her careful steps. A few paintings of seascapes, fields, farms lined the faded green walls. A strip of bright overhead lights ran down the hallway. Almost home.
"You've forgotten something."
The girl in the painting on her left said that. She wore a sun hat and a striped blue one-piece, sat with her legs folded under her. Julie knew the girl couldn't talk, but somehow she did. Julie looked around her. She had her groceries, she had her keys. What had she forgotten? Diane always helped her remember; she needn't worry, not at all
She reached her door, hand shaking as she fit in the key and turned the knob. She flicked on the entrance light. It cast a pale-yellow glow over a few scattered pairs of shoes and a frayed-out welcome mat.
Her voice sounded terribly small.
"You've forgotten something." The girl's voice echoed from the hall.
"Are you home?"
"You've forgotten something!"
She stumbled her way to the living room and flicked the lights on.
You've forgotten something
Clothes folded. Cardboard boxes. Diane's collection of postcards, packed into a Danish Cookie tin.
Diane couldn't help her.
Julie sat down hard on the couch, trembling and blinking out tears. How could she remember now?
Spread open on the coffee table: their photo album; pictures of the beach. There she was: in her favorite floral bikini, hands nestled under her chin, beaming. And there was her girl: sweeping brown hair, tipped-back sun hat, striped blue one-piece. Diane, smiling out at her from that eternal, sunlit world.
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I love the buildup of this story! The way the repetition of forgetfulness increases throughout, stressing out Julie and the reader is really well done. The imagery and characterization are lovely as well. I felt a little unclear on the ending though and would have loved a more conclusive reveal.