35 comments

Fiction

“Go to hell, you saggy-faced frumpy old bag.”


The words hit me, piercing the tender space between my chest and my heart. My daughter. Screaming at me. Rage puckering her acne ridden face, and her limp hair clinging to her scalp as she flicks it in defiance, stopping short of giving me the single middle finger.


The door slams. I blink. My Cassie. Screaming at me. How the hell did we end up here?


I walk into the kitchen and grip the bench, my knuckles white, heaving shaky breaths to fight off the rising panic and quell the looming self-doubt.


I straighten. If she’s so determined to shut me out of her life, then she can make her own dinner. I switch off the oven and pause by the fridge, running my finger over a tatty baby photo pinned under a bunny-shaped magnet. She can keep herself company for the evening, too.


It’s passive aggressive. I know it. But the self-righteous contempt is delicious, and I can’t resist. I grab my keys. I’m heading into town.


#


I stand outside the shop staring at the brightly coloured posters, dithering. Her words still sting, but the burning has given way to the crushing ache of guilt.


Teenagers are savage creatures, I remind myself, swiping at my tears. What I wouldn’t give to feel the weight of my sweet baby in my arms again. To watch her sleep, swaddled in pink, lying in her bassinet, smelling of lavender, with pudgy fingers clasping the purple piping on her wrap, rosebud lips slack in the milk haze afterglow.


 The memory presses on my chest. This is a terrible idea. I swallow and open the door.


A man sits behind the counter, his short spikey hair radiating off his head at every imaginable angle. He adjusts his glasses, running his gaze over me and frowns.


“Can I help you?” he asks.


“I’d like to buy a session, please.” I nod at the poster on the wall, sucking in a breath, and hoping it will firm up my bottom lip, which, despite my best efforts, won’t stop quivering.


“Generic or specific?” he asks.


“Specific.”


He closes his fingers together, making a pyramid with his hands and leans forward. “You can only do this once,” he says, and coughs. “It’s important not to make a rash decision.”


I nod, bringing my trembling fingers to my lips. I want to see my sweet baby one last time.


He sighs. He’s seen this before. “There are things you should know.”


I want to feel the weight of her in my arms, trace my finger over her porcelain skin, over her delicately arching eyebrows, let her fingers grasp mine, listen to her sucking on her lip, ready for a feed.


“Ma’am. Ma’am.” He taps the counter. “Are you hearing me, ma’am?”


“Sorry, what?”


“We can call up a single hour of your life and immerse you in that memory, so it seems you’re back in that world. But you can only do it once. It’s too hard on your brain otherwise. This is your one trip into the past. You need to choose your memory carefully.”


“I know the one.” It’s my favourite memory. My voice cracks and I struggle to get out the words. “When my daughter was a baby.”


He adjusts his glasses. I feel his frustration wafting off him in waves, but I ignore it. He’s not me. He doesn’t know what I need.


“Ma’am,” he says softly, gently resting his hand on my arm. “The other thing you need to understand the memory we pull up is exact. Not the sanitised version your mind has created over the years. Our service, it was designed for victims of crime, witnesses, that sort of thing. Now that it’s evolved for a more commercial purpose, we find people don’t always feel satisfied with what they experience.”


I stare at him. I need to see my baby girl. To remember the love. To remember when I was her whole world. To remember when parenting was easy.


“Revisiting a specific favourite memory, well, it’s usually a disappointing process. You could still choose the generic option, go back to a nonspecific time.”


I wait for him to say more. He doesn’t.


“Take me back,” I say.


He nods. “Follow me.”


#


The chair moulds around me, threatening to swallow me whole. I shuffle, but I only sink deeper into its white plushness.


“Try to lie back and relax,” the man says.


I resist the urge to fidget and close my eyes. Cassie's words echo through my mind and their venom catches in my throat. Such a sweet baby. Such a savage teenager.


The man fastens a helmet on my head, fiddling with straps and adjusting wires. “Close your eyes.” He pulls down the visor on the helmet and the world lurches into two parallel realities.


I shake my head and my stomach heaves; I’m struggling to make sense of what I’m seeing.


“Don’t fight it,” he says, resting a hand on my shoulder.


In one reality I’m in the chair, current time, and in another I’m hopping between memories. The fight, the slamming door, the kitchen bench, bouncing back and forward, parallel realities.


“Focus on your specific memory.” He wraps my fingers around a small box. “Press the button when you reach it. What you’re seeing now is how you remember past events. Pressing the button will activate the immersion and you’ll experience what your brain actually processed at the time. The raw data, so to speak.”


“Okay.” My voice is hoarse, and I hiccup. I clench my teeth, terrified I might vomit, the parallel realities almost unbearable.


“Let your mind wind back time now,” he says, his voice calm and distant.


I scroll through the memories like photos on a phone. Faster and faster, I let them roll. Cassie’s first driving lesson. Her first day of high school. First sleepover. Faster and faster. 


The process is unsettling, and a trickle of sweat runs down my forehead. She’s at primary school, hair in pigtails, skipping with her best friend. Last day of preschool. First day of preschool. First steps. Learning to crawl. First foods. First sleep in the cot.


I scroll slower, looking for that one perfect afternoon.


And then I’m there. Holding her in my arms, the pink swaddle, purple piping, rosebud lips.


I press the button.


And gasp.


#


The surge of emotion plummets into me, and I stagger under its weight. I’m holding the baby, she’s four weeks old, and she’s crying.


I’m not coping.


Her lip quivers as she screams, her fingers clenched around the purple piping of the swaddle. I rock her, closing my eyes, my throat tight with desperation. Sleep. Stop crying and just sleep.


She’s heavy and my arms ache. I want to put her down and walk away, have a shower, have a pee, by God have an entire cup of hot coffee.


But I don’t. I rock her, swaying under the weight of the solitude. It’s me. Me and the baby. Always. Always together. Always alone.


Her cries give way to whimpers and I stare at the wall, struggling to maintain the arduous, incessant motion. I’m grieving for my old life. This is anything but easy.


And so I rock.


And finally, her eyelids droop, and she relaxes into sleep, her hands softening, letting go of the swaddle and her breathing slows, steady, regular.


Relief shoots through my body, and I bend over the bassinet, starting the elaborate dance of the transfer. Success. I pull the blanket up to her tiny shoulders. Perhaps it's too high. I pull it to her waist and tuck it in. Hopefully, she’s not too cold.


A finger of doubt creeps across my neck. It’s all so hard. The weight of every decision. The doubt. The guilt. The relentlessness of it all. I heave a shaky breath to fight off the rising panic and quell the looming self-doubt.


I stare at my baby, all swaddled in pink, asleep in her bassinet, smelling of lavender, with pudgy fingers clasping the purple piping on the wrap, rosebud lips slack in the milk haze afterglow. A flutter tickles in my chest and I still my mind, listening. 


It’s love, I realise. Amongst the overwhelm and chaos of hormones and emotions, I’m feeling a flicker of love for this helpless, dependent baby. It’s small, but it’s there.


I smile and pull my phone out of my pocket, snapping a picture of my sweet, sleeping Cassie.


Her eyelids flutter at the noise, and my throat tightens. The fleeting flicker of love forgotten, replaced by horror.


Please don’t wake.


#


I rip off the helmet and struggle out of the chair. The ground is hard as I sprawl onto my hands and knees and pant.


The man is resting his hand. “Easy there, slow deep breaths.”


I stumble out from his grip and stagger for the door. I need to go. Be away from this place. My favourite memory is nothing more than my favourite lie.


I tumble onto the footpath, sucking in deep breaths of the cool night air. My mind fragmented and sluggish, half in the past, half in the present, and struggling to bridge the gap between the two realities. I bend over and vomit.


The overwhelming sense of love that I remember swelling in that moment was just an overwhelming sense of relief the baby had gone to sleep. The disappointment is crushing.


The wipers slash across the windscreen, fighting a losing battle against the unrelenting raindrops. I weave in and out of the traffic, not sure where I’m going or why. A thought niggles in my mind, struggling to break free.


Babies are sweet. Teenagers are savage. Every stage has its challenges.


And then I’m turning into the drive at home. I once agonised over where to tuck her blanket. Now I’m agonising over how to hold space for her teenage angst. 


The struggle remains. My heels click on the concrete as I walk to the front door. Perhaps in years to come, I'll conjure only the Hallmark moments of her teenage years.


Maybe that’s just the way love works, focusing on the beautiful, the best. Maybe it’s just nature’s way of making sure mothers don’t crumple into a heap on the floor.


My hand pauses on the doorhandle. I’m home and I’m going to tell Cassie I love her.


I’m a mother. I’ve got this.

July 29, 2022 09:28

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

35 comments

Suma Jayachandar
04:33 Aug 01, 2022

Beth, This is such a beautiful story. Nobody writes motherhood and dynamic with babies/children more evocatively than you do. The commercialised memory machine - yeah, that was clever. I enjoyed the story. Thanks for sharing.

Reply

Beth Jackson
07:54 Aug 01, 2022

Aww thank you, Suma! I so appreciate your kind words! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Zelda C. Thorne
19:01 Jul 31, 2022

Hi Beth, I really enjoyed this. Love the concept of the memory machine being commercialised (clever bit of worldbuilding there). We do tend to romanticise certain memories, and I'm sure villify others, making them worse than they really were. I love anything to do with memory, how unreliable it is, how our brains manipulate it for self-preservation for example. Well done. 🙂

Reply

Beth Jackson
07:55 Aug 01, 2022

Thank you, Zelda! I really appreciate your kind feedback! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Kelsey H
10:52 Jul 30, 2022

I really loved this idea, I can totally relate. I was literally telling someone the other day I wish there was a way I could go back for just an hour or so to my kids being babies again. I loved this line; - Maybe that’s just the way love works, focusing on the beautiful, the best. I think it is so true. I know I don't really want to go back to changing nappies and waking up in the night and all that, I am just thinking of the sweet moments! The fact when she was back in the memory she is loses the reality of the present is such a good par...

Reply

Beth Jackson
18:49 Jul 30, 2022

Aww, Kelsey, thank you so much for your beautiful and insightful comments! I really appreciate it! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Jay Mc Kenzie
08:08 Jul 30, 2022

Hey Beth. I really enjoyed this. It's a really creative take on the prompt and a lovely question as to how we remember things. There's a wonderful book called The Memory Illusion by Dr Julia Shaw that looks at how we remember things and false memory etc. I think we often spend time yearning for a past that probably didn't exist in that way or for a future that doesn't exist at all yet, rather than living 100% in the present. Often the depressed live in the past while the anxious dwell in the future. Anyway, I very much enjoyed this and the...

Reply

Beth Jackson
10:01 Jul 30, 2022

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Jay! Ooh I shall definitely check out ‘the memory illusion’ that sounds just up my alley! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Michał Przywara
20:40 Jul 29, 2022

An enjoyable take on the prompt :) The attendant knew what's up, but what can he do. I bet he gets lots of customers like that, and they all know better. Although maybe facing such a memory isn't a bad thing after all, considering the conclusion. Supposedly we don't remember events so much as we remember our memories of them, or another way, whatever we choose to remember is strengthened as a memory. This goes hand in hand with her observation that "Maybe that’s just the way love works, focusing on the beautiful, the best". I also like...

Reply

Beth Jackson
07:07 Jul 30, 2022

Thank you, Michał! I am always so grateful for your thoughtful comments. I really do genuinely appreciate them. :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Tommy Goround
19:37 Aug 02, 2022

Thinking out loud: (lovely concept)... Narrator comes home. That teenager that was a difficult baby is still acting First World Spoiled and now the narrator realizes that she can (and _must_) cover up the teen years with happy thoughts... or she can sell the kid to foreigners. Perhaps a foreign exchange program to a third world country? The teenager comes back, unharmed, but definitely changed after losing her phone for a year. You sent her to.. a Polish Military School; latkes and pierogi (maybe knish on a good day). She gets less mobile ...

Reply

Beth Jackson
08:51 Aug 05, 2022

Thanks for your comments, Tommy! Create writing is cathartic for sure...

Reply

Show 0 replies
Sylvia Courtner
21:49 Aug 08, 2022

Tommy Goround- This was literary gold in and of itself!!

Reply

Tommy Goround
22:08 Aug 08, 2022

Thank you Miss Sylvia. Beth Jackson is very inspirational.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 2 replies
16:37 Jul 31, 2022

Beth, this was beautiful. Our mind has a way of romanticizing the past, and you really do illustrate that so deftly! I think choosing to have a mother as your main character was an excellent choice. Their tender memories of their children are so strong and vivid. I really enjoyed this one (sometimes it’s hard for me to be truly engaged with a story) but you had my attention all the at through. Well done!

Reply

Beth Jackson
18:22 Jul 31, 2022

Thank you, Hannah! I really appreciate your kind words! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Lehnert
18:30 Sep 14, 2022

Thank you so much. Beth. You just helped me navigate a tense situation. Be assured your words are indeed bread cast upon waters. Keep writing

Reply

Beth Jackson
08:43 Sep 15, 2022

Awww, thank you Mary! I really appreciate your kind words! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Chris Holland
06:51 Aug 05, 2022

Well done Beth a lovely imaginative story.

Reply

Beth Jackson
08:50 Aug 05, 2022

Thank you, Chris! =)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Amanda Lieser
01:50 Aug 03, 2022

Hi Beth! Oh my gosh this story makes me want to run home and hug my moms! I love how you built up the memory and elaborated on the perfection the MC had of this. It absolutely tugged at my heart strings because I so completely remember the phase when I hated everything my parents dared to utter. I really love how you also wrote the climax of the story and this painful discovery for the MC. Nice job! My favorite line was: My favourite memory is nothing more than my favourite lie.

Reply

Beth Jackson
08:50 Aug 05, 2022

Aww, thank you so much Amanda! I really appreciate your kind comments! =)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mike Sette
18:40 Aug 02, 2022

Love the exposition and break down of the "remembered self" vs the "experiential self." Fantastic work

Reply

Beth Jackson
23:52 Aug 02, 2022

Thank you, Mike! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Laura Eliz
14:27 Aug 02, 2022

This is so well written. You captured the typical teenager so well! I love the sci-fi aspect of this too.

Reply

Beth Jackson
23:52 Aug 02, 2022

Thank you, Laura! I really appreciate your kind comments! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
K.T. Jayne
13:17 Aug 02, 2022

Great story - beautifully sums up how we forget the pain and struggle of the moment in our hind sight, but also that the overriding sense of guilt that comes with being a parent is ever present, no matter our child's age.

Reply

Beth Jackson
23:53 Aug 02, 2022

Thank you! I really appreciate your kind comments! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Ron Davidson
02:58 Aug 02, 2022

Beth, I love this story! Too bad they don’t make a trigger warning for parental PTSD! 😂 I didn’t think I would survive my daughter’s teens, but I did. I love that you tap into the idea that maybe forgetting is the way our mind copes with the hard times. Great writing, you use some very unique descriptions…I really enjoyed it! -Ron

Reply

Beth Jackson
23:54 Aug 02, 2022

Hahah thanks, Ron! Parental ptsd, I hear you. 🤣🤣 Thanks for commenting, I really appreciate your feedback! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mike Panasitti
19:16 Aug 01, 2022

This reminded me of two things: a popular theme in some of Philip K. Dick's science fiction, and how, according to one theorist, nostalgia films became an industry in the 80s. Technologies that work with memory are a great topic for speculative fiction. You've managed to prove that with this story. And contrary to what the theorist said, this tale represents nostalgia as intrinsic to the maternal condition. As the main character's experiences suggest, nostalgia seems to be a coping mechanism - a trick of memory our minds resort to whe...

Reply

Beth Jackson
23:58 Aug 02, 2022

Thank you for your insightful comments, Mike! I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to write them! :-)

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Pamela Mc Carthy
10:35 Aug 05, 2022

Beth, this was great. I loved the commercialized memory immersion experience and how the actual thing that happened wasn't as nice as one's memory.

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tommy Goround
19:25 Aug 02, 2022

Beth... any relation to Shirley Jackson?

Reply

Show 0 replies
Tommy Goround
04:13 Aug 02, 2022

Yummy

Reply

Show 0 replies