Aurora wandered the rain-swept streets to escape the weak tea, forced laughs and happy memories after the funeral. Searing pain spread from her heart into her arms and made her eyes water. People with umbrellas or plastic bags tied over their hair bustled past or bumped into her in their rush to find shelter. Cold rain stung her. She was surprised that she could feel anything but the pain in her chest. Only the hawkers hiding under their umbrellas noticed she was crying. At a crossing she stopped and leaned with a hand against the slick stop sign as cars rushed past. She looked around for some kind of shelter as another wave of pain constricted her throat. Some way down the street a faded sign reading “Rose’s Tea Garden” showed the entrance of a nursery. She hastened towards it, dodging scurrying people and puddles on the worn tar.
The nursery had seen better days. Plants hung limp in black plastic trays while a few gnomes in garish paint clustered around a pond where stone women spilled streams of water from urns. Beyond a worn Wendy house with an “Office” sign taped to the window stood a few mismatched tables, chairs and pink wire-and-bead flamingos. The rain gradually slowed and stopped as she reached a statue of a woman with one arm outstretched, the sorrow-filled aged and pockmarked stone face staring at nothing. Aurora breathed in the smell of the soaked soil and felt the pain from the clenched muscles of her shoulders fading. Yet the stabbing pain in her chest remained as acute and choking as before. She wanted, needed, willed the pain and agonizing memories to go away. They were supposed to live out their years together. That was the plan. Gerhard wasn’t supposed to die in a car accident with the engagement ring in his pocket. He wasn’t supposed to leave just like that.
Rose peered through the window of the makeshift office at the soaked, black-dressed girl next to the statue. Perfect. She’d used the memory dregs left in the last jar a week ago and needed more. She grabbed one of the small, unused jars on the shelf and pushed it into her dress’ pocket as she stepped outside with a smile plastered on her face.
“See anything you like?”
Aurora started at the sound. A short, elderly woman weighed with bundles of paste jewellery and wispy white hair wound into a messy bird’s nest stared up at her.
“It’s a beautiful statue,” Aurora stuttered.
“Been here for years. I’m Rose, by the way,” she smiled as she read the girl.
Aurora couldn’t divert her eyes from Rose’s. Words spilled hoarsely from her throat. “Have you ever wished that you could just forget all the things that hurt too much to remember?”
“I think I know exactly what you mean.” Rose took a step closer. “But it’s not that impossible. I know a few techniques to help troubled souls — to help take away the sadness and pain.”
Aurora stepped back, her hand reaching to her handbag.
“I could help you lessen it.”
Aurora’s hand paused. “What do I have to do?”
“Just close your eyes. Think about those memories.” Rose lowered her voice. “Think about those senses… those emotions.”
Rose waited for Aurora to close her eyes before fumbling for the glass jar and removing its cork stopper.
“Now don’t be startled as I take your hand. Trust me.”
Where their hands touched red feather-like patterns flowered on their skin, following the paths of veins and capillaries, as the air around their hands wavered like a colourless aura. Aurora stood unmoving; her breaths were slow and deep as if in sleep. Rose put the jar beneath their hands and spoke: “Numquam obliviscar”. The memories coloured to swirls of red and blue as they were pulled into the jar, which swelled and stretched. As the last memory seeped into the jar Rose let go of the Aurora’s hand and quickly pushed the stopper back into place.
Aurora opened her eyes. Her head throbbed as waves of fatigue filled her. The world around her seemed faded. She vaguely remembered her conversation with the woman in front of her, but everything was hazy and half-forgotten.
“I — I’d better get home,” she muttered and rushed from the nursery.
At the crossing she stared at the strange patterns on her hand. She couldn’t remember where it came from, why she was dressed in black or why she stood on the side of the road in a strange part of town. Emptiness and loss surged merged in her mind; as if she’d forgotten something very important and yet the memory was just out of reach. She fumbled for her cell and dialled Gerhard’s number. He’ll probably remember. She waited as the phone rang and rang. His mother answered. Her voice was sad. It sounded as if she was crying.
Rose rushed back to the office. She sat down by the desk and slowly opened the bottle. On the desk the remains of a posy of forget-me-nots slowly turned to dust. She breathed in the remnants of the memories contained in the jar, sat back and closed her eyes. Her own memories brightened until she could recall the shreds of them once more. She was back in the hospital, at James’s bedside. She always thought that she, with her many illnesses, would be the first to die. Instead he went first, leaving her to suffer her last illness alone; a cruel curse that slowly stole all her memories. Rose inhaled more memories. She relived it — the final goodbye, the final ‘I love you’, the final kiss. The final memory she had to keep alive, no matter the price.
With a heavy hand she replaced the stopper and rubbed her hand and arm where the red patterns remained. It was only fair, after all, to trade her empty memories for those others no longer wanted. Yes, it was only fair.
Carin Marais is a South African living in what have been called the largest man-made urban forest and the City of Gold. A language practitioner by trade, she blames exposure to too many books from an early age, a motley of interests and a stationery addiction as the catalysts that led to some thoughts escaping and turning into stories, articles and even poetry. Visit her blog at www.hersenskim.blogspot.com and her tweets @CarinMarais.