Memory is a fragile canvas. Gaps can tear across it when the storm winds hit. And Wendy Bliss was a tornado. She shredded open great holes. Not only in the memory of her, but in the memory of everyone around her. Like Amanda and me.
As the two of us sip cosmopolitans under the warm New Mexico moon, we start to remember what was meant to be forgotten. What was forgotten until then.
“How long has it been, Roger?” she says when the time comes to ask such questions. “Ten years, twelve?”
We remember an informal ten-year reunion party from our twenties, and laugh about how Abby Towser got smashed and did the can-can on the dining room table, while her husband begged her to swallow more yellow pills. But that was all that happened between high school graduation and tonight, when a chance online collision told me that Amanda was in town on business.
Then the time comes to ask: “What happened to Wendy Bliss?” And the time not to ask: “What happened that night?”
Since sixth grade, when it became okay for a boy and girl to be friends, Amanda and I were friends. Wendy Bliss was an intruder: a transfer student who slammed into our junior class like a cute, leggy hurricane. The gale winds hit the boys the hardest. Amanda teased that even I wasn’t immune; she expected a smarter, nerdier kid not to drool. I drooled anyway.
Wendy left the school in the middle of junior year. Where to? Nobody knew. Why? Nobody knew that either. The first rips in memory — the first we noticed, at least.
But when Amanda pulls out our yearbook from her satchel and shows me the cast and crew photo for the school’s winter production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Wendy in her fairy costume grinning from the artificial tree branch above all of us with our “take-the-damn-photo” smiles below, one of those rips starts to stitch closed.
Amanda’s hand inches toward mine across the turquoise tiles of the veranda table. “I saw Wendy once, watching me from that same perch, when I was rehearsing my speech in Act I when Helena decides to snitch on Hermia. I thought I was alone, so I jumped when I spotted her. Wendy didn’t flinch, didn’t seem embarrassed about getting caught. And she said — ”
I can guess. I have a similar story.
“ — ‘What fools you mortals be!’” Amanda sips her drink. “Just changing a line from the play. But it seemed like she aimed it at me. And said it as if ‘mortals’ didn’t include her. I’ll never forget how strange it sounded.”
“But you did forget it, didn’t you?” I say. “Until right now. Just like I forgot — ”
And I tell her my story: Wendy looking through the top of the sound booth while I was running over cues. “Just like we forgot that night. The late, late dress rehearsal.”
“Yes, it’s always been a gap in my mind. A blur. I thought it was from the flu I got the next week, but — ”
She turns the yearbook toward her and looks with prospector’s eyes at Wendy’s pixie-grin. “What did she do to us? Who… who was she?”
Almost past twelve. A forest of spray-painted lavenders and neon greens, bathed in the orchid other-worldliness of black lights. I step out of the booth and into a stage that has lost its walls and its audience, and no longer needs lights to make it glow and smudge the senses. Overtired, that’s it. I’m even imagining laughter from the painted branches of the tree limbs above — in Wendy’s voice.
Amanda’s walk through the deserted stage that had become a infinite life-sized diorama is a mirror to mine. A dream, too deep into the night, she thinks. That’s all.
Then our nights meet, in a clearing under a canopy of fingerpaint trees. The bower of the Fairy Queen swings from a ceiling that is a sky of milky stars. The whole auditorium cannot hold the place where Amanda and I are meeting, but as we see each other — friends for years, thoughts pushed away from imagining that more would ever happen — we forget about what should lie beyond the trees. Instead, hands meet, lips follow, the Fairy Queen’s bower holds us.
The hands on the table withdraw from each other’s grasp, damp with the perspiration of cocktail glasses. The hands had come together while that night came back. Now that night is a memory, a normal one and not a tear in the canvas, and the hands have no right to be together.
“‘I do wander every where, swifter than the moon’s sphere; and I serve the Fairy Queen, to dew her orbs upon that green.’”
“What’s that?” I ask.
“A line from the play. One of Wendy’s. It’s tickled my mind for years. ‘That you have but slumb’red here, while these visions did appear’…”
“Sorry, Amanda, I don’t remember the play’s story as well as you do.”
“Fairies make mortals fall in love. Sometimes people who are already in love, but don’t know it.”
She pulls out from the mesmerism that held us while the vanished time flooded back. She reaches into her purse and takes out a hotel room card. She slides it toward me. “Room 351. Whenever you want.”
I slide it back. She expects that. “I’m sorry,” I say.
She picks up the card. “The fairies don’t always get it right, do they? Or they’re just playing, or — ”
“Or people are just fools, and no magic is enough. It can’t defeat time.”
“It’s a bit late for it, isn’t it? It wouldn’t feel like it meant anything except — ”
We finish our drinks, split the tab. The hug is brief but close. We turn away to our separate lives, two foolish mortals.
Ryan Harvey was born in Washington, D.C. but has lived almost all his life in Los Angeles. He is a winner of the Writers of the Future Contest, and his winning story, “An Acolyte of Black Spires” appeared in Writers of the Futre Vol. XXVII. Aside from pieces in a number of upcoming anthologies, Ryan also has stories appearing soon in Black Gate, where he works as a fantasy history blogger. When not writing, he is an active part of the Los Angeles swing dancing scene, and wishes the fedora would come back in style.