MEMORY LOSS • by Sara Lynn Burnett

During my previous visit to Houston’s Neurosurgery Center the doctor said the procedure would triple my life expectancy, but I’d forget most things. “Sepia tones,” she said when I asked what memories would look like. “Photographs bleeding color until they’re faint outlines.”

Today, I have to decide. Ten more years with my memories, or thirty without. Carlos isn’t here. “It’s my decision,” I’d explained to him. “Not yours.”


I met Carlos in the foreign exchange student dormitory where a babushka hall monitor passed around borscht. The beets stained his lips purple. The city’s snow had melted three weeks’ prior, leaving behind drift-shaped mounds of gray cigarette butts.

The ice cream and vodka cafe next to Lenin’s mausoleum had a big-screen TV which every eighteen months displayed a live-stream of his re-embalming. It was broadcast across Russia and Lenin’s lips were purple too, though not from borsht. Carlos and I watched, licking our way through rainbow sprinkles.


Hawaii tests their tsunami sirens on the first Tuesday of every month at exactly 11 a.m. Carlos and I (we were teachers back then) used to wonder while riding the bus to work together — what happens if there’s a tsunami on a first Tuesday at 11 a.m.?

Our neighbor, Mrs. Kealakeliakapua’a’maumai (aged 84) kept a yellow kayak veined through with dry rot on her driveway. On the first Tuesday of each month at 11 a.m. she’d dash from her home and fling herself into the vessel, but only if her hearing aid was turned on. It comforted us to know that another person thought of this remote possibility. When Carlos’s brother, Alexander, visited us he bought her kayak a paddle.


Alexander gives Pablo Escobar tours. He’ll hand the American tourists in the backseat of his midsize SUV laminated fliers detailing the drug lord’s final hideout (now a Spanish school for expats) — it’s tucked away on a quiet, leafy boulevard in an expensive part of the city. Later he’ll stop at the kingpin’s grave to leave sunflowers on it.

The night before Carlos and I married I let Alexander kiss me. Our entire wedding party was celebrating on a rooftop bar in the city’s center. Alexander’s eyes were closed but mine were on the surrounding valley. Lights from the million homes metrocable gondolas connected looked like firework embers floating back to Earth.


There’s an aquarium here which means my neurologist read that article about patients requiring less pain medication during procedures if they’d just watched fish swimming around. Pantone’s color of the year is Living Coral, #16-1546, an “animating and life affirming hue,” but there’s no living color here. The Amazonian tetra fish have transparent fins — see-through like an MRI scan.

Carlos texts: I want you, all of you, as you. Not the outward appearance of you.

Then Alexander: You’ve had one life with him, live another with me.

The door next to aquarium opens. “What’s your decision?” the doctor asks. “Do you want more time, or the time you’ve had?”

Sara Lynn Burnett’s award-winning work has appeared in Writer’s Digest, The Master’s Review, The Caribbean Writer, and various other literary outlets in addition. She can be found online @saralynnburnett.

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