ROSES IN DECEMBER • by Robert Swartwood

“God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”
—J.M. Barrie

The question isn’t, can she do it?

She knows she can, just as that every morning her son wakes, she hopes it will be his last. Such thoughts are evil, damnable, inexcusable, but still they enter her mind. Even this morning, as she leaves Daniel snoring in bed and walks into Kyle’s room, she wonders if today will be the day.

He’s still asleep, still off in whatever world his five-year-old mind allows him to view in his dreams. She wonders if he remembers those, but knows he doesn’t. Just as every morning when he awakes, he remembers nothing.

The doctors don’t know what to call it yet. This is the first case they’ve ever encountered. Still, Doctor Thomas calls him lucky: It’s amazing, really—at such a young age, I’m surprised Kyle hasn’t lost it all.

For the past seven months, her son has forgotten nearly everything. The only thing he hasn’t lost is his language acquisition, though when he wakes he’s almost always too scared to say anything. He only looks about his room as if looking at it for the first time. He doesn’t recognize his toys, his books, his yellow blanky, even his own mother and father—and really, ever since they’d received the news, Daniel hasn’t even bothered to see his son that often.

The worst, though, is that Kyle doesn’t even recognize himself.

“I can’t imagine it,” Daniel told her one night in bed after one of their many failed attempts at lovemaking. A candle on the dresser shifted shadows across the wall. “Every day, not knowing who everybody else is around you. Not even knowing who you are. It’s unreal. I couldn’t…”

He didn’t finish the rest; he didn’t have to. She knew exactly what he meant to say.

Another time, after one of their few successful tries at making love, Daniel whispered, “Actually, I do kind of wonder what it’s like. It must be… nice. To not remember every mistake you made. To not remember every nasty thing someone said about you. Or every nasty thing you thought about someone else.”

Maybe, she thought, but what about everything that was good? Every job you did well? Every joke that made you laugh? Every person you had ever loved?

She wonders this now, staring down at her son. She thinks about two nights ago, how she’d attempted something new: keeping Kyle awake into the morning. Her idea was that whatever stole his memory did so during his sleep. But it hadn’t worked, and he slept most of the day and into the night, when he awoke and didn’t recognize anything.

They’ll call it a mercy killing, won’t they? If she were to take a pillow and place it over his face? If she were to push his head down under the water during his bath and keep it there, no matter how much and how hard he struggled?

They’ll understand; she knows they will. Daniel especially.

She keeps watching Kyle. The steady rise and fall of his chest. The drool dried in the corner of his mouth and down on his chin. The soft brown hair on his head.

Closing her eyes, taking a deep breath, she takes a step forward. Pauses. Takes a step back. Opens her eyes again and wonders, Is today the day?

But that isn’t the question, just as can she do it? isn’t the question.

No, the question is simply, can she forget?

Robert Swartwood is the USA Today bestselling author of The Serial Killer’s Wife, The Calling, Man of Wax, and several other novels. His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Daily Beast, ChiZine, Space and Time, Postscripts, and PANK. He created the term “hint fiction” and is the editor of Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer. He lives with his wife in Pennsylvania.

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