The memory we used to share is no longer coherent. It continues to break down and fragment, slipping away from me like a jellyfish caught in the undertow. Although memory is nothing like a jellyfish, it’s more like…I can’t remember what it’s like. This is how bad things have gotten.
Here’s what I can remember: the two of us standing on the beach on Long Island, the tide slowly going out with the marmalade streaks of the setting sun, our feet sinking in the cool, wet sand. (Maybe this is where the idea of jellyfish as memory comes from?) We both smell of coconut, thanks to the sunscreen. I love the smell, but hate the greasiness of the lotion on my skin. You don’t mind the lotion, but the scent of coconut makes you queasy. I reach out tentatively to take your fingers in mine. “What do you think?” I ask, breathing in the smell of coconut and salt water. “Should we join the mission? Do you fancy traveling to another galaxy?”
You turn to me, a sour, sad look on your face, and say, “The river stole the gods. The temple is empty. We can never return to the palace of mud and grass.”
And then I’m in the xenobiology labs at Base 23, in the laboratory for studying life from the oceans of Planet J-16. Amorphous beings with shifting tentacles and skin that changes from blue to green to gold to scarlet to violet float in thick liquids. (Maybe this is where the idea of jellyfish as memory comes from?) Dr. Klay taps me on the shoulder and clears her throat. “Annalise is waiting for you in the gravitics lab.” I nod and pull myself away from the mesmerising dance of the tentacled blobs from Planet J-16.
“The gravitics lab is on the fifth floor, isn’t it?” I ask Dr. Klay. I thought I knew for certain, but now I’m not so sure.
Dr. Klay nods, the bun at the back of her head threatening to come loose in cascades of wavy, auburn hair. “Abstraction is often one floor above you,” she says. “but in this instance, you must travel further to reach your dreams.” Her eyes become the color of television tuned to a news report on hurricanes.
We’re so far apart now. How can we stand so close to each other and yet be so far away, separated by vast gulfs of space and time and memory?
Before, or perhaps after, the gravitics lab, definitely well before the transgalactic gateway chamber, we meet in the neuromatics department to have our minds synched, our memories meshed. Dr. Kamakura holds a diamond, an amethyst, and an opal in one palm and a small, rubbery, invertebrate in the other. (Maybe this is where the idea of jellyfish as memory comes from?) “A glittering gem is not enough,” he explains. “We’ll also need an organic component to run and focus the software that will connect your brainwaves.” Neither you nor I fully comprehend the technical aspects of the procedure, but we trust Dr. Kamakura, so we both nod and ready ourselves to proceed. “Are you ready?” he asks.
“Yes,” I say.
“No,” you say.
And then he taps out ENTER on his keyboard and our memories collide, a crash and a clash of colors and scents and loneliness and fear and need.
But it’s all coming apart now. How much is real? How much is true? Am I sitting on a rocky hill in the badlands of Broken Earth-N, writing this out for you? Or am I asleep in my soft bed in my apartment in Newark, curled up tight because the heat is on too low, dreaming all of this? The memory we used to share is no longer coherent, and it’s bringing tears to my eyes. Perhaps. I remember your name is Annalise. I cannot remember my own name. I remember my eyes are green. I cannot remember the color of your eyes. I remember lying awake in the room of the hotel in Quito, grasping desperately for a sleep that never seems to come, but I cannot remember if this is my memory or yours.
One of us (you? me?) can’t live like this anymore. Our world has collapsed into a mound of jumbled shards of glass. Our hands are cut on the broken memories, blood tearing down our arms, running in streams on the shattered memory of our lives. One of us picks up a cracked, sharp piece of memory and draws it across our throat with a shaky hand. We cough and choke, feeling warmth flood down our chest. We’re dizzy, tired, relaxed, afraid, angry, sad, resigned, cold. Our eyes sting with tears.
The memory we used to share is no longer coherent. Everything breaks. Everything has fallen apart. We’re swallowed by a sea of deep, eternal sleep. Time after time after time, your story has come to an end, my story has come to an end.