by Ada Fetters
Cam was sprawled across his sofa with one arm over his eyes. Air conditioning made his living room as dark and cool as a cave. Relentless Wyoming sun gnawed around the floor-length drapes.
His thick, curly black hair was shot with grey. His big hands were double-jointed, the tips callused from a half-century of earning a living with a 12-string guitar.
The guitar leaned against the wall within arm’s length, though he hadn’t been able to do anything with it in months. The title track to the new album had become a quagmire. Easy to wander in, nearly impossible to get out. It was hard to know what to feel, let alone how to put it to music.
His niece Zeezie was as ribby and androgynous as Cam had been at her age. She was folded into a sitting position with her knees against her chest and one curl pulled across her face into her mouth. Cam heard purposeful mouse clicks, then a stretch of silence. When she gave her verdict, her tone was dry and staccato, like keystrokes.
“Sweet pulsating Christ. You are not doing this.”
“Your disapproval wounds me,” Cam drawled. He put his free hand over his heart. It was meant as a flourish, but his chest was an uneasy mess of pain. Putting his hand there made it more real, somehow. Brought it to meet his fingers. For a few seconds he was glad his other arm was draped over half his face.
She was the only one he’d trusted not to freak out on him. Or tell him to just write a song about it.
“Just disappointment. This” — Zeezie’s fingernail dragged down the textured plastic of the laptop monitor — “would mean destroying yourself.”
“I’m done with her. I’m done with her crazy cult.”
“It’s your life. Do what you want. But this is a revolting way to do it.”
Cam was startled enough to sit up and glare at her. Zeezie’s bright dark eyes gleamed in the light of the monitor. She recited the website text aloud:
“Want an individualized narrative that’s a perfect fit for you? Try the app! Answer ten easy questions, like “What are admirable qualities in a partner?” and “Do you plan your decisions or act spontaneously?” to get your FREE quote!
“My mind is made up.” He felt like a glass filled to the brim. “The preliminary scans are done. All I need is someone to drive me home after.”
“This Do-Over stuff is prefabbed,” she said flatly. “It’s generic memories burned into your brain. It’s dated almost as soon as it’s done. You have spent your life ignoring trends, and now you want to turn your memory into a pop song.”
Cam got up and walked past Zeezie. “I’m calling a driver, then.”
He navigated the living room by touch. In the dark, he was safely oblivious to the memories that clung to picture frames, bookshelves, the wooden turntable, even door handles. They’d demand his attention, draw him in, sap whatever resolve he had. He’d try again, mentally, to bring Tara back.
Thin yellow curtains didn’t do much to keep the light out of the kitchen. Outside, sunlight turned telephone wires white and made the dust-coated truck glitter like sandpaper. The kitchen table was half-buried under envelopes and splayed folds of paper.
Letters from the Order of Accord were visible in weekly strata of the mail. Their glossy brochures kept coming even though Tara hadn’t lived at this address for a year. She’d moved into Accord Village across the lake.
The sight of the shimmering third eye on the brochures was enough to spark the old arguments in his head. In his memory, she stood beside the table, arms folded.
And in his head, he tried yet again to explain how strange the situation had become. “We don’t talk anymore—”
“I don’t need words!” Tara burst out. “If what you’re saying is true, you ought to be able to make me feel it.”
The Order claimed that words concealed more than they revealed. To give up speaking and writing was to discover truth instead of mere symbols. Eventually the barriers between people would dissolve and communication would take place on a higher plane.
“I can’t do that,” Cam said. “I need you to tell me—”
“Transcend your humanity!” Even the ghost of the phrase, moving through old patterns worn into his brain by trying to understand it, made him wince.
“What does that mean?”
“It means you’re holding us both back.”
His hand curled around the ancient plastic wall phone so tightly his tendons creaked.
In his head and in the past, the result was the same: Tara was gone. It would never stop. It would never have a different ending, unless he rewrote it.
Still, the thought of going to get his brain cells rearranged alone in some impersonal office unsettled him.
At least if he called a driver, he could get stoned off his ass and spend several hours contemplating the yellow curtains with his mind a complete blank. Or he could drink himself into a stupor. He might have indulged in a long-term home remedy to oblivion instead of a neural rewrite if he’d been younger and still convinced he had all the time in the world to come back out of it.
Zeezie arrived in the kitchen. One spit-damp curl dangled to her shoulder. The rest fluffed up around her head. “I know a guy.”
* * *
Cam drove out from under the trees that put his house in deep shade. The truck rumbled into the glaring sun, leaving a plume of dust behind them. Past the lake. There was a water tower way out on the far side of the lake, barely visible. Tara was there, at the Order of Accord Village, worshiping in their strange way in buildings that stayed dark from sunset to sunrise.
He’d gone there only once. She’d been mute and hollow-eyed when he tried to visit her.
Zeezie scowled into the side mirror. “Cam, you ever listen to your stuff?”
“Not once it’s done.”
“I used to listen to my mom’s cassette tapes when I was little. I liked pressing the buttons on the player.” She pushed down the lock on the truck door. It connected with a reluctant clunk. “She had your music. I was listening to it before I knew we were related or anything.”
“I didn’t know that.” His sister was younger by a decade. They’d barely known one another.
“I had no idea what most of it was about but, y’know, I was about seven years old,” Zeezie said slowly. “That was part of the appeal. Everything was over my head. Listening to hissy old tapes was like listening to someone else’s memories. I loved them but I had no idea what went into them.”
Cam was surprised enough to glance up at her. Zeezie had never mentioned listening to any of his songs before. She preferred music with wobbly synthesizers and enough sub-bass to cook an egg.
“Now I have grown up, and they are still receding.” Her staccato barely rose or fell when she spoke, but she put her finger against the dashboard to make a point, casually bending the little crooked joints back past ninety degrees.
“You’ll wear ‘em out,” he told her. The tendons in his own double-jointed fingers creaked like old violin strings these days. A fair price for massive chords on a 12-string.
She tucked one knee up against her chest and stuck out her tongue at him. There was a jewel set in the middle of it. Cam was mystified. When had that happened?
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by Ada Fetters