Thursday, June 16, 2016

Shadow of theHare, Recall Chronicles, Vol. II

Malia is a stubbornly dissident author and bibliophile in a world where books have ceased to matter and barely exist. She remembers how things changed through the 21st century, but after fifty years of self-imposed exile, she returns to a world far more terrifying than the one she fled. In Dallas, Nigeria, and India she doggedly pursues the truth her heart demands.

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The café was down a couple of side streets, in an area of Dallas I hadn’t visited for decades. As soon as I sat down I saw her and I couldn’t help but stare. It had to be Jenda. When I saw her look ing at me, I slid down off the barstool and walked over to her table.

“You’re Jenda Swain,” I said, smiling, hoping she’d say, And you’re Malia Poole! But she didn’t. I hadn’t seen her in almost ninety years and it was clear she’d been taking the age prophylaxis, the miracle drug called Chulel that kept everyone young in our 22nd-century world. Almost everyone. She was giving me that look—that what-the-zujo-is-an-old-woman-like-you-doing-in-my-world look—followed by the averted eyes.

“Of course you don’t remember,” I said. I pulled out a chair and sat across from her. “Nobody remembers much of any thing anymore.” I looked down at my wrinkled, age-splotched hands and then up into her smooth, fresh face. It was hard to believe I was two years younger than Jenda. “I idolized you and your boyfriend, you know. Such temerity! The things you did…” I was hoping to elicit some of those things from her or perhaps startle myself into recalling what some of them were.

She said nothing, glancing around the café as if to offer an apology for my presence. For my existence.

A memory suddenly came to me: a full-color portrait of Jenda as she was in high school. Not this business-suited twit, but a passionate firebrand of a girl. An artist?

“Do you still paint?” I wasn’t giving up. “You always had your mom’s gift for art.”

Jenda was clearly embarrassed and growing quietly angry. But I thought I detected the old passion under the surface. Come on Jenda—show me some of the old spunk.

She avoided my gaze. “I think you must have made some mistake.” Her tone was flat, dismissive. “You may know my name, but you clearly don’t know me.”

Her face flushed slightly and I thought I saw a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. Leaning forward, I looked into those eyes. “You need to ask more questions,” I said. I pushed my chair back and rose to go; then I looked down at her one last time. “You’re the one who doesn’t know who Jenda Swain is.”

My tears began to fall as soon as I was out on the street. I felt betrayed. Damn these disconnected memories! I have more memories than most people these days, but there’s that one year from high school—the period when I’m sure I knew Jenda best—that’s always been a blank. At least until recently. It’s cru elly ironic that now I’ve reached an age when normal memories start to fade, these submerged ones begin to wash up like shards of sea glass on a beach. I write them down, cataloging them like curios of uncertain provenance.

After I left the café, I couldn’t stop thinking about Jenda. She felt like a key to something. I may not remember a lot about her, but I do know that up-tight little prude with the pressed lapels isn’t the girl I knew in high school. I’m sure that back then she was a passionate Vintagonist. Something had happened to her; I thought I knew what it might be. In any case, I knew it was something very different from what happened to me.

I still identify with Vintagonists, those people who cherish and preserve old things, not as things in themselves but as links to our past, reminders of shared experiences, repositories of our stories. In the late 2020s and into the ‘30s, the Vintagonist movement was popular among young people like me and like Jenda Swain. While the corporations pushed us toward ever-higher consumption of infinitely recyclable short-cycle goods, Vintagonists celebrated antiques, vintage things, and so-called mementos. To signal our nonconformity, we wore badly mended clothes salvaged from the recycle bins, dyed our hair in shades of sepia, and adorned ourselves with relics like lockets and watch pendants. I still wear one of those, although mine has a more personal significance. We fed one another’s rebelliousness in frequent meetings and acts of protest that employed poems and songs and art. The movement dissipated after a while but never went away. Its roots ran deep.

Almost a century later, I feel once again the pull of those old ideas, a riptide tugging at my foundations. I’d found a place where I could have lived out the rest of my days in peace without having to deal with the outside world, but instead here I am, walking around in the corporate fantasyland where everyone is young—young and cheerful and bright. But it’s a flat white brightness—no spark, no color. People stare at me (like Jenda did) and then they don’t see me at all. I disap pear. I don’t belong in their world and so they white me out.

I began making my way back toward my sister Leticia’s habitat. I knew she’d organized an event for the following night at her place. She’d told me that Jenda’s high school boy friend Montagne would be there. I hadn’t seen him for the better part of a century. Maybe Montagne would have some answers. I’d told Jenda she should ask more questions; maybe it was time for me to ask some questions of my own.

I feel like a refugee here, uncertain about what comes next. Uncertain, too, about some of what went before, during that blank period around the age of fifteen. The past, for me, has gen erally been constructed from old novels; I adore histor ical novels. But with these strange memories drifting back, I think it’s time to reconstruct my own past, my personal history, and to find out just how much I can recall.

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