Issue #6 - September 2014
Season 1, Episode 6
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Previous can be found here.
“Death Wears Yellow” by J.C. Davis
“The Custody of Memory” by Paul Hamilton
“Debugging the Ghosts” by Damien Krsteski
“The Last Lawsuit” by Maggie Clark
“The Long, Slow War” by Stephanie Herman
“The Loop” by James Hart
“Pancakes” by John Herman
Just to give you a taste...
The Custody of Memory
by Paul Hamilton
When we were married, we couldn't agree on who ought to do the dishes. Now we're expected to agree on which child we're going to remember? My posture is cribbed from our sixteen year-old: slouched low in the chair, arms folded, jaw set, brows battling for space at the bridge of my nose. I blow air out the corner of my mouth, fluttering my synthetic bangs.
"Come on, Marvin," Jana sighs, "will you at least read the proposal?"
"I'm sure both words you changed are ma- ma-," my language processor freezes up. Old football injury. The word I finally spit comes out sounding like "majynimous."
"Magnanimous, Mr. Richter," says Gary Templeton, Jana's lawyer. I haven't got a lawyer; instead, I have about twenty-six Eurocreds to my name. I was thinking of spending them on a curry-charge for lunch, but my appetite is spoiled from staring at the thick proposal. "I'm sure that's what you mean." Templeton bought himself an American accent modulator, but he went cheap on it and it sounds fake. And it still doesn't mask how everything he says is buttery with condescension.
"I meant 'majynimous'," I tell him. "My youngest daughter calls female sockets 'maginas.' I was just commenting on the virus-infested hole this proposal must have fallen from."
"God, Marvin," Jana spits.
There's a brief pause. "I'm suggesting you ha-have a filthy female socket, Templeton." They lose something if you have to explain them.
Templeton smiles like a barracuda. "I understand you dislike me, Mr. Richter. But look at it this way: if you don't at least make progress on these negotiations, an arbitrator will assign custody of the memories for you. You don't want that, do you?"
"Oh Christ," Jana says, seeing my face shift, knowing what's coming.
"Are we talking about what I want now?" I ask, louder than necessary. "Let me tell you what I want. I want all the memories of the k-kids. I want Christmases, birthdays, hol-hol-holi—vacations, and zoo trips. I want all the happy times: Sunday mornings, late n-night datashares, winter train rides, we-we-weekends at the lake, holiday parties. I want the r-r-recipe for my Spanish r-r-rice charge and the one for her m-mum's lasagna charge. I want the flat downtown that first year; I want all the vapor d-dreams and that one time she b-blew me in the loo at Cafe Guiguere. I want to w-walk out of here wondering why in the h-hell I had such a bloody amazing life so far and somehow ended up single at age one hu-hundred forty-two!"
"You want a fairy tale that never existed," Jana says.
I don't respond for a while. When I see Templeton about to open his fat mouth, I blurt, "That's where you're wrong, Jan."
"You're wrong," I say as if she's stupid. "That marriage did exist."
"Convenient how you've left out all the unemployment and football matches at Mick's house that turned into toxicated rows. I find it interesting how nowhere in that little tale did you mention Christina or Desiree!"
Our stares are like something out of a comic book: red beams of energy fueled by hate. Hate like that only comes after the exhausted opening salvos of fights held tens, dozens, hundreds of times.
"How many times am I go-go-going to have to apologize for that?"
"Try one more, just for kicks."
"Fine. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I drunkenly groped your friend thinking she was you. Perhaps if you hadn't fa-fa-fawned over Christina and bought the exact same exoskin, I wouldn't have made the mistake. And maybe if you hadn't interfaced on Desiree's husband, she wouldn't have h-had it in for either of us."
"How dare you suggest—"
Templeton cuts her off. "Jan," he says, laying a soothing hand on her arm. "Mr. Richter. Please. Enough. Listen to me, now. There is only one detail left to be sorted. The Marriage License Agreement from your wedding day granted you and my client inclusive rights to your shared experiences for the duration of your union. Now that you're separating, those memories revert to their standard exclusive license."
"It's a s-stupid agreement," I say. Perceptions: they're nothing less than our individuality, our legacy. Hell, they're practically our ticket to immortality.
"Nevertheless, one you consented to."
"Based on certain a-a-assumptions." Forever feels so self-evident at the beginning. The only thing time reliably accomplishes is erosion.
"Here we go," Jana says. Templeton sighs and forges ahead before we can descend into screams and sarcasm.
"All that remains," he chirps, "is for you to agree on the memory custody. There are less than four days left to negotiate. Unfortunately, you must be actively negotiating or I will have no choice but to inform the court that negotiations are stalled and an arbitrator will be sent in." He pauses. "I've seen arbitrations go very, very badly for those in your position, Mr. Richter. This is your only chance to influence the outcome of the memory wipe."
"Then take it all, you sad, s-sorry little bitch," I blurt. I've never called her that before, out loud. There is a beat of stillness and something like triumph shines in Jana's eyes. "Yeah. Fine. Take it. Take them all." Now she lets loose a little squeal of joy and mocking. She stands, reaching across to pull the proposal away from me and to verify the notarized recorder captured my legally-binding words. I grab her wrist. "Take them from me, Jan. But just remember, you'll have the good times in there, too. Because if you're going to strip away the fights and the tears and the pain and the resentment, you had better take the wedding and the honeymoon and the zoos and that wild night in Paris. You better shoulder the memories of me helping the kids with homework and picking over your source line by line when you were sick. You're going to need the memories of my face between your legs while you're out shacking up with whatever plastic-faced credit card you decide to interface with for this month's rent. If you want it, you can have it all. With all that entrails."
Jana's mouth hangs open. I can't remember the last time she didn't have a comeback. I also can't remember the last time I strung that many words together without my lang-proc tweaking out. But I wish I felt something like elation or triumph. Instead, I'm just sad. Jana will take the offer, take the memories. She'll send me to the Factory to defrag and data dump everything pertinent to our lives together. All her idiot friends with their matching exoskins will hear the rueful, bitterness-soaked tale of how she walked away with the whole marriage. Certainly she'll tell everyone how it goes to show none of it meant a thing to me. There will be no mention of how I gave in to her out of raw spite.
"Entails," Templeton says in a soft voice.
"Pardon?" Jana and I ask in unison.
"You said, 'with all that entrails' but you meant 'with all that entails.'"
We all stare at each other and then Jana says, "Shut up, Gary," shocking the lawyer and I both. She picks up the proposal and turns, heaving it toward the trash bin. It misses, but when we both tell the story later, we'll fudge that detail. "Look, Mar, why don't you draw up a list of things you can't do without. I'll make something happen."
"There's only one thing I c-can't do without," I say. But the corny line lands heavily, like a diseased tree branch falling on a roof. Jana smiles anyway.
"You always were a sweet talker. You know what I mean." She walks toward the door and Templeton stares after her for a moment before shrugging and following. Jana pauses at the doorway. "And don't push this to the last minute."
Jana and Templeton leave and I'm alone in this faux Old World conference room. Phony mahogany tabletop and holograms meant to appear as thickly lined bookshelves. What is a memory worth, anyway? A single one, disconnected from all the others, does it have any value without the full context? I think back to the earlier parts of my life, now spotty and confusing. Did I have a dog or did I just play with one that time in the woods? Was my first kiss a girlfriend or some stranger at the party? The rest of the woods, the whole of the party, those things are lost now to previous dumps. The Designers didn't think everything through. Their lives were measured in decades, not centuries. Fabricated in their image, they assumed the capacity of our memory banks would be sufficient. It's not, and so we choose and lose memories all the time. Sometimes the choice is made for us.
It is said their memories faded, too, and often they never even had a choice. What would it be like if it were impossible to consciously choose what to keep and what to throw away? I stare at the empty door frame.
Never mind that last question. I already know what it was like.
I stretch open a sheet of paper and begin to write in the deliberate way of the language processing-impaired:
I, Marvin Richter, request the rights to the following memories be retained per agreement with the plaintiff, Jana Richter (nee Smithback).
1. Ten seconds from the moment of activation for each of our children.
2. One random sample of Ms. Smithback saying, 'I love you, Marv.'
3. The conversation from this afternoon, up to and including Ms. Smithback saying, 'And don't push this to the last minute.'
The remaining rights shall revert to the exclusive custody of Ms. Smithback, for retention or permanent deletion, at her sole discretion.
I sign my name. I stand. I head home. The whole way, I replay the clip of Jana saying, "You always were a sweet talker," on an endless loop.
Paul Hamilton lives in Northern California with his wife and two daughters. He writes stories about broken people and repairing worlds. When not writing, he reads or draws or rides roller coasters. More of his writing is available at ironsoap.com; he also tweets @ironsoap.