"Don't forget me," she said. Tears streaming down her face darkened her cheeks. Her long brown hair flowed in a breeze he could not feel, the same phantom breeze that disturbed her tattered, white gauzy dress. "Don't forget me. I'll see you again." She radiated light. Her dress seemed made of it, and her hair glowed at the edges as if backlit by the world's most powerful floodlight.
"I won't," he said, and darkness took him.
Snooze alarms are cruel inventions, humouring the procrasinator; the unmotivated; the mentally stagnant, without actually providing any rest. Seven minutes is not time enough to collect a scattered psyche, or to rebuild a scattered life. Seven minutes is a cynical gift to someone not willing to face his world. This was the tired philosophy running through Jon's mind as he dragged himself from his bed. The sort of trite musing that occurs to you when you're half asleep and seems like genius. The bed was queen sized but hadn't held a second occupant since he could remember. One side lay perfectly undisturbed, while the left side -- Jon's side -- was disheveled and indented by his sleeping form. The right side was her side. Had she ever slept there? He couldn't recall. For that matter, he couldn't recall if he had ever met her outside of a dream. He knew he must have, but specifics eluded him. Timelines, details, there was nothing. Fuck, what was her name?
"Don't forget me."
I haven't! I haven't forgotten. But he had. Who was she?
The drive to work was as eventful as it ever was. His acidic, burnt, twice-filtered coffee from the Starbucks downstairs sucked just like usual. It was all very comfortably routine, he thought. What would he do if he ever tasted a good cup of coffee? Would he go into arrest? The sad thing was, he knew, was that he'd be ecstatic. How sad.
"So in closing, folks, it's crunch time." This from Jon's director. The usual quarterly speech. "We're going to need some weekend hours. We're going to need some late nights. The Steering Committee isn't going to approve any more resources, but you know that our deadlines aren't going to change either. That's all." Shuffling out of the meeting, Larry tapped him on the shoulder. Unshaven, unmarried, unremarkable Larry. "Hey man, we're going to head to Hooters for lunch. You in?"
"Yeah sure." Hooters, where one pays good money for mediocre food and the chance to be sneered at by college girls who know precisely how sad you really are. Fantastic. At least it's out of the office.
Larry drove, as usual. His Jeep Liberty freshly waxed and detailed. Joe from QA took shotgun. Jon rode in back with Ted from the mailroom. Ted smelled like Jon's front hall closet: wet moldering sneakers and assorted air pollutants. "Hey Joe, think you can score me some shit this weekend? My lady is coming in till Monday."
"Yeah man, call my cell after work, we'll hook you up."
Jon watched the overdeveloped cityscape slide by. The sky was grey but there was no rain. They passed a few high-school aged kids on the sidewalk, wearing their pants too low and their white earbuds, walking as if they had some sort of pelvic injury. A mother not much older than the high school kids screamed at a wailing child in a stroller. Jon felt like slugging her, or telling her off. The momentary rage faded quickly to desperate apathy.
"Here we are, boys!"
The SUV scudded over the pothole laden driveway of Hooters. Jon unbuckled his seat belt and reached for the door, and darkness took him.
"You have forgotten me, haven't you?"
He was standing on a hard floor, but beyond that there was nothing to orient him. He was surrounded by blackness: all consuming, inky darkness without relief. His senses reeled as they cast about for some point of reference, then surrendered, his heart slowing as he focused on her. She was all in white tatters, like in his dreams. Her soft brown hair, lit on the edges softly by some unseen source, rippled in an updraft Jon couldn't feel.
"I haven't!" he protested, not knowing why he should feel guilty, while feeling it just the same. "I haven't forgotten you. I think about you every day! It's only that..."
"That you don't know who I am," she smiled. There was an accusation in that smile.
"I... I think I should," he said feebly. "We... we were together, once, I think. You and I. It's like another lifetime. I can't..."
"Can't remember. I know. Why do you suppose that might be?"
"I don't know. Post traumatic stress syndrome?"
That earned an outright laugh from her, like silver bells and breaking glass. "Do I seem as horrible as that?"
"Well, I'm glad," she smirked. "Jon, do you ever wonder why you never got married? You're near that introspective age, now. Do you wonder why you never had children?"
"I... I guess I just never met the right girl... the right woman, I mean. Besides, I don't think I'm the 'dad' type. I can hardly keep my own shit together, you know?" The absurdity of having a meaningful discussion with a dream apparition occured to him, but not strongly.
"But do you remember your last relationship? Who was she? Why did you break up? Where is she now?"
"I don't... I don't really remember. My memory is really bad the past few years. I know I should see someone, a doctor or something, but I haven't. I remember my early childhood. I remember high school, and college graduation, but not much past that. I remember getting my job a year ago, and how glad I was to find a job after being laid off so long, but everything before that is a blur. Her name was... Her name..."
"Don't you think it's odd that there is a hole in the middle of your life, Jon? Don't you think it's unusual that your memory only goes back a year?"
"Well, I don't really think about it... I mean... there's a lot going on. I can hardly keep paying my rent every month. I haven't done much but work and sleep since getting this job, it's just..."
"It seems incredible, though, doesn't it? That your childhood; your upbringing; your education; your identity, is all preserved, but every other detail of your life is missing?"
"Now that I'm thinking about it..."
"Jon, what's your mother's name?"
"Hey man, snap out of it. The lady here wants your order," said Larry, jabbing him in the shoulder.
A blonde with too much eyeshadow, glitter mascara, and an outfit her father would never approve of stared at him from half-lidded eyes, looking bored. The snap of bubblegum would have completed the image nicely.
"Oh.. err.. just a Rolling Rock, please."
"What's up with you man? Lately you're way out there. I mean, absent. I heard Mike say you haven't used your vacation time since you started. You ought to go somewhere. I think you need it," said Joe. He sounded geniunely sympathetic.
"Yeah.. maybe you're right," stammered Jon. His chest felt hollow. His head a tethered balloon. There was a rushing in his ears that made it difficult to hear what the guys were saying. Muffled conversation from other tables sounded like bubbling water.
"Are you feeling alright?" asked Ted. "You look like shit, dude. Larry, why don't you bring the guy home and then just come pick us up?"
"Aww c'mon man, we just got here..." Larry watched the latest pair of orange shorts go by the table with a keen interest.
"No guy I think he's right," said Joe. "He looks like he's going to pass the fuck out or something."
"Maybe we should take him straight to Holy Cross, I think he needs--"
"Her name was Cadence."
"Your daughter, Jon. Her name was Cadence. Actually her name is Cadence, but not here."
"What are you talking about? I've never had a daughter. Where am I? Why can't I see you? Why can't I move?"
"You're in a context that does not allow for sight, or for movement. You simply are, and that's all."
"What are you talking about? Why are you doing this to me? Have you drugged me? Is that why--"
"How are you talking to me right now, Jon?"
"You're speaking to me. How are you doing it? Do you feel air in your lungs? Do you feel your voice in your throat?"
"Oh God, what's happening to me? Am I insane?"
"On the contrary--"
"Nice of you to join us again, Jon. Your friends were worried. What's his sat?"
"Ninety-nine on four liters."
"Bring him down to two but keep monitoring. Call for an EKG and I think we're going to want an LP, too."
"You passed out, but you're all right now. We're going to run some tests, try to figure out what happened. Often this sort of idiopathic syncope isn't explained, though. Unless it recurs I wouldn't worry too much about it. You're probably exhausted. Your friends, the ones who brought you in, said you'd been working a lot of late hours, no time off?"
"Yeah, that's right. We were just talking about that..."
"I'm going to prescribe some rest and write you a note for work, if you need it. I recommend some time off. Relax, do something you enjoy. Take a road trip even, but don't drive." The doctor smiled at him. The sort of professional "I'm friendly to you because it's my job, but I'm very busy and you're a number to me" smile that always irked Jon -- perfectly understandable, and perfectly repugnant all at the same time. The guy couldn't be more than a year older than him, which also irked him. It was a reminder of how much more he could have done with his life.
"Yeah, I think I'll do that. Thanks."
The rental car wasn't flashy but it wasn't crap, either. It had a nice stereo and good speakers, and he'd only need it to go into town for groceries anyhow. The cottage he'd rented was right across the street from the beach -- which had cost him even now in the off season -- and he planned on doing a lot of walking.
The air here was cleaner than he'd have believed air could be. It was cold and crisp. He wouldn't have dreamt that breathing could be pleasurable. The subtle scent of the ocean drifted to him from the open windows as he sped down route 28 taking in the sights; the utter lack of urbanization. The sky was blue and free of clouds, and when he crested a hill the view of the ocean was a wonder: sea and sky meeting in a line that sometimes wasn't there to be seen. He sighed deeply. For the first time in memory, he felt alive.
"Ironic, since you're not."
"What do you mean, since I'm not? Since I'm not what?" The blackness was disturbingly familiar to him now. He didn't waste time on being frightened by it. Vaguely, he wondered what had become of the car.
"Not alive. You were just thinking how good it is to be alive. It's somewhat humorous since you never felt that way when you were alive and now you're not."
With a small twinge of panic Jon realized that this voice was different. This was not the woman from his dreams.
There was a rough laugh from an indistinct direction. There didn't seem to be direction, here. He couldn't see. He couldn't move. He wondered whether he had a body, here.
"No, you're right, I'm not Anna." Anna. "She's been coddling you. It won't help."
"What are you talking about?"
"We're going to save you. Frankly I don't know why we should, but she insists and that's enough for me. Lucky for you."
The world was pain, and darkness took him.
The car wreck featured prominently in that evening's local reporting. A terrible accident which left the car largely unrecognizable. Bits of trim and an errant tire were the only indications that the lump of steel and plastic had ever been a vehicle. The blood was hosed off the road by the local fire department before the first camera van arrived. People shook their heads and clucked their tongues and paid lip service to the shame of it all. Such a waste. So careless.
Jon's employer found a replacement for him before the month was out. Larry, Joe, Ted, and the rest of his coworkers didn't inquire about his memorial service, since they weren't really such close friends. His family wouldn't know who they were, and it would be awkward, they thought. As it happened, Jon had no known next of kin, so the hospital chaplin said a few words and arrangements were made with a hospital contractor for cremation.
"Daddy? It's Cadence..."