Nearly every scrawl penned upon each faded line, had been memorized. An escalating list of time stamps housing an assortment of significant events in his personalized history. Within the pages of that brown, tattered leather-backed diary, lay the key moments that defined his very existence. Within a mind of clogged and scattered fragments, the written physical record still proved a necessary requirement. That old brown diary. A parting gift from a mother long gone so she and the rest of his future may still remain as vivid and clear as present day. He recalled his eleventh birthday. Receiving the book and all the responsibilities that came with it.
A tinny female voice called out from behind him, though it was not the one he longed to here again. ”James… James, can you hear me?”
He let out a heavy, resigned sigh. ”Yes. I’m here, Kim.” The despondency is his tone caused a slight pause. ”Is everything OK with you, James? You feeling alright?” She asked. ”Just fine, thanks. I was reminiscing about a few things. Nothing to affect what we’re here for so don’t worry.”
He willed out the restless emotions that had surfaced at the most inopportune time possible. ”I’m ready whenever you are, Kim.” The microphone next to his left ear fell silent for the next several seconds. ”OK, James. One last thing before we begin..” She resumed in a hushed tone. ”And take this as a personal piece of advice from me to you. You’re spending a lot of money here today as do all our clients. So take your time and carefully think about which memories you wish to keep. Prioritize is the name of the game. You can of course come back to us for another session at a later date but that’ll mean another hefty price tag. I don’t want you having any regrets afterwards.”
”Thanks for the concern, Kim. But that’s all taken care of.” He replied. ”You may find this hard to believe but I own… something like a dairy. I always made it a strict point to note down the date, time and duration of any important event in my life. And to read through the entire thing at least twice a week, making sure I keep that information secured in my brain.”
He heard a muffled titter through the headset. ”That’s a first, James! We’ve had clients here that must have spent up to four hours just trying to locate one specific memory. Believe me, we’ve seen it all. But I must say, that’s some creative thinking on your part.”
”Actually, it was my mother’s idea.” He explained. ”She gave me the diary when I turned eleven. She’d already kept her own personal log of my life within the same book. You know, the times she assumed I’d also consider to be memorable down the line. So, in essence, the reigns were handed over to me from then onward. My very first entry being that birthday itself. It was also the day I discovered about my hidden ability. You can imagine what an unforgettable day that must have turned out to be.”
”Well, sounds like we’ve got a man with a plan in our midst.” She remarked as she fingers could be heard racing over a display screen. ”So, with that great build up from you, we’re all set. Now, look directly at the “Years” menu in front of you and blink once.”
James shifted his line of sight over to the large, blue floating font, then gave one prolonged bat of his eyelids. The writing fell away as a black box emerged in it’s place together with a long slider bar below it. ”Whoa! What a rush that was.” He gasped.
”It’s alright. You’ll get used to it.” She continued. ”Now, do you see the numerals written underneath the bar?”
”Sure. I see them just fine.” He noticed the timeline began from a hundred years back and progressed in sequential order until present day. ”Great.” Kim proceeded. ”So, just blink again at the year you wish to go to and your selection will be highlighted with a red circle around it.” He did as she asked and went exactly six years back. A bright, crimson oval encompassed the displayed year as well as a stationary yet detailed picture appearing in the hitherto black box. James opened his eyes wide with astonishment. ”The old street I used to work at. I recognise it!” He cried. The startling clarity presented an almost lifelike feel to the image. Another melodious chuckle sounded out. ”That’s the usual initial response we get."
”Sorry about that. I’ll try to control my emotions from now. But I gotta say. This thing is really something else."
”OK. Now, blink at the “Back” button in the bottom corner and you’ll be at the main menu again.” James found the whole system fascinating. Kim seemed to be right about the speed of getting accustomed to navigating through the various menus. Once he returned to the main section, the year he chose was circled at the bottom left of the display screen. ”And that’s pretty much all there is to it!” She declared. ”The other menus work in exactly the same fashion. You pick a month and the timeline will represent that particular period, together with your pre-selected year. The hours and minutes will also correspond to your previous selections. Just continue to browse through your life’s history and the process will soon become second nature. Have you any more questions, James?” He sat in awe, dumbstruck for a moment before letting out a muted ”No, I’ll be fine from here.”.
”Fantastic” Kim said. ”One final thing. Let me know beforehand when you’re ready to go ahead and make your choices for storage. I’ll be online in case you have any other queries. Have fun!”
James felt fresh injections of adrenaline cruise through his body. This was the moment he had anticipated and dreaded his whole life, all consolidated into one confused, disorientating emotion. An opportunity to relive an encyclopaedia of collated information. The excitement was electric.
Over the next three hours, James recalled all those diary dates stashed away within the corners of his mind and perused through a library of precious times. Dolores and himself sitting at a restaurant table. Him wearing a list of things to talk about on their first date, which he haphazardly scratched into his forearm in biro to read under the table when she was not looking. The food they ate. The blonde waitress who had her hair pinned back in a ponytail. The couple across the room from them sipping on wine all evening. Every recollection spewed forth onto the miniature windows in his headset.
One by one, James reeled off every special occasion, happy time and treasured moments he could think of. Their wedding day. The enormous cake they had ordered. He viewed himself and best friend, Clive, carry it into the pavilion. A hair's breadth from dropping it at one point. Fast forward to walking down the aisle, the priest standing in front of him, the crowd sitting behind. Him lifting the white veil to meet a pair of the most beautiful eyes he had ever seen. Every recollection, a pin-sharp first person recording of utter perfection. He wondered to himself how an hour would be enough to condense all these prized possessions onto one tiny, limited storage medium. Maybe Kim was right and he might have to make a return visit, he thought.
Through all the imprinted dates time-stamped onto his mind’s eye, this particular entry kept making it’s presence felt more than a few times already. A date he tried hard to banish to the nether regions of his subconscious, but to no avail. His concentration at trying to dismiss the date only managed to garner more focus upon it. Jubilation gradually turned to morbid curiosity as he knew the chance lay sprawled at his feet.
He bit into his lip hard as the whirling tornado of determination and delight subsided. A nervous ache rose from his gut. He shut his eyes and pondered for what seemed like ages. A decision that could have far reaching repercussions for months on end. James remembered Dolores making her recommendations known about his visitation to Digital Realities. What not to view. Avoiding certain mental artefacts that were, up until now confined to the abyss of discarded dreams. But he could not help himself. The date and time were etched into his very soul now and just one last look may put his inner demons to rest. He input the desired date and time into the system, gripped the sides of his seat with both hands and readied himself.
For a split second, the woman who manifested before him bore no resemblance to how he had envisioned her. But as the seconds flit by, a deep pain wrenched hard at every fibre of his heart. He realised he had tried to shun her memory from his mind's eye. Erasing even key details of her facial features. The fine contours of her face, the shallow lines upon her brow. Anything to destroy the agony of remembering her. But now there she stood, looking at him once more by the open front door. The same endearing smile, filled with love and devotion. The breeze blowing strands of her mat brown hair across her face. Her favourite grey cardigan wrapped around delicate shoulders. The last remaining remnant of the woman he once considered his entire world. The faces in those nightmares he endured on an almost daily basis. He now understood. They were twisted abominations of the woman he saw in front of him at this very moment. His mind's attempt to scribble out the tortuous reminders of the past.
His hands began to tremble, tears running down his cheeks and collecting upon the inner plastic rim of the headset. ” I miss you so much, mother. I'm so sorry.”. He whispered.
Kim returned a reply not a second later. ”Sorry, James. What was that? Is everything OK?”
”I'm not doing his anymore!” James repeated. He found his whole environment to be toxic and struggled to breath, talking in huge lugs of air.
”Listen to me, James.” She asserted over the microphone. ”What happened? Calm down and tell me what the problem is.”
”No!” Kim heard the headset smash upon the floor and the halting sobs of James in the background. ”God, I’m sorry, mother!” he wailed. ”What was I doing? Please forgive me!”