She wakes up in a long white hallway, her back on the ground. When she stands, a fast stream of images flushes past her on both sides, a movie reel set fast and unfocused. She puts her hand to the back of her head. Blood.
“Where am I?” she says to no one.
A letter appears at her feet. Her name is on the white envelope.
You’re in a hall.
She looks around for someone else but sees no one. The images look familiar. They almost look like faces.
“What happened? How did I get here?”
A new letter.
You are dead. This is where you are reborn.
What a waste of paper, she thinks. She glances at the images streaming past her right side. Is that her mom? It looks like her mom. Not her mom now but the one she saw in photographs. The one she wass too young to remember.
She walked down the hall. Her footsteps do not make an echo even though they should. There is no sound at all, only images flying past, a river of washed out and unfocused faces. They almost look like her memories. They go too fast to be certain.
A new envelope. This one is navy blue.
You are dead. This is where you are reborn. You will awake in a new place. You can bring five memories with you from your most recent life. All of your memories are streaming to your sides. Please reach and pull five. These will help make your new life easier. You have ten minutes. Happy death day and happy new birthday.
This can’t be heaven. This can’t be what happens to everyone.
A clock with navy numbers appears on the wall in front of her.
The memories are streaming so quickly, she can’t make them out. How will she know which one’s to reach for? How will she know she is grabbing the hand of her mother or good friend or childhood dog and not salvaging an abusive boyfriend, those 25 pounds she lost in college, or the neighbor boy who used too much tongue?
She gets on her knees and starts banging her head on the ground.
Maybe it’s not real. Maybe she will actually die and go to real heaven or real hell and not where this place is.
When she smacks her head against the floor, nothing happens. No sound. No pain. Nothing.
The clock reads 8:54
“How will I know what I am grabbing?”
“How will I grab only the good things!?”
She screams. A wasted scream. A scream no one will hear. A scream that does nothing. It doesn’t even make her feel better.
“Are the two stream different? Why are there two?”
On your left are your authentic memories as you remembered them. On your right are memories that others have told you about. Both loop in chronological order.
She walks to her left. Her childhood dog. A stick horse her grandfather made. The time her teacher emptied her desk in front of class. She sticks her arm deep into the stream and she can feel them, feel all of her memories. Her long hair that she chopped in eighth grade weaves through her fingers. Her palm brushes a horse she rode at camp; a kick ball bounces off her elbow; a summer rain dips on her shoulder. She wraps her fingers around something that does not want to be contained and pulls it into the hall.
A small silver fish wriggles for breath at her feet. She remembers it. She caught it when her and her father went fishing. The first time that just the two of them went. She had to go to the bathroom and wouldn’t go over the edge of the boat so they had to go in early.
“So I’ll go fishing with my father again?” She is relieved that he will be in her new life.
A new white letter.
You will catch that particular fish.
What is even the point of this? How does this make her new life easier?
She walks back to her memories and catches a glimpse of a friend from high school. The memories are getting more recent. She pushes her arm into the stream and feels around for a friend, a teacher, a person to hold on to. Her hand starts to feel cold and she wraps her fingers around a chilling elbow, shaking to keep itself warm.
It’s a tree branch. She pulls out the student lawn from her college. All of it. A large oak tree, a fountain, sidewalks that meet in a ‘Y’, splitting a frosted lawn. Each branch, each blade of grass, each petal of flowers that opened too early are covered in a small case of ice. A spring frost. She remembers sitting on the steps of her dorm in the cold and staring at the lawn until her fingers turned blue.
She walks to her right. Memories that she was told of. She reaches in and pulls a toddler version of herself, spitting up mashed carrots. Her first food. She reaches again. A letter an old friend wrote but that got lost in the mail. I can’t stand another day without your laugh. Is that silly of me? Remember going to the park? You jumped in the lake with all your clothes on and I said you were crazy but you were beautiful. I should have jumped in too but all I did was shove my hands in my pockets and hope you wouldn’t remember me being afraid of your joy.
She grabs at her chest. Why did she never call him back? Why didn’t she visit that May like she said she would.
Four memories. Two minutes left.
“What happens if I don’t choose a fifth?”
One will be chosen for you.
She walks to the frosted lawn and sits on a cold bench. Which of her memories did she bring into her current life? Ones that weren’t created but put there to be found. Did that make them more special? Probably not. Her memories rush past her the same way they were created. Even now, dead for only a few minutes, most of what she remembers seems foggy and unfocused. Not like they are slipping away, like they are being erased.
54 seconds left.
She reaches into the stream on the left and pulls out herself. She is sitting in her bed reading a book. She was never able to finish it because she died. Her memory laughs. Was the book really that funny? She can’t remember. It was only a few days ago but she can’t remember. Such a small, insignificant moment. This is what she gets to take with her.
She goes back to the bench and, as she is about to sit, it all disappears. The fish, the lawn, the letter, the baby spitting carrots, the girl reading the book all vanish. In their place is a small navy box with a powder blue ribbon.
A door appears at the end of of the hall.
She walks, her box of memories under arm. They bounce and laugh and vibrate, excited to be recycled, excited to be more than images splashed on the walls of a hallway.