by Brianne Simone
Pa always smelled of cooking grease and smoke. He’d come home late at night, an hour after her bedtime, and kiss her mother on the cheek. Then he’d quietly open her door, whisper, “Are you asleep, darlin’?” and she’d try so hard not to giggle because Momma would be mad if she found out that their little girl was still awake, but Pa would scoop her up and tickle her until she let out peals of—
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—dancing with her husband on the night of their wedding. He had freckles over his nose and cheeks that she liked to trace with her fingers, making constellations on his skin. He held her with so much care and tenderness, as though he’d been born to love her. And she loved him.
… What was his name?
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It was Christmas Day. There was a man standing beside her, but his features were blurred, as though she was seeing him through the lens of a camera that was out of focus. He was dressed in blue pajamas and though she couldn’t see his face, she somehow knew that he was smiling as he watched a young girl tear red wrapping paper from a box that was roughly the size of a microwave.
Just as the massive bow came tumbling off, a high-pitched bark came from within the box. The faceless girl squealed with glee as a puppy with short black fur and mismatched eyes jumped into her lap and licked her chin.
“She’s never going to forget this,” the man beside her said, his voice shaking with laughter.
She smiled at him. “I hope that’s true.”
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Camilla stared down at a familiar scene, her grandsons unwrapping their presents on Christmas Day. Her seventy-fifth birthday had passed last spring. It was her first since her beloved Matthew had passed away.
Her daughter had been so worried about her spending the holidays alone that she’d insisted she stay with them for a few weeks. It’d been so wonderful to spend time with her grandchildren, she must have lost track of the time.
Outside the room, she could hear muffled voices, and she walked across the room to investigate, keeping one eye on the children so they wouldn’t get up to any mischief.
“You need to tell her,” she heard her son-in-law say in the hallway. He sounded strained. “You can’t keep selling your memories like this.”
“Her subscription rate’s skyrocketed, Tom,” her daughtered replied, a tremor in her voice. “I knew it would increase as she got older, but this is ridiculous! She won’t be able to afford her retirement at this rate. What else am I supposed to do?” Camilla listened to the sound of fabric rustling, then an exhausted sigh. “It was just one birthday. I was so young I doubt our service would have covered it for much longer, anyway.”
Having heard enough, Camilla returned to where her precious grandsons were crashing their toy robots together and wrapped her arms around their squirming, protesting bodies, drawing them close so she could study their faces one more time before she called to cancel her service for good.
Brianne Simone is a PopFic student at Emerson College who enjoys writing all genres of fiction.