MONDAY: Entropy’s Mistress

BY FRANK T. SIKORA

Copyright is held by the author.

DESPITE AN evening of rain and the gathering dusk, the Memory Merchant’s booth remains crowded. Dozens of customers wait patiently for their turn. Mostly old they mingle silently beneath drab umbrellas, hands folded, eyes staring straight ahead. By the looks of their well-worn sweaters and jackets, I suspect they are desperate for money, fearful of facing their twilight years mired in poverty.

The Merchant’s booth matches its clientele; it lacks the whimsical colour and clutter of the surrounding booths including Daisy’s Desperate Measures with its brightly painted bottles of love potions and scents or Phillip’s Worlds (and I mean worlds) of Stamps and its unsteady stacks of three-ring binders. There are no flashing strobes or neon strokes casting light here and there, just the soft glow of a dozen, fist-sized memory cubes to attract patrons.

Staring at the tall, lean Merchant, clad in a white suit and tie, I am both drawn to his booth and repulsed. Imagine selling one’s memories for a few gold coins. Still, those cubes . . . they are hypnotic. I cannot help but wonder what memories they hold: the lives of one’s children? Sweet memories of the departed?

I turn to my wife, Annie, quiet and resolute — the contagion. “This world,” I say, “is not without sin, but there’s much to admire here: its lack of technology, its innocent belief in the power of magic, the beauty of its setting suns and rising moons.”

Annie’s silence reaffirms our intentions.

I sigh and nervously tighten my grip on the straps of my backpack. I think about our children, Tess and Sarah — the breaking news, the desperate phone messages from Annie, and then the funerals. It would be easier if I could suppress these memories; they are a relentless howl I cannot silence.

Staring at the Merchant, I consider selling my memories — all of them: Tess, Sarah, Annie, and the world we once loved, and the worlds we have poisoned. It would be as if none of them ever existed, leaving me hollow as a ghost, but I can’t. It would be betrayal. Only with memory I can honour all those who have passed. “Let’s just move on, Annie.”

She frowns. Once she was beautiful. Her skin was an exquisite tint of charcoal. Her hair hung in long red braids. I was entranced from the moment we met, unable to resist her beauty, her wit, and her empathy.

“No, Eli, our actions are justified,” she says. “Look closely, past the banners and the lights and the children. I know you see innocence. I see cruel cynicism and emerging decadence. I see a society as guilty as any we have touched. Now, do your job. Place the backpack beneath the Merchant’s booth.”

It is a threat masked by command. I never thought I would fear my bride. When we were young, she wanted to change our world, change the lives of children, until one morning the unthinkable happened at school. And then it happened at another. And then it became the norm. The plague had been released, and no one was immune.

With a smile of compliance, I leave Annie and approach the Merchant, politely slipping through the crowd.

The rain begins to pour. The crowd looks up as if it has been condemned.

I drop the pack beneath the table. In 30 minutes, the bomb will detonate and scores will die, but that is not the worst of the damage. A virus will be unleashed. An idea as black, and as insidious, and as addictive as the cruelest opiate will infest the soul of the world — indiscriminate bombing, senseless murder, for reasons obscure and unfathomable. Killing without honour — entropy’s mistress.

The Merchant sees me. “Buying, sir?”

“No,” I reply, my eyes turning toward the cubes. I want to touch them. I want to get lost in the lives they hold. I want to block out the memory of Tess and Sarah lying lifeless beneath their desks, hands over their heads, gaping holes in their chest and face.

“Selling?” He asks.

Yes! I want to scream. Take them all, everything. The crowd ever so slightly shifts away.

“No, no, just browsing.” I return my gaze to the cubes. They are beautiful. “I doubt I have any memories you’d be interested in.”

The Merchant leans forward. “You’d be surprised what sells. Darkness. Misery. Betrayal. I can’t keep up with the demand.”

“Yeah?”

“Yes,” says the Merchant.

“Tragedy sells?”

The Merchant laughs and hands me his card. It is black with gold type. “Remember me,” he adds without a hint of irony or humour.

“Of course,” I say, stuffing the card into my pocket. I turn and face Annie, finally accepting that, perhaps, she was right.

7 comments

  1. Dave Moores

    Well that was a fun start to the week, artfully done. I was left puzzled by the bombers’ motive though. Revenge, nihilism, or a desire to accelerate the descent into chaos implied in the story’s title? So I didn’t get the ‘aha’ at the end that I look for in a short story.

  2. frank

    Interesting comments, Dave, and thank you. I agree there isn’t a big aha moment, and your are right, there should be. However, please consider this: Perhaps the narrator has just simply, slowly, piece by piece, one breath at a time has fallen prey to the darkest aspect of his self — as you say revenge, nihilism. Perhaps, suffering the greatest of losses, the death of our children, or the loss of anything valuable makes us susceptible to our worst impulses, and if a loved one, a close friend, is the person to lead us down our darkest path, we can convince ourselves of anything. We become the contagion, the soul destroying parasite we abhor.

    My story aside, I think flash fiction should of course possess a complete story arc, but the resolution may simply be another question? Anyways, thank you for your nice comment and your feedback.

  3. Norm Rosolen

    Hi Frank. I’m not very erudite when it comes to criticism. So I had to look up what “flash fiction” was (wikipedia) and it pointed to “vignette” which seems closer to what you have done. And I thought maybe it’s kind of “noir” (wikipedia again). Anyway, your vignette grabbed me with its mysteries, and darkness and appalling protagonists.

    There is an obvious typo “The crowd looks up as if has been condemned” > “The crowd looks up as if it has been condemned” or “The crowd looks up as if condemned”

  4. Michael Joll

    Short, dark, like a double espresso, and hold the sugar. Well crafted and deft handling of language as always, Frank. Thanks.

  5. Suzanne Burchell

    This parable is a lot of what our world has become — voyeurs of others misery ie Honey Boo, Maury, the Kardashians etc.. reality TV represents tragic stories that have become “gold”. The disease that killed the children reminds me of the middle east and the innocent who die there which begets more bombs for revenge. This story is so very clever in the its cloak of parable — a wake up call to what ails our planet. Well done!!

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