The Remembrance of the Past

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Short Fiction
Elra awoke in the middle of the night. A cool wind was gusting down from unseen heights on the mountain, and the stars were clear and bright in the dark sky. Elra saw Ulmar, the Crown of Thalris, shining directly above her. She took a breath in of the clear, refreshing air, and turned over to go back to sleep.
Suddenly, she was aware of a soft sniffling. She turned back over toward the source of the sound and saw Emmet sitting alone at the dying embers of the campfire. He was gazing off into space, eyes glazed over with some memory of the past. He had light tears on his cheek, and every so often would wipe a new one away.
Elra took off her blanket, got up, and began walking quietly toward Emmet. Either her approach was so quiet or Emmet was so lost in thought that he didn’t look up until she was a few feet away from him. He half-smiled at her, the kind of smile that is meant to be genuine but is marred by the shadow of sadness. Elra sat down next to him and put her arm around him, but didn’t say anything. Emmet stared off into the distance once more. They sat in silence for a while, staring at the embers and listening to the wind whistle through the trees.
Finally, Emmet broke the silence. “She was so beautiful,” he said, giving a quiet laugh of grief. “The way her hair seemed to dance in the sun, reflecting so many shades of red. The most beautiful red hair I have ever seen,” he said, sighing deeply. “Her soft, fair, warm body next to mine on cold nights like this; the feel of her lips on mine; the feel of our tongues intertwined: it was heaven, as far as I can tell,” he said, shoulders slumping. He sat silent for a while longer.
A new look of pain came into Emmet’s face, and tears brimmed his eyes. “And our child,” he said in a whisper. “Our children!” he said in astonishment, as if it were the first time he had learned about it. “Yes, our children: a boy with sandy blonde hair who loves to run and chase butterflies; and a girl, red hair like her mother, my pride and only joy.”
“What was her name?” asked Elra. “Or their names?”
Emmet was silent, gazing off into the distance once more. He shook his head slowly, a look of pain etched deeply into his face. “I don’t know,” he whispered hoarsely. “I have no idea.” He put his head in his hands. “I can’t remember.” His body was wracked with great silent sobs. “Why can’t I remember?” That question seemed addressed to someone, though whether to Elra or to some great cosmic power beyond them both, she could not tell.
Elra rubbed his back. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Did you expect to return to them soon after you finished?" she asked. He didn’t respond, though he continued to weep and whisper “Why? Why can’t I remember?” Elra continued rubbing his back. Slowly, the sobs subsided, and he sat up at last.
His face was blotchy and tear-streaked, his eyes swollen and red from all the crying. He gave her a weak smile, but this one was sincere, the relief of a man after a true catharsis. “Thank you,” he said quietly, “for sitting with me here in my grief.” Elra nodded, looking sympathetically at him. She began to open her mouth, but Emmet spoke first, somehow anticipating what she would say.
“There is nothing you can do beyond what you have already done,” he said gently. “Your presence has been a great gift.” He looked kindly at Elra. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled back. Emmet inhaled deeply and let out a great breath. He patted Elra on the knee, and she grasped his hand as he did so, squeezing it for comfort. He smiled weakly once more, then looked down at the ground. After they had sat in silence for a few moments, Elra felt that it was time to go. As she stood up, Emmet said, “They are not gone, you know.” Elra stopped and turned around, a questioning look on her face.
“What do you mean?” she asked. “Was that not long in the past?”
Emmet shook his head, still looking off into the distance. “No,” he said simply. “No. Long in a past, maybe, but not long in ours,” he finished cryptically. Suddenly, he smiled, a bright genuine smile, and said, “I’ll be alright. Thank you, Elra. You are a kind woman.”
Elra smiled back and returned to her cot. She pulled a blanket over her, snuggling deeper into the fur.
Not long in our past? Elra thought. What does that mean? Is he saying he wasn’t really asleep for all those years? Or is he saying that it’s not in our past at all? These questions and others danced through her mind, but she had no time to ponder, as sleep quickly overtook her.