by Robin Pond
I checked the time on my phone—exactly 9 a.m. I glanced at Sarah. Her expression mirrored my own disorientation. We were seated in matching chrome-glass chairs, in the reception area of TimeSavers. The logo on the wall, hands inserting digital clocks into an old-style piggy bank, announced: TimeSavers—because time needn’t take so long. But I had no recollection of how we had gotten here.
“How—” I began.
“Welcome, volunteers.” The well-dressed young woman wearing a fluorescent blue ascot passed us clipboards with numerous forms attached. “We’ve indicated all the appropriate spots where you need to initial and sign.”
Sarah looked at me questioningly. “Volunteer?”
I sifted through hazy recollections. “We were watching that new streaming service, Blink, the one that’s free with no commercials.”
“And you’ve reacted to our infomercial,” the well-dressed woman prompted.
“But there were no—”
“In the cuts between scenes,” she patiently explained. “We call them ‘blips.’ They occur in compacted time so you don’t notice any interruption to your show, but they still allow us to have complete interactive sessions with interested parties.”
“But I don’t remember—”
“Memory is key.” The well-dressed woman smiled. She had a wide mouth displaying a broad array of shiny white teeth. “I see from our initial interview that you self-described as newlyweds.”
“Seven months and four days,” Sarah confirmed.
The well-dressed woman nodded consolingly. “You have most of your lives still ahead of you and it is only natural to want to get every last drop . . . every experience . . . every feeling possible . . . out of your life.”
“But—” I still wasn’t grasping the connection between how Sarah and I chose to live our lives and TimeSavers.
The woman drew a deep breath and launched into a more detailed explanation. “So much of life is tedious, repetitive tasks not worth experiencing. By simulating . . . compacting . . . multi-tasking . . . layering experiences . . . an entire life condensed . . . focus only on the relevant . . . more salient . . . what’s really worth preserving.”
Sarah contracted her eyebrows, the way she always did when she was trying to sift through testimony, to focus on the essence of a problem. “But when so much is only simulated, can it really end up being more fulfilling, more exciting?”
The well-dressed woman flashed her broad smile. “Of course. Simulation is merely stimulation without the ‘t’.”
I began to object that this was obviously just an accident of language, but the conversation had already moved on.
“The important moments worth preserving . . .” the well-dressed woman assured us, “are experienced in real time . . . fully captured in memory.”
“And who determines what’s real,” I asked suspiciously, “what’s important, what’s really worth preserving?”
The young woman’s broad smile was unwavering. “It’s whatever you say, sir. Whatever you believe.”
Sarah began to sign the papers and, trusting her judgement, I did the same.
* * *
Later, back home, I glanced at the time on my phone—9:03 a.m. It was Saturday morning.
“What now?” I gazed at Sarah, unsure how we were supposed to proceed. We had had a long list of chores, but we knew they were already completed.
Sarah smiled at me shyly. “Now we are free, I suppose, to be everything to each other.”
I gently brushed back a few straggling strands of her light brown hair. She took my hand and led me many places all at once. We kissed and embraced and I greedily collected the memories of all her caresses, her hot breath on my neck, the flexing of our passion. I wrapped my arms around her body and she burrowed down into my chest. She was a part of me, the best part.
I still worked. I was a manager in Credit Systems at the bank. But all the projects and meetings and work interactions merely served as a hazy background for my time with Sarah. We would go for long walks. We attended the theatre and concerts. On special occasions we treated ourselves to dinner in expensive restaurants or went dancing, swaying together as one, lost in the rhythms of the music.
We travelled the world, sharing the wonders of foreign sights, exotic vistas, a carousel of wondrous experiences. We discovered a charming sidewalk café in Paris and spent a large part of the afternoon laughing and talking, sipping our wine, watching the world stroll by. Another time, we went on a sunset cruise in Maui and held each other tightly, the light slowly fading, the last tendrils of the sun wrinkling on the ocean’s waves.
Each memory became a special treasure, frozen beads on a silken thread, which I valued above all else, storing them away, guarding them jealously.
* * *
Then one day we found ourselves back at TimeSavers. I no longer had to glance at my phone to see that it was early afternoon. The time and date were permanently displayed in the corner of my vision.
I glanced at Sarah and was alarmed to see how weary she appeared to be. Her face was older, drawn, and when she noticed me studying her, she quickly looked away.
We were seated in a small but opulent conference room, cherry-red rosewood furnishings with gold trim. The logo on the wall announced, TimeSavers—because it’s always later than you think.
The well-dressed young woman had been replaced by a young man in a trim black suit with a fluorescent blue tie. He told us in the hushed tone of a professionally sympathetic funeral director, “I’ll leave you then to finalize . . . to determine . . . the next phase . . . stage . . . steps . . .”
We were alone in the silent room, but Sarah still wouldn’t look at me. I argued against this disconnection. “But why—”
“We’ve discussed it ad nauseam,” Sarah interjected. “There’s nothing more—”
“But,” I objected, “we’ve always been . . . so much . . . together . . . curled up in front of the fireplace in that cabin we rented up in Maine . . . buying those crepes from the street vendor . . . the vibrant red and gold of the leaves in the park . . . the sun dipping below the waves . . .” I frantically pulled up a hundred shared experiences—each one, I was sure, a bond linking us inextricably together.
But she sadly shook her head, causing wispy strands of hair to fall forward over her eyes. “I only have vague recollections, mainly just a blur.”
I reached out to softly brush away her hair. “But how can you not remember?”
But she pushed away my hand. “I remember plenty . . . friends and lovers . . . tender moments . . . struggles . . . successes at work. Do you even know what I do?”
I shrugged. “Some sort of lawyer.”
“An extremely successful litigator.”
“But that’s just—”
“The defining moments of my life . . . playing with Kate and Sophie, my sister’s kids . . . celebrations with friends . . . those I’ve gotten close to, each one a frozen treasure . . .”
“But all of our memories—”
“They’re your memories.” Sarah’s eyes narrowed as she re-examined the moments of her life. “Not ours. My cherished memories are with others.”
* * *
It is now late evening. I’m very tired, barely able to keep my eyes from closing, yet desperately clinging to consciousness. The drab olive-green walls of my room give the illusion of being suspended in space, floating. The medical machines surrounding my bed, with their constant hum and repetitive beeps, fade into the background.
The young nurse in the crisp white uniform could be the same well-dressed woman who had first met us at TimeSavers but I really can’t remember. She is leaning over my bed, smiling, smoothing the covers.
“Sarah—” I begin to mutter, my eyes scanning the hospital room.
The nurse takes my hand and presses it in hers. “No. There’s no one.” She leans down close to me, breathing words into my ear as if they were an intimate secret. “It’s okay to let go, Jeffrey. When the memories are too heavy, too great a burden, it’s okay to release them.”
My eyes close but I stubbornly cling to Sarah. I feel her close beside me, on a crisp autumn day, kicking up the leaves as we meander through the golden forest. She rests her head on my chest, burrowing down beside me in the bed.
“She is still . . . real.” I try to boldly declare but my plaintive rising tone undercuts my assertion, revealing the uncertainty.
And the nurse, hovering above me, her eyes smiling, possibly mocking, replies, “Whatever you say, sir. Whatever you believe.”
Robin Pond is a Toronto-based writer and playwright. His plays, mainly comedies, have received hundreds of performances and publication with Eldridge and YouthPLAYS and in numerous anthologies. One of his plays, The Retirement Plan, has been optioned to be made into a movie. On the prose fiction side, Robin’s mystery novel, Last Voyage, was published as an e-book in 2018. Since then, he has had numerous short stories accepted for publication in various magazines and anthologies and he is currently assembling selected sci-fi stories into a collection which he intends to publish under the title Future Developments.