I’m dusting off some old short stories and poetry to finally give a home to online – as I slowly morph this into mostly a site for my writing. This first piece was written in spring of 2008 for a creative writing assignment in college. It was lightly edited yesterday to fix obvious errors and to better reflect how my writing style has evolved. Content warning for memory loss/amnesia.
by Elinor Anne James
There she was, behind the service counter of the eerily familiar coffee lounge. She was making and bringing orders to the various people there for pricey, caffeinated drinks. Their faces didn’t mean anything to me. Even if I could remember any one of them, I didn’t want to. It was hers alone that haunted me.
Her blue-grey eyes flickered in time with her perky step as she rushed about. Her reddish-blonde hair was up in a messy pony tail, several lose strands framing her face. Every time she reached a new customer, her smile practically lit up the lounge. I wanted an excuse for her to return to my table and share that smile with me the way she had when she first brought me my order about a half an hour earlier.
I watched her every movement — her every foreign, yet familiar, movement. I could have sworn I had never seen her before; then again, I could have sworn I had.
It doesn’t make sense, my thoughts screamed.
I attempted to turn my attention elsewhere. Anywhere at all would have been better than having my attention transfixed on the unsuspecting barista. I wasn’t sure what the word was at the moment, but I knew there was a term for a person who watched someone else incessantly without permission.
I decided to take a taste of my coffee, at last, and barely found the courage to swallow. It was so horribly bitter. I stared at the crystal shakers in front of me. I knew that one was sugar, but what were the others filled with? They couldn’t all be filled with sugar, right? That would be a waste, I thought.
I took the first one and shook some of the contents onto my hand and tasted it. It was definitely sweet and triggered my memory of sugar. I then tasted the next bit and found it sweet as well, though certainly not sugar as it was much sweeter. I reached for the final shaker. Its contents were sweet, but left a strange after taste in my mouth that I didn’t particularly care for.
Once all three shakers were back in their spots, I contemplated which of the first two I would use. Sugar was the safest choice, something I could still recall, but the coffee was so bitter that the sweeter of the two options was a tempting risk. As my hand hovered and my fingers bounced between the two, I heard her voice behind me.
“Hey there,” she said, her voice like the tune of an old, favorite song that comes rushing back when least expected. I grasped for the name of the song, for the lyrics, for anything at all as I turned to look at her. “You doing okay?” She must have noticed how disoriented I was. After all, I was the only person in the lounge taste testing the contents of shakers.
When I didn’t answer, her beautiful smile faltered and she bit her bottom lip a little at one corner. The smile became soft and a little sad as she sat down in the seat across from me.
“Recovery is rough, isn’t it?”
My brain went numb and I knew there was something in what she had asked. How did she know about my condition to begin with? I hardly even understood my condition, and it certainly wasn’t something I was inclined to share with a stranger.
Or was she a stranger?
“Your parents thought seeing me here first might refresh some of your memories,” she said gently and I hung on every word as I studied her. “They were so hopeful since…”
I watched as the light fell from her eyes. It was followed by the sound of a deep sigh. I immediately hated both and felt guilty for being the one to cause it, since that seemed to be the case. It was now abundantly clear that I had known her before… I shivered. Before the accident.
God, how I wanted to remember her.
“I’m going to go phone your parents,” I heard her mumble in a discouraged tone as she stood to leave.
“Wait!” I jumped to my feet and she looked at me with wide eyes. I swallowed hard and looked down at my hands. “I… I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”
“It’s okay,” she offered kindly.
“It isn’t,” I argued with a shake of my head. I met her eyes again. “I don’t know you anymore, but I do know that I want to. You’re still the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen.”
She stared at me for a moment, confusion in her eyes before they started sparkling once more. A smile returned to her face and I quietly rejoiced.
“That may be the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me,” she said, smile wavering just a little like she might be trying not to cry. “Thank you.”
She turned and left me there in a hopeful daze, her words echoing in my mind like a memory of another time, another place, somewhere we both knew each other.
Maybe I never would remember her from before, but as she walked away I knew I would spend every waking moment making certain I never forgot her again.