F I C T I O N – F L A S H
As Desmond reaches for his wallet, he notices the light from under the door. This day just got better.
“Honey? You home already?” he hollered as he closed the door.
“As are you,” in came Jana, matching the excitement with a hint of confusion.
“Oh you’re gonna love this one,” Desmond exclaims while he brings out a packet from among the coupons in his wallet, “This is a new card that just passed the prototype stage for the VR headsets. Guess what I loaded it with? Thought you’d never ask. A render of the meadows from our first date in Derbyshire!” He halts to see her reaction.
Noticing, Jana asks nonchalantly, “Priestcliffe?”
“Priestcliffe Lees, yesh. The card will recreate it in your headset. And…it comes with extra perks. You know, smell and taste are heavily associated with memory. So if you eat something distinct you ate that day, it will recreate the flower blooms, clouds, and overall ambience from the day. Now, remember the candy?” Desmond asks.
“Yeah, how could I…no! You can’t have planned this. Did you?”
Desmond smirks, “Perhaps.”
: Glad to know I am the chosen guinea pig.
: Well, erm, do you like it?
: Yeah, I-
: You don’t seem to. Anything wrong, Jana?
: No! You know how I’m with surprises.
: I don’t, really.
: I really like it. I just need a bit of time to process…
: What’s there to process? It’s our first date, Jana!
: Don’t be snippy. Freshen up first at least.
: You know I can clearly see through you. Tell me. Please?
: Okay, fine. I just want to keep it as a memory, not run it over and over like a high tech tape and lose that.
: I don’t understand. It’s both thoughtful and expensive.
: And I appreciate your gesture. Not the unthoughtful expense, however. How much?
: Doesn’t matter now.
Desmond takes the card and a bag of candies and storms out of the room.
Jana buys some scented candles on her way home. Having arrived, she hears the curtains flapping in the bedroom. She hides the candles, “Des? Your trip’s over?” She walks down to the room and sees him on the rocking chair, scratching its armrests.
: I’m sorry, I reacted unfavourably.
: You didn’t. It’s fine.
: It’s just, between your birthday gift and this, I don’t know what makes you happy anymore.
: It’s not like that. Actually, I just remember the day differently. After the date, I returned home to see my mum flat on the floor, trembling. You know she never got to see her house after that. The only positive from those days was your support.
An archaic smile follows her sigh. “But she lived for another 10 months after that,” Desmond replies hastily, ignorant of her tone, before a mix of realisation and remorse runs through his face, “I am so terribly sorry, Jan. That came out worse than expected. I take it back.”
: Don’t. I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that and move on.
: Thank you! And I’m also sorry I kept reminiscing that day a lot more inconsiderately than you.
: And I slept on the thought. Turns out, I wouldn’t mind experiencing it your way, given the chance, you know…
: Okay, I need you to sit down now. You know how careless I am with these things. Couldn’t even hold the card properly with these fingers.
: Oh, so you lost it? Great.
: But hold on. I have with me – tickets to Derbyshire for this September.
: And what am I supposed to do, waiting for two months, genius?
: Ohkay, you don’t need to play along. Just put on the damn headset.
Desmond unwraps the candy pack after making sure Jana’s linked in. “Open your mouth,” he mutters, “Here comes the airplane.”
“Oh, shut up!” The images start to form as she chews on the candy. Endless sights of sage green complemented by the occasional chartreuse, only interrupted by a cliff here and a hillock there. Barely visible, still, with the vine and sprout carpets around. She can’t decide whether to focus on the shade of the leadworts Des plucked for her, or the redstarts flying about.
Jana hears a muffled rumbling from afar. She backs up to the treeline under an elm, and takes a moment to admire the accumulating mammatus clouds above.
“It’s as if…” she pauses briefly, “I can almost smell the petrichor.”
Astonished, Desmond exclaims, “Really? I can just plug in and check if you’re exaggerating.”
Jana doesn’t take a moment to reply. Desmond does accordingly and sees a world much more vibrant than his memories of it. “You do remember,” he smiles widely after removing the set.
“But why are you so surprised?” Jana asks, still connected, her hands positioned as though holding a bouquet.
“No reason. You’re still a bad liar though,” he grins, ruffling the packet. The candy company went out of business five years ago.
Shudipto is a replicant with the emotional range of a labradoodle.