Volume 4 Number 4


Autumn 2006


by Sarah Ann Watts

I feel I want to rub everything out and start again.

Once, she might have regretted that careless whisper, but not anymore. It was too late to be sorry, and always was no longer an issue.

She glanced at the outline on the paper in front of her. It was familiar, the face of someone she'd thought she knew well, but now, she reflected, she didn't know at all.

Cassandra had always understood that self-awareness was the key flaw in her character. As a child she had received counselling against the seven sins of selfishness: self-pity, self-denial, self-improvement, self-preservation, self- advertisement, self-destruction, and, most dangerous of all to the community, self-esteem. The religious instruction had been tempered according to her estate. She was the Heiress. She had always known that ordinary rules did not apply to her.

Just like her grandmother who had stubbornly refused to be parted from the antique spinning wheel she had inherited from her grandmother (who, according to the scandalous rumour of her day, knew how to use it), so she also refused to let go of the past. She made her own home-pressed paper and paid fabulous prices to the nighttime dealers she employed to procure pens, pencils, and ink for her "personal use."

Cassandra had always kept a diary. In it she recorded her memories, her dreams and drawings; storing them against the technological meltdown she feared above all things. Her behaviour was unusual and, if she were not the Heiress, would have been considered unhealthily self-obsessed. Anyone else would have had their personal memory reconfigured long ago for their own protection and peace of mind.

For most citizens the mandatory download while they "slept" came as a blessing and a relief. Crimes and misdemeanours were wiped away, giving them freedom to begin each day with a clean slate. Without memory there is no age. Reborn each day, they could not die.

For the Heiress it was different.

After decades of cheating the System through her illicit diary, she knew she was old and that the youthful face that she so lovingly retraced was no longer hers. She had paid the price for her sedition and the marks were plain to see in the looking glass.

Last night the visitor came. She remembered him well. She had recorded his words in her old-fashioned handwriting and drawn a swift, practised likeness. She did not think she had seen him before, but recognised with the stirring of some long dormant emotion that she would like to see him again.

She had greeted him in her darkened room, lit only by the rare candles she imported from the old world, but he had startled her by turning on the lights, exposing them both. His improbable youth and her impossible age -- she saw her own shock reflected in his eyes along with a flicker of recognition.

"You, too," he said. Then he smiled. "You know why I'm here?"

She shook her head, she was afraid to say anything. She felt he was reading her thoughts, probing deep into her mind.

"You have something for me?" she asked, falling back on the formula she always used.

His hand went to his pocket and he placed a package beside her hand. He did not touch her. She stared at it, knowing that the shape was wrong.

"This is not what I asked for!"

He put his hands back in the pockets of his coat. "I think you will find, given time, it is exactly what you need."

He nodded to her, a casual farewell, and she realised he had activated some hidden control, opened the portal back to the outside world and, while she sat -- blinking back tears? -- he was gone.

Later she opened the parcel and read one word in the old language: Eraser.

She turned up the lamp, and gently, slowly at first and then with more conviction, she began to rub out her image on the page. The stranger had answered her prayer. Soon she would remember no more.

Bio: Sarah Ann Watts lives in Hull, East Yorkshire. Her work has appeared in Quictiononline, Bewildering Stories, Apollo's Lyre, The Hiss Quarterly, Flashshot and the University of Hull's short story anthology, Liquorice Ice Cream and other Just Desserts.