by Deborah Koren © 2003

I loved a man in San Francisco. He was tall, good-looking, moved like a cat. Awesome in bed. But it wasn't just that. He had personality. He brought you his heart and said please take it because you're beautiful and I could love you forever if we stay together. Me? Beautiful? But, when I was with him, all that mattered was that he thought so.

We were together for four years, then I died. Walking home from the movies, they tried to steal our money. He cried. That's what gets me. After they ran away, he cried when he held me, and I bled all over him, and he said he loved me. He loved me. I even found the courage to return the words. As always, when it was too late.

I floated on a ridge of sunlight, watching. I called to him, over and over, but he never answered, just hugged that woman down there tight in his arms. He used to hold me that way. Strong, masculine, protective, gentle. He was always protective. "Hold me now," I said, "Please, I'm scared."

Everything fades.

I wake up, in a small bedroom on a soft bed, covered by a stiff blue comforter with a cold satin edge. I'm alone. A wall heater sends warmth into the room, and I slide out from under the covers to stand in front of it. I have memories, but they're like morning dreams, quick to retreat. This apartment is mine, but something tells me I've never been here before. I wonder if that matters.

I have to go to work. I know that. Secretary at an office building downtown. The firm's name escapes me, and I wonder if I drank too much the night before.

The clothes in the closet fit. I have a funny feeling putting them on, like they're not mine, that I would never wear such a nice suit, but that feeling also goes away. I know I can't walk in heels, but when I try, I do just fine. It strikes me as funny and I laugh, parading back and forth, wondering why I'm laughing.

I pause by the phone. A post-it note should hang from the wall above the phone, with a guy's phone number on it, in his writing. A special guy. It's not there and I miss my normal bus searching for it.

Work is a bore, but I don't remember ever being able to type that fast. It's kind of fun. The boss isn't half bad. He asks me if I'm feeling sick, and I answer honestly, yeah, so he sends me home. "You look pale," he says. "There's a flu virus going around. Better go home and rest up."

But I don't go home. I have a headache from trying to remember, and I take a bus to the coast. It passes the Palace of Fine Arts and on a whim I get off there. I've been here before, I know that for certain, and yet it seems so hazy. Recent memories aren't supposed to be hazy, are they? Only childhood memories that any shrink would say I must have suppressed for some reason.

I wander through the museum halls for an hour, searching for something. A picture, an exhibit. Anything that'll click. I want to remember.

Many footsteps approach and there's a man's voice. Pleasant, slightly accented, a nice baritone, lecturing politely. It's one of those unpatronizing voices that says listen to me because you want to listen. I join the tour group. He tells the story of a Japanese painting that shows two Samurai knights fighting with swords. A Japanese temple stands tall in the background. One man's face is contorted with hate. The other man has his back to the viewer.

I watch the museum man. He's tall and handsome, in a nice suit, and he's on the tip of my memory. I wonder if we went to school together. It tears at me that I can't remember.

Staying with the tour group keeps me near him, but I wait until he's finished and the people have gone their own ways before approaching.

"Hello," I say, "I came in late and didn't catch your name."

"Paul," he says.

"Did you go to school at Lincoln High?" I ask.

He shakes his head and for the first time I notice there's something wrong with his eyes. No matter how he smiles at me, his eyes look dead. As if they were once beautiful, but something died and took the light from them. "Are you all right?" I ask. "You look pale."

"The flu," he says and I recognize his words as a lie. "It's been going around. I may be coming down with it."

We're silent a moment. Finally, I ask, "Do I know you?"

He looks at me, and hope replaces disappointment in me I would like to be recognized by this man but then he shakes his head.

I sigh. "You know, my boss gave me the day off because of that flu thing. Maybe you should go home too."

He shrugs, and it's a beautiful, graceful motion. I wonder if he's a ballet dancer or something. His arms look strong and strangely comforting and I want them around me. The need to remember wouldn't be so important then. "No," he says, "I've got a couple more tours to guide today."

"Sure," I say. That one tiny word has a flavor in my mouth, of sand and salt, of small regrets and a thousand tears.

He says nothing, just watches me with his sad, dead eyes until I turn and walk away.

x x x

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