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art by Melissa Mead

Memories of Forgetting

Kenneth Kao is a writer (http://pkchiro.wordpress.com/), Chiropractor (http://vitalbalancechiropractic.com/), parkour instructor (http://apexmovementboulder.com/page.php?i=46), and pole dancer (http://youtu.be/doI8yg0Gku0). He is extremely thrilled to be attending Taos Toolbox 2013 right now, and he is equally nervous to be a finalist competing in his first pole dancing competition in Vegas for the Pole Expo 2013 Pole Classic Competition.

This is Kenneth Kao's third appearance in Daily Science Fiction. Visit his author website here.

I'm in the bookstore's coffee shop--by the windows, reading--when I suddenly must look up.
She is there.
Her hair is braided and put into a bun. Her lips press firmly together. She stares directly at me.
I can't speak to her, though, even if I'm seeing our children.
Today, she's sixteen--as I am--but in our future I see two kids: a boy, and... I'm not sure of the second.
My eyes water; I don't know why.
As she strides toward me, I learn her name is Jenny. I put my head down so she won't speak to me even as my heart swells. It's true, I love her. I've no reason to feel this way except that I know that I will someday.
But what is now, is not always. I shouldn't speak to her.
She stops before me. Her wrist lifts at her waist and she gives me a single, small wave. "Hi."
My throat is dry. I can't swallow. "Hi," I mumble back, keeping my head bowed, resisting the urge to throw my arms around her, to comfort her because...
In the future, we love as a mature man and woman do--not in bliss, but in that real day-to-day way. Moments of anger, but spurts of happiness, too. We always brush our teeth side by side in the mornings. There's a time when Craig... Our firstborn child's name! I muffle my gasp into the pages of my book.
"I see you here lots. You like reading?" Before I can respond, she continues. "Stupid question, sorry. You're always reading, so you obviously must like it." She grins and shrugs.
I hear the coffee grinder run in the background. I pretend to look outside. "It's beautiful today."
"Please don't be shy, this is weird enough," she says. "I just wanted to talk." With her words, I know our second child is a girl--Mandy. I gulp air as she walks for the first time at one-year-and-twelve-days old.
"I--I can't speak to you," I say.
"Why not?"
Because it would change everything. It would scare her away and the future I'm seeing would disappear.
And I would forget.
My palms sweat. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."
She lifts her chin. "Try me."
This has happened before. I know it--no, I've felt it. And there are few things that hurt like the sensation of something lost. Of regret, longing. Frustration.
I'm carrying many scars of loss, but the worst thing about it is that I have no memories of why I feel such pain. I open my mouth to refuse her, but I hear her name. "Jenny! Five minutes!" I see the speaker and I know him also.
"That's your dad," I say.
She squints. "Yeah?"
"His wife, your mom, left you both three years ago. He's an architect, and he's getting you a dog for your seventeenth birthday to bring to college--Berkeley."
"A dog? How could you know that?" She gawks, and the future grows clearer. "And I got into Berkeley? Is this a trick? Can you tell me more?"
Mandy. Our baby dies before she's three from a heart defect.
My chest feels tight. I can hardly breathe. Jenny's going to rely on me for comfort. It won't be easy; it'll be the worst time of our lives, but we'll grow very close because of it.
"I shouldn't." I quietly sniff back my tears. The future, like a mere memory being recalled, becomes so vivid. We travel to Greece. Jenny laughs for the first time since Mandy's death when I trip into a fountain.
"Please?" Jenny smiles hopefully at me. It makes the aching in my heart worsen.
I fear this moment for a reason. How often has this happened to me? Will I walk away again, knowing only loss and intense affection for a stranger?
But couldn't this time be different?
I finally look straight into her green eyes, and I cannot look away.
Jenny will need me; Jenny believes in honesty above everything.
"We get married," I say evenly. "We have two children. A boy and a girl named Craig and Mandy."
She gasps and she touches her mouth. "How can... W... You're a creep, aren't you? I thought you were cute, 'Must be smart reading so much.'" She retreats.
I'm abruptly staring up at a girl who I don't know, who's backing away from me.
Her actions hurt. I can't remember anything I've said to deserve it. Did we even speak?
But the way my heart pounds, like it's trying to escape the cage of my ribs, tells me that we most certainly have.
A man approaches.
"You came up to me," I say, remembering that much. "I don't even know you."
But I love her. I feel sorrow for her, for both of us.
And already, I'm missing her.
"Prove you're right," she says. She sees the man coming, and she lingers a few steps away. "You can't tell a girl you're gonna marry her without proof."
We get married? Nothing comes to me, though, and like many times before, a void opens inside me. Strangers I care about always leave as strangers, too.
"I can't," I reply.
I return to my book, biting my lip, resisting the sweeping sadness as she leaves with that man who is probably her father.
And then, I suddenly must look up again. She's stopped. She grabs her father's arm, and I read the word "dog" on her lips.
She cocks her head. With a quarter-smile that becomes half a smile, she looks at me.
Her name is Jenny. Someday I'll fall into a fountain for her.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, August 7th, 2013
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