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Memory Foam

I spot the dealer easily. He's leaning, not quite loitering, against the rack of propane tanks outside the gas station mini-mart: poised for sudden business or hasty disappearance, standing out just enough not to call attention to himself.
It's now or never, I decide. I wander over to the propane rack and spend a minute examining the fine print on the tanks. "Got anything?" I mumble, keeping my head down.
The dealer speaks softly, huskily. "Depends what you're looking for."
"Foam," I say. "A full baggie."
I hear the crackle of plastic on the other side of the rack. A sidelong glance shows me that the dealer has pulled a Ziploc bag partially out of his coat pocket. Inside is a gooey green substance. "It's the good stuff," he says, then whisks the bag out of sight again.
"Those aren't your own memories, are they?" I ask. "I don't want to take advantage of you."
"Naw, man," he says. "I don't do like that." From another pocket he produces a small metal device with a red laser scanner on the end. I duck involuntarily as he wiggles it in my direction. "I got me a skimmer. People stop here for gas, I pull the memories right outta their heads."
I remember Alisa indirectly, by circuitous routes. When I try deliberately summoning her to mind, I encounter yawning gaps: blank white spaces in memory, as empty and unformed as a baby's thoughts. I seem to forget something else about her every time I make a concerted effort to remember.
The memories that occasionally grip me, stunning in their clarity and power, come from the cracks between the blank spaces. Fragments of our old life pop into my brain without warning, in the middle of some wholly unrelated task, leaving me hollow and desperate with longing.
Longing is better than nothing, I've learned.
"Isn't it risky--skimming people?" I ask the dealer.
He shifts his shoulders boastfully. "Naw. Some guys will try and steal the big, intense memories. Your wedding day, your kids being born. That's stupid. People notice when those memories are gone."
He taps the bag in his pocket. "What I got here is somebody's unimportant memories--taking out the trash, maybe, or walking the dog--just odds and ends. They'll never be missed. But they'll get you just as high."
"Okay," I say. "Let's do it." I extend my left hand through the propane rack, a roll of bills tucked inconspicuously under my thumb.
The dealer looks left, then right. Nobody appears to be watching. Cautiously he draws the bag of greenish foam from his pocket and slides it toward me.
Immediately I bring my right hand up, gun ready, flashing my badge as I whirl to face him. "County sheriff!" I yell. "Down on the ground, now!"
The dealer looks more confused than frightened. "Hey, man," he mutters, staggering backwards onto one knee. "Hey, man."
Bill, my partner, appears around the corner of the gas station. "All the way down! Hands on your head!" he shouts. He plants a knee in the dealer's back, handcuffs him brusquely, and reads him his rights. Memory skimming is a Class 1 felony; this guy will do at least ten years in the state pen.
As Bill hustles him into the back of our unmarked patrol car, I hear the dealer's plaintive voice. "I've seen you before," he says. "I skimmed you yesterday, when you were here for gas."
"That's right," I say. "But you made one mistake. You didn't remove my memory of you."
I once heard that our memories aren't indelible records of events; they're just slowly degrading copies of themselves, losing quality every time we call them to mind.
Maybe that's why so many people get hooked on foam. The artificial memories you experience on a good foam trip are as vivid as real experiences. It's weird how intensely stimulating it is to inject a little piece of someone else's mind into your own. Alisa used to say, with her impudent smile, that it's like having an out-of-body experience without all the trouble of leaving your body.
A bad foam trip, of course, can leave you writhing on the floor with a ruptured aneurysm. Alisa found that out too.
Bill looks up at me in mild annoyance. "You gotta stop letting yourself get skimmed," he tells me. "It's not worth it. The chief says your memory must have more white spaces than a checkerboard by now."
"I don't remember him saying that."
"My point exactly."
I reach for the bag of foam, now dangling from Bill's belt. "Let me see that a minute."
Bill slams the rear door of the patrol car. "It's evidence."
"My own memories are in there," I point out. "I just want to see what he took from me."
"Suit yourself," says Bill. He tosses the bag at me.
I dig a pinch of the green stuff out of the bag and touch it to my tongue. It has the consistency of shaving cream and the faint odor of turpentine--probably synthesized in somebody's kitchen sink. Bracing myself against the patrol car with one hand, I snuff the stuff up my nose.
My brain explodes with lights and colors, sending a surge of adrenaline through my body. In my mind's eye I see a clear picture forming: Alisa and me making fajitas together in our old apartment. The foam enhances every sensation. I can smell the sizzling onions, hear her robust laugh, and feel her soft touch on my arm as she brushes past me. I'm struck again by how beautiful she was, how much I loved her, how much her death took from me. The memory burns brightly in my brain for a few seconds and then melts into empty white space, leaving only a tingling sense of loss.
Bill regards me with a kind of quizzical sympathy. "Happy now?" he asks.
"The dealer is straight, at least," I say, putting the bag in my pocket. "This is the good stuff.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, September 7th, 2018

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