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Private Memories

Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio where he keeps IT systems running for a large corporation during the day and puts his characters through the wringer by night. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael had over 20 stories accepted for publication during 2012 by venues such as Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Daily Science Fiction.

He is the Editor for the monthly flash fiction contests run by Kazka Press and was an Associate Editor for the anthology Unidentified Funny Objects. His website is: michaelhaynes.info.

I watch you commit suicide for the fourth time. This time I almost have you talked out of it. But something happens, I don't know what. And the gun's in your mouth and you've pulled the trigger before I can even react.
I scream out your name, but it's too late. You're falling to the floor and the wall behind you is a gory mess. Just like the other times.
My insides churn but there's nothing left for me to expel so I dry heave, bent over, and try to get my self, my mind, under control even as the seconds are ticking away. I can't do this, can't turn back time and try to keep you alive, if I'm not focused. I don't even know if I can do it again; I've never looped over a stretch of minutes this many times before and each iteration is dramatically harder to pull off than the one before.
A minute later I'm able to stand straight as long as I don't look at your corpse. I wrap myself in energy, hoping to see you alive again. Hoping I'm not about to watch you kill yourself for a fifth time.
"...king matter, anyway?" Your voice, asking the same question you asked five minutes ago. I swallow down the nausea that remains within me, born of the smells and sights of the past half hour and the compounded exertion of winding the world back over and over.
"Because I love you," I say, just like last time. It's reflexive and it's not what made you kill yourself, but I already feel like we're covering the same ground, heading for the same endgame.
So I hurry on to more words, telling you that we have a future together. That I'll marry you.
You laugh. The one reaction I didn't expect.
Your laughter rolls on and I take one step forward and then another. You're holding the gun loose by your side.
I hesitate for just a moment before taking the last steps forward and in that instant you stop laughing, like someone pulled the plug. Your hand is clenched around the gun's grip.
"Sarah," I say. "I want--"
And before I can say what I want, your arm is moving and I'm trying to stop you and there's a terrible crash and blood and I don't know whose blood it is but all I know is that I have to get back.
We've fallen together to the floor. I stagger to my feet and though my knees want to buckle and my gut is churning, I somehow manage to bend time to my will again.
I'm not bleeding; the bullet must have struck you.
The you of now, the you of five minutes ago, is crying. "I'm done, Brian. There's no way in hell I'll find work again after what happened, and I've got a mountain of student loans, and I'm totally screwed! Don't you get that?"
Last time, I said you could find a way through this and you asked me why it mattered.
I don't wait this time. "I love you, Sarah. I love you and I don't care about any of that, all I know is that I want us to be together. I've known that since I met you, and nothing that's happened this week has changed that. We have a future together. I know we do. Sarah, will you marry me?"
The same laughter as last time but this time I'm ready for it. I move quickly across the basement, and this time my hand closes over yours on the gun just as you're starting to tighten up.
I want to try to pry the gun out of your hand, but I know how deceptively strong your fingers are. I wrap my other hand around our merged hands and fall to one knee.
Tears still run down your cheeks but as I look up into your eyes I see that for the first time in our repeats of this scene, there's a spark of life in them.
"Sarah," I ask again, both hands still wrapped around your right hand, "will you be my wife?"
You answer by letting your hand go slack beneath mine. I take one breath and another and then slowly loosen my own grip. The gun clatters to the ground.
The erratic beeps give way to a final steady tone.
I've watched you die in a hospital bed for the eighth time tonight. I can barely stand up, barely see anything but your bald head, your drawn face, but I can't say goodbye. I close my eyes and reach into the past.
And then you are alive again, for five more minutes. The same nurse who always stops in at this moment comes by. She checks your IV and scribbles a note. When she glances at me, she seems briefly concerned. I'm sure the exhaustion from forcing myself back up the stream of time shows in my face, my posture, my eyes. But a soon-to-be-widower has the right to look drained. She turns away and leaves.
The second and third times you died I stopped the nurse, told her I thought you needed something. Both times she tried to help you, but there was nothing to be done. We'd known for months that the cancer would win one day. That day is today.
Three minutes.
With the second chance I could provide that night in the basement, and with therapy and medication, you survived a decade ago. But there was nothing I could do to save you from this. All I had been able to do was get an extra day or so with you piecemeal over the last year, stealing five minutes--always good ones--from the relentless arrow of time.
I fall to both knees and rest my head on your hand.
"Do you remember?" I hadn't thought to speak, the words just came out. "Do you remember when we first met? Our first kiss, there behind the coffee shop?"
Hot tears run down my cheeks. You're dying for the ninth time, the fourteenth time, and for the first time I'm crying.
I kiss your fingers and though I should only be smelling disinfectant and other hospital odors, I swear I smell your favorite lotion, the scent I love when it lingers on my own skin after we hold hands.
One minute.
"I'll always remember," I tell you. "Every moment." Even the ones you never knew.
You breathe your last. The beeps stop.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, May 20th, 2013
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