Hall of Echoes by Julia Wikstrand
This story is one of the October Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
The bouquet of flowers hang close to the ground as the child in front of me lets her arm slump, but the woman holding her small hand doesn’t seem to notice. Instead she impatiently shifts from foot to foot as the line slowly creeps forward. Still I can’t stop staring at the kid. Her curly white hair lays like feathers on her head and reminds me of a person I once used to know. The weight of the basket seems to lift as I float out of my body and into a time long gone. For a moment the smell of daises and sea salt hang like a mist in the air, and it is no longer Monday evening. But as a man pushes past me in the line, and his broad shoulder connects with mine, I stumble; the memories shatter into a million pieces.
“Hey, you can’t just do that,” I say and take a step forwards. He turns, and I can see his face. Even though his hair is no longer blonde and there are lines running over his forehead, his eyes are the same. We stare at each other. I am all edges again, trying not to let old wounds split open. I don’t want him to see me bleed.
“Daddy,” the little girl says and tugs at his sleeve, but he doesn’t react. Shards of memories I had forgotten or suppressed flood me, and I am pulled under, brought back to years ago when he was everything.
“Did you get the milk?” The woman gently touches his arm as she takes it from him and puts it in the cart. She says his name, and it snaps me out of my trance. He blinks at me as he responds, “Vanessa, this is an old friend of mine.”
I shake her hand as I force a smile, feeling my heart pound in my chest. Still my eyes follow his every movement as he wets his bottom lip with the tip of his tongue, a nervous habit from old times. Standing before him, I am only sixteen again, and he’s everything I have dreamt of. He introduces her to me as his wife, and the floor sways under my feet at the realization that while I have been stuck, he’s moved on and left me behind. I hope that she didn’t notice the way my hand trembled before. They are next in line. She turns away, excusing herself before she starts to unload the cart while he pulls out a wallet from his back pocket.
“Julia, don’t hold the flowers like that, we don’t want them to wither,” her voice echoes in the background as the girl clings to his arm. Hearing her call the child my name knocks the wind out of my lungs. I sink beneath the waves to the summer of ’87.
I feel his hands on my waist in the cold water as the current tries to rip us apart. He grins at me, face covered in freckles, and his blonde hair shines white, bleached by the sun. I cling onto him, my nails digging into his flesh, but no matter how hard I hold on, he is still pulled away from me.
“It was nice seeing you again,” he tells me. His echo carries down the hall as they leave. Left is only the hollow memory of what once was and will never be again. I step up to the register and pull out my card with unsteady hands as the cashier sighs at me, because to her, it’s just another Monday evening.