THE POWER PLANT |
Caroline could only remember fragments of the construction, a power plant made out of solid concrete. Thick walls, roof so far up that once inside one could not even see it. There was no furniture, no windows, and the cold floor was made out of a number of soiled paving stones. As the group was led to the nearest opposite wall, Caroline could see a cloud hovering high above their heads, small but vicious, and whether it was the power source or merely a guard watching them she still did not known.
“Perhaps it’s here to watch over the door,” a dark-haired man, her partner, said as he grabbed her arm while pointing to the doorway from once they had entered.
Huge and thick like a vault gate it would continuously open up and shut close, meanwhile one man on each side unsuccessfully tried to switch places with each other every time the door would open, but instead manage to get their cheeks stuck in-between and it ripped the men’s faces off without the slightest of moans, two times it continued, open-close-rip, open-close-rip, till Caroline looked away and sat down with the rest of the group. Although she was not alone, the constant hum that filled the air was not disturbed until she said the words her partner, now sitting next to her both leaning against the wall, knew he had no answer for.
“All you have to do is tell me that you love me,” she whispered, “tell me that you love me and it will all over, the terror, the war, everything.”
He did not face away, tell her he was sorry, tell a lie or make excuses, in fact he did not say anything at all, and she knew he wouldn’t long before it ever happened. Somehow, even though those words would make it all perfect, set everything right, she did not want to hear them. Not yet. It would have been one way out, one way to end it all, but not necessarily the right one and Caroline knew that. The testing, the scenarios, the terror, it had to continue. By now she had grown so accustom to the missions that she would probably miss them if they were gone. He did not tell her he loved her because it would have been a lie, he did not tell her because he knew she was not yet ready to hear it, that is how much he loved her and for that she would always be grateful.
THE OFFICE |
It’s all about the ripples, Caroline thought to herself as the elevator doors separated and she stepped into the hallway on the fifteenth floor. The hallway was narrow, beige and her heels were unnoticeable against the smooth rug that covered the floor, only the fabric in her starched knee-long skirt made a muffled sound as she passed the numerous open doors that veiled the perfectly square offices inside, each with a fake plant in the corner, a mahogany desks in the center and two leather chairs on opposite sides. The occupant’s backs were all turned against the generous windows with closed shades, sheltering them from the tempting view.
”You don't need to prove anything, all you have to do is create a doubt,” a woman said to the end of her phone and looked up at Caroline who passed outside the office.
Trying to keep her gaze towards the end of the hallway, Caroline pictured herself a manmade lake with sandy beaches where every grain had been refined into perfection; tall trees with nothing but green strong leaves on long branches that encircled the lake with a midday sun high above her, and not a person in sight. The place was hers. Water with the same color as the sky, surface so smooth that the clouds would reflect themselves, creating an illusion that the world had been turned up side down. There on the lakeshore she would find herself a pebble, round and smooth as her own skin after the morning scrub, and the comforting silence would be slightly broken as it pierced the surface, disturbing it, creating tiny ripples and one after another they would follow the initial wave until once again the lake would go back to its quiet slumber, as if the pebble never happened.
Two well-dressed men passed her on their way to the elevator. “I think you’re reading to much into it,” said a man with slick hair that had strong marks still visible from the comb strokes.
“Perhaps, but what if I’m not. What if the answer is there and I missed it because I never looked for it,” the man next to him replied, eyes following Caroline who leisurely paced down the hallway in the opposite direction. “There can’t be an answer if there is no question.”
“Now that I know is incorrect.”
“You’re suggesting the answer comes before the question?”
With her long dark, thick and wavy hair, her slender legs and bare shoulders, she made it hard for them not to glance as she turned around the corner. Would she herself had turned she would probably have met their glimpse, realizing that they as well were not too sore on the eye, but Caroline was not about to stray her look, not about to smile as she felt their eyes following her, she wasn’t even about to give them the slightest acknowledgment of existence, because for her, they were not even there.
“Have you found one yet?” The other man said and checked himself in the closed shiny metal door in front of them, as it reflected their silhouette in a slightly distorted form.
“Found what?” The man with the shiny hair asked back and pressed the elevator button while correcting his pinstriped suit. “What was I looking for?”
“No I told you, I’m not looking for the answer it’s the question you need.”
The elevator doors opened and the man allowed his friend with the shiny hair enter before him. “Why we are here?” He said as he stepped into the limited space and pressed for the ground floor. “Is that the question? If so I don’t think there is an answer.”
The elevator doors closed. “No silly, how to end the war.”
Meanwhile Caroline reached her office, the shades pulled all the way down to the floor, a mahogany desk in the center of the room and two leather chairs on each side. With a gentle push she closed the door behind her, slipped out from her three-inch-heels and without ripping her slim skirt she sat down on the floor with both legs straight out in front of her, with the black pantyhose stretching over her toes now pointing towards the cloaked city outside the window.
With her back against the creamy white wall she leaned forward in an attempt to reach the tip of her toes but with no luck. She was not as limb as she used to be. A small price for the confidence thirty brings, she thought, and slithered down a bit, allowing her head to easily rest against the wall. After a quick glimpse on the phone in her left hand, alarm set as usual on 4.30PM, she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and with a faint smile on her lips she reached out her other hand, leaving it resting on the floor next to her, palm turned upwards, fingers slightly curved in their natural relaxed position, and fell asleep.
THE BEACH |
Wearing a yellow loose dress, caught in the strong wind, Caroline stood by herself watching the waves, sipping from a red plastic cup. People were swimming and sunbathing, although it was late afternoon and the streetlights were lit. The beach was located on the south side of town stretching all the way alongside the island; she had been there before but never so close to the city border. On this side, bushes, trees, or any other kind of wildlife was scarce. Instead the urban layout of the downtown metropolis pressed itself against the ocean with piers, sidewalks, garbage cans and metal benches scattered over the area.
Caroline had been searching for something her whole life, she did not know yet what it was but she knew the search wasn’t over. For a time now she had been dreaming of him long before he even existed, and every time she had forgotten his face, unable to remember him, because he was not a part of her past, or present. He was everything she was not thinking about. Three times it took before his presence made such an impact that she would never forget him again. At first, she thought she had been drunk that day at the beach, and that was the reason why she couldn’t remember him, but today as she would recall the memory, she could clearly see how he walked up to her, that wide big smile on his face, his dark short hair and thick eyebrows, the deep brown eyes and strong jawbone as he looked at her. She could even remember feeling the soft hairs on the back of his hand as he shook hers. Had she been drunk that day, she would not have been able to remember. There must have been something else, like she was not ready, and he waited. Three times did he greet her as a stranger; creating his own ripples on her surface.
The second time was also at the beach but over at the closest pier. Slightly different from the rest it stretched out into the ocean like a barrier, leaving one side sunny while the other side remained dark; attached to a building covered with graffiti it stretched horizontally along the waterline, obstructing the view. Caroline went under the pier to find shelter from the wind, and alongside the building on the sandy ground, stood a few wooden tables with surrounding benches, and in the middle a bar with strings of lights as a rooftop. There were no music playing and the sound of the waves hitting the back of the building became a rhythmic ingredient.
A young girl, sitting at one of the wooden tables, surrounded by other friends whom also Caroline did not know, waved at her with a smile on her face. The girl squeezed herself closer to the friend next to her meanwhile Caroline tried to picture where they had met before while moving up to the table, not even a name was on her lips. She did not sit down, instead she remained standing by the end of the table as the girl introduced her to the others, one by one until they came to the end of the opposite side of the table.
The man stood up and reached out his hand with a big wide smile on his face and two dark eyes looking directly into hers, and just as Caroline’s hand fit perfectly into his, he said, “Oh, I know her. I know her quite well,” and shook Caroline’s now trembling hand. That evening she stayed with them, had a few more drinks, watched as the city around them changed and the sandy beach was soon just as forgotten as her memory of him.
THE APARTMENT |
As many times before, Caroline fell asleep on the sofa in front of the television, only that morning she would wake up twice. It was late afternoon when she rubbed her tired eyes and flattened out her messy hair, only to realize that someone was sitting on the armchair in front of her, two women were laughing in the kitchen and the balcony door was open, allowing a faint smell from a cigarette find its way into the living room. While the others enjoyed them selves in the bordering kitchen, the man leaned forward and put his hand on her knee. He did seem familiar to her, but was nevertheless a stranger, she knew she had seen him before but no matter how much she tried to recall, or he to explain, telling her about their past, Caroline just couldn’t place his face. Finally, he reached into his pocket and took out some small photos and showed them to her.
Caroline took them from his hand and looked closely at the woman it portrayed. The pictures were photos of her, hair all frizzy and face without makeup. Someone had been taking pictures in an early morning as an intense morning light reflected in her face. How was it that she could not remember being photographed with her hair like that? The one taking the photos must have been someone close to her, someone who could see the beauty in something so ordinary as her waking up.
“I took these,” he said, “we were living together on the south side of town. You must remember me. We were going steady for about two years.”
Confused Caroline shook her head.
“I woke up next to you every morning,” he continued.
Caroline wanted to, but she could not remember him. It was actually kind of embarrassing, she didn’t want to hurt his feelings it was just that she honestly could not remember him. No matter how much she tried to recall that specific morning with him behind the camera, or any other morning she just couldn’t remember.
“They’re taken about five years ago,” he said.
Five years ago, she thought to herself. That would mean that five to three years ago she had absolutely no recollection of what happened to her or in her life. She tried hard to think about her situation four years ago, what she did, how she lived but drew a blank. What could possibly have been done to her that was so bad that it was worth to forget five years of her life for? Although, he did seem nice. Good looking, sweet, kind, and that evening she fell in love. Again, one might say but for her that was the first time around. She got to know him all over again, and soon she forgot her memory of forgetting.
That morning as she woke up, once again alone in her one room apartment, sun stroking her face, she made a promise to herself never to forget and picked up her mobile phone, aimed that camera lens towards her face and let the lens shut three times.
THE LOBBY |
Darkness had already entered the streets and the plaza outside the lobby as Caroline left the elevator on the ground floor. With steady steps, she allowed her heels to batter the hard stone floor, creating a flowing echo in the open space, before reaching the outer automatic doors where their unwillingness to open made her unexpectedly to halt. She took a moment to reflect over the situation, glanced up at the tiny red light on the upper black box, and took a step back, then walked up to the doors again. Still nothing. She looked down at herself, then around the lobby. Time had passed quickly and the lobby was empty except for a chubby guard who stared from his desk on the opposite side of the hall.
“You can’t stop. It won’t know you’re there if you don’t move,” he said, “you need to back up and try again. Look, just back up and try again.”
“I was moving,” she mumbled to herself, but felt a certain kind of relief that he acknowledged her presence, so once again she backed up, this time a few more steps, glanced at the guard and then moved in a straight line towards the door. Simultaneously a man in his mid forty approached from the other side in haste, and as the door opened up he enter the lobby and passed Caroline on his way towards the elevator. Quickly she stepped outside.
The evening air was still warm and trench coat was almost too much over her dress. She placed her briefcase on the ground between her feet and began to unbutton the front of the thin jacket. Before pulling her arms out from the sleeves she reached into the outer pockets, and as she felt the glossy piece of paper between her fingers she froze, the jack collar half way down her shoulders, she reached deeper and pulled out the paper, observing it, remembering.
Carefully she strokes the surface of the photo with the tip of her thumb, and with a hint of a smile she witnessed herself in the early morning light, eyes swollen, hair in a mess, a slight wetness from last night’s sweat on her chin and a pinkish hue on her cheeks. She was happy then, the morning that photo was taken, she could tell, even though the photo was a mere reconstruction of an added truth, an illusion made to last, a story yet to be told, it still made her happy. I have to dig deeper, she thought. I need to be her. I need to recreate these events, these places. Only then will they become real, only then will they be my memories. If there were in fact a reason for her memory of him, she promised herself she would spend her life exploring why, but she would never search for him, an entity already experienced, instead she would continue to explore the past so that he might someday surprise her in the future. There was no longer any reason to pursue love because it was already present in her life, in her very own pocket, and would anyone ask her to describe him today she would be able to, to the very straw in his eyebrows. She picked up the briefcase, rested the jacket on her arm and decided to not go directly home this day but instead walk a few stations if only to see where she might end up.