“Are you sure?” Melanie’s lip flakes between her grinding teeth.
“Yes,” I say, smiling and squeezing both of her hands. “Don’t worry, sweetie. I’m going to marry you no matter what I see in there, okay? There’s nothing to hide.”
She averts her eyes, watches the floor as if its showing her a lifetime of experiences, decisions, and regrets; ones I know of and ones I may not. She then nods and says, “Okay, you’re right. Let’s do it.”
“Ms. Matthews?” the Assimily Co. technician calls into the waiting room. Melanie stands and straightens her blouse. “Soon to be Mrs. David Walters I see. Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” Melanie sheepishly replies.
The technician assures me he’ll take good care of Melanie and guides her away. I nod and tell Melanie I love her, then another technician comes out for me a few minutes later. “Mr. Walters?” she says.
I follow her, a short, spirited lady with her hair scrunched into a bun. We go through the door to the back offices as Melanie had. It looks like a repurposed doctor’s building – a long hallway snaking this way and that, lined with doors on either side. Some are open to show the minimalist layout of a desk chair, bed, and computer, but the majority are closed with a sign hanging from the doorknob that reads “DO NOT DISTURB: RECALL IN PROGRESS”.
“Busy day, huh?” I ask.
“Not really,” the technician replies. “You’d be surprised – usually we’re fully booked.” I find their packed schedule soothing. All couples are doing it these days, I tell myself. And since the inception of Recall, divorce rates have fallen to only fifteen percent. It’s okay, I think. There’s nothing to hide.
The technician motions toward an open room and I step inside and jump up onto the bed where the thin paper crinkles on my landing. The technician shuts the door and takes in a breath. “Okay, Mr. Walters. So today you’ve chosen to step into the mind of Ms. Melanie Matthews for our immersive couples Recall, is that correct?”
She looks over her tablet. “I see here you’ve read and agreed to all terms and conditions of the Recall and you understand that you have absolved Assimily of all liability for any possible damages coming from this experience.”
“Fantastic.” She taps on the tablet, then turns it off. “Any questions?”
“How long does this usually take?”
“As long as you need, but the average time spent in Recall is about thirty to forty-five minutes.”
“Thirty to forty-five? To look through an entire person’s life?”
“Well you don’t need every last detail, do you?” the technician chuckles. “Most people go in with an agenda: concerns, suspicions, claims to verify, or on the rare occasion, traumatic empathy – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes so to speak.”
I think for a moment. “I…I don’t have anything like that.”
“Nothing to worry about?”
“No. I love Melanie more than anything. I don’t think there’s anything in her past that would change how I feel.”
The woman smiles, winks. “Well, some of our clients are curious about how their partners really feel about their…intimate performances.”
I smirk, but the thought has crossed my mind. The technician instructs me to lay flat on the bed and then wraps the wired sensors around my arms and legs, each connected to a single rolling monitor. She then pulls the Recall helmet over my head. Its snug, but it is meant to be immersive. “Can you still hear me, Mr. Walters?”
Everything around me is muffled, but I say, “Yes.”
“Great. Whenever you want to end the Recall, just give me a shout. Say something like ‘end’, got it?”
“You should feel a slight pinch in the back of your head and then you’ll be able to navigate Ms. Matthews’s –”
The pinch comes like a bee sting and my mind spins and rattles until blackness overtakes my field of vision. For a moment I feel I know nothing – not who I am nor where I am, nor anything at all. I blink once, twice, see a gash on my left knee and wince and cry out at the pain. My father rushes over and stops the spinning wheel of the bicycle and holds me tight. This all feels familiar, something I’ve been told about before: Melanie’s first memory. I revel in the warm, soothing embrace of her father, understanding in great detail the irony of it all: how he’ll shower her in love in hard times and bring her down in the good. I love the sensation, the intimacy, the detail of my fiancé’s memories, but it’s not something I came to see.
I want to be in her head when we first met. And with only the thought of it, I was in Melanie’s mind.
I stir my pink concoction in a martini glass feeling a sense of doubt in myself, in my future. I wonder how many more nights it will take, how many years would go by and friends’ weddings before I find the one who’ll sweep me off my – a man at the other end of the bar. He looks like a dork, but in a cute way that holds my attention. He looks at least a little happier than me, talking to a few friends and laughing but I can tell he’s distracted…by me? Can’t be. I hope I’m not blushing. But so it is, he looks up and sees me and I see him and we are the only thing each other see.
I exit the memory with a warm glow in my stomach and a smile. Next, I want to see how she felt the first time we said we love each other.
And there I am as Melanie in that moment beneath a lamppost outside her apartment building in the night. I shuffle my feet and my heart flutters so much I feel like I could pass out. I feel an urge in my throat, something implicit yet thus far secret that wants to fly out and fly out it does. “I love you,” I blurt. I thought there’d be more regret in saying it, but there’s none when I look into his eyes glinting back at me with a hint of tears and a widening smile. David pinches his nose, sniffles and replies, “I love you too.” He pauses. “And since I love you, I wanted to tell you there’s a bit of soufflé on your nose.” I scream out a laugh and hide my face and he seems to adore every second of it.
I remember that moment so clearly. Melanie and I talked about it almost weekly – our collective embarrassment, hers direct and mine second-hand. But the cake felt like a symbol, that though messy and imperfect, our love is real. And now I feel it in her too.
Then I want to see something of a different breed – her recollection of the last time we fought. It was a silly matter as it usually was, but this one as far as I can remember was about how she was working late for a deadline and forgot to text me that she couldn’t make our dinner reservation. It was no doubt frustrating, but that’s mostly because that was the night I’d originally planned to propose. And through the Recall I feel the shame, the guilt, the love for me and the desire to mend it all. She felt something deeper and greater than I ever thought she did or anyone could for another. To me it was an annoyance I couldn’t keep quiet, but to her it was a catastrophic failure in her end of the bargain of love. And after seeing her passionate shame regarding something so minor, I’ve seen enough. She is the one. She feels as I do if not stronger and my faith in our marriage is sealed in a bond with eternity. I am ready to live and die by her side and forever after.
I exit the Recall forever grateful and amazed. Those thirty minutes have brought me closer to Melanie and I can’t wait to tell her all about it. I prepare to run out and embrace her and kiss her with more passion than I ever have before, but when I reenter the lobby, she isn’t there. But I now love her more than ever and my first instinct for perhaps the first time ever is to give her the benefit of the doubt: I’m starting to see why the divorce rate has fallen so precipitously. Perhaps she needs longer than I did in the Recall. Then I notice her technician. He’s looking desperately into his palm as the door finishes swinging shut. It’s a desperation that’s sympathetic but calloused; he’s seen most everything before. “Excuse me, sir?” I say.
He half turns and his eyes dodge mine in empathetic indignity. He looks down to his hand and so do I, and there, pasted to his palm, is a yellow Post-It note along with familiar sparkling diamond ring and upon the note are the rushed scratches of two words: “I’m sorry.”
Assimily divorce fiction flash flash fiction marriage metaverse Recall science science fiction SF short short story story virtual