17th Street Review

Contents of Memory

Tommy Fagin

June and Duffy Argent opened the door of the bright, modern office. A receptionist dressed in white sat behind a desk and typed on a slim computer. The building had once been a dentist's office, as one could tell from the concrete bicuspids serving as pylons in the parking lot, but somehow the sterile bubblegum tooth dust stink had been stripped out along with the carpet. It now smelled of ash and plastic.

“Are we in the right place?” asked June. She removed her hat and dusted off the snow. Duffy shuffled his boots on the black rubber mat.

“You must be June and Duffy,” the receptionist said. “Madame Petersen will see you shortly, please have a seat.”

June helped Duffy ease down onto one of the padded benches. There were tablets available for their reading pleasure. Duffy reached for Tennis Daily but the receptionist called their names before he could open an article. The improvement promised to his swing would remain forever a headline. The couple sat across from a middle-aged woman in a dark suit. Humming racks of servers lined the walls of her office. Dimming her computer screen, the woman turned to face the couple.

“So, how did you hear about us?” she asked.

“We saw your advertisement on TV. The one with the lady.”

“I’m glad to hear that TV ads are still reaching the senior demographic. My marketing guy told me I was throwing money down the drain.”

“Our set still works after all these years,” said June as she patted her husband on the hand. “I'm not sure what Duffy would do without it. Half his life has been spent in front of a television in some form or another.” 

Duffy let his wife's teasing pass with a good-natured roll of his eyes for Madame Petersen's benefit. 

“Then I take it you’re already familiar with some of your options? Would you like to go over them again?”

“I think we have a fairly good idea of what it is we want,” June replied.

“My favorite kind of clients. So many people come down here and want me to tell them what to do. Let me open up a file for you.” 

She turned her monitor back on and stroked the keyboard for a moment. 

“So, just to get us started: are you more interested in our Judeo-Christian package, or are you more the Nirvana type? We can also offer Valhalla, metempsychosis, Jannah, you name it.”

“I suppose we’re more interested in ‘naming it,’” said Duffy.

Madame Petersen took her fingers off the keyboard.

“What we’re looking for might be a little different from what you’re used to doing, and that’s why we wanted to speak with you personally. I realize you handle most of your consultations through the website,” said June.

“We pride ourselves on being flexible. Of course, custom experiences typically cost considerably more, but that’s more of a concern for those with children or heirs. Of which I see you have none, correct?”

“Correct,” said Duffy.

“Money isn’t an issue,” added June.

“Excellent. What did you have in mind?”

The scoreboard flashed and the buzzer sounded. The home team won by a comfortable margin, and no one was too excited. As players filed into the locker rooms and fans exited the gymnasium, June and Duffy remained on the bleachers.

“Are you doing anything after this?” asked Duffy.

“I have to be home before eleven, but other than that, no.”

“Your parents are pretty strict about curfew?”

June stood up. 

“I came home at one in the morning last weekend, so they’re sorta cracking down. We can stretch it a little though, if you’ve got something in particular you want to do.”

“Well, Pete Baker’s having some people over. His folks are in the Bahamas for a week. Do you want to come along?” Duffy asked. He jingled his keys.

By the time June took her first sip of beer, Duffy had already drained two plastic cupfuls and was in line to fill his third. The house was packed with teenagers eager to demonstrate that they were experienced, enthusiastic drinkers. June had only ever had wine with dinner, and even then just a glass.

“Pretty awesome, right?” said Duffy with a sweep of his hand.

“What?”

“It’s a pretty awesome party!”

“I can’t hear you. It’s too loud. Do you want to go upstairs or something?” she half-shouted.

Duffy nodded and killed his third beer in more or less the same motion. June took his hand and led him upstairs. Their friends cheered inaudibly under the blasting music. They found Peter Baker’s little brother’s room and shut the door behind them. They giggled at the childish decorations, then laid down on the bed. His legs started to shake.

“Are you nervous?” she asked.

“No. Just cold, is all.”

“Let’s get under these Spiderman covers, then.”

“Actually, that's Venom.” He was still shaking as they peeled back the covers and climbed inside.

“Don’t be so nervous,” she said, secretly loving that he was nervous.

“Wait,” said Duffy. “I wasn’t shaking this much. It was only a little bit, and it stopped when we went under the covers. I remember this part very clearly.”

“What are you talking about?”

“What do you mean? You’re remembering this wrong. We weren't in high school. We were in college.”

“Aren’t we supposed to kiss now?”

They sat on the fire escape smoking the joint he had rolled earlier and forgotten, mercifully, to bring along.

“I feel better,” she said, rubbing her belly. “Let’s look on craigslist for kittens. I miss my baby.” They had found a kitten wandering around in the street after their trip to the doctor. It had blue eyes and meowed back when June meowed. This was a talent of hers. It clung to her jacket when she tried to hand it off to Duffy, a single claw buried in the faded denim. They left it on the curb because their apartment was too small.

“There’s an adoption center in Union Square. I think there’s a truck that goes around giving shots on the house, maybe a suggested donation.”

“We would give a donation. Bluebell deserves only the best care.”

“Was that its name?”

“Bluebell if it was a she, just Blue if it was a boy.”

“We’ll never know, I guess.”

“My vagina hurts.”

“I’m sorry,” Duffy said. He spat over the edge of the balcony and waited for the sound of it landing, like snapping plastic.

Duffy opened the front door of their apartment and hung up his coat.

“Hello, baby?” he called.

“In here,” June replied. She was in the living room editing a video. “How was work?”

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Great. That’s really nice.” 

June looked down at her computer.

“I’m sorry, but I’m exhausted.” 

Duffy opened the fridge and dug out a can of beer. 

“It's the same thing as always.  Patty was raging. Francis tried to talk back to her and almost got fired. I sat at my desk and looked busy.”

“Did you ask her about time off?”

“Yeah, she didn’t seem too crazy about it. We can still have a really nice trip over the weekend. I promise.”

“I already bought my ticket, Duffy.”

“It's returnable though, right?”

“You lied to me about this.”

“What are you talking about? Lying? I'm trying to watch TV, June. I just got home.”

“You admit it later.”

“Later?”

“In two years, you and I will have a conversation where we talk about what we would have done with those two weeks of vacation. You confess that you were too scared to ask your boss but you knew the answer would be no anyway. We have a big fight about it.”

“Do we?”

“We do.”

“Do you, June Harriet Kaplan, take John Duffy to be your lawful wedded husband?”

“I do.”

“And do you, John Duffy Argent, take June Harriet Kaplan to be your lawful wedded wife?”

“I do.”

They kissed as the audience clapped and cheered. They drove off in a limousine, cans clattering behind. They drank champagne at the reception with friends and family. They smeared cake on each other’s faces as cameras flashed. They danced to a Temptations song and everyone watched. They went back to their hotel room and had sex on a four-poster. “Is this exactly what you wanted?” he asked.

“It beats going down to the courthouse on a rainy day and signing a piece of paper.”

“I’m sure it wasn’t that bad. I romanced you a bit, didn’t I? I covered the Thai food?”

“Way to take advantage of those tax savings.”

June ate a bowl of cereal and checked her email. Duffy rasped butter onto toast. With a grin she turned the screen around for Duffy to see. Her film had been shortlisted for an award.

“You're a genius. I've always said it.”

“Duffman. You flatter me.”

“I really don't, Junebug.”

Duffy poured himself a whiskey. June drank a glass of wine. They ate microwaved beef wellington and put on a movie. They talked over the television and do not remember what it was they were watching. They enjoyed their conversation but neither remember what they talked about.

“This was the happiest day of my life.”

“Mine too.”

Driving on a snowy road the car skidded over two lanes against traffic before punching a hole in the side of a small grocery. 

June came to her senses in a hospital bed. There was a clear drip plugged into her vein and one of her feet was in a cast. She called for the nurse. 

“Where's Duffy?”

“He'll be fine, dear. He hit his head a little so he needs to be under observation. Go back to sleep.”

“Duffy? Are you there? Can you hear me?”

“Go to sleep, dear.” 

June made good money as a producer, enough to support them after Duffy quit his job. He developed chronic migraines and nerve pain after the accident. He took painkillers but they made him feel slow. He drank even though he wasn't supposed to. 

“I wish we could be young together again,” he said. “I don't like myself anymore.”

“You think I enjoy looking in the mirror these days?”

“I wanted you to say you still liked me.”

“Of course I still like you. You're the only person in the world to me. I thought that was obvious.”

Duffy liked to fall asleep with the television on. The commercials, louder than the surrounding programming, frequently woke June up in the middle of the night. Over the years her sleep schedule had adjusted to the interruption, and, on evenings when she was out of town on business, she found herself waking up at odd hours. In these cases, in order to fall back asleep she needed to turn the television on and off again. 

One night at home she woke up to a particularly bright commercial. A woman was speaking in front of a pure white background. 

“In the wake of The Debunking, there has been widespread despair. The carrot on the end of the stick has been replaced with the end of the stick. But does death have to be the end? We here at Petersen Laboratories have developed a solution. By uploading a cellular scan of the brain into our system, we are able to extend conscious life beyond the death of the body. Not only that, but because of the freedom from a physical form, one is able to enjoy any experience they desire. For the first time, humans have the chance to live on after death. For the first time, you can choose your heaven.”

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