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Memories

by Frank Hebben

The voice of an old film

Muted mono sound, two beat music

Rain light at the window

“I’ll buy it,” said the girl with the butterfly eyes. “How many fragments is it?”

The broker bent over the transmitter, a gadget like a cube, wires left and right ending with golden connections for the forehead.

“Fifteen.”

“What, fifteen?” The girl pried her connection off with two fingers. “That’s more than three memories.”

“Of the best quality,” the broker added and put on his best salesman’s smile. “Crystal clear images, pure emotions. We only take alpha memories.”

“Expensive.”

“For good reason.” The broker opened his hands. “This one dates back to 1964, Western Europe, France perhaps; it’s more than two hundred years old.” His smile broadened. “La Bohéme, if you know what I mean.”

“La Bohéme,” the girl repeated thoughtfully. “All right, fine. Do you take bad ones too?”

“It depends.”

“I have an experience from factory school, two nights in prison, and the murder of my mother.”

The broker drew air in through his teeth. “Murder? This is a reputable business, little lady. You can’t exchange that here. Memories of books or films our government had destroyed – those we’ll gladly take. Sunsets, memories of animals and plants, a picnic in the woods; have you got fragments along those lines?”

“No,” the girl answered sadly. Her eyes glistened with a thousand colours. “Oh wait, I once had a dog.”

“A dog? There are collectors for that sort of thing. Which breed?”

“I don’t know. It had royal blue fur.”

The broker held up a hand. “No artificials, sorry.”

“I’ll have to think about it a bit more,” whispered the girl. She pulled the hood of her plastic coat over her head and pulled the strings tight. “Later.”

“Come by again the moment something good has happened to you.” The broker took off his own connection. “I bid you a good evening.”

Drop by drop

Acrid rain like blood

Painted red by neon light

A club in the shadows

Inside voices were artificially muted; only a pleasant murmur escaped the booths along the walls. The girl had seated herself at a window overlooking the street, and watched endless waves of people pushing by.

“What can I get you?” asked a waitress. She put aside a tray laden with cups, pulled out a pen and writing pad. She waited attentively.

“Sunburn without ice.” The girl did not look at her. “A double.”

“Lousy day?”

“Lousy life.”

The rain fell. Two men went by, a woman, a man, a police officer. The girl turned away quickly.

“What’s your name?” asked the waitress.

“Céline.”

“Chin up, Céline, don’t let it get you down.”

“Sunburn without ice, double.”

“Coming up.”

Céline stripped off her sling bag and plastic coat, hung them up on a hook. When the waitress came back with her drink she immediately paid the exact amount, without a tip, and burrowed deep into the corner created by the window and upholstery. Her breath bloomed against the window. She carefully raised the glass to her lips and took a nip. Closing her eyes, Céline thought of her favourite memory, the only good one she still had; all the others had been sold.

The sea

Vast and blue

So cold and clear

Its even breathing

In and out

The birds and sun above

The cocktail did the trick: there was a warm tingling in her stomach, like love, and Céline sighed with relish. Things were much better now. She ordered another glass. “Sunburn?” asked the waitress.

“Double.”

“Coming up.”

“Wait,” said Céline. “I’m looking for someone who’s into bad memories.”

“Want to get rid of one, don’t you, dear? What is it – an unhappy love? Honey, we’re all bothered by them.”

“Do you know of someone?” Céline asked softly.

“Maybe The Needle will take it off you. Bad memories and new drugs, they keep her going, even if she can’t feel anything anymore. Try it; offer it to her. She hangs around near the harbour, at the market of dreams.”

“I know where it is.”

“Look for her behind the stands. I’ll bring you that cocktail.”

“Thanks.”

When the waitress returned to her table, Céline downed the drink, paid and got up. She put on her coat, grabbed her bag and left the bar. At the next corner she took a left and followed the streets until she reached the market at the harbour. It did not take her long to find The Needle leaning tiredly against a streetlight, a woman in her twilight years with an emaciated body, cheekbones pushing out of a gaunt face.

“They call you The Needle?”

“Who wants to know?” The woman’s bright crystal blue eyes bored into her; neon implants.

“Bad memories, do you take them?” asked Céline.

“You lose your teddy bear?” The Needle’s lips pulled back in what might have been a smile.

“I’m talking about my mother’s murder.”

There was a brief silence.

“You stupid thing,” said The Needle. “Still wet behind the ears and you’ve already ruined your life.”

“No, no, it wasn’t me.”

“Oh. Is it good quality?”

“I think so.”

“OK,” said The Needle. “Let me see.” She reached for her belongings propped up against the streetlight, fished out a cube, and attached one end to her forehead. “Come here, I’ll take a look.” The Needle waved her closer.

Céline reached for the weapon concealed in her bag, hesitated, then stepped closer. “I want something nice for it.”

“Nice? Like a memory of snow?”

“You have something like that?” Céline asked astonished.

“Me?” Laughter shook The Needle. “Sure, kiddo!”

“What do you have, then?”

“How about something with clowns? An old dream with clowns.”

“Alright. Why not?”

“Come closer.”

Night, dark is the alley

A scalpel, no, two

Engraved blades

A dragon on one

The devil on the other

One arcs out, the other does too

Blood everywhere

“Now it’s my turn,” said The Needle. She pressed a second transmitter button.

Clowns

Bright and laughing

Pies fly, tricycles spill

Tatoo-tata! Tatoo-tata!

Look! Here comes a fire engine!

Céline giggled cheerfully. She did not know why, but she felt relieved. A shadow over her soul had lifted. Relaxed, she took off the connection.

“A great trade,” she said to The Needle.

“You liked it? I’m happy, too: strong emotions, fear.” She thought back to that night. “Yes, it’s a good one,” she said. Then, “Wait a minute, I know this guy!”

“Who?”

“The one with the scalpels.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Céline turned to leave.

“I’m talking about the killer who’s got your mother on his conscience.”

She stopped dead in her tracks. “What?” The sunburn’s effect on her evaporated.

“Salvador Dali.”

“Dali?” Céline asked as she turned around. At the same time she began unzipping her bag.

“That’s his street name.” The Needle reached into her coat and dug around for a tin, opened it and took out three pills, which she put into her mouth. Her neon pupils flickered, first becoming yellow then blood red. “He’s been hunting around in the golden quarter, collecting organs and skin for his creations. There are buyers for that kind of … art. I saw an exhibition, just recently.”

“I want all those memories.”

“Little girl, leave it alone. He’s dangerous.”

“I want them all.” Céline pulled out a gun. “All of them! And I want mine back, too!”

Vast blue sea light

In the hall

Paintings

Cold and clear

Organs, fat,

His even breathing

He laughs

He smiles

Greedy delight

A woman

Wants and buys them

For DeLanys

The birds and sun above

“No!” screamed Céline as she tore the connection from her forehead. “You’ve ruined it with this piece of junk!” She pressed the tip of her gun against The Needle’s throat.

“I –” She choked. “What did I –”

Céline flicked the gun’s safety off. “Not that one, anything but that one!”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t want to –” The Needle slowly sank to her knees. “Please.”

“You shit!” roared Céline.

She pulled the pistol back. Two tears escaped her eyes. “It was all I had!”

Crying, she turned and bolted.

Houses, streets, people

Just shadows behind glass

Hope, Sorrow, Pain

No way out

Of this labyrinth

The young, steel-blond saleswoman at DeLanys wore a white doctor’s coat; why was not immediately apparent to the average buyer. Céline pushed open the glass door leading into the studio and stepped up to the first exhibited painting: The Mage on Cardboard, 2134.

“A wonderful portrait,” said the saleswoman behind her. “The face is so expressive, even if it appears empty. Those burning eyes, the skeletal cheeks, hollow but prominent.”

“How much does it cost?” Céline asked.

The woman gave a false laugh. ‘Oh, you can’t afford it, dear. At an auction it could easily fetch 28 000.”

“Fragments?”

“Oh, please!” The saleswoman laughed. “Cash.” She pointed at a rack of 3D postcards. “But we sell first-class prints, which you can send to your little friends.”

Céline turned away. “I don’t like it that much.” She glanced at a surgery-green curtain that divided this room from the next. “I’m more into organic art.”

“Aah!” The saleswoman let her false smile spread; Céline wondered how much that must have cost her. “You’ve heard of it?”

“Of Dali’s paintings?”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I was a guest at the last exhibition.”

“And you want to see them again?” the saleswoman asked. “I understand that. He is a true artist, gives you goose bumps.”

“You couldn’t have said it better,” Céline agreed. She tried to copy the woman’s smile. “Could I have a look at them now?”

“I’m alone today, and I don’t really have the time for pleasantries.”

“Please.”

The young woman in the coat regarded Céline a long moment, then her bogus smile grew more suggestive. She winked and said, “OK. For you, I’ll make an exception, but only for a quick look.”

“Thank you very much,” said Céline.

“No need, come on.”

She parted the curtain and let Céline pass. They walked along a long corridor, then down two flights of stairs. Through a doorway, they finally reached another studio, lit up in arctic fluorescence. Along the walls were glass cases, each one covered with a drape. Céline was led to the largest of the exhibits.

“We don’t have any prints of this one.” The saleswoman laughed. “So remember it well.” She yanked its drape aside.

One more bad memory, thought Céline, before the shock overwhelmed her. All that stayed in her head was a rushing sound, like a television without a picture. She stood staring at what was in the case, unable to say anything.

“– naturally it’s vacuum sealed to preserve it, otherwise –”

Cold sweat on her forehead.

“– death as art, that’s one of the main themes of his –”

Hands shaking.

“– in his earlier period, about seven years ago –” The saleswoman broke off. “Aren’t you feeling well?”

Céline dragged her eyes away from the work and looked up at the saleswoman. “What?”

“I said, are you not feeling well?”

“Oh – no, no, I’m fine; it’s just really cold in here.”

The woman re-covered the case with the drape. “We have to cool this room, to preserve the works.” She headed for the door; Céline followed her. “That’s it for now, I have to get back. Maybe we’ll do this again tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Céline mumbled as she tried to shake off her dizziness. “I would love to have an autograph.”

“Mine?” The woman winked. “You mean his. We don’t do autographs. You’d have to ask him yourself.”

“When is the next exhibit? Today?”

“You mean the preview? No, what gave you that idea?”

“Where can I find Salvador Dali?”

“Darling, you’re really taken with him, aren’t you?” The saleswoman laughed. “It’s not often that someone your age feels so strongly about modern art.”

They went up the first flight of stairs. On the landing of the second, Céline stopped abruptly. “Where do I find the artist? Where?”

The woman turned around with a puzzled expression on her face. “We never give out names and addresses. Next week you’ll have the opportunity –”

Céline pulled the gun from her bag and pointed it first at the woman’s chest, then at her throat. “I want this shits address, now! I’m not asking a second time.”

“Are you crazy?” The woman was surprisingly calm. “Put that thing away and get lost, before I call the police.” She turned back to the stairs and took a few steps when Céline abruptly kicked her legs out from underneath her. The saleswoman’s chin hit the edge of a step with a loud crack, and she screamed in pain.

“Where do I find the pig?” cried Céline. “Tell me!”

“He’s a doctor at St. Johns Hospital.” The woman was frantically touching the bridge of her nose to see if it had perhaps been broken; blood trickled from a cut on her chin. “He lives and works there.”

“His name?”

“Dr Randal, his name’s Randal.” Groggily, the woman got to her feet. “You certainly are fanatical. Leave him alone.”

“Back down.” Céline brandished the pistol at her. “Move!”

She forced the woman back down the stairs and they re-entered the room with Dali’s artwork.

“Against the wall.”

“No, please don’t,” whimpered the saleswoman.

“Against the wall, I said! Your back towards me!” Céline quickly reached into her bag and took out a cube. “Now, I want every memory of me and the last fifteen minutes. Got that?”

“Yes,” the woman said meekly.

Céline activated the button.

A girl

With a bag and coat

Butterfly eyes

Seems so sad

Alone in the world

Like so many others

“Who are you?” the saleswoman asked, puzzled.

“I have a gun pointed at you. If you turn around, you’re dead.”

“You’re stealing the paintings!”

“You can keep this crap!” Céline made for the exit. “I’m going to close the door now, and you’re going to count to a hundred. After that you can call the cops. Stay against the wall. I don’t want to shoot you.”

“Yes, okay.”

Céline closed the door behind her. Then she ran, up the stairs, through the gallery, out the door and into the rain, down the left, turning right, ever onward, in the direction of the golden quarter.

Empty faces

Shiny like glass

The neon light

Paints bright masks

Of shamans, angels

Demons

 

In the rain the hospital looked like a church: a broad architecture, above which shone a giant cross. Determined, Céline entered the lobby and headed straight for the reception desk.

“I’m looking for Dr Randal.” She said to the duty nurse.

“What is it about?”

“He’s my father. I have to speak with him. My mother died.”

“Oh, you poor thing!” The nurse grabbed a list and ran a long nail down the printed lines. “Dr Randal’s shift just ended. If you hurry, you might be able to catch him at the personnel entrance. Out the door, turn left, and left again at the corner.”

Céline hurried back the way she came, out the revolving door and into the pouring rain. She ran past billboards and ducked into an alley in time to see a man leave the hospital side door. She stopped. “Dr Randal?”

“Yes?” He drew up and blinked against the rain.

“I’ve seen your paintings, your works of flesh.”

Sensing something was wrong, he took a step back. “And, do you like them?”

“No,” Céline replied and pulled out her pistol. “They disgust me.”

“It’s like that for a lot of people.” Randal took another step backward and another, angling across the narrow alley. He threw a quick glance towards a minibus parked on the opposite curb. “You don’t understand their message. The sweeping beauty of mankind, that’s what I want to show. Nothing more, nothing less.”

“And for that you’re killing people? That’s sick!” Céline reduced the distance between them. “Stop where you are.”

“Killing? No, those already dead are my source material.”

“Don’t lie to me!” Céline yelled as she kept advancing. “You prey at night, in search of fresh victims like an animal. I’ve seen you, you piece of shit!”

Randal tried a more disarming expression. “Nonsense, you’re mistaking me for someone else.”

“Engraved blades, a dragon and a devil.”

“Damn!” Surprisingly agile, Randal ducked towards the minibus, and tore the door open.

“Stop!”

Two gunshots rang out in the alley. One shattered the vehicle’s windshield; the second tore into Randal’s leg.

With an effort, the doctor heaved himself into the driver’s seat. “What is it you want?”

As she approached, Céline shot him in the arm. Randal howled in pain. Unable to stop himself from slipping, he fell out the car and into the gutter.

“What do I want?” she shouted, hoarsely. “A life, a place of my own, family, friends. And to forget all of this. Say goodbye to this world, you psychopath!”

 

A bloodstain on his chest

As large as a fist

Eyes, empty and white

Like plastic

One last breath

And gone

 

“Sister, is there anything else you want to be rid of?” the priest asked gently. “I take them all: the sad, the bad, the terrible.” He lifted his hands to the heavens. “For you, I am the Lord’s vessel.”

“No thanks,” Céline smiled and pulled her hood over her head. “I have nothing else to confess.”

Translated by Richard Kunzmann

Copyright 2011 by Frank Hebben

Frank Hebben was born in Neuss in 1975 and lives in Bielefeld now. He studied Philosophy and German Philology and today works as an advertising copywriter. Deeply influenced by Cyberpunk and especially the writings of William Gibson, he emerged in recent years as of the most promising talents in German science fiction. His first collection Prothesengötter was published in 2008. He is co-editor of the German sf magazine Nova. His homepage is at www.neonrauschen.de

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