The Memory of Sweetness

Aug 15  |  Alyssa Beaty

I have this memory. Mine or someone else’s — it’s impossible to tell anymore. Dreams and recollections mingle above the cryo-pods like smoke above a bar, exhalations of past lives.

I walk through the fields, speckled green and red. I bend to trickle rich, dark dirt through my fingers. A strawberry bursts on my tongue with the bright memory of sweetness.

Alina sits on the porch of a slope roofed house in the middle of the field. The swing creaks as she pushes off from weathered boards with one bare, sun-browned foot, her other leg tucked underneath her.

A translucent barrier, like heat rising from the ground, keeps me from her. When I press against it there is pain, a sharp stab; this, and the way I instantly knew her name, are perhaps signs that this is my own remembrance. When I wander into a cloud of someone’s last sip of whiskey, or their mother’s smile, there is barely any resistance. But you never know, here. The drugs that put us into cryo-sleep dull some memories while letting others run rampant, and the stronger ones bleed out. You can see it in the dreamers, a row of them arching in agony for a moment and then relaxing as the emotion passes through them.

I call them the dreamers, the scientists who were the only hope of a doomed planet, sent out into the black void. They are alive in their cryo-pods but will never wake, now. The ship’s controls are dead, and we drift in space, directionless. I alone am awake, for a first watch that has become endless. We will soon run out of oxygen. I should be working on this problem; the chance of rescue is slim, but we’re all that’s left of humanity. We abandoned Earth, watched the planet burn below us as we ascended. The first hundred years of cryo-sleep were supposed to dull the loss. It didn’t work. From the first day of my watch, I’ve wandered through clouds of longing and regret.

I walk down the corridor where the miasma hangs the heaviest. Red lights blink on consoles behind me, warning. Our oxygen levels are perilously low; I should descend to the engineering decks and divert resources to the levels where the dreamers sleep. They will stay alive a bit longer, and I will remain alone. The need to reach Alina pulls at me.

I return to the strawberry fields. A soft summer breeze stirs the scents of plants warming under a benevolent sun. If I don’t reach her, I will never speak to another human again, never know if this memory, if she, is mine or someone else’s. After a century asleep, and twenty years alone on the ship, my life on Earth is a washed out white. I would like to believe I had this, once: the red and green fields, the smell of the earth, the sweetness of a strawberry. And Alina, waiting for me on the porch.

Steady red light fills the corridors, the ship’s silent scream of warning.

I push past the pain of the shimmering veil that keeps me from Alina. There is a sensation in my head, a soap bubble bursting, and then I put my foot on the creaking bottom step of the porch. Alina smiles, holds out her hand. Alarms blare behind me; the oxygen has run out. Blood flows from my ears and nose. Alina’s fingers when they intertwine with mine are thin and rough and real. Her kiss is red and sweet.

Mine or someone else’s, it doesn’t matter, now. I have this memory.