Madison died on Friday, October ninth, one week before celebrating her twenty-second birthday.  When she died, Madison became a memory, whereby she consciously– and quite physically– relived her entire life several times over, just as she was remembered.  When someone remembered her, she would simultaneously relive that moment as well as the current moment.  Sometimes, soon after her death, she ubiquitously relived as many as sixty-three different moments at a time.

When she relived her death, she would start over at her birth (before Madison’s brain had even formed the ability to retain memory), just as her mother and father and those around her remembered it.

•     •     •

When Madison turned eighteen, she took a year off to work as a waitress at a local Indian food restaurant.  At nineteen, Madison started her first year of University, where she met some of the best friends she would have before she died.  Among them were Joel, Hannah, and Brandon, whom she loved almost immediately.  By this time, Brandon was in his second year, taking several different art and music classes, and doing very well in all of them.  Brandon intended to one day become a graphic designer.  This intimidated Madison, who was unsure of her studies and taking several journalism classes, with no particular intention, which ultimately wouldn’t matter because of her unavoidable fate.  Nonetheless, she never did end up saying anything to Brandon, despite how close they did become in her last year.

The following year, Joel, Hannah, Madison, and Brandon decided to rent a four bedroom house near campus.  Madison turned twenty.  Then Madison turned twenty-one.

Somewhere in that time, her father remembered Madison learning to ride a bike.  She was also sixteen and working her last shift at a fast food restaurant.

Madison woke up this time in her own apartment, her memory complete.  She looked at her calendar on the wall.  October first to the eighth had large X’s through the squares, and her birthday on the sixteenth was circled in red.  Somewhere in her mind, she had lived this day already, and she knew how it would turn out.

The phone rang.  It was Brandon.  It was time for Madison to go home to spend this birthday with her family.

On their way to the airport, they had a conversation that didn’t exist yet in anyone’s memory.

“I had a very unusual dream last night,” Madison said.

“Yeah?”

“I dreamt that this plane crashed.  It was so real.  I lived this entire day already in my dream.  I’m starting to remember it very well.”

“Did you have this conversation already?” Brandon asked benevolently.

“No, but I’m starting to think I shouldn’t get on that plane.”

Brandon considered this.  “Look, if you’re nervous about flying, I can–“

“I’ve flown plenty.  You ever hear about someone having a dream that comes true?”

“In movies, maybe.”

Madison hesitated.  “Well, maybe I’m nervous, but let’s just see.  Can you drive me tomorrow?  I’ll see if I can exchange my ticket.”

“I work until four.  Anytime after that is good.”

So Madison exchanged her ticket for a small fee and Brandon agreed to drive her the day after.

But on the way home, just as flight 27 was crash landing somewhere between Madison and home, a semi lost control on the highway and sent Brandon and Madison head on into another car in the opposite lane.

What had already happened to Madison twenty-two years earlier was permanently in the memory of time, and Madison was dead, no matter what anyone wanted to believe.

•     •     •

Madison was born moments later.

At this same time, Madison’s mother, Julie, silently remembered that it was her birthday, and so did her father, Ronald.  Julie remembered Madison’s twenty-first birthday, the last one Madison would have before becoming a memory.  Madison had not seen her parents this birthday, but had spent a long time talking to them on the phone.  Madison told her that for her birthday, her friends took her out to play laser tag.  Although Julie was not there, she remembered it as if she were, as she imagined laser tag would be, because Julie herself had never played.  She remembered it to be much more violent than it actually was, more along the lines of a futuristic gun fight with 1980’s-quality special effects.

Parallel to this memory, Ronald remembered spending his best moments with Madison while on a family vacation to Europe, specifically on a gondola in Venice, surrounded by tall, sophisticated culture.

1987: Madison is born into a violent futuristic battle situated on the Grand Canal, while wearing Robocop-style armour and firing a high-powered automatic laser rifle.  Featuring explosions that send bodies off the roofs of buildings into the water below.  Probably starring Arnold Schwarzenegger or Sylvester Stallone.

•     •     •

By the time Madison turned thirteen, her memory was nearly complete.  This was partly due to her family often remembering her at all different points of her life and partly due to having lived her life over two-and-a-half times through already.

At fifteen, Madison had broken her arm.  Now, at the baseball diamond, moments before she would reach down to tag the runner out at second, snapping her arm nearly in two, she remembered this.  The batter hit the ball to shortstop, where Ellie caught it, and tossed it quickly to Madison.  Madison watched as she took one step closer to the base and suddenly stopped herself from tagging out the runner, inches from the base.  The other players on her team began yelling at her to follow her trained instincts.  She refused to move, until suddenly, the player slid into Madison, knocking her on to the ground, onto her arm.

Madison heard a crack! and the rest of the memory carried on as she remembered– the umpire yelling, “Out!“– her parents rushing her to the emergency– and wearing a very itchy cast at school for the next six weeks.

•     •     •

Madison was an introvert.  As she lived her life for the third time, she found herself becoming more and more extroverted.  Amidst the inevitability of her impending past, she found comfort in knowing herself just that much more.  With her death approaching each moment, she was uplifted by the familiar.

It was April.  Madison was now twenty and had just finished her third year of studies for the third time.  Brandon had just finished his Honours Bachelor’s of Arts in Graphic Design and as a result was having several drawings on display at the local art gallery.  The particular drawing that Madison was now looking at was a picture of a robot hominoid painting a picture of a human man, with the title ‘Anthropolatry’ beneath the image, which Madison knew meant ‘Man Worship’ after several conversations with Brandon on the topic of irony.  This particular drawing was Madison’s favourite.

Madison glanced over to see Brandon observing some of the other displays.  He looked over and Madison quickly looked away.  She looked back a moment later and he was no longer at this display.  Her eyes scanned the room and she saw him walking outside.  She looked at Man Worship, and then at the door.

After having lived this moment twice before, very little was different this time.

Madison contemplated going outside and talking to Brandon.  Then she thought that that might make for an awkward situation if she has nothing on her mind other than debating whether or not to tell him her true feelings.  Then she decided that they are good enough friends that they have had many conversations without the topic ever coming up.  But her strong feelings in this exact moment made her feel like awkwardness would be inevitable.

Here is where this moment is different:

Madison thinks for a second that she would always have another chance again in about twenty-two years if she does make things uncomfortable.  Madison begins to walk towards the door, and then stops.  She realizes now that things would have been easier if she was already outside when Brandon left.  She cannot change what already happened a long time ago.  She can only wish.

Madison turned around to contemplate more irony.  Brandon came inside moments later and stood beside her.

“I just had to clear my head,” he said.

“Find any interesting paraphernalia?” Madison asked uneasily.

“Not this time.”

•     •     •

Madison lived with Hannah, Joel, and Brandon for one more school year, her third and final year of university.  The four of them had never been closer, and together they celebrated Madison’s last birthday: twenty-one.

Joel had an array of random useless talents, and one that he managed to keep quiet until this day was laser tag.

“That explains why you were so insistent to play laser tag,” Hannah said, after the first game of two, of which both Joel had won twice already, and was about to once again.

“I’m unusually good at lots of things,” Joel replied proudly.  “I’m unpredictable, really.”

Madison looked at her cell phone.  “How much time do we have until our next game?”

“About fifteen minutes,” Joel said.

“My parents tried to call me a few minutes ago.  If anyone needs me I’ll be outside.”

•     •     •

Madison lived her last year exactly as she had the first time.  Very little was different, and Madison found it impossible to change the way people remembered her.  Madison had enjoyed her life, so she was always at ease by the idea that when she would die, she would enjoy her life again and again.  She was more driven by the emotions that originally accompanied each individual experience in her life than by her impending plane ride home.

Madison stayed awake this time on the plane.  She read her favourite collection of Calvin and Hobbes, something she had neglected to bring ever before with her on the plane.  She quietly chuckled to herself, trying not to attract stares from fellow passengers.  Most of them were distracted by the distressing angle of the aircraft.

•     •     •

Madison was born.

Madison lived her life chronologically as those she knew remembered it.  This time several events early on were skipped entirely.  Somewhere in the middle of this version of her life it occurred to Madison that those she knew while alive had continued on living without her.  By this time– Madison’s fourth time living– several of those people would have died.  And with them, their memory of Madison.

Madison was thirteen and her family visited Europe.  Madison was fifteen and broke her arm playing baseball.  Madison was seventeen and graduated high school.  Madison was eighteen and started university.  She moved in with her friends when she was nineteen and turned twenty soon after that.

•     •     •

After respectfully observing most of this art inside, Madison stood outside the art gallery on her fourth April 17th, 2008.  It was an early spring night, the kind where the wind makes dragons out of the clouds and the moon glows a fuzzy off-white, awkward like milk.  After a moment, Brandon walked outside.

“Hey,” he said to the ground.

“Sorry to leave the exhibition.  I just needed to clear my head.  The drawings really were great.”  Madison found herself being more honest to Brandon than she could remember, in any life.

The wind blew the dragons closer than they were in Brandon’s memory.

Madison continued, somewhat talking to herself: “I can’t believe this is the only chance I got to tell you.”

“You always seemed to like the art–“

“Brandon.  This is going to sound crazy, but it doesn’t matter.  I can’t change people’s memories.  I can’t change your memory.”

“I’m not…really…following…”

“I’ve already died, Brandon.  On October ninth.  Next year.  And I never told you, today, on my one chance to tell you.  I like you, Brandon.”

“I’m not sure what to say to that–“

“You don’t have to say anything.  I’m going to die in a year and a half and I’m going to relive my life again for the fifth time, virtually the same, with more and more fragments, until I’m finally forgotten by everyone who knew me.”

Brandon was silent.

The dragons enveloped them both and carried them into the air.  The art gallery disappeared beneath them.

Madison smiled.  “I’ve lived my life over and over in the comfort of the familiar.  Except for this one plaguing moment.  I love you, and it just feels right to say it, whether or not it happened.”

Brandon put his arms around Madison as they fell back to Earth.  “It’s happening now and I don’t want to forget.”

Madison closed her eyes and was once again standing in front of Man Worship.  Brandon came back in from outside.

“I just had to clear my head,” he said.

“Find any interesting paraphernalia?” Madison asked comfortably.

Brandon nodded.  “I love you, Madison.”

•     •     •

At the age of 89, Brandon could not help but consciously remember his life.  He had had what most would call a plentiful life.  He had become a graphic designer and been quite successful at it.  He had married at the age of 31 and had raised one son.  His son had grown up healthy and become an eye doctor.  His wife died from cancer when Brandon was 75.  Brandon lived for 14 years after that with several encouraging memories to keep his mind ripe.

Brandon remembered Madison.  He remembered being surprised and excited when she loved him, and laughing at how long they had known each other before they had told one another that night at the art gallery.

This, of course, never actually happened in the past.  Neither Brandon nor Madison lived that day and the days to follow.  Brandon’s memory had transformed over time to make room for these specific memories.

Brandon thought of a time when Madison told him of her upcoming death, and then he decided that this probably never happened.

Copyright (c) 2009 Joshua Nichol.  All rights reserved.
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