by Fredrick Obermeyer
Near spring’s end, the memory trees bloomed in the village square. Most of the villagers awoke early, eager to pick the memories that they had forgotten from previous years. But Benjamin Lecarde refused to go.
He lay in bed while the rest of his family hurried out the door. Benjamin ignored their excitement and pulled the covers up to his chest.
His son, Nicholas, came over to him and said, “Come on, dad. You’ll miss the festival.”
“No,” Benjamin said. “I’ve got too many memories I’d rather forget.”
Benjamin glanced over at the empty space where his wife, Emily, used to sleep and felt a sharp pain in his heart. How long had it been since she'd passed? Three years? It was a while ago, but he still didn’t want to think about it.
“Come on, the kids want you to come.”
“I said no.” Benjamin tried to get back to sleep. But moments later Nicholas dragged him out of bed.
“Let me go back to sleep.”
Nicholas pulled him towards the closet. “If you can’t come for yourself, then at least come for them.”
“I don’t want to.”
“You always dragged us down there when mom was alive.”
Benjamin stopped. Nicholas was right. He glanced at his son and felt guilty.
“All right, I’ll go,” Benjamin said. “But I’m not picking any memories off the tree.”
“Then the kids can get them—”
“All right.” Nicholas put his hands up.
Benjamin dressed quickly and followed his family to the village square.
Every tree branch had clear spheres with moving images of the villagers’ memories. Every family had their own tree and their names engraved in the branches to indicate each person’s memories.
The villagers set up ladders and the youngest members of the family climbed up them with baskets and collected the memories. When they came down, they handed out the spheres. Each person placed them on their foreheads to be reabsorbed.
Nicholas’s sons climbed up the ladders, gathered the memories and brought them down. Benjamin looked at the bonfire where some people burned their forgotten memories and lost them forever.
Since he was the oldest in the family, Benjamin had the biggest branches. It took some time for his grandkids to bring them down.
When they retrieved all the branches, Benjamin pointed to the fire and said, “Burn them.”
“What about your memories of mother?” Nicholas said.
“She’s gone. And I don’t want to remember anything about her.”
“Even the good times?”
“Especially the good times.”
Nicholas looked down at the branches. “If we forget the past, we forget ourselves.”
Benjamin frowned. “That’s what your mother used to say.”
“I know. That’s why I was hoping you’d hold onto what’s left of her.”
Benjamin snatched the branches from the kids and headed towards the fire. As he walked, he looked down at the spheres and saw pictures of Emily and him--dancing, fighting, holding each other. He couldn’t bear to think about how he had lost her.
Benjamin started to throw the branches into the fire. When he got down to his last two branches, he stopped and looked at them. In one sphere Emily was looking back at him, crying.
Why was she crying? Benjamin thought.
Benjamin’s chest tightened as he looked closer. She was holding Nicholas as an infant.
How could I forget my son’s birth? he thought. Have I become so old and bitter that I want to forget everything that I loved?
Benjamin reached into the fire and pulled out the burning branches. Pain seared his flesh and his family rushed over and dragged him away. He looked down and saw that most of the spheres had burned, but a few remained.
Benjamin looked to his son with tears in his eyes and said, “I’m sorry.”
“It’s all right, Dad,” Nicholas said.
“No. I almost burned the happiest moment of our lives.” Benjamin tried to cover his face, but the pain in his hands made it difficult.
“It doesn’t matter.”
“No, it’s the only thing that does matter.” He looked up at Nicholas. “Give me the memories.”
“But, Dad, your hands…”
“I’ll take care of them later. Please, just give me the memories.”
Nicholas plucked the memory of his birth off the tree and handed it to his father. Benjamin placed the memory on his forehead and let it be reabsorbed into his mind.
He blinked back tears as he held his baby son in his arms once again.
Fredrick Obermeyer lives in Cooperstown, NY and is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany. He enjoys writing science fiction, horror, crime and fantasy, and has had stories published in Alternate Realities, Fedora: Private Eyes and Tough Guys, SDO Fantasy, NFG, Allegory, and Forgotten Worlds. He is a member of the online critique group Critters.
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"Branches of the Past" © 2008 Fredrick Obermeyer.
Used by permission of the author.
Raven Electrick © 2000-2008 Karen A. Romanko.