Cozy Flash: “Memory in a Bottle”

I couldn’t remember her face.

I stood outside our cobblestone cabin. It sat nestled within a field of lavender, and the scent of magic wafted off the grey stonework—like caramelized sugar mixed with ozone. My fingers traced the carving on our front door:

I.L. + S.A.

The sky was heavy. Half-dry tunics still hung on the clothesline, shifting and waving in the plow wind. Where was my S.A.? The memory slipped through my grasp like water. Just like all the rest. I couldn’t tell how long it had been since my decline began. I couldn’t even recall how long I had been standing outside.

I entered our home. Cold had seeped into its walls and the fire had died to embers. Only half-dead candles provided any illumination. On the chestnut table was a cup of tea, the brew I liked to enjoy in the morning, now deathly chill. A small taste revealed only bitterness. The cabin was lifeless, with no S.A. to be found.

In the center of the living room was the machine. Rings of ivory and wood connected by red threads and decorated in obscure sigils worked as a chassis for an empty interior. Beside it sat a blue bottle filled with cloudy black water and an etched intricate stave dancing against the sapphire glass. The piece of parchment next to it read:

Love, place the bottle within the chamber while I am away. If it runs dry, we have extra ingredients in the kitchen. Equal parts rain, tears, and ash from your hair. ~ S.A.

Indelicately, I plucked a mixture of black and grey hairs from my beard ’til I had myself a bundle, and set it aflame with the smoldering remains of the fireplace. It sparked, and I let the cinders fall into the cloudy tincture in the bottle. I did as she instructed, my trust in her word baked into me until it was muscle memory. I placed the bottle within the machine’s core, shifting its rings, forming a contraption of reels and fibers. At its center sat a bottle wherein my time and heart were nothing more than a programmed illusion. The bottle floated in the air, defying gravity and emitting a soft azure light. It spun faster and faster, ’til the image of the memory stored inside was cast against the grey stone wall in brilliant blue.

By magic, there she was. Her green hair was discolored but distinct. Her elfin frame was graceful as she carved our initials into the front door of our home with a foraging knife.

“There,” she said, “now it’s officially ours.”

Her smile, flawless and shining, cut through my fog. That glimpse of joy echoed every other happy moment that preceded it. Every meal we shared in the warmth of our home together. Every spark of electricity that ran through me when her fingers graced my cheek.

“How could I ever forget…” I said through trembling hands.

“It’s easier when you’re sick, darling,” she said. Her voice danced in the air, light and musical, fitting her ageless grace. I saw her in the doorway, silhouetted by the sunshine slicing through the falling rain. She returned to me just as promised. As certain as the sunrise.

“Doesn’t make it feel any better,” I said, my lips curling at the ends. It was impossible not to smile in her presence. Her slender arms wrapped around my shoulders as her warmth sank into my skin.

“Don’t worry. I’m here now.”

“For how long?”

“As long as I can, I’ll always come home.” She took my aging face in her delicate hands and turned me so that our eyes met. A light shone in them that could speak sonnets in a glance.

“For as long as you can, then,” I said. Rain, colored gold with sunlight, fell against our windows. I could never forget her face.

— William E. Davies

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