“What’ll it be, miss? Sunset? Island vacation?”
“Nothing like that. I want to browse the back room.”
I can tell I’ve shocked him. “What? A nice girl like you?”
I force myself to meet the salesman’s eyes. “I’ve got money. Cash.”
I slide the bills across the counter before I can change my mind.
The back room is a place of shadows, stuffed with memories not meant for the light of day. Rows upon rows of murky glass spheres. Assault & Battery. Fetish. Rape. Murder.
I start down the aisle marked Consensual Erotic Encounters.
And find the perfect memory.
A year later, I’m in Reykjavik. Funny how a single memory can rewrite your life. I’ve relived that purchased recollection so many times I almost believe it happened to me.
Heat. Sweat. He rolls my nipple between his thumb and forefinger. Surging emotion, a beautiful blend of love and lust. He kisses my neck. “God,” he whispers, “how I love you. You’re so beautiful. So goddamn beautiful.”
The café sells licorice ice cream and stuffed puffins. There’s a coin laundry in the basement and a sign inviting mothers to breastfeed. The day after I bought the memory, I quit my job. A week later, I broke my lease. Two days after that, I was on a plane to Paris.
His weight comes down on me; the mattress yields. He’s so beautiful, with his clenched jaw and damp, curling hair. Naked emotion shines in his eyes, a vulnerability that clenches my heart. I slide my bare foot up the outside of his leg.
I’ve had a few lovers since then. Nothing close to that, though. How could she do it? How could she pluck a memory like that out of her head—never to be thought of again—and trade it for money?
He enters me slowly, like a hot, needy dream, the kind that makes you want to sleep forever. It’s so good, so right. “Let’s get married,” he whispers, “and do this every damn night.”
The café is crowded. I’m eating a kanilsnúðar—a cinnamon snail. I see him just as my tongue touches sugar.
Holy shit. I see him.
He’s wearing jeans and a jacket with a turned-up collar. His hair’s longer, but his eyes are the same startling blue. They pass right over me. It’s silly to be upset about that, but I am.
I tell myself to breathe. In… Out… In… Out… Until a shadow falls over me and I look up.
I stare. “What are you doing here?”
His smile’s apologetic. “Um…this is the only free seat. Mind if I join you?”
“Oh!” My voice is steady, my hands are not. I fold them in my lap. “Sure. Go ahead.”
He sits and takes a sip. “Sightseeing.”
“You asked what I’m doing here. Sightseeing, and a bit of photography. You?”
“I’m a travel blogger. The website I work for sent me here.”
“Must be nice, getting paid to travel.” He bites into his snúðar and I can’t look away. I remember that mouth, sucking and nibbling my—
“Why Iceland?” I ask.
“The light.” He gestures at the window. “See that? Ten at night and still as bright as noon.” He sends me a speculative look. “You traveling alone?”
“Yeah.” My pulse kicks up. “What about you?”
“I was,” he says.
We talk for hours, until he’s more real in life than he ever was in memory. But when we end up at my hotel, I’m not sure if I’m in a dream or a nightmare. He undresses me, and I remember. He kisses me, and I remember. I wrap my hand around his cock and try desperately not to remember.
He touches me just the way I like it. No. Just the way she likes it.
“I’m sorry.” I slide out from under him. “I can’t do this.”
He rolls onto his side. “Why not? We’re both unattached.” His gaze narrows. “At least, I am.”
“I am too! It’s not that.” I drag my t-shirt over my naked body. I want him so badly. But not like this.
“Was it something I did?”
“No! It’s nothing.”
“It sure as hell is something.” He tries to pretend he doesn’t care, but I can tell he’s hurt.
So…I blurt it out. “I bought the night you proposed. Your fiancée’s memory of it, I mean.”
He stares. “What the fuck?”
“I don’t know her name. I didn’t know yours, either, before today.” I’m babbling, but I can’t stop. “They have to scrub those things out, you know, before they put the memories up for sale. Privacy laws and all that.”
“She sold that memory? To a recollection shop?” His eyes held nothing but revulsion now. “Goddamn it. She’s a bigger bitch than I even knew.”
“So you see why—”
“Yeah. I see. You a pervert who buys back room memories.” He gets out of bed, all big and naked. His cock is limp. He grabs his clothes.
I should let him go. But for some reason, when he touches the doorknob, I say, “I was raped.”
His head jerks. “What?”
“It happened two years ago. Afterward, I was afraid of everything. Dark rooms, crowds, my own shadow, you name it. My boyfriend left. Friends avoided me. I thought about killing myself.”
He stares a moment, then asks, “Why are you telling me this?”
“So you’ll understand why I did it! That memory saved my life. It gave me a beautiful dream to remember instead of a nightmare. And I thought…as long as there’s love like that in the world, I don’t want to leave. Look, I don’t know who she is or why she let you go, but she’s an idiot.”
He snorted. “I was the idiot. She cheated with my best friend.”
“Like I said, she’s an idiot.” I suck in air. “All right. I’ve told you. You can leave now. Again, I’m sorry. Not for buying the memory, but for tonight. It wasn’t fair.”
A few heartbeats of silence pass. Neither of us move.
“I don’t know…” He leans one shoulder against the door, his eyes grave. “A memory for a memory? Seems pretty fair to me.”
I tilt my head. “What do you mean?”
“The slate’s blank now, don’t you think? We’re even.” He nods at my suitcase. “Come on, get dressed. Let’s go out.”
“Out? Out where?”
“I guess we’ll find out when we get there.” He flashes me a grin. “And afterward, we’ll remember it together.”