The den was to the left, and the doors to the bedroom and bathroom on the right. The kitchen took up an entire interior wall, and she enjoyed looking out over the living room and to the view when she cooked—which was often. Again, something that had begun as Optitherapy, but Jack seemed to enjoy her efforts and she’d learned to find satisfaction in it. She loved the lazy summer afternoons when she and Jack would retract the balcony windows into the walls and the entire apartment felt like it was outside. Shelves lined an interior wall, holding her talismans from previous drafts. Remembering the button in her pocket, her smile faded.
Jack dropped his bag. Remote pointed at the huge plate-glass windows, he shifted the glass to an opaque one-way. It was a measure of privacy she appreciated, seeing as they sort of lived in a bulletproof fishbowl. Detroit glowed in the near distance, the buildings red in the sunset. Random reflected flashes showed where the droneway paths hung. High-Q traffic and security drones were allowed above the city streets 24/7, but low-Q delivery and recreational drones were not, and the mid-skies were busy with last-minute payload drops.
Tossing the remote aside, Jack went into the kitchen to stand appraisingly before their small wine cooler. The answering machine on the counter beeped, and Peri picked Carnac up, collar bell ringing. Jack was trying to hide it, but he was on edge and growing more so. He’d slept most of the second leg home, but he’d been closed and distant ever since waking up.
“You miss me, sweetie?” she whispered to Carnac, breathing the words between his ears. Grabbing a few kitty treats from the canister, Peri ambled to the huge windows, Carnac still in her arms. Her winter-dead plants waited in sad-looking clay pots on the cold balcony, the chopsticks she’d stolen from Sandy and used to tie up weak stems still jammed in them.
“Are you going to change for tonight?” Jack asked, his back to her as he took down two glasses and opened a red. “Bill wants to meet at Overdraft to debrief.”
“Overdraft?” she questioned as Carnac spilled out of her arms. The bar was one of the few places that drafters could call home, intentionally kept unchanged to help ease rough transitions and therefore somewhat stuck in the ’90s, when it had been bought by Opti’s psychologists and staffed by the same. It was generally too busy for a proper chat, with Peri’s psychologists manning the bar, but it would be more comfortable than a sterile office. Maybe that’s what Bill was going for.
“I thought you texted Bill that I was fine,” she complained, button in hand as she went to her talismans. “Can’t he wait until morning to start poking at me?”
“Apparently not,” Jack muttered. “He wants us there at one.”
“In the morning?” Peri sighed. At least at that hour, it would be close to empty. “Sure. I don’t have anything else to do.” Other than read my diary and catch up on the last six weeks of TV eye candy, that is. “I might cover the black eye. Change my blouse.” Sandy would still see the shiner, but that woman saw everything.
Out of sorts, she set the button beside a picture of Jack and herself. It was night, and there was a huge fire gone to coals behind them. And stars, thousands of stars in patterns she didn’t recognize. She was dirty, her hair even longer than it was now. Jack was relaxed with his arms around her. New Year’s? she wondered as she picked up the heavy frame.
“Jack? It’s Bill,” came from the answering machine, Bill’s voice sounding tinny through the speaker. “You home yet?” The heavyset man was as American as she was, but living abroad had given him a faint accent. Peri knew he used it to give himself the polish his Bronx beginnings lacked.
Peri’s eyes closed as the machine beeped. Something told her that she’d used the picture as her own private talisman. She could feel it as clearly as the silver dagazes tooled around the frame. Carnac’s collar and the half-knitted scarf both sported the hourglass-like glyph as well. That it looked like Opti’s logo on its side didn’t hurt. She only put it on things she’d want to recognize as her own if she ever forgot them. She knew with a guilty certainty that Opti’s psychologists wouldn’t approve, and she hadn’t even told Jack about her experimentation, but she was hoping that with some preparation, the images in the photo and her imagination might—just might—bring this moment back.
Cavana had given her the idea, after a cryptic conversation about how memory knots might not be as lethal as Opti made out. That had been right before Opti had moved him out west. She still missed their occasional chats over dessert coffee.
Anticipation simmered as she brought the frame to her nose and breathed in the scent of the weighty metal. She tried to remember the feel of the thick red dust between her toes and the heat against her face, all of which she could see in the photo.
With an om-like sigh, she exhaled, and like magic, the entire night came back with a tingle of adrenaline: it had been New Year’s after all. The Aborigines who had found them, the meal they’d shared, the stories she and Jack had gifted them with, the reading of their souls that they’d given back, the blessing the old man had pronounced over each of them. It had been heaven, and Peri stood there, elated as the memory held and returned a small part of herself to her. She had remembered. She had remembered on her own!
“Jack, you there?” Bill’s agitated voice came again, pulling Peri from her private celebration. “I know I gave you the day off, but that was before Peri’s memory knot. Call me.”