A to Z Challenge: Memories

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Melissa walked into the small back room and sat down on the single chair in the center of it. She could hear the proceedings from the other side of the curtain, the auctioneer jabbering away while trying to draw out the highest bid. She ran a hand through her sandy brown hair and wondered if this was a good idea, if she really wanted to get rid of it all. But it was something that had to be done. She couldn’t carry it around with her forever. From what she’d been told, there was no shortage of buyers.

The sharp bang of the auctioneer’s hammer snapped her out of her thoughts. The previous sale was complete. An old man walked in through the curtain, his shoulders slumped but a faint smile playing on the corners of his lips. He walked past Melissa without noticing her, as if in a trance. She’d been warned about that happening for a few hours after the sale, but the end result would be worth it. Or so she hoped.

Another bang as the auctioneer got everyone’s attention to introduce the next item up for bidding. Melissa stood up, smoothed the creases on her dress and walked onto the stage. There was a podium on one side where a skeletal man in an over-sized brown suit stood surveying the crowd and twirling a small hammer between his bony fingers. His neatly parted silver hair suggested an air of refinement that was offset by his unchanging rictus of a smile and hungry eyes. She turned away from him to see that the room was packed, but she couldn’t make out any individual faces.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” The thin man began in a sharp voice that belied his frailty. “Allow me the privilege of presenting Miss Melissa De la Cruz, 34 years of age, a music teacher and avid film buff, formerly engaged to a Mr. Darren Robson.”

Melissa felt a knot form in her stomach on hearing his name.

“Alas,” the auctioneer sighed, shaking his head in an exaggeration of sadness but still smiling. “Mr. Robson was killed eight months ago in a car accident.”

There were a few murmurs from the audience.

“Miss De la Cruz was devastated, of course. A truly tragic loss. But life must go on, ladies and gentlemen. We cannot carry the burden of our memories with us forever. And that is why Miss De la Cruz joins us today, so we may help her lighten the load. But first, let’s hear what’s on offer.”

The man motioned to Melissa. His smile didn’t extend to his hungry, pale eyes.

She stood there for a moment, unsure. She could hear the breath of every single person sitting in the auditorium, waiting for her. Her fists clenched and unclenched as she debated over how to begin, over what to tell them. And then, she began.

Melissa recounted her first meeting with Darren, when he had dropped off his younger sister for singing lessons. He was a handsome young man, but there was something about him that clicked instantly with Melissa. And she clicked with him. She told the room about how Darren would always show up just a little bit early to pick his sister up so he could hear Melissa sing, and how he’d hang around for a while afterwards discussing his sister’s progress and pretending to know anything about classical music, just as an excuse to talk to her.

The words were pouring out of Melissa now, without pause. She remembered the first time he actually asked her on a date and the blush that crept up her cheeks when she accepted. Her first date with Darren ended in a rainstorm on the way back to her apartment. They laughed and splashed around the wet streets until he dropped her off at her front door. That one date had sealed the deal for them; they knew they would be together forever. She practically choked on the words as she said them. Darren’s jokes, his quirks, his hobbies, his vices, she remembered them all. After a few months of dating, they moved in together. A short while after that, on what seemed to be a routine dinner date, Darren went down on one knee and held up a ring. Melissa’s life was going to change forever. And on a slightly warm spring afternoon,  it did. That was the day she received a phone call and had to go identify Darren’s body.

The room was completely quiet. Melissa took some time to compose herself, dabbing at the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. She resumed her story, her voice a broken whisper. She talked about Darren’s funeral and the empty, meaningless weeks that followed. She had lost her passion for singing; it was just noise to her. She was afraid to drive, not for fear of dying, but for fear of bringing loss to someone else. Darren was with her always, in her heart and in her mind. She loved him more than she’d ever loved anyone, but deep down, she knew she needed to let him go. And now was the time for it.

Melissa stopped and broke down crying, unable and unwilling to stop herself. No one else in the room made a sound. They merely watched in fascinated silence.

“Alright then, ladies and gentlemen,” the old man said, in an infuriatingly cheerful tone. “There you have it. Our next item on auction is ‘Memories of Darren Robson, from first meeting till the present day.’ Place your bids!” He licked his lips, eyes darting around the room as frantic shouts erupted from the crowd, eager to win.

Melissa was vaguely aware of the buzzing around her as she stood on the stage, staring ahead with red-rimmed eyes.

At last, the hammer came down. Somebody had won.

A middle-aged woman from one of the middle rows bounded up to the stage, beaming. The auctioneer shook her firmly by the hand and led her to Melissa. The woman wrapped her in a tight hug, still smiling.

“I’ve never been in love,” she said in a soft voice. “But I’ve always wondered what it would be like, even if it didn’t last long.”

The woman gazed into Melissa’s eyes, seeing Darren’s reflection in them. Melissa could feel herself growing lighter. All the grief and the rage inside her was gone, as if it had been lifted off her like a veil. She returned the woman’s smile, which seemed to be fading, though she wasn’t entirely sure what she was smiling about.

She stepped back a bit unsteadily and looked around the room. She felt happy, happier than she’d felt in a long time. The auctioneer put a hand on her shoulder.

“It’s done, Miss De la Cruz,” he purred gently. “Your item has been sold.”

She blinked, trying to jog her memory. “My item, yes. I’m glad.”

The old man guided her off the stage. Before leaving, she turned to see the woman standing with a hand over her heart, her cheeks glistening with fresh tears. Her smile was fainter, but not completely gone.

“Is she alright?” Melissa asked.

“Oh yes, she’s fine. She’s just remembering a loved one.”

Melissa nodded and walked away, through the curtain and into the back room. It must be nice, she thought, to love someone so much that they never leave your thoughts. If only she could love someone like that.

The auctioneer thanked Melissa for her time and she thanked him for helping her with whatever it was she had come to sell. Still smiling, Melissa walked out the door. It was a beautiful sunny day, and she had so many new memories to make.

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