Chapter I: Not About Angels
I'm wondering if without our memories, there's nothing for it but for our love to fade and die.
It was peaceful behind the dull windows of the office, the tapping sound of a plastic pen hitting against a wooden desk creating an echo in place of the clinically empty air. Sasha sank into the leather couch, her spine was relaxed but her feet fidgeted to the rhythm of unease.
“These dreams you’re talking about, when did they start?” The therapist finally spoke, albeit slowly, Sasha was willing to see past the irritating and nasal drawl to stay still.
“Couple of weeks ago, just a few days after my parents’ funeral,” Sasha said coolly - like they have been cold facts being pulled out of an emptier soul.
“Well how do you feel about that?”
“About what?” The response came quickly.
“Your parents dying.”
She shrugged, “It happens, I guess. Old people pass of old age all the time. They haven’t been the best, they haven’t been the worst.” People said that people gradually grow into warmth as they age. Sasha wanted to scoff, perhaps, from the awareness that she had been one of the rarer cases.
“Okay…” The drone of an old air-condition rammed against the thinly-veiled fascination that wrapped itself underneath the therapist’s tone.
“So,” Sasha continued, stealing a quick glance towards her watch. They just had a couple of minutes left until unreasonable, three-digit pricing of the higher range would be charged against her. New York was a highly stressful environment. “I’m not really sure if it’s a dream or a nightmare - in a conventional sense, it feels beyond that. It would always just feel real.”
Real as the beginning of a picturesque, vacation dream. It always started out as the nervous shifting of gears and the slow acceleration of whirling metal. A mother dressed in mourning and the blank face of a patriarch. And then unearthed before her eyes was a long, wide road of scattered leaves and empty benches and unswept gravel. Vibrant trees lined up by each side of the road, their branches extended to distantly hold each other, like a loveless marriage between root and skies. In the dance between scattered sunlight and shapely shadows, she would always see her own reflection from the window appear and disappear before her eyes.
“It would always end with a blank face,” Sasha closed her eyes, trying to futilely remember a blur that existed at the back of her head.
“No. A girl with auburn hair but I wasn’t that sure if it was because that is her hair or if it was because of the sun. I really don’t know who she is.” She could shudder. “She was left behind. Doc., I know a lot of people would be scared of this type of dream. But I wasn’t. It felt like… it happened.”
She had not known dread, not in her parents’ funeral, and not in the accumulating break-ups and bad dates that have all told her that it’s her fault. So she wasn’t exactly sure why it lingered beneath the comfortable sheets and the unused spaces of her queen-sized bed.
“Hence… the request.” The therapist blinked, the realization settled in the flutter of her lashes. “Ms. Banks, we’re not sure if this is a memory. There are a million of possibilities of what else it could be. Hypnotherapy has been largely discouraged, studies have shown the recovery of false memories rather than legitimate ones.”
“I’m aware.” Sasha nodded curtly.
“-And even if it was real, there’s a reason why our brains chose not to remember some of these events.”
“It’s just been a bother really.”
“Managing my heart rate, for the most part.” She deadpanned, the empty feeling did not exist in broad daylight. Maybe.
Nightmares do not thrive in cold places, like in the stale leather seats and in the knot of telephone cords on the desks of Wall Street’s beating heart. All there was in the office was capital, the god that everybody prayed to when they didn't need the real one. Nightmares only ever belonged to the other side of the phone. They only exist in places where people still dreamed about life beyond wealth.
The day was occupied by skeptical clients and persistent bosses who were teetering on the edge of white-collar crime. As she brushed past one call after the other, Sasha’s gaze fixated on the trajectory of corporate stocks for the month, guessing that if you stared at something for too long it would stop making sense. The bull market started to look like thick lines traversing across black planes. They looked like alpines of Europe, sharp and beautiful, cool air blowing through steep surfaces.
She could watch herself from afar, her lips formed to utter empty promises. This was not what she went to school for but the money was good.
“Sasha,” a co-worker cleared his throat, hovering around the newly-vacated cubicle beside Sasha’s. Personalized mugs and neglected rubber bands lingered in it like frames in an empty home - inhabited by memories rather than people. It read: Bayley, but no one would have known that as the man simplistically sat on the desk and covered the bulk of the cubicle’s identity. He cleared his throat, a bit louder this time. Scratchier, gravelly. “Banks.”
It had sounded like nails on a chalkboard, but it definitely did the job. Sasha glanced at the man with a neat bun and an uneven shave. He was probably Michael, or Cassidy, or John. She wasn’t sure. They all start to look and sound the same for the first time that she met them and after two years have gone by. “Yes?”
He stood in anticipation, hands in his pocket, and his right brow raised high.
“...Yes? Can I help you?”
“Rollins?” He said, as a matter-of-factly. “Seth?”
She stared at him blankly, realization finding its way in the crook of her brow. Somehow she had forgotten that Wall Street was occupied by one of the million kinds of men who think that they’re one in a million.
“Ah yeah!” She forced a smile. “I remember you, you’re from…”
“Seniors… I’m one of the seniors,” He continued for her, still holding an eerily proud smile as he drawled on about equities, loyalty, and other sorts of economic noise. He spoke about all the things that she had already learned in college. It was all useless.
This was routine to the point that Sasha had already mastered the art of a perfect, affirmative, response. Stay still and nod, which she did until the guy abruptly changed the topic.
“ Sucks for her,” He lamented. “Bayley, was that?”
Sasha swallowed the lump forming from her throat that came straight out of her chest. She was never that close to the woman from the other cubicle, or anyone, for that matter. But her pulse got so loud that she could hear it pump blood against her ear.
“What do you think happened?”
You damn well know, she thought, still attempting to tame the wild thumping caged within her chest. All of you do. Sasha covertly took two deep breaths and focused on the ticking of the big digital clock above their office.
“Do you want to, maybe grab a bite or something? Lunch? Dinner?” He stopped and winked, “or Dinner? ”
There are a lot of things she should be thankful for and the obnoxious ring of an expensive phone would be one of those.
Sasha was exactly forty-seven minutes late when she arrived at the restaurant. It was one of those special, Michelin-starred restaurants that took months worth of queueing to get a table in.
In front of her date was a cleaned-out plate of pasta and crumbs of garlic bread. “I was about to get the bill,” Finn jested in what looked like a desperate attempt to cover a mixture of doubt and disappointment in his voice. “I wasn’t sure you were going to come.”
“I’m sorry, it was just…” Sasha sat down, raising her hand in a motion to stop Finn before he could assist her. “Work, for the most part.”
He glanced at his phone and shot her a sad smile. She immediately caught the hurt dull the glint in his eyes.
You wanted me to text , she understood.
And ever the gentleman he was, he asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”
She stared at him, long enough to cause worry to crease the young man’s forehead. Sasha was waiting. For a feeling, perhaps: guilt, sadness, or whatever it is that will drive the conversation forward. It was their fifth date and he was the seventh man for the last few months. All the boxes had checked out.
Proper. Good family. Decent income. Sweet. Patient. Kind. Loving. Gentle. Respectful. Did not vote for buffoons. He was everything great. Supposedly.
But the feeling didn’t come and Finn looked at her like she was the angel that she’s never seen in front of a mirror. For whenever wide eyes would light up the minute that she walked in she would come to realize that he was falling for a person that she wasn’t and didn’t know.
“Finn,” she slowed and took a deep breath to settle the argument that has been happening between her mind and her conscience. “I think that we sh-”
“You don’t want to see me again,” he smiled - like realization had dawned on him since their second date. “I kind of had a feeling.”
She should feel bad when he left but she didn’t. Instead, her eyes flickered between the expensive beverage section of the menu and the thirty-two sent messages that have sat cold without a reply.
It’s not my fault , were the words that she tried to swallow. But it sure needed the liquid courage for it to slide down her throat and untie the knots that had been forming at the pit of her stomach.
Classy drunk was the recommended state-of-inebriation for most women approaching the age of power. Where there existed a strong suggestion that they stay home, watch a soap opera, open an expensive bottle of Shiraz, and pretend that they weren't alcoholics whenever they'd come out of their comfortably empty apartments. That might have explained the fact that the top five best selling drinks at the bar were all either based from Whiskey or was something-on-the-rocks.
It was a rather expensive bar, comfortable leather couches with an uncomfortable price, a tavernesque counter with the gentlest of bartenders, and dim lights and a soft orchestra playing in the background.
Sasha swirled her glass before she took a small sip of the aged wine, the aroma infiltrating her senses as full-bodied liquid slid down her throat like a sigh after a long day.
“You from Wall Street?” A voice rang like molten gold running orderly across the edges of its owner's face. It was the bartender, with the hair that’s the color of muted fire. The image burned vivid from the glass from which Sasha was drinking.
She might have been new. Bartenders from this bar never struck conversations so casually.
“It’s the suit,” she explained, without a hint of nervousness crossing her goofy smirk. “So… that dude out there, far right. Told me to give you this Manhattan, but you don’t seem like a Bourbon kinda’ girl so I’m going to let you pick an equivalent drink.”
At the corner of the bar, a middle-aged man with a clean haircut and tailored fit gray suit nodded at Sasha.
“Keep this between us but I personally wouldn’t. Bad track record, if you know what I mean,” the bartender winked. “So, miss…? What’s your order?”
“You’ve got more of this?”
A burst of cackle left the bartender’s mouth, but really, it was the moment of delight in her eyes that sold it. The glass of wine was thrice the price of a Manhattan. “You know what? Just cause’ you’re funny, the rest of it is on the house.”
Sasha chuckled, because maybe, for a split-second, the soulless corners of New York City got a little bit more interesting. “Are you new here?”
“Heck, not a regular! God I hope not. Just really did it because I felt like it, I was in the city anyway. My friend owns this place.” The bartender poured a wine towards Sasha’s now-empty glass. “I’m Becky by the way.”
“Sasha…” Becky pondered, her eyes suddenly fixated towards a clean wooden pillar, as if her consciousness left the venue for a good second. It happened quick, almost as if she consciously pulled herself out of a haze and snapped back towards the present. It happened so quick but Sasha definitely caught it.
“Ha,” Becky let out a dry chuckle. “I knew a Sasha once and I have a question for you.”
“And that is?”
“Are you going to break my heart too?”
Whoever that bartender was, she was funny.
Real. As the beginning of a picturesque, vacation dream. It once again started out as the nervous shifting of gears and the slow acceleration of whirling metal. Her mother’s face fell pleading, the look of silence and the look of cries - forever staring at and past her father. Vibrant trees lined up by each side of the road, their branches extended to distantly hold each other, like a loveless marriage between root and skies.
She was able to look back, the sunlight rising from the open glade. The girl was gone, but she might’ve never been there. Her own reflection appeared and reappeared by the corner of her eyes, shadowed by the endless trees that grew darker and darker as the car sped past road signs and empty benches.
A dull echo rose from somewhere inside her.
Promise that you won’t leave.
It only happened once and she tried, to futilely dig at the source from picture to picture, but she couldn’t get out of the car.
She couldn’t remember what it was. But what it was formed merely into a hollow feeling that seemed to have carved itself within her chest.