Her First Memory / Joe Bruce

Judy and her mom sat at the kitchen table with soft edges.  Judy stared at the half-eaten toast on her plate, while her mom clutched coffee in her hands.  The light made tree blurs outside. Blur sounds of wind.
Her mom raised the mug and took a sip.  “Not hungry,” she said as she brought it down. Almost a question, but more of a statement of the natural order of things.
“I’m not really sure how I feel,” said Judy, still not looking up.  “Is there a word for indecisive and resolute at the same time?”
“I know what you mean,” her mom answered.  “It’s a complicated decision. And nothing you do will bring your dad back, okay.  Try not to let those thoughts get in the way.”
“I know, mom.”
“What time is your appointment?”
“Soon,” said Judy, standing.  “I need to get going.”

The two stood at the doorway.  The mother watched her daughter, now grown, ready to choose her past.  Her brown hair and eyes, her freckles, all so familiar. From now on nothing would be the same.
“Well, bye, mom,” said Judy.  She turned and walked away, past the rows of houses identical to her own.

Judy remained rooted in place outside the nondescript storefront, without even a sign.  She only knew it was the store because of the iridescent blue windows. Heart pounding, she pulled the door open and stepped inside.
Imagine a jewelry store except, instead of sparkly diamonds, black boxes filled the displays.  Each box had two holes made for the eyes and connected to a set of headphones. A salesman in a green three piece suit stood with his arms spread apart and hands resting on the glass display, his hair parted severely and his smile bright. 
“You’re here for your first?” he asked, his eyes widening.
“How could you tell?” asked Judy as she looked down shyly.
“I could sense it as soon as you stepped through the door,” he said.  His accent had an odd twang. “Your stilted movement demonstrates reticence, but your blush reveals your true excitement.”
“You’re very perceptive,” said Judy.  Now she could raise her gaze.
“My trade requires a certain honing of the senses.”
They both remained silent now, a stillness and an amnesia.  Gradually, almost imperceptibly, a humming of the electric lights saturated the ambiance.
“I should assume you want a significant first memory?” he finally asked.
“Might I interest you in this one?”
He pulled out one of the black visual-audio boxes from the display case and held it out to her.  She had to cross the room to reach it and approached him in swift, gliding, strides. They held the box together for a microsecond before he released.  Judy set the box on the glass as she fiddled with the headphones and placed them over her ears. Once they were snug, she raised the view-master to her eyes.
An image of her mom dropping a phone.  Then her dad picking her up. “Pearl Harbor,” he says, but not to her.  To someone out of view.
“No, not quite that,” said Judy, pulling the device off her eyes.  “That’s too shocking. I want normalcy with a dark side.”
“An interesting request,” said the salesman, scratching his chin for a moment.  He froze for a second, lost in thought, and then nodded. “I think I have just the thing.”
Judy repeated the process, headphones, viewfinder. 
An image of her hands collecting plastic Easter eggs from the yard.  “Okay, now we need to wash our hands,” says her dad’s voice. 
She removed the device again.  “I don’t understand,” she said.
“It’s from the first pandemic,” said the salesman.
“Yes,” she said, smiling.  “This is the one.”

Her mom didn’t like what she heard when she got home.
“You could have picked any one!” she yelled.  “How could you pick that one?!"
“It’s my memory,” Judy said with a hard stare.  “I can pick whatever I want.”
“Sometimes I just don’t know,” her mom mumbled, shaking her head dejectedly.

Judy slammed the door so hard the house shook.  She stutter-stepped across the bedroom and threw herself on her bed covered with laundry.  Wool sweaters and slacks. Floral dresses clumped into balls. She buried her face in the clothes.
She felt disoriented with teary vision, sniffly nose.  She wiped her eyes, and she noticed something that hadn’t been there before.  An old surgical mask, yellowish at the edges. Where had it come from?
Judy’s anger with her mother vanished, and still holding the mask in her hand she got up to find her.  “Mom!” she called, stepping out into the hallway, “Mom!”
She found her reading a magazine in the living room.  “What Judy? What is it?”
“I found this in my room,” she said, holding the mask for her mom to see.
The blankness of her mom's face gave way to recognition.  “That was your dad’s mask during the first pandemic,” she said.  “Before he got sick.”
“But how’d it get on my bed?” asked Judy.
“It goes with your memory,” said her mom.  “You’ll probably find more stuff eventually.”
Judy looked again at the mask in her hand, the first object she could connect with her father.  She was just her breathing for a minute, looking at the cloth.
“I’m sorry I got so upset,” her mom said.  “I just had to get used to it.”
Judy found the mask was so fitting somehow.  “Me too, mom. I should have thought about how you might feel.”
“We’re in this together,” her mom added.
“Yeah,” said Judy as she looped the band behind her head and pulled the mask on.  “I know.”