The Magic of Memory

Emily Barnett

The late autumn breeze was as crisp as a frozen apple slice. Sue Ellen adjusted her scarf until it concealed her face. She breathed in the warmth, and…something else. Something that smelled like him: rosemary and pepper. The scent had lingered on his chef’s clothes long after he’d left the restaurant, clinging to his skin like a badge of honor. And now it haunted the fibers of her clothes, the curtains of her house, a pillow from the chair he loved to sit in. Would she ever rid herself of the scent? Of him?

That was why she was visiting the Memory Bank. 

To forget Johnny McQueen.

The white marble building glowed against the deep red foliage flanking its sides. There was a line snaking into the Bank, filled with people whose shoulders curved inward, heads hung low, afraid to meet the eyes of those coming out.

But Sue Ellen couldn’t help herself. A woman drifted wistfully from the golden doors. She was smiling, but her eyes were like an empty room. Sue Ellen shuddered. Would it be worth it? To let the mages take her memories of him?

The mere thought of his name sent a pang through her chest, nestling uncomfortably in her gut. 

She had loved him. She still loved him. But she could never break the surface to tell him. She would rather drown in her own misery. Or forget it altogether.

Friends. Best friends. A little sister, even. That’s how he saw her.

Her heart ached, and she rubbed at her ribs.

“Oh, hello dear,” a feminine voice trilled. “You look so sad.”

Sue Ellen flinched, looking up at the woman she’d been studying a moment before. Her face was wrinkled, and she wondered if it was from age or the grief she’d gone into the bank to forget.

“I am,” Sue Ellen said. “That’s why I’m here.” She motioned to the building.

The woman nodded. “That’s good. It’s easier this way.”

Sue Ellen fidgeted. “Do you…do you remember…why you went in?”

The woman looked away, frowning. Then, her gaze landed lazily back on Sue Ellen. “Oh. Hello.” The woman drifted away like a half-dead leaf cascading from the trees around them.

Sue Ellen wrinkled her brow.

Memory depositing wasn’t always a science. It was magic, after all, which could always be a bit…unpredictable. Sometimes the magic took more than was necessary. That’s why people only deposited under extreme circumstances.

Though Sue Ellen’s friends had warned her against it, she couldn’t think of a more pressing need than overcoming a broken heart. If she could forget ever knowing Johnny, erasing him completely, she could move on.

Shuffling forward, she entered the golden doors and waited her turn.

“Number 454,” a monotone voice finally called.

Sue Ellen checked her call number then hurried to the man’s desk under a sign that said “Deposits”.

After signing some paperwork, the mage lifted a wand, pointing it at her chest. “Johnny McQueen,” he read from the paper. “Got it. Now, brace yourself. This might hurt a little.”

Sue Ellen nodded, then the man uttered a spell. There was a sharp pain, followed by the feeling of lightness—a cork unstopped. Her heaviness poured out.

A glowing orb drew from her chest, attached by a string to the mage’s wand. She straightened, breathing easy. The memories were still there, but distant. An echo. A dream that slowly slipped away once awake.

“Once I cut the string,” the mage droned on, “the memory will be completely gone, and—”

“Wait!” The voice cracked through the quiet room like a firecracker. “Stop!”

Sue Ellen froze. She knew that voice. She, maybe, loved that voice, she thought.

Then, he was in front of her, lit up by the memory of…well, of him. Johnny McQueen—that was his name. Her heart ached at his nearness, but she couldn’t fully recall why.

“Do you want me to sever the string?” the mage asked, bored, as if this happened often.

“Sue Ellen,” Johnny said, taking her hand. His dark eyes reminded her of upturned earth in the springtime. Rosemary and pepper flooded her senses. With it, her memories grew stronger, even as they hung by a thread. “Mary told me you were coming here. If…if I’d known how you felt…” He was breathless, his forehead glistening. “I’ve been an idiot.”

Had he run all this way? For her?

“What would you have done if you’d known?” Sue Ellen asked, just as breathless.

Johnny took a step forward, tucking one of her curly strands of hair behind her ear. Goosebumps trailed down her neck at his touch. “We would’ve made memories you’d never want to forget.”

Then, as if by magic, the space between them vanished, and he was holding her in his arms. When his lips pressed against hers, the ache in her chest fluttered with something new. Something promising. A lightness that was born from grief and longing—not from forgetting.

When they broke apart, Sue Ellen smiled, wiping the unexpected tears from her cheeks. Johnny laughed, and it filled the room. 

The mage sighed, jolting the young lovers from their reverie. He was still holding the glowing orb by his wand. “I assume you changed your mind?” he asked, lazily.

“Absolutely,” Sue Ellen whispered.

The mage spoke the counter spell, and they watched as the memories of Johnny drifted back into her heart. The weight was instant, a reminder of pain and unrequited love, that somehow, made this moment even sweeter.

Sue Ellen was grateful, then, that she hadn’t lost a single memory.

Emily Barnett
Emily Barnett resides in Colorado with her husband and two sons, dreaming up magical worlds that feel a bit like home. Every Friday she hosts a flash fiction challenge on Instagram to encourage other writers, and she is querying a YA fantasy novel about harvesting dreams.

Connect with her on Instagram or on her website.