An Unexpected Memory

The pilot’s voice crackled through the cabin’s speakers, barely audible above the insistent clamor of the plane’s engines. The carefully scripted announcements were spoken first in Portuguese, then in Spanish. Brian had only just managed to settle himself in his seat, which was obviously designed to fit the body of an Ecuadorean rather than a Bostonian like himself. He was reaching forward to grab the book he’d placed in the seat pocket, when he heard the pilot speaking and his hand froze in midair.


The memory of her slammed into him like the tree that hit the neighbor’s garage in the nor’easter 2 months ago. Like the walnut-sized rock that hit the windshield of the cab on the way to the airport at 4:30 this morning. Like the blackbird that flew into his dining room window last week, knocking itself right into the afterlife.


Everything else disappeared. Everything. Yesterday’s phone call with Dr. Edington. Too much of the night spent last-minute packing. The horror of waking up 40 minutes later than he’d planned because he slept through the alarm. Further panic at the Quito airport when he thought he’d left without the immunization record required to get to his destination. The unadulterated joy and excitement he’d been tasting for the past four months since deciding the Amazon jungle was the best place for him to pursue his research, or at least to give it a try. All gone.

The memory of Sarah froze his hand in midair. Thirty-six years since he’d heard her laugh. During most of that time he’d been successful in not thinking about her, not giving in to the pull of abysmal grief. Thirty-six years since he’d seen the face that was as if his own in the mirror. Reaching up to adjust his glasses Brian felt the wetness on his cheek. Hunching up his right shoulder he turned a bit further away from the woman in the seat next to him, a teenager, perhaps, who smelled of patchouli and dust.

Out the window Brian watched the snow-covered volcanoes of the Cordillera flow by thousands of feet below. They looked so pristine, so calm, and yet any one of them could tumble a nation into splinters at any moment, like so many sleeping behemoths around the world, resting on beds of magma and sulphur. Soon the wintry landscape of rock would melt into green as the plane descended toward the town of Coca … but that descent was still an hour away. For now, having taking in the view, Brian distracted himself from the shock and pain of Sarah by retracing the steps his mind took to inviting her memory to surface. Why, Sarah? Why now?

He took himself back to his tiny flat on the outskirts of Quito and retraced the time from arising at 3:30 a.m., grabbing breakfast along with his backpack and suitcase, the cab ride … the rock? Was it the rock against the windshield that reminded him of her? No. The chaos of the Quito airport, the mad search through his bag for the vaccination record, the time his heart took to start beating normally again, once he was actually on the plane.

Sarah. Where did you come from, here, in this hollow metal tube, 20,000 feet up? He’d fastened his seatbelt with no small bit of difficulty. The girl sat down next to him. The plane took off. He popped his ears a couple of times while the steadily beating roar of the plane’s engines vibrated up through his seat, louder here in the last row than anywhere else on the plane. The pilot’s voice had come crackling over the speaker, barely audible above the engines, first in Portuguese, then in Spanish.

Portuguese. That was it. Brian didn’t know Portuguese, but he knew it when he heard it because it always reminded him of the sounds of bubbles popping underwater. Sarah. His beloved sister, his soul mate, his twin. Their favorite game: diving into the swimming pool together and talking, sharing their secrets underwater.

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