They say I was in a car crash. They say I was in a coma for a month. They say I should have died.
I remember staring at the doctors in their pristine white coats, clearing their throats and watching each other as if waiting for someone to speak, and then––“You have amnesia.”
I can’t remember where I come from exactly. I don’t remember who or where my parents are. But I slowly started to remember some things, like that my name is Rose, and the doctors said I could go home.
Home. I gazed around the small apartment whose address I had recently recalled. It seemed oddly masculine for someone who was so clearly feminine. The dark furniture held no pillows, and there were no wilting plants. Maybe I hadn’t spent much time here? I walked through the small space, looking at every inch.
There was a small bookcase in one corner. My brows drew together in a frown as I scanned the titles. I was trying desperately to remember. Something. Anything.
I stood up, frustrated, and continued walking. The walls were covered in beautiful pictures that called to me from some distant time. The images spanned hundreds of years; it was like walking into a time machine.
I studied a picture of a city that I guessed was taken sometime in the 1950s. In the picture, a woman walked down the street, dressed in a blue polka-dotted swing dress.
Why don’t we dress that way anymore? What happened to style? I wondered as I glanced down at my jeans, flats, and a rather plain T-shirt.
There were more images. I walked in a daze, looking at pictures from World War I and II, pictures of people panning for gold in California. There was a particularly enticing photo of flappers from the 1920s laughing and smoking under the Eiffel Tower. It was framed from a lower angle, looking up so the women, the tower in all its glory, and the magnificent sky behind it all could be seen. I was mesmerized. When I finally tore myself away, another photo caught my eye.
It was me. I looked like one of the girls in the photo, dressed in a blue beaded dress. My smiling green eyes were dark with eyeliner, and my wide grin was painted equally dark. My honey-blond hair was curled in 1920s fashion and framed my delicate face. I looked so happy. I must have been at a costume party. But who had thrown it? When was it?
I looked down at my trembling hands. My head was pounding. When had it started hurting?
I came to two rooms in a small hallway and chose the left. It was littered with paints, brushes, and canvases. I stared in awe of the finished products. Had I really painted these beautiful scenes?
I moved slowly, gently, towards an unfinished picture of a sunset. The color pallet sat dried up on the floor, and the brushes stood by, ready to be used. They had traces of paint dried on them. I wondered if they would come clean.
I stared at the partially blank canvas. In a moment of inspiration, I grabbed a paper plate from the kitchen and squirted from usable tubes in shades of orange and pink. Maybe if I held the paint in my hands, I would remember what to do with them.
I lost track of time sitting there. Staring at the unfamiliar items. Had I really known what brush to use a month ago? I don’t know when the tears started, but they were falling down my cheeks. I wasn’t sobbing. The tears weren’t streaming. They simply fell. Like raindrops on a car window. Slowly, sadly.
At this moment, my tears had a mind of their own. They didn’t fall because I was sad; they fell because they knew something I did not. They remembered all the things I could not. They remembered the memories I must have made before the accident. They remembered how to use the brush in my hand, and they fell because I could not remember. They fell as separate beings from my mind and heart because now, in those places, I felt numb. Frozen in some time long ago that called to me from a distance.
My mind was spinning, trying to find the direction it should go, but it could not. And so the tears fell. But I did not feel them.
I threw the plate and brush to the sheet spread on the floor beneath me. What was the use? I knew what I needed now. Sleep. It would feel safe. Like I was back in a coma, blissfully unaware that my life was slipping away from me.
I slipped into the bedroom directly across from me, not bothering to turn on the lights. I could see the bed well enough to make it to it. That was all I needed. I crawled under the dark covers and let myself slip into oblivion.
How long had I been staring at the ceiling? The shadow had moved considerably with the rising sun, so it must have been a while. I forced myself out from under the bedsheets and looked around the room. Clean. Sparse. Like the rest of the apartment. I don’t think I was this neat. Was I?
With slow, dragging steps, I finally made it to my bedroom door. The paints from the night before stared at me from across the hall. I immediately spun on my heel.
Nope. I have to get out of here. I’ll go for a walk.
I found my shoes beside the bed. I guess I must have kicked them off the night before, but I didn’t remember. Slipping them on as I walked, I made it to the living room. There I was again. A giant framed portrait. The same one I had looked at the night before. Had it been a costume party? I shook my head, grabbed my keys, and walked out the door.
The warm breeze cheered me up a bit as I meandered down the city streets. Or at least it pushed away my painting failure from the night before. The smell of coffee wafted to me from somewhere close by, and I wondered if I used to drink it. It couldn’t hurt to try, right?
I was about to open the door to a little bakery, but something else caught my eye. A sign down the road. What did it say? I squinted.
A man shoved past me to the door, grumbling to himself.
“Oh, sorry,” I mumbled.
That was only half true. I hurried down the road until I could clearly read the sign. White Orchard Gallery. My eyes finally focused on the words. I knew it; it was an art gallery. That same call I felt looking at the pictures echoed in my mind.
I wondered briefly if I should go back and change before entering the gallery. They always felt so clean and fresh to me, and I was far from that. It’s not like I was filthy, but I certainly didn’t look as put together as other people who were entering before me. I started to turn away, but then I thought of my apartment and how it didn’t make sense. The gallery would make sense. I turned back.
I didn’t care about my clothes anymore. I could feel the art calling to me. The past. I opened the door.
Goosebumps traveled up my arms, and I rubbed them to keep them warm. Paintings and old photos lined the walls. I followed the flow of people standing behind velvet ropes. Some passed paintings without a glance. Teenagers stood beside their parents staring down at phones. I had to stop myself from shaking them. A few kindred spirits seemed as enthralled as I was.
I let myself be taken in. Passing picture after picture, scene after scene, painting after painting, I found myself grinning from ear to ear. I felt comfortable. Safe. Here, in the building, enveloped by old things. By places and people from the past caught in a single moment. Their clothes and surroundings spoke of the ages they belonged to. Did I belong to the age I was in? I felt I belonged more to them. To these painted eyes smiling at me from the canvas.
At long last, probably longer than it was meant to take, I reached the last display. A painting simply titled “Photographer in Paris.” Three women stood under the Eiffel Tower, laughing and smoking. They wore daring dresses, even for flappers in the 1920s. The painter had done a brilliant job of blending the colors in the sky behind them into a magnificent sunset.
And back down on the ground, a little way away from the girls, was another woman. She was the focal point of the painting, really. Kneeling on the ground, holding a camera in her delicate hands. Honey blond hair pushed back from a pretty face and smiling green eyes.
I paused in my study. Smiling green eyes. I glanced down at the painter’s name. Jules Decker. Why did it sound familiar?
“She looks like you.” I jumped at the feminine voice behind me. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you; it’s just that the photographer in the painting––she looks a lot like you. Maybe she was a distant relative.”
The young woman, probably around my age, laughed it off as a sort of joke. I tried to do the same, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t a joke. Not to me. And I was starting to remember why.
I rushed out of the art gallery back onto the street and turned in the direction of the apartment. I ran. Past concerned faces. Past the bakery I had planned on going to. All the way back to the door of apartment B163. My shaking hands fumbled with the key I had in case of an emergency. Finally, it slipped into the lock, and I swung the door open.
I stared all around me with new eyes. It all made sense now. This wasn’t my apartment.
I ran to the closet in the bedroom and swung open its doors. Pants, suit jackets, dress shirts. Men’s. I tore open the bathroom cupboards. Shaving cream, men’s deodorant, men’s products.
I stumbled back out into the hall. He had been the painter. Not me. I could have held a brush for ages and never known what to do with it. Eli had been the one painting that beautiful, beautiful sunset. This was his apartment.
Eli. The accident. His scream as we plowed into another car came back to me. It hadn’t been his fault, but what did that matter? He was dead before the ambulance arrived. Before I could pass out so I didn’t have to stare into his lifeless blue eyes any longer.
Sweet, sweet Eli. He kept my pictures in his apartment. He thought he understood why I loved them so much. He thought I had simply found the pictures along the way. But that was not the truth, was it?
I had taken the pictures. Yes, all of them. I had been there for World War I and II. I had been there in-between. In 1920. In Paris. I had told Eli the portrait of me was from a costume party, but that was I lie. I remembered now. I was there. I had been a flapper. I had been the photographer in the painting at the art gallery that Jules Decker painted. And the picture I stared at now was the product of that moment.
Yes, it all made sense now. The reason the art from long ago called out to me. The reason I hadn’t died when I should have. I remembered now. I am immortal.
I hope you guys enjoyed this story! Feel free to let me know what you thought in the comments. And, as you know, I always post with my friend Cassie. You should definitely check out her blog to see the prompt we used for this story and read her version called “Eliza”. If you want to head over to Cassie’s blog, click HERE. 🙂
I hope you all have an amazing weekend!