The elderly man stared at the swinging pendulum of the grandfather clock, unconsciously counting each tick and tock as he had done every evening for years. Without losing count, he looked around at the floor-to-ceiling oak bookcases lining his darkened study. He grunted as he struggled up from his deeply padded leather reading chair and shuffled over to the case in the far corner. He reached out a bony, pale hand to take down the first volume.
Like every other volume in the man’s study, the one he held was bound in yellow leather, marked only by a gold-embossed year printed on a red stripe on the spine. Then he shuffled back to his chair, his knees popping as he sat back down, and turned on a green-shaded reading lamp next to his chair. The cone of light pierced the gloom, catching dust motes that scarcely moved in the still air.
Just as the man prepared to open the volume, there was a knocking on the study door, not much louder than the ticking clock.
“Yes, Miss Thorne,” the old man replied, his voice as dry and dusty as his study.
“Would you like your tea now?”
“Yes, please.” The door opened and the maid brought in a single cup of tea and placed it on the table next to the man’s chair.
“Just the way you like it, sir.” Miss Thorne tried to sound cheerful, but it was hard keeping the sadness from her voice as she looked at the slumped figure of Canby sitting alone with nothing but his memories.
“Thank you, dear,” he whispered. “It’s time once again for my anniversary ritual.”
“Very good sir.” She almost placed her hand on his shoulder in a gesture of sympathy, but remembered that he hated being touched, and so kept her hands folded in front of her. Then she turned and left the study, and closed the door behind her. Once again, there was nothing but the sound of the clock as Canby looked at the volume in his lap. Slowly, reverently, he opened the first volume in his lifetime’s worth of handwritten journals, and began reading the first entry.
“Today I met the most wonderful girl quite by accident,” the first entry began in exuberant script. “We were both boarding the trolley at the same time, and I nearly stepped on her skirt. We had the most delightful conversation. I feel so happy that I want to write about it. I feel my life has changed, irrevocably, for the better.”
Canby flipped ahead to the next entry. “Despite my promise, I didn’t call on the sweet, charming girl that I met on the trolley yesterday. I fear I am too shy. Perhaps tomorrow . . . ”
Canby sighed, picking up his tea cup and staring at the clock while he sipped it.
We are what we know. Or, at least, that’s what we are told since childhood. Our memories are the building blocks of our identity. But when our earliest memories are regrets — like those of Mister Archibald Canby here tonight — we risk building our identities on foundations of sand. However, as our Mister Canby is about to discover, sand is also a very useful raw material.
Canby found his vision blurring as he continued to read entry after entry filled with regret and missed opportunity. He brusquely wiped away the tears as he looked around the shelves. He knew exactly where all the key moments were. Volume 2, page 94: he hears from a friend that the young lady he met on the trolley has moved out of town. Volume 6, page 74: he reads in the paper that she is engaged to a wealthy lawyer. Volume 34, page 127: Canby listens on the radio as the lawyer is inaugurated governor. Volume 37, page 14: the lady, by now a mother of three handsome and successful children, opens a hospital. His bookcases are a map of his regret.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful, he thought — as he did on this date every year — if he could somehow talk to himself as a young man and convince him to overcome his shyness just that once?
His counter-argument was always the same: she lived a successful and famous life as a happy mother, the lifetime chair of the hospital board, a patron of the arts, who gave back so much. She would not have been able to do those things had he wooed her, he had convinced himself. No, she had been better off without him.
This evening, however, he decided nonetheless to let himself dare imagine what it might have been like. His doctor had said he might not have another anniversary like this in which to try.
Canby put his tea down and closed his eyes.
* * *
The young man adjusted his cravat for what seemed like the hundredth time as he strolled up the street toward the young lady’s house. He nervously glanced at the back of his carte de visite, on which she had jotted her address after their trolley ride and the lovely conversation they had shared.
The house was a modest one, set back from the road enough for the flowers and freshly-trimmed bushes to spread out. They seemed as happy and bright as the young lady.
He paused at the gate, then with a final nod of assurance opened it and walked up the steps. He cleared his throat as he knocked on the door.
A moment later, the door was opened by a beautiful young woman. When she saw him, her face brightened. “Archie!” she cried out. “Please come in!”
* * *
Shortly after dawn, the maid knocked on the door and carefully entered the study. “Mister Canby?” She could see him asleep in his chair, smiling peacefully. “Poor man,” she said quietly. “Fell asleep reading again, did you?”
She opened the drapes to let the morning sun flood in the bright, pastel-colored study. The maid busied herself watering the flower pots hanging on the walls and covering the grand piano that dominated the room.
“Here, let me take that for you.” She lifted the scrapbook from his lap, glancing at the headlines of the newspaper clippings. “Dahlia Morningwood, Archibald Canby to Wed.” “Lady Dahlia Canby Opens Hospital.” “Internationally Famous Musician Archibald Canby and Family Tours America.” She glanced at the photo, showing a young Mister Canby and his beaming bride with their three children. “Pianist Archie Canby, with his beloved wife and children . . . ” She closed the book carefully and returned it to the bookshelf with all the other scrapbooks of his busy, full, and happy life.
Canby stirred, stretched, and yawned.
“Good morning, Lucille,” he said.
“Good morning, Mister Canby. Mrs. Canby will be down to breakfast soon. And your grandchildren are waiting for you.”
Down the hall, running feet could be heard heading toward the study. “Grampa! Grampa!”
“Where are you, my little rapscallions? I’ll catch you this time!” Canby bounded out of his chair and ran out of the room. Squeals of laughter echoed into the study as Canby caught and hugged his grandchildren.
Lucille smiled and shook her head. “He has the energy of a man half his age,” she said as she dusted. “Love will do that to you, they say.”
The blueprints that we use to build the architecture of our memory can, with effort and determination, be altered. First, however, you must apply for a permit, which you can find in the planning office . . . of The Event Horizon.