My sister’s birthday was tomorrow. We would usually celebrate by phone, but this year I was going to surprise her in person. We had been close as children, but life events brought us even closer. We were more than friends – we were family.
I had gotten off the main road to take a shortcut but ended up lost. Then I saw a sign that said “First National Bank.” I parked and went inside but it was empty, except for a very old man sitting behind a wooden desk. “Where are the tellers?” I asked him.
“What? Oh no, this isn’t a money bank, it’s a memory bank,” he told me. “But if memories are what you are looking for, I’ve got ‘em,” the old man continued.
While I was still lost and now confused, I was nonetheless intrigued and decided to play along with him. “What kind of memories do you have?”
“All kinds,” as he pointed to several doors behind him. “Teenage memories, grown-up memories, high school memories. Every time there’s a memory, we store it right here. Let me show you some.”
Still thinking it was a practical joke, I said, “Sure, old timer. Why don’t you show me some of those childhood memories?”
“Oh, good choice,” and he led me back to the third door, opened it and ushered me inside.
What I saw is hard to describe. There were what appeared to be hundreds, maybe thousands, of glowing piles of - I don’t know what - in this giant room, with a black door at the very back. “What are all these piles?” I asked him.
“Why they’re the memories! Now looky here,” and reached into the stack closest to him and pulled out what appeared to be letters on a page, but there was no paper, only the words floating in the air. “This here’s the prayers memories. Listen here, ‘Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep.’ There’s a million like that one,” as he read from the floating words.
“What’s that big pile?”
“That one? Birthdays!” and he reached in for more words. “’It’s my seventh birthday. I’m having a party with all my friends, and presents, and a big cake.’ Now that’s a happy one.”
I was unnerved now, but I was still curious. “Where’s the black door go?” I asked him.
“You don’t want to go there. Those are the bad memories.”
“Well, why not? Since I’m already here.”
He shook his head and trudged back to the door. “Change your mind, maybe?” but he saw that I was right behind him. He opened to door and the same piles were there, but they were glowing an unearthly purplish black. “Bullies, bicycle wrecks, monsters under the bed.” He reached his hand in, pulled out some words and started reading, “’Mom and Dad are getting a divorce. I know it’s my fault. If only I had been a better son.’ Did you like that?” he said, clearly annoyed with me. “How ‘bout this stack of dying memories?”
I had seen enough. “No, thank you. I’ll just be going now. Thanks for showing me this. But just one question. Which do you have more of, good memories, or bad?”
He thought for a second and said, “I reckon it’s a close race, but a lot of the bad memories don’t get remembered. They just fade away and disappear.”
He escorted me back to the lobby. I was so shaken that I almost forgot my original motivation for stopping. The old man was kind enough to give me directions. It turns out that I was farther away from “civilization” than I thought. I thanked him, and as I turned to leave he said, “Wait a minute, now,” and he handed me a black sheet of paper, folded in thirds and closed with a gold seal. “Something for later,” he said.
I was running late, but my curiosity was too much. I broke the seal and opened the black paper. It read, “May 2, 1971. James Andrews, 5 years old. My Mom and Dad brought my sister home today. All they do is play with her and not me. I hate her!” I couldn’t help but laugh as I said, “Old man, I think you’re right!” I looked forward to sharing this letter with my sister, but as I held it in my hand, it started to fade away and then disappeared.
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