My new novel, Forget Her, is about an island resort where your worst memories are temporarily removed so you can have a stress-free, relaxing vacation. If you pre-order now, the first 100 copies come with matching pin!
If you’re into Black Mirror-esque science fiction, you can listen to me read the first chapter right here (or if you want to save yourself from hearing my voice, you can read the first chapter yourself below the video)!
An announcement cuts into my movie marathon uninvited. “You can’t change your past, but you can cleanse your memories,” it says in messy, mismatched fonts. Like a ransom note.
“Jesus. More commercials?” I say in between beer slurps. “We’re lucky if our web series gets a single ad break.”
Arrow, my miniature dachshund, perks at my voice. He waddles his sausage belly to my side of the couch, abandoning his favorite pillow. I keep it flipped to the plain side to hide the bubble-lettered message about my kid having paws. My mother sewed it as a surprise when I adopted him. One of her subtle guilt trips.
Arrow settles onto my lap as the words on screen dissolve into a beach scene with a barefooted spokeswoman. She looks out of place with her pale, sunken cheeks and long-sleeved dress. I don’t recognize her face, but she feels familiar, like a neighbor only seen from peripherals. Someone inspecting apples in the produce aisle or tugging a flopping dog away from a mud puddle.
“I’m honored to announce the grand opening of Endellion Resorts,” she says with a Long Island accent, a copycat of mine. “When you purchase a weeklong vacation package at our exclusive island, you’ll receive a complimentary Memory Cleansing. This quick, noninvasive procedure will temporarily remove your most traumatic memories. It will help you have a truly stress-free, relaxing vacation.”
She pops a monochrome umbrella, tilts the canopy toward the camera, and spins it rapidly enough for the spokes to blur. Dark splotches spit from the center and smack the lens like blood in a B-horror film. A beat later, the camera thrashes side to side, shaking away the grime. The umbrella, remodeled with vibrant purples and pinks, slows to a stop.
The editing sucks. It looks like one of those local family furniture commercials with jump cuts and green screens. It has to be a scam.
I switch stations, creating a flip-book effect. The same commercial spams every network.
The spokeswoman continues spouting nonsense in a voiceover while a helicopter captures a high-angle shot of the resort. Two separate beaches border opposite sides of an oval island. A U-shaped building with arcade and cafeteria signs sits on a curved end. On the other end, a white wooden boardwalk branches toward rows of bungalows.
A montage follows. Slick, spiraling water slides. Lobster tails dipped in cocktail glasses. Claw machines with colorful, woolly prizes. Each image blinks past at a frame rate reserved for flickering projectors in old monster movies, brainwashing victims with their lids taped wide.
Fifty photos later, regularly scheduled programming returns, but my interest lingers on the resort. I unlock my cell to check social media, to see whether anyone else finds the concept sketchy.
Endellion Resorts is listed at the top of the trending tab. Friends tag each other, teasing about awkward hookups they want erased. Influencers upload reaction videos with mouth-clasping thumbnails. Trolls patch together memes, Photoshopping the spokeswoman onto characters from campy sci-fi movies about science going too far.
I roll my eyes at the strangers with nothing better to do than vomit their opinion onto a screen but keep tapping on mine. Another beer later, I cave and join the crowd. I scribble on forums. I sign electronic petitions. I reblog articles about how Memory Cleansing could wreak damage on long-term memory, then toss in my own theories about the company manipulating viewers with a low-budget commercial to come across as unintimidating, harmless.
My coworkers drop question-marked comments beneath each post. They believe I should be at the head of the line to have my mind purged of the childhood stories passed around our studio like cigarette stubs.
They would get along well with my mother. My cell vibrates with an image of her bear-hugging me. I snapped the self-timed photo before she gained sixty pounds, before I slashed my hair into a pixie cut. I tap IGNORE.
I wait until midnight to get rid of the glaring red notification badge. I balance my phone on the cluttered bathroom counter, activate my voicemail, and wet my stale toothbrush.
“Ariadna, honey, it’s me,” my mother says, sounding tinny through speakerphone. “Did you see the Endellion commercial? We’re going to be rich. Rhea Laman is famous now. I have at least two or three graduation pictures with her in them. I wonder how much we can sell them for.” She chuckles until it turns into a wheeze. “It’s beautiful at the place she built, don’t you think? You should see if you can get some days off. We haven’t gone on a vacation since The Falls. We deserve a little break. I’m going to submit an application on their website. I have it in front of me right now. It says they’re giving away free tickets every week. Fingers crossed we win, but if not, I’m sure the two of us can get a little money together. Call me.”
“Graduation pictures?” I repeat, spitting toothpaste foam. I skipped my high school ceremony. A postman delivered my diploma. He crammed the cardboard holder into our mailbox, creasing it straight down the center.
The principal handed Domino hers in person, though. We streamed into blue plastic chairs for four hours to watch my sister prance across the stage in four seconds. My father grumbled about his faraway, out-of-focus pictures, so I took enough post-ceremony shots to pack a memory card. Other families noticed me trampling flower beds, hopping on fountain ledges, and squatting in shrubs for better angles. They thrust their touchscreens at me, requesting the same treatment. A grandmother tipped me ten bucks for my trouble. My first paid photography gig.
I should have added duplicates to a portfolio, but as a junior without any college plans, the idea never occurred to me. If my mother had prints of the woman on the commercial, they must have been from my father’s blurred batch. He aimed his bulky, outdated camera at every speaker who graced the stage. Including the valedictorian.
I picture her messy brunette curls and the freckles gathered on her nose like she dunked it in a bowl of pepper. She looked nothing like the woman on the commercial, but a makeup artist could have smothered her freckles with concealer. Bleach could have camouflaged her natural roots. I can’t remember what she read from her index cards ten years ago, but I remember discussing it on the car ride home.
“I think that young girl gave a better speech than the woman they paid to deliver the commencement,” my mother said from the passenger seat.
My father grunted. “It should be illegal to waste our tax dollars on a reality star. What is she qualified to do? Teach our kids to whore themselves? They got an education to stop them from pole-grinding.”
“She’s not a stripper,” I said. “She was on a dating show. And at least she was entertaining. That valedictorian girl was such a smart-ass. Her whole speech was one big humble brag.”
“She’s allowed to brag. She worked hard,” my mother said.
My father nodded. “You can learn something from a girl like that.”
“Can we stop talking about her please?” Domino asked, breathing heavily between words, like another panic attack was looming. “Ari is right. That girl thinks she’s some sort of genius. She only cares about herself. It’s gross. I’m glad I’ll never have to see her again. After today, I can finally forget she exists.”