His memory is photographic. It's his greatest talent. It's his detested curse.
To those without one, a photographic memory might seem desirable in an exotic way. They forget things they want to remember, and they think remembering is better. Remembering, to them, is finding a set of lost car keys or recalling their wedding anniversary in a timely fashion. To them, remembering is both good and necessary. Forgetfulness is their bane.
Franklin St. Thomas sat stiffly atop a bus-stop bench, as a winter wind stirred through his feet and threatened to lift the hat from his head by twisting its brim forcefully in all directions at once. Despite the icy blow, he refused to hunch his shoulders, turn his face, or flip the collar of his long coat up around his ears. He sat on the hard concrete bench, his hands thrust into his coat's deep pockets, and he stared straight ahead… remembering.
Before the secretive visions of his thoughts, static images from his past flickered and flashed, unbidden, undesired and uncontrolled. He longed to forget. He yearned to abandon his memory as one might dump a box of faded Polaroid prints into a dustbin with a clap of the hands and a toss of the chin. He wished to be 'normal', whatever that entailed.
These were not images of lost car keys, after all. They were snapshots of his life entire, of points in it that had somehow, through designs of his will or chance, become engrained into his memory as surely, as inextricably, and as permanently as a lithograph. Once recorded, they could never fade as long as Franklin's mind remained whole and intact.
When he pondered the word 'never' in this regard, his heart throbbed painfully. His stomach rolled and his guts squirmed. Sick acid scalded the back of his throat. His expression waxed pale and doughy.
At last turning his head, he scanned the length of the empty, windswept street in both directions. So early on a Sunday morning, the city slept. He found the sidewalks abandoned, though an occasional delivery van passed back and forth along intersections visible through a light snowfall and the ever constant eddies of icy breezes. The weather veiled the extremes of distance and couched the landscape close around him. He sat within an alabaster cathedral fashioned of winter-stuff, alone with his memory, waiting.
A restless wind roared and whistled through the architecture of the frozen bowls of his ears, and with it babbled an endless succession of songs, voices, laughter, weeping, shouting and all the various sounds of a lifetime immaculately recorded. Franklin both listened and ignored these psychic apparitions. He could not help hearing the nearly mute echo of their vocalizations, but the words and the meanings of their emotive displays meant little to him today.
Today, they seemed yesterday, and yesterday mattered not at all. Franklin returned his head to the forward position, and at last allowed himself to sink deeper into the voluminous depths of his winter coat.
Though thickly lined and well made, its fabric sanctuaries served him badly, so he shivered inside its shelter. His toes throbbed and his feet ached from contact with the frozen ground, despite a pair of galoshes, patent leather loafers and two pairs of socks. The knuckles of his fingers creaked, crackled and ground, as he flexed a pair of gloves within his pockets. Viscous, all but frozen tears blurred his vision, and his nose burned painfully.
While he waited, the wind hissed and howled. The brim of his hat whipped back and forth, up and down about blistered ears. Ice grains poured between his legs, so his ankles formed twin, V-shaped umbrae in the currents, which came together after a short distance and then flowed across the wasteland sidewalk, down the curb's sheer precipice and into the empty street.
There, Franklin watched the individual races of wind-tossed ice chase themselves along the length of the avenue, between little drifts piled against the wheels of parked cars that lined the way, across the painted centerline, heedless of traffic signs and signals. Winter danced all around him, apparently playful and happy to be unleashed at last, released to assail the city, to come against it harshly, vengefully from its long summer-bound confinement.
As he watched the frozen tableau change itself for his amusement, Franklin's haunted gaze stared through semi-opaque images of faces long dead and vanished from the world. They smiled, their eyes animated and lighted from within, or they frowned, their lips sullen and their sockets sunken darkly. The snapshots of his memory caught them variously composed. They hung in the air, leaping. They lay in the summer heather, rolling. They sat across from tables, engaging. They reclined within slumberous blankets, sleeping. Men. Women. Children. Hundreds. Thousands. Millions.
Franklin imagined a clockworks machine turning briskly inside his head. Wheels of images emitting associated peals of sensation spun endlessly round and round. With each pass, a ratchet sounded, TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK, and with each cycle of the ratchet, a memory asserted itself within the context of his silent thoughts. Perfectly. Repetitively. Incessantly. Undeniably.
TICK-TICK-TICK-TICK, his memory tormented him. A winter wind screamed nothing. Ice ruled the city. Franklin waited, and remembered unbidden memories.
Now a low rumble disturbed him. He felt it through the crystalline contacts of his frozen toes with the pavement, even as the icy shells of his ears funneled the sensation down into the hollow spaces of his brain. Once more, Franklin allowed himself to turn his head, where he sought evidence of a city bus bound in his direction.