Three billion, three hundred and eighty-five million, five hundred and one thousand heartbeats – sounds like a lot, hey? That’s what They allocated me this time around. Just over eighty years. I was grateful for the time. I berated myself to use it wisely. The chances I would win such a lottery again were negligible! I was determined to seize this opportunity, perhaps my last, and not be distracted by the same inconsequential things as last time.
Life was right there for the taking, and I grasped it with conviction. I had a plan this time. But that first step is such a massive leap into the unknown—so terrifying in its sensory overload – that I proceeded to forget my purposeful plan for which those billions of beats would be a soundtrack. Instead, I gulped air as I came to terms with the flash-bang of stark earthliness, and all my previous memories were erased from the videotape. All I got was static.
I had to learn everything anew, as if I had never before experienced anything. Decades passed before I re-learned anything of value, and I had used by then more than a billion heartbeats. Having forgotten the memory of my heartbeat allocation, I was afraid the end would come at any moment via accident or illness, and then my existence would mean nothing if I hadn’t fulfilled a promise. I sensed there was one but hell if I could remember what it was.
Distractions came and went—schools, jobs, lovers—with many heartbeats invested in an exploration of my world, collecting experiences. It was the sculpting of family groups, though, that drew out most of the remaining heartbeats. I transitioned from my given family to one I made myself, with both gains and losses—truly the most exquisite and painful of all the earthly experiences.
The last forty-two million heartbeats—about a year of my life—were the most painful. I had curated a beautiful collection of experiences, but now I had begun the disconcerting journey of forgetfulness! Another leap into the unknown was upon me, and I was afraid my collection would not survive. I told my stories out of order, to anyone who would listen, to pass it all on before it was too late. It was urgent, but smiling eyes dismissed an old woman’s ramblings. I changed tact; “Shall I tell you a secret?” I whispered to a young one. Surprised eyes fixed on mine and with uninhibited gusto and passion, I confessed my stories in all their glorious (and gruesome) detail. I made sure that they would be memorable. Not to be forgotten, even if I forgot.
A hundred thousand heartbeats—less than a day—flies like time. I am asked about my extensive travels, about my work and progeny—but no-one asks how I found love. I ponder the serendipity of it but cannot articulate my thoughts anymore.
And what of my original plan? I remembered it with the last heartbeat, but I already had the time of my life.
© Josie Kirkwood 2020
Previously published in ‘Literally Literary’ on Medium 25 February 2020. Revised 18 July 2020.
Flash Fiction is very short fiction, usually between ~300 and ~1500 words. Sometimes written to a prompt and tight deadline, these stories provide creative challenges. They also provide opportunities to write in different genres and can inspire a longer piece of fiction.