Please, Try to Remember

Jan Stinchcomb

 

25% of Americans believe in reincarnation.

They took the exit to a town they’d never heard of because six-year-old Drew was so insistent. He wanted to go to his school. We’re going to see Grandma in Spokane, they told him. School’s out until September. No, he begged. My school is here. I want to visit the playground.

They needed a break anyway. Maybe they would find a rest stop or a decent burger place.

Drew started giving his parents directions in a matter-of-fact tone. Turn left at the stoplight. Keep going. They were on a little street of modest homes under generous trees, not unlike their own neighborhood in Boise. Two more turns before they came to a red brick elementary school. His father was scared. His mother was secretly delighted.

Drew jumped out of the car and ran to the playground.

***

Some researchers claim each soul has an average of 16 months from the time of death until the beginning of the next life.

Drew sat on his swing and waited for his parents to catch up to him.

This is my old school. This is my swing. I used to live here before I died. And then I came to live with you.

***

Paranormal investigations are rarely supported by good scholarship.

They went on with their vacation. When they got to Spokane, they told Drew’s grandmother about the school. Over the years this most remarkable of stories was recounted many times by various relatives, gaining force with each new telling. Sometimes it was a ghost story, and sometimes it was proof of God, depending upon the needs of the speaker. Nobody ever remembered the name of the school, however. Nobody made any phone calls to ask a certain delicate question. The tale stayed in the family, private, with a dead boy nestled in the center.

Drew always remembered the frustration of his early childhood. How impatient he had felt, trapped in a little boy’s body! He had already done all of this.

And he could never shake the sense that there was some other place he needed to be.

***

About 60% of people say they’ve experienced love at first sight.

I walked through the door and my life changed, Kinsey liked to say, over drinks with friends, both new and old. Only, I didn’t know it then. Drew knew right away, of course. He spotted me from across the room. We were destined to find each other. 

Reincarnated children can often remember their traumatic deaths.

Kinsey and Drew rushed to share their stories the way other young couples rushed into sex. When did you first know? she asked, and he told her about the drive to his old schoolhouse. She took off her top and showed him the birthmark on her left shoulder blade. Gunshot, she said. Sometimes it still hurts.

He stared at her pink bra.

Kinsey pointed to a drawing on her dorm room wall. Red and black crayon, depicting a child being shot in a backyard. My mom kept it all these years, she said. She had it framed so I could take it to college.

***

Night terrors are common to reincarnated children, especially in the early years.

Don’t be alarmed if I call out in the night, she warned him the first time he slept over.

You have nightmares, Kinsey?

Night terrors. When I was a child, I couldn’t wake up out of them. My mom would be shaking me but I just could not stop screaming.

Wow. Sounds intense.

Finally we went to a psychologist. That’s when they started to take me seriously.

Because of something the doctor said?

No. The doctor couldn’t help, so we went to a psychic. I drew the murder picture at the first consultation. And then I started speaking Italian.

You speak Italian?

It’s my major.

***

Children like Drew and Kinsey often have some recollection of their previous mother.

Drew plunged into the deep black lake of memory. He could not remember much from his past life, with the possible exception of the swing at his old school. He retained very little of that fateful day driving from Boise to Spokane. The story of the school had become real through repetition, but now it was lost to him. The boy in the car, giving directions to his parents, was like a character he had grown fond of. At times Drew felt protective of him.

Drew was afraid of betraying his previous mother, but no matter how hard he tried, he could not see her face.

Kinsey, however, took the loss of her past life badly. She was constantly scouring the internet and e-mailing Italian hospitals to find some trace of the family she had lived with before. Drew would come upon images of older women with olive skin and earnest brown eyes whenever he glanced over at her computer.

I can’t believe you don’t remember anything, she told him. Please. Try to remember. I leaned out of a stained-glass window and looked down on the family I have now. I saw them before I was born to them. You might say I chose them.

Drew imagined all the beautiful windows, high and illuminated, he had seen in various churches. He considered the difficulty of leaning out of such a window. Would it even open?

What stained-glass window? he asked her.

It was a beautiful window with an angel on it.

Where?

In heaven, Kinsey said, exasperated. In heaven.

***

28% of married couples attended the same college.

Drew wanted to do something special when he proposed. He made reservations at Kinsey’s favorite Italian restaurant, where he would pop the question over espresso and tiramisu, but deep inside he knew this plan would never be enough.

He begged his parents for a loan.

***

Rome is #34 on Town and Country’s “Top 50 Honeymoon Destinations of 2019.”

Kinsey smiles for ten days. Everything is as Drew imagined it. The food is the best in the world and the coffee is an instant, beloved addiction. A warm sea of beautiful people surrounds and buoys them. Art is everywhere: on endless walls of faded frescoes, on the ground itself as extraordinary chalk drawings, around each corner in the form of ancient, archetypal buildings. And inside each building is more art.

Has Kinsey ever been this happy? She speaks Italian to everyone, even Drew.

Not once does she speak of her lost mother, in either language, but Drew can see her dark eyes darting around, scanning crowds, settling occasionally on older women. Drew looked up a few phrases before departure and is always waiting for Kinsey to say mia madre perduta or mamma. Perhaps mammina.

Strolling through the ruins of the Roman Forum, Drew is pleased with himself. He loves this life he has and can barely believe it is his. He has married the right person. They are standing, at last, in the past. Here is the evidence, albeit crumbling, of a great civilization. But Kinsey is disappointed. Silent. Either her spatial ability or her imagination is failing her, so Drew takes the map and guides her.

This is where the Temple of Vesta stood.

That’s it?

What’s left of it. I think it’s pretty cool. See how it’s circular?

I guess.

They walk a bit more. And over there is the House of the Vestals. He points. I was reading about them.

Who?

The Vestal Virgins. They were only little girls when they were chosen by the chief priest and then they served for thirty years. Kind of strange, to have so much decided for you when you’re just a kid.

They keep walking, holding hands, but Kinsey is squinting under the sun. She looks around to find a way out of the Forum. I want to go back to the hotel and lie down, she says. I feel so disoriented.

Are you sure? We’ll take our time and explore. I can show you everything. I’ve heard there’s a great app for this.

Let’s go. She tugs on his arm, then says gelato with a sexy Italian accent.

Drew hangs back, heels planted in the ancient world, wanting Kinsey to see this past that is right in front of her.

#

Jan Stinchcomb is the author of The Kelping (Unnerving, 2020), The Blood Trail (Red Bird Chapbooks) and Find the Girl (Main Street Rag). Her stories have recently appeared in WigleafHobart and New Flash Fiction Review, among other places. She has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, featured in The Best Small Fictions 2018, and has work forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020. She lives in Southern California with her family. Visit her at janstinchcomb.com or on Twitter @janstinchcomb.