James Hadar was nine years old, but he could only remember six of them.
James had his father’s brown hair and tanned skin, but somehow his father’s hair lay straight and did not curl up when the full moon came out as James’s hair did.
James had his mother’s blue eyes, but hers did not have the same trick of twinkling secret messages.
James lived at 414 Heartsbane Dr., and so far as he knew, he had lived there his whole life, but every once in a while he would start up out of a deep sleep and look around his bedroom with eyes that found everything strange and unknown.
After a while, his heart would stop pounding and he would recognize his row of hats and his bookshelf and his little league trophy, but though he knew them, he still felt that they somehow didn’t belong to him.
Those were the days when James would stop on his usual route home from school and cock his head to the side, listening to the faint tinkling of music that floated on the breeze. He would hum the familiar notes of a tune he had never heard before, but before he could follow the sound to its source, it would gently fade, leaving him with a sense of loss he could not explain.
Or perhaps on those days, it would be a scent that stopped him in tracks, a whiff of baking food that made his mouth water and his body yearn, even while he couldn’t quite place what meal awaited. He would breath deeply and step off the path, but then always, always, the fragrance disappeared, floating away on the wind and leaving him without even a memory to satisfy his craving.
James asked his father about these sounds and smells, but his father told him it was only his imagination. James didn’t think so. He could never imagine music that beautiful or food that delicious.
James asked his mother, and she just hugged him close and rumpled his hair. “Nothing to worry you,” she said, “just someone else’s music and someone else’s dinner.” James was not worried, and he didn’t know how to tell her that it was his music in some way that he could not explain or that he was sure that dinner was meant for him.
When James’s grandmother came to visit, she did not tell him it was his imagination or that he should not worry. When he told her about it, she nodded her head and looked straight in his eyes. “You know,” she said.
And James felt sure that he did know, though he could not remember. He tried with all his might to remember what he already knew, but memory doesn’t work that way.
The way memory works is this. One day in late summer, James was coming home from a friend’s house and he crossed through an empty field. A dog barked somewhere in the distance, and suddenly James’s eye fell on a spotted mushroom, or rather, a whole row of spotted mushrooms, or really a ring of spotted mushrooms, for that was how they grew: in a perfect circle. In a flash, James saw in his mind another ring of mushrooms and he felt the cold, cold wind that blew on them and he saw the little boy who had fallen asleep, his fevered skin making him oblivious to the icy air. James saw the boy and he knew exactly what would happen and exactly what he could do to prevent it, and James heard the music of his village and smelled the aroma of the nectar for the festival and knew exactly what he would be giving up. And then a woman called out in the distance, and her call was a name, and the name was James, and the boy didn’t move, and James stepped a little closer and a little closer and then he was in the ring of mushrooms, too.
The woman’s voice called out again. “James!” It was his mother, and she was calling him in to supper.
James looked up from the ring of spotted mushrooms and stepped away from his memory and into the back yard of 414 Heartsbane Dr., which was home. And he sat down to supper with his dark-haired father and his blue-eyed mother and they gave him a smile which exactly matched his own.
James Hadar was nine years old, but if you looked into his eyes, there was a little something that made you doubt it, that made you want to look again. Then when you looked again it would be gone.