How it Felt the First Time

560 words

A little flash fiction story about the lingering memories of hearing a song for the first time; specifically, when that song first hits hard. What might we give to re-experience it all again for the first time?

Written in 2022.

They came here chasing the same thing. This time, it was a man who knocked on the nondescript door of the nondescript office above the nondescript Persian rug shop. It drizzled outside, grey, like a cloudy memory.

“What exactly should I expect here?” he asked, plunking a stack of banded bills into her expectant, gloved hands.

She counted it carefully—purposefully emphasizing the sound her latex fingers made as they shuffled through the money—before committing to an answer. “As we discussed, you only provide me with the song. Whatever reasons you have for wishing to feel the things you once did? That’s up to you.”

They always took an extra moment to consider the bizarre machinery in the room. He saw a control panel that looked like a campy set piece from an Ed Wood film, bursting with blinking lights, knobs, and levers. A dozen cables ran to a dozen sealed, egg-shaped pods, each large enough to hold a person. The muffled sound of music hummed within. There was one more pod, but this one was open. It had a cushioned seat and a shiny metal rod protruding from the floor.

The woman explained what would happen once he grabbed hold of the conduit. “You’ll feel a vibration and a near-unbearable buzzing in your head, but it’s only your body and your memory working to align with the quantum acoustics of your song, trying to find their way back. The buzzing will subside, and you’ll be free to experience that particular memory again, just as it was the first time.”

The funny thing was, inexplicably, they all wished to re-experience moments which made them saddest. It was the first song I heard after my mother died, they’ll say. Or, I’d never heard that song until it played in the car the night he broke my heart. Or even, It was the song that brought me to tears at the tenth-grade dance, when I realized I was never going to find a partner.

There existed within them what’s known to psychologists as a Reminiscence Bump, mostly nostalgia from their teens and early twenties they couldn’t seem to stop thinking about as they aged. “Your minds are flawed,” she continued. “Hearing your song today isn’t simply retrieving memories and reliving them as much as it’s creating all-new ones. You don’t even realize it. Those chills you think you still get are not the same.”

His song, a bittersweet pop ballad, had once crackled through the radio, sounding like the end of everything he knew. The last time he ever saw the love of his life. It had woven into the smells of the changing seasons ever since, but never quite the same.

“When you feel you’ve finished with your experience, simply let go of the conduit, and you’ll wake up.”

“Will I remember what happened?”

“No more than you already recall experiencing it the first time.” She pressed a button and motioned for him to step inside the open eggshell.

He climbed in. “Does this work for everyone?”

“No one else has yet to let go of their conduits. My guess is they discovered what they sought in coming here and didn’t wish to lose it again.”

He laughed, but immediately questioned whether her straight-face was joking or not. “Let’s begin,” she said, waving goodbye as the eggshell sealed itself around him.