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The Fundamental Unit of Memory

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On Spec, Fall 1999
Cory Doctorow

Like Craphound, Visit the Sins and Shadow of the Mothaship, I wrote this story at Gipsycon, the post-Clarion summer workshop I attend every year. There's another Clarion connection: the title for this story was conceived of while at the Clarion 30th anniversary reunion, as I sat in the Owen Hall courtyard with a gang of other Clarion grads and talked about the memories the place brought back, discussing the possibility that we were being bombarded with "recollectons," the fundamental units of memory.

Recollecton-junkie rule number one: they surprise you.

Sonya and I were going through a bad patch, our last apartment a memory and our worldly goods split between friends' places, city lockers and a shopping cart. I made the mistake of trusting her with our bag of quarters while I took a shower at the Sunnyside Baths, and when I emerged, she'd wandered away from our cart -- I called it "the RV" -- and fed the whole lot to a mini-juke at the vending totem on the Boardwalk. I found her with headphones buried in her ears, swaying dreamily to a mix of music from our highschool prom, a distant smile on her face, and a litter of coin-wrappers around her feet.

I parked the shopping cart beside her and waited. No sense in letting the music go to waste -- maybe it would calm her down for the rest of the day -- and I wouldn't have taken one headphone even if she'd offered. That stuff from the old days just gave me the creeps.

Sonya danced there, and I knew what the happy, comfortable passers-by saw: a skinny, spaced-out junkie lost in reverie, a "sad comment on the collapse of Toronto's social safety net," a problem that would self-correct as soon as she forgot to eat for too many consecutive days.

I saw Sonya Beresford, the beautiful, charmed girl who I'd "just-friended" since the day I loaned busfare to a strange, pretty girl from school who picked me out of the crowd at the bus-shelter to ask. My mind draped her dancing form in a gauze of memory, and a million stolen glances at her in motion laid themselves overtop of her. Lord, she was beautiful, even then. And as unattainable as ever.

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