Us, Fifty Years Ago – Clary Ahn

Let me ask you. Do you remember?

No, of course not. You do not remember anything anymore, not for more than a few moments. In the end it is your own decaying mind against your soul. But here goes.

Annie disappeared on a Saturday afternoon. After wandering around in the woods, she failed to show at her theater rehearsal. You once knew this. It was almost sacrilegious, the close proximity between her departure and New Year’s. The timing as violent as the act. No dramatic notes punctuated her vanishing, no potpourri sprinkled on the dead forest floor.

She was a doe-eyed girl of fifteen. You were sixteen, shapeless and pimpled. We were constantly stuck between doing too much and not doing enough.

Or maybe you were older. Perhaps my memory fails me.

Has it really been fifty years?

Here is what happened. Her father searched for hours in the woods, and her mother wailed and cursed out Annie’s captors until her eyes welled up bright pink and blue. Everything she said being everything I cannot say in public. Choice words unspoken, at that time, out of respect, but etched in the dents between her furrowed eyebrows. Later the police offered their condolences, compiled a short report, and sent out a couple of officers to interview the locals to no avail. You biked ten minutes to their house and offered to help in the search.

We thought it was a kidnapping. There was no reason for Annie to leave.

Correct me if I’m wrong—if you manage to recall. She had big plans, right?

You knew Annie from church. She was petite, devout, and talkative. When your mother fell terminally ill, she denounced the doctors and told you it was in God’s hands, offering you a nightly prayer. She swore she never broke the Ten Commandments; she built a small magazine shrine for her favorite actor in her bedroom. She made yearly resolutions to lose weight; she threw away her summer bikini in frustration. She made a pact to get married to her middle school sweetheart if she was single by thirty; she kissed a girl behind the school bleachers. She refused to drink alcohol; she smoked weed at a house party. She attended your mother’s funeral, and you did not say a single word to anyone there, keeping your eyes open during prayer.

Afterwards, she told you it was God’s will. You were an angry teenager. Near the end of her freshman year, she signed up for a multitude of college prep courses, tried out for the school play with a remarkable aptitude for crying on-demand, and started to learn geometry.

Do you know what this means? In three years she might have attended university. But you know as well as I do that Annie was found dead at the bottom of a ledge two days after she disappeared. Her parents left town for their mother country two weeks later.

Let me tell you why I am here, and I tell you this out of love.

Listen closely.

You must receive a few visitors every week. They come for small talk. That is not the reason I am here. You should know that, back in town, Annie’s parents, old and fragile now, have returned, and everyone has started talking about the case again.

From what I can tell, they will never receive an answer.

So I am here out of selfishness.

They say: Annie was not clumsy. She must have been drunk. She did not drink.

They say: She was alone, and nobody else entered the woods with her. She did not trust many people with that place. She considered it a safe refuge reserved only for closest friends.

They say: You and Annie were inseparable in church.

They say: You were walking your dog when you heard the news. A neighbor called you over mid-laundry, all because he’d seen you and Annie together during Sunday service. You poor girls. You stumbled home, clothes covered grass and dirt and sweat.

They say: Maybe you were sulking in the park.

They say: Or maybe you were on a short run.

Afterwards, you rode your bike to the scene.

I have dreamed of this moment many times, guiding the conversation along until it was fake enough to believe. I have made up many different scenarios. In the first, a group of men pushed Annie down the ledge. In the second, she slipped on a rock. In the third, a self-inflicted death. The police marked it an accident.

But then—

It is true that the townspeople’s curious sentiments will remain unresolved due to the passage of time, all while you sit here now, unable to remember, birthed again with the meager knowledge of a newborn, untouched by any conscious guilt or sin, under the same sky that once stabbed itself to drape down over Annie’s dead body in the dense woods.

So I am asking you, without the expectation of a comprehensible answer, to tell me where you were on that day fifty years ago. To tell me if you took her there to the forest. There, to the ledge, and to the bottom.

Even if you knew you could not say.

Clary Ahn is from Chelmsford, Massachusetts and San Diego, California. Her work can be found in Another Chicago Magazine, The Indianapolis Review, and *82 Review, among others. She is a fiction editor at EX/POST and an assistant editor at Berkeley Fiction Review.

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