Lewis Shiner
By Lewis Shiner
Distributed under Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

He had apparently spaced out for a second or two. When he came to, a
large, annoyed woman was leaning in toward him. "Mister? Mister, are
you even listening to me?"
He looked at the receding rows of fluorescent lights on the struts of the
cavernous ceiling, the gleaming linoleum floors, the pallets of
sale-priced plastic coolers and Special K and motor oil, and then he
looked at the rack of merchandise at his back and understood that he
was in a Wal-Mart, behind the returns counter.
He heard his own voice saying, as if by reflex, "Do you have your
At the first opportunity, he locked himself in a bathroom stall and dug
out his wallet. His driver's license showed the right name, birthdate,
and photo, but it had been issued by the State of North Carolina, and it
listed an address he'd never heard of.
He scrubbed his face at the sink. It was him in the mirror, a tanned and
healthy 56, hair mostly gray but still all there. He felt groggy, as if he'd
woken prematurely. It was only the numbness, he thought, that kept the
panic at bay.
If he didn't push, he found he knew the answers to some questions. He
was due to clock out in an hour. When he left the parking lot he would

go under the highway, turn left, and merge.
He found his way to a battered white Toyota pickup in the employee
section. The key in his pocket started the engine. He forced himself not
to think too hard as he drove, taking the turns that seemed to have a
certain inevitability. He wound up on a dirt road near someplace called
Pittsboro, in front of a small brick house surrounded by high yellow
grass, pines, and live oaks.
He parked next to a purple Nissan Sentra in the driveway, and tried the
front door of the house. Inside, a woman sat watching TV in the living
room. She was in her mid-thirties, plump, blonde, and plain. Her black
polo shirt had a monogrammed logo for something called Harris-Teeter
and a nametag that said JESS. She was young enough to be his
daughter, but he didn't think she was. She smiled when she saw him
and it lit up her face in an attractive way.
"I brought some of that rotisserie chicken home," she said. "Is that okay?
We had some of those little red potatoes like you like."
"Sure," he said.
"You hungry? I could put it on the table right now." She seemed a little
nervous, a little eager to please.
"Sure," he said.
Ten minutes into dinner, after she'd talked about a host of people he'd
never heard of, she slowed to a halt. "You're having that memory
problem again, aren't you?" She had an accent that mixed a hint of
Canada with a Southern twang.
He wondered what she thought the problem was. "I guess maybe so,"
he shrugged. In fact his memories were quite vivid. They just didn't

match anything in front of him.
"Aw." She came around the table and wrapped him in a hug. She
smelled of cooking, but not unpleasantly. His body seemed to know her,
to take comfort in the embrace. "It was that email from Murray, wasn't
it?" she said. "I was afraid it was going to bring one of these on."
"Email?" he said.
"Aw, no. I hate this. I wish I hadn't said anything, 'cause now you're
going to have to read it, and it'll hurt you all over again." She ran the
back of her right hand over his cheek. "Could you at least eat a little
more dinner before you go look?"
He shook his head and she let him go.
The computer turned out to be in the front bedroom, which also seemed
to be his studio. He was shocked to see his guitar there, the gold-top
Les Paul he knew so well, perched on a guitar stand. Next to it he saw a
Fender Precision bass, a keyboard, and a Tascam multi-track cassette
recorder that had probably been state of the art in 1986.
He perched on the edge of a battered love seat and picked up the Les
Paul. It fit into his arms like a lover, like a piece of a lost world.
He looked up to see Jess in the doorway.
"I wish there was something I could do," she said. "I hate to see you
this way. If you want to play guitar, go on ahead. It seems to help
sometimes. I'll put your dinner in the fridge."
He returned the guitar to its stand and gave her a hug and a
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