Children Seated in a Book

Six children, all about the size of a thumbtack, sit arranged in a circle inside an open copy of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. It is open to a page which reads, “Will it ultimately reach the clear surface of my consciousness, this memory, this old, dead moment which the magnetism of an identical moment has travelled so far to importune, to disturb, to raise up out of the very depths of my being?”

There is Antonio, who was once Charlotte, who was once Toni. Antonio is the leader of the group. He pushes the others to do their work, to remember what needs remembering, and to move on with things. When he is not working on his administrative duties, logging the memories of each other child, he works on his own, though he doesn’t get enough time to do so.

Frank was once known as Francis, but if he’s honest nobody really called him that. It’s always been Frank. Francis is not a name people use these days. Frank is working on his personal timeline. He is reconstructing, through linear time, his life, from Francis to Frank, with as much accuracy as he can recall. For example, he got his cat, Marvel, at age three. He originally named her Lightning, but the name didn’t feel right. He then changed it to Cat, but that felt silly. With some help from his older sister, he decided that Marvel was the right name. This naming of the cat happened between two other events: when his father pushed him into a wall, and when Marvel, after weeks of caution, finally hopped up onto Frank’s bed and slept alongside him.

Carol has always been Carol, for better or worse, she’ll say. Carol thinks Frank’s linear timeline is ridiculous, as time is a pointless construct our memories don’t naturally adhere to. Instead, much to the frustration of Antonio, Carol writes her notes anew everyday, free form, starting from whatever she thinks about in the morning and moving to whatever she thinks about next. Her most recent notes reads, “It was a cold morning with a foot of snow on the ground. We took the sled out, the sled was a gift. Gifts are what I remember most, like the pack of batteries I once opened first, before a larger gift that needed batteries. Parents think they are funny when they do these types of things, but they’re not. My parents were especially annoying with these types of ideas, constantly teasing and toying with me.” Her mind, she’ll tell you, is wrapped up like a pile of cables, disorganized and chaotic, different every day.

Stefon has toyed with the idea of being known as Stef, but is unsure who their true self is. Stefon struggles with memory, to the point that Antonio often scolds them for not doing enough work each day. Stefon remembers things in bits, and tends to record each memory onto an index card. These are short thoughts, like “The time I flipped over my bike and had to walk home with blood on my face,” and “When the older boy at school made fun of the music I was listening to on my Discman even though he didn’t even know what it was.” Stefon shuffles and reshuffles these every morning, trying to recall more pieces, but they usually end up adding more index cards with more thoughts disconnected from the rest.

Angela, who goes by Alaska now, refuses this exercise altogether. Antonio pleads with her every day, “Just a sentence or two,” he’ll say, but Angela will do no such thing. “I refuse to take these ideas out of my head and put them into the world,” she says. Instead of remembering like the rest of the children, she spends her days thinking up new things, but keeps it all to herself.

Finally, there is Sean, who remembers everything perfectly and clearly. Sean took to the exercise on the first day, recording each thing he remembered, and has not stopped since. His notes are meticulous, abundant, and filled with the minutiae of life. “Picked up stick, the sun was setting.” “Sat on a hill, pulling up grass and tossing it into the wind.” “Held sand in my right hand and watched as it slowly dissolved away.” Sean never attaches emotion to his notes, instead relying on the physical acts of being.

It is said that once the children finish their work, they can move along with their lives. When they were brought here, Antonio was told to keep the children on track, to finish, but he has found it hard. He still hopes they’re growing closer each day.