Ugh, right, making a memory, she remembered now. Caps, gowns, white chairs that weren’t built for sitting (is this where people’s picket fences went? she wondered), astroturf, bleachers. Bleh.
This wasn’t a memory. It was a stock photo. Not how this works. She knew at least that by now. She had to find some specific thing that made this now and could contain it later. Some flyaway moment that could be slowed into sand.
Was someone laughing? That had done it before. The way the cashier’s neck had folded into her laugh, like it had balled the joke into something her chin could hold for keeps. People won apple-bobbing contests with that neck clench. For whatever reason, she could return to that moment. Walk around in it. Watch herself in it. Rewind herself, switch herself to slo-mo, move around, grab a Slim Jim from the next checkstand, bark that she was snapping into it as she did — and nothing, the scene played on. Even better, she could step into herself and change how things play out. Except for the laugh. She couldn’t change the laugh. Anytime she did, she got kicked out of the memory, back to wherever she was when she entered it. Memories were strict with their rules.
She hadn’t learned many of memory’s rules yet. She had no idea how many there would be to obey or try to bend. She never would. Not that it mattered, especially not now. Now she just needed to figure out what made a memory. If she had learned it before, she had forgotten. She didn’t think she had, anyway.
Then it happened. Principal Wheeler was introducing Kayla Saunders for her speech, when the wind whipped across the stage. It yanked the programs from some teachers’ hands and laps, landing one against Ms. Geider’s cheek before heading off to wherever miracles return. Finally she saw it. Principal Wheeler’s tie was being pulled up and to the side, its knot pressing against his ear, the rest reaching to the sky.
It only lasted for maybe two seconds. Long enough for people to see, but too short for them to remember exactly what they saw. Later most said it looked like a noose around his neck, only to be substantiated later that summer when Wheeler left town.
Morbid bastards, Arielle thought. She didn’t see a noose at all. Okay, she did. How could you not? (Ha, knot.) But that wasn’t all she saw. The energy wasn’t going in that direction, like a noose. Mr. Wheeler wasn’t weighing down his tie. The tie looked like it was lifting him up. Trying to, anyway. He seemed to recognize it too. His normally red fingers were white against the edges of the podium. She could see him clinging. Then it was over.
When the yearbook team posted a video of it to the school’s Facebook the next day and their parents showed it to them, everyone felt fooled. The whole thing lasted less than three seconds, and Wheeler’s tie for maybe half a second (734 milliseconds, as Arielle would later time it). Yet no one would remember much else of the two-hour ceremony. Not Arielle’s sweat smile. Jimmy Vero’s attempted streaking that was spoiled by stage fright. Mrs. Gaylen’s speech and the laughs it elicited. Mr. Gaylen’s singing and the laughs it elicited. If it weren’t for all the scenes in movies and on TV of the newly matriculated tossing their caps, no one would remember much of that mess either. Not Arielle, though. She could relive it all, so long as she didn’t stop the wind.