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December Riddle
by Dena Barisano

Every morning this woman with the sweetest voice says, "C'mon time to get up." Pulls the shades before closing the door. Unfamiliar room, teems with stuffed animals and papers. Only a stranger stares back. Can't remember anything, and keeps trying to count freckles. Thinks the name might be Lucy. Sees a torn-up card with Lucy from the Peanuts cartoon. Dirty and crumpled, stuck into the wooden mirror frame. No writing on the back. Everything is really big, similar to when you are a little kid. Clothes piled up on the chair, and shoes are questions blocking the way to the door. Then she remembers, they keep calling her Janie.

Breakfast with strong coffee around a table glaring with smiling faces. These quiet questions. "Do you want more coffee?"

"Toast?" Doesn't dare answer them, keeps nodding yes and no. Afraid sometimes of her own voice. Not familiar to her at all. She feels they are expecting her to leave, or something. Has this nagging feeling, normally she would know. If only the fragments will stop spinning around, and the rest of the memories could return.

Finally she reaches the ramshackled building, tucked near the walls of a large construction project hot with heat. Every day the little magnetic card
shocks her. Automatically the door slides open with a low buzz.

"Fingers on the keys," a woman entirely in pink says. "Lots of typing today. Okay?"

Teddy bear on top of the computer monitor. Wondering if she spends every day like this? Listening to tapes on ear phones and typing. After a
while, she cannot even hear the words. They drone into her fingers, until there isn't anything left to understand. Panic really sets in then. Who is this
Janie person anyway?


"One Oh Eight Lincoln," the bike messenger shouts. Wheels with gears loud like a wasp's wings. Waits up ahead on the sidewalk. Annoyed pedestrians stream around the bike. "December. December here. Over here!" Dressed in shiny, silver material, the messenger unstraps a beat-up looking helmet.
"December," the bike messenger repeats. "It's me."

"Me who?" She watches fingers play with a cord swinging from some kind of radio strapped sash across the messenger's chest. Entranced, Janie asks, "Who or what're you?"

"Well, I'm a Mavis." Fingers stop abruptly. "Not that you noticed. But I dyed my hair."

Platinum blond streaks with taunting black roots only confuse her more. "Mavis?"

"So you don't remember? Think hard. Think Judy Blume."

"No." She searches the face for a sign of familiarity. "I don't remember a single thing."

The bike messenger grins a little. "Well. We can try."

"What d'you mean?"

"You've got to remember some time." Leans the bike against the wall of a nearby building. "Too many people're missing you."

"What people?" Can see her reflection in the silver shirt. "They don't know. I mean the doctors don't. That's why I'm back working at her job. Because they think it'll help. And some pretty boring stuff if you ask me."

"Oh." Mavis steps back.

"Your friend? Who's she anyway? Always typing all the time."

"Well," the bike messenger says. "That's her day job. She's hard to explain."

"I don't even like her."

"You will." Mavis laughs, teeth metallic bright.

"But how can you say that?"

"Believe me, December's beautiful." The messenger shrugs. "Because she listens. Listens to people. She hears what they're saying."

"Now wait a sec." Janie tries to break in. "You've totally lost me."

As if uninterrupted, Mavis keeps talking. "Besides I suspect you're only getting this dried up burnt out shell."

"Burnt out?" All of a sudden the ground moves. "But aren't I her?"

"Technically. But she'd never talk like you. Never mind the rest. I'll bring you back." Mavis has a little tug of war with the strap. "We've got time."

"Stop calling her that. Her name's Jane. I mean they call her Janie."

"Nah." Back on the bike, the messenger pedals away. "Only some people did."


Holding out her arm, Mavis pinches the fabric. Thinking this is totally bizarre, she resists the urge to pull back. "It's her dress, but she doesn't wear it this way."

"Let go. Thought you were supposed to help?" Mavis's hair is a yellow and red dipped halo. It is a definite shock the next morning, after that first run
in with the bike messenger. She realizes, there is 108 Lincoln painted over the door. Janie never knew the address before she always takes the same way to work, after the pretty voiced mom showed her the first day.

Mavis almost dances as they walk, so fast she practically runs to keep up. The messenger's mouth twists into a smile. "Said I'd try. Nothing's a
guarantee." Twirls around suddenly. "Here we are." Pulls her back against a wall.

"Where's this?"

"The pit, honey. See the kids. They all end up here. This's where we found you. You stopped to give a girl some change. With a striped kitten and a nose ring. She pulled a knife."

Brick wall with assorted bodies piled against it. Sleeping, shooting up, each lost inside themselves, or pushing something away. In the darkness of Harvard Square, Janie almost swears these people know her. "Oh can't be?" She feels something wet. Mavis's hand is on her face, then over her mouth.

Fingers seem to choke. Watches three girls light up cigarettes. Two kiss each other, while the third looks away. "Now," Mavis whispers in a voice, a
spider might have. "Be a good girl. No more screams." Feels the hand glide back across her cheek, and down around her shoulder.

"She didn't. I mean I didn't hit my head? Did I?"

Arms circle into sweeping gestures. "That's what they told you? She hit her head? What then? Everything erased and blown out? This case of brain
overload? Well. He always said her brain was like a hamster running on a wheel."

"What're you talking about? Why don't you tell me?"

Grabs her arm, and pulls hard. A few feet away they stop in a doorway. "Tell you what? About December or Janie? Because I can't. It would be too
much like reading you a bed time story." Hands cup blocking out the wind. Mavis lights a cigarette and words mingle with smoke. "Besides, the rest of this's mostly up to you. Can't have miracles ordered like french fries."

Raindrops out of nowhere. "Do you really think I'm going to be her again?"

"Beats the hell out of me." Takes a long breath.

"We've got to hit a lot of places. And I sure can't have you looking like this."

The following evening from halfway down the street, Janie sees a pleased smile. She finds the dress with gold flowers way back in the closet. Parts
her hair real low on the side. "Don't forget," Mavis says. "Go through her makeup. Get some black stuff and line your eyes really dark. Much better." The messenger stumbles the words out. "You even look like her."

She smoothes the front of the dress. "Like Janie or December?"

Mavis brushes smoke away. "You're not hearing me." A couple of girls in aqua and tangerine satin dresses wave. She smiles back, although Janie has no idea who they are. On the subway now, they ride in the car, bending the most through the tunnels. Her memory fragments still do not make any sense. They enter a little shop selling fragile, glass bottles of clear liquid scented with flowers, the mountains, and even the sea. The shop lady shocks Janie with her concerned aunt like manner. "We haven't seen you lately."

"Is she a witch?" They leave and Janie looks up at the shop's sign.

Mavis dances around her on the sidewalk. "Don't be stupid."


Later they walk into a coffee shop over a movie theater. Floor topples and Janie runs out frightened. Sits on the steps outside. Mavis breathes relief.
"It's working. Maybe we should go for it? Face those Ghosts of Christmas Past?"

"Yeah I guess." Rubs her eyes. They run across some streets into a dark bar. Only one guy is working the door. "I.D. please." Janie cannot see anything but Harvard Crimson sweat shirts, and fresh looking crew cuts. The bouncer glances at her I.D. but eyes linger. "Hey, how's it
going?" His hand locks her shoulder tight.

"She doesn't know you any more."

"Wait Mavis. You know Janie? You know me?"

Mavis is angry wind circling them. Her hair flies around. The bouncer laughs, picking Mavis up. Janie feels deep relief that his hand is gone. "Please, that's my friend."

Reluctantly, the bouncer sets Mavis back down, chattering. "You're a stupid fool, Janie Riddle. Don't you remember yet?" Mavis glares at her.

"Fine." Points to the bouncer with an unlit cigarette. "He'll tell." This awful grin with eyebrows crooked. "Won't you?"

Before he answers the bouncer flexes his arm muscles. "He didn't mean to do it."

"Spare us." Mavis says, a dark papered cigarette falls between cracked lips.

The bouncer's arms move low around her waist. "He lost it. That's all. Wasn't supposed to be anything personal. Anything personal against you."

"Are you serious?" Flips the butt at him. "Because of what the other that girl did? Or'd you forget? Go ahead. Go 'head ask him December. Ask
him what his friend did to you."

Janie manages, "Mavis, please."

After he releases his hold on her, the bouncer stoops down. He scoops the messenger into a hold. White and blotched, Mavis's face twitches. The bouncer lowers his voice, but it is still unsteady. "Who the
hell's December?"

"She is." Somehow Mavis escapes and wiggles away.

"We saved her. So we named her!" The messenger's hands gesture up and down, as if indicating the changes.

Slightly the bouncer smiles. Turns toward Janie again with a big shadow creeping up, about to hit him. Her scream slips out. Few people turn and look. Mavis is gone in the crowd. The bouncer runs his fingers through her hair. "Wish I met you first."

Dizzy with the memories flooding, Janie nods before falling back into darkness.

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