“Forget You” by Marc Laidlaw
There was a time when he was alone, and there was a time when she was there. He can’t seem to remember anything in between. Who is she? What is she hiding? She offers no explanation, and his perpetual questions are only pushing her away. Perhaps he’s not asking the right questions. Laidlaw continues to pull us in while simultaneously destabilizing both character and reader. Escaping without looking at the world and how we live in it, is an impossibility.
About the Author
Laidlaw was born in Los Angeles in 1960 and moved to Laguna Beach in 1970, where he spent his formative years. He attended the University of Oregon “for a bit,” followed by a long stint in San Francisco, where began writing short fiction and novels while working as a legal secretary. In 1997 he discovered computer games, and joined Valve Software, where he helped write and design Half-Life, Half-Life 2, and both HL2 Episodes. It is important to remember that while he is known for his contributions to computer games, his access was due to his writing ability and a commitment to Dark Fantasy and Horror. His stories are ambitious, as is his ability to let them unfold slowly and delicately, even in his flash fiction. As atmospheric as it is unsettling, his work is unforgettable. In 2016 Laidlaw retired from Valve Software and is now writing full time.
“She came into his life the way his cats crept into his lap.” It was a subtle transition, one day he’s alone (as he’d been for a while), and the next she’s been living with him. While caressing her cheek one night he asks how she came into his life, and she laughs, but the question is serious. He later asks his friends how he and she had met, and when they realize he’s serious they tell him he’s been with her since before they were friends. At home, he goes through photos and digital images and finds her in them, and he remembers her being there at those times, but his computer fried a while ago so the photos only go so far back. She isn’t present in much older prints, but he’s finding it hard to remember his life without her, only that he was very alone. He assumes she came into his life during the time he lost his files on the computer, the times he can’t remember. And when he continues asking her, she starts taking offense, but she never answers the question, and he starts to believe she’s hiding a secret or “manipulated reality.”
“Who was she anyway? What was she? What sort of human being had the ability to unravel and reweave the material of existence…?” The conversations start changing things between them. He starts to believe by questioning things too much, she and all the evidence of her might vanish, as if he wasn’t supposed to find out. Then, he starts believing she’d done this before and he was special in a way for being the first to figure her out, her first mistake. And though he’d forget she ever existed, he would have this sense of self-knowledge without knowing where it came from. In this way, she’d made him more truly himself. “So there was a purpose to her being there after all.”
The last morning, she was gone, and in her place the cats stretched out in the bed. And he was starting to forget about her when at the final moment he almost didn’t notice when she opened her eyes and looked over, but not at him and said to herself, “‘Why is this always happening to me?’”
It is with the last line where Laidlaw’s set-up and slow reveal, even in flash fiction, discloses his gift as a writer. It is the last line that shows an almost cubist dissection of this story, suddenly revealing, like Copernicus, that the narrator may be unreliable while undermining the reader, challenging them to step back and wonder who is the main character and why? Laidlaw’s expertise at the “slow reveal,” coupled with his attention to language, yet again manages to surprise, but more importantly, to destabilize and unsettle, forcing both character and reader to pause before returning back to the pernicious slumber of everyday life.