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Appreciative Estate

Discretion was the company's watchword, or so Tiffany had been assured by Maria, who lived two floors down and had done it three months ago. No one needed to know. The technician was a thin blond youth, the left half of their face a conservative faux-tribal tattoo medley, almost retro, dressed in a bland-patterned coverall. They carried a slim silver box, briefcase shaped and sized, the handle set on one of the smaller sides.
Mizz Duffy? Perfect. I have papers for you to sign before we conduct the inventory."
Together they settled onto Tiffany's couch. "Papers" were actually a thumbprint.
"What am I agreeing to?" she asked as her thumb hovered over the screen.
"A statistically insignificant number of people have had an adverse reaction to the procedure," the rep said in a voice smooth as newly-washed glass. "Loss of memory, split consciousness... nothing to worry about, though. I haven't lost a client yet!"
"I'll still have the memories? You're just recording them. Not extracting them?"
The rep's teeth were blindingly white. "Correct. Our customers want to experience other lives, moments that have something to savor or enjoy. Perhaps learn from."
"Very well," Tiffany said, and lowered her thumb.
The rep unpacked the case, chattering as they did so. "The assessment and inventory take a half hour to an hour, depending on the complexity of the material."
Tiffany allowed herself a smile. "I've always thought that I felt life more deeply than most. I have an artist's spirit. And of course, an education in the humanities makes you better able to appreciate things, doesn't it?"
A vague murmur and smile of their own was the only answer. She sat quiescent as the technician attached skullcap and sensor pads, swabbing her skin with moist wads that smelled of alcohol and citrus before laying each coin-sized pad in place.
"All right, Mizz Duffy," they said. "Lie back and think of England, as they used to say."
That's not what they meant, she wanted to say, but a daydream lassitude had already overtaken her. She hadn't led the worst life, she thought with some complacency. She hadn't wanted to resort to this, but things were hard for a retiree even when you'd managed to put enough aside for food and shelter, and medical bills were sure to arrive at some point.
At least she and Trey had lived a good existence: yearly vacations and a chance to be "Foodies" after their own fashion. A lifetime of such connoisseurship would surely yield plenty of high-grade memories, worth considerable sums on the market. Maria had gotten enough to treat herself to a cruise, after all.
She came out slowly, thoughts of how she would spend the wealth lingering with her. Nice Christmas presents for the grandchildren for once, and she'd have the stove's back burner fixed and treat herself to real coffee for a while. The technician was already packing up the kit by the time she was fully herself.
Tiffany waited expectantly. But the tech said nothing as they wiped down a cable with more alcohol. Tiffany cleared her throat.
"The report's on the coffee table," the tech said, avoiding her gaze.
It was a plas-paper read-out, a single sheet folded over on itself. She picked it up and looked at the figures, then at the technician.
"This can't be right," she said. "This is barely enough to buy me a week of groceries!"
"Maybe more than that," the tech said, "depending on where you spend it. But look, Mizz Duffy, I have this talk on a weekly basis. People expect a lot of money but for a memory to be worth something, it has to be unique. There are thousands of recordings of people nibbling cheese."
"But it was very good cheese," she said a little blankly.
The technician grimaced with a shrug. "If you'd made it yourself, perhaps. People like memories of making things. Food, art, practical objects, it doesn't matter. But if they want to eat, they go eat it themselves."
"But we traveled!"
"You were tourists," the tech said. The snap of the case closing echoed over the soft, reasonable murmur of explanation. "You didn't do anything. You watched. You didn't experience things. You didn't reach out to the world or help other people."
She scoffed. "Like people want to sweat along with some Peace Corps volunteer!"
"Actually," they said. "That's one of our biggest sellers." They rose, case in hand. "There's an energy when people connect." Their head tilted to let their smile slide off for a moment, revealing pity. "That's something special and unique each time, because there are stories with it." They inclined their head. "Someone will be in touch to arrange the recording session if you decide to go through with it. I'll show myself out."
The door's click didn't move her from where she sat, her eyes uncertain and injured. Finally she stood, and moved very slowly to the window, and put her palm flat against it, and stood for a long time, looking out at the rain.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 28th, 2018
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