Gliding gracefully across the water, a thirty-foot yacht pirouettes beneath the morning sun, carrying the breeze…and a ton of alcohol. An alluring woman in a striped bikini emerges on the deck, tipsy enough to face a scandal with the sea once overboard. “I love being filthy rich! Don’t you, sweetheart?” Her shirtless lover walks up behind her, wrapping his muscular arms around her waist while softly planting kisses on her neck. “Of course I do, mi amor,” the man whispered, his head gently resting on hers. “Valencia today, Havana tomorrow. I know how much you love the nightlife there.”
Nestled along eastern Spain, the couple was eventually far enough away to see the town across the coastline shrink as romance on the yacht passionately grew. The captain didn’t seem to care, and neither did the couple.
After lingering too long in the memory, a man whips back into reality. “Hey! It wasn’t finished!” he interjected.
The merchant wearily presents a luminous golden orb the size of a marble, seemingly possessing an enchantment unlike anything witnessed on Earth. “Enough. $35,000. Take it or leave it.” The man grunted, grabbing the orb and paying in cash.
Halia leans against a wall while watching the bargain from a distance, snorting at the man’s naivety. Such a scam. That merchant must be making a boatload of money, she thought, glancing at the merchant polishing the orbs. She leaves the wall a few moments later to walk through the bustling market that echoes with laughter and smiles.
Every summer, the city of Valencia, Spain, celebrates local farmers and artisans with a thriving street market sought out by locals and tourists alike. The sun also remains a vigilant spectator every time, never missing a moment of the action. From the delicate scent of the florist’s shop to the cornucopia of produce sprawled across the stalls in town, the market unfolded like a vibrant tapestry, inviting Halia to wander through a kaleidoscope of sensory delights. The lively chatter of vendors and the symphony of colours painted an enchanting backdrop to her journey of exploration and discovery.
“The finest vegetables over here!” a vendor exclaimed. “Get them while they last!”
Halia looked around in exhilaration. The market held a special place in her heart because she could splurge on vintage knick-knacks without reservation and gleam at their nostalgic beauty. Nostalgia, something she knows all too well.
This summer is her first year of vintage shopping by herself. Halia had gone every year with her parents until her mother abandoned her at a very young age, and her aging father couldn’t physically leave his bed anymore. She had learned to enjoy time alone, especially since her father may not be around much longer, but she misses her mother sometimes. Despite being the town’s beloved, she remains alienated from lifelong friendships, yet often wishes she wasn’t alone.
As Halia continued wandering the market, she unexpectedly grew paranoid, as if being watched by a lingering presence or force from the past trying to catch up to her. After returning to where the scam merchant sells glowing orbs, she suppresses this feeling, also realizing she travelled in a circle. This time, a small crowd is gathered around the booth, with some peering over heads in curiosity and others enthusiastically purchasing these orbs as if they had infinite wealth. Halia’s interest was piqued, and she watched the crowd dissipate until the merchant caught her looking.
The merchant gestures to Halia from the booth, “Psst, over here, don’t be shy.”
Halia reluctantly approaches the booth. She couldn’t help but notice a hunched figure shrouded in a cloak, the hood obscuring most of her features except for her mouth. The wrinkled lines across her cheeks speak of the passage of time, while her gentle smile carries a hint of mystery. The rack display of multi-coloured orbs glows brighter, with hundreds more stored on the ground against the wall. Halia begins to feel the same force from earlier, but before she can speak, the merchant offers a pouch, quivering from fragility and old age.
“Take this,” the merchant murmured, a tremble in her voice, “be happy again.” Halia let out a small gasp, almost offended at the merchant’s comment, though she couldn’t deny the underlying truth.
“I’m sorry, but there’s no way I believe in that gimmick, and who said I wasn’t hap—.”
The merchant impatiently put her hand up, “I will explain.”
In an imperfect world filled with good and evil, it begs the question of what life would be like with a perfect recollection of memories—the perfect version of one’s life within one’s mind. From childhood trauma to one’s last vacation, people can create their desired recollections, automatically remembering them alongside their loved ones.
With the merchant’s technology, memories can be extracted from anyone in real-time, then transferred into orbs that buyers can ingest, eternally storing them in their recollection of memories.
“My colleagues and I first gathered a small group of people willing to sell some of their memories and take part in our research,” the merchant exhaled, “Once it was successful, the volunteers’ families caught wind of our business and wanted to take part in it too, with consent.”
Word had spread across many towns in Spain, and she gathered many more memories for others to buy, but the alleged memory extraction equipment is currently nowhere to be seen.
Halia was astounded at the merchant’s story, “I’m guessing the prices are sky high to fund your research and profit from it?”
“Of course, but the mere fact that someone out there is desperate to change their past is reason enough.” The merchant again offers the small pouch, “You observe me out of curiosity but also because you truly long for something that this may help you with.”
She insists that Halia take the pouch free of charge since she is skeptical about the merchant’s business, but what makes her think Halia is in need of a new memory?
Halia peeked in the pouch simultaneously while walking away from the booth; when she stopped to turn around, the merchant was no longer there. She tucked the pouch in her pocket and decided to go to Parque Albufera, known for its beautiful waters and pier.
Halia sits on a bench by the calm water, trying to understand everything she was told. Was the merchant telling the truth, or was it a trick for Halia to return to the booth for more?
She takes the pouch from her pocket and loosens the drawstring to pour the orb onto her palm. The small orb is in its golden glory and glowing as bright as the sun, possibly holding the memory Halia may truly need. A preview of the memory plays inside the orb, but it’s too small to decipher it.
Halia pops the orb into her mouth like a pill, potentially sending her into oblivion.
The sun was setting low on the horizon, painting the sky in shades of pink and gold as Halia and her family gathered for an evening picnic at Parque Albufera. For Halia, it was a moment frozen in time, a piece of her childhood preserved in the warm glow of the sunset.       
She dances across the field of grass, relishing its softness beneath her feet as her family finds a spot to settle near the lake, their laughter being carried by the gentle breeze and rustled leaves. The air was alive with the scent of lavender and the promise of summer.
As the family settled onto a checkered blanket spread across the ground, Halia’s heart swelled with warmth at the sight of her parents' smiles. All worries and troubles were forgotten for a moment as they basked in the simple joy of being together.
Halia’s mother laughed, “Halia, sweetheart, make sure you eat before you play.” She kissed the top of her head, enabling Halia to cherish this moment even more.
“We must eat,” Halia’s father said before swooping her into the air, “but not before flying high!”
While her mother arranges the food from the picnic basket, Halia’s father carries her through the field on his shoulders. Halia’s arms were outstretched like wings, soaring through the field while the breeze caressed her face and tousled her deep brown hair.
“Can you touch the sun, mi amor?”
Halia gazes at the sunset ahead, reaching in front of her, “I see it! I see it!”
         Eventually, they sit next to her mother, now with a colourful spread of sandwiches, fresh fruit, crackers, and more. The family feasts, with unconditional love twirling in their hearts as they savour each bite together—the sour olives, the juicy strawberries, and the bittersweetness of this memory.
         Halia’s mother lovingly looked into her eyes and then into her husband’s as if they were the only people in her life who mattered, her gaze holding a depth of affection and warmth that enveloped them long after the sun had set. She gently brushed Halia’s cheek and smiled weakly, “Los amo a ambos eternamente”(I love you both eternally).
Halia was their greatest treasure, more precious to them than any jewel or pretty flower. She was their entire universe—sun, moon and stars—yet their time as a family felt too fleeting.
Halia’s mother had abandoned them a week later, and nobody heard from her again.
Halia drifts back into reality, tears tracing paths down her face. She misses her mother deeply, yet fury simmers at her sudden disappearance. How could someone love her mother so profoundly but hate her just the same? The picnic memory now consumes the forefront of her mind, like a parasite thriving within. Her mind was penetrated by this glowing orb, causing a pounding headache that she credits the merchant for. She couldn’t believe that the memory business was real, and consuming the orb only opened a Pandora’s box of emotions.
Halia longingly gazes at the lake, the sun nearly hidden from the sky by the water and the wind energetically stirring the waves. Why would the merchant give her a memory she already had? More importantly, how did the merchant possess this memory if her operation is founded based on consent? She didn’t understand how any of this was possible, but she knew the merchant would be the only person with answers.
She snaps out of her thoughts when her cell phone suddenly rings.
“Hola Halia? This is Vithas Hospital. We’re calling about your father…”
The summer market is already busy with customers the next morning since it’s the last day of celebration. Despite its last day, the sun fails to watch over the market, casting a bleak sky full of heavy clouds. Halia rushes to find the merchant, pushing through crowds and dodging produce crates and cars. Her mind spins with conflicted emotion, unsure of what she will say or do to the merchant.
After what feels like an eternity, Halia spots the merchant’s booth in the distance, a different place than yesterday. She makes a beeline for the booth, her sensations manifesting into a mix of anger and disdain with each determined step.
At the booth, the merchant is handing another pouch to a customer, her figure still concealed by the dark velvet cloak and character veiled in ambiguity. Halia immediately cuts the next customer off and stands before the merchant, tears swelling.
“W- what were you trying to do to me?” she stammers.
The merchant clasps her hands on the counter, “You came back. You needed the memory, didn’t you?”
Halia was enraged at the merchant’s disregard, “You gave me a memory, my own memory of my parents and me, right before my mother had abandoned us. Why would I possibly want to rekindle that experience again?!”
“To remind you of how much your parents loved you,” the merchant responds calmly, glancing at the display of memories. “I normally provide memories that are different from the customer’s current recollection, but I sell memories that can also evoke forgotten ones to remind people of their own experiences.”
The merchant attempts to reach out and hold Halia’s hands, to which she recoils, rejecting the gesture.
“My father passed away late last night, and instead of being there while he was still alive, I was living in your godforsaken memory.”
“My condolences,” the merchant’s voice unsteady, “I can’t imagine the pain you’re in.”
After Halia’s phone call to the hospital, she raced there with a pounding heart, eventually greeted by her breathless father lying on the hospital bed. The echo of a flatline reverberated through the room, and his frail form was barely recognizable from the loving man she once knew. The man who raised her alone for the past twenty years had left this Earth in a split second but now rests peacefully in the clouds with the sun and stars. He died of natural causes and was found by the neighbour when he wasn’t answering his phone.
“You say you can alter people’s recollections of memories to give them the satisfaction of having perfect ones,” Halia’s gaze drifts down to her hands, “but it consumes people and takes away the experiences and memories they can make now.”
 “Halia, I know it seems unethical, but—”
Halia suddenly looks at the merchant, eyes widened with growing suspicion.
“I never told you my name.”
The merchant fell silent.
“Take your hood off.”
“I can’t. The brightness hurts—”
“Do it. Or I will.”
The merchant removes her hood, revealing thin, gray hair and the rest of her aging features. Her eyes, however, spoke a thousand words and loving gazes, striking Halia with immense familiarity and shock.
Her voice cracks, “Mami?
The merchant, her mother rather, looked at her pleadingly, hoping for her forgiveness.
“This is why I left, mi amor. I made this ground-breaking discovery and wanted to share it to get closer to you eventually…to make you remember our shared memories,” her mother frowns, “I’m truly sorry.”
 Halia is rendered speechless. This is how her mother reappears in her life after twenty years. She left her beloved daughter and husband to pursue a passion for fixing people’s memories, disregarding all the memories she missed with her own family.
“Mami, this doesn’t just change things!” Halia’s fury burns within, “You’re so consumed with all this that you missed seeing your daughter grow up! I can’t even look at you…”
Halia begins to walk away when her mother abruptly seizes her head, slamming it on the counter and injecting a sedative into her neck.
“Hey! What are you—”
Her vision begins to fade as she collapses to the ground, seeing her mother tower over her.
“I’m sorry, mi amor,” her mother says, hoisting Halia’s body up, “if you can’t accept my apology, other people can make better use of your memories. You weren’t satisfied anyways.”
In the Memory Market, where minds are on display and hearts are for sale, lives an ideal of manipulation and deceit as a vessel to control public sentiment. Perfection comes at a cost, and the currency of reminiscence has confronted a society addicted to perfect memories and escapism. Valencia, a town that once breathed life and legendary traditions, has sold itself to a future based on a façade of manufactured nostalgia.
As for Halia, she fell victim to the system invented by her own mother, suffering the bitter consequences of her quest for flawless memories.

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