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The Arithmetic of Memory

Ira felt unsettled all night after talking to Andrea. She had that effect on many people. He was sufficiently uneasy that he stopped in at the Stars n' Garters after his shift ended, which he almost never did.

"Ira, honey, it's been forever!" Flo said when he walked through the door. All heads inevitably turned to him.

There was the Tinkerer, crouching over his table like he'd done every day for the past decade, putting things together and taking them apart, and drinking cup after cup of decaf coffee. There was Damned Yankee, who read the newspaper with the same type of magnifying glass Ira used, for much the same reasons. There was Madame Destiny, reading her cards and sipping one of those flavored Italian sodas the SnG got in just for her. And there was...

"Hey there, Mr. Metro," said Lady Justice with a smile, combing her thinning, straggling white hair out of her face. "Long time, no see. Whyn't you sit with me?"

He let Flo herd him to the Lady's table and give him coffee. "Thanks, darlin'," he said with a drawl. "How's things?"

"Same old," Lady Justice said. "How's Suzanne doing?"

"Overworked," he said. "Poor kid. I keep asking her if she wants to take some time for herself in the evenings, but she always come right home."

"Sounds depressed," she said. "Not surprising. Josh the same as always?"

"Yep," Ira said, smiling gratefully at Flo as she dealt his favorite breakfast -- two eggs over easy, hash browns, and scrapple -- onto the table. "New girl's doing his PT."

"Anything happening at the Y?" Lady Justice took a sip of coffee. "Big girl came in here the other day, had the look of the Y."

"Oh, her," Ira said. "She's Maggie Tottenham's daughter! Pretty girl, isn't she?"

"The Amazon's kid?" Lady Justice said. "Thought she looked familiar. Darker, of course. Wonder if she's the new spandex in town."

"New spandex?" Ira asked through a mouthful of hash browns.

"Can't be," Madame Destiny said, waving a card in their general direction. "Didn't you see the photo of the new girl in the paper? Doesn't look a thing like her."

"Oh," Lady Justice said. "I haven't been reading lately. Nice girl, Ira. You talk to her much?"

"Nope," he said. "She comes in and goes out and..." He paused, frowning. "And, well, she didn't come in at all last night."

"Kids," Lady Justice said with a careless gesture.

"She's fine, Ira," Madame Destiny said. "She was with friends. See? Two of Cups. Well," she added, peering at the card, "she was with a friend at least."

"Hah," Lady Justice said. "Don't fret about her, Ira."

"I won't," he said, drinking his coffee. "How's your kids, Lady?"

"Two just went into spandex and two came out," she said, finishing her cup and holding it out for a refill. "Mike's up in New York, Janna's in Orlando. Bob's got a second kid in the chute, so he tells me that he's giving up the Justice mask to Mike. And Tony's finally got his business off the ground, so he doesn't have time."

"You still go out at all?" he asked.

"Oh, god, no, Ira," she said. "I told you that last time. I've been off the rooftops for five years now. Should've been off five years before that."

He felt his ears burn. How could he have forgotten that they were so old? It was just like old times, though, and that kind of forgetting was happening to him more and more often.

Their conversation became even more innocuous after this, and he finished up and paid. He walked the ten blocks home as quickly as he could.

Suzanne was waiting at the door. "Sorry, hon," Ira said as she passed him, running for the car.

"Don't worry about it," she said, and she was gone.

He trudged inside, dropped his nametag, keys, and wallet in the dish by the door, and stood staring down the hall for a long moment. Then, with a heavy sigh, he walked into Josh's room.

"Hey, boy," he said, picking up Josh's angular body with care. "Met up with Lady Justice this morning." He carried him into the bathroom. "I'm gettin' old, boy. I wish I could remember regular conversations like I remember your mother."

He usually tried to talk more as he cleaned Josh up, but that morning, chatter just didn't come to him. He was turning over spandex, and Andrea, and Lizzie, and Lady Justice, and even the damned Tinkerer over in his head. He thought about Damned Yankee, whose conversation lasted about five minutes before repeating these days, and wondered how long it would be before his own brains turned to that sort of paranormal porridge. How much help would he be to Suzanne then? Had it already happened and no one was paying attention?

He tucked Josh in and turned away to stare at the box with the temporal locks on it, wondering if he felt like reading his memories of Lizzie today.

Behind him, a rusty voice said, "Dad?"


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