Since he lost his job as an aviation mechanic in the late 1980s, Riggs has been a clerk at the International Repository of Regrets. He hasn't had a good night's sleep in almost ten years.
The Repository, housed in a World War Two-era train depot, is a vast place of bad light and spooky, institutional acoustics. Even in the middle of the night --especially in the middle of the night-- it is always crowded, and the mood there is generally sour and joyless. The crowd is polyglottal, often dizzyingly so.
Some of the people who stand in the long lines are dead, shuffling in place in stepped-down shoes, often clutching photographs –or entire albums of photographs-- to their breasts. Many of the waiting have grown hoarse from a lifetime of rehearsing and fine-tuning their regrets. For the most part, they throw their cigarette butts and the wrappers from the vending machines on the scarred concrete floor.
The International Repository of Regrets is now little but a purely bureaucratic facility, and offers nothing in the way of dispensation, absolution, or second chances. Even as a repository it has long since surrendered any claims of utility.
These days, whatever regrets are unburdened there are merely scribbled haphazardly in the margins of ancient, crowded ledgers, wherever there is room. All attempts at maintaining accurate chronological records have been abandoned.
They will soon enough run out of room entirely, at which point the clerks in their teller's cages will be forced to simply sit and listen, reduced to the role of secular priests, mostly disinterested and concerned not at all with salvation or even compassion.
By now, Riggs had pretty much heard it all before, from the truly criminal to the almost unpardonably banal.
Even so, these latter confessions were the things that continued to haunt him, revealing as they did the cumulative, lingering damage that could result from even the smallest childhood disappointments. For instance, there was, in the wee hours of one long night, the old woman who had stood in line for days to tell Riggs of the heartbreak she had suffered owing to the fact that allergies had made it impossible for her to ever hug a dog. Or the younger man, deceased by the time he made his way to Riggs’ window, who was grief stricken over his lifelong inability to throw a baseball to his father's satisfaction.
Riggs had also encountered individuals --there had been at least a dozen-- whose chief regret in life was one particularly bad haircut.
And so, so many people had stood before Riggs and poured out their regret over elaborately planned surprise parties that had been disastrous or poorly attended.
Most distressingly and unsurprisingly, love --faithless love, tragic love, and love gone wrong, gone cold, or gone missing-- continued to be the reason the overwhelming majority of the broken and beleaguered clientele made the difficult pilgrimage to the International Repository of Regrets. Day after day and night after night Riggs listened to these stories. Unlike some of the other, older clerks, he was incapable of not listening. Sometimes he found himself jotting notes on scraps of paper he carried in his pockets for just this purpose. Personal note taking was strictly forbidden, and the regrets that were offered up at the Repository were never supposed to leave the facility.
Yet Riggs did take these notes. He took them down and he took them home, and he would spend some time studying and mulling them each day at the end of his shift. And then he would put them away in a box he kept under his bed, a box in which he had for 32 years kept a collection of notes and faded greeting cards –old birthday, anniversary, and Valentine cards—that were all addressed to him and signed in the same unmistakable hand.