August’s theme was Forgotten in Time.
You are Danielle. You live in terror, forced to relive the same moment of your husband’s gruesome death over and over.
Forget Me Not
by Ian Williams
You hear Ryan screaming again, hear his voice become taut and strained as the life leaves him. A feeling of falling is made worse because you know you’ll hit the ground a second later. Then, when you do, it’s like the sky has come crashing down upon you. You hear something crack inside your own head, but you don’t feel a thing. Something has broken, something you know will leave you less than what you were before.
Breathing is difficult now, slowing to a shallow intake and delayed exhale. A warmth radiates throughout your body that seems to be getting stronger as Ryan becomes weaker. You wish you could reach out to him, that you could touch him somehow, feel his presence before it is gone. But you can’t move now.
Eventually you’ve faded, strayed too far from consciousness and not even Ryan’s last breath registers with you. It’s all a dream, happening somewhere else, somewhere far away. The pain, both physical and emotional, can’t touch you here, where the world is peaceful and strangely comforting. Are you dead? Is this what comes next?
“Danielle, Danielle, can you hear us?” A voice from beyond this dark place. Someone is speaking to you, trying to draw you back to existence. You try your best to acknowledge them, to show them you’re willing to return to life. But how to show it?
A finger twitches. Was that you, or someone else rousing a response? It twitches again and this time you know it’s you doing it. The relief overwhelms you, makes you want to cry, but that’s still beyond your abilities. For now, you’re stuck waiting for the strength to return to your body.
That time comes quicker than you’d anticipated. Suddenly your world is awash with bright, painful light that burns your pupils into submission. The light is there whether you want it to be or not.
Another voice speaks, this time with a neutral tone. “Danielle, try to follow the light.”
You want to do as he says, want to comply if it means the end of the nightmare. As the light swings one way, then the other, and back again, you at first miss it as it leaves direct sight. But then, when the doctor tries the same again, you keep it in view.
“She’s coming around.” Said not as a happy statement, but one full of foreboding, suggesting a difficult next stage.
“Danielle, it’s me, it’s Judy.” You recognise your sisters voice, notice the lack of the normal joviality too. “Please, wake up.”
You do wake up, as though Judy’s wish has been granted and you’ve returned to her. You know you’ve been saved, kept away from Death’s embrace. Except, you’re not quite sure if this is better, because only now does the pain arrive like some cruel punchline to a shitty joke.
The side of your head feels like it’s about to explode. Where before the inside remained an unknown bulk, the internal workings going on without much of a connection to the outside, now it’s as if the two have been smashed together. Yet the pain on the outside is different to the pain on the inside.
You soon realise it’s because the pain inside is unquantifiable. It defies measuring. The pain is emotional. Before you can say anything, you burst into tears. They feel like boiling hot molten lead as they stream out, each one more painful than the last. You can’t stop the flood, not even sure if you want to try. They have to come out as quickly as possible, so quick in fact, that you’ve forgotten to breath too.
“Take a breath,” the doctor says. Now you can see him, but his image is distorted by the liquid in your eyes. You blink to clear your vision, only to find it blurry almost immediately afterwards. “You’ve been through a traumatic experience.”
“Where’s Ryan.” The words are yours, even though you can’t remember coming up with them yourself. Even so, the question is all that matters to you now. Your entire world has ceased to exist until you get an answer from the frowning faces. You ignore the looks of fear shared between your sister and the doctor.
Judy sits on the bed beside you, places a gentle hand on yours. The sensation of her touch is distant, numbed by a mixture of painkillers. She looks at you for only a short while before it’s too much for her to bear to see you like this. Then she answers, and you wish she hadn’t.
“Ryan is dead.” She’s crying for you now, her tears yours but passing through her instead.
The shock of hearing this makes you sick to the stomach, as if a part of you has been removed, thrown away. Ryan was your soul mate, your only true love. Losing him is like being split in two. You’re left as one half of a whole.
“I’m so sorry, Danielle,” Judy says, squeezing your hand so hard you can feel the bones almost cracking under the pressure. Tears dry on your face as you struggle to believe any of this is real. Maybe this is the real nightmare; what comes after the accident that has broken your heart and body, and mind.
The doctor stands at the end of your bed, where you find yourself staring. “You are lucky to be alive, Danielle.” Lucky! You curse him internally at the suggestion that this could be called lucky. But you don’t say a thing. Your eyes are locked on nothing, cemented in place. Devastation will come to you soon enough, though for now you can’t even comprehend how it will manifest itself. Anger, perhaps?
Coldly, without a flicker of emotion, like you’ve buried them alive beneath ten feet of soil, you ask, “What happened?”
That shared look again. Judy and the doctor are conspiring to keep details from you, details you know already, but can’t bear to think of. You hate them for doing this, then love them for saving you from it.
“You need to concentrate on healing,” the doctor says. “You’ve a broken right leg, three broken ribs and a torn ligament…” he pauses as something in the folder he’s reading from catches his attention. “There’s also a large build-up of pressure in your skull, possibly a bleed too. We’ll need to keep an eye on that. For now, though, you need to recover.”
A bleed on your brain? Even with an overwhelming sense that none of this can be real, you’re worried to hear that part. That crack you’d heard inside your head, as your body came to rest on the side of the road, must have been something bad. Now you’re scared it has left you less than what you were before.
You need sleep, you need to recover. You’re too scared to shut your eyes, though, in case you won’t ever wake up again.
Ryan is beside you, walking at the same gentle pace. It’s been the perfect day and you feel lighter than air, like you could float all the way home. Things couldn’t get better than this. The sun is shining as you walk this country road, banked by tall trees on either side, and the wind is cool, countering the hot sun.
You say something about wishing every day could be like this, then you hear a sound that freezes the moment in time. It comes from behind you, a screaming banshee that heightens your senses and focuses your mind. When it hits, you feel your feet leave the ground instantly. Now you really are lighter than air.
As the trees spin all around you and the sky becomes a moving object, you wish for Ryan to catch you. But Ryan won’t catch you this time, because Ryan has been pinned against a tree. You hear his scream, a distant cry all but drowned out by the wind rushing passed your ears.
Then you land at the side of the road.
A blink and it all disappears. You call out for Ryan, willing him to be okay, that maybe he had gotten out, but he’s not there. He’s not in the hospital room with you, not beside you and waiting for you to wake up. Did he survive the accident? If he did, where is he?
You try to get out of the bed, feeling strangely okay after such a terrible ordeal, then find yourself stuck. Your leg is in a cast, restricting your movements. When did they have time to do that? To you it’s only been a second between landing on the dirt covered ground and waking up here.
Your sister Judy enters the room to find you half out of bed. “Danielle, what are you doing? Please, get back in bed.”
“What happened?” You ask her, ignoring the fresh flowers in your sister’s hands. “Where’s Ryan?”
“Let’s get you back in bed, shall we? Don’t want the doctor to tell you off.”
Why is she being so calm? You were nearly killed only a few hours ago and yet she’s acting like nothing happened at all. This angers you. You wonder if she even knows what’s going on.
“I want to see Ryan,” you say as an order not a request.
“Dani,” she replies, sitting beside you on the bed, “something terrible happened to you. Do you remember any of it?”
“Of course I do, it only happened yesterday.”
Judy stops you there by taking your hand and holding it in her lap. “No, Dani, it didn’t.”
The confusion gives you a headache. You can tell something else is going on here, that somehow, you’re missing the truth. It’s hard to tell if the shock is blinding you, or if something worse is going on.
“I don’t understand. Please, just tell me, where’s Ryan? Is he okay?” You see the signs there on Judy’s face, you know Ryan isn’t okay. “Is he…?”
“I’m sorry, I’m so, so sorry. He’s gone.”
She must be wrong, you tell yourself. “No. Ryan can’t be gone, he just can’t. I only saw him yesterday.”
“No, you didn’t. The accident happened almost a month ago. Ryan was buried last week. We took you to the funeral.” She tells you this, but the words don’t enter your head properly, they just hover around the periphery like gnats. You swat them away every time they try to enter your ears. You don’t want to hear this.
Crying uncontrollably, but only about losing Ryan, you feel yourself slipping under a cover of heartbreak. It surrounds you, fills your lungs, smothers you until you can’t breathe anymore. The air can’t get past your teeth, it’s getting caught on your tongue. You know you didn’t go to any funeral. How could you have? You were obviously in a coma for the past few weeks.
So why is she lying to you?
Judy pulls you toward her, into an embrace you need but don’t want. At first you push her away, then you fall into her, your head finding a resting place on her shoulder. You’re both crying now, although you get the sense that Judy is crying less than you’d expected.
“Have I been asleep all that time?”
Holding you at arm’s length, Judy stares into your eyes, searching the inside of your head for something that should be there but isn’t. So, what is missing?
“Dani,” she says, sighing loudly, “We’ve had this conversation everyday since you woke up. That was 25 days ago.”
“What are you talking about? I’ve only just woken up … haven’t I?”
You watch your sister walk to the door and all the time you’re pleading her with your eyes to tell you what’s going on.
“I’ll get the doctor, he’ll explain it to you.”
You’ll soon get the answers you need, but you won’t have them for long. They aren’t yours to own.
“Ryan! Ryan! Say something!” The words come out sounding like you’re talking under water. Everything looks washed out, even your blood-stained hands. There’s pain throughout your entire body now, like someone is breaking it into pieces and placing each piece out of your reach. First, they take your legs, then your back, shoulders, arms, until only your head remains.
Fighting against the pain in your head, the fluid you feel dripping from your ears, you turn your head toward where Ryan is. He’s stopped moving now, his head flopped to the side. You’re horrified to see how much of him is embedded in the tree; he’s become a part of it. The car still pinning him in place is streaming hot gas into the air, from where the bonnet and Ryan’s chest meet.
You scream, but the sound doesn’t do a thing; Ryan isn’t moving anymore, and he won’t do from this day onwards. The thought of continuing without him is too much to even contemplate. Life without him will be too hard, you tell yourself as you close your eyes.
When you open them again the world has changed suddenly. You panic, trying desperately to understand where you are. One moment you were dying, the next you’re lying in a clean hospital bed, with your sister Judy rearranging new flowers in a vase by the window and her boyfriend sitting in a chair, reading a newspaper.
“Where am I?” You ask, the contradiction of the two scenes—of the accident and the hospital—breaking your sense of reality. Is this a dream? You ask yourself.
You sit up too fast and become dizzy.
“It’s okay, Dani, you’re in hospital. There’s nothing to worry about,” Judy says, bringing the vase over to your bed and placing it on a table beside you. There’s not even a hint of upset in her voice, or face.
You start to cry. The image of Ryan’s startled face, frozen in an expression you can’t really understand, of a painful awareness, always there now. You curse yourself for suggesting you both took a walk on such a beautiful day. Although the weather outside now is very different to that.
“What’s the matter, Dani?”
“The accident; I think it killed Ryan.” You’re not sure how, but you can somehow feel he’s not alive anymore, like you’ve sensed it.
Judy’s boyfriend—you can’t remember his name because, to you, they’ve only been together two weeks—folds his newspaper and heads to the door. “I’ll get the doctor.”
“No,” Judy says, “it’s about time I explained this to her myself.”
You hate the way they’re talking about you like you aren’t there. Somewhere, hidden deep in Judy’s voice, you also pick up on a frustrated tone. It doesn’t make sense to you why that might be. Is she annoyed with you? Doesn’t she see the pain you’re in?
The weight builds on your chest, you can feel it there, feel it pushing against your every breath. You quickly go from crying tears of anguish to forcing out tears of rage at how cruelly the word has treated you.
“What can you remember about the accident?” Judy asks, but you don’t hear her speaking. You’re too busy trying to calm yourself down. The horror of what you’ve faced is playing on repeat inside your head. Was the accident partly your fault?
“Dani?” Judy’s boyfriend says. Dani? When did he start calling you Dani? You don’t know him well enough for that. “Do you need a minute?”
You choose not to acknowledge this intruder, this unfamiliar being that talks to you like a friend. “I want to see Ryan, now!”
“Shut up! Stop calling me that,” You shout straight into Judy’s boyfriend’s face. Even though he’s the other side of the room to you, you hope he feels the air heating up between you. “What happened to Ryan? Someone better tell me right now, or so help me…”
For some reason your demand pisses Judy off. She grabs the end of the bed and becomes physical with it, like the harder the squeeze the angrier she is. “Ryan’s dead. He’s dead, all right?”
“Hey, hey, take it easy, Judy,” her boyfriend says, taking her in his arms.
The news comes as a shock, and yet it’s not one at the same time. You can’t decide whether to cry more or tell everyone to leave you alone. But then, do you really want to be alone in your grief?
“I was wrong, Jack. I can’t do this, not yet,” Judy says.
“Do what?” You interrupt with, not interested in playing this stupid game any longer.
Judy talks to you, but she can’t look at you now. “I can’t cope with this, with having to see you repeat the same day over, and over, and over… You’re stuck, like a broken record replaying the same tune every day.”
“I don’t understand what you’re saying. I’ve only just woken up.”
That turns out to be the wrong thing to say. Judy bursts into tears and runs out the room, leaving her boyfriend, Jack, standing there staring at you. You have no idea what to say to him. In the end, you fall back onto the bed and dry your eyes on the pillow. Closing your eyes, you see Ryan again, but this time he’s smiling at you.
“Why don’t we walk home?” You say, watching the clouds float by, the little white puffs making faces or animals above you.
Ryan laughs, then rests his head against the back of the bench seat you’re both sitting on. He holds your hand, squeezing it gently. “Could do.” He never was one to say much, part of the reason why you’re certain you love him.
“Come on, it’ll do us good.”
But it didn’t do Ryan any good.
You wake up to a dark room, one you don’t recognise as your own. A sudden fear, that this is where your life ends, overwhelms you. The sensation comes from the back of your head, then floods the front, until you’re certain something terrible is about to happen. A calmer part of your brain tells you this is all residue feelings from the horrific incident you faced only a second earlier. Unfortunately, that part of you isn’t in control.
Thrashing out at the blackness around you, you eventually make contact with the wall. It’s closer than it should be, and it hurts like hell when your knuckles hit it. But the pain is quickly overpowered by confusion. Where the hell are you?
“Hello? Hello? Anyone, please.”
Your words echo back to you, forcing a sense of claustrophobia. The walls feel like they are coming inwards, invading your space an inch at a time. You see Ryan’s ghost-like face flying at you from all angles. But seeing him doesn’t scare you, it calms you a little instead.
The door to your small room is forced open and the light outside streams in. There, standing in the doorway, wearing a nightie and barefoot, is your sister Judy. “What’s wrong, Dani?”
“Where is this? What happened to me?”
Slowly, as the light explores the room, you begin to recognise things around you. On the bedside cabinet is a photo of you and Ryan, of that time he surprised you on your birthday. You’re both happy as you blow out the candles, surrounded by your family. On the wall opposite, there’s the painting Ryan painted of you.
“It’s okay, Dani. You’re here with me and Jack.”
This place is strangely familiar, even though you think you’ve never been there before. It’s like someone has picked up the important things from your home and brought them there; a transplant. Someone wants you to treat this place like home. But that can never happen, if Ryan isn’t there with you.
“Is Ryan okay?” You ask, fearing the worst.
Jack is now there, in the hall. You see him there and feel terrible that you don’t remember his name. It’s not your fault, though, because Judy and Jack haven’t been together for that long. But wait, they’re both wearing a wedding ring. Did they get married the day the accident happened? You know that doesn’t make sense.
There’s no answer about Ryan, so you go on with your questions. “How did I get here.”
“You moved in with us, while you were recovering. Now you live here, with Jack and I. Do you know how long it’s been since your accident?”
“I don’t know,” you say, being completely honest with her and yourself. “Maybe a week or two. Was I in a coma?”
“Not quite. Listen, Dani, this will be hard for you to hear—God knows it’s been hard each time so far. But the accident happened nearly a year ago now.”
“What?! No, that’s wrong. I was there only a few minutes ago.” Flinging the covers off your sweat drenched body, you head out the room, brushing awkwardly past Jake—or was it Jack?
“Hey, where are you going, Dani?” Judy chases you into the lounge as you try to find your bearings. “Come back to bed, please, it’s three in the morning. Why don’t we go back to bed and start again tomorrow?”
“No, I need to go home. Ryan might be there waiting for me. Oh Christ, what if he’s badly hurt.” The sentence feels strange as it leaves your mouth; of course Ryan was badly hurt, you saw him bleeding out. You’re too confused to listen to logic right now, though.
You search for your clothes—you were wearing jeans and a red shirt yesterday, weren’t you—but your progress is halted by Judy, who blocks your path.
“Ryan’s fine,” she says. “He was hurt, but he’s recovering at home right now.”
“Judy. Don’t do that, it’s not fair on her,” Jack says. He’s pouring himself a drink in a kitchen you’ve never seen before now.
“Please, Jack, help me get her back to bed. We can do this properly again tomorrow.”
Their conversation doesn’t make a lick of sense to you. You don’t care, though, because Ryan survived the accident. Where before you felt a void forming between your ribs, like a giant hole had appeared there, one that could never be filled in; now you feel only relief. The wave of emotion is still enough to break you in two.
You fall to the floor. Judy rushes over and cradles you there on the soft carpet. “You’re okay, Dani, you’re okay now. Let’s just get you to bed now, shall we?” She sounds like Mum now, that caring tone one you can still hear in your mind. If she was still alive, Dad too, you know they would be there for you.
“Okay.” You agree for now, but only because you have a condition for doing so. “Can we go see Ryan tomorrow?”
“Sure, we can.” She sends a violent shake of her head Jack’s way. He’s clearly got something to say, sees something he doesn’t like seeing. You’re glad he’s keeping it to himself.
Back in bed, you revisit the painting and the photo, like you can time travel back to those moments in your life. Unfortunately, your last major memory is still of the accident, and it will be so for a while to come.
You just hope things will be easier tomorrow.
“Help him, someone please help him!” A shout in the distance. Then you realise it’s you shouting, that it’s your voice sounding like a stranger’s.
Someone is running over to you, but they can’t hear you over the car horn and the crackling fire that’s erupted nearby. You beg them silently to get to Ryan first, to check he’s still alive. The last time you heard his voice, it didn’t sound like he would remain breathing for long. They can see to you next.
You collapse finally, unable to breath freely, and then you lose consciousness.
“Dani, time to wake up.”
Opening your eyes, you’re unable to understand why your sister is there, sitting beside you on the bed and holding a cup of tea. She offers it to you. When you look at her with furrowed brows and half open mouth, she concedes and puts the cup on the table next to your bed. Your bed? You realise that’s not right. This a single bed.
“Where am I?”
“Home,” Judy says, as if that should make sense.
Before you think of what to ask next—about Ryan, or the accident—you notice something impossible. Judy is pregnant! Seeing this snaps your mind in two. Time has moved on since the accident, but somehow you haven’t. A gasp claims your voice, takes it away to a place you can’t reach.
Exasperated, you place a hand gently on Judy’s belly.
“I’m due in three months,” she says. Seeming to understand your confusion better than you do, she continues, “Jack and I got married four and a half years ago. Your accident happened five years ago, Dani. This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about this. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
You don’t, or can’t, understand any of this. A huge gap in time is there where your memories should be. But, even though admitting it makes you feel sick to the pit of your stomach, you can’t deny it could be true. There’s physical evidence to back it up after all. Judy is pregnant; she wasn’t last time you remember speaking to her.
It surprises you that there are no tears in your eyes, as though there aren’t any left in your whole body. Have you cried them all out and don’t recall? It’s now a possibility, although one your brain has difficulty processing.
You take your sisters hand and put it in yours. The motion is one with dual purpose: one for comfort, the other to prove this is real. There’s warmth there, which comforts you.
Your mind then turns to Ryan. If he’s alive, if he survived the accident, then where is he? If time has moved on for everyone else, has it for him too? You picture him at home, watching telly or reading a book on the pass-me-down sofa Judy gave you. But then someone else, a woman that’s not you, walks up to him and sits beside him. Your mind has played a horrific trick on you.
A terrible thought comes to you and you’re ashamed by it: would you rather Ryan had died then to see him with another woman? Not knowing his fate leaves him in a strange limbo, one you must save him from.
“Did Ryan die in the accident?”
Judy nods, then quickly swings into action, somehow knowing exactly what to say to stop you descending into a quiet hell inside your own head. “Would you like to see him? We’ve got all your photos and videos from home.”
Before you’ve answered, Judy has already dug out an iPad and is flicking through the screens. She finds the images on what you realise is your device and brings a collection up on the screen. Things you remember happening just yesterday appear there for you. But they’re somehow old images to Judy.
“Look,” she says, turning the tablet around, “there’s you and Ryan together in the garden. He cooked everyone BBQ chicken and burgers; do you remember that day?”
You do, and it makes you smile, even though you’ve just lost Ryan forever. Having him there looking at you through the screen isn’t the same, you know. For now, though, it’s enough. It’s hard to grieve when the loss doesn’t feel real. And to you it isn’t even close to feeling real yet.
The two of you sit there for an hour and a half going through every image you and Ryan ever took together. Doing this has distracted you from the welling up of emotional pain that hides just behind your calm facade. You’re grateful for Judy for softening the blow, even if it is only a temporary measure. You know you’ll have to cry sooner or later.
You sip warm, sugary tea and share a small plate of biscuits. It begins to feel normal to you, just like all those other times you and Judy talked, about anything and everything. You’re even able to put aside those feelings telling you this is wrong.
But then, in the end, you knew it wouldn’t last forever.
When an image appears that Judy has forgotten to remove, your eyes become wide and your mouth turns dry. The photo is of you and Ryan at the park together. It’s a nice day, with hardly a cloud in the sky and happy faces everywhere. You remember taking the photo of the two of you sitting together on the bench, of the suggestion to walk home that came only seconds later too.
“Shit, shit, I’m sorry, Dani. I didn’t…”
You’re stunned into silence, numbed by the sight of that day. The photo makes the accident a reality and brings only pain and images of horrific injuries to your mind. You become hysterical with grief and feel your body react violently. You’re torn in two, split down the middle, the two halves detached from one another. All they have in common now is the image of Ryan’s terrifyingly brutal end.
Finally, the tears have arrived; they’d just missed their stop earlier.
“I’ll take that photo out for next time,” Judy says.
You’re thankful to hear that, even if it is a strange thing for your ears to hear. To you the lack of memories from after that terrible day is something you can’t quite believe. It’s a fantasy bourn out of someone’s overactive imagination; someone cruel. You don’t want to ever feel this way again. The idea that you might have to fills you with terror.
“It’s okay, we’ve got you now.” The voice fades into an endless fog, one that’s still there as your eyes clamp shut. You’re then lost to the world.
An alarm rings out beside you. The room you wake up in is strange to you, and much smaller than yours and Ryan’s at home. It all feels like a dream, as though you’ve yet to wake up. This is some between-place, where Ryan is alive and yet dead. You don’t know which, because the last time you saw him, he wasn’t looking good at all.
You’re oddly calm, even though the events that left you less than yourself only just occurred. There’s something comforting about waking up here, like you’ve done it before. You shake that weird feeling off and decide to see where this between-place leads.
On the wall is a painting you remember Ryan doing sometime in the last few weeks. He’d spent hours just staring at you, picking out every part of you he loves and perfecting the parts you don’t. Seeing it there confirms your suspicion, that this room has been created to keep you from erupting in terror at the possibility of losing the man you love.
You know you’re being manipulated, and yet you don’t mind. Whoever is behind it has done so to make things comfortable for you. Whether an altruistic outside force intent on caring for you, or something else, you don’t care. You want to enjoy being safe again, if only for a short while.
At the chime of the clock on the wall—your clock from home, the one Ryan didn’t want but let you buy anyway—you see the time in this between-place is nine in the morning. It’s peaceful here. You can’t hear a constant car horn booming out, or a fire melting metal and setting flakes of flying wood alight, and you’re grateful to the creator of this place once more.
The TV switches itself on and a video begins to play that breaks your sense of safety. It’s you on the screen, sitting in a chair and staring into the camera. You’re now less certain this place is trying to help you stay calm. The between-place is being mean, teasing you for some reason.
“Hello, Dani,” the you on screen says, and it makes your head spin; when did you record this message? “Please don’t panic. Everything will be okay, I promise.”
“What’s going on?” You’re speaking to yourself! You must be going crazy, you tell yourself. Frustratingly, the you on screen doesn’t seem to see your confusion. Does the other you understand the ordeal you’ve just been through? It occurs to you that there’s not even a scratch on your body. How could you have seen such a thing and not been hurt at all?
“You’ve been ill for some time, Dani. This video was recorded to help explain what’s been happening. I can hardly understand it myself. Judy decided to make this message, in case she can’t be there when you wake up. You see, the accident, the one I know you’ll swear happened yesterday, really happened over ten years ago.” The you on screen appears to struggle with that idea as much as you do. But she carries on. “Now, this next bit will be very tough to hear, so make sure you’re sitting down, okay… Ryan, he didn’t make it.”
“Shut up! Don’t say that,” You yell at the screen. But you can’t disagree with yourself, can you?
The you onscreen wipes tears from her eyes, copying your action almost exactly. The mirror image isn’t mirroring you, though, the move was merely a coincidence. Still, it makes you a little paranoid, like there is something sinister going on here.
“The reason you can’t remember anything after the accident is because there’s something wrong with your brain.” The you in the video clasps her hands together. “It’s called Anterograde Amnesia. It means you can’t create new memories. That’s why the last thing you remember each time you wake up is the accident. We’re trapped, frozen in that moment, even though it happened so long ago.”
You want, more than anything, for this to make some kind of sense to you, but it doesn’t. All it does is anger you, to the point that you want to throw something at the TV, just to stop the other you from saying anything else. You can’t care less if the answers are there, you don’t want them. You just want Ryan back, to hear him tell you he loves you again.
“Poor Judy has watched us do this, day in, day out, for over ten years. She’s been by your side this whole time. That’s why you’ve woken up in a place you don’t recognise, because she’s looked after you in her own home, even while trying to build her own life.
“Anyway, things are organised to make this easy for you to get your head around. There’s a schedule to stick to, one that stops this from becoming too much to cope with. But there is an important rule to stick to: absolutely no TV, especially news channels; it will only confuse you. Cry, get angry, shout, laugh, do whatever feels right. But please try not to swear; you’ll scare Bonny.”
Who’s Bonny? You ask. Did they really mean for that part to be in there?
“Oh shit, you won’t remember her yet. Judy, shall we start the video again?”
“No, that’ll do fine.” You hear Judy’s voice from off camera.
The screen turns off, leaving you worrying about the person about to enter the room. You can hear the footsteps, and the flip-flop sound of slippers. It has to be Judy coming, if what the other you told you was true.
“Mummy?” The child says as she wanders into the room. She can’t be more than four, appears a little unsteady on her tiny feet.
Strangely, you’ve become exhausted and can feel the world pressing down upon you. But it doesn’t take you out of this moment, not even for a nanosecond. Staring into the kid’s giant eyes, you can see she knows you already. You’ve met before, you just can’t remember.
Judy comes rushing into the room and freezes when she sees you’re awake. There’s a joy present in her face, and a warmth to her cheeks, and yet all you can focus on is the streaks of grey in her hair. The Judy you knew never looked as much like Mum as she does there. She’s aged, you realise you must have too.
“Dani, how do you feel?”
“In a minute, honey,” Judy says, sweeping the child up into her arms.
You have no idea how to reply. Only moments ago, you were dying beside the grassy banks of a country road. Something had broken inside your head, something you knew would leave you less than what you were before. This is so far from that moment, in time and tone, that it feels somehow fake, like you’re watching a movie.
Judy looks at the TV. “Did it play? Do you understand what’s going on?”
“I… I think so. Is it true, about Ryan?” It doesn’t sound right coming out of your mouth. There’s signs all around you telling you this must be reality, you just can’t quite see them clearly yet.
Judy nods. “It’s okay, you’ll get there soon. Remember, this isn’t the first time this has happened.” She turns to place the child in the hallway, then turns back again. “Would you like to meet Bonny? She knows you already, calls you Dania.”
You want to hold Bonny in your arms more than anything. A smile finds its way to your face and it won’t go away, despite the devastating loss you’re trying to comprehend.
As Judy places Bonny on the bed beside you, you begin to cry. Bonny doesn’t understand your tears, still she’s happy to sit with you regardless. She looks up at you with curious eyes, her small hands, feet and arms as delicate as you feel.
“She’s beautiful.” You can’t take your eyes off her now. There’s elements you recognise in that tiny little face; the same nose as your sister, and the same funny ears too.
“Dania,” Bonny says. It makes you giggle uncontrollably, even through the streaming moisture running down your cheeks.
“I’ll go make you some tea, shall I?” Judy says. “We’ve got a lot to do today. Lots to show you again.” She’s in the kitchen making your drink before you’ve noticed she’s gone.
“Hello Bonny.” You sit her in front of you while you talk to her. “I’m your auntie. This is a little weird for me. You know me, but I don’t remember you. Don’t take it personally, I don’t remember much of anything.” The thought of every conversation you’ve ever had with Ryan about having kids of your own enters your head and you can’t shake it. You both wanted some, just didn’t know when the right time would be. “I wish you could meet Ryan… Could have, I mean.” It proves to be a painful sentence to speak.
Judy returns with two cups and a toy for Bonny to play with. She wasn’t joking when she said there was lots to do. Tucked under her arm is a folder, full of activities and photos of you both doing them.
“First, we usually go through these photos of the day before and sort them out.”
The folder is heavy and makes its own room on the bed, dragging a corner of the mattress down with it. It’s bulging with pictures. There’s you bowling with Judy, Bonny’s pushchair in the background; there’s one of you eating candyfloss at a fair, and another of you bouncing Bonny on your knee. None of these things are familiar to you, it may as well be someone else in those pictures.
“This is what we did each day of last week,” Judy says. “Monday, we stayed in and watched a movie you always wanted to watch. Well, guess what? You’ve now seen that movie over two-hundred times.” She finds that funnier than you do. To you it’s just odd to think about. “Then, on Tuesday, we went bowling with Bonny and you made her laugh by dropping the ball.”
This all sounds wonderful to you, fantastical even, almost as though it’s all a story Judy’s making up on the spot. Each time she tells you about doing something you have no memory of, you say the words ‘Did I?’ inside your own head. The idea of being so busy when there is grieving to do strikes you as wrong, but you can’t argue with the results; in every photo you’re smiling.
There’s something playing on your mind now, a kind of guilt. “If this has happened every day since the accident, how have you coped? This must be incredibly maddening to have to explain it every day.”
Judy gives you a smile, then sticks her tongue out at Bonny—who finds this hilarious. “You’re my sister. I’d do it for a thousand years more if it helped you. I’ll admit, there were times in the beginning when I didn’t think I could do it. But we’ve worked together over the past ten years, and I think we’ve mastered it.”
A photo slips out of the folder and lands on the floor. You lean over and pick it up.
“Here,” Judy says, holding her hand out.
“No, that’s okay.” You know where it goes already. It’s a photo of you and Bonny in the park, rolling a ball back and forth. That happened yesterday, you remember, so you place it on the correct day.
The action makes Judy scream out load. What did you do wrong?
“No, no, no, no; it has to be a coincidence.”
“What does?” You ask, perplexed and a little scared by your sister’s reaction.
Judy hands you another photo. “Where does this one go?”
“What’s going on?”
“Dani, please, humour me here. We’ve done this like thousands of times and you’ve never gotten a single day right.”
This next photo is of Judy and you at the cinema, the sneaky selfie taken at the back of the screen. You take it, look it over, and become overwhelmed by the sense of deja vu it causes. But you have no idea which day this might have happened on. Maybe getting the first photo right was a fluke after all?
“That’s okay, sis, that’s okay.” Judy sits quietly for a minute, thinking over something that appears too hard to understand. She then leaves the room and returns a moment later with another photo, this one in a fancy frame. “Do you recognise this man?”
Of course you do, that’s Jack! “It’s Jack, isn’t it?” You have no idea where the name has come from, only that a piece of information has arrived from your own memory, one from after the accident.
Judy bursts into tears, and Bonny soon copies her. “You remember, you actually remembered. Do you understand what this means, Dani?”
You don’t, so you shake your head.
“It means you’re getting better!”
Now you’re all crying, and it feels good, finally.