• Vol. 05
  • Chapter 01

Modern History

They said my amnesia was psychogenic, a switch off from some trauma too painful to recall. At first I was the darling of ward rounds – jittery groups of medical students crowded around my bed as if they could see the space in my brain where memories used to live. Perhaps the memories are still hiding there, knotted and trembling? Weeks turned to months. Brain scans and blood tests stopped. Slender women with clipboards sighed as their attempts to jolt my memories with photographs failed.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said a hundred times a day. This seemed hardwired. Some things are never forgotten.

When they discharged me, I decided to keep the name they gave me. I pretended not to know that they had held a competition on a long lunch break, giggling as first and last names were pulled out of a mug. I sat in the empty flat found by a social worker called Emmy, whose eyes always darted around as if she was constantly checking the shadows for a man with a knife.

The flat was above a chip shop. I breathed in globules of fishy fat. The stink settled into the only clothes I’d known other than a green gown. Emmy pointed me in the direction of three charity shops along the road. My favourite grouped clothing by shade. I was drawn to the huddle of blues. Faded denims, royal blue corduroy, blue that wanted to be green but couldn’t quite make it, in silky slips and hand-knitted horrors. I bought a restricted rainbow with one of my five notes.

At the back of the shop, shelves of knick-knacks sang of lives that were as unknowable as my own. Tiny teacups too small for mouths with handles of scratched gold – perhaps from an elderly lady whose only children were ghosts of the never-born.


Modern History

A medal with a Latin inscription made of a cold metal that warmed in the palm. Maybe clutched under bedclothes to summon a dead lover to dreams, him as young as the day he left for battle with a pristine uniform and false hope? And my favourite – a hand bell in the shape of a maiden, her ballooning gown concealing its true purpose. Could this be what some lady rang again and again, hoping to call a neighbour, or a stranger, or a beloved cat, as she crunched up against the wall too scared to leave the room, too fearful of what may happen if she mistook cunning for kindness?

I line up my new life on every surface in the living room and bedroom. Commemorative plates, Russian dolls, dangling dreamcatchers. Before going to sleep, I say goodnight to each in turn. They are patient: no expectations, no tests, no questions. In my dreams, they whisper stories that may or may not have been. I sleep well, safe in our shared lives as the ornaments keep quiet watch.