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An Absense of Memory
She tensed, and her eyes snapped open. All they saw was gray.
A groan escaped her lips as she started to sit up, and a sudden, deep reverberation hammered through her head, pushing her back down. Beneath her the floor was cool—an icepack against her throbbing brain. She spread her arms out over it, wincing at the cold shock. After a minute she licked her cracked lips, and started to get up again.
This time she was prepared for the headache. She sat up slowly, her expression contorting into a grimace as the beating in her head accelerated. She took a deep breath and rubbed her sore temples, sighing heavily as the pain began to subside. She breathed out into the stale, silent air.
What had she been doing?
Her head snapped up—a reaction too quick for her headache. Her temples screamed, but she ignored them, biting down hard on her lip, as she examined her surroundings. Suddenly she was standing up, spinning around in the center of the room, trying to take in everything around her. Carpet: red. Dull red. Pale brown walls. Two abstract paintings—one of them looked familiar. The light was too bright, making her eyes ache. Squinting, she saw a couch, and a chair, and an area that must have been a kitchen. A bottle of wine, sitting on the counter. Half empty. A TV in the corner hummed silently, its screen black. There was a telephone, but she couldn’t remember anyone to call.
Where was she?
She pressed her fingers against the sides of her head in frustration, and the ache responded with a ripping, screeching feeling. She looked at the wine. Hangover? No. That wasn’t hers. She didn’t live there. She didn’t know where she was.
The phone came to life with a sudden jolt of sound, the ringing high pitched and wavering. It broke the stale silence, the humming of the TV, like shattering glass. She stared at the phone, wide-eyed, her pounding brain telling her to make the noise stop. Two more rings, and she couldn’t stand it any longer. She stepped towards the phone, resting carefully on the kitchen counter, and, her hand trembling, picked it up.
“Hello?” she asked. Her voice was thin and high-pitched, girlish. Her syllables were pronounced carefully.
“Hey Audrey! This is Jenny, I was just calling about the wedding—I’d love to come! I’m so glad you invited me—I can’t even believe you’re getting married.”
There was silence as Jenny waited for her to reply. She felt a sudden weight on her left ring finger, and looked down. A tiny diamond sparkled with light from the impossibly bright lamp.
“What?” she asked timidly, still staring down at the diamond. “I’m sorry—I…I…” she shook her aching head, not sure what to say.
Audrey. The name felt comfortable, something she could fit into.
Who was she?
She continued to shake her head, finding it hard to stop. “I’m sorry,” she said slowly, absently, “Can I call you back?”
She set the receiver back in its cradle, her pale eyebrows rising. She looked back around the room—the apartment. There was a picture on a table next to the couch—a long brown leather couch, unrecognizable—and she started towards it.
Déjà vu stared back at her. There she was, smiling, long brown hair spilling over slender shoulders. She was holding a puppy. She looked so…normal.
What happened to her?
Another sudden noise—the silent creak of a doorknob turning. There was jingling from the hallway—someone fumbling with keys. She panicked, blood pulsing through her veins, her heart booming in her ears. Her chest tensed up, twisting with adrenaline and fright. She looked around, whiplash stinging her neck, and took up the wine bottle sitting idly on the counter. It felt cool and heavy in her weak, shaky hands.
The doorknob turned—all the way. The jingling settled. There was a creak, and the door started moving forward, a shadow extending along the brightly lit floor by the entrance. She gripped the wine bottle tighter and moved towards the door, raising it up by her head, her arms prickling with nervousness. Her heart rammed against her rib cage.
The door opened, and there was a man, looking down at his cell phone, who she’d never seen before.
He didn’t notice her at first. He walked in clumsily, closing the door without looking, his shoulder bag swinging and bumping the wall. His dark eyebrows pulled together, and he wiped his hand across his forehead before lowering it to the cell phone. A series of beeps, and his fingers were moving quickly across the tiny keyboard. He took a few more steps into the room, not glancing up until he closed the phone and took a breath. “Oh, hi! I didn’t know—” he started to say. But he stopped when he saw her. Changed his words. “Are you…alright?”
“Who are you?” her voice came out raspy. It felt so strange in her mouth—uncomfortable, as if she hadn’t used it before. “Why am I here?” she asked. Her tongue felt big between her teeth, not fitting somehow.
“I—um—Audrey? Are you alright?” the man repeated. His full attention was on her now, his eyebrows furrowed in worry. Subconsciously, he dropped his cell into a pocket on his bag and slipped it off. He took a step towards her—too quick. She felt a shock in her chest and she moved back, her eyes wild, her arms shaking and still risen over her head with the wine bottle.
He was cautious, now. He stopped moving, completely still, and licked his lips, searching for words. Finally, he found them. “Audrey? What are you doing? It’s me—Dill—your fiancée.” Slowly, carefully, a step forward.
Unsure, she didn’t move. “Why do you keep calling me Audrey?” Her voice was more subdued. Curious. She knew the answer, of course, but she needed him to say it…
His eyebrows rose, blue eyes open with surprise. “Because—that’s your name.”
There was a long silence then, and Audrey—Audrey, so strange—couldn’t seem to slow her brain. She could almost hear her thoughts whirring, bumping into less answers and more walls. Not so much walls, but emptiness. Nothing. A blank, white nothing.
Why wouldn’t she remember her own name?
“What happened?” she asked herself, out loud. She let her eyes drop, shaking her head. The wine bottle felt so heavy suddenly. She was so…confused.
“I don’t know—what did happen? Audrey, did you hit your head? Audrey?” He came two steps closer, and Audrey’s grip tightened on the wine bottle. Her pale arms shook in a way that told him to keep his distance. “Audrey…” he said softly, his eyes sad.
“How do I know you’re not lying?” Audrey asked. She wanted to trust him, to put the wine bottle down. But paranoia crawled over her skin at the very thought. “How do I know you’re not the one who brought me here?”
“Audrey, what do you mean? This is your home—our home,” Dill said softly, nodding at the apartment. He looked into Audrey’s scared eyes, his mouth moving wordlessly for a moment. Then he shook his head. “Okay—I’ll prove it to you, with pictures. We have an album of us, together. It’s in the bedroom.”
“Okay. I’ll—I’ll follow you,” Audrey said, vaguely aware that her voice was shaking. He gave a little, unsure nod and started walking to his right. As Audrey followed him, she became aware of how wobbly she was—her legs were jell-o, her arms hardly able to hold the wine bottle up any longer, though she didn’t dare let her guard down. She felt light-headed and her stomach was fluttering, filled with feathers that tickled and made her queasy.
The bedroom was completely unfamiliar. The walls were pale green, a wreath-like border snaking around the tops. The bed was made, light blue and green stripes, and as they entered the man named Dill squatted down next to it and reached under, his hands searching. Audrey’s muscles tensed, her fingers sweaty against the cool wine bottle. Her teeth clenched together nervously. One thought came to her scrabbled mind: gun.
But it wasn’t a gun that he pulled out. It was an album, just like he said.
He straightened up slowly, his eyes flickering uncertainly to Audrey. “Look” he said, almost whispered, as he opened the album and stepped forward. Audrey tensed, forcing herself to stand still. She glanced at Dill, who was looking at her, waiting, and cautiously leaned over the album.
There they were. Smiles, tans, shorts and flip-flops.
“We went on a vacation together—to Australia. Remember? You wanted to go to Australia since you were little, because your name sounds like it. Do you…?” He must have seen Audrey’s blank, bewildered stare, because he trailed off. He cleared his throat, gulped. “You don’t remember?”
Audrey shook her head.
He looked back down to the album, taking in the pictures. Then he turned the page.
There they were again. She was wearing jeans and cowboy boots, him a big straw hat. They stood in front of a large pasture closed off by a brown fence, which they leaned against. Cows grazed behind them. Her smile was radiant, and they were holding hands.
“This one’s from the trip to Dad’s. Do you remember the cows? You stepped in manure…no?”
She shook her head.
There was a beat during which he looked up and stared at her, an inquisitive expression clouding his face. “What happened to you?”
She blinked. “Is that really me?” Her hands had fallen without her notice, the wine bottle hanging loosely in front of her. She let go with one hand and reached out, touching the photograph. A shock raced through her hand, and she pulled back quickly.
Dill hadn’t moved, hadn’t blinked. “Yes.”
Audrey squinted. The girl in the photograph couldn’t be her—she didn’t remember having that picture taken—she couldn’t ever remember laughing like that, smiling so brilliantly…she couldn’t remember ever laughing at all. A sudden chill ran through her, and she closed her eyes, pressing her free hand up against her face. It was clammy, uncomfortable. For the first time she realized she was exhausted.
“I—” she started, taking a step back. The wine bottle dropped and smashed on the wood floor, the shattered glass tinkling as it skidded across the room. She winced and felt the headache returning, splitting her temples. She pressed both hands against her face, hiding herself, and realized she was shaking. Another step back. Another. A wall behind her, large and flat and cool. “I—I don’t—” Heavy breaths. All she could hear was her heart pounding faster and faster, the sound filling her ears.
“Audrey—Audrey—are you alright? Audrey—it’s okay, we’re going to the hospital. Alright? C'mon—”
His voice was miles away, reaching her barely through the drumming of her heart. She felt away from everything, like she was a ghost, only half-alive. She was nodding, a hand on her back, and she was being led through the doorway. Everything else was a blur.