‘Liar!’ she said. ‘You are a liar!’
‘You are killing me!’
‘I want to hate you. Why can I not hate you? Please make me hate you!’
Later, she listened to what friends had to say. They gave good advice: the pain will pass; the suffering will go away. You just have to endure; you just have to get through it. Time will make it better. She listened and knew better, she had seen the advert online: there was a choice now. A choice to carve him out of her brain and replace him with fonder, sweeter memories. Or nothingness. Even nothingness seemed better than this.
The children in the street called her the ‘old hag’, sometime ‘witch’ or ‘Mrs Tucker the old f…’
Annie’s mum said she would smack her, if her daughter ever used that word again.
They sometimes posted picture through her letterbox made with black crayons. They believed it looked evil, not knowing that the true evil already lived in her house.
When they played in the streets, the old witch shouted at them, threatened to call their parents, once she came running out with a broomstick in her hands – and they hated her for it, half afraid and half amused. She had just confirmed their suspicions. One day she even took away Pete’s scooter. His dad had to pick it up in the evening. To the children she was nothing but a nasty old creature that lived to spoil their fun. They could not know that every crash on the street would later mean a fist in her face. Mr Tucker did not like his lunchtime nap disturbed… nor his dinner or the evening news. There was always a reason.
The day he died, Mrs Tucker decided to forget. The procedure was quick and painless.
The old children grew up and new ones began to play in the street. They called her ‘the cookie monster’, because there was always a tin full of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on her windowsill. They posted letters through her letterbox: well-wishes for her birthday and Christmas cards. A young boy even wrote her a love letter, calling her the ‘best granny in all of the world’ and if she would just be a little bit younger, he would like to marry her. For Halloween Mrs Tucker played the witch again, but she was a friendly one and no child left without an extra portion of sweets in the basket.
When one day Annie came back for a school reunion and asked about the nasty old hag, no-one seemed to remember. Just as Mrs Tucker, they had all forgotten the past.
The day of her funeral was a sad one, indeed. The whole village attended as they laid her to rest next to a husband she had not remembered for twelve years. Those years were the best of her life.
Sometimes she still dreamed of him, a blurry vision of what had been. Two pairs of feet walking along the water shore, sand between the toes and shells under their soles.
‘Hey, great to see you again.’
‘Hi,’ she said, her eyes void of any recognition.
‘Alan,’ he said. ‘We met at Steve’s party.’
‘Oh, yeah, sorry,’ he said. ‘I heard about it… oh shit, I mean… that was really tactless of me.’
She just laughed.
‘I actually have no idea what you are talking about… Maybe you have me confused with someone else?’
‘Anyway, nice meeting you,’ she said and turned her back on him, walking down the supermarket aisle humming a melody to herself.
It was a love song old Jonie would have recognised: maybe it would have made her eyes glace over for a moment as a single stab of recognition pierced her heart. Then the dull ache of longing and the knowledge of what she had lost. New Jonie did not remember the song that had made old Jonie’s heart sing and bleed in pain. New Jonie smiled as she hummed the melody. She liked it. It felt strangely familiar. Steve would have known, but Steve was gone…
Tom softly pushed the spoon between her lips. This time his sister opened her mouth willingly and swallowed the clear liquid. It was one of the good days then, the ones when she reacted to basic instincts like eating or going to the toilet, when she followed commands and was not entirely lost in her own head.
At times the procedure did go wrong. Nobody knew why sometimes not only the memory vanished but the whole person seemed to disappear. Nobody knew, nonetheless people were willing to take the risk, if the pain was just big enough.
He still remembered the smell of her hair, feeling her soft skin underneath his fingertips. He remembered tasting her, even though she did not. Memories got lost; lives went on. It was not fair that she was allowed to forget while he had to linger on. He still wanted her, but the court ruling had been strict: he had to keep his distance or risk a prison sentence. Not that it mattered anyway, even if he spoke to her, she would not recognise him. Not the love they once shared, nor the pain, nor what he did after… he should feel ashamed, but he did not. It had not caused any lasting damage, had it? She was allowed to forget after all. Only he suffered, oh, how much he suffered. Life was not fair.
He had bought her favourite perfume and sprayed it on the purple nightgown he would have liked her to wear. Such a beautiful colour on her pale white skin, just the same shade as the bruises he had left on her arms, her thighs… The nightgown slept in the bed where she used to be. He buried his nose in her smell before he fell asleep and he woke up with the memory of her laughter embedded in his soul.
They called it the ‘Reset’-switch, a difficult combination of chemicals, rerouting of nerves in the brain and hypnotherapy. It caused quite a stir in the medical research community when it was first tested on former soldiers suffering from PTSD: they returned home to their families as changed men and women, the horrors of war successfully removed from their brains.
Some European countries banned the procedure nonetheless, because nobody as of yet had studied the long-term implications. And then there were these few documented cases where the procedure had – literally – crippling effect.
In other countries the procedure became a success story: first used on soldiers, many victims of violence and abuse found rescue in having their memories removed. A study made in the UK stated that 67% per cent of all women considered having parts of their lives removed from memory, but only 28% of men.
No-one later remembered when it became fashionable. Doctors were all too willing to agree to the procedure even in minor cases: mothers forgot the child they had born but lost to cancer or an accident, brothers no longer remembered sisters who had become estranged over the years and former lovers lived their lives as if they had never met.
Liar. You are a liar.
‘Focus on that,’ the doctor had said. ‘Focus on what you want to forget.’
Everything, please, everything. I want it gone. Make it stop. Make it… Everything.
She was one of the curios cases.
The liar came the day after her surgery. She did not recognise him.
The doctors were pleased: another successful treatment.
Then came the brother and her friends: still no reaction.
That was when they began to worry.
They showed her pictures of days long past, took her to the park and the beach, places of happiness, but still she hid inside her head.
Sometimes she ate when they put food in front of her, showered when told, got dressed, sat in the chair beside the window staring at the blank wall. Other days they found her naked in the corner, hiding her head between her knees. Those bad days were followed by even worse: days she never got out of bed, motionless all day, her irregular breathing the only sign that she was still alive, a living corpse without a soul.
The doctors could not explain what had happened. They were sure, they had made no mistake.
The brother took her home.
Every morning and every evening he put a spoon to her lips begging her to show a simple gesture of kindness and eat. Oh, how he wished he could forget.
Have what she had done.
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