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Story: Names and Memories
Names and Memories
By Elizabeth Stowers
“Why can’t I remember?” he mumbled aloud, he had his face in his hands, he couldn’t remember anything. Not where he had last been, not what had happened, nothing, everything was empty, blank, sterile. It was fitting for the room he found himself in. Suddenly a doctor came into the room.
“So it says here you have acute amnesia Mr. …” the doctor glanced at the chart in his hands to find his name. “Mr. Burns.”
“Does it say what from?” he asked.
“It says here you got hit by a car.” The doctor reported glancing at the chart once more.
“Doc, will my memory ever come back?” he asked, he knew that his voice quavered at this, he was afraid, which was understandable.
“It’s never easy to tell with amnesia, you could remember bits and pieces but then again, you could not.” The doctor said. “But in the mean time, your name is Victor Burns, you’re from Newbury Park, and your sister Lillian is going to look after you.” the doctor said.
“So my name is Victor?” he asked, the doctor nodded in assurance, the name sounded right to him, it seemed like him. Victor didn’t really know where to go from here so all he said was, “Can I meet my sister now?” again the doctor nodded and she came in. She looked vaguely familiar, the way her dark hair was arranged and the eyes, her green eyes looked very familiar, but had he not been told that she was his sister he would not have known.
“Are you all right Victor?” she asked, she wanted to give him a hug he could tell. But he was hesitant on letting anyone near him.
“Just peachy.” He said sarcastically.
“You still have your sense of humor, I see.” Lillian said. Victor couldn’t quite read the emotion in this, her eyes were misty with tears but she sounded slightly annoyed.
“I guess,” he said and rubbed the back of his neck with his right hand. “So uh, you’ll be looking out for me while I get my memory back.” He said.
“Yes, you’ll be staying with Eric and I.” she said as they began to leave the room.
“Wait, before you go, we’ll want to schedule some appointments with you to make sure that there’s no further trauma.” The doctor said. Victor desperately wanted to look at the doctor and reply ‘No shit Sherlock, I figured as much, I’ve lost all personal memory, I’m not retarded.’ But he didn’t. He merely thanked the man and followed his sister to the door where a nurse with a wheelchair greeted him.
“You’re kidding, right?” he asked both his sister and the doctor.
“It’s protocol I’m afraid” the doctor said and left.
“Fine.” Victor said through clenched teeth.
Ten minutes later everything was sorted and Victor was riding in the passenger seat of Lillian’s mint green Passat.
“So who’s Eric?” he asked.
“Wow, you really don’t remember anything do you?” she said in disbelief.
“No. I don’t.” Victor said shortly.
“Eric’s my fiancé.” She said.
“Do I like him?” Victor asked.
“You put up with him because I love him.” She said.
“Did we talk before the accident?” Victor asked. Lillian just gripped the steering wheel tighter.
“Oh look we’re home!” she said and got out of the car as quickly as she could. Victor took that as a no, he stepped out of the car and followed Lillian to the front door where he was greeted by who must have been Eric, a tall blonde man that seemed that All-American-Boy type, Victor could tell why he didn’t like him, something just seemed off about him, but Lillian loved him so that was enough.
“How’s it going Vick?” he asked. Victor didn’t respond and just kept on his way. He eventually found his way to the kitchen where Lillian busied herself making coffee.
“Has he always called me Vick?” he asked as he sat down.
“Yes, much to your dismay.” She said as she brought over two mugs.
“Can’t say I’m surprised about that.” He said taking the mug.
“Lillian, what was my life like?” he asked.
“You were a bank teller.” She said running her finger around the lip of the mug.
“Did I like it?” he asked.
“You know, I don’t know, you did it because you needed a job.” She said.
“Do you know what it was I wanted to do?” he asked trying to get an idea of who he had been.
“You had wanted to be a musician, and you were pretty good at it too.” She said.
“Then why am I a bank teller and not a musician?” he asked.
“Like I said, you needed a job, you didn’t want to become the starving artist.” She said, Victor could tell that she didn’t approve of his current career.
“Lillian, where are our parents?” he asked.
“Wow, you really don’t remember anything do you?” She said.
“No, Lil, what happened to our parents?” he asked again.
“Well, mom died a couple years back, breast cancer and dad still lives at the house, but now he just spends his time carving those decoys you two made when you were younger.” Victor shook his head, trying to remember but all that came was blank, it seemed like the memory was there he just couldn’t recall it.
“I’m going for a walk.” He said getting up and walking to the backyard. He was just so frustrated, he almost wished that Lillian hadn’t offered him a place to stay, that way he would have just started over, it sounded like that was what he needed to have happen anyway, he wasn’t doing what he wanted to with his life, he was a bank teller.
By the time dusk was falling Victor was making his way back to Lillian’s, he was thoroughly frustrated and just wanted to go to bed. But upon his return to the house he saw this was an impossible task, there was a man there he was sitting on the couch in the living room, as Victor walked into the room the man jumped up, the man appeared to be in his late fifties. He had the same green eyes Lillian did, but the little hair he had was now grey, he also had a grey goatee.
“Son?” he asked. Victor said nothing but looked around. “Victor? Do you remember me?” he asked.
“Sorry, I don’t.” He said.
"Don’t feel bad, he doesn’t remember anyone Dad.” Lillian said bringing in a tray of cookies.
“So it’s true, you don’t remember anything.” The man said.
“Nope, nothing, except how to read and write, it’s a miracle how that happened they said.”
“You don’t even remember the time we all went up to Aunt Kelly’s and she tried to make us eat that tofu-turkey for Thanksgiving?” his father asked. Victor said nothing. “Or what about the time when your mother tried to make us a big Christmas dinner and about burned down the house?”
“Dad, he really doesn’t remember anything.” Lillian said on Victor’s behalf.
“Look, I’m actually really tired, I’d like to go upstairs and go to bed.” Victor said.
"Oh, sure son,” Victor’s father said a little disappointed.
"Here, I’ll show you upstairs.” Lillian said leading him upstairs and to the guest room.
“Dad, he has amnesia, did you really need to pester him with so many questions? You do know that amnesia means you can remember anything right?” she asked.
“Yes, of course I know that… I just… I guess I thought if I asked about them he might remember.” He said.
Victor lay awake in bed that night. He hadn’t been that tired, he had just wanted to be alone, where people wouldn’t ask him “Oh, do you remember that time we did this? It was so great.” He wanted to remember what happened but he just couldn’t, it was like trying to find something in the dark and when he thought he had something solid, it turned into smoke. He was grasping at air. Had it been his choice he wouldn’t have set after his memories, had it been his choice he would have moved on. Started a new life. But now that he thought of that he wondered if that could have actually happened. For most jobs one needed a college degree, and technically he had one, he just couldn’t remember it, at least not the social aspects of it, or even going really. But that wasn’t what he really wanted to focus on anyway, he wanted to get his memories back so he could stop relying on Lillian and so his father wouldn’t look at him like he was some kind of disappointment. He also kind of wanted to remember the accident, because that way he could tell people that it wasn’t his fault, or that it was. Either way it would be better, because they would stop asking questions about things that didn’t matter. And maybe the nature of his accident would reveal something about him. Like why he was a bank teller instead of a musician. He couldn’t even remember what kind of musician he was, he wondered what it was that he played and thought that his one goal tomorrow was to see if he could still play whatever instrument it was that he could potentially play.
The next morning Victor walked downstairs and saw Lillian sitting at the kitchen table staring at a mug of coffee like it held all the answers she needed.
“So I was thinking that I wanted to try and find which instrument that I played and if I could still play it.” He said not making eye contact with her.
“Okay, I was figuring we could go to your apartment anyway. You could get some things. And we could see if it would jog your memory any.”
“Yeah, I think that could be nice.” He said and in truth he did think that that would be nice. Maybe in seeing the way the old him lived would make his memory return.
Lillian left a note for Eric and grabbed her keys, the two then walked to her car in the driveway. Though it was early November it was still warm, thanks to the climate of Southern California.
“So do I live far from you?” he asked.
“Not really.” She said
“Then why don’t we talk?” he asked
“Well when mom died everyone kind of drifted, you especially, for some reason you thought that it was your fault. She died of breast cancer, it wasn’t your fault.” She said trying to reassure him.
“After this can we see where she’s buried?” he asked. Lillian didn’t say anything; she just nodded and gripped the wheel tighter.
The pair stood outside a building of white stucco townhomes, Lillian took a key out of a white envelope and her engagement ring glinted in the sun. Victor saw it and wondered if he had anyone special. Lillian walked up to the apartment that was his and let herself in Victor followed unsure of what it was that he would find. Lillian flicked on the lights and he looked around, he saw the various items around but nothing jumped out at him with a memory. He continued to look around the house, he couldn’t help but think it wasn’t really his house, but at the same time it seemed like no one else would live there. He looked around and found a multitude of instruments; there was an upright piano against the east wall, an acoustic and electric guitar, an electric bass, and a trumpet. He thought that the piano would be the best to go at; he could start off with something easy at least. He sat down at the bench and set his hands on the ivory keys.
“How long did I play piano?” he asked.
“We had taken lessons since we were five.” She said. “I stopped playing in high school, you never stopped.” She said quietly, she was afraid that he wouldn’t remember anything; he had been such a beautiful player. She went into the kitchen so he could have some alone time should he fail. When she sat down she heard the most beautiful music playing, at first she thought that he was playing a CD or something, because she had thought that there was no way that he could remember, but she got up and walked into the living room and saw him playing. For a moment, it was like he was back. For a moment it seemed like he remembered everything, the time Lillian had dyed her hair blue, or the time that the two ran away for an afternoon and went to see a movie, it seemed like the death of their mother had never happened and that everything was back to normal.
Finally he stopped playing he looked up at Lillian, tears were running down her face. He got up to give her a hug, and try and comfort her.
“You remember.” She said holding onto him. She was so happy to have her brother back, Victor could tell. But the thing was, he wasn’t back. He remembered how to play the piano sure, but he had no idea of who he really was. He wanted to say he didn’t remember but she was so happy, he didn’t want to be the one to ruin it, plus, there was always the chance that he wouldn’t remember anything anyway, so what was the real harm in pretending that he remembered everything but wanted to change? He was caught, he wanted to tell her the truth, and say that the past didn’t matter, what mattered was that they were now together again, they were a family again. But at the same time, he wanted to keep up the charade, because if he kept up the charade then his sister would have the feeling of being forgiven for whatever it was that went wrong. So, for now all Victor said was one thing.
“Can we see mom now?” Lillian squeezed him once more and nodded eyes still misty with tears.
After a short drive they were at the cemetery. Markers of polished granite, marble, and other stones dotted the grass in seemingly random places like children’s toys left out on the lawn. The pair walked in silence until they found their mother’s plot. Victor set down the violets they had bought, they had been her favorites apparently, he stroked the headstone and wished he could remember all the times she had kissed a cut and made it better, or made his favorite food, or the Mothers’ Day gifts he had given her, he wanted to know if she had made a fuss when he had gone to prom, or if she had documented his every move with the video camera. He wondered if she stayed up with him after having a nightmare, or if they had fought, if every little thing he did had annoyed her. He wondered if she had thought that being a musician was stupid and so she wanted him to get a real job, like a bank teller. He wanted to know so many things, sure he could ask Lillian but it wouldn’t be the same. His fingers brushed past the name engraved on the white marble, Ava Burns.
“I’ll be in the car.” Lillian said, “Take all the time you need.” She said sensing that he needed to be alone. Victor wished that he could remember anything about her, or about his life, why he and Lillian hadn’t spoken. He wanted to know what had happened to make him lose his memory, but he couldn’t. He wished he could remember even the smallest thing about his mother, but he couldn’t. In his desperation he pulled at some weeds at the edges of Ava’s headstone, as he was doing this the sun shone brightly making it uncharacteristically warm for November. A scene passed in his mind’s eye, a sprinkler spurting on a brown, parched lawn, a pitcher of lemonade sitting on a table and a woman with mahogany brown hair and a bright smile. She was watching something, her blue eyes were lit up in delight, and she shielded her eyes from the sun as if to make sure all was right. She then took the hand away from her face and smiled again. “Victor, come back here!” she said with a laugh. Then Victor was back at the grave. He didn’t remember everything, but he remembered that. And that was enough.
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