Aphelion Issue 241, Volume 23
July 2019
 
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Sugarhouse

by Adam "Bucho" Rodenberger



The Man (Morning)

Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night; two, three o'clock and it's pitch black. I sit straight up in bed and my eyes see the room laid out before me, the furniture shadowed into unrecognizable entities surrounding my bed. It's as if I've come to on a life raft stranded at sea and I'm filled with such dread, such abject terror, that I almost can't take it. It's like the weight of the room is crushing in on me from all sides and it's all I can do just to sit there and wait until it's finished. In those strange partially-awake moments, I get confused as to how I find myself in this position, I get despondent and self-loathing in those long drawn out seconds of the dusk, but then I lay back down and in the briefest of moments, the morning arrives and the fear subsides until the next night when it happens all over again.

If nothing else, I can count on sitting up, wide awake, in bed at some point before truly waking up.

I can count on these feelings arriving and destroying whatever dreams had gotten me to the waking point.

I can count on sleepless nights and shortness of breath upon waking.

I can count on nightmares and confusion during the day.

I can count on not remembering any of this when the morning comes.

I can count on nothing.

####

I awake. I'm awake. I don't remember this place at all.

It's noon. A large bay window to my right lets a warm breeze into the room. A bird chirps, a cricket rubs its legs together timidly. Sunlight spills across the floor. The taste of foul morning coats my tongue and I instinctively reach for the water to my left. How did I know that was there? The glass shakes in my hand as I sip.

The sheets have been kicked unceremoniously to the end of the bed and lay draped over the edge like a cephalopod climbing down to the floor. I am clammy all over. My boxers, the only clothing on me, stick to my body. A nightmare. Daymare? A terror.

I scan the room; an ornate armoire against the wall straight ahead. By the open window, a slim stand holds a rotary phone. No pictures hang on the wall, no bric-a-brac clutters the corners. It feels sterile. To the left, an open closet and in the far corner, a door. Shut.

Like a dam collapsing, I am suddenly surrounded by pressure, a feeling of steady force closing in around me. A claustrophobic feeling making me incapable of doing anything but allowing it purchase on every inch of dermis. My skin prickles and rivulets of sweat drip from underneath my arms before rolling down my sides. I have no concept of what day it is or, truly, what time it is. Minute-wise or year-wise. I don't know that this matters much, however. It doesn't feel like it does.

I hear the light jingle of keys on the other side of the door. The knob moves slowly before the door inches open. A woman walks in quietly, as if not to disturb me, then realizes that I'm awake and staring at her. She comes to the foot of the bed and lifts the crumpled sheets on to the mattress. I take another sip of water, not wanting to be the first to say anything. I don't know this woman. I don't recognize her at all.

She is pretty; shoulder length chestnut hair, thin face, little to no makeup. Her eyes are big and brown -- true doe eyes -- and seem to smile at me before she does. "Good morning, Martin."

She called me Martin. I roll the name across my lips and nothing...this doesn't feel wrong, but it doesn't feel right either. If she had simply called me "man," it would have felt truer. I am Martin. "Good morning," I croak. My voice sounds strange, not my own. Though I cannot remember what my voice is supposed to sound like. I suddenly find myself embarrassed and awkward, sprawled out on the bed in nothing but my undershorts. I pull the sheets up and over my legs as she turns to the armoire. She opens the door and after a few clicks and crackles, the sound of music on vinyl fills the room quietly. Loud enough to be pleasant, but low enough for conversation.

"Do you remember this song?" she asks as she turns to face me. "We used to listen to this album on Sunday afternoons."

I shake my head and think Martin, Martin, Martin, Martin. I am living in someone else's skin, wearing someone else's face, but thinking my own thoughts. A look of slight disappointment crosses her face. Her lips tighten and her gaze falls to the floor.

"Do you remember me?" she asks, looking up.

I take another sip of water and shake my head. Her bottom lip quivers, but just barely. Perhaps she was someone close to me. A sister? A wife? Was I married? I look down at my left hand -- no ring, but there is a noticeable stripe of skin not touched by sunlight. Could be something, could be nothing. Inconclusive.

The song on the record ends. A pop and a crackle play through the speaker as the needle finds its way to the center groove, a note-less track on black. The rhythm of the needle jumping in and out of its path thumps in the air between us. A pair of birds chirp outside.

"Are you hungry?" she asks. "I could make you a sandwich or some soup. Anything, really. Are you hungry? Would you like another water?"

I realize the glass in my hand is empty. No use stalling; I have to engage her now. "Yes, thank you. Water sounds good. So does food."

She nods and smiles before turning to flip the record over in the armoire. I watch as she opens a drawer and removes folding clothing, placing it on the foot of the bed. "These are some of your clothes. The doctor said you probably wouldn't remember where they were or that they were even yours, so...the shower is down the hall. Your toothbrush is the blue one by the sink. Clean towels are on the racks. Would you like me to draw you a bath?"

I shake my head. "I think I can manage, thank you."

She gives a small bow and leaves the room as quietly as she entered, shutting the door behind her. I get out of bed and stretch. My back cracks as do my toes and ankles. I walk across the cool wood floor and open the bedroom door slowly. A long hallway stretches out in front of me; there are no pictures or wall hangings of any sort on either side. Several other doorways loom at the end of the hall, past a wide staircase that leads down.

I find the bathroom and bathe. The shampoo and soap are immediately known things; I have used them before and somehow I know this. So why can't I remember other, more important things? Like my name. Or where I am. Hell, where I've been, even. The steam fills up the room as I force myself to push deeper in the recesses of my memory. Nothing but black and I am growing increasingly frustrated.

I finish up in the shower and step out to a mirror, fogged over and blurry, and almost laugh as I can see my outline, but nothing else. No particulars stand out -- I am simply a form without a face.

The Woman

The book is leather bound with yellow, rough-cut blank pages. On the front, the print of an aged map that extends out past the edges of the book and no longer holds any truth. The names of places have changed, the preconceived notions of those unseen places squashed through centuries of explorers and travelers. The image is supposed to evoke in the journal's author a feeling that anything is possible, that worlds are left to explore. Instead, it makes her wish for a different life, one that exists beyond the edges of the book, one that is painless and page-less, where her pen writes on the backs of postcards to friends back home instead of scribing every fear, every thought that keeps her chained to the husband that does not remember who she is and cannot remember more than a day's worth of information before his brain loses it while he sleeps. Not quite an infant, not quite a man.

Day 3

05/15/93

6:14am

He's been home for two days now, and I'm finally beginning to understand what Dr. Sullivan meant. He is not the same person; he is, in fact, not a person at all, but a shell just going through the motions. I have done so much grieving at his bedside in the hospital. The tears fell so long and hard that I feared I would dry up and wither like a dying vine.

I lost him. In my mind, he was gone despite his body lying in the hospital bed with my hands clasping his. I had resigned myself to the possibility that he would not return, but now that he has, I wonder if would've been better for him to pass. I hate myself for even writing that down, much less thinking it. What kind of wife wishes for the death of her husband? It's a shameful realization to come to. When he begins to remember who he is, I will burn this book. I'll let the fire eat these words in the hopes that they never get read by anyone ever again.

I haven't slept since he's been home. Cat naps here and there, but nothing substantial. He sleeps a lot, which I hope will help in the healing. I worry that his subconscious isn't working hard enough to bubble him back up to the surface of whatever haze he is drowning in. He is restless at night; I hear him through the closed door as I sit on a wooden chair in the hallway ready to play nursemaid since playing the role of wife is not an option yet.

I thought about reading a book while standing guard at his door, but if I get wrapped up in a fiction of someone else's design, I may forget the reality of my own. So instead, I sit in silence, sometimes counting down the minutes in my head until the sun comes up or the seconds between each sound that he makes. For now, this is as close as I'll get to making new memories that include him. I'm doing double-duty for the both of us, though he may never understand that.

Sometimes the chair gets too uncomfortable and I'll kneel down on the floor to put my ear up to the door. The majority of the time, I hear white noise, a nothing, but my heart aches when I hear him cough or mumble through feverish dreams. The mother in me wants to cradle him in my arms and coo him back to health, to fill him with a warmth so comforting that it breaks this amnesia into a million tiny shards that can never be put back together again.

But I can't. And I wait. And I listen. And I wait.

The Man (Night)

I awake. I'm awake. I remember this place.

The room is black; night has settled outside and it takes my eyes forever to adjust to the lack of light in the room. I feel the evening breeze pass through the room; I shiver briefly. I clutch the sheets tighter around my legs and realize that I have not forgotten the day's events. The images my mind is able to conjure up don't feel hazy or fuzzy; each moment is a tangible thing I feel my brain wrapping around and holding onto tightly.

If the woman, my supposed wife, is right...then this is progress. I am making progress. I am forming memories, thoughts that can be recalled, I am repopulating the crevices of my gray matter. I am elated by this realization until I am struck by a fit of coughing, which halts my inner celebration.

I reach for the glass of water, full again, on the nightstand to my left. I gulp from the glass thirstily. The woman from earlier said my name was Martin and that she was my wife, but these concepts are still unsure to me. They feel like the wrong mathematical answers on a chalkboard problem. Erasable, but not quite right.

I put the glass down and lean back against the headboard. At the bay window to my right, a small girl stands perfectly still while staring out into the yard below. I think back to the day, but don't remember seeing her before. She has dark blonde hair that cascades down to the middle of her back, a porcelain face sprinkled with freckles, and a light green dress that falls just below her knees. She wears no shoes.

"Hello, honey," I whisper. "What's your name?"

The girl turns and smiles, says nothing. She comes to the bed in silence and takes my hand, turns it over to look at the top and then the palm, runs a finger across the creases of the soft skin there. She turns my hand again, looking at the top and then the palm. She looks up at me, smiles, and leaves the room without saying a word.

I am strangely comforted by her silence and quickly fall back to sleep.

The Woman

The house accumulated a particular grime during the man's lengthy hospitalization. The event happened so quickly and without warning that dishes were left out on the dinner table and in the sink. Bath tubs collected dust, as did most of the other surfaces. Beds were left unmade; sheets unwashed. Wet towels that hung on shower rods had dried up and smelled of mildew. The smell of the last meal together permeated the dining room and spread out to other parts of the house slowly. Mice found their way into the shelves and pantry, ate themselves to death and lay, unmoving, next to boxes of stale crackers and condensed soup. Half-dead flies seizured on the window sills or remained carcassed and wrapped up in recent cobwebs in the corners of rooms. Everything was in decay; decay was in everything.

Day 7

05/19/93

10:34pm

Today I tackled the living room. I didn't realize how badly things had gotten while Martin was in his coma. I opened the curtains to let the sun in, but when I patted the couch cushions, dust mites flew up and glistened in the daylight. Not just a little, but an embarrassingly large amount. I kept fighting the urge to clean anything other than the kitchen; I had to prepare food for Martin first and foremost. Then I cleaned his bathroom so he could bathe. These were the essentials and I kept them spotless from the day I heard he was coming home.

Our room, the master, was the hardest. I slept long and often and my will to keep order all but disappeared. The room was in complete disarray; worn clothing mixed with clean clothing in piles on the floor. Since the kitchen had fallen into such a putrid state, I'd taken to eating, alone, in my room, so there were a few dishes scattered beneath the bed as well. Disgusting really, looking back on it, but I was not myself. I was grieving. And I had no one's shoulder to lean on.

When I heard that he was coming back to me, knowing who he was or not, there wasn't any question that I needed to fix things, to right the wrongs that had taken place in his absence. The doctor impressed upon me the importance of routines of the past while building new ones as well, and a dirty house simply wasn't routine for us.

The doctor said that pictures of us might jog his memory back into place faster, but I had taken them all down and stored them away long ago. Some memories aren't worth framing, much less keeping around and I want us to build new ones -- together. If that means it takes twice as long, then so be it. At least he's awake.

My god, he's finally awake! I hear him breathe at night and I see his eyes in the morning. He moves of his own volition and we converse. The conversations aren't much to speak of though; he's still a stranger and I struggle with that idea. But he is mine and he is home and we are together.

Tomorrow I may clean the den. He used to love sitting in there after dinner. Perhaps putting him in front of his work will give his mind a good cleansing.

I am more hopeful than I have been in months.

The Man (Morning)

I awake. I'm awake. I don't remember this place at all.

It's noon. A large bay window to my right lets a cool breeze into the room. A bird chirps, a cricket rubs its legs together timidly. Clouded sunlight spots the floor. The taste of foul morning coats my tongue and I instinctively reach for the water to my left. How did I know that was there? The glass shakes in my hand as I sip.

The sheets have been kicked unceremoniously to the end of the bed and lay draped over the edge like a cephalopod climbing down to the floor. I am clammy all over. My boxers, the only clothing on me, stick to my body. A nightmare. Daymare? A terror.

I scan the room; an ornate armoire against the wall straight ahead. By the open window, a slim stand holds a rotary phone. No pictures hang on the wall, no bric-a-brac clutters the corners. It feels sterile. To the left, an open closet and in the far corner, a door. Shut.

Like a dam collapsing, I am suddenly surrounded by pressure, a feeling of steady force closing in around me. A claustrophobic feeling making me incapable of doing anything but allowing it purchase on every inch of dermis. My skin prickles and rivulets of sweat drip from underneath my arms before rolling down my sides. I have no concept of what day it is or, truly, what time it is. Minute-wise or year-wise. I don't know that this matters much, however. It doesn't feel like it does.

I empty the glass and rise from the bed, an incredibly comfortable place with an intricate, wrought-iron headboard. Matching dressers sit on either side and hold aloft two old-school hurricane lamps turned into electric ones. I turn one on and light spills out from beneath the lampshade and fills that corner of the room. Inside the base of the lamp, however, a soft orange glow bobs and weaves as if being tossed about by a violent storm. The effect is strangely calming.

I leave the room, wondering if there is anyone else around. The house has been silent. I've heard no rustling or moving about. The hallway is well lit from a skylight at the end. I can see that it's cloudy outside, but not enough to stop the sun completely. Six doors line the walkway, all open, all curious.

I pass the first and look in. A child's bedroom, but larger. Toys and stuffed animals populate the tiny book cases and shelf space throughout. The tiny bed is empty and made; ruffled pink pillows and sheets cover it. A stack of quilts sits on the edge. An unsmiling stuffed monkey leans against the pillows as if standing guard for the child so that no one intrudes upon her slumbering place. A ceiling fan hangs, unmoving, in the middle of the room. The only window is on the back wall. From the doorway, I can see a vast expanse of green -- sparsely forested areas surrounding tiny glens -- and further out, a pond.

I move to the next door and find a bathroom. There is no window, so I flick on the light switch. It is half the size of the child's room, but feels larger than normal, though I cannot explain why. On the right, fresh towels hang from the towel racks on the wall. A see-through shower curtain hangs on a gently curved metal rod. On the left, dual, marbled sinks followed by a folded wash rag on the middle of the closed toilet seat. Little bottles, lined up like soldiers, stand between both sinks. I lean down to look: soap, shampoo, conditioner, face wash. I wonder if this is an invitation to bathe. The folded rag, the dryer-fresh linens, the toiletries.

Before I over-think it, I turn to shut and lock the door. I lift the rag from the toilet and toss it onto the sink. I urinate, wash my hands. I grab the bottles, peel back the shower curtain, and start the water. I put the bottles on the rim of the tub and undress, now realizing that a shower sounds like a phenomenal idea. When I'm done, I step out to a mirror, fogged over and blurry, and almost laugh as I can see my outline, but nothing else. No particulars stand out -- I am simply a form without a face.

####

My bed has been made and the window has been shut, though the shade has been lifted further to let in more of the dim light. A pair of jeans, a shirt, socks and shoes have all been laid out on the comforter. I assume they're for me and, once dressed, I put the towel back in the bathroom and continue down the hallway. Three doors lead to empty rooms. Wooden floors, bare walls, nothing save for a curtain-less window in the exact middle of each back wall.

The final door at the end of the hallway is ajar. I can see bookshelves, a file cabinet, a couch -- a reading room perched at the top of the stairs. A woman sits on the couch, flipping through a photo album. I don't know this woman. I don't recognize her at all. Her face shows no emotion, but she is pretty; shoulder length chestnut hair, thin face, little to no makeup. I push the door open wider and it creaks. She looks up from the couch, startled. Her eyes are big and brown -- true doe eyes -- and seem to smile at me before she does. "Good morning, Martin."

She called me Martin. I roll the name across my lips and nothing. This doesn't feel wrong, but it doesn't feel right either. If she had simply called me "man," it would have felt truer. I am Martin. "Good morning," I croak. My voice sounds strange, not my own. Though I cannot remember what my voice is supposed to sound like.

She pats the seat next to her and smiles wide. "Come. I want to show you some pictures, if that's alright?"

I shrug. What do I care about this woman's pictures? Then again, what else do I have to do at the moment? I can't even remember who I am, so the least I can do is look at some pictures. Oh, wait...

"Any of me in there?" I ask skeptically. She nods and again beckons me to join her on the couch.

I sit next to her. The couch is comfortable, plush. Fat cushions envelop me as I sink into the padding. She leans over and places the photo album on my lap. The pictures aren't old, but they aren't brand new either. More dingy than yellowed. Some are water-stained and others torn. "The basement flooded last year and ruined most of our pictures. I was able to save most of these, thankfully. I even kept the really bad ones if they were important."

She runs a finger across one of us with a Dalmatian. "Do you remember this day?" she asks.

I shake my head and stare at the photo. She is younger in the photo by many years. Thinner. Her smile is brighter. The me of then appears noticeably younger as well. It is obviously me, but I can't place the moment. I purse my lips as I claw at the inside of my head, searching and hunting, for something that reminds me of the day. Nothing. Not a tingle, no grasping of the tiniest of threads to help me unravel.

She sees me chewing the information slowly, struggling, and smiles. "That's okay," she says, flipping the page. "Dr. Sullivan said it may take you awhile to get back to normal. Don't worry." She rubs my shoulder as I stare down at the pictures; on the left, the two of us standing in front of a large house. I appear to be overjoyed. She has both hands wrapped around my waist, her head against my chest, and looks up at me from an awkward position. I see love there, but can't remember it.

I feel her hand move down from my shoulder and across my back. She rubs the entire length of my back absent-mindedly and then runs her hand up the nape of my neck and toys with my hair. It is distracting, but also...so very relaxing.

The other page contains a picture of a distended belly. No faces are present. A hand rests on the upper curve of the pregnant woman, upon which the woman's hand rests as well. Their fingers are interlaced. The belly is smooth. The picture is black and white.

The Woman

The house has a history, the man and woman have a history. The walls of the house have a deep and stain-like memory the way the woman finds herself constantly thinking of the past, wishing for things to be different, hoping that the man will somehow pull himself up out of his ailment of broken brain and remember her, dammit, if only for an hour or two. She tries to hold on to those memories tightly, unsure of whether new ones will be forthcoming. The man just wants a memory to hold onto by the time the sun sets, one that will return when he awakes. His tragedy is also his blessing; he cannot remember the important things, but if he could, they might break him down into pieces that could not be put together again.

Day 22

06/03/93

1:03am

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

I couldn't help it. I kissed him tonight because it had been so long since I last tasted his lips or felt the heat of his face against mine and I knew that it wasn't really him I was kissing, but I had to do it. I had to feel something other than this waste that sits inside me and god how I've missed the feel of him, the taste of him. Everything. I miss him.

I had taken him down to the den (finally clean!) and put him in his chair, a leather burgundy wingback that he used to fall asleep in after too-long nights of reading and conversing with himself. I spread his favorite blanket across his lap and opened the blinds so he could look out over the front of the property. I put his hot tea on the table usually reserved for chess games that no one ever came to play anymore.

I didn't move a thing in his den. Unlike the bedroom, the pictures all remain. The bedroom, "our" space, required his permission to move or change anything, but this room was all his and he can do whatever he wishes to it when he finally remembers.

The old banker's desk, a heavy thing I wanted him to sell, finally found itself a home here. Against the back wall stands a bookshelf that reaches to the ceiling and is as wide as it is tall. He'd always wanted a room like this. Something regal and academic. He used to say it was a place for his body to work, but a playground for his mind.

When I had gotten him all settled into the chair, he looked up at me. I can't explain the look. It was almost as if there were some small part of him that seemed to remember me -- a glint, a glimmer -- and before I could stop myself, I was moving in as natural as can be. The moment just felt right, like the last year had never happened and we were alone together at his desk again with him typing away furiously at some unknown piece of writing and me sitting on the arm of the chair, watching and waiting to see what gifts spilled out of him onto the page.

His lips were dry, his skin flush with warmth. He did not taste the same, but he is still my Martin. I should have left my eyes open and stared into his, a slate blue I fell in love with the moment I met him, but instead I closed them and held onto the chair to keep myself steady. The leather of the chair felt warmer than the physical connection between us.

His breathing changed and his body stiffened up against mine. As soon as it happened, I knew it was wrong, but I kept my lips to his and tried to relish every second of it; the smell of him, the bland taste of his lips, the rigidness of his entire being. Is that selfish of me? To have briefly made him my plaything? What's worse is that I knew (I knew!) that he wouldn't remember the incident the next day. I used him.

Martin didn't kiss back. In fact, I think he tried to pull away as much as one can while held captive in a chair. He said nothing, not a word, but his expression was enough; I had crossed a line. I had offended this Martin imposter, a stranger in my house.

If I thought it would bring him back, I would sacrifice anything and everything to make it happen. My husband continues to stare at me as if I'm some kind of lunatic. I'm beginning to wonder if perhaps he sees me as I am. Maybe I'm the one with the real problems.

The Man (Night)

I awake. I'm awake. I remember this place.

The room is black; night has settled outside and it takes my eyes forever to adjust to the lack of light in the room. I feel the evening breeze pass through the room; I shiver briefly. I clutch the sheets tighter around my legs and realize that I have not forgotten the day's events. The images my mind is able to conjure up don't feel hazy or fuzzy; each moment is a tangible thing I feel my brain wrapping around and holding onto tightly. They are little life rafts floating along in my own mental sea of black.

If the woman, my supposed wife, is right...then this is progress. I am making progress. I am forming memories, thoughts that can be recalled, I am repopulating the crevices of my gray matter. I am elated by this realization until I am struck by a fit of coughing, which halts my inner celebration. I am still confused by her kiss. It was soft and warm and stirred something inside me I cannot recall ever feeling, but despite her protestations, I do not know the woman. I do not remember her, anyway. I don't know if I want her to kiss me again or if I want her to keep her distance. My thoughts are a mess.

I reach for the glass of water, full again, on the nightstand to my left. I gulp from the glass thirstily. The woman from earlier said my name was Martin and that she was my wife, but these concepts are still unsure to me. They feel like the wrong mathematical answers on a chalkboard problem. Erasable, changeable, but not quite right.

I put the glass down and lean back against the headboard. A small girl stands perfectly still at the foot of the bed. I think back to the day, but don't remember seeing her before. She has dark blonde hair that cascades down to the middle of her back, a porcelain face sprinkled with freckles, and a light green dress that falls just below her knees. She wears no shoes.

"Hello, honey," I whisper. "What's your name?"

The girl smiles, says nothing. She comes to the side of the bed in silence and crawls up next to me. She is missing a front tooth, the way small children lose them early on. She curls up on my lap and leans her head against my chest. I am winded by the gesture and wrap my arms around her, feeling her dress crinkle softly against my arms. She smells of meadows and rosewater. Her head nestles up against my chin and she whispers:

"You must remember..."

"Remember what?" I whisper back, but she doesn't reply. Her soft breathing puts the room into an eerie quiet. The rhythm of her breath calms me until I quickly fall back to sleep with her still cradled in my arms.

The Man (Morning)

I awake. I'm awake. I don't remember this place at all.

It's noon. A large bay window to my right lets a cool breeze into the room. A bird chirps, a cricket rubs its legs together timidly. Clouded sunlight spots the floor. The taste of foul morning coats my tongue and I instinctively reach for the water to my left. How did I know that was there? The glass shakes in my hand as I sip.

The sheets have been kicked unceremoniously to the end of the bed and lay draped over the edge like a cephalopod climbing down to the floor. I am clammy all over. My boxers, the only clothing on me, stick to my body. A nightmare. Daymare? A terror.

I scan the room; an ornate armoire against the wall straight ahead. By the open window, a slim stand holds a rotary phone. No pictures hang on the wall, no bric-a-brac clutters the corners. It feels sterile. To the left, an open closet and in the far corner, a door. Shut.

Like a dam collapsing, I am suddenly surrounded by pressure, a feeling of steady force closing in around me. A claustrophobic feeling making me incapable of doing anything but allowing it purchase on every inch of dermis. My skin prickles and rivulets of sweat drip from underneath my arms before rolling down my sides. I have no concept of what day it is or, truly, what time it is. Minute-wise or year-wise. I don't know that this matters much, however. It doesn't feel like it does.

I empty the glass and rise from the bed, an incredibly comfortable place with an intricate, wrought-iron headboard. Matching dressers sit on either side and hold aloft two old-school hurricane lamps turned into electric ones. I turn one on and light spills out from beneath the lampshade and fills that corner of the room. Inside the base of the lamp, however, a soft orange glow bobs and weaves as if being tossed about by a violent storm. The effect is strangely calming.

I get up, stumble upon the bathroom and take a shower. When I finish, I find that my bed has been made and the window has been shut, though the shade has been lifted further to let in more of the dim light. A pair of jeans, a shirt, socks and shoes have all been laid out on the comforter. I assume they're for me and once dressed, I put the towel back in the bathroom and continue down the hallway.

The clattering of pans and metal lids comes from downstairs, so I head in that direction. The house seems empty, as if no one else lives here but myself and whoever is in the kitchen. This doesn't make sense to me. But not much else does either.

I head down the wide staircase, noting the tiny sculptures holding up the railing. They are old and pockmarked with age. What may have once been a non-descript and emotionless cupid now appears to have evil intentions; his smile seems crooked and I imagine seeing an unnatural gleam in his wooden eye.

At the foot of the stairs stands the front door. To my right, a sitting room filled with furniture and curio cabinets filled with pictures and trinkets. To the left of the door, a den, a study, an office; a large oak desk sits like a boulder in the middle of the room. Behind it, wall to wall bookshelves filled with binders and awards, books and picture frames. To my immediate left, a hallway leading back along the side of the stairs and heading to the back of the house. I turn left down the hallway, towards the source of the noise, and pad gingerly into a kitchen the size of the room I just awoke in.

Cabinets, stained a deep, brownish-red, line the walls. There are two stoves, neither in use. Three convection ovens stacked on top of each other stand next to a refrigerator that blends in with the rest of the cabinetry. Had the woman at the sink not opened it as I stepped into the room, I'm sure I would've assumed it was simply more cabinet space.

The woman turns from the sink and is startled by my silent appearance. I don't know this woman. I don't recognize her at all. Her face shows only surprise, but she is pretty; shoulder length chestnut hair, thin face, little to no makeup. Her eyes are big and brown -- true doe eyes -- and seem to smile at me before she does. "Oh. Good morning, Martin. You scared me, sneaking up on me like that." She gave a nervous laugh and covered her chest with her hand before covering her mouth.

She called me Martin. I roll the name across my lips and nothing. This doesn't feel wrong, but it doesn't feel right either. If she had simply called me "man," it would have felt truer. I am Martin. "Good morning," I croak. My voice sounds strange, not my own. Though I cannot remember what my voice is supposed to sound like.

"Are you hungry?" she asks.

I nod. "Yes, thank you. Food sounds wonderful right now."

She smiles at me, wider this time, and wipes her hands on a dishtowel on the counter. "I think some fresh air might do you some good," she says, coming around to lead me out of the kitchen. Her fingers cup my elbow gently. I can smell pork on her apron, something sweeter on her neck and wrists. Her lips are glossy, moist when she looks at me. She almost puts me at ease without realizing it.

I let her lead me past the counter and through the living room out onto a large back patio. A large marble-topped table with built-in benches surrounding it takes up most of the space, but the view is immense. Not another house in sight for miles.

"I've almost got lunch ready. When it's done, I'll bring it out to you out here, is that okay?"

Lunch outside? It's a partly cloudy, but gorgeous, day, so it's not so bright as to be uncomfortable. Yes. Lunch outside is most definitely okay. I nod. I take a seat in one of the large chairs scattered about the porch and stare out across the rolling hills. I hear the screen door shut behind me gently, a pleased and creaky sigh, then the sound of lunch being made in the kitchen again.

Where the hell am I? Who the hell am I?

The Woman

Memories are the ghosts of the past made present. They cannot be trusted. What we remember may not be truth; what we forget may not be truth. It is not what we were that's important, but what we are. The present is all that matters; it is the only thing we can control and even that small bit of control is not always up to us. Some claim divine intervention, others claim karma, while more still claim fate. We all end up in the place we're supposed to be eventually. A stray path here and there takes us off-course for awhile, but we always return whether we know it or not. Our final place of rest never changes. It waits patiently for each of us.

Day 34

06/15/93

2:15am

I let him outside today for the first time. It was like watching a newborn testing the world to see if it was safe. He spent a half hour just sitting on the porch, looking out over the property. After that, he walked along the property line, putting his hands and fingers on everything with a texture. He fondled the petals of the blue wild indigos and downy hawthorns, ran his palms over the wood railing fence as he walked. At one point he even stopped to watch a bird build a nest for at least a quarter of an hour. Martin would not have done these things before.

I didn't want to leave him alone, but I didn't want him to feel that I was lording over him either like some kind of unwanted caretaker...though I think a case could be made that's exactly what I am.

I worry that one day he'll just up and leave. One minute he'll be sitting on the porch and the next...he's gone in any one of a hundred directions from here. I worry that one day he'll wake up and a switch inside him will get flipped and he'll walk and walk and walk away. Through the fields out back, down the road out front...I wake up terrified that he won't be in his bed and as hard as I try, I won't see his figure on the horizon. He'll have vanished without as much as a note as to where and why and I'll be right back where I started while he was in the hospital.

I guess I treat his presence like a child's now because that's essentially what he is until he gets better. I need to stop thinking this way. It's not healthy for me and it won't be healthy for him in the long run. Dr. Sullivan says I need to keep fighting this parent/child urge that seems to be taking over, but I'm not sure how yet. He is my husband, I am his wife. This is the only balance of power I should be focused on.

The house is finally clean. Of course, now that I've finished the last room, it's time to start all over again. I don't understand this house sometimes; clean a room one day only to return to it the next to find a thick layer of dust on nearly every surface while the linens stay pristine. Regardless, the more clean and organized the house becomes, the more I feel the stress of things lifting. I don't feel so claustrophobic or like I'm just going through the motions.

The Man (Night)

I awake. I'm awake. I remember this place.

The room is black; night has settled outside and it takes my eyes forever to adjust to the lack of light in the room. I feel the evening breeze pass through the room; I shiver briefly. I clutch the sheets tighter around my legs and realize that I have not forgotten the day's events. The images my mind is able to conjure up don't feel hazy or fuzzy; each moment is a tangible thing I feel my brain wrapping around and holding onto tightly. They are little life rafts floating along in my own mental sea of black.

I reach for the glass of water, full again, on the nightstand to my left. I gulp from the glass thirstily. The woman from earlier said my name was Martin and that she was my wife, but these concepts are still unsure to me. They feel like the wrong mathematical answers on a chalkboard problem. Erasable, changeable, but not quite right.

I put the glass down and rise from the bed. My joints creak and pop as I walk over to the window. It is a cloudless night; dark purple-blue and starry. The moon's corona is thick tonight and bathes the fields in ghostly illumination.

From the corner of my eye, there is movement in the front yard. I see a billowing bit of fabric, a dress, down below. A girl stands there staring right up at me. I think back to the day, but don't remember seeing her before. She has dark blonde hair that cascades down to the middle of her back, a porcelain face sprinkled with freckles, and a light green dress that falls just below her knees. She wears no shoes.

I raise my hand to say hello and she returns the gesture. I realize what time it is and how strange it is that this girl is out in the yard. Her mother must not know she's out there. No parent would let a child wander around so late at night.

The girl beckons me outside and I nod. Since I am only in boxers, I search the dressers for some clothing and find a sweat suit and a pair of soft-soled shoes I knew were in the closet. I make my way downstairs and out the front door, seeing the girl standing in the same spot.

She smiles at me as I get closer and holds out her hand, which I take in mine. She is cold. Not quite freezing, but enough to make me double-check that I'm awake since it's warm for early morning. Humid even.

"Hello, honey," I whisper. "What's your name? Why are you out so late?"

The girl smiles up at me, says nothing, and points to the road. She tugs on my arm and I follow, unsure of what she wants or why I'm following. Our feet swish through the moist grass quietly, feeling it cushion every step across the lawn. We cross the dirt road, a firm wide thing made of hardened mud and red clay, to a ditch on the other side. We stop on the edge and I look down at her, curious. She remains silent.

"What is it that you want me to see?" I ask. The ditch is deep, perhaps seven feet down and with nearly vertical walls. It's not a place either of us should be exploring, much less in the dark.

She leans over, points down into the dark. Before I can stop her, she loses her footing and falls headfirst down into the ditch. I watch in horror as her body falls limp against the ditch walls, twisting her legs and arms into uncomfortable positions until she rests, unmoving at the bottom looking straight up at me.

I slide down the side of the earthen gash, feeling the rough earth scrape against the back and sides of my legs, and end up kneeling beside her. She blinks as I cradle her head against my chest. I am stunned by the moment and wrap my arms around her, feeling her dress crinkle softly against my arms. She smells of meadows and rosewater. Her head nestles up against my chin and she whispers:

"You must remember..."

"Remember what?" I whisper back, pleading, but she doesn't reply. So I hold her, trying to figure a way out of the ditch without causing her any more harm.

I look up at both sides of the gulley; steep and with no real way for me to climb out with her in my arms. I don't want to throw her over my shoulder for fear of worsening her condition, but I may have no choice. Can I climb out on my own and get help? Is it her mother in the house that's taking care of me?

I lay the girl's head down on the ground and stand up. Frantic, I try to find somewhere on the wall where I can find a foothold; if I can find one high enough, I can pull myself up and out and get help. After several agonizing minutes searching the dark walls by hand, I find an outcropping barely big enough to fit my toes onto. I step onto the jutting rock and hoist myself up to the edge, hoping to find something to grab onto and find purchase on nothing before losing my balance. I hop off the outcropping and jump as high as I can to see if there's anything near the ledge I can aim for. Nothing but weeds and flowers, nothing safe or reliable.

I put my foot on the outcropping, ready to spring again. I throw both hands up towards the ledge as my leg kicks me up, but I feel the outcropping loosen beneath my toes. Before I can right myself, I am falling backwards into the ditch. My back hits the ground hard and knocks the wind out of me. I open my eyes and groan, seeing the stars above me start to blur.

Then the girl is standing above me. Her face is full of concern and sympathy. She kneels down beside me, lays her hands on my chest and leans down to whisper in my ear:

"You must remember..."

Before I can ask what, everything goes black.

The Man (Morning)

I awake. I'm awake. I don't remember this place at all.

I have no idea what time of day it is. A large bay window to my right is closed and rain pelts the panes hard. Dark thunderclouds swirl and move quickly in the distance. The taste of foul morning coats my tongue and I instinctively reach for the water to my left. How did I know that was there? The glass shakes in my hand as I sip.

I empty the glass and rise from the bed, an incredibly comfortable place with an intricate, wrought-iron headboard. Matching dressers sit on either side and hold aloft two old-school hurricane lamps turned into electric ones. I turn one on and light spills out from beneath the lampshade and fills that corner of the room. Inside the base of the lamp, however, a soft orange glow bobs and weaves as if being tossed about by a violent storm. The effect is strangely calming and helps to alleviate the pounding headache I've woken up to.

The sheets have been kicked unceremoniously to the end of the bed and lay draped over the edge like a cephalopod climbing down to the floor. I am clammy all over. My pajamas stick to my body. I'm not clammy, I'm soaked. There are mud and grass stains on my knees and little bits of detritus cover the bed. I have made a mess of someone's bed, but whose? Where am I? And where did all the grass come from?

I scan the room; an ornate armoire against the wall straight ahead. By the open window, a slim stand holds a rotary phone. No pictures hang on the wall, no bric-a-brac clutters the corners. It feels sterile. To the left, an open closet and in the far corner, a door. Shut.

Like a dam collapsing, I am suddenly surrounded by pressure, a feeling of steady force closing in around me. A claustrophobic feeling making me incapable of doing anything but allowing it purchase on every inch of dermis. My skin prickles and rivulets of sweat drip from underneath my arms before rolling down my sides. I have no concept of what day it is or, truly, what time it is. Minute-wise or year-wise. I don't know that this matters much, however. It doesn't feel like it does.

I see a pile of freshly folded clothes on the dresser and immediately change into them. Once dressed, I rip the dirty linens off the bed and gather them all into a pile with the pajamas without trying to make too much of a mess; the scattered grass bits refuse to play nicely and find their way out of the sheets and on to the floor anyway.

I stumble upon the bathroom and jump in the shower. When I finish, I find that my pile of sheets and clothing has been taken from the room and the grass clippings have been swept up; though the bed is without sheets, the room is pristine again. This must be a hotel of sorts.

I wonder where the grass clippings came from. What kind of person goes to bed so filthy and ragged? Am I that kind of person that doesn't clean up after himself? That doesn't feel right, though nothing really does at the moment.

I reach up to scratch the back of my head and feel the bump again. I thought I felt it while showering, but now that my hair is dry, I feel how tender it all is back there. It must be bruised; my fingers touch it gingerly and black stars light up behind my eyes, momentarily fuzzing out the room. Woozy, I sit on the bed until it passes.

There is a room down the hallway -- I saw it briefly before showering -- that looks like a child's room. Toys and stuffed animals populate the miniature book cases and shelf space throughout. The tiny bed is empty and made; ruffled pink pillows and sheets cover it. A stack of quilts sits on the edge. An unsmiling stuffed monkey leans against the pillows as if standing guard for the child so that no one intrudes upon her slumbering place. A ceiling fan hangs, unmoving, in the middle of the room. The only window is on the back wall. From the doorway, I can see a vast expanse of green -- sparsely forested areas surrounding tiny glens -- and further out, a pond. So this is probably not a hotel, as I first thought.

I sit on the child's bed, the sheets and comforter adorned in pink sheeting and frills. A dollhouse stands in the corner. It is closed and clasped shut on the side. Homemade, I think, knowing this to be true without knowing why. The closet doors at the foot of the bed stand open; more stuffed animals lay piled up on the floor below a rod full of dresses and shirts and pants in various shades of young girl. The room is untouched, clean. Unused?

I am compelled to open the doll house and crawl across the floor. I flip the latch up on the side and open the structure wide, seeing the house cleaved in two, right down the middle. Each room contains the appropriate furniture (some glued down, some not) and intricate decorations splayed across the walls. Someone definitely took their time putting this together.

In the kitchen, a woman figure (mother) stands at the sink looking out the window towards a non-existent yard. The man figure (father) stands in a library facing a bookshelf. I search all the rooms for other figures, moving from lower level to upper level until finally reaching the attic (fifth floor) where there is a picture of me with a small girl taped against the wall. The child figure (daughter) stands staring at the picture.

In the picture, I am smiling and looking into the camera. The girl appears stuck in mid-laughter; eyes closed, mouth open in joyful scream, a missing tooth exposing the roof of her mouth. Her strawberry blonde curls rub against my neck as she reaches up beneath my chin and holds my cheek. Her hand is small, so small, against the rough skin of my aging face. We are happy; we are overjoyed. Who are we?

Am I a father? Is this my daughter? These ideas flood my aching head, pounding against the walls already being pounded on and I shut my eyes.

The Woman

When Thomas Edison died in 1931, his friend Henry Ford trapped the inventor's dying breath in a bottle. If one is to believe a final breath could be ensnared as such, what's to say we can't do the same for a soul? Why would we want to? Like the wild animal, each of us has an ache to live the way we want, to be free of physical boundaries. Perhaps this is why man has tried so hard over the years in finding a way to make his feet leave the surface of the earth. Perhaps this is why he cranes his neck upward and risks injury trying to reach the moon.

Day 62

07/13/93

6:17pm

I left him alone again. Two months in, and I'm finally getting better about it, allowing myself to get better about it. Trying to let go, trying to let him do whatever he feels like doing, but it's always in the back of my mind that he isn't progressing. He's not on a learning curve, so I worry that he could vanish one day, poof, never to be seen again. This rips me in two. He'd be gone, which would devastate me, but it wouldn't be intentional on his part. He wouldn't do it to hurt me. Would he?

He woke up this morning with grass all over his pajamas -- again. And complaining of headaches -- again. This is the third or fourth time both have happened in the last month and I'm at a complete loss for any explanation. The sheets were soaked and grass filings were everywhere. I had to start the laundry while he was in the shower. I don't know how that all got there. I didn't hear him get up last night, but then again...I fell asleep pretty hard. But still, if he's sleepwalking, maybe that's a good sign? I'll have to ask Dr. Sullivan if that's possible. I can't imagine it being progress though, especially if he seems to be hurting himself while out traipsing about in the dark.

I'm thinking about driving him around at some point. I don't know how he'll react to being in a car again. I wonder if the sensation will trigger his mind back into a working capacity. The photos haven't helped and neither has walking around the property. If something doesn't give soon, I might.

The Woman

The house is almost quiet. A floorboard creaks, a wall shifts and sighs. The muted sound of a dishwasher running in the kitchen hums and echoes through the old halls. A breeze flows from one end of the house to the other, from screen door on the porch to open windows facing the backyard. Curtains flap in the wake, billowing out like the long lappets of jellyfish in no hurry to get anywhere in particular. The leaves of the potted plants and flowers in the den rustle in a gentle photosynthetic symphony. A ladybug explores a window sill in the den. If one listens hard enough, they can hear a dog barking from the closest house a mile away. Two birds chirp a conversation somewhere near the driveway. The cicadas make their presence known. A neighbor's cat, a country gypsy of sorts, leaps up on the railing of the porch and stalks imaginary prey on silent, padded steps.

Day 91

08/11/93

10:15am

Martin shows no signs of remembering me. Doctor Sullivan said this would be a long process, but this has been the longest three months of my life. Sometimes I wish that I was the one that had lost all ties to the past. It would be so much easier -- but then I get angry for thinking that way. Some days, the pain makes for a good anchor and keeps me grounded. Other days, I find myself walking the halls in a daze with no particular destination in mind and no reason for doing anything but haunting this house.

Every day it's the same; he wakes and I become the teacher. There is a margin of instinct in him. He knows the water on the nightstand is for drinking, and he feels shame at nakedness around a woman he doesn't seem to know. He remains familiar with the use of kitchenware and toiletries, but the specifics of who and why are intangible concepts. Each day is a new one for him, but only for that day, and then his very "him-ness" gets erased. He is rediscovering himself every morning, but his identity remains out of reach. Perhaps there is some small consolation in knowing he can't fathom the irony of his own tragedy.

Those months he lay comatose in the hospital, he was trapped within himself, a prisoner of his own mind. His mind has now, however, given him complete and absolute freedom. I'm not sure which situation is worse.

My mother is no help, of course. She still believes that Martin is faking it all just so he can laze around the house, which is simply absurd. Martin would never have done that before the accident, so I can't imagine him doing it after. There is genuine confusion in his eyes when he wakes up and he wakes up at almost the exact same time every day. I see Hell inside his irises and it stares straight back at me. It's Martin's body, but the man inside him is a stranger to us both.

I'm not asking for all of Martin back, I just want a small piece or two, something to attach my hopes to. For now, they remain untethered.

The Man (Morning)

I awake. I'm awake. I don't remember this place at all.

It's noon. A large bay window to my right lets a warm breeze into the room. A bird chirps, a cricket rubs its legs together timidly. Sunlight spills across the floor. The taste of foul morning coats my tongue and I instinctively reach for the water to my left. How did I know that was there? The glass shakes in my hand as I sip.

The sheets have been kicked unceremoniously to the end of the bed and lay draped over the edge like a cephalopod climbing down to the floor. I am clammy all over. My boxers, the only clothing on me, stick to my body. A nightmare. Daymare? A terror.

I scan the room; an ornate armoire against the wall straight ahead. By the open window, a slim stand holds a rotary phone. No pictures hang on the wall, no bric-a-brac clutters the corners. It feels sterile. To the left, an open closet and in the far corner, a door. Shut.

Like a dam collapsing, I am suddenly surrounded by pressure, a feeling of steady force closing in around me. A claustrophobic feeling making me incapable of doing anything but allowing it purchase on every inch of dermis. My skin prickles and rivulets of sweat drip from underneath my arms before rolling down my sides. I have no concept of what day it is or, truly, what time it is. Minute-wise or year-wise. I don't know that this matters much, however. It doesn't feel like it does.

The breeze from the window carries with it a creaking sound from outside. It is a slow and rhythmic sound that begins to soothe rather than annoy. I get out of bed and stand at the window, basking in the warmth of the sun rays. I hear robins, I hear cicadas. I hear the sound a day makes and the claustrophobic feeling dissipates slowly as I stand in front of the open window with my eyes shut. I have no idea where I am, but in this moment, I simply don't care. I am calm again.

I hear a knock and turn to the door. A small girl stands perfectly still in the doorway. She has dark blonde hair that cascades down to the middle of her back, a porcelain face sprinkled with freckles, and a light green dress that falls just below her knees. She wears no shoes.

"Hello, honey," I whisper. "What's your name?"

The girl smiles, says nothing. She comes to the window and leans her head against my thigh. When she looks up at me, I notice that she is missing a front tooth, the way small children lose them early on. She grabs my pinky with both of her hands and tugs gently. I kneel down beside her and smell...what? Meadows and rosewater? The sun beats down on both of us, blinding me to the point of turning her into a faceless glow. She is all corona.

She tugs on my hand again and then leaves the room. I stand to, not understanding this game. I follow her down a long hallway with that is well lit from a skylight at the end. I can see that it's cloudy outside, but only with those perfectly bright, white clouds that lay stark against the pristine blue around them. Six doors line the hallway, all open, all curious.

I pass the first and look in. A child's bedroom, but larger. Toys and stuffed animals populate the tiny book cases and shelf space throughout. The tiny bed is empty and made; ruffled pink pillows and sheets cover it. A stack of quilts sits on the edge. An unsmiling stuffed monkey leans against the pillows as if standing guard for the child so that no one intrudes upon her slumbering place. A ceiling fan hangs, unmoving, in the middle of the room. The only window is on the back wall. From the doorway, I can see a vast expanse of green -- sparsely forested areas surrounding tiny glens -- and further out, a pond.

I move to the next door and find a bathroom. Three of the doors lead to empty rooms. Wooden floors, bare walls, nothing save for a curtain-less window in the exact middle of each back wall. The final door at the end of the hallway is ajar. I can see bookshelves, a file cabinet, a couch - a quiet reading room perched there at the top of the stairs.

I look down to the first floor and see the young girl smiling up at me, anxious and waving me on, wordlessly telling me to hurryhurryhurry. I head down the wide staircase, noting the tiny sculptures holding up the railing. They are old and pockmarked with age. What may have once been a non-descript and emotionless cupid now appears to have evil intentions; his smile seems crooked and I imagine seeing an unnatural gleam in his wooden eye.

At the foot of the stairs stands the front door. To my right, a sitting room filled with furniture and curio cabinets filled with pictures and trinkets. To the left of the door, a den, a study, an office; a large oak desk sits like a boulder in the middle of the room. Behind it, wall to wall bookshelves filled with binders and awards, books and picture frames. To my immediate left, a hallway leading back along the side of the stairs and heading to the back of the house. I turn left down the hallway, watching the child skip through the house, and pad gingerly into a kitchen the size of the room I just awoke in.

Cabinets, stained a deep, brownish-red, line the walls. There are two stoves, neither in use. Three convection ovens stacked on top of each other stand next to a refrigerator that blends in with the rest of the cabinetry. The back door is open and the nameless girl swings the screen-door wide for me. I'm to go outside then. At least the weather is good for it.

I hear the slow, rhythmic creaking again. She leads me around the side of the house and I'm stunned by the sight of the thickest, tallest tree I've ever seen. That I think I've ever seen, anyway. On the closest limb, a tree swing sits motionless. I walk around its gargantuan trunk, looking for the girl, but she has disappeared, outran me, hidden. I look up into the branches and it takes me a moment to realize there is a woman there, hanging from a rope. Her body sways in the breeze; the rope she dangles from is the source of the rhythmic creaking.

I don't know this woman. I don't recognize her at all, and were she alive, she would be pretty; shoulder length chestnut hair, thin face, little to no makeup. Her eyes are open, forever seeing; big and brown. True doe eyes. My skin crawls and prickles the child must not understand this moment, must not understand the severity of this now. Why else would she be smiling?

A note is attached to the cuff of her pants leg. The name Martin is scrawled across it in swooping, swirling letters and I wonder if I am Martin, wonder if the note is for me. I unpin it from the cuff gently, and begin to read, completely forgetting about the girl for the time being. It doesn't even occur to me until much later to bring her down from the limb.

The Woman

At the end, sometimes you forget how much others depend on you. Or perhaps it becomes that much clearer and makes the end sour a little more. A faithful pet will often sit by the body of its dead master and starve itself. Out of compassion or confusion, loyalty or something else, this is what loss does -- it takes a part of something whole and refuses to give it back. You cannot fight loss with fists. You cannot beat loss with more loss. Sometimes we are just meant to lose.

Day 113

09/12/93

9:37am

Dear Martin (yes, your name is Martin),

If you're reading this, then you have found me, your wife (yes, your wife), hanging like some skinny bird feeder blown about in the wind. I can't imagine what the initial shock will be like for you since I am a stranger to you every time you wake up. There is a certain kind of solace I take in the fact that you won't have to grieve for me the way you might have before the accident two years ago. You will forget about me as soon as you sleep and that is a kind tragedy in and of itself.

This letter is for you, husband that I have loved before, during, and after you came back from the dead (for your heart stopped in the emergency room for the longest minute of my life). You may never remember these things on your own, but mind the date at the top of this letter and keep it by your bedside to remind you every day; you are NOT a hollow man, you are NOT a stranger, you ARE my Martin and you ARE a good person, confused as you may be for however long.

You are/were a father -- this is the truth.

You are/were my husband -- this is the truth.

Our daughter, Elsie, is dead -- this is the truth.

She has been dead for two years -- this is the truth.

You were driving her home when it happened -- this is the truth.

It was an accident -- this is the truth.

You awake every day in our home -- this is the truth.

You may never come to remember me or Elsie -- this is the truth.

You will need to seek out Dr. Sullivan -- this is the immediate and most important truth right now.

You came home on May 15th, 1993. Like an infant who could already walk and talk and eat on your own, I took care of you and hoped (beyond any rational means) that something would stir your murky soup of a memory into something tangible and real, into something you would wake up and remember the next day, and remember the next day...and yet you, through no fault of your own, are a blank slate every morning. The sun rises and wipes your mind clean when it shines through the window. Selfishly, I often wished over the last few months that I had that same luxury, that you and I could simply start each day brand new over and over again. Together.

You're probably thinking I must've been a terrible wife now, what with all this being laid out for you. This must all sound like a terrible guilt-trip being put on your shoulders and I hope that's not what you take away from this. When you meet with Dr. Sullivan, there will be people who want to poke and prod you, run more tests on you, find out what is broken inside you that cannot make the memories remain fixed. This is fine, but they may not always tell you the truth and if I do one thing right in this last act of living, I want you to have the truth, and all of it, ugly as some of it may be.

I've kept a journal since Elsie's death. It was part of my therapy once you were hospitalized and I had no one in this house of ours. It is unfortunately raw in places, but it is the truth. The journal is in your desk in the study, along with a drawer full of albums of you and me and Elsie. These are all yours to one day, hopefully (oh so hopefully) cherish the way I cherish the both of you.

After four months of nursing you back to health, of trying everything to make your memories return, to unfog you, I cannot stand by any longer and watch another member of my family die while I figure out how to deal with it. I moved from room to room while you and Elsie were both hospitalized, but she passed mercifully quick while your brain erased itself. I wish you could've been awake to say goodbye to her. I wish you were "awake" so I wouldn't have to say goodbye to you now.

Know that she loved you immensely ("bigger than the sky," she used to say) and know that I love you the same, though I can never expect that feeling to be reciprocated.

I don't know what's worse -- that tomorrow you will wake up and be unable to conjure up your lover's face on a whim and a smile or that I have given up on you. And myself.

All my love, my heart,

Christine

The Man (Mourning)

I awake. I'm awake. I don't remember this place at all.

It's noon. A large bay window to my right lets a warm breeze into the room. A bird chirps, a cricket rubs its legs together timidly. Sunlight spills across the floor. The taste of foul morning coats my tongue and I instinctively reach for a glass of water that is not there.

The sheets have been kicked unceremoniously to the end of the bed and lay draped over the edge like a cephalopod climbing down to the floor. I am clammy all over. My boxers, the only clothing on me, stick to my body. A nightmare. Daymare? A terror.

I scan the room; an ornate armoire against the wall straight ahead. By the open window, a slim stand holds a rotary phone. No pictures hang on the wall, no bric-a-brac clutters the corners. It feels sterile. To the left, an open closet and in the far corner, a door. Shut.

Like a dam collapsing, I am suddenly surrounded by pressure, a feeling of steady force closing in around me. A claustrophobic feeling making me incapable of doing anything but allowing it purchase on every inch of dermis. My skin prickles and rivulets of sweat drip from underneath my arms before rolling down my sides. I have no concept of what day it is or, truly, what time it is. Minute-wise or year-wise. I don't know that this matters much, however. It doesn't feel like it does.

I hear a little girl's voice in the hallway and notice a note on the nightstand. The name Martin is scrawled across it in swooping, swirling letters and I wonder if I am Martin. I wonder if the note is for me.

The End


© 2013 Adam "Bucho" Rodenberger

Bio: Adam “Bucho” Rodenberger is a 33 year old writer from Kansas City living in San Francisco. He has been writing off and on since 1995, but consistently since 2004. He holds dual Bachelor’s degrees in Philosophy & Creative Writing and completed his MFA in Writing at the University of San Francisco in 2011. As of December 2012, he has been published in Number One Magazine, Alors, Et Tois?, Agua Magazine, The Red Pulp Underground, Offbeatpulp, Up The Staircase, The Gloom Cupboard, BrainBox Magazine, Cause & Effect Magazine, the Santa Clara Review, and Phoebe. He is currently working on three experimental novels and a short story collection in the magical realism and surrealism genres.

E-mail: Adam Rodenberger

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