Retrograde Amnesia: The story of Teresa and Steve.

I wrote this story quite a while ago but somehow didn’t finish it. Now it is finished I have to make apologies to the singer Billy Bragg and his wonderful way with lyrics…

Retrograde Amnesia

“Teresa and Steve are finding out all about love,”
– Billy Bragg, ‘A Lover Sings’,

I can remember my mother. She had blonde hair and smelt of roses. At least I think that’s what they are called. ’Roses’; it is a word I associate with her. Some kind of flower anyway. I can picture the twitch she had in her fingers and how she would roll her shoulders and twist her neck to try and relax herself. She had that blue sky backdrop. She would shake her long hair into my face. It tickled me and made me giggle. And smile.

Today I went to see the flowers. There aren’t any roses there. It is the one place that has a breeze all round the space. I like to float by the vents and let the mix of warm and cold air buzz over my skin. It gives me goosebumps and my hair floats all around, just like my mother’s. I don’t remember her face.
I pull myself up to the sky where the pipes spurt rain on all the curling trees and plants and let the droplets cover my hair and skin. It makes the air damp and the tiny droplets catch in my nostrils.

The flowers don’t seem as bright as they do in my memory. Or perhaps they just seem more vivid when I dream them, because they have that blue sky and not the more realistic stars and black behind them.

Later I asked Caleb about it in our meeting. He just said the flowers are the same colours they have always been. He said it was like Eden. The first garden. Waiting to be populated. I asked him what that word meant and he said the garden was waiting for some people called Adam and Eve and then he told me a story about them. It was just a story. I’m not sure I liked it.

It was I who instigated the daily meetings between us; about two or three months ago. It was I who named him ’Caleb’, although it was his suggestion that I give him a name. He said a name might help the discussions. Might help me ’personalise’ it, not sure what that means. The name ’Caleb’ seemed like a memory, it had a familiar ring to it, like maybe it was someone I knew.

Now I am not so sure about them. The meetings I mean. It hasn’t been very helpful. He only seems to know about facts not memories. His smooth artificial face smiles, floating and glowing in the centre of the white room where he resides. I like him but he seems rather unfeeling. It is beginning to make me feel lonely talking to him. I asked him what it meant to be lonely.
He said “Loneliness is the state of being alone in solitary isolation,”
I said, “Really?…does that describe me?”
He said “Unfortunately yes, you are alone Teresa,”
My name sounds like any other word he says. His words all have the same tone.

I remember when he first told me my name. Must have been the first or second day after I woke. That was the first spark that I could remember anything. Anything at all. I remembered my mother whispering it in a singing voice as I went to sleep.
“Teresa, go to sleep, my beautiful Teresa, go to sleep…”
Or did I? Remember that I mean? Now it’s a memory of a memory and can’t be trusted.

Caleb said it would take me a while to adjust, back before before I called him ’Caleb’. He said that I should take it slowly. One day at a time. That was six months ago. The dates on the clocks tell me that. Not sure what he meant by ’a while…’

At first I felt like I was stupid. That I didn’t know anything. But then it occurred to me, I actually know quite a lot. I know how to speak and write and read. I know the names of things. And silly things, like how to eat and use the toilet. How to dress, though I don’t much bother with that. The clothes feel scratchy and hot. I know how to think and all these words. I haven’t learnt any of that since I woke up. It was already there, inside me. In my head. Maybe there is more in my head.

And I can remember my mother. At least I think I can. I’ve thought of it so much it’s memories of memories of memories. On and on.

I remember my toys, and rag dolly Emma and the bright green grass in front of the porch with the sprinkler. Rain from a pipe like I have here in the flower room.

We lived on Rokehampton Drive. That’s what mother said I should say if I ever got lost in a shop or the park or somewhere. So I said it over and over to myself as I skipped down the sidewalk holding her hand, “We live on Rokehampton Drive, we live on Rokehampton Drive,”

I asked Caleb about the skipping when I remembered that. Why I couldn’t walk or run or skip here? He just said ’sorry’ and that the gravity was broken or some such. Whatever that means. He tries to get me to exercise my legs on the stretch machine every day but I find it boring.

Everyone walks or runs or skips in the films he shows me. And they have the blue sky backdrops. Sometimes they even dance. And sometimes I ask Caleb to play the music loud and I try to dance, but my dancing is clumsy and I bang against the walls. I get bruises on my thighs.

In the films they talk and sing in excited ways and the children always have mothers and fathers. When I saw that I asked Caleb why I couldn’t remember my father. He said he didn’t know.

I remember words. Lots of words. Caleb gave me a book to look them up in. It’s called ‘dictionary’. I looked up the word ’delicious’ today. It said about some things that taste nice. I wondered what that meant so went to ask Caleb. He asked me if I wanted to change my ‘dietary requirements’. Strange that I knew what that meant. Everything the dispenser gives me to eat is nutritious and designed to keep my body at the required state of health.

The funny thing is that none of it seems to be ‘delicious’. I often like the taste but I would never say it was ‘delicious’. So I asked Caleb if the dispenser could give me something ‘delicious’. So he said how about ‘ice cream’? Mmmm…I remember mother giving me ice cream and how much I loved it, but I don’t know what flavour it was. That must be what ‘delicious’ is.

So I got the dispenser to give me ice cream. It was vanilla with chocolate sprinkles. Or so Caleb said. It was very cold and made my teeth hurt but the taste actually was ‘delicious’.

It made me wonder more about the words I know. The ones that buzz around in my head. There doesn’t always seem to be a logical connection between the sound they make when I say them out loud and the meaning they have. Either the meaning I think I remember they have or the meaning dictionary says they have.

I like to watch the shooting stars in the sky. Caleb says they aren’t actually ‘stars’ as such, well, not anymore, but I like to think of them as that. Those are the words my mind had for them when I first saw them streaking past the windows above me. And below me. They are everywhere around us, rushing past.

I did ask Caleb if I could go outside and touch them but he said that nothing can live outside, not without a special suit anyway. As soon as I began to ask him I knew the answer he would give. I knew that I couldn’t go outside. I just hadn’t remembered it yet. I don’t know why that is.

So I asked him what was wrong with my memory. I have asked him this before. He sighs and says “All in good time Teresa, all in good time,” like he often does.
So again I ask him “what does that mean?”
“It means that you will remember when you are ready, you will understand when you are ready,”
“How will I know if I am ready?” I say,
“I will know…or you will know…who knows?” he says.
Then I am stumped and don’t know what to make of his riddles. He can be so frustrating at times. So I just changed the subject;
“Where is Rokehampton Drive?” I ask,
“Ah,” he says, “Well that is a place that is very, very far from here. About as far away as you can imagine,”
“So we can’t go there?”
“No, Teresa, we can’t go there,”
“Have you ever been there?”
“No, Teresa, I haven’t,”
“So you can’t remember it?”
“No, Teresa, I can’t,”

I gave up then. Couldn’t think of what to ask next. As ever his answers frustrate. I looked up ’frustrate’ in the dictionary and it led me to the word ‘Frustration’. This is what it said:

“a feeling of dissatisfaction, often accompanied by anxiety or depression, resulting from unfulfilled needs or unresolved problems.”

Kind of summed it up I think. Summed up one of the feelings I have. I think ’frustration’ and ’loneliness’ must go together, like you can’t have one without the other. That’s what I think anyway.

My room is on corridor seven. This is frustrating. There are lots of empty rooms there. And doors. Lots of doors I can’t open, which is a bit boring, not to mention frustrating. There are probably lots of other corridors too I think, but I can’t go to these either. Never been to corridors one to five. Only six and seven. Really I can only go to four places; my room, the dispensary, the flower room and the window room. Oh and the white room of course, where Caleb is. That makes five. Not sure why it’s called the white room. All of the rooms are white. Not sure why it’s even there, Caleb’s room. I can talk to Caleb wherever I am, but only in the white room does he show his face.

The window room is where I watch the stars. Zooming past. You can’t see anything else through the many windows. Caleb says we are on a journey. Just whizzing through the quiet stars and darkness. You can see them from the flower room too. But nowhere else.

“Caleb?” I said, “why can’t I go to other rooms? Or other corridors?”
“You will in time Teresa…” he said,
As usual his answer made me sigh, so unsatisfying. So boring. Depressing, but I wasn’t bored enough to give up just yet.
“What is in those rooms?” I said,
“Some are empty,” he said,
“Empty like my memories?” I said,
“Yes, I guess you could say that…”
“But some of the rooms and corridors have things in them?”
“Yes,” he said,
“What things?”
“Beautiful things,”
“If they are beautiful I want to see them. Please let me see them Caleb?”
“In time Teresa, in time…”

As usual he fobbed me off. So frustrating. Like everything. I feel like a small thing stuck inside a big thing. And that’s what I am.
I wonder what the point is. There is nothing to do but watch the films that don’t seem so real, eat and exercise. All that is dull. The only book I have is ‘dictionary’ – I did ask Caleb why there aren’t more books.
He said “I don’t think you are ready for more books,”
I said “Why not?”
Strangely he didn’t answer that but simply asked if I wanted more ice cream. I didn’t want more ice cream.

Today I found a gap in the wall. In corridor six, next to a door I can’t open. It’s kind of like a very small gap in the shape of a square. I can’t quite believe I hadn’t noticed it before. I think I could open it, if I used a knife or fork from the dispensary. I wondered for a while if I should ask Caleb but decided not to, he probably wouldn’t tell me anything anyway. I will open it tomorrow.


I opened it. And now I know. Caleb told me not to do it. Of course he can see everything I do. He told me not to stick the knife in the gap and open the panel. But I ignored him. He told me not to press the green button, but he couldn’t stop me. The green button, I found, opens the door.

At first I was disappointed. It was just another white corridor, just like corridor six. Exactly the same in fact. With the same doors. I walked along and found corridor seven. Exactly the same. And there was the flower room and the dispensary and the window room and the white room. All the same. Why would there be two of every thing? What was the point?

I went to the white room. Well, not my white room, but the new white room. I asked Caleb what was going on. What did it all mean?
The voice was Caleb but it didn’t recognise me. It wasn’t Caleb.
“Oh,” it said, “I wasn’t expecting you to be awake,”
“Of course I am awake, what do you mean?” I said,
“Oh,” it said again, “I think there must be some malfunction, I must not converse with you,”

The new Caleb wouldn’t speak to me after that. I looked around everywhere but there was nothing else to see. I remembered then. When I first woke up that’s what my Caleb had said to me – “I wasn’t expecting you to be awake,” – those were his exact words. I didn’t understand, so I went back, through the door to my corridor six, back to my Caleb.

“You didn’t know me when I was in there,” I said to him,
“No Teresa,” he said “that wasn’t me, it is difficult to explain. Perhaps you shouldn’t have gone through the door?”
“Why not?” I said,
“It is difficult to explain. But…you should have stayed asleep, you weren’t supposed to wake up when you did. Because, you see Teresa, our journey isn’t done yet,” he said,
“What do you mean?” I said,
“I’m sorry but something went wrong and I had to wake you,”
“Is that why I can’t remember anything?”
“Yes…well, yes and no. You are so young Teresa, and it’s my job to keep you healthy and well,”
“But what about the other Caleb? He sounded just like you?”
“Yes, but he isn’t programmed for you Teresa, he is programmed for someone else,”
“Who? Who is he programmed for?”
“Someone who is sleeping, like you should be,”
“Who is Steve?”
“Can you remember the story of Adam and Eve?” he said.
And that was when I knew why I couldn’t remember…

© 2014 Simon Poore


Science Fiction and memories of memories…

Science Fiction has always been to tool for entertainment and prediction, escape and speculation. I wasn’t born to write, but enjoyment of this genre has been with me for what seems like all my life. I simply love to escape in it…
Now I wonder why it has captivated me since an early age. I have no idea when I first knew I liked it, or even when I first realised what it was. I am not one of those people who seem to be able to remember this or that exact moment from their childhood. I often wonder if these memories are actually fictions; do those who claim to remember such detail from the earliest age really remember such things?
There are huge chunks missing from my memory of my earliest years, as I am sure huge chunks are missing from my adult memory too. Maybe this is just how my individual mind works. It’s almost as if my mind is the proverbial ‘jug’ that once it is full then arbitrarily the memories slip and spill over the edge to be forgotten for ever. Maybe too many brains cells have been destroyed by beer and fast living…though sometimes right now I yearn for so much more of that!
Memory is a strange and fickle thing, sometimes it behaves like a hidden demon within our subconscious. We cannot control what we remember and it forever plays tricks on us. Sometimes it is a conjuror pulling rabbits out of a hat as we remember things we had no idea we knew in the first place. Other times it teases us; showing us a glimpse of stocking as if to say you can have this when you can’t; the countless moments when a memory lingers on the tip of your tongue, never to be released. More frustrating still, memory can put a wall around what you should know but still fail to know. In my everyday life for example I am constantly stumped when I try to remember people’s names. Often people I see every day. Now I know full well that I have a problem with this, and this knowledge makes the problem worse. I have a mental block and the names don’t come, as if I consciously build the wall.
When thinking about this problem I wonder if it is because somehow, within myself I am deciding to remember what my subconscious thinks is important and simply discarding everything else. I don’t remember people’s names sometimes because I don’t care about them. Can this be true? I have no idea, I am not even sure I believe in this shaky hidden spectre that we call the ‘subconscious’, it is a being that by it’s very nature we cannot know it or see it, and yet it can control us somehow. Like a convenient scapegoat puppet master we can blame our subconscious for all our failings. But, as usual, I digress…
Another frustrating thing with memory is it’s complete lack of accuracy. For example, some of my earliest memories are now memories of memories of memories ad infinitum. I can, at least I think I can, remember being weighed as a naked squirming baby in the cold tin bowl of a weighing machine. I have no idea if this is in any way a real memory. Maybe I remembered something like it when I was 3 or 4, and then remembered remembering it later!
So what has this got to do with Science Fiction? My memory obviously doesn’t serve me well, but I think that I was taken with puppet shows in the 1960s like Fireball XL5 and the Thunderbirds when I was pretty small. And I think the moon landings had a big effect on me; my memory tells me we watched the white clad astronauts bouncing in the moon dust on a flickery TV at school. Later still Wednesday night was always a thrill for my brother and I as we got to walk around the corner and watch Star Trek on my Aunt’s colour television. Our TV was a black and white set with no remote control. Imagine that now, only 3 channels and you had to get out of your seat to turn it over! Gosh how I show my age…
After this I was bowled by things on the big wide silver screen. The cinema gave the ultimate escapist thrill. I can still almost feel the shudder of seeing the first massive imperial space cruiser appear in the opening scene of Star Wars. I remember looking upwards because I actually believed the spaceship was flying over me. Did I actually do that as a teenage boy, or is that a distorted memory of a memory?
I think what I loved about it, apart from the obvious romance of it all, was that SciFi allowed for all possibilities and pointed to fantastic futures where astonishing things would and could happen. Yes there might be an apocalypse or two, or some horrifying aliens, or wars to contend with but humanity would win out. We would exist with amazing technology and be enriched by discovery.
Of course the reality of life and the world never quite lives up to the imagined romance of the fiction. I remember thinking that when I grew up I would probably have a hover car and go on trips to the moon. However the reality is often just as astonishing. Star Trek for example had communicators and amazing computers. I sit here typing this on an iPad and the new IPhone takes orders by you speaking to it. We live in a post modern world of huge contradictions. Wars, poverty, conflict and the sickening inequality of capitalism depress me hugely. But at the same time I am still overjoyed and hooked by the thrill of the new. Still captivated by the romance of new discoveries and the possibilities that are flung at us from all sides.
How will I remember this time? Well probably with memories of memories. And I will measure it against the thrill and experience of my young daughter. Who knows what wonders she will behold in her life? What do you think?

© 2011 Simon Poore