by Ronald D. Ferguson
“You have slamnesia.” Doctor Reynolds’s dour expression blends into the dark frame of his oiled-walnut office panels. His next words don’t improve my impression. “Worst case I’ve ever seen.”
“That doesn’t sound good.” I don’t want to admit I’ve never heard of slamnesia because when I’m consulting a doctor I’d rather risk death than appear ignorant. A ten-dollar word jumps to mind. I don’t know from where. “What’s my prognosis?”
“Prognosis?” He repeats my insightful jargon like he’s been startled by a talking dog. I expect him to resurrect Latin to silence me.
The cute girl sitting next to me gives me an elbow nudge. “Ask about the treatment.”
I give her my standard appreciative eye scan to avoid being rude. She’s hot. Really hot. My world fills with possibilities. “Who are you?”
“I’m your girlfriend, Tanya. Tanya Odom?” Her eyes roll, and she flips open her phone. Her thumbs fly across the keypad while she talks. “We’ve lived together for three years. I brought you to see Doctor Reynolds. I’ve been sitting beside you for the last twenty minutes.”
“No. I would remember that.” I ogle her boobs. Then I attempt a self-deprecatory laugh, but snort instead. When did I start snorting?
“Not necessarily.” Reynolds lays a wise finger alongside his nose. “Slamnesia does not mean you lost your own memory. With slamnesia, another person’s memories bombard your mind. Most researchers believe the disease is the result of too much radiation passing through cell-phone users’ brains. These carry memories airborne until they settle into the mind of an excellent receptor like yourself.”
I screw up my lips. I don’t like where this is going. On the other hand, I don’t know why.
“You could get worse.” Reynolds directs his disapproval towards Tanya’s phone. “Nearby cell activity will likely increase the number of memories you receive.”
Tanya mouths a silent “whatever,” and she turns away to conceal her texting.
“So you really haven’t forgotten Tanya.” The doctor pauses as if the hesitation were the stage direction in his script, and then he continues. “You’re actually remembering someone else’s experiences, someone who doesn’t know Tanya, and that can be very confusing. Look at her again. Perhaps her image can help you separate your memories of her from the outside memories that slammed you.”
“My pleasure.” I can’t control the smirk that pulls my lips to the right and my eyes towards her.
Tanya stops texting and cocks her head in annoyance. “He means my face, Moron.”
Moron? I thought my name was George.
“Right.” I look up. Slowly, her facial features surface like a familiar sunrise. “Hey, weren’t you a blonde when we got married?”
“You’ve got to do something, Doctor.” Tanya looks past me to Reynolds and holds up her phone display for him to read. “Look at the poll numbers on MySocialSite. None of my friends approve this turn of events.”
Reynolds ignores her and leans towards me. “Can you tell me your name?”
I hesitate, then wag my finger at him. “You almost tricked me. I started to say George, but my name is Charlie.”
“Moron.” Tanya lowers her head and texts faster. “Your name is Larry Hendrix.”
“I don’t know.” I palm the package of plastic-punch-out pills. “This looks like a lot of drugs.”
“Do you want to get better or not?” Tanya firmly plants her fists on her hips. “. . . Larry.”
“Better, of course.” Sure, who doesn’t want to be cured, but I’m not sure what to use for the comparison with better.
“This has been a very long day . . . Larry.” She purses her lips. Dissonant memories shift, and a tangent paradigm forms. She drops her purse on the kitchen table. How does she do that?
“I’m hot, sweaty, and tired.” She squints at me as if she wants to measure my response. “I’m going to take a shower . . . Larry.”
“Why do you keep saying . . . Larry?”
“Doctor’s orders. Look, I’ve uploaded our picture album as a slide show to the TV. I want you to watch it until I get dinner ready. Okay? Uh . . . Larry.”
I shrug and settle into my living-room chair. My chair senses me and starts the TV; the slide show commences. Tanya is in most of the pictures, but occasionally a geeky looking guy stands with her. Look at those ears. What a freak. Who is this idiot? Panic hits me, and I creep down the hall to look in the mirror attached to the bathroom door.
Me. I grin sheepishly. I remember looking different–darker with taller hair, perhaps vice-versa, you know, better looking–but the guy in the slideshow is definitely me. Hmm. Maybe those ears aren’t all that bad.
Sounds of splashing water come from the bath. I slip through the door. Condensation covers the shower door, but wow, look at that shape. I inch closer. The wet figure straightens, opens the shower door, and brushes wet strands of dark hair from her face.
“Larry, why are you here?”
“Umm, yes, why?” Think. The sight of her naked body blanks my mind. Think fast. Wasn’t she plumper yesterday? Think faster. Wait! Isn’t she the maid?
“I thought my wife was taking a shower, Hilda. Sorry. Would now be a good time to discuss your salary?”
“I’m Tanya.” She leans her forehead against the tile. The rest of her scrumptious self sags as if defeated. “Tanya Odom, your girlfriend.”
“Oh yeah.” Does her body remodel with familiarity, or is it my mind? “Now, I remember.”
She straightens abruptly and reaches for a towel. Oh, what gyrations and twirls, what a symphony of motion. I can’t help but watch the action.
“On second thought,” she glares at me, “get the hell out of here.”
“Huh? I thought you were my girlfriend.” Mosaic memories meld to a montage of moronic mystification.
“I’m Larry’s girlfriend.” She wraps the towel around her and steps from the shower. “I don’t know what pervert haunts your brain right now, but whoever it is has no business peeping at me. Get out.”
Tanya puts her phone away and taps her foot impatiently. Her shoes are cute, but the heels are high for my taste.
I sigh. “I don’t suppose those shoes would fit me.”
“Would you please get ready for work?” She grits her teeth.
“I haven’t a thing to wear.” I thumb through the hangers in my closet. “Will you lend me your pink sweater.”
She grabs my ears and pushes her nose against mine. “I’ll lay out some clothes, and you will wear them. Understand?”
My heart flutters. She’s so assertive.
I blink. My head hurts. Must be the drugs kicking in.
My day at the office passes well after I discover that I really don’t need any skills to do my job. When co-workers pass and speak, I wink or point at them or just say “hi.” No problems at all. I do cheat in a moment of clarity and copy “LARRY HENDRIX” in big letters onto my calendar so that I can answer the phone properly.
The phone rings. Is it the office phone? No? My cell, then. Oh, I don’t have a cell.
“Hi this is Larry Hendrix in . . .” My first impulse is to say accounting, but product development suddenly sounds good too. “This is Larry Hendrix. How can I help you?”
“Larry, this is Tanya.”
“Yes, Tanya? Do you want information on our latest product, or has there been an error in your bill?”
“This is Tanya Odom, your girlfriend. Our joint checking account is low. I need you to transfer some money from your savings account.
“You know this would be easier if you gave me your password.” She sighs. “You don’t remember the account numbers, do you? I’ll text them. Please do the transfer immediately. After the doctor bills, I need to cover some unexpected charges, and now all these . . . distractions—well, I don’t want you to forget.”
“Thanks . . . Larry. I love you . . . Larry.”
I review the conversation highpoints while waiting for the text message to arrive on my computer. Seems easy enough. While the checking account number scrolls across, I connect to the bank site. Before the savings account ID appears, I suddenly remember an account name and its password. I immediately link to that connection: Thomas Johanssen Campaign for America Slush Fund. The balance is more than one-hundred-twenty-nine million dollars. Why am I here? Ah yes, secret fund transfers. Hmm. I transfer ten million to the joint checking account using category walking-about cash, which requires my special authorization code. Easy. The code comes to me, and I enter the authorization. The money flows. That should keep Mary Lou quiet about our weekend in the Bahamas.
I hang up more than pleased with my efforts.
Our head throbs with the competing cacophony of our compelling complaints. We take more drugs, but our only respite is the sleep the pills bring.
I stand before the mirror for twenty minutes debating what we should wear. Literally, debating. Sensibility tables the proposal for a skirt and blouse, but no other consensus forms.
One voice says, “You must control this or we are doomed.”
Another voice says, “We can’t wake us up.”
A third voice complains, “We can’t go to sleep.”
All the voices blend but without counterpoint or harmony. The instruments want to tune, but no one commands the symphony.
Someone screams “quiet.”‘ I think it’s us.
The silence spreads and I wonder why I’m standing at the mirror. Will the concertmaster compel the oboe to sound an A?
“I can help.” The voice is small, almost invisible, but hopeful.
“Who are you?” We ask.
She shows me stacks of books, rows of computers, and neatly organized files. She reveals the possibilities of order, and we realize her memories are fresh, uncomplicated, and did not belong to us in the chaos of the day before.
“I can help you sort this out, but you, Larry, you must take charge.” She sounds the A for us to tune up. “You must seize responsibility for the organization I offer.”
“Our name is Larry, and we will wear many coats of many colors. If you teach me how to conduct the chorus, then I will appropriately dress us.”
The headaches stop when we quit the medicine. We pretend to continue taking it so that Tanya doesn’t scold us. George, Charlie, Madelyn, and Thomas agree with the decision, but Eleanor, the librarian, abstains. Eleanor always abstains, but she beautifully maintains our shelved lives.
Now, we can shuffle memories like a deck of cards, with me, Larry, looking over everyone’s shoulder to select our best hand. Usually, when we talk to Tanya, we quick-shuffle Larry’s memories to the top, otherwise she might watch us—well, me—more carefully and learn that we’ve stopped the drugs. Lately however, she seems not to notice our slips so often.
Tanya screams her passion and shudders in my arms. I smile because I’ve finally squashed her ceaseless questions about my source for mundane money. She simply must learn to think in millions rather than hundreds. I pull her close.
“My God.” A shiver passes through her body. “Where did you learn that?”
“This is no more than we have always had, ma chere Dorothea. You should expect no less from votre amour, Francois.”
“What? I’m your girlfriend Tan. . . .” She pauses, giggles, and then snuggles her head against my chest. “Hold me, Francois. I’m yours.”
Tanya closes her suitcase. Her phone lies on the table. She hasn’t texted her friends in weeks. “One suitcase doesn’t seem like enough clothes for a year.”
We shuffle Francois to the top. “Mon amour, go naked if it pleases you. We will buy whatever you require along the Champs-Elysees.”
She smiles and throws her arms around us, but not before we see the glisten in her eye. We are pleased that she is happy.
Her phone rings. We flip to Larry and answer it. “Hi. This is Larry, formerly of St. Paul, soon on sabbatical along the Seine.”
“Hello Larry.” We immediately recognize Doctor Reynolds’s stiff formality. “I have great news. The University has developed a drug to treat slamnesia. The preliminary results are encouraging, more than encouraging, they are outstanding. I’ve convinced them to let you participate in the effectiveness trials.”
Larry doesn’t know what to say. Neither does George, Madelyn, Francois, Charlie, Eleanor, or Rusty . . . . We stand silent while Thomas prepares some talking points.
“What’s wrong?” Tanya’s hand touches our shoulder. “You’re pale as death.”
We clutch the phone to our chest. “Doctor Reynolds says they have a treatment for slamnesia. He wants to put us—uh, me—in the clinical trials.”
Thomas tries to push to the surface to recite his talking points, but the rest of us stack the deck against him.
Tanya’s eyes narrow. Her lips tighten. “Ya’ll give me the phone.”
Ya’ll? When did Tanya convert to southern? Reverend Rusty surges to the top of the deck. Way to go, gal.
Tanya pries her cell phone from my grasp. Her wide stance stretches taut her narrow skirt, and the authoritative tilt to her chin chills us. Who is this woman?
“This is Tanya Odom, Doctor Reynolds.” Her southern accent grows thicker. “We, uh, I appreciate your concern, but Larry won’t never be no guinea pig for medical research. Y’all can peddle that quackery elsewhere. Pardon me? Yes I said quackery, and ya’ll can shove . . . Hello?”
She smiles reassurance our way and throws her cell phone in the trash.
“Was he angry?” We ask.
“Does it matter?” Her accent fades away. “Do you know someone named Janice from Savannah?”
We shake out head. “I don’t think so.”
“You will. Now, about the trip. I want to do a little shopping with Madelyn at the airport, but Larry is my favorite traveling companion. Once we get to Paris, let Francois handle customs and talk to the hotel clerk, and if he’s not too tired when we get to our bedroom. . . .”
We sigh. Making memories with our friends. Life is good.
Ronald D. Ferguson writes fiction because it’s more fun to write than the non-fiction he used to write. He lives with his wife, a dog, and four feral cats on two acres of the Texas Hill country. A list of his short fiction publications can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/ronalddferguson.