This is a FWF prompt from Kellie Elmore that turned into a sort-of-but-not-really short story. Hope you like it.
You wake to find yourself in a strange house and you cannot remember your own name. You roll over and see a letter by the bed.
Is it for you? Who is it from? What does it say? Does it explain where you are and why?
I woke with a smile, stretching out my legs with a shimmy and a flex, feeling a little strange but also happy. Sitting up in the bed, I looked around the room with a bemused grin on my face. There was the dresser, a large oak vanity sort of thing, with a scattering of pocket litter, spare change and a hair brush. On the bedside table was a digital clock reading 9:34 a.m., a glass of tepid water, and a silver locket that I reached for without thought.
This is where everything gets strange. It all happened so slowly, so quickly, and the moment was so crowded, it is nearly impossible to translate. As my arm began to reach I got a strange sort of feeling in my stomach, like the nervous flutter of butterflies, and I knew something was terribly wrong. At this moment my eye alights upon a sealed envelope propped on the window ledge, and my heart began to pound. The arm outstretched began to tremble, and my mouth went instantly dry, as if I had swallowed sand. The hair stood up all over my body, and I snatched my arm back and wrapped it around my torso, feeling myself shake in terror as I beheld this simple blank envelope.
I was beside myself, and looked around in confusion for the source of my fear. It was strange how it came upon me, the knowing. I cannot tell you where it was lurking within me, but I felt it rise from the depths. An odd pressure in my chest, a creeping sensation and a slight tingling, then it fell on me all at once like an avalanche.
I did not know who I was.
It is the most gut wrenching and terrifying experience, to be lost in your flesh. To awaken as a conscious being in a body that is foreign to you. I felt a massive vertigo as my stomach dropped and my vision clouded for a moment as I drew near to passing out from the shock. A look into my mind revealed a gaping hole of emptiness where a memory of ‘self’ no longer existed. That dresser, that carpet with the floral pattern, the bed, the locket, and even the T-shirt around my shoulders, all of it completely unknown to me. I promptly vomited on the floor beside the bed, which I could not help noticing was a high grade mahogany, as a small part of me wondered how the hell I would know that.
I looked around me feeling lost, like a caged thing waiting for the captor to appear. I was panting, and I couldn’t seem to stop myself. Who was I? What was my name? What did I do for a living, did I even have a job? Where was I, what city, state COUNTRY? How old was I? Did I have a companion? Oh my holy goodness, did I have CHILDREN? I was shaking uncontrollably and I was slow to take hold of myself.
I took a large breath and settled back into the mattress to think. “Ok, so you don’t know who, where, or even WHAT you are, but you’re not going to figure it out lying here in a T-shirt. You seem to be in a comfortable room, and the walls are not threatening to attack anytime soon, so calm down and find yourself some britches.” My inner voice sounded strong to me, and I was pleased to discover that I had a sense of humor. I sat up to examine my environment more carefully.
There was a large picture window to the right of me hung with a white curtain that currently obscured the view outside. The walls were painted a pale blue with white trim, a ceiling fan turned out a mild breeze, the dresser had a piece of red fabric poking from the top drawer, a small stained glass window sat just beside the bedside table, and there is where that envelope sat benignly on the sill… One thing at a time.
I swung my feet off the bed and stood up to meet my life. “If I were a pair of pants, where would I be?” My first stop was the dresser, where I was surprised to find no clothing, only random scraps of fabric and odds and ends that just needed a drawer somewhere. Behind a tapestry depicting a Chinese dragon dueling a phoenix, I discover a large closet space with more than enough clothing for one person. I obviously did not live alone- if in fact this was even my closet. There was a shelf with two sizes of jeans folded neatly in piles, and the smaller size looked like it would fit my narrow waist. I picked up one of the other pair and found it two sizes larger, and all of them were Wranglers and Levis.
I stripped off my clothes and looked at the body I was currently occupying. I found small scars on my feet, knees, hands and forearms. There was a birth mark high on my inner left thigh about half the size of a dime, and a large mole on my left shoulder. There were stretch marks on my hips, and a tattoo of an exotic flower on my thigh that seemed to be worn and faded with age. My eyebrows rose when I saw that, apparently that flower had meant enough to me at one time that I would have it set into my body with ink… Or maybe I just thought it looked nice, who am I to know what I was thinking. The shear insanity of this thought made me smile.
The first drawer I opened revealed bras of a size to fit me, which turned out to be a 34b, and I found a fresh T-shirt on a shelf below the jeans. It had a picture of a large sea creature looking thing rising out of the water with gaping jaws and a mean red glint in his eye. The words below said ‘Beware Of The Loch Ness Monster.’ I had no idea what it meant, but I found the picture amusing for some reason.
Emerging from the closet I looked behind a tapestry beside the dresser depicting a forest scene and discovered a bathroom. Time to face my reflection.
The first thing I noticed of course was the scar. I’m sure anyone looking at my face noticed it before anything else. A scar like that precedes a person into the room, drawing stares and delicate questions of “What happened?”. It was a twisted red mass that began at the hairline and traveled across the mound of my right cheek, twisting one side of my lip, and slipping down my neck ever so slightly. It covered one whole half of my face, and seemed to be caused by a burn of some kind. It was funny, a moment before I had been pondering the scars on my knees, and wondering what sort of childhood adventures had brought them there, but here was a memory of pain that was surely beyond belief, and no recollection of it’s conception. Perhaps a trauma such as that would explain my current amnesia? But no, this scar was old and well worn, I found it hard to believe that strong inner voice, which was really all I knew of myself, would stand for such sulking years after the fact.
I forced myself to look at my other facial features. Prominate brows, auburn hair cut short, brown eyes, a small pointed nose and full lips. A rough guestimate would put my age in the early thirties. I suppose I would have been attractive, if not for the disfigurement of my scar, but it didn’t really bother me one way or the other. I was rather ambiguous toward my reflection over all, I felt that I filled my skin quite fully and well. The personage of me felt content and fulfilled within the confines of my body, and that scar wasn’t me any more than the tattoo on my leg.
I shrugged and reached for a toothbrush in the jar by the sink. I did this on impulse, before stopping my hand a few inches from my target. “Oh bugger, I don’t even know which toothbrush is mine, or even if I have a damn toothbrush. I don’t even know what continent this bathroom is on, but wow, I really like that tile work.” I shrugged again and washed my mouth with hot water and an index finger that volunteered for the job.
I used a fair sized wad of toilet paper to wipe up the mess I had made on the floorboards, flushed it down the toilet, and whipped open the curtains to reveal the world outside. I gasped at the beauty and just stood there for a moment bathing in the sunlight. A small garden stretched for perhaps ten feet from the window before ending abruptly in a steep stony cliff to the sea. A low lying fog bank covered the waves, slowly burning off in the rays of the morning sun rising behind the house. The glow of sunshine outlined it’s slowly moving tendrils as it fluctuated on the rising swells of heat. “Wherever I am doesn’t matter. With a view like that out the window I could rise every day with such an emptiness and be content. Being filled only with this beauty is enough for any person to live on.” I let the elemental power of that simple sunrise strengthen my soul for a long sweet moment before turning to the letter.
Oh I had not forgotten it, it lurked at the corner of the room with all the subtle presence of a bull in a china cabinet, and I approached it now with trepidation. Why would I be so afraid of a simple letter? This piece of paper could define me. Explain me. Box me into words where my life would be hemmed in by a medical term. The explanation for my current amnesia may very well be etched on the charts of a blood test, or some ghastly diagnosis. Who was I, this person who bore the scars of battle with smiles of contentment? Who glorified in the beauty of a sunrise and laughed at my own faults? I hesitated to shatter this delicate balance, the experience of getting to know myself was turning out to be an interesting one. I set down the envelope and turned to the locket.
It was sterling silver with the etching of a rose on it’s surface. It had a nice weight to it, and holding it made me feel content, as if I had done so many times. The latch was hard to find, but my fingers seemed to know the way of it, and it was soon opened to reveal a single lock of red hair. I puzzled over this for a moment, as I had expected a picture that would show me a piece of my life. I recalled how I had reached for it upon waking, and how well it fit getting warm in the palm of my hand. I slipped it around my neck and went foraging for breakfast.
Out of the doorway was a small living room, with comfy looking couches and potted plants. A breakfast nook sat in the left corner with a view of the sea out a large bay window, and a small kitchen just beyond it with more of that fabulous tile work. I found a note stuck to the fridge on a yellow pad, and the words written there made me pause in my quest for food.
“Went to town to wrap things up, be home before dinner
-Please put the roast out to thaw
So at least one part of the puzzle was solved, I apparently lived with some man named Danny. The thought felt strange, like it didn’t quite fit right, but it was just that kind of day. I decided to cross that bridge when I came to it and began making myself some eggs. As I grated the cheese I smiled imaging how this scenario would play out.
“Hi honey, I’m home!”
“Oh hello dear, you know the strangest thing happened today, I woke up and I don’t remember you at all. Honestly, complete blank. So your name is Danny is it?”
“Wow- What?! I mean, are you serious?”
“Why yes, and you know there is this itty bitty little thing that has been bothering me all day, can you tell me what my name is?”
I didn’t see the whole thing going over very well, and I’m sure I would be brought to a hospital or something, which would really harsh on my mellow, so I decided to enjoy the day I had to myself before facing this mysterious person whom I lived with.
I stepped out he back door of the house and walked bare foot with a cup of black coffee down the trail I found leading to the sea. The path was stony and damp, slightly slippery, and I watched my toes carefully navigate it’s topography. The sharp edges of rocks did not bother the soles of my feet, and it pleased me to know I had callouses that were accustomed to heavy travel, although I couldn’t tell you why.
When I was safely planted on the sand I began to look around me at the scenery. Plant life can tell a person quite a lot about their location, especially the trees. The forest rimming the cliffs was a mixture of madrona and pines. “America, west coast… Probably Oregon, maybe northern California? Summer or late spring? Judging by the peeling bark of the madrona, definitely summer. Well look at that, a beach chair, this day isn’t turning out half bad after all.” There in the sand before me, facing the waves just above the season’s high tide line, sat a plastic folding chair with my name on it- whatever that name may be. I did not question my line of reasoning, or really care if I was wrong or right.
I relaxed back into my seat with a sigh, content to enjoy my coffee somewhere on the west coast of America, on an unknown beach, just hanging out with seagulls and not really worrying about the specifics. Did it really matter anyway where I was, if the chair was comfortable and the view a fine one? Was it really required of me to have a name, when there was nobody there to ask it of me or address me so? Why should I worry about some past or future thing, when none of it seemed to pose me any bodily harm at the moment?
In short you see, people are an accumulation of moments and memories, opinions, reflexes, habits, experiences, goals and dreams. I was none of these things. I had no recollection of my past, no knowledge of where I was going or why. I had no opinion about the matter either way, for there was no concept of what I possibly could have lost, and I had no certain goal I was at present aspiring to. I was just a vessel of the NOW. Soaking in the scenery and slow heaving of ocean waves, enjoying the contentment of seeing life for the first time.
Usually a person is too busy living life to SEE it. To feel, smell, revel and luxuriate in it. When you watch a sunset you are busy thinking about your daily things with half of your mind, are you not? A thought suddenly occurs to you, an idea crops up, only because you have been mulling it over while supposedly enjoying the colors in the sky and the flight of a hawk. In the moments I spent by the beach, I saw what was around me in an all encompassing clarity. I existed only in the movement of a wave, and as I watched it, swaying unconsciously along with it’s patterns. When my eye alighted on the pale face of a morning cloud, I grew weightless with the height of it. I got lost in the maze of possibilities in the pebbles beside my chair. When my gaze tried to follow the swift wing of a sea bird I nearly toppled from my seat. The sparkling of sunlight on the water tasted like honey in my mind, and the dew lingering in the shadows of the cliff was fresh with purity. Every fractured sunbeam cradling a rainbow prism was captured in my eager pupils, and the furtive scuttling of small crabs was a symphony of sound in perfect harmony.
I do not know how long I sat there, but the sun was high when finally I rose to my feet. It occurred to me belatedly that I was supposed to have put a roast out to thaw. This idea seemed distant and abstract compared to the solid reality of sand between my toes, but I found myself wandering back toward the house feeling slightly guilty for my lapse of attention. “Note to self: You are an apparently forgetful person who tends to get lost in their own state of mind.”
I smiled for no reason at all, and made my way back to the stone path. I had two pieces of driftwood and a hand full of colored pebbles by the time I made it there.
Just as I crested the top of the path, the back door of the house opened up, and a tall woman stepped into view. In the time it took her to cross the slight distance of a scant few strides, a hundred epiphanies flashed through my mind. Just the sight of her made the small muscles in my chest relax that I had not known held tension. As if my heart opened up right there on the cliff top.
This was Danielle- aka Danny, and the red hair in my locket belonged to her. She had a birth mark on her lower back in the shape of Texas and her favorite ice cream was mint chocolate chip. She hated to wear shoes, loved horses, dogs and surprises, and would not be caught dead driving anything made by Ford. She snored, talked in her sleep, and hated white wine. She had a scar on her right shin from a bicycle accident when she was 12, and she had a beautiful singing voice that she used mostly in the shower, or when she though I could not hear her. She always smelled like cinnamon, had only one dimple that appeared when she laughed, and had a secret recipe for killer banana pancakes that she would not divulge, even under tickle torture. She had green eyes that turned blue when she got mad, and her mouth always tasted of clove cigarettes.
She walked toward me there, in slow motion for a brief moment, and then she was before me. Her eyes were gentle, seeking out my confusion with her assurance. Her hand rose up to hold one side of my face, and it was my scars that she held in the soft flesh of her palm. The eyes that met mine were so full of love and compassion, that my knees actually grew weak at the sight of it.
“Did you have One Of Those Days honey?” She asked softly. “Your name is Josephine, and my name is Danny. I’m going to be here for you as long as this lasts, until you come back to me, just know that I love you and that you are safe here. We’ll start small, and go from there.
How bad this time, do you remember anything?”
I had been worried about my eventual moment of reality when I would be forced to confront the emptiness and fill it with knowledge. I had been terrified of facing that prospect alone, which was why I had not opened the letter. To be faced here with such genuine love and support, to think that I had somehow, in the confused shuffle of my life, done something to deserve such a beautiful gift was beyond my comprehension. I could only be grateful for it.
I smiled back into her green eyes and replied, “Well as it stands now, I am pretty sure I’m on the west coast of the United States, it may or may not be summer, I like the Loch Nes Monster, colorful pebbles, and having a toothbrush. I like to walk bare foot, I drink my coffee black, and I kind of like having amnesia. The only thing I know for sure however, is that I love you- oh, and I forgot to thaw the roast. Sorry.”
She laughed and hugged me, and I hugged her, and we went in to make more coffee. She pulled a muffin out of the refrigerator and handed it to me on a plate along with my mug. “Trust me.” She said, “You really like these. And she was right, that was a damn good muffin.
“If you detect a slight aftertaste of almonds,” she said with a wink, “That is just the arsenic.” I decided that it would be a blast getting to know this woman- again.
Later I would ask her about our life. I would ask about my scar, which toothbrush was mine… And of course that letter by the bed. But for now it was enough to enjoy the company of the woman I loved as the sea whispered outside and a fresh breeze blew in through the open window. I sipped my coffee as I watched Danny pulling ingredients from the cupboard.
“Are you looking at my butt?” She asked with a mock offense. “What a pervert.”
Yes, it was turning out to be a good day indeed.