Title: THE MEMORY VISIT
Category/genre: YA Dystopian
Author: Jenny Lynn Lambert
Editor: Carly Hayward
Original version here.
All a person needs to escape the bombed-out cities and tormenting thirst of NorCoast is a fifteen-minute Memory Visit. Seventeen-year-old Rain has heard plenty of horror stories about Memory Visits—stories about addiction, brain damage, even insanity in clients looking to relive their glory days. But Rain is not looking for an escape; she needs answers. When flashbacks of her twin brother’s drowning start to overtake her life, she relives that horrible day via a laser probe straight to her brain’s hippocampus.
What she discovers in the Visit is even worse than she thought; her twin brother, Dal, was murdered, and she is a mark, one of the remarkable people who can alter the past through her memories. Using her newfound ability, Rain attempts to save her brother only to become a target of the assassins who killed him. Soon, she must decide whether rescuing a brother she barely knows in the past is worth risking her life and the lives of people she loves in the present.
“Ok, now, Rain, I’m going to count back slowly from 5, and you will gently awaken. Five…Your arms and legs feel lighter. You can feel the cushions under your knees and the pillows under your elbows. Four…. You can feel your breathing, soft and slow. Your hearing is clearer now. My voice seems louder and closer. Three….You hear the humming of the lamp, the wind rustling the curtains, the voices on the street below. You’re aware of where you are, and you want to open your eyes. At one, you will open your eyes. Two…one.”
My eyes open when Yamuna’s velvety voice reaches one. A few blinks, and her square jawed visage comes into focus two feet in front of me. Her smile is strained, and behind her glasses, large dark eyes reveal a maternal unease. Obviously, I’ve failed. Again.
“Nothing new, huh?” I cringe at my sarcastic tone. This isn’t her fault. The memory of my twin brother’s drowning is just too old. Fourteen years old.
Fourteen years seems like a long time, doesn’t it? Time enough to feel sad. To feel angry. To feel guilty. Time enough for a bunch of shrinks to tell me that I can’t blame myself. Maybe even time for me to believe them.
The thing is, I haven’t had fourteen years to face the fact that I was there when Dal died. I’ve hardly had four months. Four torturous months of nightmares and flashbacks. I close my eyes and see a streak of refracted light dancing across Dal’s forehead, a thin stream of bubbles escaping from his tiny nostrils. For a brief moment, he floats peacefully underwater, just out of reach of my hands. Then he starts to drift, his wide blue eyes sinking farther away until they lose all color and shape in the cloudy water.
And the rest is a blank. Did I reach for him? Did I scream for help? When Dal drowned, my three-year-old brain built a dam to hold back the tragic scene, to keep it from seeping into my consciousness. But the dam wasn’t built to last, and now I’m the one drowning over and over again in a flood of partial memory.
“Was there something more about the shadow?” I ask, my voice rising. Sometimes in the memory, I see a shadow on the water, a woman’s silhouette. I never see the actual woman, but her size and shape and the length of her hair make me think of my mother. Dal’s mother.
Pushing a strand of wooly black hair away from her ashy cheek, Yamuna shakes her head. She knows I want there to be someone else in the memory, someone else to blame for my brother’s death, even if it is my own mother. I’ve never had to admit this to her. She simply understands and forgives me for it.
The truth is our mother couldn’t possibly have stood there watching while her only son drowned. Actually, I’m only assuming this is true. I don’t really know her. She left me on my aunt’s doorstep just a couple of weeks after Dal drowned. Still, I believe that she would have the same instincts any mother, any person, would have when a child is in danger. No, the shadow must be a trick of my mind, conjured by my guilty conscience to share in the blame for Dal’s death. Only a monster would stand by watching a helpless little boy sink to the bottom of a pool.
A monster like me.
I know, I know, I was only three. What could I have done? Besides, there must have been someone there watching me and Dal. Perhaps there was a group of people, too involved in conversation to see the danger coming. There had to be someone. I mean, who would leave two preschoolers alone in a pool?
Still, my imagination won’t let it go. I can’t shake the feeling that there’s something hiding in this memory.
Something down deep in the waters of the flood, lying on the dark floor of my consciousness alongside Dal’s lifeless body. For fourteen years, my brain has kept this something from reaching the surface. And, now that I’m aware of its existence, I dive, and I dive, but never deep enough. Each time, I return to the surface, empty handed.
“Like always, I’ve recorded the session for Dr. Thames,” Yamuna says. “He’s waiting for you down the hall.”
She rises to retrieve the memory chip of my recorded session. Yamuna’s flowery peasant blouse hangs loosely on her sagging shoulders. She’s only thirty-five, but her long legs shuffle like an old woman’s under her crinkled skirt. If she’d been born up north, like in Oasis where I lived when Dal died, Yamuna would be running half-marathons or at least playing tennis on the weekends with her friends. But not here, where she wastes away with the rest of NorCoast, like another dying scrub oak on the foothills.
I know better than to offer her the small bottle of water I keep in my bag. There’s nothing more insulting than water charity. I should have stuffed the bottle behind a tattered pillow when her back was turned. It’s too late now, though; she’s right in front of me, proffering the chip like a consolation prize.
I take the chip, wishing that I could forget about Dr. Thames with his paneled office and constant sniffing. Instead, I long to sit here in Yamuna’s warm muraled room with the faded purple couch cushions that smell of patchouli.
As I rise to leave, she takes my hands and pulls me in for an unprecedented hug. Hesitantly, I relax into her embrace, letting her warm arms swaddle me like an infant. When she steps back, there’s a hint of pity in her eyes, which makes me angry, but not at her.
“Thanks,” I say. “I know you’ve done all you could. I wish I could remember more.” I cough to cover the catch in my voice.
“Rain, it’s not your fault. You were just a little girl when it happened. Plus, Oasis is a totally different world. Here, there aren’t any visual clues that might help you remember. In fact, I’m pretty amazed at what we’ve been able to uncover from such an old memory.”
“Yeah,” I say softly.
“I think, though, that we’ve reached the limit of what hypnosis can do for you,” she says, and I’m not surprised. The only new detail in the past few sessions has been the woman’s shadow on the water, and even that has been inconsistent. “I wish you had learned more.” She studies my face with her bold black eyes. “I’ve been hesitant to propose this up until now…” She stops, and I wonder if she’s really going to suggest what I think she’s going to suggest. “Have you ever considered…”
“…a Memory Visit?”
“You’ve heard stories about them, right?” Yamuna says, one eyebrow raised.
“Yeah, I’ve heard some pretty scary stuff.”
“Well, there are other stories, too,” she says. “Ones that haven’t been all hyped up by the media. I’ve recommended Memory Visits to a few of my clients, and none of them became addicts. None of them suffered mental health problems. No one’s brain exploded.” She smiles. “I just make sure that my clients are the right kind of people with the right kind of need, people like you who aren’t doing it to escape reality.”
Yamuna’s got me all wrong. I do like to escape reality, especially in less-than-healthy ways, like sneaking out to underground parties on the East Side. I drop my gaze to the ground in case she can discover the truth behind my pale eyes. “The decision is yours to make,” she says. “I’m only suggesting it because you need to understand this memory before you can heal.” This time she’s right. I see Dal’s swollen face in my dreams, on the commuter train, during my classes. Yamuna’s frown mirrors my own. “Look, Rain, I’m sorry if my suggestion upsets you.”
“No, no, I’m not upset. Just…considering my options. I’ll talk about it with Dr. Thames.”
“I doubt he’d be as open-minded as I am.” She grins. “He’s a respected psychiatrist with a reputation to uphold. I, on the other hand, am a simple hypnotist.” She winks, her assuredness convincing me in spite of my doubts. “I have the name of a good clinic in town. If you decide you want to give this a try, call them.”
She walks to her small oval desk and types on her holographic tablet, or HT as we’ve come to call these magic little devices. They sit nicely in the palm of our hands while giving us a world of information in three-dimensional clarity. “I’ve sent you the name and address.”
“Do you really think it will help me remember?”
Yamuna smiles again. “Yes, it’s like going back in time.”
“Really? Have you done it?”
What a stupid question. I might as well have asked her if she’d traveled to the moon. A legitimate Memory Visit would probably cost a half-year’s salary for Yamuna, and she’s too smart to go to a cheap back alley brain probe.