She couldn’t remember how she got here, but she wasn’t supposed to. Her name, her place of birth, her family, were all lost to her. Sometimes she came close to remembering, seeing slivers of her past life cut through the memories forced on her. Those slivers, whether good or bad, were hers and she cherished them for seconds at a time. There were other memories drowning her real ones, parasites controlling their host.
The parasites were injected by people whose faces remained hidden. There were no windows, no night and day. The lights in her room always shut off at some point during the day, announcing her bedtime. Yet days still lost their meaning without dates or the seasons. She measured time with her memories, counting the moments between a new one being added.
She knew the memories weren’t really hers, but they were the only complete ones she had. She was still attached to hundreds, feeling all of the pain that was forced on her. Her mind was a bounty of misery and insecurities. Some people wanted to be rid of the memories that crippled their lives in some way: the unrequited love, the betrayal by a friend. Others were hiding from something truly traumatic, trying to erase violence they did to others or violence inflicted on them.
These memories were a gateway to pain, but they were also a gateway into the mind of the hosts. She knew their friends, their neighbourhoods and sometimes she even saw their faces. She knew their class, their race, their sexuality. These central parts of their identity were an anchor for most of the memories in her mind. Most of the memories were tied to something private that became public.
There was another class of memories, usually reserved for the wealthiest of hosts. They had the luxury of purging the most trivial things from their mind. One rude encounter was reason enough to remove a memory. They were usually the bully in these encounters.
She couldn’t remember truly meeting anyone. The masked doctors were her only gateway to the outside world. She tried to speak to them, but they never responded. She started with threats, hundreds of memories ago. Her will became weaker with each memory and soon enough she longed to simply hear one of them greet her, or answer if she asked them how they were doing.
She now had to accept that she was only a tool. No different than a hammer that a worker used and unceremoniously disregarded. There was a time when she thought she must have done something to deserve such a fate. Perhaps this was some sort of prison sentence? Time erased that thought from her mind. What was the point of punishment if you didn’t know what it was for? Was there some sort of lottery to pick the lucky winners? Was she just one of many selected from a certain area?
The white walls seemed to mock her. Promising answers beyond, but unwilling to yield. The doctors and the orderlies arrived, ignoring her words as they injected the latest memory. When they left they made sure to open the door just wide enough to squeeze through, preventing her from seeing anything beyond. When the door opened, no other sounds crept through. Wherever she was, it was soundproof and isolated.
There was another world out there, where she could find friends, family and happiness. She wanted to see that world again, to see herself. Her room had a small shower and sink, but no mirror and no reflective surfaces of any kind. She knew her skin was dark brown and that her hair was black, a contrast to everything around her. Her nose was broad, her lips full, and her knowledge of herself died there.
The remnants of her past life didn’t reveal anything more. She saw an older woman’s face, with dark skin like her own, perhaps her mother. She saw a small red bricked house, surrounded by cracked sidewalk and weeds. Perhaps her home. There was no way to truly tell that these memories were hers, she only assumed they were because they weren’t tied to something negative.
There were usually at least three light outs before another memory was injected, and she guessed that she carried hundreds now, some fresh and others lurking beneath the surface. She crawled back to her bed, retreating under the white covers as she waited for the memory to come crashing in.
She barely felt the pain of the injection, but its payload brought her to tears. While the memories were always unpleasant, they were her only piece of freedom. In her mind, she could escape being a prisoner. She was now a student, Kathy, living somewhere uptown.
Kathy was rich, had loving parents, and was going to one of the best schools in the country. She was destined for great things. Yet there are so many different parts of one’s life, and they’re not always in sync. The man Kathy thought was hers, was someone else’s too. Her “boyfriend” broke it to her after four months of infidelity, by accident. A loving text meant for the mistress went to Kathy. Kathy read the lurid details of her boyfriend’s encounter, and knew that none of the actions matched anything they’d ever done together. Kathy went from feeling untouchable to feeling worthless, all in the span of a few minutes. Now, Kathy didn’t remember the transgression. Which probably meant Kathy ran back to the man who had hurt her, and would likely do so again.
The memory catcher didn’t know her own name. She had the habit of calling herself whatever name was injected into her most recently. Yet something in her subconscious made one name leap at her from time to time. The memory catcher heard the voice yelling “Maze.” Maybe the word wasn’t a name, but Maze felt like it was. It was a fleeting moment of confidence in her life. As Maze thought of Kathy’s predicament, she had another.
There was a pattern. So many of the people she suffered with relied too much on other people to make them happy. Their emotions ebbed and flowed with someone else’s, like the tides at the mercy of the moon. There was no baseline or foundation of happiness, where they could still function if that anchor was removed.
It was these moments of reflection, analyzing the reasons for the suffering, when Maze felt like a zookeeper trapped in a pen and forced to study her subjects from afar.
Cadeem Lalor is a Jamaican-Canadian writer whose experiences growing up in three different countries shape his themes of identity and prejudice. He has written five novels. His other works can be found at https://beacons.ai/moviegrapevine