Remember me fondly

Image credit: Umberto Salvagnin/flickr

The second in a series of four short stories, inspired by science and written by science communication students at Imperial College. 

With Remember me fondly, I was trying to construct a simple story that could fit easily into a fairytale schema of heroes and villains. I was intrigued by the ideas of ‘False Heroes’ and unreliable narrators that we had been discussing on our course, and I wanted to comment on the way our memories usually place us as the victims/victors and never the villains. So much of our personality and self-image is based on our, perhaps biased, memories, and I have found that as I get older, my memory – and therefore perhaps my sense of self – has become far less reliable, so I wanted to play on that somehow.

“To conclude, it is the peace of mind MemorEase brings to my fellow man that provides true job satisfaction. The technology has completely eradicated post-traumatic stress disorder, but why stop there? Our clinic in Los Angeles is only the beginning. We have centres opening in New York, London and Tokyo this year, Moscow, Berlin and Colorado the next. In my lifetime, I hope to see MemorEase available to all. No one should have to suffer because of their past. We can wave goodbye to regret, to grief, to guilt. What’s done is only done if you can remember it. Thank you.”

The conference audience applauds with genuine respect and awe. God, how Marcus hates them. Where was their respect for his early experiments? Where was the awe all those years ago? Why is he even wasting his time here? Just to gloat? Probably.

“Does anyone have any questions for Sir Marcus Miller? Yes? You at the front?”

Here we go, Marcus thinks. Remember to smile.

“Could you comment on the effect of age on the treatment?”

Obvious question. Boring and obvious. Coming from a young guy, too. Worried it won’t work on you, eh?

“Very good question. MemorEase is one-hundred-percent effective at all ages. However, our after-care research suggests age may be a factor in treatment-perception. The majority of patients wish to be unaware that they’ve ever possessed unwanted memories, so we also remove all recall of the treatment. In older patients, whose minds are full of many, often hazy, past events, this is successful. However, a minority of younger patients have noticed slight gaps in their recollection. So far, this has posed no cause for concern.”

“And the lady at the back?”

“You say you can return the memories? Should this process be accompanied by any variety of cognitive therapy?”

Marcus can’t stand bloody psychologists. Still clinging to their old ways. MemorEase will have them out of a job soon enough.

“Interesting point, Madam. A crucial part of the development process was achieving successful memory restoral. To date, no patient has requested traumatic memories back. However, all removed memories are kept safely in our Membanks, and for a small fee they can be returned. Once the memories are restored, it would be up to the patient to seek further professional help if necessary.”

***

That second question had irked Marcus, and now, sitting on the edge of his hotel bed, he still could not shift the irritation. Why would anyone want their memories back? Why pay a psychologist to soothe the pain, when you could just erase the wound? People needed MemorEase to overcome, to cope, to live. Not everyone was as strong as Marcus, and he was determined to help those without his strength. People who couldn’t find power in their pain, and who got nothing from these overpaid quacks, got something from MemorEase. They were reborn.

Messages. He must check his messages for news on the Membank break-in. They said nothing had been taken, but he didn’t believe it. There were rival firms who would kill for insider info, not to mention the blackmailing potential the Membanks held. Messages. Perhaps he should get that PA Sophie was always nagging him about, but wouldn’t that just be too LA? Paying some young thing to follow him around doing his bidding? He felt guilty enough about the rollerblading and the chino shorts and the expensive sunglasses. No one feels guilty in London. The rain stops you feeling anything but miserable, self-righteous and wet. Messages. Sod it. He’d talk to Sophie about this PA thing. He’d be saying ‘sidewalk’ soon.

Marcus turned his phone on and jumped as it immediately started to ring. Surely, only bad news could be so eager to get out? It was the MemorEase manager. Perhaps something had been taken after all. Marcus hoped it wasn’t anything too precious.

“Hello, David. What’s the latest over there?”

“Marcus. Hi. Ummm. Look. The doctors tried to call your house…” David had never sounded so timid and serious.

“Doctors?”

“…but obviously you’re not there…and your cell was…well, they tried to reach you here….I thought I should let you know what’s happened….but I just don’t know how to say this. It’s your daughter. It’s Sophie.”

Marcus’ heart sank. He was glad to be sitting down as his head was swimming and suddenly the phone felt very heavy indeed. He didn’t want to hear any more.

“Tell me.”

“She…Sophie has committed suicide.”

“No. No that wouldn’t have happened….can’t have…she…I’m coming back now…it’s not…no…it can’t.”

Marcus hung up and called Sophie.

“You’ve reached the phone of Sophie Miller, leave a message and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

His little girl sounded so grown up. Of course he would have preferred her to study science, but he admired her independent spirit and was certain she would be a bloody good journalist. Using other people’s misery to succeed. At least she took after her old Dad in that respect. Marcus chuckled aloud. His laugh sounded distant and strange. It was a bit sappy, a bit LA, but whenever he was at his lowest, her smile had given him hope, especially in those early years. He really wasn’t sure that he could have made anything of himself without her. He had adopted her to become a better man, and he had. She had given him the strength and courage to pursue his vision even when the whole world had seemed against him. He felt certain MemorEase would not have existed without her.

“Sophie, what’s all this nonsense about suicide? Call me when you get this.”

Marcus hung up the phone, placed it on the bedside table, dropped to his knees and wept.

***

Marcus knew he was driving too fast but he didn’t care. He hadn’t eaten properly in weeks, not since the well-wishers had ceased sending food his way. Unwashed and unshaven, with what was left of his grey hair growing out of control, he looked every bit the mad scientist that he now sadly felt. It had been three months since he had buried his daughter and finally he was going to have some answers. He had a name and an address and he couldn’t get to them fast enough. He was nearly there, but of course he had felt nearly there before. There was the lecturer who attended Sophie’s funeral. Marcus had been convinced he had driven Sophie to breaking point following a torrid affair, but it turned out he’d barely even known her name. It was a shame Marcus had only discovered that after punching him. Then there was Sophie’s old school-friend, Jackie. She had always been trouble, and Marcus had been sure she’d involved Sophie in something terrible. But when he tracked Jackie down, he found a reformed character, married to a clean-cut army lad and with a child on the way.

Marcus hoped this wasn’t just another blind alley. He’d harassed Sophie’s roommate, in what he was embarrassed to admit was rather a threatening manner, until she eventually gave him the name: Sawyer Daniel. Why did Americans always get their christian and surnames mixed up? No wonder Sophie hadn’t wanted Marcus to know about him. No, he did wonder. Why on earth had she kept this boyfriend from Marcus? Hadn’t they always been close? Since she went to study at UCLA there had been a distance, but wasn’t that just a physical one?

Riverbrook Row, number 49. Marcus screeched the car to a halt, leaving it in the middle of the street as he raced to the door and rang the bell for Apartment C. To his surprise he was buzzed in immediately, and when he came to the apartment door, he found it ajar. Once inside, Marcus was hit by the now familiar smell of sweat and neglect, booze and tobacco, misery and rot. It smelled like home. Sitting on a sofa-bed that filled most of the tiny studio-flat was a dishevelled young man. Wearing only grubby underpants, Marcus could see the boy’s ribs through his skin as he sucked on a rolled-cigarette. Marcus, who hadn’t been prepared for this broken figure, felt his rage falter.

“Sawyer?”

“Yip”

“You know who I am?”

“Yip.”

“You knew my daughter?”

“Yip.”

“And you knew I would come looking for you?”

“Yip.”

“So tell me. What did you do? Why did she leave us?”

“What did I do? What didn’t I do, that’s the question, you know. I didn’t go with her. I didn’t help her. I should’ve been there, man. Maybe I could’ve stopped her or made her feel better or whatever.”

“Go with her where?”

“When she broke into those memory stores you got. She knew something was missing from her head and she wanted me to help her get it back and I was too fucking pussy and now she’s gone and…” The boy’s voice cracked and he raised his eyes to the ceiling to compose himself. By the time he looked back at the door, Marcus was gone.

***

Marcus stormed down the corridor to the Membanks shouting Adam’s name. He knew there was no point in asking David. As the manager, he was either in the dark too or he was trying to keep a patient’s confidentiality. When had Sophie had the treatment? Why hadn’t she come to him? Was she ashamed to show him her weakness? Although he had never needed MemorEase himself, he didn’t look down upon those who did. What could she have wanted so desperately to forget? Marcus vowed to destroy whoever had hurt her.

“Adam?! ADAM!” Marcus sounded crazed even to himself. He tried to steady his voice.

“Adam, can I talk to you for a second about some Membank business?”

The store caretaker shuffled out from behind a filing cabinet. Adam had been at MemorEase from the beginning, but Marcus hadn’t had a reason to speak to him directly for over five years. With his white hair and stoop, Adam was looking far older and weaker than Marcus remembered.

“Yeah, boss?”

“I want to talk to you about the break-in.”

“I been wondering when you’d come for a chat. I been waiting for you, but you been busy. Awful sorry to hear about your daughter.”

“Thank you, Adam. Why have you been waiting for me? Didn’t David and the police talk to you at the time?”

“Not much, no. I wouldn’t have told them nothing anyway. You’re the one I needed to see.”

Marcus had an odd feeling of déjà vu. First Sawyer and now Adam, everyone seemed to be expecting him, and to know a great deal more than he did.

“Why, Adam? Why would you need to see me?”

“The safe. The one you got hidden down the back. That’s what got robbed. I didn’t want to tell no one before I saw you, but then your daughter….you had more important things to deal with.”

Marcus’ head was spinning. He used the wall to steady himself, asked Adam to show him the safe and then let him leave early for the day. Inside the busted safe, Marcus found two recall chips. He assumed the empty one had been Sophie’s, and something awful at the pit of his stomach was telling him that the second was his. He used the iris scanner, and his heart sank as it matched. How could he have removed his own memory without knowing it? He must have dealt with the treatment recall later. But why?

“Say ‘Yes’ to restore recall, ‘No’ to exit.”

Marcus hesitated. Did he really want to do this?

“I didn’t quite catch that. Say ‘Yes’ to restore recall, ‘No’ to exit.”

“Yes.”

“Recall restoration initiated.”

Suddenly it all came flooding back. Marcus was knocked sideways with the power of the memories. He sank to the floor as he recalled his old desperate self, after years of rejection from the scientific community, deciding to adopt a child to experiment on. Sophie’s screams, the burns, the secrecy. It was all flashing across his brain at once, filling the spaces that had lain empty for years. The endless tests, the torture, the cruelty. God, the cruelty of it all! Tears rolled down Marcus’ cheeks as memory after memory showed him his true past. His heart broke all over again. After losing his daughter, he was now losing any sense of himself too. How rough he had been, how hard, how callous. His greatest achievement had been borne out of heartless brutality. The illusion was shattered. He was not a good man, not a good father. There was something bitter and rotten and evil inside of him and ultimately, it had killed the one person he had ever loved. How could he live with himself? He had to destroy this monster.

***

“To conclude, it is the peace of mind MemorEase brings to my fellow man that provides true job satisfaction. Our clinics in LA, New York, London and Tokyo are proving a huge success, and we’ll be launching more in Moscow, Berlin and Colorado this year. In my lifetime, I hope to see MemorEase available to all. No one should have to suffer because of their past. We can wave goodbye to regret, to grief, to guilt. What’s done is only done if you can remember it. Thank you.”

The conference audience applauds with genuine respect and awe. God, how Marcus hates them. Where was the respect for his early experiments? Where was the awe all those years ago? Why is he even wasting his time here? Just to gloat? Probably. If only Sophie were still around. She had been his rock. It still hurt to remember her, but the pain was getting a little easier to carry around now, a little lighter. God knows why she committed suicide, but if MemorEase could save just one person from being driven to the edge, just one father from having to experience what Marcus had, he knew he was doing something worthwhile. He hoped Sophie would be proud of him for staying so strong. After all, he had adopted her to become a better man, and he had. She had given him the strength and courage to pursue his vision even when the whole world had seemed against him. He felt certain MemorEase would not have existed without her.

“Does anyone have any questions for Sir Marcus Miller? Yes? You in the green?”

Here we go, thinks Marcus. Remember to smile.

Molly Docherty is an Imperial College student studying for an MSc in Science Communication. The third in this series of four stories will be posted in the 2nd week of June. 

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