I’m getting ahead of myself, I’m sorry. I didn’t want this to be confusing. Let’s go back to what the doctor said, “It’s a bit of a nuisance, but you’ll get used to it.”
“I’ve never fucking heard of it before now. How the fuck did this happen?” Apologies for the colourful language, but that was what I said, and in my own defence, I was justifiably upset.
“Just because you haven’t heard of it Mr Jenkins doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist.” He was right, but he was also an opinionated arsehole, and it occurred to me that he had worked quite hard to perfect his arseholedness — probably picked it up in high school.
“Seriously Doc, this is insane. Am I the only person in the world with this disease?” I asked.
“It’s a syndrome, Mr Jenkins, not a disease.”
“Thanks for the correction Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.” Doctor Numbnuts was trying to be helpful, at least he thought he was. He’d even chosen his most helpful tie that morning. “The blue one or the green one with the spots?” he said to his wife. “The blue one says helpful, dear, the green one says I can get you a good deal on a used car.” She was right of course, so he wore the helpful blue one, but just at this moment, its magic did not seem to be working on Mr Jenkins.
“Your syndrome is progressive, so you will notice that you need to recharge more often as time goes by and the duration of the recharge will get longer as well, but on the bright side, you will probably have passed away from some serious disease by the time this gets really inconvenient. You are getting on a bit Mr Jenkins. Pretty soon you will enter that age group when men of your generation start to succumb to all sorts of fatal illnesses. So, buck up, you may not live long enough for this to bother you unduly.”
“How rare is this syndrome Doc?”
“Not very. It’s just that there is such a stigma attached to it that people tend not to discuss it. For decades, the media has been under a self-imposed ban on reporting about the effects. It’s felt that reporting it will encourage men to imitate the symptoms and take advantage of their wives.”
“What a load of bollocks!” My head was spinning from what seemed like a huge pile of horse manure masquerading as medical evidence.
“I see it all the time. Men holding their partner’s hand in public, unnecessarily.”
“I know you are angry Mr Jenkins, but this is getting us nowhere.”
“Okay, it’s Wednesday night, and I’m walking past McDonald’s, and I see an older couple walking towards me. They are taking their cute little dogs for a walk, and they are holding hands — on a Wednesday night! I ask you, do you need any more proof than that — a Wednesday night. Now, if it had been a Saturday night, I might have bought it, but a Wednesday night? I don’t think so. Obviously, the man had read about this syndrome, probably on the dark net, and had convinced his poor innocent wife that he needed to hold her hand — disgusting. Nothing but male violence in its basest form.”
“He’s holding her hand for fuck sake! Maybe she asked him to hold her hand! Did you ever think of that?”
“Ridiculous. Decent women don’t behave like that in public. You don’t have to believe me, Mr Jenkins, just read the research.”
“I’d love to. But as you so clearly pointed out, there isn’t any published research.”
“Not published for the likes of you Mr Jenkins, but for the medical profession, there are reams of the stuff. I’ll have my secretary copy some of the simpler case studies for you, but you must return them when you are finished. We can’t have this information falling into the wrong hands.”
“Precisely Mr Jenkins. You’re getting the hang of this, well done.”
“So what is it that I’m supposed to do in all of this?”
“Your role is very straight forward Mrs Jenkins. You hold his hand until his memories return.”
My wife had been sitting quietly listening to us talking, but she couldn’t hold her peace any longer.
“That’s it. That’s all I have to do?”
“That, and not die. If you suddenly died, he would be stranded. His memories would leak away like a bath with the plug pulled out. He would have no past. Ultimately he would forget the basics, like the need to eat and drink, brush his hair and take the rubbish out. As it got more tragic, he would forget why he loved watching reality television. When that happens, the end is not far away. Eventually, he would forget to put his lottery ticket in and, probably while abusing a politician on the television he would forget to breathe, and his life would come to an end.”
“So, hold his hand and don’t die — that’s your advice. That’s what we are paying a small fortune to hear?”
“I studied for seven years at university Mrs Jenkins, I know what I’m talking about.”
My wife gave the doctor one of those stares. She didn’t spend seven years at university, but she certainly had perfected that stare. He knew exactly what she meant— his wife had perfected a similar look.
My wife reached over and took me by the hand, and I remembered where I’d put my spare keys. As she held tightly and squeezed my fingers, I remembered why my son no longer talks to me, and it made me sad.
“Come my darling, we’re going home,” she said.
I didn’t argue. I let her lead me out of the room, past the pretty secretary with the red hair and the green eyes and out to where the elevators stood silently waiting. As we rode down to the ground floor, still clutching each others hand, I remembered the time I sat in the hospital waiting room praying that my wife would not bleed to death. I remembered the young doctor smiling at me as he strode towards my seat. The look on his face said ‘I’m the brightest young doctor in this hospital and I saved your wife from dying. Sure, a bunch of other people helped out a bit, but in the end, I saved her.’
We caught the number twelve tram, and my wife did not let go of my hand. We sat quietly and looked at the world go by. A small boy was sitting next to his mother absentmindedly playing with a battered toy car. It was a lovely autumn afternoon, and the leaves were swirly across the footpaths and into the path of oncoming traffic — the leaves did not seem to care about their fate, and neither did I — not anymore.
It’s only a short walk from the tram stop to our house, and my wife held my hand the whole way.
“Let’s get into bed and snuggle up and try and forget this awful day,” said my wife.
“It’s only half past four. Are you sure? You know you will be wide awake in the middle of the night?”
“Get into bed Michael. Hold me tight.”
“I did as I was told. It was not a difficult chore. We had been holding each other in this way for many a long year. When my father died, she held me until there were no more tears left to shed.
“I’m not going to die, Michael. I’ll always be here, and you can hold my hand every night when you get home from work, and the memories will all come flooding back. We will be okay. I’ll keep you whole. I love you very much. You are everything to me.”
She meant it, and I knew she did.
“I love you too Mary, and as long as I can hold your hand, everything will be fine. I always loved holding your hand. I remember the first time you let me. We were just kids, and I was nervous as hell. I remember thinking how tiny your hand was, and how warm. You have always had warm hands. There are other parts of you that I like better, but your hands are definitely on my best bits list.”
“You are a devil Michael, but I love you.”
“Mary, if you do die before me, I promise that I will forget almost everything else before I forget you. You will be the second last thing I forget — I promise.”
“Let’s not think about that now. Hold me tight.”
I fell asleep in her arms, and I remember thinking, just before I drifted off, this must be what it feels like to let go of Mary’s hand.
“No, I’m here. On this tram; heading into the City. This tram is going into the city, isn’t it?” said Sam.
“Yes, it is.”
The two men were sitting opposite each other on a sparsely populated number 12 tram. Sam would get off this tram in about half an hour when it reached the top end of Collins Street — the Paris end. The man asking the questions would alight from the tram much sooner.
“What happened to you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“How do you know that something happened to me?” said Sam
“Your hair is cut very short, and it doesn’t suit you. I’d say, head injury.”
The inquisitive man was about Sam’s build, and he was probably a few years younger. He looked familiar, but these days everyone looked like someone he should know, so he didn’t ask. Much later, Sam would regret that decision.
Sam wasn’t looking directly at the man, but he had been looking at his shoes.
“Brown Oxfords. You don’t see quality shoes like those much these days,” said Sam. The rest of this man’s outfit was out of place — a bit scruffy, but again, Sam said nothing.
“They belonged to my brother. I wear them to remember him. So what happened to you?” said the man with the brown shoes.
“Some bozo T-boned me at an intersection and ran away and left me. The old me would have gone after him with a tyre iron, but the new me just sat there and bled robust, mildly honest blood. Quite a lot of it as it turned out. Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but the ambulance driver liked to talk so he told my wife all the gory details — kind of him to do that.”
“Did they catch the bloke?”
“Would you know him again if you saw him?”
“Mate, I only recognise my wife because she has a tattoo with her name written across her arse.” Sam was suddenly aware of the little old lady who was sitting next to him. “Sorry lady, I didn’t mean to say arse.”
“That’s perfectly okay young man. You sound like you have been through a lot, and you did get hit on the head.”
“Thanks, lady. I don’t want to upset anyone. I want the world to be peaceful and calm. What do you think my chances are?”
“Not very likely, I’m afraid,” said the little old lady.
She wasn’t all that little, but she was old. Sam guessed at about seventy-five, but who can tell, especially with women? She was well dressed in that way that older people were. They dressed up when they went out. Pride in appearance. Sam wondered when her husband had died. She still wore her rings, but he could tell that she was alone, and he wondered how he knew. Sam wondered about a lot of things.
“Are you sure that you wouldn’t recognise the man driving the car that hit you?” The man in the brown shoes was still talking, but Sam had blanked him out momentarily. Brown Shoes sounded insistent.
“No mate, I wouldn’t recognise him. I was sleeping at the time. Large hole in the side of my head with a big chunk of my life leaking out.”
“It’s been nice talking to you Sam, but this is my stop.” Brown Shoes was on his feet and deftly jumped off the stationary tram as it waited for the traffic lights to turn green at Barkley Street.
“There used to be a shop that sold model cars just over there.” Sam pointed to the far street corner. “I’d get off the tram on the way home when I was a kid and spend ages in that shop. Why can I remember that so clearly and not be able to remember marrying my wife?”
“It won’t do to get yourself all worked up. People with head injuries need to be patient and calm.” The old lady put a hand on Sam’s arm. It felt nice to be touched by a caring stranger.
“You sound like you know a bit about this stuff?”
“I was a nurse in my younger days. Saw a lot of boys with head injuries during the War.”
“Did they get their memories back?” There was a touch of desperation in Sam’s question.
“Some did, but it took time. It helped if they had loved ones around them. Does your wife love you, Sam?”
“She says she does, and I want to believe her, but how did you know my name was Sam. Did I tell you?” There was that desperate tone again.
“No, the other man called you Sam. That is your name, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t like the look of that man, and I’m pretty sure that I could describe him to a police artist if I had to.”
“I believe you lady.”
Sam did believe her. He always believed little old ladies. Most people dismissed them as ‘biddies’ or ‘nuisances’, but Sam knew better. Old people notice things and people who notice things are like nuggets of gold to a private investigator. It was an old lady who gave him his big break in the Jameson case and it was an old professional boxer who told Sam where the Collingwood Strangler lived — not the exact house, but the right street. The rest was straightforward. These two cases helped to build his reputation and gave him excellent fodder for his two most successful novels — thinly disguised fiction based on these two instances. None of this would have happened if Sam had dismissed the observations of two elderly citizens.
“That probably won’t be necessary, but you never know. Do you have a card?” Sam was joking, but the little old lady opened her black patent leather handbag and drew out a pristine white card. The font was conservative and the content ‘to the point’.
Mrs Joanna Beed
“Thank you, Mrs Beed.” That was another thing that Sam had learned. Never call old ladies by their first name. They really don’t like that.
Dr. Doug had asked Sam to make a list of the things that he did remember and another list of the things that he would like to remember. He got the notebook out of his inside pocket and wrote, I remember not to call old ladies Joanna. At the back of the book he wrote, I want to remember my wedding day. One list was considerably longer than the other, but over the last few weeks, the other list was catching up — ever so slowly.
The tram was slowing down and ready to stop at the Edinburgh Gardens, not far from Sam’s beloved Fitzroy Football Ground. Joanna Beed gathered her things.
“You take care of yourself Sam. A fine young man like you has lots of important things to achieve. I hope you remember your wedding day soon. I’m sure it was a special day. Don’t forget, if you need me to identify that man for you, I’m only a phone call away.”
“Thank you, Mrs Beed. I’ll be fine. I promise. Enjoy your day. You brightened up mine.” Joanna Beed smiled and stepped down from the tram after looking carefully to see if some impatient motorist was trying to sneak past the stationary tram. Every Melbournian knows that getting off a tram on St Georges Road is an adventure in dodging death.
She made it safely to the footpath and as she did she looked back at the tram and gave a dignified wave. Despite himself, Sam waved back.
Sam’s world had changed drastically. From dodging bullets and signing books to sitting on trams talking to old ladies while trying to piece his life back together.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. The tram was thinly populated and no more conversations broke out. Sam’s half of the tram contained a young married woman, probably on a shopping expedition. Confirmation arrived when she got off at the same stop as Sam. Shopping in the expensive end of town, says her husband was ‘well healed’. Probably in RealEstate, Sam surmised.
The only other inhabitant was a man who was wearing a good suit that was poorly maintained. His expensive shoes were scuffed and dusty. The man had the air of someone who had recently lost his job. There was a caring woman in his life, but she was absent at that moment.
Writers do that — they can’t help themselves. They see interesting people, and they begin to build a backstory.
The dusty shoed gentleman stayed on the tram, and Sam wondered if he rode the tram all day for something to do — a memory of his previous daily routine.
The number 12 tram snakes its way at the top of Collins Street, so even though you may be lost in thought, you know that you have entered the City proper. As a child, this meant that the magic of a day ‘in the City’ was about to begin.
Sam stood in the doorway of the tram and looked back at his seat. So began a routine that he’d learned as a child, “Always take a look back at your place after a long journey. You may have put something down and forgotten it or something may have fallen out of your pocket.” These words rang in his ears on the frequent journies to Dr Doug’s office.
If only it were that simple: if only he could look back and see all the things that he had forgotten, lying on the seat next to him.
‘If onlys’ were a waste of time. What was needed was hard work and patience, something that he had in spades. Or, at least, that is what he had been told.
Crossing the road from the tram stop is always an adventure. City traffic has little regard for pedestrians and people getting off trams are considered fair game. Motorists hate trams. They see them as huge green and gold obstacles sent to earth merely to annoy and make them late for wherever it was that they so desperately need to be.
Having arrived alive and in one piece, Joe, the doorman swung the large glass door open and greeted Sam.
“How are you this morning Mr. Bennett?”
“I’m as fine as can be expected, Joe. How’s the wife and kids?” Because Joe’s appearance in Sam’s life had come ‘post-accident’, Sam found it easy to remember him.
“The kids are fine God bless em, but the missus is worried.”
A severe man in a dark suit brushed past them both and grunted.
“Why worried Joe?”
“The word is that the building owner is planning to put in an automatic door, so no more Joe.”
“Don’t you worry Joe. I’ll buy the bloody building if I have to, but you are not going anywhere until you want to.”
Joe smiled, and thought that Sam was trying to be supportive, but he had heard rumours about Sam’s wife’s spectacular wealth — maybe he meant it.
Sam was serious, and he put it in his notebook on the way up to Dr Doug’s floor. Scarlett knew everyone, so she would know who to contact. Sam needed stability in his life, and Joe was always there. Sam needed that — someone who was always there — always where he was supposed to be.
The elevator doors opened, and Sam walked into Dr Doug’s office. He smiled at Dr Doug’s secretary and felt his pocket ensuring that he still had the three typed pages. Dreams are hard to capture, but Sam had managed it, and soon he would share them, yet again, with the man who was helping him to piece his life back together.