Fugue by Chris Green
Someone is standing over me and staring, a weird sensation when you are dead. Perhaps it’s a big leap, but does it suggest I may have survived the accident after all? Given that as far as I can recall, a vehicle travelling at considerable speed hit me head-on, this seems unlikely. The impact would have been too severe. But as I lie here prostrate, I can definitely make out the blurry figure of a man hovering above me. He appears to be transfixed. Is he in shock? Is he perhaps the driver of the vehicle that hit me? Whoever he is, why is he just standing there? Why isn’t he saying something reassuring? Why isn’t he helping me to my feet?
The silence is broken by a wailing sound in the distance. It sounds like the siren of an ambulance. It’s getting louder. The ambulance must be coming this way. That’s good, isn’t it? Even if the fellow has done nothing else, at least he seems to have called an ambulance. My vision is returning. I can make out defined shapes. I can see clearly. I can see clearly now Lorraine has gone? Where has this come from? Lorraine, Lorraine? Who is Lorraine? Lorraine must be my partner. She must have gone to work. My watch says ten past ten. This somehow jogs my memory. It’s coming back to me now. Ben Sherman. That must be my name. So, what have I established? I’m Ben Sherman. It’s the middle of the morning. I’ve been in an accident. I cannot move. An ambulance is on its way.
Odd that I came out without a jacket. Or my phone. I can’t contact Lorraine without my phone. Nor am I sure where I am. This street does not look familiar. Is this even where the accident happened? But surely it must be. I can’t have moved very far in this state. Unless someone has moved me. But why would they have done that? There must be a logical explanation.
But if there is, the man who has been watching me is not going to come up with it. He is walking away. He’s getting into his car and driving off. Why is he leaving me? He must realise I can’t move freely. Even if the ambulance is almost here, this seems inconsiderate. He could have stayed and talked to the paramedics. Perhaps he doesn’t want to have to explain to them that he is responsible for knocking me down. Most likely he has been drinking and thinks he would be prosecuted. Perhaps he has been to an all-night party. Drugs too, probably. In all likelihood, he’s on drugs. I expect the car is full of them. He must be aware there were no witnesses to the accident. That he came out of nowhere at speed and didn’t see me crossing the road. He was probably too wasted. But he knows that if he makes his getaway now, he will be in the clear. There’s nothing I will be able to do because I don’t know who he is and would be hard-pressed to identify him.
They have admitted me to Darktown General Hospital with concussion and multiple fractures, so I must live somewhere around these parts, but for the life of me, I can’t remember where this is. The administrators seem to be having some difficulty in finding out, too. But how many Ben Shermans can there be? Or, for that matter, how many Lorraine Shermans? As I don’t have my phone, I can’t give them Lorraine’s phone number, nor can I remember where she works. She works in an office and has Zoom meetings, but that is not much help. You would have thought the police could follow up on the accident, but the young constable who came to see me said that without more information, there wasn’t much they could do. He seemed more like a work-experience policeman than a regular officer.
There seems to be some confusion over my name. Several people have remarked that as my memory of everything else seems a little hazy, I might be mistaken about this too. They point out as if I didn’t know that Ben Sherman is the name of a fashion label. Primarily shirts. Was I perhaps a Mod, they wonder? I don’t believe I was. I would have been too young. If anything, I imagine I would have been a Rocker. Besides, my name was one of the first things that I remembered after I came to following the accident. Along with Lorraine, it is one of a few things that I feel I can be certain of. I’m not about to be swayed on that one.
It’s strange how you can remember certain things that happened years ago, clear as day, while large chunks of your recent life remain a mystery. I can remember walking along the shingle beach at Sunsea with Susanna and stopping off for a pint of cider and a fish cake in a bun at the Jolly Slaver as if it were yesterday. And yet this must have been twenty years ago. I can recall going to an evening race meeting at Compton Abbot with Dirk Acker and putting a tenner on a horse called Not a Chance at 100-8 and it coming in by half a length. This would be even further back. Sad to think that Dirk died so young. A rare blood disease that ran through the male line in his family. I can remember in detail my schooldays at St Bartholomew, even down to the prefects’ names and the detentions. Hank Russell and Ugg White. What bastards they were! They had it in for me. I can remember my first kiss with Kirstie Benjamin behind the Portakabins.
I can remember the plots of Mulholland Drive and Memento, despite their complexity and not having seen them for years. And I can name the entire Newbridge team that won the cup in 2001, along with the goal scorers. In the big scheme of things, these matters would seem to be of little consequence. And yet I can’t remember anything about my life with Lorraine or even where we live. I can’t even come up with my phone number or my email address. Nothing is coming through.
In sleep, I wander dazed and lost through endless cities of uncharted streets populated with strange and elaborate buildings. I am searching for somewhere I might recognise. Somewhere I can rest and find solace. Somewhere that is home. Every step I take seems to take me further away from the familiar. The silence is pervasive. Hope gradually gives way to hopelessness. But even when I know I will not find sanctuary, I continue to wend my weary way through the alien landscape. It’s as if I have no choice. Emma Jayne tells me it is night. I know it is night. It is always night now. It is night, even when it is not dark. From time to time, I may bump into Damien or Peter or Kristov, but they, too, are lost, and in any case, they are mute. Who are these people, I might ask myself? I do not know Damien or Peter or Kristov. How do they fit into the story? Are they phantoms brought into being by the dreamweaver?
Other times, I might find myself driving a big old 55 Buick through these fevered landscapes of the night. But still, I find nowhere I recognise. In places, the buildings have been razed to the ground. The terrain is that of a war zone. The roads are rocky, making the vehicle difficult to manoeuvre. There are no signposts. I take detours along avenues that look like they might lead somewhere. But they don’t. They take me further into the parched terrain. Now and again, I come across a road with a name of a random bridge, Brooklyn, Clifton, Vasco da Gama, Rialto, Tsing Ma. But why bridges? There is no water to cross and the roads lead back on themselves. I end up going round in circles. I don’t know why time should matter in this situation, but I keep looking at my watch. It has no hands. It no longer displays the time.
Darktown General Hospital is understaffed, and it is several days before I get to see a head injury consultant. After going through my case notes, Dr Mbengue tells me, as if it weren’t blatantly obvious, that I am suffering from amnesia. A type of ante retrograde amnesia or fugue. With this type of amnesia, recent memories are most likely to be lost, while earlier memories may be spared. Someone may recall experiences from childhood, but not know what month it is or remember what they had for breakfast. I tell him I can remember going to college. I can remember getting a job at Stipe and Juttner and getting married to Holly. I can remember getting a divorce from Holly after she ran off with Harry, but this would have been back in 2007. I can only recall odd snippets later than this. Dr Mbengue thinks the powerful opioids he is giving me might be adversely affecting my recall, and although he cannot guarantee it, things should improve in a day or two when he feels it is safe to lower the dosage. He tells me I should consider myself lucky. Some patients suffering from ante retrograde amnesia lose touch with reality altogether and entertain the possibility that they are fictional.
‘Don’t you think it’s strange that no-one has discovered that you are here?’ he says. ‘Or at least, made the effort to find you?’
I agree it seems odd that the police have not been more thorough in their investigation. After all, this was a blatant hit-and-run accident from which I could easily have died. And also strange that Lorraine has not become more curious about my absence and chased it up. Women can be pretty persistent when they put their minds to it. But until I can come up with a phone number or an address, there is nothing I can do. Perhaps if I had a television, it might help stimulate my recall.
Dr Mbengue agrees that this is a good idea, and he will get the hospital administrators onto it.
In the normal run of things, I don’t imagine I would be watching much prime-time television, let alone the daytime programmes. The schedules consist of quiz shows, escapes to the sun, fixing it programmes and flogging it programmes along with repeats of latter-day talent shows. Nothing seems to stimulate any recall. I don’t believe I have seen any of these shows, nor do the participants seem in any way familiar. But, in amongst the adverts for supermarket bargains, settees with interest-free credit, cheap car insurance, cruises to far-off lands, incontinence products, ready meals and probiotic yoghurt, there is an advert for a Samsung TV where the artist sings I Can See Clearly Now Lorraine Has Gone but they make it sound like now the rain has gone. It appears to be deliberate.
I call the nurse over.
‘Are you familiar with the song I Can See Clearly Now?’ I say.
‘Of course,’ she says. ‘It’s on that TV ad. With this she starts to sing, ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone. I can see all obstacles in my way.’
‘Are you sure it is the rain that has gone and not Lorraine?’
‘Don’t be silly,’ she says. ‘Why would it be Lorraine? But did you know, Mr Sherman, that’s what they call a mondegreen? Like, Excuse me while I kiss this guy, or Rocket Man, burning up the trees on every lawn. Volkswagen actually used that one in a commercial.’
Might this explain how I came up with the name Lorraine after the accident? Heartbreaking though it would be, might my Lorraine not exist? Might she have come into being purely through my misinterpretation of the lyric? Might this tune have arrived as an earworm as I was coming round after the accident. I would have been at my most susceptible. This would help to explain why I have no memories associated with Lorraine. Perhaps this realisation will also actually help towards my recovery.
Later on in the afternoon, I come across another advert that strikes a chord, this time in a magazine I am flicking through to pass the time while I am waiting for a scan. It is an ad for Calvin Klein wrist-watches. The watches in the picture have the name Calvin Klein printed on their faces in capitals in a fine font. Instinctively, I take a look at my watch, something I probably do dozens of times a day without thinking. But this time, I can’t help but register that it is a Ben Sherman watch. The writing on the face says Ben Sherman Original. At first, it seems beyond the bounds of possibility, but it gradually occurs to me that when they asked me my name after the accident, I might have come up with the name from simply looking at my watch. And given my delicate state of mind and body, I have unsuspectingly continued to reinforce this identity ever since. But, what if this isn’t my name? The name Dan Sterling is beginning to break through. I can recall signing my name as Dan Sterling. Many, many times. Ben Sherman is very similar, isn’t it? An easy mistake to make under the circumstances. But I’m Dan Sterling. I’m certain of it now. I’m Dan Sterling of 55 Bridge Street, firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © Chris Green 2021: All rights reserved