The next morning in an unknown location
She woke from what must have been uneasy oblivion, with eyelids crusted and swollen and head throbbing.
As her gauzy vision cleared and her eyelashes detangled from each other, she determined that immediately in front of her was a peach wall. The paint was scuffed, and pale phantom rectangles highlighted where photos must have once been. They were taken away. Only shadows and dust remained, and she couldn’t remember what had hung there before. Couldn’t even begin to speculate. Her mind was a blank. She didn’t know if the room was hers or someone else’s.
Groaning, she blinked and lifted one heavy, prickling arm to rub her eyes.
“What happened?” she whispered.
She felt outside of herself, as though her brain and body weren’t in one accord, or as though she was still paralyzed by sleep.
“I…have to get up.”
There was something she needed to do.
What was it?
Something important—something that had been last on her mind before she’d fallen asleep on that bed with all its bulbous protrusions poking her legs and ribs.
She couldn’t remember.
But she should have. She knew that much—she was supposed to remember things and the fact she couldn’t made her belly pitch with perturbation.
“What was it?” she asked herself with her agitation mounting. “What is happening?”
Was she at home? Was she even safe?
Rolling onto her back, she rubbed her eyes again and blinked at the ceiling. There were sparkles on it, and those little plaster lumps made the surface look like space rock. They had something to do with acoustics, she thought. She couldn’t remember enough. Her brain didn’t seem to be efficiently processing information. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was supposed to know things but the information was tucked away out of grasp from her, no matter how much she reached.
Her head throbbed.
Carefully, she braced one forearm behind her and then the other, sitting herself more upright. She caught a glimpse of the top of her head in the wide dresser mirror opposite of the bed and negotiated with her body to sit up more. Slight movements instead of the fast ones she wanted to make. She didn’t have the energy. Her back ached and abdomen burned with every provocation.
And her head…
She closed her eyes until the swimming sensation stopped—until the room stopped going topsy-turvy, and she could hold her head up straight again.
“Damn,” she croaked.
She looked like a hitchhiker on the highway to hell. Black hair falling sloppily from a clip. Face creased by sheets and pillow. Eyes red and crusted. Brown skin splotched and dry-looking.
Forcing a swallow down her tight, parched throat, she touched her cheek idly and slowly turned her legs toward the edge of the bed. She thought cold water might help, both to drink and to splash onto her face. That could help reboot her brain from whatever dysfunction it’d cycled into, be it illness or hangover or otherwise.
She didn’t think she was much of a drinker, but again, she couldn’t remember.
She couldn’t remember anything.
Propping herself against the footboard, then the dresser, and then the doorframe, she looked around her, trying to make sense of anything at all. From the bedroom doorway, she could see she was at the end of a short hall. Across from her must have been another bedroom and farther down, a bathroom. At the opening at the end of the hall was a kitchen. Boxes and canvas tote bags were stacked on and around the small table, and there looked to be a monogram on one of the canvas bags.
Water could wait.
She moved slowly toward the kitchen, clutching her throbbing head between her hands as she went as though doing so would stop it from falling off her neck. Her head felt so heavy and so useless. Whatever was wrong with her, she needed to fix it immediately, if it was even fixable.
She paused briefly to consider that.
What if it isn’t?
She shook her head, refusing to believe that. If she believed that was her normal state, she’d give up, and she wasn’t ready to do that yet. She needed to know who she was. Having an identity was a very human instinct, and hers was powerful.
The script monogram appeared to read LJM, when accounting for the traditional letter order. The M, flanked by the L and J, was large and flowery, and she had no idea what the letters stood for, or if the bag was even hers.
Her head began to race as it dawned on her that there was a possibility she wasn’t the only one there. There had appeared to be a second bedroom. What if she wasn’t alone?
“H-hello?” she shouted, then clapped a hand to her neck and winced at the immediate shearing of pain through her throat. She’d either eaten a pincushion or swallowed lighter fluid and chased it down with a lit match. There was no other reasonable explanation for her body to feel that way.
She swallowed tentatively, and when no renewed surge of agony came, she let out a relieved breath. Each swallow actually felt a modicum better. She wouldn’t be doing any more shouting in the near future, though—not until her body was on the mend from what ailed her.
Picking up one heavy foot and then the other, she retreated down the hall to the second door. She scratched on the cheap particleboard door and then knocked. When no response came following the hollow rapping, she called out as loudly as she dared, “Hello?”
Again, there was no response.
The knob yielded with a turn. Unlocked. She pushed the door open with caution and waited for her eyes to focus in the dim light.
Empty. Just faded pink carpet, lavender-pink walls decorated with butterfly stickers halfheartedly peeled off, and a lot of cobwebs. The curtains on the single window opposite her were faded by sun and age, but she could tell that the geometric pattern was old. 1960s or 70s. She didn’t know why she knew that, only that she did.
She walked to the window and, parting the curtains slowly to give her eyes time to adjust to the changing light, she peered out.
That unsettled feeling coalesced in her gut once more because she was looking at another thing that didn’t make sense without her knowing why it didn’t.
There was a vast field less than ten yards from the side of the house and a large green tractor in the distance. The sun was rising beyond the endless rows of budding corn stalks.
One thing made sense—that she was awake. It was her hour. She knew that.
What didn’t make sense was the farm. Somehow, that place didn’t seem right, and she certainly wasn’t dressed for farming. Instead of pajamas, she’d fallen asleep in slim black pants that had been hemmed precisely to her ankles. She’d left them unbuttoned. She also wore a white, button-up shirt that had odd cufflinks shaped like storm clouds. With their mother-of-pearl inlays, they looked expensive and stood out in odd contrast to the suspicious splatters on the front of her wrinkled shirt. Brown and bilious.
She groaned and rubbed her eyes. “What did I do?” She put her slow fingers to work to undo the shirt buttons. Just looking at the stains made her stomach threaten to expel its contents, and that couldn’t have been much. She felt hollowed-out. Empty of both mind and body.
Wresting the stained shirt from her body, she moved to the hall again, and then into the kitchen. In a wide closet that had a curtain where a door should have been, she found a practically ancient washing machine. Twenty years old, perhaps. Top-loading and with enough rust on the enamel that the device probably stained as much clothing as it cleaned.
She tried the knob, anyway, and reddish water streamed into the basin. She held her breath until the water ran clear, and then set the cycle.
“So, I’ve got electricity and…water.” She rubbed her throbbing temples, hoping that having basic utilities was a good thing. Electric service could have been a clue that she wasn’t someplace that was off the grid and away from civilization. There had to be other people around.
She left the shirt in the washer basin and looked around the kitchen as she unzipped the pants that may as well have been sausage casing for the way her body felt. So sensitive and bloated.
When the pants had joined the shirt in the wash, she padded to the table and to the black leather purse on top of it.
The bag seemed familiar somehow. Expensive, designer, and for some reason, with an incongruous kid’s meal toy affixed to the strap.
She rolled the little action figure bag decoration in her palm. It was a masked, sneering woman who wore a spandex suit and high-heeled boots. The little lady was shooting blue sparks out of her hands.
Turning it over in her hand, she squinted at the detailing. The figure wasn’t particularly well made. The paint job wasn’t crisp and the superheroine’s eyes looked crossed behind her mask, but the placement seemed intentional. It was firmly tethered to the strap’s metal ring with a bit of soft pink yarn.
Perhaps it’d meant something to her, but she couldn’t speculate on what that might have been. She still hadn’t ascertained if the bag was even hers.
She let the figurine fall back where it’d been and noticed that behind the bag was a small cardboard box of fresh apples, bananas, and pears.
Famished, she reached for a piece of fruit without thinking. After picking up a banana, she noticed a slip of paper protruding through the gaps in the box. Thinking it was a receipt or some other scrap to be thrown away, she wriggled it out.
The slip was marked READ ME on the front.
“Who, me?” She opened the folded page that obviously wasn’t a receipt.
Unfolding the fine linen notepaper atop the table as she took tentative nibbles of banana, she noted cramped lines handwritten in neat print. Then she started reading.
- You can’t remember, but your name is Lora.
Something hot bloomed in her chest, like ice being thawed from the inside out. That name seemed right, somehow.
She tried the name in her mouth, whispered it to see if it felt familiar, but nothing did. She just knew it was right.
- You can’t remember because you had to forget.
As that statement meant absolutely nothing to her, she read on for more clues.
- For right now, you don’t need to remember. Try to believe that. I know that’s hard for you to swallow. Mr. Callahan knows everything. He’ll give you information as necessary.
“But who the hell is Mr. Callahan?” Scrunching her nose with annoyance, she took another bite of banana and scanned the next item.
- There’s no need to leave the house today. Rest. Recover. Unpack. You don’t like messes.
That seemed to be true. Her brain was in conflict between wanting to order the space and for her to just lie on the cold floor until her persistent nausea went away.
- You’re not hungover.
“That’s good to know.” She was able to laugh a little at that, but that made her head hurt more. “Ugh.”
The way you’re feeling is due in part to what you drank to forget.
“What did I drink?” She’d heard absinthe and Everclear could make people forget things, but she’d already told herself she wasn’t hungover. She didn’t know what else it could be.
- People will be looking for you. Some of them have no desire to hurt you, but could unwittingly put you in danger if they find you. But worse—you’d put them in danger if you go home now. They’re whom you want to go back to once the big mess is sorted. Others want to use you against them. You’re useless to them without your memory, and that was why you chose to lose it.
Apparently, she’d left her home—wherever that was—for the safety of everyone around her. That seemed noble, though she couldn’t say for sure. Her brain couldn’t provide any context for what was happening, so every opinion was little better than a guess.
- Mr. Callahan will prove to you who he is. For now, don’t trust anyone else. Be wary of people who insist you know them. The ones who you trusted before will bide their time and approach carefully. They’ll be persistent. They’ll know specifics. There may be many who know a great deal of superficial details about you, but almost no one knows you deeply. Wait.
“Just stay here and wait?” Shaking her head, she scoffed and smoothed the paper some more. “That’s all?”
Waiting around didn’t seem like something she’d do. Her body screamed for her to be moving, to be doing things.
She was a doer, not a waiter, and she’d probably been wired that way since the day she was born…whenever that was.
“Maybe there’s an ID card in that bag.”
Before she could reach for it, she had to put a palm against her burning sternum and thumped as she tried to swallow down the precipitous upheaval seizing her digestive tract.
She tossed the half-eaten banana into the unlined trashcan and grabbed the paper before propelling herself to the sink. She got her head over the drain just as her stomach erupted.
Banana and bile.
After a minute of unproductive heaving, her body gave up the rebellion, all except her head. That still throbbed.
She wet a paper towel and dabbed her face, and then slid against the cabinets down to the floor.
With her eyes closed, she took deep, sobering breaths and gripped the paper against her lap. She counted to ten and talked herself into opening her eyes to read the rest of the note.
- You may feel better later, but the rest of what’s making you feel sick won’t ebb anytime soon. You’re pregnant.
“What? No. No, I’m not—” The thought brought her up short, because why not? She was female. That was one of the things most female creatures were built to do. “Oh my God,” she whispered.
She was going to have someone’s baby, and she didn’t know whom that someone was or even who she was.
“Oh my God,” she repeated as sweat beaded on her brow.
If you refrigerate the bananas, she’d written to herself, they won’t smell as much. You can only eat them cold.
She pulled her knees up and put her forehead against them, breathing through her open mouth. She counted inhalations and exhalations and balled her trembling hands into fists. No matter how hard she squeezed, they kept shaking anyway.
“What the hell have I gotten myself into?”