Losing your memory backwards one chapter at a time
Mary Jane, of Room 73 of the Sacred Heart Retirement Home, knew she had to start reading her latest novel from the very end – back-to-front – chapter 16 to chapter 1, because if she didn’t, and if she started from the beginning, the words would run out, and she would meet the story somewhere in the middle, finding herself suddenly bedazzled, befuddled and be-damned to be presented with blank pages and a narrative without conclusion.
So she flipped to the last page, the words The End, and devoured the final chapter, 16, inserting her favourite bookmark somewhere around page 235 (her favourite bookmark being a souvenir she purchased from a London bookshop in 1985, depicting the image of a smiling penguin in Wellington boots, beneath an umbrella printed with I ♥ London), and sure enough… no sooner had she finished chapter 16 did the ink disappear and she was left with blank pages.
She tackled chapter 15 next, her head trying to fathom the motivation of protagonists and antagonists, plot resolutions for which the mystery had yet to be established, and a structure that was evident without seeing a single foundation laid, and sure enough – as each paragraph was digested by Mary Jane – did those printed words disappear like fleeing blackbirds above pages of fresh-fallen snow, bleached sinks and baths scrubbed to porcelain white, lily-white petals upon white coffin lids, and Ultra Brite Hollywood teeth grinning in the limelight.
By chapter 14 she realised she ought to make notes to aide her memory, to piece together the story before the words disappeared altogether, to rearrange it correctly at her leisure; the plan was simple, she would make bullet points on yellow post-it notes, stick them to the bedroom wall of the retirement home in lines of reverse cohesion and backwards formation, yellow post-it after yellow post-it, curling up at the edges from the central heating, it was like looking at a hundred and more sunflowers soon to wilt in the sun, and by chapter 10 she had to borrow a smart phone from one of the nurses, and take photos of the story before the book turned blank, took to scribbling the themes and secondary characters in ballpoint on her arm, notes on napkins in the dining room over soup turning cold and donning its coat, at times she felt like she was stuck in the Christopher Nolan film Memento, or was River Song whispering in the ear of her Doctor, or she was reminded of her youngest grandchild reading his Japanese Manga back cover to front, oh, what a way to come to terms with a story when the brain only wants to go forward.
By chapter 5 she found herself rooting for characters who had long since been dead, and by chapter 4 she finally understood how the plot had been developed, and by chapter 3 she realised the setting was her birthplace, and by chapter 2 she realised the main character was her… Mary Jane, and by chapter 1 she knew what had influenced her to write the story in the first place, and by then it was too late, as the staff came rushing into her room to take her saturation, temperature and blood pressure, and how they whispered in her ear: Mary Jane, shhh, it’s going to be okay, because we’re going to give you a little injection, to make everything double-triple-okay, okay?
And as Mary Jane was filled with morphine, she finally finished her book back to front, and she removed the smiling penguin bookmark she had purchased from London in 1985, ah, Mary, your story was good, it began with The End and ended with Once Upon A Time, and now all those blank pages are left in a book, with no title or artwork on the cover, no dedication, no author’s notes, no glue to hold it all together, flutter, flutter fall the pages to the disinfected floor, to be swept up by the staff before they close the door.
Losing your memory backwards one chapter at a time written by Ford, 28 July, 2022.
Graphics by Ford.