Aimi glanced over her glasses a couple of times as she read ALL THAT I REMEMBER ABOUT DEAN COLA. Could she tell, just from looking at Sidney, that she was off her meds? The room shimmered and crackled with something like electricity. The current entered her body and messed with her heartbeat. Just excess adrenaline. The last of the drugs fighting and flighting out of her system. She tried to ignore it, focused on fiddling with a loose thread on her glove. Be a duck — paddle as madly as you like beneath but stay calm on the surface. Her mouth was dry, but she couldn’t remember how to swallow. Don’t let Aimi see. And don’t cry. She wanted some water, but her hands were shaking too much to pick up the tumbler on the side table. Her inner ear itched. Be a duck, be a duck, be a duck. She studied the seascape again. Grey sky, distant finger of land, ocean spray against rocks. Don’t cry, don’t cry. Don’t cry for Dean Cola, Dean Cola, Dean Cola.
Aimi finished the last page. ‘This is beautifully written, Sidney.’
Her heart reached for her throat, trying to choke her from the inside. Panic iced down the insides of her arms, but then exited through her fingertips, dispersing into the air like dust motes. She could see the colour of Aimi’s orange-blossom fragrance. Something rustled and shifted in her head, and she heard a whisper that wasn’t hers.
It was nonsensical — word salad — but she smiled because it was comforting. She remembered how to swallow, suddenly calm, no longer alone. She picked up the tumbler and drank.
‘I’m interested in why you’ve chosen to write to the person, like a letter.’
Second-person narration is often used as a distancing device. A split or duality in the writer’s thought processes — a way of dissociating while simultaneously documenting. Aimi probably thought the language revealed upheaval, denial, or depression. Bet she’ll ask if I’m depressed.
‘Have you been feeling depressed?’
‘No.’ She didn’t tell Aimi that she’d written the first draft in third person, but the ‘she’ voice had disturbed her, so she’d changed it to ‘I’, and then typed a few more drafts before adding some second person. With each revision, something new had surfaced in her memory. The joy of the process — the forming, trimming, and refining of sentences, somewhat like the shaping of her bonsai — reminded her not that she was mad, but that she had once wanted to be a writer. Perhaps writers were inherently mad. Elmore Leonard said writing was a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. ‘I just wanted to create an effect of emotional depth in retrospection.’ She wasn’t sure what she meant by that exactly, but it sounded clever, like something a book reviewer might say in one of the highbrow papers.
‘What you’ve written sounds good enough to be part of your novel.’
Was Aimi implying she’d made it up?
‘It’s interesting that you’ve suddenly remembered so much.’
She was! She folded her arms. ‘You said that sometimes memories aren’t lost, they’re just hard to access.’
‘Yes, but —’
‘I think writing was my cue to get back.’
‘Do you think some of the recovered memories could be false?’
‘What can you remember from just before your hospital admission?’
She didn’t want to talk about that; she wanted to keep talking about Dean. ‘Which time?’
‘This last time.’
‘I was at our flat. I remember reading my book in bed. Christos had a night shift, and he brought me a cup of hot chocolate before he left for work. Then I felt a bit dizzy, and I fell asleep.’
‘I must have woken up and gone into the kitchen. I turned on the gas and left it going for a long time. I had a box of matches, and if I’d lit one there would have been a huge explosion and fire.’
‘Do you remember that?’
‘No. It’s what Christos told me happened. He said I was delusional, hallucinating.’
‘I thought you said he was at work that night?’
‘Apparently I called him when he was still on his way in, saying I was going to burn down the flat, and he came back.’
‘Can you recall the book you were reading in bed?’
‘Yes. Wolf Hall.’
Aimi frowned. ‘Anything else?’
‘It’s a fictional account of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry —’
‘No, about that night.’
‘Next thing, I was in hospital. Again. Heavily sedated. What’s your name? What year is it? Count backwards by sevens.’
‘At the time …’ Aimi opened a file on her computer and read the notes, ‘you’d decided to start confronting your repressed memories with your previous psychiatrist. Hypnotherapy.’ She shook her head and tutted. ‘An … interesting … approach for someone with a trauma history.’
Sidney remembered how upset Christos had been when she’d told him about that. He’d made a fuss about ‘dodgy shrinks and false memories’. Lucky she’d mentioned it so he could cancel her appointments and find her a new psych.
‘Do you think that might have had something to do with the episode?’
She shrugged, having lost the thread of Aimi’s questioning.
‘Have you been hearing voices?’
Aimi looked at her for too long.
She blurted, ‘But I did make up one part of ALL THAT I REMEMBER ABOUT DEAN COLA,’ and instantly regretted it.
‘The first part, at the river?’
How did she know? ‘Yes.’
‘So you did go to Sandro D’Angelo’s party.’
Aimi should have known that she never talked about that.
‘Do you remember?’
Funny how Do you remember and Don’t you remember mean the same thing. Like flammable and inflammable.
Aimi opened her mouth to say something else. Sidney stood up and said she’d had enough for today and wanted to go home.