How do you know who to trust...
...when you don't even know who you are?You are outside your front door.
There are strangers in your house.
Then you realise. You can't remember your name.
She arrived at the train station after a difficult week at work. Her bag had been stolen, and with it, her identity. Her whole life was in there – passport, wallet, house key. When she tried to report the theft, she couldn't remember her own name. All she knew was her own address.
Now she's outside Tony and Laura's front door. She says she lives in their home. They say they have never met her before.
One of them is lying.
My bed is comfortable – white sheets that feel like expensive Egyptian cotton – and Laura has put a handful of freshly picked wild flowers in a miniature milk bottle on my painted bedside cupboard. The kindness of strangers. The room itself is just as I described it to Laura and Tony earlier. Perfect for a child, although the colours may be a bit muted.
Starting with my arrival at the airport, I begin to write down everything that I did: trying to report my lost handbag, travelling here by train, meeting Laura and Tony, visiting the surgery, going to the pub quiz tonight. I don’t record anything personal about anyone, as I already feel like public property and have no doubt that whatever I write down will be read by others – doctors, police, mental-health staff. They all mean well, I’m sure, but I need to be careful. At the top of the paper I write: ‘read this when you wake up.’
Laura is still downstairs. She’s behaving so strangely towards me. One moment wary, the next warm and tactile. We both saw the reaction of Dr Patterson at the end of our meeting at the surgery. Her shock was too obvious to miss. Just like Laura’s when she received the text at dinner. It was nothing about yoga. Who the hell is Jemma Huish?
I haven’t heard Tony come back from the pub yet. He told me to leave the key under the flowerpot outside the front door. I was tempted to stay, just to see if his singing was as bad as Laura says, but I felt too tired.
I am desperate for sleep now, but I’m anxious about what the morning might bring. Can it be any worse, more stressful than today? I have to keep going but feel at the mercy of others, the medical profession, my own memory. Images of Fleur continue to come and go. The moment I see her, she’s gone again.
If I close my eyes now, I can bring her up from the darkness. Here she is, sitting in bed in her apartment, her face obscured by the book she’s reading: another account of Berlin’s underground techno scene. ‘Fleur,’ I whisper, my eyes watering. She lowers the book and I gasp out loud. Her face is locked in a wide-mouthed scream.
The brain is a frightening thing, capable of remembering so much of what we want it to forget and forgetting the one thing that we most want it to remember. And then, years later, it chooses to work, operating like an autonomous neural state, summoning a nightmare from beyond the city walls, the badlands of amnesia.
Ro Snow is the girl no-one notices - she doesn't go to parties and she doesn't have friends over. Besides, even if anyone tried to call on her they'd discover that no. 56 Arcadia Avenue isn't her house at all - it's her decoy house. Because her real home, a few doors down, is a tip of rubbish and paper and she can't remember the colour of the carpet it's been so long since she's seen it. Her mum, Bonnie, is a hoarder and Ro lives in terror of social services finding out about the squalor she is forced to live in. But when Noah moves in next door, Ro can't hide the truth from him and she finds herself opening up for the first time in her life. And then there's the new girl at school, the adorable and persistent Tanvi who can see that carefully hidden something-special in Ro too. And it's not long before Ro's carefully constructed castle of loneliness is crumbling down around her, but if she's out in the open, so is her painstakingly guarded secret ...