Sunday Serial: Virgin Territory, Ch. 2
Gary took her to the living room, sitting her on the old plaid couch while he took an armchair. Her face retained the same shell-shocked look the entire time. “You don’t know your name?” She shook her head. “Do you remember anything?”
“I remember waking up here and walking into the bathroom. Then you found me.”
“But nothing before that?”
Gary didn’t know what else to say. He supposed even though he couldn’t see any signs of trauma she needed a doctor’s examination, but Doctor Hagen wouldn’t be up for a few hours yet. Did finding a girl with amnesia qualify as a medical emergency?
“Are you hungry?” he asked. She shrugged. “Do you know what hungry means?”
“It means I want food.”
“OK, now we’re getting somewhere. How do you know that?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, what’s this?” He pointed to the couch.
“A couch. Or a sofa.”
“Right. What’s that?” He pointed to the little-used TV.
“That’s a television.” Gary leaned back in his chair, wondering what it all meant. She could identify objects, she could understand emotions, and she could speak English as well as any adult, but she had no idea of when, where, or how she might have learned any of it.
He thought of a book he’d read on the brain and stood up to fetch it from his old bedroom. “Don’t go!” she said.
“I just have to get something. I’ll be right back.”
“Don’t leave me. Please.”
He held out his hand. “You can come with me.” Her hand felt so delicate and soft in his, not at all like Andrea’s. When Andrea had taken his hand, she almost crushed his smaller fingers. The one time he let his wince show, she laughed and afterwards took his elbow or put an arm around his shoulders to keep from hurting him.
He led the girl into his old bedroom. The twin-sized bed with its Transformers sheets had been pushed into one corner while bookshelves took over the rest of the room. He’d bought all the shelves from different garage sales around town, so they varied in size and color. He had even stacked some on top of each other to make more room.
He found the book he was looking for on a black, five-rowed shelf containing his scientific books. The book—Our Brains: Window to Our Souls—rested between a CPR manual and a book on diabetes. The girl released his hand and then shuffled over to the bed.
He sat on the opposite end of the bed as the girl to read about memory. The various centers of the brain all housed different functions. Trauma to one area of the brain did not mean the entire mind shut down. In some cases, whole parts of the brain could be removed and the person could still live a normal life. The girl could have lost function of her long-term memory, but still retained basic cognitive skills housed in other parts of her mind. “Do you remember who I am?” he asked.
“You’re Gary Sinclair. You found me.”
At least her short-term memory appeared to work. He snapped the book shut and tucked it under his arm to study later. “Let’s find some better clothes for you and take you to visit Dr. Hagen so he can help you. All right?”
“All right.” He took her hand again and led her back to the master bedroom. Mom’s clothes would never fit her, so he found an old Eastern Michigan T-shirt of his and a pair of green sweatpants. She started to undress, but he stopped her before the nightgown rose over her breasts.
“I’ll wait outside.”
She took his arm before he could leave. “Gary, please, don’t leave me. I don’t want to be alone.”
“I know, but I can’t watch you undress.”
He wondered the same thing himself, as he’d already seen her naked before. No, that was different. He hadn’t had a choice then. “It’s not right. I’ll get in trouble.”
She stared at him for a minute, and then relented. “Promise you’ll come back.”
“I promise. I’ll be right outside the door. There’s nothing to worry about.” She didn’t look convinced as he left the bedroom and waited next to the doorway. He pressed both hands to his face to resist seeing her naked body.
He couldn’t let himself start thinking about her in a sexual way. When they got to Doctor Hagen’s house, he would take charge of the situation. The doctor would take care of the girl and Gary would go back to his normal life. He couldn’t get too attached.
“Gary? Are you there?”
“I’m here. Are you dressed?”
“Yes.” The T-shirt and sweatpants were loose enough to disguise the contours of her body. “Is this right?”
“Yes, that’s right.” For the first time she smiled, her pale skin reddening. “You’re doing very well.”
He took her hand, leading her outside to his decrepit Dodge Shadow. “This is a nice car,” the girl said. He didn’t bother to argue with her about the rust eating away the bottom of the passenger door or the muffler held on with copper wire. He opened the rusty passenger door and she got in without incident.
It was still dark as Gary left the house and started for Doctor Hagen’s house in first gear. He tightened his grip on the steering wheel, searching the forest for any sign of deer. “Where are we?” the girl asked.
“Dagger Lake, Michigan. Do you remember?”
“Do you know what country we’re in?”
“The United States of America.” He almost lost control of the car when she started to recite the pledge of allegiance. She even nailed the word, “indivisible”, which he’d pronounced as “invisible” until fourth grade. How could she remember something as unimportant as the pledge of allegiance, but not her name or her parents?
“What else do you know about America?” She shrugged. He kept one hand on the steering wheel as the other fumbled through his pockets until he found a quarter. “Do you know what this is?”
“Money. A quarter. Four of them make a dollar.”
“Right. Whose face is on the quarter?”
“George Washington. He was the first president. He had wooden teeth and chopped down a cherry tree.”
“Um, yeah, I guess he did.” He put the quarter back in his pocket and took the steering wheel in both hands again. “Who’s the president now?” She shrugged.
“George W. Bush. Do you know anything about him?”
“His father was also a president. His name was George too. What about Bill Clinton? Ronald Reagan? Richard Nixon?”
“Who are they?”
“Never mind.” He turned on the radio and a young woman’s voice singing over a pop beat came over the speakers. “Do you know this song?”
“Me neither.” He turned the channel to the easy-listening station. “Sussudio” by Phil Collins filled the car. “What about this? Ring any bells?”
He changed the station to the oldies station. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” came on. The girl shook her head before he asked. She could remember George Washington chopping down a cherry tree—something that never happened—but not Elvis? He turned off the radio, sneaking a glance at her as he reached for the knob. She remained as impassive as ever.
Gary squinted to make out the unmarked dirt road leading to the doctor’s farm outside town. He pushed down on the accelerator, feeling the car slipping on the dirt, but he didn’t slow down. The sooner Dr. Hagen examined the girl, the better off Gary would feel. None of this made any sense to him.
As they drove down the road lined with dead trees, she began to shiver. “Are you cold?” he asked. He couldn’t get the Shadow’s heater any warmer.
“This place is scary,” she said.
“Yeah, I guess it is a little bit spooky. Don’t worry, we’ll be there soon.”
“Is Dr. Hagen nice?”
“Very nice. You’ll like him.” Dr. Hagen was usually in a bad mood whenever Gary came in for an injection, and he imagined the doctor would be even grumpier after Gary woke him in the middle of the night.
But the girl seemed to accept his answer, leaning back in her seat and closing her eyes. The archway at the start of the doctor’s driveway came into sight. Gary didn’t see any animals outside the barn or stable as he drove up to the main house. “We’re here,” he said to the girl.
She got out of the car without any trouble and followed him up the creaky steps of the farmhouse. The wind rattled through the empty trees nearby, calling to mind the horror movies Gary had watched with Andrea, so many of them starting with travelers visiting an old farmhouse in the middle of the night. “I don’t like this place,” the girl said.
“It’ll be all right,” he said and then pounded on the door. He waited a minute before knocking again. A light came on in the foyer before the door flew open. Dr. Hagen appeared, clad in a bathrobe and plaid boxer shorts, glaring at them from behind his bifocals.
“Gary? What are you doing here? You’re not supposed to get another injection for two weeks,” Dr. Hagen said.
“It’s not that. It’s sort of…complicated.” He motioned helplessly to the girl, who looked ready to bolt.
“Look, if you’re here about an abortion, go to the clinic in Pine Cove. It’s none of my business.”
“No, she’s not pregnant. At least I don’t think so.”
“Then what is wrong with her? Spit it out, son.”
“I found her by the lake. She was naked and unconscious, so I took her to my place, but when she woke up she couldn’t remember her name or where she came from.”
“Well, let’s have a look at her then. You two come on in before we all freeze to death.” The doctor ushered them into a living room that could have come out of a Norman Rockwell painting. He motioned for the girl to sit on an antique rocking chair while Gary took the armchair next to her.
Dr. Hagen peered through his glasses at the girl. “You can’t remember your name?” She shook her head. “Or your family?” She shook her head again. “Are you mute?”
“No,” she said in a small voice.
“That’s good. What else do you remember?”
She looked over at Gary before reciting everything that happened since she woke up. She could repeat every conversation verbatim. With a memory like that, how could she not remember her own past? “Impressive,” Dr. Hagen said. “Do you remember anything before that?”
“Do you know what’s wrong with her?” Gary asked.
“Not yet. I need to examine her first. Gary, would you step into my office? The young lady and I need to be alone.”
“No, Gary, don’t go,” the girl said. She lunged out of the rocking chair to grab his arm. “Please don’t leave me.”
“It’s all right. Dr. Hagen isn’t going to hurt you. He’s going to help you remember what happened.”
“I’m scared,” she said.
“I know, but don’t worry. Soon everything will be better. I promise.” She looked skeptical, but let go of his arm. Before Gary left the room, he saw the tears in her eyes and wished he could do more for her.
Chapter 3 will be posted next Sunday. In the meantime, another Terrible Tip comes your way on Tuesday!