"Joy! Look! He's coming out now!" squealed the dark haired girl, grabbing the hand of the other girl in her excitement. The two stared out their third floor window, hearts racing, and goose bumps prickling along their arms.
The object of their rapt attention was a young man, maybe 10 years older than his admirers. He closed the door softly, as if not to awaken someone inside. Holding his black leather briefcase in one hand, he started down the stairs. He wore a white Italian sportscoat with white linen pants, a black t-shirt peeking out from underneath. His hair was slicked back away from his face and as the girls watched, he reached into his jacket pocket and brought out his pair of black Raybans.
"Oh Regina, he looks so like Sonny!" Joy said, in a soft, dreamy voice. The dark haired girl, Regina nodded mutely, watching as the man crossed the courtyard to his car, a black Cheverlet Convertible. He drove off and the girls stared as the car disappeared down the quiet house lined street.
"If you're quite ready, you two, I'd like to start my class now!"
The girls' heads swung around to see the stern face of the man standing in front of the blackboard, chalk poised to start writing.
Several dozen pairs of eyes regarded them. Scribbled figures and equations littered the board. It was Math class.
"Yes, sorry Sir!" they mumbled in unison, the heat in their faces spreading as they heard the snickers of the rest of the class.
"I'm quite glad to hear that! If I see you two staring out the window again today, it will be off to Mrs Willburg for detention. Do you understand?"
"Yes Sir, Sorry sir!" they said, not looking up at the rest of their classmates.
"Fine! Now class, today we will talk about finite sets. A finite set…"
Rachel snapped to with a start, her eyes blinking in the bright sunshine. The warm breeze through the open car window caressed her face, but her hands felt cold.
So it had happened again.
She looked over to the driver side at her mother, wondering if she should mention it. Perhaps not. She had already given her mum enough to worry about these past few months. And this was most probably nothing. Perhaps a side effect of all the medication she had to take after the accident? She made a mental note to speak to her doctor about it the next time she saw him.
"What time will you be done today, my dear?" her mother asked, breaking into her thoughts. Rachel shrugged her shoulders and sighed.
"Mum, how long are you going to drive me to the centre? It's been six months already since I got out of the hospital. You know that I can drive now!"
Her mother's lips pressed together and she drew a hand through her short dark hair. Her nervous smile did not quite reach her tired blue eyes.
"Rachel love, I thought that you were happy to be driven to work! You know that you hate driving downtown and parking here is so expensive"
Rachel sighed again, knowing that her mother was right. She did hate driving downtown and it was a crime what they charged to park here. But she knew too that this was not the real reason her mother insisted on waking up two hours early so that she could drive Rachel to work.
That was because of the accident of course.
She gazed at the trees racing by, their branches waving gently in the summer breeze, as if they were trying to grab her attention. She shook her head and pursed her lips, her brow wrinkled in concentration as she tried to remember.
Apparently she had been travelling in a car with three friends, early in the afternoon. It was Valentine's Day, about six months ago. They were headed to her mother's house for dinner. The four girls in the car with her were her best friends since grade school. Then the accident happened.
A drunk driver. He had died, as well as the three bestfriends. Everyone, except her.
She had been found lying in a wooded area about a kilometre away from the actual crash site. The police did not find her until the next day after her mum had insisted to them that she had to have been in the car as well. They were astounded to find her that far away, more so that she was still alive,
She had been sitting in the front passenger side and her head had hit the windshield, hard. Apart from that though, she had no other injuries. The police and doctors told her she must have gotten out of the car and walked into the woods. Perhaps to find help? She had no idea.
She had been in a coma for two weeks and then had miraculously woken up one morning, asking for timmies for breakfast. She remembered nothing about herself. Not the accident, not her friends, not her name even. Nothing. Her family, childhood, highschool, university, her first job; all of these memories were wiped from her mind as if off a chalk blackboard. Vague traces of them remained, the white chalky residue on the board, but it was ghostly and indistinct.
She sighed, wiping an errant tear away. She was lucky to be alive, she knew that.
The ones in the car with her, her friends had died. At the brain trauma centre, there were other brain trauma injury victims that lived, never to function in society again. Bill, who was once a brilliant chemist, now needed help bathing and eating. Amir, a former track athlete whose legs no longer work. Agatha, still in a vegetative coma, and likely to stay like that indefinitely. She was lucky, she was sure of this.
She sighed again, glancing over at the woman next to her, her mother. It had taken them weeks for the doctors to convince her that this was who this woman was. It had taken her longer to convince herself.
Now, on good days, she sometimes thought that she remembered bits and pieces of their life together. Like that day when she was five and off to her first day of school, wearing a bright pink dress, her face streaked with tears as she held on for dear life to her mother. Or when she was twelve and had tried to bake a cake for her mother's birthday, only to have burnt her hand when she tried to pick up the tin without gloves. Or when she was sixteen and off to the prom, being led to the limo by a nameless sixteen year old boy while her mother watched, smiling proudly from the doorway.
Sometimes she could convince herself that she remembered these things, remembered the fear at being parted from her mother that first day of school, or the pride she felt when the sweet fruity scent of the cake filled the room, or the sweaty hands of the boy who led her to the car.
Sometimes she thought she remembered that, on the good days. On the bad days she knew that it was not true. They were impressions from photos or stories her mum told her. Her true memories remained ghostly.
The doctors had told her that her memory may come back, eventually. Sometimes the memories came back shortly after the traumatic incident. Sometimes, it came back as a whole or in bits and pieces. Other times, it never came back. They had no way to predict which way it would be for her.
She had waited anxiously for some memories, some inkling of her past, of herself to surface. Something not prompted by photos or stories or the longing of others.
And it had happened last week. A flash of memory, bright in its detail. The same two girls, the one with dark hair and the slightly shorter redhead. Joy and Regina-now she knew both of their names. They had looked about the same age as in the recollection today. In her flashback they must have been in the park or somewhere outdoors. The grass was green, dotted by the bright yellow of dandelions. One of the girls, Joy, held a wriggling exubirant puppy in her arms. Both girls were laughing happily, and when Rachel had snapped back to reality, she found herself laughing joyously as if with them. This laugh was different, not contrived, not pretence. This was a true laugh.
The vividness of this memory had frightened her. It was much stronger, much more real than anything else that she thought she had remembered.
Now it had happened twice.
The car radio played a mixture of dance and pop. Rachel's favourite station, her mother had said. Was it? She couldn't remember and this music gave her a headache, but she let it be, for her mother. She fidgitted, hitting her knee on the dashboard and let out a low whimper. The driver, her mother looked over in concern, put out a hand and rubbed her knee softly. Rachel turned her head and looked out at the cars rushing past, tears forming again at the corner of her eyes.
She felt guilty sometimes. This woman loved her, took care of her, and did everything for her. She did all this because of her love for her daughter, for the old Rachel. And Rachel did love her too, now.
She felt guilty because she knew that her mother wanted her to be the old Rachel; the one who laughed at Jerry Springer and ate cookie dough out of the fridge, the one who love spaghetti, horror movies and this horrid music. She tried to be this person, but was she?
She had waited six months for her memory to come trickling back. Now finally she had clear memories of two incidents. She should be relieved and happy, but all she felt now was fear.
It had started when she recovered the first one. A nagging fear, spreading like a spot of India ink on heavy white paper. The problem was the two girls in her memory. She had looked through family albums, scanning the pages looking for them and had found nothing.
Now the fear had spread, overpowering her reluctance to talk to Dr. Grossman about it. It wasn't that she couldn't speak to him; it was that she already knew instinctively what he was going to say.
The memories she had recovered were not hers.