85. Fugue

Part 1 of a series of the same name.

SHE WAKES IN A strange bed, in an unknown room. It is sad and dank and rank and warm and blue. The wallpaper is ghastly. The wallpaper is always ghastly. Who is this man snoring beside her? His name, she remembers, is Sasha. He has offered her his bed and asks for nothing in return. What kind of a man does that?, she wonders. Perhaps he hopes she will fall in love with him. Does her real self have a lover? This is how she has started to think of her previous existence, her real life, as if a life stripped of memory cannot be real. Her earliest recollection is of waking up on a hospital bed four days ago. She can recall almost everything that has occurred since then - fleeing the hospital to avoid having to settle the account, finding a bakery to escape the cold, ordering coffee after coffee to avoid having to pay, striking up a conversation with Sasha as the bakery was closing, insinuating herself over the next three days into Sasha's life - all of these memories are crystalline, and yet everything from before waking up in hospital is a blank, a void, as if she simply materialised on this earth, fully formed, just four days ago. It's called a fugue state, the doctor told her, it's rare but fortunately it usually lasts just a few days. It probably has something to do with the trauma you've just been through, the doctor explained, a post-operative infection resulting from a botched kidney removal. We see them from time to time. In a way, you're lucky - mostly the gangs don't bother taking the victim to hospital. As she replays the conversation with the doctor, she stares out the bedroom window at the snow-white streets below. Somewhere out there is a life from which she has been lifted. For all she knows, she would do well to leave it behind her. But she cannot go anywhere without the two, three, maybe five thousand dollars she would have been promised for her kidney. She will have to track her real self down, return to her former life, to have any hope of retrieving the money. Yet when she does go back, what - who? - will she find there? What attachments, what entanglements, will try to keep her there? There is so much about herself - her real self - she doesn't know, and there may be much she would prefer not to know. She slides out of bed gently - she doesn't want to wake him, she needs time by herself to think - and gathers her clothes from the floor and steps into the bathroom. In the mirror, the stranger stares back at her. The stranger follows her everywhere, stares back at her from every mirror, every glass, every window, every pool of water. Right now, she too is naked, she too is getting dressed. She has the same straw-coloured hair, the same blue eyes, the same scrawny physique, the same fresh scar across her belly. Seventeen stitches. Outside it is snowing. The streets are hushed. It is morning.