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She knew why they referred to it as ‘falling in love’. It’s a giddy and queasy sensation, she thought. Exactly like falling. The ground gives way and you start to drop. You can’t breathe, you gulp air, you flail your arms and legs, but still you fail to gain purchase. You fall, fall, fall with a rushing sound in your ears and rising panic at the back of your throat. Your heart raps urgently on the rib cage, aching to burst out. But the euphoria! As though the blood starts running the wrong way in your veins. The desperate gasp for air makes you panic but laugh at the same time. And you never want to land but you can’t wait to arrive.
‘Capture that,’ Lucy had said, thrusting her chin up at the doctor.
He smiled down at her gently. ‘Now, just a reminder Mrs Chase, that this is permanent. You won’t be able to access this memory again. Of course, we’ll send a small vial home with you, but it’s only a few drops worth.’ A team of doctors surrounded her, only their eyes showing.
‘But I can put a drop in a glass of wine and experience it again, right?’
‘Well, we don’t yet know the effects when mixed with alcohol…’
‘Pfft! I’ll be almost dead by then anyway.’ The doctors and some of the nurses tittered and indulged her.
‘Now, now Mrs Chase. You’re only 73!’
That didn’t matter. Most of Lucy’s family had died of dementia. And not at a ripe old age either, but in their 60s and 70s. She was always checking her memory, patting her temple as though looking for keys in her pocket. That’s why she’d volunteered for the Memory Extraction trial. Most of the volunteers were there for trauma. The boy who was raped in the school toilets. The girl who was beaten almost senseless by her older brother. The mother who accidently ran over her child. The volunteers were nominated by their therapists because nothing else seemed to work.
Initial results looked good. The memories were siphoned off as an electric signal and then catalogued and stored in a supercomputer. But lately they had tried distilling memory into a liquid form, giving the volunteers something to take home. Like a kidney stone. The therapists had research to prove that this physical ownership of memory gave the patient power and control.
Lucy’s memories were tolerable and the pain of remembering had never almost killed her. Even the moment she lost Phil from a heart attack. She was there. She held his hand until he went cold. That pain galvanised her and urged her on to defy his early departure. And she wouldn’t erase that moment for all the tea in China. They were bound together forever then, in a way she couldn’t explain to anyone. But her favourite memory was the moment they fell in love, and that’s the last memory she wanted close by, when it was time.
She’d had to convince the lead researcher that she was a good candidate for the surgery. She was in good health, but the potential dementia angle seemed to do the trick.
Lucy raised her head from the surgery table a little and a nurse moved forward. Lucy took her hand and gripped it hard, crushing it with surprising strength. ‘Make sure they take the right one.’
Lucy met Phil at a Friday night dance. She wore a big full skirt and a blouse with tiny red roses. As she sipped lemonade from a paper cup, she watched a group of lads laughing and smoking. Phil’s shirt was ironed, his hair was cut short and neat. She remembered thinking he had strong shoulders. His eyes were kind but bright and mischievous too. When he caught her staring at him, she grinned like a fool, instead of looking away demurely. He winked in return, making her blush.
Soon after he led her to the dance floor and she stared past his ear, too afraid to look him in the eye. But he took her chin gently and turned her to face him. He smiled at her then, as though he already knew everything about her, reassuring her that it would all be ok from now on. Up close his eyes were almost violet and she thought of jacarandas in summer. She smiled back and took half a step closer. He folded his arms around her and they stood almost still, her head tucked under his chin. Through his shirt, his body was hot on her cheek and the smell of cloves made her yearn for something she didn’t even understand.
She felt herself falling, falling, falling, flailing and laughing at the same time.
‘Start counting backwards from 10, Mrs Chase.’ But Lucy was already far away.