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The first time I lost a memory I cried. I had stolen a bottle of very expensive bourbon and a bottle of very cheap wine from my mother’s liquor cabinet, which I put in my backpack wrapped in towels so they wouldn’t clink together during the car ride to the party. I took one sip of alcohol and decided I was drunk. I danced on top of tables and knocked over other people’s drinks. I laughed at a boy’s jokes until he took me to the spare bedroom and asked if I wanted to kiss.

I bit his lip accidentally and struggled to stand up, so he lay me down and tentatively reached under my skirt. He had a good mother and a tall, athletic father, so he was polite and handsome. He kept asking me if what he was doing was okay. I told him to be quiet and do whatever he wanted to me as many times as he wanted. I’d have lain there until the sun exploded and we all burned, if that’s what it would’ve taken. Yet as soon as he did what I asked, I burst into tears.

He finished quickly and I immediately sat up, swallowed the bile in my mouth and saw his memory. He was at our school, resting on the grandstand with his friends. They were pointing at a girl running on the track who was two grades below us. His friend commented on the size of her breasts and snickered, as did the others. He didn’t. He scratched his face and cracked his knuckles and managed a smile, but he said nothing. The friends got up to leave and he sat staring at the girl for a long time.

I was brought back to reality by the wetness of my face. I vomited then, on the boy’s lap. He rushed out, gagging, and I called my mother to pick me up.

When I saw him at school on Monday, I asked what memory of mine he saw.

‘You were chopping carrots in the kitchen, and then your hand slipped and you cut the tip of your finger. It bled, but you weren’t crying. You just kept chopping the carrots,’ he said.

I looked down at my hands and saw, on my left index finger, a small scar. ‘I don’t remember that,’ I said.

‘Well, yeah. That’s kind of the point.’

‘And if we were to…’ I hesitated, looking at my shoes. ‘If we were to do that again, you’d see the same thing again, and so would I? We’d always see the same thing?’

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘That’s how it works, I think.’

I was fifteen when I lost the memory of the scar on my finger. But I had other scars.


The next time was with my friend from English class. During our sleepovers, after the movie had finished and our eyes were dry, she’d reach over and hold my hand under the covers. Eventually, she’d place her head on the soft spot between my shoulder and chest, and drag her hand across my ribs, over my hips, between my legs.

Something made me loathe the way she talked to boys at school, with her arms crossed tightly across her stomach and her chin tilted down, to make things look bigger. Her voice had a particular cadence that lulled anyone into opening up, wider. Envy was what I really felt. I guessed she had lost many memories to various boys and girls, and maybe that was why I had got close to her, to adopt her strategy.

On one particular night, it was too hot to wear pyjamas, so we lay naked until she was on top of me and then I was on top of her. The memory came slower this time, like a hot flush in summer. She was young, maybe nine, and she wore blue gumboots that didn’t really fit. She was in a small garden, the trees whispering secrets to her through an indifferent cold breeze. In her hands was a pot of flowers, though I didn’t know what kind. The petals were tiny, the stems fragile, and she held the pot with such care you’d think she were holding the world between her fingers.

She buried her hand under the soil and pulled, dislodging the plant from the pot. She breathed in quickly, held the air in her lungs, and placed the flowers into the ground. As she let out her breath, she wiped her face with dirty hands, leaving a smear of brown across her wet nose, and stared at the flowers, purposefully. I expected her to smile. Instead she turned away and walked back through the garden, leaving the flowers to shiver in the cold. It was a meaningless memory I suppose, but nevertheless I thought I’d been let in on something that no one knew, not even her anymore.

She told me about what she saw. I was small and thin, she said, and I was brushing my hair, staring in the mirror. She said it looked like cracks were forming on my face, like a broken jar trying to hold something in, though maybe she was just imagining that. She fell asleep not touching me, and when I looked at her face in the dark she had small piles of dirt for eyes. Tomorrow they will be gone, I thought. I avoided her at school from then on, or maybe she avoided me. In class, I never looked her in the eye, afraid I’d still see the dirt, worms squirming underneath.


The third time was with a boy who reminded me of my father. I was eighteen, freshly out of high school and working a summer job at an amusement park. The days were long and hot, and I was in a bad habit of biting the flesh on the inside of my mouth, which made it hard to talk and smile. He worked at the amusement park too.

He was older than me, with big hands, a wide smile and hair floppy like a dog’s ears. He was always the one to volunteer to clean up children’s vomit on the most heinous rides, which I found admirable. Our breaks were usually allocated at the same time. I’d eat my cold soup and imagine what it would be like to press my teeth into the pale part of his hand, between the thumb and forefinger, while he talked about political schisms or wealthy people he admired or his Christmas plans.

Eventually, he asked me out for drinks. I had never been out to drinks before. I googled ‘cocktails for classy women’ and proceeded to take detailed notes. Really, though, I didn’t care if he found me classy. I wanted to be desired.

On the day of our date, I ran mascara slowly through my eyelashes to ensure I covered each one. I borrowed a dress from a friend because I had decided all of mine were too plain. It made my boobs look perfectly ordinary and staring at my figure in the mirror I was reminded of a loaf of white bread. At the last minute, I remembered to brush my teeth, then caught the bus into the city where he was waiting for me outside a bar where several almost-identical looking men lingered, glancing at their watches as they too waited for their dates. We walked inside and he called me beautiful, pulled out my chair and bought me a drink.

He did most of the talking. I mainly just sat there, frequently adjusting the straps of the dress and awkwardly moving my bag from the floor to my lap to the table, unsure where the correct spot for it was. I giggled a lot, placing my hand in front of my mouth to appear delicate. As I got drunker, I began rubbing the outside of my foot against the inside of his leg. Soon after, he asked if I’d like to walk back to his apartment and of course I said yes. Right as we left the bar, he kissed me. His mouth tasted of raw mince.

Once we got inside his apartment he pushed me against his magnet-less refrigerator and whispered in my ear, ‘Are you going to be my dirty little slut?’ I got goosebumps but in the wrong sort of way. As he kissed me, I became aware of the amount of saliva I was producing and how my legs shook slightly underneath me. His bed had grey sheets and a single pillow, which he pressed my hands into, crossed at the wrists. I felt him leaving bruises on my neck. I felt his hands grabbing the fat on my thighs, too tight. He smelt like my father too.

The memory came quietly, in the stillness when it was finally over. He was in a car, it was night and he was in the back seat. His reflection hung dully in the glass, a sad, watery self-portrait, features drooping. His eyes tried to catch up to the objects moving past him, but they were left searching. He was in his early teens and had short hair.

From the front seat, his mother said something, but he was not paying attention. He was watching a small spider, just bigger than one of the freckles on his face, crawl slowly across the door handle. Gently, he rested his hands next to the spider and waited for it to climb up his palm onto his fingers, traversing each one with quiet precision. To the spider, the ridges of his fingerprints and the creases at his knuckles must have seemed like great hills. He held his hand very still, patiently waiting for the spider to reach his thumb, before he lifted his hand centimetres from his face and pressed his forefinger and thumb together, squashing the spider in its entirety. He paused for a beat, then rubbed the fingers together until they turned white. Finally, he looked upon the crushed mess and for a second I was certain he was going to place a finger in his mouth and lick it clean. Instead, he wiped them on the car seat and went back to staring out the window, face unchanged the whole time.

In the apartment, he was hurriedly putting on his pants.

‘Is something wrong?’ I said.

‘What? No, no, that was good.’

I waited for more, but that was all he said. I was tired and knew if I heard the memory he saw I would cry, so I rolled over and tried to sleep without a pillow. At dawn, I left.

He ignored me at work after that. Our break was taken in silence, or with him jovially making another co-worker laugh while I stared at the floor. When we were forced to interact, he looked at me with a sort of apprehension and dismay. It wasn’t just because I was bad at having sex, I was certain of that.


Next was my 19th-century literature professor. After two weeks of university, I had told all my teachers, except him, that I had caught glandular fever and couldn’t attend class. I enjoyed staring at his crotch and pretending to see a bulge when he called on me in lectures. My responses were uncreative and unimportant, but once after class he told me to stay behind. He said that I had a ‘nuanced mind’ that he’d ‘love to understand more completely,’ and soon enough we were fucking right there with the projector still running.

He turned me over and the edge of his desk pressed into my stomach. I winced in pain each time his penis edged my cervix. It felt attention-seeking that I was having sex with a professor, but of course I didn’t care. He came onto my back and some of it ran down onto the floor, leaving a stain on the carpet that an underpaid cleaner would have to scrub out. I wondered how many other cum stains were splattered around campus.

His memory was brief. He was at an indoor swimming pool as a child, in trunks with little green chameleons on them. All the varying noises in the pool—children shouting, water splashing, mothers gossiping, thongs squeaking—gave me a headache.

There was one very small and clear tear running down his cheek as he stood facing his mother, telling her he didn’t want to do his swimming lesson. She told him he’d have fun, that everything would be okay, but his lip still quivered and he held her hand tightly, the other gripping his goggles.

‘You’ll get a packet of chips and half an hour of television if you swim, Jeremy,’ said his mother. He deliberated for a moment, then quietly said okay and walked to the ledge of the pool.

‘I love you!’ called his mother, but he was too focused on the water to care. The memory ended.

‘What did you see?’ he asked as he buckled his belt. I told him and he chuckled, embarrassed, and said, ‘I loved those togs.’

‘And you?’ I asked.

He busied himself with the papers on his desk and cleared his throat. ‘You were at the chemist waiting for a prescription. Lexapro, I think.’

I cringed and glanced at the projector, letting the blue light burn into my eyes, unblinking.

‘While you waited, you were looking in an aisle.’ He smoothed down his hair. ‘The one with the condoms and lube, you know. You were sort of particularly interested in the spermicide gel stuff. Right as you were about to grab it off the shelf, they called your name. You went and paid and that was it. You didn’t get the gel.’

‘Huh,’ was all I could manage, pulling my dress back onto sticky skin.

‘Sound about right?’ he asked, attempting a smile. All I saw was pity.

I left then; I didn’t feel like talking any longer. On the walk to the bus stop, all I seemed to notice were mothers with prams, and the babies squirming inside them, each one indistinguishable from the next, with their heads glowing like the moon and their skin like undercooked pork crackling. When I got home, I threw my pills away and tore up the script and looked up my doctor’s phone number and wrote it down on a piece of paper just to scrunch the paper up and throw it in the bin too.

I did none of the readings for that professor’s class. I still got top marks.


My mother came to visit in the second semester of university. I was living on the top floor of student accommodation, sharing the living area with five other people and sleeping in a room much longer than it was wide. I made sure to cook my dinner in the communal kitchen when no one else was around. If anyone came in, I’d quietly remove my pan from the stove and take it to my room, and wait until they were gone. One of the other students left watermelon skin on the floor every few days, which I diligently put in the bin.

I showed my mother my room with the one plant I’d managed to keep alive and the small pile of books I had bought with the money I made at the amusement park. She was eager to leave, saying my room made her claustrophobic. She had put lipstick on and had a line of wobbly eyeliner across her lids, and when we exited the apartment, the streetlights accentuated her down-turned lips, making them appear hardened as if by rigor mortis. At the restaurant, we spoke about the cat and the people in my classes and how I should stop picking at the skin around my thumb. She asked if I was seeing anyone and I told her about a boy I’d met in the elevator who let me come study in his room when the students on my floor were being too loud.

‘That’s nice,’ she said. ‘And I suppose you’re being safe?’

I twisted my untouched spaghetti around my fork.

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Of course, Mum.’

‘I know we don’t talk about this sort of thing.’ Her eyes were looking at my left ear. ‘But is it a good memory, that you see, with this boy?’

I snorted quietly. ‘Yeah, it’s fine.’

She made eye contact with me then, expectantly.

‘He’s at his seventh birthday party on a jumping castle. All his friends are there. It’s very happy, they must have eaten lots of sugar because they’re all jumping very high. I smile every time I see it.’

She let out a breath. ‘That’s good. That’s all that matters, really.’

My stomach groaned and I didn’t feel like arguing, so I nodded and ate a forkful of my food.

‘Did I ever tell you the memory I saw with your father?’

I said nothing and focused very hard on hearing the sound furthest from us. A plane in the sky. A star exploding. Further, further.

‘It was him skipping stones at the dam near his childhood house. He was terrible at it—he couldn’t get them to skip more than once. Eventually, he gave up and started hurling them into the water. They made loud plonks when they hit. They got louder and louder.’ She held her knife and fork very firmly in her hands. ‘I’ve seen him hurl those rocks so many times, but I still can’t remember how many he threw—’

‘Mum?’ I interrupted. ‘Can I go home now? I’ve got lots of study to do.’

I walked her to the train station first. We hugged stiffly and she whispered something in my ear. ‘You’re all—’. ‘This is—’. ‘I’m so—’. I can’t remember.

I went straight to the elevator boy’s floor and kissed him so hard our teeth grated together. He was skinny and had a tiny nose and never smiled, except in the memory of him on the jumping castle. As I watched the children jump, they reminded me of stones falling into water. Plonk. Plonk.


By autumn of the following year, I had slept with seventeen other people. I’d seen a memory of a night in Japan with too much sake, a sunburn so bad the guy’s skin leaked pus, a first date with a man partial to velvet, and a shopping trip for summer sandals. I saw a hard man smell each rockmelon at the store to find the ripest one; I saw a soft woman pick up a trapped rat by the tail and shake it a few times to see if it was dead.

By the eighth person, I had decided I didn’t want to hear what memory of mine they saw. Most people didn’t have a problem with that, except for one boy I met at a nightclub who texted me the next day while I was throwing up in a bin with a three-paragraph explanation of the memory and a critical analysis of the themes and subtexts. Actually, I’m not sure if it had any of that, I quickly deleted the message—‘You looked very beautiful’ was all I needed to see.

For a while I’d been having a recurring dream about sleeping with someone and then getting a memory of myself from the past. I couldn’t remember if these things had ever happened to me. Were they giving me back my lost memories? How? It made my temples hurt to think about, and after I’d have the dream, I’d wake up sweaty, reaching around for something to grab onto. During one particular night when this happened, I was with a tall girl who didn’t shave her armpits, who stroked my cheek once I awoke and told me it was all going to be okay. Desperate, I asked her what memory of mine she saw.

‘You were crying in your bed. You pushed the bottom of your palms into your eyes and just cried. There was nothing else.’

‘Really? Is that really what you saw?’

It was dark and I couldn’t tell if she was smiling or frowning or had no expression at all.

‘Really. That’s what I saw.’


From then on, I vowed to sleep with a new person every week. Dating apps had become the key, and despite the emptiness I felt as I swiped through men and women and hoped for matches and wished for messages, I didn’t stop. There was an overwhelming sense of urgency to make witty conversation and pretend I cared deeply about us both liking a specific TV show, despite everyone liking that specific TV show. Perfectly average men asked me about my weekend. I’d tell them I’d had drinks with friends and was ‘in recovery mode’ so they’d feel secure in their belief that that was an admirable thing to have done. I felt like a tiny, unripe green grape in a bunch of red ones.

It was around then that I was unable to get to sleep. Memories of mine and of others would play in fragments in my mind like I was watching a television that kept changing channels. Visions of boys I’d met in clubs as little versions of themselves fused together with visions of little me, and as the nights got later, I started to wonder if that was really me hiding under my bed, or them. Was it them walking on their toes past their parents’ bedroom door, or me? Was it me listening for my father’s footsteps down the hallway, dread making my throat close over, or them? It was me ripping the skin off my fingers and sucking them dry, wasn’t it? I stayed awake all night wondering and wondering and wondering.

It was also around that time that I became certain my vision was deteriorating because during the day, especially when it was sunny, I felt like the things I was seeing in front of me weren’t real. I went to an optometrist who wore a clip-on tie and thick glasses and looked far too young to be practising any kind of adult profession. I told him I must be long-sighted or short-sighted or not sighted at all, and although I was aware that optometrists aren’t real doctors, I told him I was hungry all the time and couldn’t get to sleep and that my hands shook when I put mascara on.

He tested my eyes and said I could see perfectly fine and didn’t need glasses. Then he wrote down a phone number on a pink sticky note and folded it in half. If you ever need help. If it was his number or the number of some sort of helpline, I wasn’t sure, but I put it in my purse anyway. I walked out of the office and immediately everything looked blurry, less clear than the memories stored in the back of my mind, less clear than anything that kept me up at night.

I called the number a week later, and it was the optometrist who answered. I quickly stopped crying when he picked up, and soon he was on his way to my apartment. I opened the door for him before he knocked. We didn’t speak at all before it happened, except for a ‘hello’ and a ‘should we just’ and an ‘okay’.

Then in the middle, before the memories came, I asked him to hit me. His mouth formed a perfect O and I told him please, on the face, on the tits, on the arse, just please hit me. I listened to my heater hum as I waited for him to say something. It wasn’t an original or exceptional or particularly kinky thing to ask of him, but perhaps the way I said it, with bloodshot eyes and knotted hair, made him realise I wasn’t asking it just to be kinky. He got off me then and I begged, ‘Please no, you have to finish.’ I grabbed him by the shoulders and pulled him onto me, then reached for his penis to put back inside. He said stop and I said no and he had to muster all his strength to tear himself away from me.

As he put his clothes on, while I lay with snot dripping from my nose, he told me I was totally fucked up and needed help. I said quietly under my breath, ‘I thought this was help’, but he didn’t hear me. I cried for three days after that, until I received a message from another boy asking if I’d like to come over that night. I got up, got changed and looked in the mirror at a face I did not recognise.


I stayed busy. I did at-home Brazilian waxes, washed my hair every three days and topped up my bus card. I saw the inside of so many bedrooms and so many memories that they started to blur into one another. Then in my third year of university, I befriended a group of three boys and three girls in my course. I didn’t tell them I’d failed half my subjects last semester and was set to graduate a year and a half late. They were very loud, and they thought I was skittish and a little odd, but when I whispered clever things they’d all shut up for a moment to listen. One afternoon at the bar on campus, I told them we should all have sex together. A third of them laughed, a third of them blushed and the final third said sure, okay. To the ones that weren’t convinced, I said it would be very ‘arts student’ of us, and that they could come over to my apartment right now and give it a go, just for fun. They were drunk anyway.

Soon enough I was ushering them all into a maxi taxi, then into the elevator, then into my very narrow room that had never held more than two people at once. I gave them each a shot, then another, from the bottle of gin I sipped from at night sometimes. Two of the girls began kissing then, hands grabbing at each other like blindfolded people searching for something they had dropped. The room got very hot very fast as everyone began taking their clothes off. It stunk like chicken-salted chips. We all squeezed onto my double bed. It was hard to keep track of who was where and what I had my hand inside of and when the person between my legs had changed. I kept thinking, no seriously, no seriously, no seriously…

When the first memory came, I immediately shoved the boy off and pulled another onto me. I watched one hold their mother’s hand and walk down the street, while the other pushed so deep inside me I thought I might tear in half. I came for each of them, until they lay there giggling and I lay there thinking of my father’s old white shirt and wondering if any of them knew what colour the stain splotched across the collar was. Through slurred words, I heard them share the memories they had seen of me, even though I didn’t ask.

‘Your mother is very beautiful,’ said one girl.

‘My mother? What did you see with my mother?’ I said.

‘Uh…’ She lay on top of one of the boys, circling her finger around his nipple. ‘You were saying goodbye to her at a train station. She whispered something in your ear. It was—’ She stopped moving her finger and instead pressed very firmly down on the nipple, so it inverted into itself. The boy’s face didn’t change. ‘I actually can’t remember. Isn’t that funny?’

‘What do you mean you can’t remember?’ I said.

‘I’m drunk! We just had a fucking orgy. I just can’t remember.’

‘Think,’ I said. ‘Just think. What was it?’ I was sitting up very straight.

She remained silent.

‘Get out. All of you, get out now,’ I said in a whisper.

None of them moved. I stood up, perfectly aware I was naked.

‘Get the fuck out!’ I shouted. ‘Get the fuck out of my fucking house.’

‘Hey, it’s okay—’

‘No, no,’ I said. ‘What did she say? What did she say?’

‘I can’t—’

‘Get out! Get out now!’

I was yelling loud enough that they listened. I continued to scream as they scrambled to find which clothes belonged to them, and when they couldn’t they left half-dressed, covering themselves with their hands. I screamed as they went out the door, and as my flatmates came out of their rooms to see what was going on.

To calm myself I lay down on the floor of my room. I couldn’t bear to touch the bed and instead made lists on a notepad of anything I could think of. The food in my fridge: yoghurt, orange juice, leftover pasta, salami. The buses I usually took: 180, 185, 330, 66. Streets I’ve lived in: Barton Court, Denaid Street, Cavendish Road, Munroe Court. Things I’ve prayed for: a dog for Christmas, rain on the weekend, my house to burn down, the right person to come along. Stories I’ve told myself: that I will forget, that things will be easy, that the sun will come up. No seriously, no seriously, no seriously…


I stopped leaving the apartment then. At one point I stayed awake for three days, at one point I slept for four, at one point I sat down in the shower for five hours, until my skin became so porous that I felt like I could press into my calf and keep pressing until I hit the tiles. I decided to go to the grocery store only when I was so hungry I sucked on one of my flatmate’s Earl Grey tea bags for dinner.

On the bus ride to the store, I turned on my phone for the first time in several days and checked my dating apps. A boy who wore a silly blue button-up shirt with hummingbirds on it in every photo had messaged me asking if I’d like to come over. I looked out the window, then at my hands, then at my feet. I replied yes and closed my eyes, waiting for the colours behind my eyelids to form pictures and for those pictures to form something more.

At his house, he told me I was the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. His room smelt like old cigarettes and his bed was mainly springs. I listened to him talk about things I didn’t care about as I stared at his waist and realised it was about the size of my thigh. He held my hand while we had sex, and whispered kind things in my ear. His back was very soft, like the belly of a dog, and his pupils became so big when he looked at me that I thought they’d engulf me entirely. I suddenly didn’t want him inside me, didn’t want him to finish and didn’t want him to see whatever he saw. But it was too late, we came together smiling and I saw a memory of him pressing the emergency stop button in an elevator, because he didn’t like heights and was having trouble breathing. As the memory ended, I turned over and wrapped my arms around the boy’s chest and told him he was lovely.

We fell asleep immediately after, folded together. For the first time in weeks, I had no dreams. I slept soundly, and when I woke up my head was clear. I felt as if I could actually see properly, felt ease, and joy, like nothing bad could ever happen to me. Why would it? Nothing hurt, I felt clean. There was silence but finally it was comforting.

I rolled over to kiss the boy but found the bed empty, except for a note saying he’d had to go and that I could let myself out. I breathed in the scent of his sheets before leaving, and my hands sat comfortably by my side as I caught the bus home.

I called the boy a week later, hoping I could ask him out for a coffee or a movie or a picnic, but the person who answered was a woman. She told me, in a breathy voice, that he had killed himself three days earlier. I asked why, and she replied, ‘I don’t know, he just did,’ and hung up.

I had the sudden feeling I was forgetting something, so I began rifling through my room to find what it was. In my chest of drawers, I found the pages of lists I had written during the time I wasn’t leaving the apartment. On the last page, under a list entitled ‘Souvenirs’, was one sentence written in thin, bendy handwriting. I didn’t recognise it as my own and couldn’t remember ever writing it. It said:

The man with the stones. Do you remember what he did to you?

I scrunched it up and threw it away, unsure what it meant and not bothered to find out.

I didn’t go to the boy’s funeral. I live a happy life. I still cry sometimes. But for what, I’m not sure.