A week and a half. A week and a half of observation, poking and prodding, various tests… Nothing. They’ve found nothing, and they told Guin that with shifty eyes and the hint of a grimace. Great. She heard the word TBI muttered a lot in questioning tones, and when she got access to a computer, she looked it up: traumatic brain injury. Wonderful. That was just what she needed to hear. But apparently that isn’t her affliction – or so she was told, when she asked them to their faces in a sudden burst of anger. Something about being cooped up in a hospital ward for so long had got to her, and she found herself snapping the question at one of the nurses, who looked panicked and then went to fetch the doctors.
She apologised afterwards. She isn’t the sort of person who wouldn’t. Still, she was left with some new information: there was no damage. No damage whatsoever. No tissue damage, no kind of bleed, no degradation. In theory, according to her MRI, she’s absolutely fine, even though an entire year has somehow been scrubbed from her memory. That’s a relief, but it’s also immensely frustrating, for the medical team as well as her – there was only so long they could keep running in circles and asking the same questions before they admitted that they had no idea what the hell had happened. Since she was technically in perfect health, she was discharged, even if they were reluctant about it.
She’s taken two buses to get here; for some reason, she still seems to know the route by heart. Now she’s standing outside the block of flats where she lives, slowly breathing in and out, in and out. She stands in its shadow; it looms over her, tall and grey, watchful. There are memories here. The whole place has the ache of familiarity about it. Just the grass outside makes her think of a hundred journeys like this, of climbing what are always too many stairs, of putting her key in the lock. She knows this place. Grotty and underwhelming as it is, it’s hers. Maybe she can remember because she moved here before The Year That Wasn’t, as she’s taken to calling it in her head. She nervously twists the ring on her finger. She’s kept wearing it. She doesn’t quite know why.
She enters the building, unsure why her stomach’s attempting to climb into her throat and her hand is shaking as she grips her key. Perhaps something terrible has happened to that place in her forgotten year. Perhaps that’s part of what caused the memory loss. Perhaps – even worse – she won’t remember anything once she gets inside. The climb up the stairs is even harder and less pleasant now that she’s been in hospital for a while – she grits her teeth, almost thinking that she can feel the muscle wastage. She gets into her corridor and arrives at a plain brown door with 5C on it in metal letters.
She’s about to enter her flat when a flash of light blue catches her eye. A T-shirt, she realises as she looks properly at its source.
A man is locking the door to flat 5A. He has his back to her, but she can tell a lot just by looking at him. He’s lean, but he’s probably in good shape. He’s also likely fairly young: he’s dark haired, and it’s arranged in that carefully tousled style that seems to be popular right now – personally, she thinks it could do with a little less gel, but that’s just her opinion. A pair of scuffed black converse catch her eye as he shifts impatiently, trying to put his key into his pocket-one-handed. There’s a slightly dented cardboard box under his arm. It’s heavy and pretty unwieldy, judging from the slump of his shoulders and the way his whole posture changes when he tries to move it.
He turns, and not quite, but very nearly, jumps when he spots her. A few expressions flit across his face – surprise, and something akin to sadness – before he schools it into polite cheerfulness. He smiles at her. It’s a good smile, she thinks, all white teeth and eye-crinkles, sweet and infectious. “Hi.” Then he ducks his head, and it becomes more of a sheepish grin than anything.
She makes to greet him, but something she can’t name makes her hesitate. A wave of familiarity hits her, one so intense she struggles not to stop and stare. She knows this man. She’s certain of it. Yet, hard as she tries, she can’t put a name to the face, can’t quite say where she knows him from. He must be someone from the past year, then – a year that doesn’t exist, according to her memories.
She can now see that the words K – Junk are written on the front of the box. It adds to her feeling of not-quite-there. She knows him, goddammit, she feels it, and that letter, that K, means something to her. She understands instinctively that she should know what it is, but she can’t quite… An initial? A room designation?
“Hi,” she says in return. Only a few seconds have passed, yet they feel like an eternity; long enough to make things awkward, anyway.
“I’m, uh… I’m in 5A.” He shifts the box under his arm again, sticking out a hand.
“I know,” she replies with a nervous laugh, but shakes his hand anyway.
She sees it dawn on him – she must have seen him at his door. “Oh.” He hefts the box until he’s carrying it properly, with both hands. “Daniel,” he says, after a moment. He has a hint of somewhere else in his accent, but he can’t quite name it; it definitely isn’t all British. She just can’t name it, and that, too, frustrates her.
“Guin,” she returns.
The thing is, she’s sure she should remember him. He has a face most people would remember. He’s handsome, in a sharp-cheekboned, startlingly blue-eyed way, even though he looks tired; he’s pale, with dark shadows under his eyes and a day or two’s worth of stubble. “Good name,” he says. “What’s it short for?”
“Guinevere,” she admits reluctantly, looking at the floor. It’s never been a subtle name; it’s the kind that either proves to be the making of you, or an albatross round your neck. Either way, nearly everyone remembers you, for good or for bad.
She half-expects a laugh or a joke about whether she’s “found her Arthur” yet, but instead he just says, “It’s nice. Is there a reason you shortened it?”
She shrugs. “Too memorable.” He nods, as if in understanding, and she asks, “What’s with the…?” She gestures to the box.
It’s his turn to shrug, and he offers her a slightly sad half-smile. “I’m trying to move all my stuff to my car. I’ve been doing it little by little, but I’m still not finished.”
“You must not have much stuff, then. Or a truly impressive car.” She cringes. Smooth, Guin; state the painfully obvious.
“I’ve only been in the flat a year,” he says, “and I’m not really… materialistic, I suppose.” A shrug, and a little awkwardness. His smile hasn’t fallen, though; she obviously hasn’t bothered him too much. It explains, at least, why she doesn’t really remember him; he wasn’t around much before the obliterated year.
“When are you moving?”
“In a week. I just want to get all my stuff out in advance.” He must know how odd that sounds, because he adds, “It’s a long story.”
That should be it; she should go on, should go into her flat. The polite little conversation a couple of neighbours would have is concluded. Yet for some reason, she pauses, not yet ready to let him go. That crushing feeling of familiarity is still there, refusing to recede, and the frustration of not quite knowing is getting to her. “I’m sorry… have we met?”
He stares down at his cardboard box for a moment, then at her, cocking his head and squinting. “I think we have briefly,” he tells her. “Guess I don’t make much of an impression.”
She winces, raising a hand to her temple. “I’m sorry, I’m – I’m recovering from a head injury…” She isn’t, not as such, but somehow that’s easier than saying, I woke up from a hit-and-run with a year of my memory gone and even my doctors don’t know why.
“Oh,” he says, suddenly looking very apologetic. His grip on the box slips slightly. “I’m really sorry, I…”
“Never mind,” she says. “Are there any more boxes you need help with?” She wonders why she’s offering; the impulse came out of nowhere.
Another of those bright, infectious smiles. “I’m good, but thanks.”
She takes that as the dismissal it is and nods, turning and unlocking the door to her flat. She hears his footsteps, and then she feels him walk past – there’s a sudden spike in her awareness, almost like a breeze, then it’s gone as soon as it came. She feels his eyes on her, as though he’s looked over his shoulder, then his footsteps start descending the stairs and fade out of hearing.
She shuts the door behind her and stands in her apartment, looking around. It’s familiar as ever – it’s changed little in the year that she lost – but it’s still not quite right. The hollowness in her chest has been with her since the hospital bed, and time and time again, it’s been ordering her to go home. Yet here she is, and still that feeling nags at her. With it is the new, frustratingly unfulfilled sense of familiarity caused by seeing Daniel. She wonders if it will be like that with everyone she meets, and if so, she wonders how the hell she’ll bear it.
She looks to her side, and comes face to face with a pair of blank grey eyes. She jumps, but they’re small, certainly not human-sized, and she realises that it’s just Huginn, the stone raven that acts as a bookend. He stands on the bookshelf by the door, regarding her unseeingly. She smiles, running a hand over his head, and then looks for his companion.
Muninn is missing. A few books have tipped over, leaning drunkenly. A few are on the floor. Annoyance flares within her. Did she do this, or was it some other inconsiderate bastard? She crouches to take a look round the shelf, but Munnin is nowhere to be found. She lets out a laugh that sounds unhinged even to her own ears. Of course. The raven of Thought is still here, but Memory is missing. This must be some kind of metaphor. Jesus Christ, her life is turning into an awful novel.