After a devastating car accident, Olive finds herself trapped in a life she doesn’t remember with a man she’s not sure she can trust. He’s acting like a doting husband, but as Olive’s memories start to resurface, she worries their seemingly perfect marriage is built on lies.
The harder she tries to reconstruct the past, the more Olive feels herself slipping away, until she’s forced to decide between the woman she used to be and the woman she’s becoming.
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The man twists a ring on his left ring finger. Deflated as a three-day-old balloon, he sits with a bag of clothes in his lap. He is relatively handsome with smooth brown hair, scruff on a sharp jaw, and thin lips. Deep lines streak his forehead, and exhaustion has left bruises underneath his eyes. I’m told that his name is Charlie Leason, and we have been married for nine years. I’ve tried to remember him but instead I keep landing on a memory of a thirteen-year-old Fred Something and his tongue lapping at my neck as if I were a popsicle.
I’m a Mrs. I spare a glance at my ringless left hand and see a withered pale mark on my ring finger. There’s my proof. I wonder if they had to cut the rings when I was brought in; I wonder how large the diamonds are.
Charlie has brought me clothes to leave in. Stepping away from him, I go into the hospital room’s en-suite bathroom. He offers to help—to my horror—but I can’t even respond.
Harsh lights do me no favors. The reflection in the mirror is me, but it doesn’t feel like it. A short unevenly chopped bob in an almost gray shade of brown falls into my face. I’m not pretty, but I have an interesting face. I run my fingers along my cheek to feel smooth skin save a few creases that speak of an age I only know because Dr. Carrigan told me. My eyes are almost too round but sit a pleasant distance apart above my dollop of a nose. A bruise like bad makeup surrounds my right bloodshot eye. And even compared to Charlie, I’ve got no real lips to speak of.
As I undress, I notice that my ribcage is the mottled colors of death. After two days in a coma, some of the redness has ebbed away.
Unpacking the bag of clothes is almost shocking. I wonder if this is what I wear everyday. The style doesn’t suit me. The polka-dotted, junior panties are stained and sad, as if Charlie and I don’t have sex. Ill-fitting linen pants and a blue cotton tank top are straight out of the June catalog of Cult-Wear For Less. At least putting them on doesn’t hurt as bad as I’d anticipated changing would.
When I step out of the bathroom, in ballet flats and my embarrassing outfit, I ask, “Is this what I wear all the time?”
Charlie stands from the pilled gray chair he was slouching in when I went to change—it made him look chubby. I can’t believe I haven’t already fixed his posture like my mother did for me. His eyes are filled with amusement; I’m glad he thinks this is funny. “No, of course not. You’ve always done things differently… Like, you wear summer dresses in the dead of winter, or you’ll wear your expensive sweaters when the rest of us are sweating. Oh, and you love hats. But, God forbid, it’s slouchy—you have railed against many women on TV for that. They look dumpy, you say. And you love scarves. Once, you even told me that scarves were like—”
I hold my hand up. “No. No memories.” I remember lots of things. I have complicated divorced parents and a cousin I see once a year when she stops by for a concert. I just can’t remember this man. Right now, I’m not sure I’m ready. What did Dr. Carrigan say about trying to get memories back? I can’t remember. Did she even tell me, or did she just tell Charlie?
“Of course, Harper.”
I still. I don’t go by Harper. Before I can think about how Charlie will feel when I tell him to call me by my real name—which he clearly doesn’t, I rip the bandaid off. “Call me Olive.” His face reddens as if I’ve slapped him. I almost said Olive Parker, but that’s my maiden name; I’ve never been so happy that I held my tongue. “Please.”
“You haven’t gone by that since—” He stops himself. Tick, tick, tick. The wall clock is loud. Charlie grabs the bag of my possessions from the world’s most uncomfortable mattress and motions to the door like a waiter. “After you, Olive.”
As I pass him, I have the urge to straighten the lopsided collar on his burgundy button-up. I only refrain because I can’t recall his middle name.
Though he’s driving, Charlie’s watching me. His awareness of me is unsettling. Is this our norm—his keeping an eye on me, knowing when I stretch, when I yawn? It’s familiar, so I assume yes. Maybe it’s a sexual thing. In close proximity to him, his scent fills me with need; I fidget with the air vents to avoid tugging at my dampening cotton underwear.
An image flashes into my brain.
Charlie’s teeth are nipping at my inner thigh. My breathing hitches. I grab his hair and pull his face up to me.
“Inside me. Now,” I demand. My body is slick with sweat from hours of foreplay.
His face crashes into mine, and his mouth tastes like me. Soon, there is nothing left but his skin and mine.
“You too warm?” His soothing voice slices through the visceral memory. Since he’s watching, I just nod. My flushed face has nothing to do with the temperature.
“Sorry, I should have warned you.”
Cold water runs through my veins, and the pain in my rib flares as I tense.
“Warned me? About what?”
“That we live in The Outskirts, which is a little far away. I mean, it’s great, despite the hour commute.”
“You drive an hour to work.” I meant to pose it as a question. I shift, and a shiver runs up my spine. My underwear threaten to ride further up. Choosing not to talk, in case it comes out breathy, I leave my question as a statement and hope he fills in my blanks.
Gripping the wheel so tightly that his fingers pop and crackle, he makes a sad sound that could be a sigh or an attempt at a chuckle. “Yes, we decided the house was worth it.” He lists off reasons that may be on a brochure, and I realize as venom leaks into his voice that these must have been things I said once upon a time. Every word he says sounds like a sales pitch.
His negativity kills my arousal, which is for the best. “Ah,” I say, hoping I wasn’t cutting him off. I twist to face him for the first time since we got in the car fifteen minutes ago. “Has it been worth it?”
“Not in the slightest. The main thing is that we haven’t traveled like we used to. We ju—I don’t want to trigger anything until you’re ready,” Charlie added quickly.
“Thank you for respecting that.”
His eyes go wide for a moment before he rubs at the facial hair under his nose, which is slightly touching his upper lip. “Of course, Harps—sorry—Olive.”
“Harps? You call me Harps?”
He nods and laughs. “And you call me Chaplan.”
memory loss fiction novella