Emily's Strange Life

Emily's Strange Life

“Good morning everyone; my name is Emily and I'm an amnesiac.”

“Good morning Emily,” the guys and gals of my therapy group chorused.

“I've been coming here for nearly three years now, so those of you who know my story off by heart, please take this opportunity to catch up on your sleep or something. You all know the damned Canoeheads attacked us without warning five years ago. I only know that because I was told. I was found wandering three years ago. One look and they knew I must have escaped from a Canadian slave labour camp. I was so emaciated they weren't sure at first if I was a girl or a boy.” I saw a few smiles at that, which pleased me. Nowadays you really couldn't make that mistake. I like to think of myself as voluptuous. I've heard people who thought I wasn't listening refer to me as 'stacked'. I know they're essentially describing the same phenomenon but 'voluptuous' is ladylike and 'stacked' isn't so I'm sticking with the classy version.

“I was wearing the rags of a black dress. I had this bracelet on – I must have concealed it in the camp somehow or found it after I escaped because it would certainly have been stolen otherwise.” I held up my wrist to show the bracelet, a silver band with further strands of silver twisted around a piece of polished bluejohn to hold it in its setting. “I like to think I had it before the camp, that it's something that was always precious to me, a link to my old life.”

“Because I was dressed all in black with long, straight black hair and couldn't remember anything – my name, my age, who I was – one of the orderlies at the hospital nicknamed me Emily the Strange after the cartoon character, so, not having any better ideas, I took the name Emily .I'm still pleased with the name.” I paused to take a sip of water

“I'm what they call a retrograde amnesiac. I can learn things, I have no problem forming new memories, I know what has happened to me in the three years since I was found. I know how to do all the things I obviously learned how to do before the invasion like reading and writing, but I literally cannot remember a single event that happened to me before the rescuers found me. The doctors are pretty certain I'm repressing traumatic events from my captivity. I know that would be a real gift to some of you to be able to forget the things you've gone through and I'm sorry. I often pray to get my memories back. I know from other people's stories that it may be a blessing that I don't..

“You all know the sufferings we've gone through since the war began. You all know the strains our emergency services have been under. For all that they decided an amnesiac teenager with no identifiable kin or friends couldn't be safely left in a refugee camp. The doctors believed me to be eighteen years old – with thousands of small children orphaned there was no way I could be adopted. The alternative seemed to be leaving me to be institutionalised or turning me loose to sleep on the streets. Then someone came up with a bright idea.

“There was a special forces officer, Michael O' Halloran,” I feel a big, stupid, goofy grin spread across my face just saying his name and lower my head to let my hair fall across my face for a moment, a little embarrassed at the glee I feel “He spent a lot of time on missions, but had a lot of R &R between them. So, he needed someone to make sure he had a warm, clean, dry home with a functioning fridge and in-date food in it. They could have assigned an enlisted man but that's not really an efficient use of resources in the middle of a war. I needed a home where I was safe, and someone to periodically check up on me and make sure nothing terrible had happened to me.

So I became Michael's live-in housekeeper and ward. I got a wage, a home and security. While he's there he takes care of me; when he's away the neighbouring army wives pop in from time to time to make sure I'm still lucid. I'm fairly sure that at the start they were expecting to have to call the nice men with the thorazine and the straightjacket. Now they mostly come for the coffee or to see if I can babysit. I've been Michael's girlfriend now for two and a half years. That's my story. That's my happy ending.”

“Thank you Emily,” said the facilitator “I asked Emily to tell her story just to remind people that hope springs eternal. That whatever sufferings we go through things can and do get better.”

I silently pray that this is the effect my story will have on people instead of making them think 'Why has that bitch got a happy ending when my loved ones are lying dead?'. I listen carefully to the next survivor's story of horror and sadness and try very hard not to be sick.

Five hours later I'm heading home, having spent the rest of the day babysitting Jeanette Rutherford's unruly trio of terrors. There is an unmentionable stain on my dress, my hair hurts where Kelly used it as handlebars riding on my back, Jack has drawn what he fondly thinks are tattoos all over my hands in felt tip, my face is still painted as a tiger and I'm nobly resisting the urge to just stop taking the Pill. It would be utterly wrong to land Michael with an unplanned pregnancy after all he's done for me. I just can't spend any time with the little tykes without getting deeply broody. Jeanette had this worried, pitying look on her face when she came in and found them romping all over me. I think she worries about me. She knows how I feel about Michael. She also know that I'm still just a girlfriend/housekeeper.

Army circles are fairly conservative. If you haven't got that ring on your finger after this amount of time, the wives on base are bound to wonder if I'm just a bit of fun for Michael, a convenient way to get his house kept and bed warmed. At least I think that's why I still get these looks from the other girls.

I wonder that sometimes too, in my darker moments. When I first came on to Michael he looked so surprised. I swear, up until that moment he thought I was like, his little sister or something. Not that he didn't get over that quickly – he did and with great enthusiasm. We've been so happy ever since but I do worry. I mentioned recently that some cultures think the ideal aged woman for a man to marry is half his age plus seven years. I'm now twenty-one. Michael is twenty-eight. The math works. Michael laughed and said we were obviously ideal then, but he didn't say anything else so I dropped it. I don't want to be that girlfriend – the one who's always pouting insecurely and dropping hints, stopping outside the window of jewellers and pointing our rings. On the other hand I would be a lot more secure if he'd only pop the question. As for children, I daren't even think of hinting. I've heard other officers talk about their partners on this topic when they think only men are listening. I don't want Michael to think I'm a 'silly, broody hen'. Even if I am.

As I enter the house I realise that something is wrong. The place is still clean and tidy but I can sense someone has been here. Before I can do or say anything two strong arms grab me from behind.

“What have we here?” growls a deep, male voice

“I'm a tiger. Please don't hurt me, I'm an endangered species.”

“What about ravishing?”

“Oh well, if you really must,” I murmur as Michael picks me up and lays me on the long pine scrubbed kitchen table, flipping up the skirts of my dress to provide a cushion for my back. He's so thoughtful.

I am definitely getting Michael a new razor. It's fabulous the way he's willing to practice his linguistics on me, so to speak, but as far as I know I'm the only girl in town with man rash on her inner thighs. (With the likely exception of Kelly Gunderson, whose husband, Staff Sergeant Gunderson is one giant mass of bristles and probably has to shave just to get down to five o' clock shadow).

Still, I'm standing by the stove in only my slip so a nice cool breeze is playing over the affected area. I'm making something to keep Michael's strength up. We've migrated upstairs to the bedroom in the three hours since he got home (via the living room sofa and the big rug on the first floor landing) but he shows no sign of getting sleepy. He only managed to get twenty four hours leave which is why he chose to surprise me so we need to make the most of it.

It's a fortnight until his next regularly scheduled leave, so it won't be long to wait, but I miss him, even when he's gone for relatively short periods. I keep reminding myself that this is the price you pay for being with a hero in time of war – he spends a lot of time in far off places being heroic. At first I used to get paranoid fears that he might be seeing someone else while he was away but the wounds reassured me. No matter how enthusiastic the cheating sl*t gets a woman is unlikely to leave shrapnel in a man's body by means of an affair. So, keeping Michael healthy in between missions is my job. Healthy food, healthy exercise and no way is he going back with a hangover, which means I have to be a more alluring and effective away of unwinding. Luckily we both have really good imaginations and his physical stamina is amazing!

That night I have the nightmare again.....

It always starts the same way. I'm in agony, so filthy I can smell myself, the vinegar sourness of old sweat overlying the sickly sweetness that says my body has started to break down its own tissues for food. I half-know that I'm dreaming and this must be some distorted memory of the Canadian slave labour camp. I'm wearing those foot and chain manacles they use on prisoners so I can barely shuffle but it doesn't stop the two guards flanking me from pushing me along the rough-cast concrete corridor, sometimes adding encouragement with a jab from a rifle butt. I turn and snarl at them. I feel dangerous, wolfish, not like me at all.

“Cowards,” I hear myself say in a harsh grating voice, quite unlike my own. ”If you were any good you'd be at the front. If these chains were off I'd kill you.”

I glare at the guards and can tell they hate me all the more because they know it's true. The taller guard tries to hit me with his rifle butt again but I manage to tangle it up in my chains and jerk it from him. There is no escape from here I know, but I may still be able to make them kill me. Unfortunately the second guard isn't so impulsive or so stupid. Instead of coming forward to grapple which would give me the chance to take him down he steps back out of reach and pulls a taser on me. I'm wearing nicely conductive metal chains which makes it all the more effective and I hit the floor. Two more guards come racing from the other end of the corridor and together they drag my semi-electrocuted form through the doors and the end of the corridor into a comfortable, furnished office. I hear a voice say 'Operation Disney Princess subject # 239 Sir.”

This is where the nightmare becomes surreal. Sitting behind the desk is the saviour of our nation, the Orange One, President for Life, Commander-in-Chief Trump. I don't understand why, in the dream, he's looking at me like I was an enemy. I'm a red-blooded American girl. My lover and hero is Michael O'Halloran, a decorated Special Forces officer. I've every reason to hate the damned Canoeheads so why is my own President looking at me like that?

“Mr President,” said a voice wearily, as if it had said the same things many times before “Can I remind you that this ..this reorientation programme has a zero per cent success rate so far? With the greatest of respect Mr President is this really a prudent use of medical, scientific and military resources in the middle of a war?”

“What are you talking about? This project is one hundred and ten per cent success!” The President waved his hands excitedly. Even in the dream I knew the stubby fingers must be part of my imagination. No one has hands that small, surely?

“We're building the future here. A literal marriage of the best America and Canada have to offer with us providing the knowhow and Canada providing the raw material.”

“Yes Sir. It just doesn't work.”

“Of course it does. Now take 'em away! Call me when we succeed!”

After that the dream gets weird. I'm in a lot of pain and nauseous most of the time but despite this I seem to be doing normal things, getting dressed, cooking, cleaning, mending, pretty much the routine I have now, minus wild table sex. The dream isn't always coherent, but it always ends the same way, with me wandering the roads, barefoot, hungry and ragged under a dreadful sky.

As usual I wake up crying and Michael has to hold me to comfort me while I soak his bare chest with ugly, unladylike sobs and tears. I love him – he puts up with so much!

End of Part One

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