Black Spot: Chapter One

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(black spot n a place where something bad exists or happens)

There is no wind, no sound, no movement. The dawn that rises over the mountains is the most quiet, still morning that Livia Black can remember. Not that she remembers them all. Not since the car accident that wiped the slate clean of her memories.

Six years ago today. Six years since her mother died in that same car accident. Her brilliant, beautiful mother. Not that she remembers her either. Livia has pictures but she doesn’t look at them often. They don’t spark her memory like they are supposed to. Instead they are reminders of the unfamiliar things she has lost. She feels bad that she doesn’t feel bad about the loss of a mother she wouldn’t recognise in a crowd of strangers. But how can she miss someone she can’t recall being there or being gone?

Livia lingers as long as she can at the foot of the heavily forested mountains that border the eastern edge of her vast family farm but eventually turns her horse, Pepper, and heads for home. Pepper knows the way and she doesn’t need to guide him. He’s slower than normal though. He knows she is not eager to arrive at their destination. He’s a smart horse.

When they are back at the stables, she brushes his coat and offers him a carrot. He eats it loudly and then wanders into his sandpit, which used to be hers, to roll around. She doesn’t remember it being hers but it’s what she’s been told. She does remember taking apart the wooden sides to let the sand spill out and the horses get in. It was her choice. At twelve, she may not have known herself but she knew she was too old to be playing in sandpits anymore.

Livia goes into the house and up to her bedroom to change out of her riding gear and into jeans and a t-shirt, then waits at the front of the house for her father to bring the car around. There is no arguing, no cajoling, no pleading in spite of the fact she wishes she didn’t have to go. They have taken this trip together a lot. More often a few years ago. Less often now.

She always sits in the back seat. She doesn’t know why. Her father says it’s because she’s afraid of the front passenger seat. It’s where she was sitting when the accident happened. But that’s silly. She can’t remember the accident. She doesn’t feel afraid. It’s just habit.

The drive takes nearly an hour even though Doveton is the next town over from Murphy where Livia and her father live. Doveton sounds pretty, she thinks, but the reality is anything but. A deserted town taken over by a huge medical corporation called Evergy. Only Evergy employees live there now.

When they arrive at Evergy headquarters, a modern multi-storey building, all glass and chrome and completely out of place in the surrounding rural setting, a guard dressed in a uniform of perfectly pressed dark blue trousers and shirt checks that they are expected and then directs her father where to park. He needn’t bother. They park in the same spot every time. They are met at the door by Dr William Wallenius every time. They are escorted through the stark white hallways to the same even starker white examination room every time. Her father is offered coffee in the next room every time.

Dr Wallenius is older, or what Livia thinks of as older, with grey hair and unfashionable glasses, but she doesn’t actually know his age or really anything about him. He’s never talked about himself and that suits her just fine because it means she doesn’t feel guilty about doing the same, as much as she can anyway.

‘How do you feel today, Livia?’ Dr Wallenius asks without looking at her, consulting the chart he is holding. How does she feel? She doesn’t really know. There’s an elusiveness to the true answer to that question. She feels ambiguous, abstract and indistinct, as if removed from herself somehow. Existentially, at least. But she suspects that’s not the kind of feelings he’s asking about.

‘Well, thank you,’ she answers by rote. Physically, it’s the truth.

‘Have you remembered anything?’

‘No.’ He asks every time they meet and not once has she been able to answer differently. Her life from before the accident is less than a blur. It’s not even a blur. It’s just gone.

‘Are you doing your memory exercises?’

‘Yes.’ She has a program called Brain Training on a Nintendo DS but it never holds her interest. Most of the time her father has to remind her to do her exercises, which she thinks is ironic.

‘Are you taking your tablets?’

‘Yes.’

‘I’m going to draw blood for some tests.’

‘Okay.’ Sometimes Dr Wallenius draws blood, sometimes he doesn’t. She’s not sure how blood tests are going to cure her of amnesia. During moments of self-doubt she wonders if they have told her the purpose of the blood work and she has forgotten. But she’s able to form new memories perfectly well. She just hasn’t been able to hold on to any of her memories from before the accident.

Her free hand is instinctively drawn to the pendant hanging around her neck. It’s the only piece of jewellery her pragmatic father has given her – not really jewellery even; it’s a tiny gold compass on a gold chain for when she is in the mountains so there’s no chance of her getting turned around or lost – and it has become a talisman of safety, even in situations that a compass would prove fairly useless. Like now.

After he has drawn her blood, Dr Wallenius offers her a lollipop like she’s still a child. But she’s eighteen now. It seems strange. She takes it anyway. Deviations from the routine tend to raise their interest. She doesn’t want to raise their interest. She’s had enough interest from doctors to last her several unpleasant lifetimes.

Livia sucks the lollipop while her father re-enters the room and talks to the doctor in hushed tones.

‘Any change?’

‘None.’

In the first weeks after the car accident, Livia was in a coma. She stayed at Evergy’s clinic – meant for employees and research patients only – for nearly three months as they first woke her, assessed her, then tried to figure out when her memories might return. After she was released, she had appointments scheduled daily. Then weekly. Then the weekly appointments became fortnightly, and the fortnightly appointments became monthly. Now she can go ten weeks between seeing Dr Wallenius. It is her goal to get to three months between appointments. Well, it’s her goal to stop having to see doctors altogether. But there doesn’t seem to be any likelihood of that.

Livia’s mother worked for Evergy, which is why they take such good care of her daughter. Perhaps it is guilt, too. She was on her way home from work, on her way back to the farm when the accident happened. Livia doesn’t know why she was in the car with her mother. Maybe she’d gone to work with her – the accident happened in the summer and there is little for a twelve year old to do in Murphy in the summer other than the obvious: swim, play, ride horses, roam the farm, roam the town, roam the mountains. Actually, that sounds like rather a lot to do for a twelve year old. Perhaps she preferred her mother’s company to her father’s. Or perhaps she was fascinated by and attracted to her mother’s brilliance in the same way her father was.

Her parents met while hiking Kilimanjaro. Livia loves to hear this story but thinks it is painful for her father to tell it. The reason, she supposes, she’s only heard him tell it once. The reason he told it through gritted teeth. It was just after she’d woken from the coma but before she discovered the stranger sitting by her bed was her father. He told it in the third person about two people named Fleur and Teddy, like he was narrating a children’s fairy tale, romance and happily ever after shining through the sadness of the person telling it.

She reflects on how lucky they were to be in that particular same place at that particular same time because it is unlikely they would ever have met anywhere else. Dr Fleur Schuyler, MD and PhD, a research scientist with degrees from Harvard and Yale and a family line stretching back as far as kings and queens in Denmark or the Netherlands or somewhere Scandinavian on her maternal side, and Theodore Black, who everyone calls Teddy, a farmer.

When the Evergy doctors found out her father had told her the story they ordered him not to share any more stories with her, that it would interfere with efforts to have Livia remember things for herself. So for the longest time there were only three things she was told: that the man who never left her bedside was her father, that her mother had died in the car accident that was responsible for her amnesia, and that her parents had met while hiking on Kilimanjaro.

Other snippets slipped through later on – ancestral family histories that she couldn’t possibly know without being told, that her mother had ridden horses as a teenager as well – but she’s never heard him tell the Kilimanjaro story again. Instead she plays the memory of his telling it that one and only time over in her mind to spare him the pain.

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