Written in dark ink

 

It was a short walk from the Post Office to the address on the telegram. Rather than send the boy he decided to personally deliver this bad news to his friend. At the door he paused to look up the familiar street, peaceful in the late spring sunlight. Paused to remember, try to recall happier times.
He knocked, listened to the footsteps approach along the hallway he knew well. The door opened. He was relieved it was Alex.
“George.” Said Alex, looking at the small square telegram offered to him by the Postmaster. Alex, his reluctant fingers failed to grip the telegram which fluttered to land soundlessly on the pavement.¬†Alex slowly bent down to pick up the message of death; his three sons were in France, in constant danger. As he stood up their eyes met.
“It’s for Laura.” Said George. “It’s addressed to her.”
“Clem, then.” Said Alex, his mind a confused maelstrom of emotion; guilt at the good news that his sons still lived battled with the grief that his daughter’s beloved husband’s name would be written in the dark ink.
Then, a voice behind him broke his train of thought. Broke his heart.
“Faither, what is it? I heard Clem’s name…….”
Alex turned around to face his daughter, reached out to catch her as she fell, her life, her future slipping through his fingers.

*********

My story is of how I imagine the news of my grandfather’s death was delivered.

When the war ended one of Clem’s comrades visited Laura to tell of how her husband had been wounded during the Third Battle of Arras. With his hip shattered he had been laid in a shell hole for shelter until he could be picked up. He was never seen again and he was formally presumed dead in February 1918, one of 36,000 dead at Arras.

Who were you?

 

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Shadowy figures swarmed over the wall. He shot one in the face, another in the chest. Blood was everywhere. Then the firing mechanism clicked. Clicked again. Fuck! Out of ammunition. A heavy body landed on him, fingertips scrabbling for his eyes. He managed to get his fingers around the man’s throat and pressed. The body gradually went limp and the dream faded and Neville drifted back into a deep, deep sleep………

The brochure lying on the bedside table at the crime scene had led Detective Inspector Ramsey to the Carleton Clinic. Sat in the consultant’s office he could see through a window into a dimly lit room where a man, with an almost comical cap covered with small flashing lights sat in a chair, reminding the detective of a recent visit to the dentist.

Mr Bradley reached out to snap shut a silver Venetian blind.

“In layman’s terms, Inspector, we replace memories that a patient may find distressing. We use memory manipulation techniques pioneered by Ramirez at the beginning of the century. We erase bad memories and implant happier ones. In other words we give people new beginnings to their lives.”

“Ah, yes, I see.” Said the detective. “As your brochure says: ‘What you remember defines who you are’.”

“Yes, exactly so. In a recent case, a patient’s wife felt her husband’s upbringing was socially incompatible with her own. We erased his memory of a poor, disadvantaged childhood and implanted memories of a childhood similar to his wife’s life experiences; private school, parents in professions, living in a wealthy area and so on. His wife felt it would make her husband more confident in social and business situations.”

“Was Neville West one of your clients, Mr Bradley?”

“Yes,” said Mr Bradley guardedly. “Has something happened, Inspector?”

“Your client strangled his wife this morning.” Said the detective bluntly.

“That’s truly dreadful!” Said the shocked consultant. “He was such a pleasant, equitable man.”

Until you messed with his head, thought the detective as he asked to see Neville West’s file. A request predictably refused on the grounds of Data Protection by the obviously uneasy consultant.

After the detective left his office Bradley hurriedly spoke into his phone “He’s gone George. For now. You’d better alter the file. If they find out that you mistakenly implanted the memory from that soldier with PTSD you’ll be facing a manslaughter charge.”

“What did you just say…… there’s others?”Said Bradley massaging his temples. “How many?” He whispered.

***

During the First World War, New Zealander, Sir Harold Gillies pioneered plastic surgery. Plastic Surgery was developed to repair disfiguring injuries caused by gunshot and shrapnel. Later in the same century the techniques were given a more commercial title: cosmetic surgery. Breasts could be enlarged, noses remodelled and lips inflated to make patient feel better about themselves.
At the beginning of this century Neuroscientist Steve Ramirez is pioneering memory manipulation with the objective of finding a cure for Alzheimer’s.
My story is based on the idea that, like plastic surgery, memory manipulation will become commercially available for frivolous purposes.