“Dad? Can you hear me? Do you know if he can hear us?”
“I always say to my patients’ families: assume they can. Even if it doesn’t register so well, assume there’s a comfort in hearing your loved ones.”
It was loud, echoing, and he couldn’t remember what he came in for. The corridor was long, confusing, somehow noisy in its clutter. There was a statue to his left. Dancing figures. It meant something, but he couldn’t think what.
He stopped and stared at it. Something shimmered through the haze in his mind. A distant event. Dancing. Something stirred. What had he been feeling? Was it a happy memory? The female figure looked graceful, lost in dance. The statue had been put in this alcove, for a purpose. Perhaps he himself, a long time ago, had placed it lovingly here. Yes, that seemed likely. But why? He couldn’t remember.
“I hope you can still hear me.”
A voice drifted through the walls, from beyond, somewhere unseen. A familiar voice. The voice of the dancer? No. Similar, but not the same. The voice inspired affection, certainly. He felt he should recognise it, but the words drifted through the opposite wall and were gone, leaving the silent statue, blurring in his fading vision.
He turned and walked on. The corridors were confusing. So many of them. So many twists and turns, each one different from the last. No two corridors were the same length, or shape, or colour, and each had some distinguishing feature. One had a giant chandelier, one a stained-glass window with a wall behind it. Another had murals of African animals, some of them framed. He couldn’t remember having been to Africa. Had he? Travelling sounded like a thing he’d done, once. Maybe with the dancer. If only he could remember who she had been.
Another corner, this time a short corridor with a series of toy cars in tiny alcoves. They were precisely placed, as if important. He stopped and picked one up, then realised he hadn’t noted which orientation it had been in. The others were all different. Some facing him, some facing sideways, some at angles. Was that important? It troubled him, but he was the only one here. If he didn’t know, no one would tell him now. He placed it down facing towards the corridor. A small red car, sporty, with a number plate he couldn’t make out.
He didn’t like it here. He had liked it once. A memory made it into his head, of striding along the corridors. They had a purpose. He had walked purposefully, and everything in these long passageways had been there for a reason. Hundreds, maybe thousands of passageways, and he must have known the routes, but now he was lost. It was an uncomfortable feeling, being lost and alone, and he trembled as he wondered if he would ever find his way to…
Who, or what, was he even looking for? He couldn’t remember why he’d begun walking.
“I’m going to get some food, but I’ll be back in a few minutes. Don’t go anywhere now.”
Laughter? Was it a laugh he heard? So distant. So faint.
Maybe somewhere out there lay answers to where he was, but he couldn’t think how. Why had he ever needed so many long corridors? The place was a maze, and who could need so many alcoves, twists, turns, pictures on the walls? And yet he was sure he had.
He turned another corner, first half of a dog-leg with a mountain range on the wall ahead of him, with numbers beside various peaks. They blurred. One stood out, and for a second he felt he knew the name. It wasn’t a mountain, though, this one. Something seat, he was sure. Alan’s? No. It slipped away from him, but the view from it burst into his mind, just a flash. Wind buffeting him as he looked down at a castle. He’d been tired then, but a good tired. Not like now. Then he’d had heavy legs and a heart bursting with joy. Now he had heavy eyes and a heart that sank with every passing step. He wanted to sit down. He wanted to lie down. To rest.
He could sit down in the corridor, but it felt wrong. He didn’t understand why. There had been a chair in one corner a while back. He looked back, seeing a crossroads he didn’t remember. He kept walking.
As he walked, he passed dozens of side-passages, and left them, keeping to the main one, until one stood out. Much narrower than the others, it held some images of children. He stopped and stared at one in particular. He remembered a name. Matthew. His childhood best friend, long dead now. It was a relief to remember, even one thing, even a sad thing. Matthew, his protector from bullies, his tree-climbing companion.
He stood, remembering. This was what the pictures were for, he realised, which made him sad again. So many memories, but so few he could make out. One short burst of remembrance, and then the picture in front of him became blurred, his eyes fading again.
He turned and followed the narrow corridor until it reached a wooden archway, rough and unpolished. The space beyond was darker than most he’d seen.
He stepped in, and as his eyes adjusted to the low light he saw a small room, wood-panelled, with a welcoming armchair in the centre.
He walked to it and sat down. On the walls were large portraits of two people he did remember. His father on one side, mother on the other, both larger than life. So long ago, those faces had been his world. This room had been the sum of his memories. And now, as he sat there, he felt tired, but a happy and contented tired. He knew where he was now, and it was a good place to rest. The noises had gone. Time to sleep.
Robert Kibble lives west of London with a wife, a teenage son, and a cornucopia of half-finished writing projects. A few have been published over the years, which is very pleasing. If only a less creative day job wouldn’t keep getting in the way, he’s sure it would be more.