by David McGillveray
“I remember. I was fourteen years old. I went into town on my own on the bus, all excited and nervous and a bit pleased with myself. I was going to meet my mates in the Ridings Centre. I had ten pounds in change that I had saved up. I could feel the weight of the coins rattling in my pocket.
“I was wary in the crowds walking through the shopping centre. It seemed like some huge labyrinth, the press of people doing their Saturday afternoon shopping, the bustle, the noise. But I was on a mission. I’ve always had a tune going round in my head, especially at that age, always loved music. EGS Records was my church.
“And there it was. I turned the coins over in my pocket. Inside they were playing “Just Like Heaven” by The Cure, new out. The shop was long and narrow, the counter away at the other end. It wasn’t too busy, mostly young blokes digging through the racks of LPs in ones and twos.
“I turned left and then right into one of the narrow aisles, looking for the Alternative section. I had very singular tastes back then, the more out there the better. The racks were alphabetised so I started at the start and began working my way through, fingers flicking. And stopped, transfixed. It had a bright green cover with the name of the band and the LP in big red letters. There was a drawing of a girl’s face in profile at the bottom with her black hair combed forward, eyes closed and mouth open in ecstasy or pain, I couldn’t tell which. The band was Big Black. The album was called “Songs About Fucking.” That title, so in your face! It thrilled me with its promise of illicit pleasures. How dangerous I thought it was! So did the shop. There was a sticker with “EGS Records” over the first four letters of the offending word, but you could still see what it said underneath.
“I’d never heard of Big Black, but I had to have it. I abandoned all my other plans and took it to the counter. The girl that worked there was older, with spiked up black hair and thick eye make-up. She smirked at me as she took my money (£3.99!) and put the record in a red plastic carrier bag. I blushed and looked away, mumbled some thanks and got out of there, clutching my prize.
“I was meeting my friends outside WH Smith, the newsagents. You remember them, doctor? No? Closed down years ago. I couldn’t wait to show them what I had, the rebellion inside that plastic bag.
“And here they came, Phil and Mike and Rob. I remembered the clothes they were wearing, the way they combed their hair, every zit on their faces, their smiles as they saw me. I remembered every word they said. Every word, like it was yesterday, like it was an hour ago.”
Doctor Nowak removed the monitoring pads from his temples and disconnected him from the memory machine. “Your temperature is up,” he said, resting his palm on the old man’s forehead, dabbing at the tears wet on his cheeks. “Too much excitement, I think.”
“Don’t fuss, doctor. I feel great.”
“Was it better than last time, Joseph?” Nowak asked. “Clearer?”
“It was incredible. I know what’s happening to me, doctor. I can’t remember my own name some mornings, for Christ’s sake. I come and go, in and out like a flickering lamp, that’s me. But this, it was like stepping through a doorway across sixty years. Jesus, Songs Abut Fucking! Hilarious! I haven’t thought of that in forever.”
“You’ve been wearing the recorder, then?”
“Religiously,” Joseph nodded, keen to please. “I did what you told me, looked at old photos, watched old movies from when I was young, listened to the old music. I’ve been looking through Nicky’s old stuff again. I know it’s morbid, but I never had the will to clean it out. I’ve even been back to a few of our old haunts, places we used to go. Lucky to get back in one piece, the state of me.”
“Good. The recorder’s building up a library, you see. The more information you feed it from your life, the more it has to build on. The software then augments your real memories, pieces them together with the material in the library.” Nowak made some notes on his tablet and set it aside, began shutting down the machine.
“Wait, can we go again?” Joseph asked.
Nowak smiled. “Not now. Keep building up that library. The more we have, the more of you we can preserve.”
Doctor Nowak helped the old man swing his legs off the bed and into his walking frame. “I’ll see you again in a month, Joseph.”
“I won’t forget. Well, I might…”
I’ve been at college a couple of weeks already, met some good people, been to some good parties. I’ve put product in my hair, got my Friday Night Top on. I make my way across campus to the bar, pull open the big green door and stand at the top of the steps scanning the crowd for my mates. Making an entrance.
They’re sitting at one of the big half-moon tables, monopolising it like an interview panel. I squeeze in at one end, with a good view of the rest of the place. It’s packed. “Fool’s Gold” is on the jukebox, like it always is. No objections here.
“Don’t sit down so quick,” shouts Chris (he’s always shouting). “It’s your round.”
I wait to be served at the bar, nod to a few people. I don’t know everyone yet, but I’m recognising faces. I make it back with four pints held between my hands in plastic glasses, beer running over my knuckles.
“Cheers, big ears.”
I sit on the back of one of the curved benches, feet on the seat. Two tables away there’s a girl doing the same. I haven’t seen her before. She’s wearing painted Doc Martens and black leggings under a short silver skirt, some sort of baggy blue vest thing going on. Good arms. I’ve got a thing for good arms, slim but toned. Wisps of blond hair fall over her face as she reaches forward for her drink. She laughs at some joke, but only a little. She’s a bit aloof, I think, cool. She’s amazing.
Me and my mates get to drinking, get to laughing. I really like this crowd. But I can’t keep my eyes off that girl.
I’ve had enough now to feel brave. But she’s gone. Where is she? I search the crowd, not frantic, not desperate or anything, but I need to find her. Then I see her, she’s at the bar, waving a fiver at the barman. There’s some space opened up beside her. I take a swallow of my beer.
“Where you going?” asks Neil.
I stand up and walk towards her.
An alarm sounded in the clinic. “Heartbeat’s erratic,” shouted Nowak. “I don’t like this. We need to bring him out of it. Come on!”
Joseph moaned, his head slamming from side to side as if in a nightmare. His mouth was open, drawing in air like a fish tossed on the quayside. Sweat shone on his face. Nowak pressed a syringe to his skin. It hissed and Joseph’s eyes opened wide.
“It’s all right, Joseph. You’re back now, at the clinic. It’s Doctor Nowak, remember?”
“I don’t know what this is,” he cried, voice high and cracked. “I don’t want to be here. I was in the bar—”
“That was just a memory, Joseph. It was too much, we had to bring you out.”
“What am I doing here? This is wrong, all wrong.”
“No! Take me back. Send me back!” he screamed.
Medics clustered around the body in the bed. Warnings bleeped. “He’s not readjusting, brain function’s down much worse than we modelled. I’m going to have to put him under til we can stabilise this.”
Gold’s just around the corner, sings Ian Brown
“Hi, I’m Joe.”
She looks at me and smiles. “I’m Nicky.”
David McGillveray was born in Edinburgh, Scotland but now lives and works in London. After a long period of silence, lockdown gave him the opportunity to start writing again and this is one of the results. His fiction has also appeared in Kaleidotrope, Space & Time, Wyldblood and others.