Read Anterograde Online

Authors: Kallysten

Anterograde (2 page)

The
metaphor is imperfect but still workable.
Looking at
my long term
memory
as
a hard drive,
we can label
my short term
memory
as
RAM. The hard drive became read-only following the
illness. New information is stored in RAM and can be used while I remain awake.
Going to sleep—‘turning off’—wipes the RAM, returning the system to what it was
prior to the illness
.

 

A
margin note indicates that Calden went as long as nine days without sleep in
August. Another note warns that Eli threatened to forcibly sedate him if he
ever tries to stay awake longer than two days. The next note announces
negotiations were made and when the hospital needs Calden, Eli will allow up to
four days provided that he is allowed to monitor Calden’s vitals and told of
any hallucination or paranoia symptoms as soon as they occur. Also, if Calden
has been awake for longer than forty-eight hours, the hospital will not let him
hold a scalpel, only observe and supervise.

There’s
no explanation as to why the hospital would even take the risk of allowing
Calden to operate, but then such an explanation is unneeded: they’re simply
desperate. Under normal circumstances, Calden is sure he’d never have set foot
into an operating room again, but the circumstances are anything but normal.
This is war. The city is, in effect, under siege. For years, strange creatures the
press nicknamed demons have been appearing all over the world and attacking,
wave after wave, battle after battle. If not for the fortifications and the
soldiers defending them, there would be nothing left of the city. All medical
professionals are precious commodities, and a gifted surgeon like Calden even
more so.

Another
page of the diary is about music, and how Calden has composed two pieces on the
piano since the illness, one of which over a span of several weeks. That is a
surprisingly soothing bit of information, even if Calden can’t remember either
of these compositions.

The
next few pages talk about how the people in Calden’s life are reacting to his
condition and limitations, with advice as to what to say or not say in order to
avoid looks of pity and words of
commiseration. Petters, apparently, apologized to him for their years of
conflict; that sentence gives him pause.

After
that, the notebook is more like the diary Eli called it, describing
Calden’s work at the hospital and his most interesting
patients.
Calden skims through a few of
them before flipping further back into the notebook. Many blank pages still
wait to be filled, but there is one set of information glaringly missing. Other
than margin notes, there isn’t anything in the notebook about Eli, and
certainly nothing to explain his presence in Calden’s bed, the tattoos on Calden’s
chest, or the ones on Eli’s. There must be a reason for that lack of
information. A good one, since Calden has been continuously adding to the
diary. The last medical case is dated November fourteenth. Spying his phone on
the table, Calden goes to pick it up and checks the date.

November
fifteenth.

He
wrote that last entry mere hours ago, it seems. And yet, when he goes back to
it, nothing whatsoever comes to mind as he reads intently his own descriptions
of the last surgery he performed, reattaching a severed hand, or the back
surgery he supervised, or the intracranial bleeding he discussed with Caroline after
that.

Lying
down on the sofa, he rests the notebook on his chest and takes a closer look at
his phone. An icon on the main screen is labeled ‘
EMERGENCY.’
Opening it reveals a short message.

 

IMPORTANT.
If you just woke up and Eli isn’t with you, call him immediately. If he doesn’t
answer, call Lana. Don’t text. CALL.

HS

 

The
signature gives him pause. ‘HS’ was what Riley used to call him. A private joke
no one ever knew about. HS, for ‘Hot Stuff,’ a nickname she’d come up with
after some idiot girl at school started spreading rumors about ‘Cold Calden’
being gay. Which was true, but at that point in his life the only person he’d
told was his twin sister, and when the rumor spread he was so mortified that he
faked an illness to stay home, only returning after a pep talk from Riley.

Calden
has never told anyone about the nickname, nor does he plan to ever do so. He
never talks about Riley; it hurts too much. He wrote this note, he’s sure of
it, the same way he is sure he wrote the tattoos on his body.

Closing
the file, Calden looks at his text messages. They look normal enough. His
conversations with
his mother are
as biting and
confrontational
as ever
, and
about silly, unimportant things—
thank God.
His messages to Eli are infrequent, and Calden guesses that’s because, more
often than not, Eli is with him. Scrolling back, he finds three instances in
which he sent Eli a single word. Twice, it’s ‘Hallucinations.’ Once, ‘Sleepy.’
Every time, Eli’s answer is immediate. ‘On my way,’ or ‘Wait for me.’

Setting
the phone and notebook aside, Calden
links
his fingers
over
his
stomach
and
tries to relax
, taking in deep breaths
through his nose and closing his eyes, the same way he always does
before
surgery
. Earlier in the bathroom he did a quick check
of his memories, accessing them without referencing
any cues,
taking shortcuts
.
Now, he approaches
from the outside and mentally walks up to the front steps of his grandparents’
home, then inside from room to room, checking that each and every visual cue is
where it belongs.

On
his way, he mentally steps out into the backyard and stands by the pond. The
three new stones he created earlier are still there, their meaning easily accessible,
like every other cue’s. Reaching for his phone again, he creates a new note for
himself.

 

11
/15
. Added
3 new step stones to koi pond. Are they still there
?

 

Putting
the phone away, he closes his eyes again and returns to
his memory
. One
room after the other, he continues to
tour
the home, taking
inventory, vaguely aware
after some time has passed that there is noise around him
.

Water
running in the bathroom upstairs. Steps down the staircase.
Coffee maker
.
Porcelain on wood. All of it is unfamiliar; it’s been years since he lived with
anyone. Still, those quiet sounds don’t draw him out of his mind. Eli’s voice,
on the other hand, does. Or maybe it’s not so much his voice as the fingers
gently running through Calden’s hair.

“Coffee?”

“Busy,”
Calden replies, mindlessly tilting his head out of Eli’s reach. He likes the
contact, but it’s too distracting. “I’m—”

“Checking
your
memory palace
, yes,” Eli says with a small sigh. “Would you believe
me if I said you’re not going to find anything out of place?”

Unvoiced
is the corollary.
You never do
.

Part
of Calden wants to object that he won’t know for sure until he does it. But
that’s the point Eli is making, isn’t it? Calden
has
done this before.
Probably repeatedly, since it was his first instinct. The result is unlikely to
be any different now than previously, and if he’d found something wrong, then Eli
would surely know.

“Yes,
coffee
,” he says, opening his eyes to
look at Eli.

He’s
wrapped in a terrycloth robe, the front drawn tightly over his chest. Calden
wishes he could see the words on his skin again.

With
a small smile, Eli nods and returns to the kitchen. He comes back with two mugs.
Calden sits up to take his and watches, slightly bemused, as Eli sits at the
other end of the sofa, briefly lifting Calden’s feet to reposition them on his
lap. His fingers remain curled around Calden’s right ankle, as possessive as
his arm when Calden woke up.

After
taking a sip of coffee, Eli says, “Go ahead. I know you’ve got questions, and
it always annoys you when I answer before you ask.”

He’s
looking straight ahead of him rather than at Calden. Why? Not something he’ll
ask, but definitely to ponder.

“Why
is there nothing about you in my diary?”

Eli
nods as though he expected the question.

“My
request. I don’t think you ought to learn about us from words on a page. I’d
rather tell you myself.”

Us.
The word rolls easily on Eli’s tongue. Why it makes Calden’s insides feel like
they’re dancing a jig is another question that will remain unvoiced.

“How
long have we been ‘us’?” he asks instead.

A
small smile curls Eli’s mouth. He hides it in his mug before answering.

“September
fifth.”

Thinking
back of what he read in the notebook, Calden makes two connections. That was
the day he worked on a heart transplant and wasn’t allowed to take part in the
aftercare, or even wait for the patient to wake up. Also the day when he noted
that Eli had changed his mind and would allow up to four days of wakefulness.
How these things are all linked, however, he cannot guess.

“Is
that when…” He doesn’t know how to word it. He doesn’t care much for grand
declarations as a rule, but something within him aches at the thought that
those words were said and he can’t recall the moment. Absently, he touches his
chest and the sentences inked there. The movement draws Eli’s eyes to him.

“That’s
when I said it, yes,” Eli says quietly, but not so quietly that Calden can’t
hear the hitch in his voice.

Calden
absolutely hates that he needs to ask, “And what happened?”

Eli’s
face takes an amused expression. “What happened was that you ran out. You were
gone for three hours. Scared the hell out of me. I had to call your mother to
ask her to track you down. In the end, you came back before her people found
you. And you had this—” Letting go of Calden’s ankle, he reaches out and traces
two fingers along the first two lines on Calden’s skin. “—on your chest. You
said you wanted it there because that was information as important as your
diagnosis and something you should never question.”

Still
shivering from Eli’s brief touch, Calden looks down at the words. The
explanation sounds like something Calden would say; something he can easily
believe.

“So…
you said… you said this. And I ran out right away? So I didn’t actually say it
back?”

Eli
smiles a little wider. “It didn’t occur to you at the time that I might
actually want to hear it rather than watch you run away. Jerk.”

How
many times has Eli recalled this story? Does he always end it by calling Calden

jerk’? It’s
frustrating not to know. It’s also frustrating not to
know what Eli’s voice sounds like when he says it, or the way his lips curl
around the words, or whether his eyes tighten a little at the corners, the way
they always did when he talked about—

“What
about Bryce?”

Calden
regrets the question as soon as it passes his lips—as soon as Eli’s smile fades
into a pained line. Waiting for Eli to answer, Calden makes a mental note.
Before he goes to sleep, he needs to write in the diary.

Do
not bring up Bryce.

“We
split up,” Eli says quietly, now staring into his coffee mug. “We were already
shaky, and then…”

In
his tense shrug, Calden reads a word. Illness. He’s the reason ‘shaky’ turned
into ‘over.’ He feels like maybe an apology would be warranted, but it’d also
be disingenuous. He never liked Bryce, never liked how little time his mere
existence left for Calden’s friendship with Eli—and he’s fairly certain the
dislike was mutual. Eli forgave him for past missteps, but Bryce always found a
reason to bring them up again.

“I’d
like to hear you say the words,” Calden says abruptly, sitting upright and folding
his legs in front of him. “I can’t imagine what they sound like in your voice,
and it’s annoying.”

Eli’s
smile returns, a little crooked, a little softer than before. He turns sideways
on the sofa, one foot still on the floor, the other folded under him as he
faces Calden fully.

“Nope.
That’s not how it works. I learned my lesson. You only get to hear it if you
say it first.”

Calden’s
eyes widen in outrage. “Are you blackmailing me?”

Eli
chuckles. “Is it blackmail when you have the truth tattooed across your chest?”

Glancing
down at his chest again, Calden touches the second line, running his fingers
along the words from left to right as he says them.

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