An Inside Look at Revision: The Power of the Idea of Amnesia

Aubrey: Remnants of Transformation is available on Amazon and Smashwords. I posted notes about the process of revision for every chapter.

Chapter 12

Benjamin Franklin Playing Chess aka 
Lady Howe Mating Benjamin Franklin
by Edward Harrison* 
Aubrey forgets part of her past. Subsequently, in every version of the novella, I have Aubrey hunt down Charles to question him about her past.

Their confrontation took place in different locations for varying reasons. For example, at one point, Aubrey decided to help solve a burglary case and tracked down the police to aid them. A chapter that matches that scene is below.


In every variation, the problem on the table was Aubrey's amnesia.

I'm not sure why amnesia is so fascinating. When I was a teen, I did some research on the topic and discovered (much to the chagrin of my story-telling self) that real amnesia is usually accompanied by intense physical problems, like brain damage or drug abuse (see post here).


So why the fascination with amnesia in fiction?

Based on my own writing, I can only surmise that it has to do with figuring out who "I" really am. If I am stripped of my memories, does an "I" remain? Will I have the same likes and dislikes? Commit the same acts? Make the same choices? Go down the same paths in life? Will I look at things the same? Care about the same stuff?

I used amnesia in Aubrey as an exploration of self but also, mostly, as short-hand for "aging." Aubrey has forgotten her past the way many of us "forget" (set aside) our pasts. Things came back to us, but they don't crowd our brains every instant of every day; we need to be able to cope with the present. Events and emotions fade, cease to matter, become less important. Incidents in my high school years, when remembered, can still make me twitch but nothing like they did at the time. I can be more objective, look back with more compassion.

On the one hand, Aubrey has forgotten seminal moments in her life; on the other hand, forgetting makes her less haunted, more capable of tackling the problems of her life objectively.

Linear time is our salvation.

*Franklin was a big chess player and even wrote about the game. The incident in the painting would have taken place in London during Franklin's diplomatic mission there. In fact, he apparently used chess to make diplomatic inroads. Playing chess with Lady Howe, for example, led to Ambassador Franklin meeting her brother, Lord Howe.  

The image has nothing to do with amnesia, but it does correspond to Chapter 12 which continues the theme of investigation, Aubrey trying (as diplomatically as she is capable) to make inroads into her own story.

Aubrey (Re)Meets Charles: Deleted Chapter

Sylvester Harrison’s house was buried in a labyrinth of streets. Olivia had to ask directions three times, but she finally pulled up at the end of Rolland Street. It was little more than a cul-de-sac, and she and Aubrey had no trouble spotting the correct residence. A carriage with a huge policeman as driver waited in front of it.

“I can’t leave the horse,” Olivia said uneasily; her groom was still back at Merviole’s.

“You can do your errands and come back for me,” Aubrey said, getting down.

Olivia hesitated, but she was truly quite conventional despite her easy manners, and Aubrey wasn’t surprised when she turned the horse to retreat back to the main street. “Good luck,” she called as the horse clopped away.

And Aubrey was alone—except for the huge policeman who watched her, elbows on his knees. It was the first time she had been un-chaperoned since her bespelling. She stood in an oblique patch of sunlight and listened to the rattle of carriages on the main street, the clank of milk pails from someone’s back yard, a sudden burst of conversation at Sylvester Harrison’s front door.

A dark-haired, broad-shouldered youth stood on the door’s lip.

“I don’t know why you bother,” he called into the house’s interior. “We’ll get no more results than the last time. Alright. Alright, I’ll fetch the scientists. After all, we wouldn't want Mr. Harrison to think we’re not doing anything—don’t swear, Col.”

The garrulous young man ran down the steps. The huge policeman met and mumbled to him, jerking his head in Aubrey’s direction. The young man followed the motion and whistled.

Aubrey forced herself to start walking. She wouldn’t accomplish anything if she rushed off now—the young man was practically running towards her.

“Aubrey?”

“You know me?”

“Yes. Sorry. Charles mentioned that the bespelling removed your memory. I just thought—seeing you here—”

“I thought I could help with the case,” Aubrey said, which sounded utterly ridiculous to her ears but the young man didn’t laugh.

“I’m sure you can. Here’s Vaughn—you’ve met him—”

“Hullo, Au—Miss St. Clair,” the huge policeman said gravely.

He’d meant to call her by her first name, and she smiled back in relief.

So I did know the police—well enough to be on a first-name basis.

“And here’s Col—” the young man said as they entered the house.

A sandy-haired man of long limbs looked up from writing a note at an occasional table.

“Mr. Harrisford wants us to take the rest of his collection back to Police Headquarters,” he said.

“More tie-pins?”

“Snuff boxes.”

“Where is our poor victim?”

“Upstairs resting.”

“And Charles?”

“Still in the sitting room. Hullo, Miss St. Clair,” Col said in a way that indicated he had usually called her “Miss,” not “Aubrey.”

“Col runs interference for us with big-wigs,” the young man said as he guided her across the short hall.

“Which should be your job,” Col yelled after him.

“They’d expect too many favors. Here we go,” and the young man practically pushed Aubrey into a downstairs sitting room filled with dark furniture, ugly paintings, and a compact man in a brown coat.

“Charles,” the young man said. “We have an offer of assistance.”

The compact man didn’t turn from where he stood beside an open safe. He was studying the safe’s door, pushing it lightly back and forth with gloved hands.

“An eyewitness, I hope,” he said in a low-pitched voice that sent shivers down Aubrey’s spine; she clenched her teeth against an exclamation.

“Nope. She dropped by to give us her opinion about the case.”

The compact man turned his head and then, slowly, almost cautiously, his entire body until he faced Aubrey. He was over half a head taller than she, in his late-twenties or early thirties, almost extraordinarily ordinary except for his pearl-gray eyes.

I know him.

“Hullo, Miss St. Clair.”

He said it like he was saying “Aubrey” even though he wasn’t.

The young man said cheerfully, “Personally, I think you should give her a listen.”

“Of course,” and Charles smiled at Aubrey.

She wanted to smile back, but she was too busy trying to remember how she knew this man, where she had seen him. In my dreams? After the bespelling? Before? Not before—she would have remembered if she’d met him before.

“Have you sent Vaughn to get one of Sir Wardell’s men?” Charles said to the young man.

“It’s such an important job, I decided to go with him—”

“David—” Charles called, but David was already gone.

“He really should have stayed,” Charles said mildly to Aubrey and came towards her. “Why don’t you take a seat?”

She realized she was clutching the back of a chair and sat slowly, processing what she’d heard.

The young man was David; although he’d been friendly—leaving her in no doubt that he knew her—he hadn’t betrayed any romantic feelings. While this man, whom she did know somehow, seemed too grown-up, too collected, too in-charge—despite his mildness—to be someone Aubrey could attract. [Aubrey comes to the house knowing she was romantically linked to someone in the police force.]

And yet he watched her closely as he moved back across the room, and she sensed—she knew—that he was taut: not tense but alert.

She said, “The police are familiar with me.”

“Yes.”

“I helped them—?”

“You helped us find one of the men that captured you.”

“Then I was kidnapped, not just kept somewhere?”

“Yes.”

“Did I live with the police?”

“At Headquarters, yes, for four months.”

“Do you know what happened to me, everything that happened to me?”

“Not everything. Much of it.”

She waited, eyes on his face and for the first time he looked away from her, his eyes dropping to the floor.

“There are things I’m not allowed to tell you, Miss St. Clair. You were enchanted by an Academy magician and naturally, the Academy wishes to keep its secrets.”

“That doesn’t seem fair to me.”

“It isn’t,” he said matter-of-factly, his eyes returning to hers.

She felt her tension dissipate. She leaned against the chair’s uncomfortable ornate back and curled her hands in her lap. Charles settled one hip on the edge of a Wallaiston table, his back to the open safe. Aubrey leaned to look at it.

“What will Sir Wardell’s man do? Take finger-prints?”

“Yes. There probably won’t be any. There weren’t at the other locations.”

“The last three burglaries?”

He hesitated, and Aubrey said, “Have there been more than three?”

“In a manner of speaking. Wardell’s powder is effective, and his index is growing. But we have to actually find prints before we can match them.”

“Do you think magic could be involved? The papers didn’t mention explosives, and that safe doesn’t look damaged.”

Charles grinned at her; she let the warmth of his pleasure seep through her as he said, “The safe is an old model; getting through its door wouldn’t be difficult. The real issue is how the burglars got in. No open windows. Doors locked—”

“From the inside,” Aubrey said gleefully, and he laughed.

“From the inside.”

“So the burglars are magicians who can lock doors and close windows after them or—”

He was studying the floor again, arms folded.

“Or change shape,” he said to it. “We’re exploring every possibility.”

We. And before he had said “us”—you helped us.

He wasn’t just a policeman named Charles. He was Charles Stowe, head of the police. Aubrey had seen his name in the newspapers. The Gazette liked to quote him because he would sometimes request “the public’s assistance.” Aubrey had wanted to assist, had wanted to be that special witness who broke a case.

She had pictured Mr. Stowe as older, grizzled: a wise gentleman with a lined face and gray hair. He was much more unnerving in his current form: a full-grown male in his prime.

But knowing his identity didn’t explain how she’d recognized him when she first entered the room.

Except—

“You came to the house,” she said. “Back in October, right after Richard and Gloria got married. You came and talked to Richard. I saw you from the landing—”

“Yes.”

“Why did you come?”

He hesitated, which wasn’t like him—she’d already decided what was and wasn’t like him—and Aubrey tensed against a possible refusal.

I’m so tired of non-answers. Don’t be like the others, Mr. Stowe. Don’t leave me wondering.

“I wanted to find out how you were,” he said finally. “I wanted to make sure you were in good health, that you were happy.”

“Oh.”

“Are you?”

“I guess. Except for not knowing things. I think,” she said, putting into words what she would not have said to anyone except this gray-eyed man, “I think I was more interesting when I was bespelled, that I had a more interesting story. My dreams of that time seem more interesting.”

Charles was smiling—as much to himself, Aubrey thought, as at her.

“I don’t think you will ever be uninteresting, Aubrey. And you wanted—there were times during your bespelling when you wished you could forget.”

“Were those two years so bad?”

“In parts. You do seem less . . . haunted now.”

Despite my dreams.

“So I’m better off?” Aubrey said.

“I don’t know,” he said. “You would have survived them, your memories. You were strong enough. You were surviving them.”

“I suppose it’s harder to survive memories than to overcome the lack of them.”

“Perhaps.”

“Maybe I’d be a nicer person now. Or more resilient.”

“I don’t find you materially changed,” he said with that same reflective smile. “Perhaps, more persistent.”

“But less haunted. Am I less angry?”

He shifted then, came to squat beside her chair. She had to quell an urge to ruffle his hair.

“Are you angry now?”

“I get frustrated. Sometimes, in my dreams, I rage.”

“That makes sense. You have justification.”

“I don’t think hate can ever be justified.”

“No. But rage can. Or at least comprehended. I wish I could help you, Aubrey. I wish I could tell you everything.”

“Am I better off now?”

“I think so. Living with policemen—that isn’t much of a life.”

Unless I married one, Aubrey thought but couldn’t say it. Olivia had concocted an intimate relationship between Aubrey and David. There was no reason to think that another policeman, that Charles, for instance, had behaved towards her with anything more than this current gentle friendliness.

“You go to parties,” Charles was saying, sounding completely unconvinced. “You have friends.”

“I read newspapers about court cases,” Aubrey said and laugh lines creased around Charles’s eyes.

“It’s not a bad life,” he said.

Aubrey suddenly felt weary of herself. He was right: It wasn’t a bad life. She had a comfortable home, an indifferent but mostly agreeable family, friendly acquaintances. An easy life.

“Yes,” she said and stood, Charles standing with her.

“Do you need a ride home?”

“No. My friend is coming back to pick me up.”

He curled his hand around her wrist, and suddenly, she wanted to pounce on him, loop her arms around his neck. She stepped back, flushing.

He still held one wrist; he looked down at the attached hand.

“You truly are well?” he said. “Safe?”

“I truly am.”

He released her.

She said, “If I find out anything or hear anything about the burglaries, should I tell you?”

“I suppose. Yes. Just—Aubrey, don’t go hunting for trouble.”

She grinned at him.

“I won’t,” she said and went out before he realized that he’d called her Aubrey three times even though he wasn’t the type of man to forget that she was supposed to be “Miss St. Clair.”

2 comments:

  1. I was going to write a comment, but forgot what it was.

    ReplyDelete
  2. :) My favorite dialog from As Time Goes By:

    Jean: I used to have such a good memory.
    Judith: Mother, you've never had a good memory.
    Jean: See! I forgot that!

    ReplyDelete