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by Penny Jackson

In England I lost my memory for two weeks. Encephalitis, the doctors said but there were no mosquitos in Leigh-On-Sea. My head felt like a rotten peach, fuzzy, rank and rotting, when the nurse kept asking my name. My past was a faint penciled word that I had half erased and no matter how hard I tried the smudges remained. Never had the present seemed so precise. I could see every loose thread in my blanket, blackheads in the young doctor’s chin, the curdling milk, rising like polluted clouds in the tea, the yellow veins in the spider plan ,dying by the window. The cheap nylon sheets itched my bare legs and shoulders. In America I would have smooth cool cotton sheets.

Fiona was in the bed next to mine, a young woman with an enormous pumpkin headand dank black hair clumped like abandoned plots of soil. The hospital needed brain damaged people, and someone sold Fiona. Her arms were usually bruised purple, donating blood the nurses said, which didn’t explain the zig-zag crosses on her face, like a cruel game of Tic Tac Toe.

Fiona loved her Raggedy Ann doll which was at least four feet tall Fiona dragged it everywhere,  the doll’s face and hair as filthy as her own. One day the nurses had enough. Fiona was twenty five after all, too old.


“Out with Annie,” the head nurse announced,  grabbing so suddenly from Fiona’s embrace that even my blanket seemed to shiver in shock.

Someone must have thought it would have been like taking a bottle from a toddler.

Cruel, but necessary.

They didn’t expect her to be so wild, flinging her hot tea in faces, hurling the china cup

right through the window.

Finally, I was awake, the past rushing in like a tornado.

Where the hell was I?

Where was Jimmy with my pint?

And what happened to my cigarettes?

Whimpering, Fiona sank down on the floor, licking her bloody knuckles with a tiny pink tongue.

Overwhelmed, I covered my head with my blanket, closed my eyes, begging for oblivion again. Yet memory nudged me too hard, clutching with moist hands, a pushy dance partner that would never let go.

Penny Jackson is a writer whose work has appeared in The Pushcart Prize Antology: Best of the Small Presses, The Edinburgh Review, The Ontario Review, StoryQuarterly and other magazines Her novel, BECOMING THE BUTLERS, is published by Bantam Books and her collection of stories, L.A. CHILD is published by Untreed Reads. www.pennybrandtjackson


July 2019

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