Chantal Schaul, 2001
I cannot exactly recall when exactly it all began, but I know that there was a definite point when everything became very complicated. The root of the problem, of course, lies buried far deeper in the past. But even now, I am doubtful as to what the cause of my troubles was. To bring some clarity into the matter, I have collected all the scraps of text that I could find in order to make an attempt at reassembling the puzzle. Perhaps the mystery might be resolved yet.
To make some sense to whoever may read this, as well as to myself, I will first relate the circumstances of my life, as far as I am aware of them myself, but also as they have been explained to me probably a million times by my friends and companions. Perhaps, to start with, I should just mention that I am suffering from fast memory deterioration, in short FMD. I don’t remember anything from my childhood or teenage years, apart from a very few, very impressionable glimpses. Apart from that I can only recall what I have been doing three hours previously to the present moment in time. This means that I am constantly lost in time and innocently oblivious of my whole life. If I go out for more than three hours I can’t remember where my house is, or if I have got one at all, for that matter. If my name weren’t tattooed on my wrist, I would forget it constantly. The whole thing is really a pain.
Thanath is my all-time companion, private reporter and tattooist. I am told that my parents engaged him for the job not long before they died. We are friends now, as far as I remember. Thanath accompanies me everywhere and writes reports about the events that occur. If there is a face that I have to remember, he tattoos it on my arm. Temporarily important faces are drawn with henna, others, like his own, are done permanently.
I have three other permanently tattooed faces on my ann: Nagnarah, Nana, and Charelle, the latest addition. Nagnarah, or simply Nag, as we all call her, is my administrator and cook, and has also been engaged by my parents. Nana is my brain nurse, as it seems that there might be some faint hope that, by regularly activating certain parts of my brain alternately, my memory might return. The third face represents Charelle Pond, and it is her who has turned my life into a living hell so recently. We, that is Thanath, Nag, Nana and I, were living a happy and peaceful life, as I am told, and as brief and occasional diary entries of mine bear witness. Our daily activities seem to have been walks and talks, readings, all sorts of public entertainment, like drama, music events, or merely visits to public houses, shopping, cooking, eating drinking and discussing. Not that I remember much of it of course, which is really a shame for it must have been such fun.
Apparently my parents were very rich and their financial fruitfulness proved to be my life saviour, as my appalling memory would have ruled out every job in advance. The lack of even one of my companions would have likewise meant a certain doom.
Our easy and merry lifestyle was seriously disturbed by the addition of Charelle to our circle of friends. My infirmity makes me very easy to manipulate, of course, because I am so open to lies about the past, Charelle must have taken full advantage of that. I met her in town at a theatre and we discussed the play we had just watched, although my memory of the first act was in a process of mutilation already. I happened to glance at my left wrist, on which my date of birth was tattooed, concluded that my birthday party would take place the following day and spontaneously invited Charelle to it. The damage had been done.
Quite a lot of people had received an invitation to my birthday, either from myself or from one of my companions. I didn’t even remember half of them. Thanath had drawn innumerable henna tattoos on my wrist that day, and labeled them with names, so that no embarrassing moments would arise. Charelle acted as privileged friend of mine and almost adapted the airs of a hostess. Nag and Thanath did not like her very much from the start, but Nana and I remained her dupes.
That day Charelle gave me a plant as a birthday present. It was a very special plant. It had to be positioned on a window sill and whenever there was a strong wind the flapping leaves made the sound of a cat scratching itself at a high speed. Charelle said that it was magic and would bring good fortune. I named it Floppy and placed it outside my window.
Not long afterwards, Charelle and I went on a holiday to the unlikely place of Belgium – I still have the hotel bills and miscellaneous entrance tickets to things I would never have chosen to see. Even the very holiday destinations seem unattractive to me now. How she managed to drag me along, I could not say.
From what Thanath and Nag tell me, my attitude towards Charelle had changed after that trip and I had started to see her true nature. The only one to defend her now was the all too goodnatured Nana, who could never see any harm in anyone.
I asked Nag and Thanath to write a brief outline of Charelle’s character here, merely to present you with other opinions. Nag is of perfectly sound mind. I can assure you that her only shortcoming is mislaying her purse rather often, or so I am told by Thanath. Here are her words: “Charelle is a spoilt brat, an attention seeker and a drama queen.” This is Thanath’s account: “She is manipulative and loud.” Nana was milder in her choice of words: “She can be a bit annoying sometimes, but on the whole she is rather nice.”
The only leftover of Charelle, then, was Floppy, the flapping plant. It had begun to flap quite often, and I started to get annoyed by its cat scratching sounds. A real cat would have been less irritating. I thought of throwing it away, but it was a rather pretty plant and, after all, you can’t really be resentful towards innocent foliage.
Around that time I made another fateful acquaintance. I went out to an oldies music party, unfortunately without Thanath, who had gone to visit his mother. His tattoo-making talents would have come in very handy indeed. Instead, Nana accompanied me.
The event took place in an establishment called 'Poolside.’ I am able to deliver a full and detailed account of the event only because I wrote it down as soon as I got home afterwards, when it was still available in my mind. What happened was that I suddenly spotted a man, perhaps in his mid-twenties, who looked exactly like someone I remember from my teenage years, Shik Kernel, a then popular troubadour. I hadn’t known him personally, of course, but had been a huge fan of his music, and that was incontestably why his image was still impressed on my mind. Although I was certain that the present man could not possibly be Shik himself, if only because of his younger age, I displayed a smile of recognition and blurted out: “You look like Shik Kernel!” He smiled back at me and said: “Do you like Shik Kernel?” to which I nodded, overflowing with enthusiasm. You cannot imagine the extent of my joy, for one, at the stirring of my memory, and for the other, at meeting a Shik Kernel-look-alike. There were a few differences, of course, like the hairstyle, the age, and other details. Shik had always had longish hair; this man had a shaved head. In contrast to Shik, he had an ear decoration and an upper arm tattoo, depicting something I cannot recall now.
The man introduced himself as Dinshaw and immediately offered me a drink. I accepted, still smitten by his likeness to one of my rare mental imprints. We had a brief conversation, but, alas, again I cannot recall the details of it. He said something about his profession as a shadow-hunter and memory-chaser. I must have mentioned my ailment to him, because he said he knew a cure. My next memory is Dinshaw kissing me with extreme skill, expertise and artistry. After that he asked my house number, which I gave him, and then was then dragged away by a group of friends.
When he had gone, I was struck by the striking realization that I had irrevocably fallen in love with the mysterious Dinshaw, however much elliptical our interaction had remained in my mind. It was doomed to complete erasure. I scanned the place for Nana and, as soon as I had found her, we ran homewards as quickly as we could for me to jot down my memories.
The day after this incisive event, I started to keep a daily diary, although all that it relates in its first few days were daydreams about Dinshaw. I had a faint hope that he really was a memory-chaser, whatever this meant. Maybe he could save me!
Alas, my luxurious love-languishing came to a bitter end when we received a letter of eviction from Charelle and her parents (whom I had never seen in my entire life, as far as I know). They claimed to own my house and demanded that, as they needed the house for storing the bones of their dead grandmother, we, as their tenants, had to move out within the next three days. You can imagine how flabbergasted we were!
Nag, in her function as administrator, contested the letter, but the Pond family presented a document of ownership and a letting contract. Thanath was convinced that their papers were forged, for, in his early youth he had worked as a forger once and thus knew the tricks of the trade and the characteristics of a forged document. The authorities, however, did not question the documents and positioned themselves entirely on the Ponds’ side.
Our having to move out of my house on grounds of a forged document and the evil nature of a whole family was one thing. But what also had to be taken into consideration, was that Dinshaw would never be able to find me now. We were thrown out of the house exactly three days later. Nag had arranged the purchase of a new house already, considerably smaller than the other, but located not far away. To provide Dinshaw at least with a fifty percent chance of still finding me, Thanath attached a wooden facade to the new house, identical to the front of our first house and with the same number on it.
Meanwhile Nag was working on suing family Pond. Unfortunately, everyone in the whole town, even the mayor, seemed to crouch in front of the Pond father’s authority. He was a towering and long-bearded man with white hair. His next step to ruling the town was to set up a banking business that engulfed all existing money banks, including the one where my money was stored. Another letter arrived, disclosing that the Pond Establishment now administered my whole fortune. All seemed irretrievably lost.
Thanath, never short of ideas, construed a plan how to wipe out the Pond family. He was going to plant a poisonous fungus around 'their’ house, which would grow all over the walls and windows over night, prevent all escape, and thus would either starve or poison the family of three. Whilst he was pondering about the possible constitution of the fungus, Thanath took a closer look at Floppy, which he had never analysed closely. As biochemistry happened to be one of his most cherished hobbies, he was mentally fully equipped to execute this analysis.
What he found was hair-raising and toe-curling: the flapping noise had been generated not by an ordinary leaf that was part of the plant, but by a small creature, shaped like a leaf, with ears and a mouth and legs and arms. It screamed with fear as Thanath took it into his hand. “No! Leave me be! I am to blame for nothing!” – “What is your name? What is your function?”, Thanath asked, inexorably. “I am Michael, Charelle’s brother,” the pitiable little green creature answered. “I had to spy on you night and day and then deliver reports to my father.”
Thanath was so shocked that he dropped Michael, who instantly tried to run away. Luckily he was easy to catch. There were two more questions to ask, and Thanath proceeded: “Why do you look like a leaf and why did you create a flapping noise?” Michael wretchedly answered: “I have been cursed by my parents because they are evil sorcerers and despise me because I didn’t inherit the ability to cast spells. The flapping noise is generated by my snoring. That is why I am only allowed to sleep when it is windy outside, so that the noise can be interpreted as stemming from a flapping leaf in the wind.” Thanath was satisfied by the answers and immediately showed the odd creature to the rest of us. “Yes,” said Nana, “I do remember Charelle mentioning her brother Michael. If I had but known. I am so sorry that I kept defending her after everyone else had seen through her.”
Thanath kept a clear head: “So, Michael, now you have a choice between cooperating or being squashed between my fingers.” Michael chose the first option and swore to keep up his regular spy reports to the family Pond but never to reveal that he had been discovered. He swore he knew nothing about their evil intentions as they had always kept him in the dark about any of their plans. He was let off after his statement and returned to the safety of his plant.
From that day on, every evening, all four of us sat together and tried to elaborate a scheme of revenge to finally re-install justice. Not long afterwards, it was perhaps six weeks after the 'Poolside’ event – and this I can say with a high degree of certainty, for my diary is rather precisely dated – we had a visitor. It was no other than the long-awaited Dinshaw! I had already given up all hope that I would ever behold him again. “Dinshaw!” I exclaimed eagerly, and he replied, with as much eagerness: “Erma!”, which, I suddenly realize I forgot to mention, is my name. It is based on my saying “erm” a lot, because of my deficient memory. But to get back to the main story, Dinshaw and I immediately sunk into each other’s arms and, although it might seem like slightly rushing into things, we promised each other to wed soon. I remember this because I immediately jotted it down.
I introduced Dinshaw to my housemates and announced our imminent wedding. Everyone was pleased. But then my notes reminded me that I had to ask Dinshaw about the memory-chasing business. He explained as follows: “Yes, that’s right. I am a memory-chaser and a shadow-hunter. The connection might sound odd, but among us professionals we know that a lost memory usually seeks refuge in the shadow of the individual. Nobody would ever suspect a shadow, it is a most inconspicuous hiding place. And even if someone were to find out, he would have to be a shadow-hunter to be able to catch the memory. This brings me to an apology I intended to make all along. I had to leave so suddenly that night at the 'Poolside’ because my co-hunters and I were on a shadow-hunting mission, which lasted until this morning. This explains the delay in my visit.” Of course he was excused. Nag thought of asking: “Did you notice that there are two identical houses in this street?’, to which he replied: “Yes, but I saw a sorcerer come out of the other one, so I knew that had to be the wrong address. Then I found this place.”
Our wedding took place three days later, but the night before that I told Dinshaw about my memory troubles. He confirmed that I had already told him about it six weeks ago, and that he would consider it as his next mission to help me, but that it would in no way be an impediment to our unison.
The wedding was a full success; all my henna friends came, as well as all of Thanath’s, Nag’s and Nana’s friends and family, and all of Dinshaw’s chasing companions joined in, too. The best troubadours had been invited, playing an incredible range of music all through the ages. The high point of the musical entertainment was Dinshaw’s impersonation of Shik Kernel. It was performed in such a wonderfully perfect manner that it brought tears to my eyes. I could not believe my luck that I, an infirm and incomplete woman, could ever have attracted such a perfect man.
The following morning Dinshaw had disappeared. I could not remember whether he had warned me about this the night before, and I was getting rather worried until I found a note on the shopping board in the kitchen. It was written in the most ornamental handwriting and said: “Gone out to observe the sorcerer. Would not put anything past him.” That was as detailed as it got. “I think he means father Pond. Maybe he knows him from a former shadow-hunting case,” Nag theorized. I nodded.
All of a sudden Nana burst into the house, coming back from an early shopping spree, and gushed forth: “You will never believe what I’ve just seen! The house saga just deepens in intensity! It is now abundantly clear to me that Charelle and her whole family are evil, vindictive liars! Our money is completely worthless; they have introduced a new 'Pond currency’ with their own faces engraved on the coins. Everyone in town has to buy the new money, but at an excruciating rate. They are ruining everyone, but the mayor and the royal family don’t object to it at all!”
Thanath had joined our little party in the kitchen and added with a patriotic voice: “We have to keep the pound!” Everyone agreed. While his strong words were still ringing in the air, Dinshaw returned, at last. He said: “I have been sharply observing the Pond house, and I have come to the definite conclusion that father Pond is indeed who I thought he was, namely the most powerful sorcerer in this country. His real name is Colin Colman. He is over a hundred years old and nowadays specializes in inducing memory loss in order to easily manipulate his victims. He has done the same to the mayor and the royal family. He wants to leave a large inheritance to his beloved daughter Charelle. So that is why he is trying to take over the country.” Nag reflected and asked: “But why then does he try to get rid of us and even spy on us? Why does he fear us?” Dinshaw replied: “The secret lies buried in Erma’s shadow, for it was no other than father Pond who put a spell on her. We will know the whole truth very soon.”
After this strange revelation he took a bag from his pocket, which increased in size as it was pulled out. When it finally rested on the table it was the size of a trunk of a medium horse. He opened it and took out a myriad of candles and lights. He bid me to stand straight in the middle of the room, positioned the lights all around and above me, so that my shadow was fractured innumerable times.
(The following report is taken from Thanath’s notebook) “This is to distract and decompose the shadow”, Dinshaw explained. It has got used to keeping your memory trapped and won’t release it voluntarily. This is why its integrity has to be threatened.” He proceeded to darken the room completely, then light it up again, repositioning the lights, and repeated this operation thirteen times. “Now the shadow will be confused enough for me to extract the memory from it.” He took a spray from his bag, labeled “ShadowCondenser”, and sprayed every fraction of shadow until it was covered in a pink mousse and had disappeared. “The memory has lost all its breathing space now and will therefore return to the brain of the afflicted.” With these words, Dinshaw wrapped up the memory surgery.
I came to my senses again, and, still bewildered, I remembered for the first time where I was born, where I grew up, what I looked like, and, slowly, I recalled when and how I had lost my memory. I promptly reported it to everyone: “I was thirteen years old when I was walking through a forest and was extremely thirsty. I encountered several springs, but every time I wanted to drink, a voice warned me. Once it said: “If you drink from me you will turn into a carving knife.” I definitely did not want to be that. The next one said: “If you drink from me you will become a rapper.” This sounded less bad, but as I didn’t really know what a rapper was, at the time, I decided not to drink from it. The third one said: “If you drink my water you will lose your memory.” I was so thirsty by then that I did not think about all the possible consequences memory loss could bring, and I drank avidly.”
Dinshaw explained that it had been no other than father Pond who had cast a spell on these springs, knowing that people would be more tempted to lose their memory rather than to become a carving knife or a rapper. “Tell me about your family”, he asked. I thought back and found that my parents had been semi-gods who were carrying out a mission of destroying evil sorcery.
“When they found me with no memory, they immediately knew who the perpetrator was. They raced to Colin Colman’s forest house in their speediest carriage, but alas, speed is not always the best solution, for they crashed into a mighty oak tree and died instantaneously. Luckily, before leaving, they had set up a scheme whereby I would always be taken care of.”
Dinshaw was the first to speak after hearing the wondrous account of my past: “Now all we have to do is wipe out family Pond and restore the order of things.” We all agreed. “But how can you kill a bunch of sorcerers?” I asked. “There is only one way of killing them and that is by making them eat one of their own kind,” Dinshaw replied. Thanath exclaimed: “I have a great idea: Nag could cook some delicious spinach soup, only that instead of spinach we will put Michael into the soup, after putting him through a food processor.”
This brilliant idea was immediately agreed on and put into practice. Nag concocted the most delicious spinach soup, but what she did not tell anyone was that she could not be cold-blooded enough to kill innocent Michael and, instead, used real spinach. She locked Michael into the airing cupboard and relied on family Pond’s hypochondriac disposition for the plan to work anyway.
Once the soup was ready, Dinshaw disguised as a cook of the royal court and knocked on the Ponds’ door. When Charelle opened, he said eloquently: “I am the King’s first cook. He has charged me with the noble task of bringing you this royal spinach soup as a sign of his deep and honourable worship of your entire family.” Charelle exclaimed: “Ooohhh, how wonderful Father! Father! Look who’s here!” Father Pond arrived instantly and invited the cook inside. All three Ponds bid him take a seat, and sat themselves down at the dinner table. The soup was delicious and they devoured the last drop of it, just about refraining from licking their bowls.
As soon as the soup had been eaten, Dinshaw stood up and, in his most fatalistic-sounding voice, announced: “You have just swallowed your own son, respectively brother Michael. He was part of this soup!” He let these words take their effect.
The faces of the Ponds grew ashen white and their skin developed deep concavities. They looked about thirty ears older within three seconds. Charelle screeched hysterically: “Aaaahhhhhhh!” I’m going to be sick! You monster!” The father put a hand to his throat, he could no longer breathe properly. The mother was hanging off her chair, lifeless already. Within three minutes, the family had been extinguished.
Only when Dinshaw arrived back home and announced the success of the plan, did Nag reveal her soft nature and unlocked the airing cupboard, which released Michael, alive. Everyone forgave her at once and was pleased that an innocent life had been spared. Michael remained a guest in our house until his short life came to an end only three months later. He died from a shortage of chlorophyll.
Not until we had moved back to my first house, cleared out the remains of the Pond family, and settled in properly, did I ask Dinshaw for his first name. The revelation was an agreeable surprise, for his answer was: “My name is Prince.” I did not want to quiz him too much and thus did not ask whether he was a real prince or whether it was merely his first name. All I can tell you is that, until now, we have been living happily ever after, all of us under the same roof. We’re still pursuing our favourite occupations, only that nowadays I remember everything. Dinshaw is still working as a shadow-hunter and memory-chaser, and we are planning to have as many children as possible, all quarter-gods and, who knows, perhaps even semi-princes.