His recall of that medical text is perfect, he’s relieved to realize. He thinks of another topic, the first thing that crosses his mind—the bones of the hand—and names them to himself, one after the other, the fingers of his right hand brushing against the left as he enumerates them. He is still listing the last few bones when a different topic comes to mind.
Lumbar puncture. His eyes now half-closed, he reviews the process step by step, the same way he learned it and practiced it, dozens of times.
Five more textbook pages. Five more random pieces of knowledge. It’s hardly proof of anything, but it does tend to indicate that his long term memory is intact. His breathing calms down a little. He looks at his arm again.
Diagnosis: anterograde amnesia.
His message to himself, since that’s clearly what it is, appears to be accurate.
Remembering what Eli said—how long ago was that? At least five minutes. Some people with anterograde amnesia forget events practically as soon as they happen, but Calden can remember waking up with Eli’s arm around him, can remember what he said. How long until he forgets?—Calden glances down at his chest. There’s another tattoo there, but the letters are reversed.
He steps in front of the mirror and peers in. It’s his handwriting again. Three lines of text. The last one appears to be newer than the other two, the edges still slightly raised and a little red. Without thinking, he touches Eli’s name, inked right over his heart. His breathing returns completely to normal.
He commits the words to memory in the same way he learned endless lists of ailments, symptoms and cures. Closing his eyes, he visualizes himself in the library because it’s his most visited room and the easiest to access. From there, he walks on over to the koi pond in the yard, where he stores information and memories that relate to Eli. He visualizes three new stepping stones on the pond, interlocked like puzzle pieces, and assigns one tattoo sentence to each.
It’s useless, really, if the diagnosis is correct, but that’s what he has done with important information for more than half his life. The method of loci, this memory technique his father taught him and Riley when they were teens, has been his default way to remember things since he mastered it, and he can’t just stop now.
The house he uses as his focus is his grandparents’, the home where his happiest memories took place, and every familiar object is a visual cue associated with something Calden wants or needs to recall. A lot of it is medical information, but that’s not all he keeps in there. One room—the room he and Riley shared as kids—is full of memories of her he never wants to forget. The small office in the back is for memories of his father. He doesn’t have a specific room for his mother, only a few cues, here and there.
When the stones feel as strong, as solid in his mind as though they’ve always been there, he opens his eyes again and takes a good look at himself, seeking more tattoos, more messages. He finds nothing. Next, he touches his skull with his fingertips, methodically examining every inch, seeking scars or depressions. Nothing either.
Feeling cold from standing naked in the bathroom for so long, he steps into the shower and shivers under the cold spray for a few seconds before the water warms up. He just stands there, head bowed, sifting through his memories again.
The first cause of amnesia is traumatic brain injury, but he hasn’t found any evidence that anything happened to him. Shock or a strong emotional disturbance can also be to blame, but Calden refuses to think he’d let emotions wreak havoc on his brain, not anymore. That part of his life is over. A far less common cause for anterograde amnesia, although not unheard of, is encephalitis.
And the last thing he remembers with some clarity is that headache. It’d plagued him, on and off, for a couple of weeks, but that day it was simply debilitating. He had a fever, too, he thinks.
Getting out of the shower, he towels himself dry and pulls on the robe hanging behind the door. He strides back into the bedroom and turns on the lights before approaching the bed. Eli makes a noise of protest and draws a pillow over his head.
“Eli,” Calden says sharply. “Did I have encephalitis? Is that how it happened? When was it?”
But Eli doesn’t answer.
Calden tugs the pillow off Eli’s head and takes hold of his arm, remembering too late that it still hurts at sudden movements. At Eli’s groan of pain, he slides his hand and grabs Eli’s wrist, tugging gently until he rolls onto his back.
“Eli. Wake up. I need you to tell me…”
Calden forgets what he was about to ask when he sees the three lines of text on Eli’s chest, each an answer to the lines on his own. They’re not inverted. Not meant to be read in a mirror. Meant for Calden.
The first two are tattooed in a typewriter-style font. The last one is slightly smudged. Permanent marker rather than tattoo. Eli’s hand. They say: