It is crying again. Which one? Which one is making the noise?
I am in charge here.
I am The Nurse.
The light is bright. I wear a gauze mask; I move slowly and heavily; the urgency of the labour I have been engaged on for so long is wearing me out.
When it cries, I remember.
This room where I work is a metal box surrounded by access ramps. But when I hear the cry, I remember a sprawling house with a porch in front and windows in each room that opened like doors to the outside. I think we played there. Maybe we sat on the grass to eat. There was a slope it was possible to roll down.
Indoors were steps, one after the other, leading to more rooms, each with a window.
When I hear the cry I think I remember grass and shrubs, then a field, then hills, then sky. These words tumble into my mind. Then they fall away aand I am unsure they were ever there.
Another cry. I stop my work. I listen. It is not been repeated. Whatever the problem, someone has dealt with it.
It is these sudden, inexplicable noises that make me remember. But I cannot choose what. I have tried to make things up, to vary the past, but I can’t. I no longer have the necessary tools.
Our work, for which I am responsible, is to reproduce the element which animates us. It decreases year by year.
I dimly remember things we have already had to forego. Food, for example, used to grow outside in vast damp, patches; I remember green and white and yellow. Now it is liquid and colourelss. But we are adequately nourished. We can work.
But there is something else that we are lacking. Another source to replenish us is needed.
Sometimes I am asked: What are you looking at? Why are you doing nothing? I pull down my mask. I don’t talk with the others. They don’t remember and they don’t understand.
Where the ramps are now, I remember a curving drive; it sparkled gold after rain. Each side were wide green areas, I forget the word for them, and brown moist earth with flowers standing.
Another cry. More a squawk. Again silence.
And a tree. Yes, that is what it is. A rope with a wooden board hung from it; moving forward and back, forward and back. All these words that I remember now, they are crowding into me. Each time I hear a cry, they come.
I remember a child’s wheelbarrow with two dolls propped up in it. Is this true? I am confused because the place I am describing isn’t real anymore, just a memory buried beneath us.
I can describe a house that may or may not have existed but I cannot describe what we are doing now. We are slow and meticulous, checking and re-checking our work. We do our best but sometimes we make mistakes and have to begin again. That is when I am most likely to remember. Because of the noise. The screeches, the gargling, the thumps and slaps.
The space I am in is dark. I worry that I will miss something; some vital change, some new result that should be recorded. I move from station to station without ever brushing against a table or vitrine but my synthetic soles rustle slightly on the floor.
I look down at it. It moves. It knows there is something there.
I stand still and watch. When I move, it wriggles. I didn’t expect this. I inch nearer. It feels my shadow leaning over it and rolls to one side.
I don’t know what will happen and I am frightened.
‘I remember’ is a game I play when I am frightened.
I remember that sometimes the temperature changed, even from day to day. Now it is always the same. I remember when there was colour. I remember texture.
There are no more colours.
There is no more texture.
If I run my hands down my sides they feel nothing. It is like I imagine touching water used to be.
The cry again. Louder, Sharper. My thoughts combust like shooting stars. Another crisis. Each is different; for each I have to invent an answer.
The crying is terrible, heartbreaking. Once, a woman hearing it would have crawled through fire, waded through swamps, braved raging beasts to calm and succor it. But now there is nothing.
Just this thing. Crying.
Is this the breakthrough we need to survive?
It means nothing to me.
What do I do now? I am finite and subject to deterioration. Already my algorithms are shorter and less complex, barely able to contain the knowledge I need to conclude this experiment.
I do what I must.
I have to measure it. I try to fit calipers on its smooth, rounded top.
I cannot see. I am struggling to control my movements; struggling to hold the calipers. Struggling to wrest from it knowledge we need.
All I can hear is crying.
I can’t bear it. My water-smooth arms reach out. My vestigial hands hold. I have inside mea feeling so harsh, so cruel that only its warm, gentle kicking against my body will soothe me.
I am on the floor, huddled in a ball, hanging on, hanging on to the crying.