John and Jane Doe: An Amnesiac Love Story

Jane arrived before John. She was found beneath an underpass along the West Side Highway. As Dr. Dinero tended to her multiple wounds, he couldn’t help but glance at her exposed vagina, where cuts leading up to it along the inner thighs made him assume the worst about what had happened to her. He didn’t even want to conduct the requisite rape test, already knowing full well that it had occurred. That men were rabid dogs in the presence of an injured therefore defenseless animal. Especially one so attractive as Jane. Dr. Dinero wondered if she had been a prostitute, gotten into some scuffle with a pimp or irascible client that didn’t like how she was performing, then decided not to pay her.

At the same time, this wasn’t the New York of the 70s, or even the 90s. Women like her didn’t have the guts to hook anymore, preferring instead to crawl back home with their tail between their legs than stick it out in a city that was hardly that worthwhile anymore by means of self-denigration. No, there must have been some other element at play. Something that only she could tell them.

Just as he was finishing up her sutures, a nurse burst in exclaiming, “We’ve got another one. A John Doe this time. Found near the same underpass as Jane.”

Curiouser and curiouser, thought Dr. Dinero. Was this why he had gotten into the medical profession? As a result of reading too many crime novels while relegated to his bum fuck town in New Jersey, nary a source of entertainment in sight thanks to his parents’ poverty. It might have been part of the reason, he had to admit, but couldn’t dwell on it too much longer before he decided he better get over to John and see the extent of his physical damage. Surely it couldn’t compare to Jane’s, he reckoned, before walking into the room and seeing the bloody mess that was the entirety of John’s epidermal exterior. It was apparent that his injuries went beyond the surface cuts and bruises of Jane, with actual stab punctures immediately apparent as the nurses cut off what remained of his clothing.

What the hell happened to these two? Were their damages in any way linked? Or was it mere coincidence that they were found so close together. In the weeks that followed, both John and Jane gradually came out of their comas, but neither said anything despite the frequent visitations of probing police and psychologists attempting to ascertain any inkling of what might have happened. They would both lie there, content to blink absently, occasionally demanding water, but never food. Food was something they both seemed disgusted by. Not just because it was the hospital variety, but that it seemed to trigger within each of them some guttural reaction that insisted, “No!” No food. There was something almost religious in their monk-like self-deprivation. It was starting to get to the point where they were going to need their nourishment forced upon them via a tube.

Not wanting to take such drastic measures just yet, Dr. Dinero decided he had an idea. Maybe it was a kooky one, but then, like all doctors, he was something of a kook. Why not set up a table for both John and Jane to share their first proper meal together? It might be a source of encouragement to the other to see a fellow victim of amnesia going through the motions of everyday life despite the frustration and anger that comes with not being able to remember anything beyond the basic functions of what it is to be human. They could relate to one another in a manner that might be beneficial to stimulating memory. Or at the very least, some commiseration.

Jane was the most averse to the idea between the two of them. She practically spat, “I’m not going on a blind fucking date just because he has a head injury and so do I. Is this even legal? You can’t force me to do this.”

“We’re not forcing you to do anything. And yes, it’s within our legal rights to do everything we can to keep you as healthy as possible whilst you’re in our care.”

“Jesus. This must be what Belle felt like in Beauty and the Beast.”

“Is that a favorite movie of yours?”

“For fuck’s sake, do you have to try to parse together some meaning from every little thing I say?” she said, rolling her eyes as she fiddled with her IV drip.

“Please don’t touch that. And please show up to the cafeteria at six for dinner.”

“Lovely. A geriatric hour for forced romance.”

Dr. Dinero simpered as he closed the door behind him. Yes, Jane would certainly spark something in John, there was no doubt.

***

As they sat across from one another staring vacantly at their compartmentalized peas, mashed potatoes and chicken, John had to wonder to himself whether or not this was reality. It seemed more like a dream sequence that could be found on the cutting room floor of a Lynch movie. He had no idea who this woman was, nor did he want to. Even so, he was the one to break the silence with, “Come here often?”

It got her to crack a smile despite herself. “Oh yes. All the time. I can’t get enough of that slight taste of freezer burn.”

As the two laughed over the absurdity of their situation, they actually did begin to talk, though it was difficult to sustain much in the way of a subject matter, since neither could remember their past.

“What’s the last thing you remember before being here?” John inquired.

Jane shrugged. “I’m not sure. I keep seeing the image of a floral pattern. I think it was what I was wearing before I went out that night.”

“You don’t come off as a floral kind of girl.”

“I think I was trying to play a part for someone. Trying to come across as…softer.”

“It must not have worked,” he chortled.

She sneered. “Yeah? What about you? Clearly you’re more stabbable than I am.”

He sighed, pushing his barely touched tray away from him. “I keep getting this sense that I started it. I provoked it. But…I just really can’t–”

“Recall?”

“Right. It’s like my brain has been zapped. This must be what it’s like to have a lobotomy.”

“Sure. Or Lacuna Inc. really exists.”

“Huh?”

“Nothing. It’s just a movie reference. I seem to make a lot of them.”

“Maybe you work in film.”

“Or maybe I failed in it.”

He raised his eyebrow. “You’re definitely cynical enough to have failed at something.”

She shrugged. “Must have at relationships ’cause ain’t no one comin’ to claim me.”

“I guess the same goes for me.”

They sat in silence for the next few minutes. A peaceful and accepting silence that was interrupted by one of the nurses coming to ask, “How are we doing?”

“Fantastic Flo, we’ll just take the check now,” John replied. Jane burst into a paroxysm of laughter that practically made her shed tears.

In the days that followed, John and Jane continued their table sessions together, gradually realizing that perhaps Dr. Dinero had been right to ally them–even though, of course, they would never admit that to him, least of all Jane. John, on the other hand, might have been willing to confess that he was growing fond of these “enforced” rendezvous were it not for the fact that Dr. Dinero seemed more interested in what Jane had to say about John than the other way around. All the while, she remained tight-lipped to everyone except John, who she admitted to the previous night that she remembered something about the day that led to her hippocampus’ failure.

“I was prepping some items for a recipe. I was making dinner for someone. I just know it.”

“Were you in your apartment?”

“No. It was someone else’s.”

“I’m guessing your boyfriend’s.”

“But if that was the case, then where is he now?”

“Probably the one responsible for your injuries.”

She frowned. “You really think I would be with someone like that?”

“People are capable of all sorts of things when they think love is involved.”

“How would you know?”

“I have an unshakeable feeling, I suppose.”

Their hushed conversations were starting to get on Dr. Dinero’s nerves, who decided that as a new part of his experiment, he was going to separate them. Refuse to allow them to see one another until they told the doctors and police the same things they had been telling each other.

Jane wouldn’t budge on her silence to anyone except John, therefore was held in the hospital for longer. While John conceded that he had remembered now where he lived. It was the apartment of Jane’s own flickering memory from the first day of her last as Sarah Connonte. A 33-year-old closed captioner who had taken the job when things with her film career weren’t jumpstarting, and this turned out to be the nearest to her field she could get. She met John, or rather, Eric Samson, while working at this post-production facility. He was a client who often brought his work to them to be transcribed, and took an especial interest in Sarah by overly complimenting her on her incredible ear for even the most mumbling of people. One thing led to another with their escalating banter, and he finally garnered the courage to ask her out. From there, the relationship followed the expected trajectory. They spent more and more time together, grew less afraid of showing who they really were. Though they hadn’t officially moved in with each other, Sarah was constantly at his apartment. Often the one to prepare dinner as she tended to arrive at his Hudson River Park residence before he returned from his own endlessly tedious job in SoHo.

The last week shared between them had been strange, she had to admit, a palpable distance developing that she couldn’t understand. She hoped that the date of their anniversary, for which she planned to make his favorite dish (shepherd’s pie), would be a means to make him reacquaint himself with the tenderness they had once shared in their earlier days of coupledom. A period in which he said he could never and would never love anyone as he did her. She was enamored by his enamorment of her. Yet as the hours passed and he didn’t show up as promised, she grew increasingly enraged. Finally, she put the shepherd’s pie in the now turned off oven to store, blew out the lone candle she had lit and saw herself out of the apartment, leaving everything behind including her purse. That was the extent of her belligerent daze.

It was a cold night, the air frigid with the vengeance of a New York winter that wanted to remind one that the summer would never come again. That to even dream of it was the act of a fool. A fool just like Sarah, who, in her embittered state, walked out the door without her coat, roaming the perimeter of the elevated highway with her arms crossed against her pathetic floral dress. Who had she become anyway? She hated flowers. They always stained you with their yellow center, or presented some unwanted insect. She couldn’t recognize herself anymore. The things she had suddenly become willing to do for the sake of Eric. For the sake of a man, and trying to keep one. As though any of them could ever be constant to one woman, when there were so many others waiting with doors wide open. She learned that night that Eric had entered one such door. He told her without hesitation as he chased after her down the street, catching a glimpse of that red dress with the white daisies on it as she turned the corner. As he bobbed up and down to reach her, his wallet fell out of his pocket and he kept on running without noticing. It was later found after he had already regained his memory anyway, returned by mail without any of the cash in it.

“Sarah! Wait!”

She whipped around and glared at him, but would not stop.

“Sarah, please!”

She shouted back as she kept walking, “Where the fuck were you?”

“If you slow down, I can tell you!”

But she walked and walked with the ferocity of a tiger stalking its prey. Ignoring all the signs of her coldness as her arm hair practically grew two inches longer from the goosebumps. At last, Eric caught up to her in a particularly isolated part of the highway’s runoff and grabbed her by the back of the neck as though she were a mutt being plucked by its master after running away, now about to face the physically abusive consequences.

“It’s time you know something Sarah. I’ve met someone else. That’s why I was late. That’s why I’ve been distant and disinterested. I just couldn’t bring myself to tell you about it until I was sure of my feelings.”

She was stoic at first before sputtering out fits of giggles. “That’s lovely Eric. So lovely. And you chose the night of our anniversary to tell me?” The truth was, he had forgotten about that, but thought it best not to say that as a defense.

“I–”

She slapped him before he could continue. Started punching him in the chest and stomach. He couldn’t control her without retaliating by using one of his own blows, right to her eye. The wallop knocked her over. She was in shock. This is how it was going to end, after everything, she realized. Wasted potential in both career and romance. Suddenly contrite, he tried to bend over to help her up. What he failed to take into account was that she had placed the knife used to cut the shepherd’s pie into her dress pocket. Maybe this dress was her style after all.

She jabbed at him with it, indiscriminately at first, just enough to scare him into backing away. Then, all at once, overcome with contempt with her behavior, he briefly found his way around the knife long enough to punch her some more and topple her back to the ground. “Is this what you want? You want me to love you even if I don’t anymore?” He smacked her wrist against the gravel, loosening the knife from her grasp long enough to rape her just as Dr. Dinero surmised. Though he never brought that element up to the police for some reason. Perhaps part of some tacit “gentleman’s” agreement.

“You’re such a castrating bitch, I can’t stand you!” he let out, the truth at last setting him free before nearly killing him as she proceeded to puncture his chest and back with her reclaimed knife. He clocked her out and started running, barely making it much farther before collapsing and hitting his head on a stray hubcap as he fell to the ground.

***

“I don’t want to revisit the past. It’s not something I do. Once I’ve decided a phase–and a person that comes with that phase–is over, it’s over,” Eric concluded to his police-assigned therapist.

“And will you ever tell Sarah the truth about what happened that night?”

Eric stared off in the distance, a glint of sunlight briefly hitting his face. “The truth is for her to unearth. And for all I know, it could be entirely different than mine.”

The therapist made a notation on his legal pad. “So you won’t use this clean slate, so to speak, to start over with her?”

“No. Like I said, I don’t go backward. Forward is the only way.”

***

Sarah, still blissfully unaware of her past with Eric, walked into an Irish pub in the East Village. Sitting down near a disheveled and disgruntled looking man in his forties, she decided to move down a few stools to avoid him and any of his potential rantings. It was only after hearing him order a shepherd’s pie that she decided to move just a little bit closer.

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