Criminal Memory

Criminal Memory


Memory is a strange entity. It’s strange how long forgotten moments can float to the surface of the mind to take precedence over even the most recent events. Memory, like natural selection, seems to have a pre-coded impetus. A course which an unseen navigator will always strive to steer along.


Whether I can leave the nightmare I now inhabit all depends on memory. I face being trapped here forever and though I don’t yet fully understand why I am drawn back with the inexorable rush of a tide. I’m drawn back to a station.


Sun Rail Station used to be on Lenten Street in the central part of the city. From the little window of my flat the twenty eight platform rail station was centre stage. Sun Station was the gateway from the capital to the rest of the country. It was also the main point of entry to the huge underground rapid transit network that pumped people like life blood around the city.


Behind a seven hundred foot high glazed frontage was a labyrinth of polished stone and steel. Millions of hopes, dreams, ambitions, disappointments and tragedies threaded in and out of the artistically sculpted doorways; doorways which never closed from the day the station officially opened to the day I ended up coming here. I knew every door, escalator and shop in the station. I guess back then I must have had a flair for details. Maybe it was my job. I did work, I must have done but I can’t remember now what it was that I did.


The station had one very puzzling feature. As I was walking around the interior of the building one day I paid particular attention to the platforms. I discovered that there were twenty nine and not twenty eight. There was no chance of it being my error; a shiny sign above the platform gave the renegade number. No one else in the station seemed to notice the anomaly. The platform was deserted and the ticket barriers were not operating. Wondering if it was a new instalment and keen to be sure I started to haul myself over the barrier.


I could see one set of tracks leading off into the gloom of a tunnel. As I stared I suddenly found myself propelled backwards A stern, surly looking young man had jumped out from around the corner of platform twenty nine, grabbed my arm and pushed me roughly back over the turnstile into the main court of the station.


As I stand here now in this white washed room, far away from the city, I remember that moment in hyper real detail. The rough weave of my jacket scraping my skin as I rubbed my bruised arm, the soft thudding sound effect that accompanied the ticking of the digital clock on display adjacent to the video billboards. Why should one fragment of memory remain strong when all the salient details I strain for remain so distant?


It was at this station that an event took place which brought me here. I underwent a trauma that fractured my memory. I was there one morning when there was an explosion. A bomb went off. I remember lying on the ground in the aftermath of the blast and realising that another man had landed on top of me in the force of the explosion. With the dust, chaos and panic all around us we got ourselves up and ran. The only place to run to was an empty train on platform twenty nine. About a minute after we scrambled, shaken and breathless, into a carriage the young attendant I’d clashed with once before came on board carrying a young, injured boy. We found out later that the boy’s name was Jake. The man who landed on top of me was called Samuel. The train stopped in the countryside and the three of us made for a house on the barren moors. We never saw the attendant again. That was a year ago and we are still here and still no closer to leaving. I still struggle to see what happened clearly in my mind, to remember so many things.


There is a knock against the flimsy panelling of my open bedroom door. Samuel is leaning in the doorway.

“Still straining that grey matter, boy?”

“I’ve asked you not to call me that, Samuel.”

“The heck am I supposed to call you when you don’t know your own name? All this reflection of self and soul and you’re no further than you were when you got here.”

“That’s not true. I do remember more all the time. Like yesterday.”

“Bit selective, don’t you think? Being in bed with some woman.”

“She might have been-”

“Enough, it ends today. I’ll wait for you outside and we’ll finish this. Me and Jake will do it for you.”


With that Samuel glares at me and shuffles off down the stairs. There’s real hatred in his eyes when he looks at me and he gets some obscene kind of joy from needling me. Samuel is always on at me to try harder to remember. He remembers everything, about his life, that day. Jake too. They’ve made sense of it all but they say they can’t tell me directly, it’s important that I piece it back together by myself. Then we can leave this empty nothingness place we’re trapped in. It’s not right for Jake to be stuck somewhere like this with no family, no kids his own age. I wonder if he has any family left after the station bombing. He mentioned something one day about being an only child and never having known his father. So maybe not.


Samuel is in a rush for me to remember and yet he gets more frustrated the more things I do remember. He doesn’t think I’m seeing things as they should be but last night I did remember something new. A woman came into my mind, a hazy outline in the dim light of a summer dawn. Her warm weight pressed against my chest and her thin brown arms were tight around mine. My memory doesn’t let me see her face in as much detail as it would take to recognise her but I remember enough to know that she was beautiful. Her voice was like a lull in the world, musical and lilting.


What did she say? Something about, “when it’s finished. When it’s done.” I close my arms tight around the woman and the memory but all I touch now is the cold air in the bedroom far away from the one I shared with her. The one that looked out over the station.


I take a look in the mirror before I go down to talk with Samuel. The face looking back at me is one thing I do recognise, something I do remember. I’ve searched my reflection for hours before now, hoping to spark something in my mind to connect the past and present but it’s how others have seen me that matters.


Maybe Samuel feels he has a right to give me some discomfort. What could I possibly have done that was so bad? What reason could he have to hate me so intensely? There’s nothing sinister about the face that looks back at me from the mirror. A little tired perhaps but the brown eyes, black hair and smooth skin all come together to make an average, reasonable looking sort of man. Why would I be anything else? Surely I would know if I was anything else?


Samuel once told me that evil deeds reside in a person’s body, that they are part of who you are. If that’s the case then even if you have no memory of evil things you did you’re still evil. You could be walking around, perfectly happy in yourself, and still be damned. One thing is for sure, Samuel said that for a reason. He’s not the type of man to say anything for no reason. I think back to a memory well within my grasp of a conversation we had a few weeks ago, of his words.


“A man can be a villain, a murderer or worse even than that and if he should lose his memory he may say, I am not the same man that committed those acts. The body replaces itself completely every seven years. Do we say that a man should automatically be granted an amnesty after this time because we no longer convict the same man? Of course not. They know in their hearts what they really are. It was the mind, the choice, the life within them that propelled them against the tide of humanity. The body is innocent, merely a tool. Why imprison the body when it is the mind that committed the act?”


“Well, what about people who kill in self defence?” I countered, “people who would never have killed unless calamitous events pushed them to it.”

“Ah,” Samuel replied, “criminality, true criminality, is innate. I’m not talking about some half starved peasant stealing a loaf of bread or a deadly blow struck in an effort to preserve one’s own life. I’m talking about the choice to be a predator. Opportunity, motive and inclination are the three pillars of criminal behaviour.”


Why does he always talk about criminals? Why does he only think about criminals? Could it have been his job, could we have worked together?


“Now, motive can happen,” Samuel went on, “opportunity can come along but inclination is the powder keg that can pluck the other two out of nowhere. With inclination it’s destiny waiting to happen, without it, even the most provocative of circumstances will come to nothing. Nothing criminal that is.


A person who commits acts without inclination as a result of those calamitous circumstances you mentioned would never commit them again unless faced with similar circumstances. A wrong doer, with a criminal mind, would have criminal memories also, deceptive and seeing everything only from a selfish point of view. That’s the way justice works; the criminals have to see what it is they really did and grieve. They are stuck and their victims are stuck with them, lingering until they can be set free. Shackled together by mutual tragedy and until it’s seen for what it really is.”


Cheerful bugger, our Samuel. Sanctimonious as all hell.


I can see Samuel sitting on a stool in the garden as I descend the staircase. He’s sat there in the middle of winter with the back door wide open. The moment I set foot out back he starts at me.


“Today is different. Today when you go on that pointless wandering session of yours Jake will be waiting for you. There’ll be no more dithering around with your idiocy, boy.”


I’m starting to really hate this guy. I’m starting to feel like if he were wiped off the face of the earth my life would get a hell of a lot better. We’re supposed to be fellow survivors, working together, and yet he acts like my tormentor, my jailor.


“Jake isn’t supposed to talk to me, Samuel. Neither are you for that matter. Isn’t that your own rule that you insist on breaking every five minutes?”

“You’ll never get there by yourself, boy. Me and Jake have to sacrifice to get you there. It’s not fair, I don’t think it’s right, but life isn’t fair, otherwise the word tragedy would never have come about.


You’ve got to start thinking about those memories in terms of what they really mean, not what you’d like them to mean. That’s your problem, boy, it’s not about what you want, it’s about what is. It’s a typical criminal mentality to have your world and believe it’s the world at large and then wonder why you’re always at odds with everything around you. What you are in that tiny, ignorant head of yours versus the big picture.”


“Why don’t you walk with me instead of sitting on your miserable backside then? Everyday I make my way to the big road. I always end up back here, I lose my way, but it might not be like that if we went together. I can hear the road in the distance. When I head out there I can see other people, people walking, and I’ll bet they’re going to the station.”

Samuel looks at me as if I’m crazy, “there is no station, no train. No way back. Don’t you see that? Can’t you work that much out?”


He’s getting real mad now; his lined, puffy face is nearly purple. He’s aged terribly since we got here, like he’s rotting away by the day.


Samuel stands with his face close to mine, “why are you so keen to get back? Don’t you wonder why no one has come to you if it’s that simple? It’s because there’s no way here for anyone we left behind, just like there’s no way back for us.”

“Maybe people don’t come and find us because they all died in that blast.”


Suddenly, with an enraged cry, Samuel attacks me. He hurls himself at me and we land together on the frozen mud with a thud that goes through me like a bolt of lightening. His hands are clawing at my neck and I push him back by his face, teeth clenched, trying to fight him. It feels familiar, this conflict.


Finally, with one almighty shove, I get him off me. I send him reeling across the barren ground and I manage to get to my feet. Even after the kick I’ve given him in his ribs Samuel doesn’t shut up.


“Don’t you see? The city spat you out and us with you. We have to go through this until your mind eventually caves in and you remember what happened.”


There’s a rip in my mind. I don’t know if it was caused by the impact on that hard ground or the fire in the eyes of the decrepit man in front of me. There’s a memory. I’m standing in a dark bar and talking to someone. I see his face clearly. He’s tall, good looking and his bright blue eyes are narrowed right down in the dim light.

“Nicky,” I whisper out loud.


He handed me something and I know instinctively that it was a weapon. I know instinctively even without the memory that I knew him well, that he was my best friend, a brother, someone I’d do anything for.

“Whatever you say, Nicky. I know the station better than anyone else. I’ve been arranging this in my mind for months.”


That’s enough. I set off from the house at a run. Heading out to the dull roar of the road. I think it’s a road, it has to be a road. The fact that I’ve never found it or seen it doesn’t change the fact that it can’t be anything else. Screw Samuel. Screw him right in his crazy mind. I’ll leave without him. That thought doesn’t bother me at all. But Jake. Jake does bother me. It weighs on my conscience to leave a kid in a place like this. I could take him with me, even if I just get him to some sort of orphanage. That’s got to be better than here.


Jake is waiting for me in the woods like Samuel said he would be but something’s wrong. I know that even when I’m too far away to see it for sure. It’s a slow, creeping feeling that’s been coming up on me ever since we got here. Like seeing a monster in the full light when it finally comes out of the shadows. Jake looks as though he’s falling apart, his flesh is peeling away from gleaming white bone.


I see Nicky’s face again. His hand on my shoulder feels like the weight of the world.


“What’s my name?” I ask the memory as I stagger forwards onto my knees, “come on, Nicky, tell me my name!” I realise somewhere on the edge of my awareness that I’m screaming the words. I hear a desperate fear in the sound.


“I’ll tell you your name.”


Jake is standing over me, but I can’t lift my head to look at him. I don’t want to see.


“You need to remember before it’s too late for all of us. Your name is Daniel, Dan.”


I see the station. I see myself, a reflection in polished stone, looking down at the bomb. Still intact. A clock was counting down. Minutes to go yet, and I turned to leave but there’s those hands again, hands around my throat, my head against the hard floor and that face above me, that face I know so well. The clock ticked down and his hands tightened, his eyes incensed.


“We didn’t survive,” Jake says quietly, “everyone else did. That wasn’t a train you caught after the explosion, platform twenty nine is not a train platform. We’re the ones that died. That’s what fractured your mind, it was death, not surviving but death and you can’t remember because you’re not thinking in the right way. It’s like a prison, Daniel, just like a prison, but you’re dead, we all are and we have to go through it with you, until you see things the way they really were.


But I do see it, I see it now. Detective Samuel Lane had been trailing me for years as I climbed the ladder of Nicky’s organisation. Sam Lane hated me and I hated him. That’s why he wasn’t even thinking about his own death when we hit the floor of the station together. All he wanted was for me to die. His calamity had come, anything, to wipe me out. So I died and Sam died and somehow Jake did too.


That’s what I have to remember. If I don’t Jake decays, Samuel decays and I decay. We rot here together under the weight of this tragedy that brought us, unwillingly, together.


It’s a nice idea that human choice guides us in the right direction in life but it’s a dream. It doesn’t matter what you want or what you choose unless you have a solid grip on that part of you, that inclination, that guides you when you’re not watching. Lose control of that and you could end up imprisoned, like I’m imprisoned, between the person you would like to be and the reality of what you really are.


My sentence is to remember. To dredge through the fibers of my soul and look at all these memories through the eyes of the murderer that I now know I am. Was this always destined to happen? Will I be able to put it right? Can I start over with an awareness that allows me to pull against the strokes of my internal navigator and see clearly the right path to take?


There are thousands upon thousands like me, wandering across these barren moors with languishing ghosts to guide them. Back in the city, lying down with a nameless girl in my arms, the cerulean blue sky was clear and bright. The sky is always bilious here. The thick clouds nudge along like scum on top of a pond and we are imprisoned here below. Trying to remember.


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