Memories of a Freedom Lost – Chapter 3: Distance

“She has what?!”

“Retrograde amnesia.”

“What the heck does that mean?!” Carol shrieked.

Doctor Quack signaled for her to lower her voice. Carol looked to the door that they stood outside of. It was closed tight, the blind pulled down over the window. Although her eyes could not see through, Carol knew that her voice could pierce that barrier, and the volume would only raise panic in her bedridden best friend. So rather than screaming further, she let her hyperventilation do the talking for her.

“It means that she’s lost her memories,” the doctor explained, moderate and gentle in his tone. “I’m afraid her injury was more severe than we had expected…”

“Lost her… Lost her…” Carol couldn’t bring herself to repeat the entire thought. She swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head, refusing eye contact. “So, she just… can’t remember anything?”

The doctor hesitated before glancing back over his notes. “Well, she hasn’t forgotten everything, per say… She wouldn’t be alive if she had. That is, you see, she’s retained basic functions, breathing, eating, etcetera… We’re still testing, but she seems to at least mostly recall how to speak, and—”

“But her?” Carol cut him off, and he stared down at her uneasily. “Her, her past? Her friends? Who she is? It’s, it’s all just… gone?”

The doctor lowered his head solemnly. “I’m sorry.”

Carol pressed her palm against her forehead.

“I’ll give you some time.”

As soon as Doctor Quack was gone, whatever Carol’s gut had been holding in place finally snapped. Becoming very lightheaded, she stumbled back slightly, landing in the chair behind her. She buried her face in her hands, choking on her sobs. The tears kept coming, no matter how many times she wiped them away. They wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop them.

She was only vaguely aware of the presence of someone standing over her. She didn’t have it in her to crane herself up from this position and see who it was. She didn’t need to see to identify them, however. The touch of a small hand on her shoulder was enough to know.

Milla sat down on the chair beside Carol. Apparently, her presence was the push that Carol needed to collect herself, as she wiped her eyes one last time and turned her head away. Milla rested her hand on Carol’s. For a time, the hall was silent, each of its two inhabitants clouded with their own dread.

When Milla finally broke and buried her face in Carol’s stomach, Carol didn’t say anything. Her head was spinning with all the worst thoughts.

They weren’t allowed back into Lilac’s room that day. They sat outside for hours, not a word between them, not a word to the doctor when he explained the results of Lilac’s tests, not a word when they fell asleep far too early in the afternoon.

The first thing Carol did when she awoke the next morning was ask if she could go inside. The answer was still no.

The day would likely have passed the same as the one before if it weren’t for the nurse forcibly grabbing the unresponsive Carol by her scruff and dragging her and Milla off to another wing. Carol didn’t feel like fighting. She barely registered brushing her teeth and removing her clothes; the process was robotic. She stood in the shower, water running too hot, staring vacantly at the wall for longer than she probably should have. She forgot what she said to the nurse who was calling for her immediately after she said it.

Despite the emptiness in her stomach, Carol wasn’t hungry. It was consuming, however, to poke at the food that was placed in front of her with her chopsticks. Milla was able to make small talk with the nurse while she ate, but never gave so much as a glance to Carol. Carol was grateful for that, or at least she would have been if she had noticed.

When the nurse offered to take them outside, Carol refused. Milla stared back at her as she departed, not a doubt in her mind that poor Carol would spend the rest of the day alone in that chair outside of Lilac’s room. But unlike Carol, Milla wasn’t given a choice.

The courtyard was bright with sunlight, the air chilled by a breeze. The stone paths were lined with beautiful flowers and lush grasses. Everything about this place was meant to be comforting, and to Milla, it had been for the past week. The fresh air was much more breathable than the confinement of the hospital halls, and on a couple of occasions while wandering around out here, she had stumbled across an animal to play with. It had allowed her to forget about the situation, to forget her worries and, at least for a time, act like nothing was wrong. Like everything was going to be okay.

But she couldn’t pretend anymore. Not after yesterday.

Today, the outside felt just as confining as the inside. Walls or otherwise, she was confined, trapped in a world with a Lilac who didn’t recognize her, who could only look at her in fear. Milla couldn’t erase that image from her memory.

After several minutes, Milla realized that she was walking in circles. With a sigh, she sat herself down on a bench and stared out at the fountain in the courtyard’s center. It gently poured water into the pool beneath it, giving only the softest of trickling sounds. The droning of it echoed in Milla’s head.

Lilac. Lilac was so afraid.

Carol. Carol was so upset.

Milla stared up at the bright blue sky, so different from, so much more encouraging than the dark, bleak hallways inside. If Lilac and Carol couldn’t be strong, then what was she going to do?

An hour or so later, Carol was nudged awake, and she looked up to see Milla holding a bag of chips in front of her.

The afternoon of the third day since Lilac had awoken, Carol and Milla were finally allowed into her room again. Unfortunately, they were forced to sit quietly off to the side.

Lilac seemed to have calmed down dramatically, though she was a bit frightened by their arrival. But the panic from the last time Carol and Milla had seen her was gone from her reactions. Once they were settled in the seats at the back of the room, she seemed more confused than anything else. She glanced curiously at them now and again, and Carol couldn’t help but be grateful when the doctor regained her attention.

She couldn’t seem to remain steadily focused on the doctor when he talked to her, like her attention could be taken away by the slightest of disturbances. Carol and Milla’s presence was much more than just a slight disturbance. She was also a bit twitchy, Carol observed when she accidentally shifted her chair across the ground and Lilac jumped at the sound it made.

But the thing that got to Carol most was just how jittery Lilac was. Her body was shaking. Constantly. The way that her hands rattled alone made this abundantly clear. She looked breakable. Fragile. Like some old, unstable structure that could collapse at any moment.

Lilac wasn’t supposed to be fragile.

Eventually, Lilac gathered enough of herself to say something. She attempted to keep her tone quiet, but the girls could still hear. Though she was mostly calm, her voice was shaking as she made her inquiry.

“Hhh… Who’re they…?”

Carol’s heart gave an irregular beat.

“Those are your friends,” Doctor Quack explained carefully, trying his best to keep a soft smile. Carol saw the uncertain glance he shortly flashed in her direction. “They were with you when you were hurt, and they brought you here so we could help you. They just want to make sure that you’re okay.”

“Oh.” Lilac looked to them again. She hesitated momentarily, before opening her mouth again and letting out a pathetically weak, “Hhh… Hi…”

Milla smiled gingerly back at her, waving her hand. But Carol couldn’t stop herself from grimacing. Seeing the disappointment in Carol’s expression, Lilac looked down at the covers in shame. Milla gave a small sigh.

“You’d like to know their names, wouldn’t you?” the doctor inquired, and Lilac nodded. “The green one is named ‘Carol.'”

Lilac looked to Carol again, only for Carol to hastily duck her head under the guise of fixing her hair. Lilac scanned Carol up and down before tentatively turning back to the doctor.

“Kay-ol… Nngh…” Lilac attempted, noticing her trip-up and pausing to grumble at herself. “Kar… Nn…”

“Care-ol,” the doctor corrected. “It’s easier if you try splitting it up, see? Try again.”

“Kayr-ol,” Lilac mimicked. “Ka— Care— Care-ol. Carol. Carol?”

“That’s right! Very good, very good.” Lilac’s eyes glittered at the praise. “Now, the white one is named ‘Milla.'”

“Meee… a. Mee-la. Milla.”

Milla’s came more easily, Carol couldn’t help but notice. She cast a quick glance to Milla beside her. Her eyes were glued to Lilac, painted over with apprehension. Her hands were folded stiffly in her lap. Carol scolded herself for the negativity of her previous thought.

“Kare… Carol. Milla. Carol and Milla.”

“Excellent! That was very good.” Lilac smiled somewhat. “Do either of those names sound familiar to you at all?”

Lilac stared down at the bed sheets, brow knitted in concentration. She was silent for a prolonged amount of time, until she gave a small, frustrated grumble. “No…”

“Okay. That’s alright,” the doctor assured her, even though it wasn’t. “It will come to you in time.”

“Oh… really?” Lilac questioned.

The doctor took a moment to answer, but he held his smile when he did. “Yes. Of course it will.”

While he turned around to fiddle with paperwork and Carol hugged herself, Milla stood up and approached Lilac’s bedside. Lilac recoiled slightly at the approach, but Milla held her hand up gently. Smiling bright, Milla said, “Hi, Lilac.”

Lilac’s eyes searched Milla, though what for exactly was unclear. She must have found it, because her tension eased somewhat. “Hhh… Hi…” she responded, “Mm-Milla…”

Milla nodded cheerfully. “How are you doing?”

“Oh.” Lilac pulled her blanket up, averting her eyes shyly. “Uhmm… I’m, fine. Uh, um… How’re you?”

“I’m fine too,” Milla replied.

Carol’s claws sank into her arms.

“We’ve been working on repairing Miss Lilac’s reading comprehension and motor functionality…” said Doctor Quack as he turned around with a stack of books and papers in his hand. He looked to Milla, staring curiously back at him, and he blinked. “That is, we’re re-teaching her how to read and write.” Milla nodded in understanding, and Quack grinned nervously. “Um… Would you like to help?”

“Okay!” Milla agreed enthusiastically. She looked to Lilac, who was looking to her. She gave a short nod of assurance, and Lilac seemed to be comforted by it. Milla then glanced back at Carol. Carol was looking at her feet. Milla frowned, but was spared the choice of saying anything when the doctor handed a book to her.

“These kinds of things take time, so we’re starting with the basics,” he explained. “This is a beginner’s story book. Just read aloud and keep the pages where she can see so she can follow along, alright?”

“Alright,” said Milla, and she flipped the book open to the first page. She leaned over the bed and propped the book up. Lilac’s grip on the covers loosened slightly.

Carol didn’t pay attention to the story as Milla told it, nor whatever Doctor Quack was doing in the meantime. Carol was affixed to Lilac, leaned over slightly to see the book. She wasn’t actually reading, though, judging by the movements of her eyes. She was just looking at the pictures. Milla’s tone was light and melodic as she read, like she was reading to a small child. It made Carol uncomfortable to listen. In contrast, Lilac seemed plenty comfortable. Whether it was Milla’s tone or not was questionable, but Lilac’s tension was eased. She trusted Milla.

When the story had concluded, the doctor slipped a clipboard and a blank piece of paper into Lilac’s lap, and Lilac tensed up again. The doctor told Milla to help her write down the first sentence in the book. However, when the pencil was handed to Lilac, she could barely hold it. Milla had to fix the way she was handling it. While Milla was encouraging, Lilac was uncertain, unconfident with her shaky hands. Gently, she lowered the tip to the paper. It gave a small tap, and left a small scribble. Lilac’s brow furrowed and she lowered her head, placing the pencil down.

From the back of the room, a chair scraped loudly against the floor. Milla turned just in time to see Carol slam the door to the hallway behind her.

Gritting her teeth, Milla glanced to Lilac. She apparently wasn’t given much time to focus on Carol’s leaving since the doctor was attempting to hold her attention, but she was nevertheless rattled by it. Milla bit her lip, then quietly stood up and slipped away.

When she stepped into the hall, carefully closing the door behind her, she saw Carol seated in the chair that she seemed to favor, face buried in her hands.

“Carol…?” Milla squeaked worriedly.

“This is all my fault,” Carol breathed.

Milla’s eyes widened, and she clutched a hand to her chest. “What?!” she cried. “How is it your fault?!”

“I could have saved her!” Carol snapped. She set her hands back in her lap, revealing tears streaming down her cheeks. She glared at Milla. “If I had been paying attention, this wouldn’t have happened!” She turned her head away. “But I wasn’t. And it did. And now… now…”

Her shoulder was gripped forcefully, causing her to turn back around. She was met by Milla’s eyes, burning into her own. “That’s stupid,” said Milla pointedly. “Don’t say that. If it’s your fault, then it’s my fault too.”

Carol’s brow furrowed, and she yanked her shoulder away. “No it isn’t. Why would it be your fault?”

“I’m the one who destroyed the robot.”

Carol paused, realization crossing her expression. She looked around, eyes lost, before she lowered her gaze and wrapped her arms around herself again.

“It doesn’t matter whose fault it was, Carol,” Milla growled harshly, and tensed as she spat, “It doesn’t matter if it was your fault or my fault or Lilac’s fault or the robot’s fault! It doesn’t matter!” She stood stiff, fists clenched at her sides. Then she softened. Carol was refusing eye contact with her. “It doesn’t matter…”

Carol stood up. Milla sniffled as she approached, hanging her head. Then Carol embraced Milla, pulling her tightly to her chest, and Milla went limp in her arms.

“We’re going to get through this,” Carol promised, and Milla sobbed into Carol’s shirt.

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