An amnestic woman is caught in a deadly trap when she finds herself at the mercy of a man who claims to be her husband. 2 cassettes.
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Joy Fielding is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Heartstopper, Mad River Road, See Jane Run, and other acclaimed novels. She divides her time between Toronto and Palm Beach, Florida. Visit her website at www.JoyFielding.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
One afternoon in late spring, Jane Whittaker went to the store for some milk and some eggs and forgot who she was.
It came to her suddenly, without prior hint or warning, as she stood at the corner of Cambridge and Bowdoin in what she recognized immediately was downtown Boston, that while she knew exactly where she was, she had absolutely no idea who she was. She was on her way to the grocery store to buy some milk and some eggs, of that she was sure. She needed them for the chocolate cake she had been planning to bake, although why she had been planning to bake it and for whom, she couldn’t say. She knew exactly how many ounces of instant chocolate pudding the recipe required, yet she couldn’t recall her own name. Furthermore, she couldn’t remember whether she was married or single, widowed or divorced, childless or the mother of twins. She didn’t know her height, weight, or the color of her eyes. She knew neither her birthday nor her age. She could identify the colors of the leaves on the trees but couldn’t remember whether she was a blonde or a brunet. She knew the general direction in which she was headed, but she had no notion of where she’d been. What in God’s name was happening?
The traffic on Bowdoin slowed, then stopped, and she felt people being pulled from her sides, drawn as if by a magnet to the other side of the street. She alone stood rooted to the spot, unable to proceed, scarcely able to breathe. Cautiously, with deliberate slowness, her head lowered against the collar of her trench coat, she glanced furtively over each shoulder. Pedestrians breezed past her as if barely aware of her existence, men and women whose faces betrayed no outward signs of self-doubt, whose steps carried no noticeable hesitation. Only she stood absolutely still, unwilling—unable—to move. She was aware of sounds—motors humming, horns honking, people laughing, their shoes alternately shuffling or clicking past her, then halting abruptly as the traffic resumed.
A woman’s angry whisper caught her attention—“the little slut,” the woman hissed—and for an instant she thought the woman was speaking about her. But the woman was clearly in conversation with her companion, and neither seemed even vaguely aware that she was beside them. Was she invisible?
For one insane second, she thought she might be dead, like on one of those old Twilight Zone segments in which a woman stranded on a deserted road makes a frantic phone call to her parents, only to be told that their daughter has been killed in a car accident, and who is she anyway to be calling them at this hour of the night? But then the woman whose mouth had only seconds ago been twisted around the word “slut” acknowledged her presence with an almost beatific smile, then turned back to her confidante and moved on.
Clearly, she was not dead. Just as clearly, she was not invisible. And why could she remember something as idiotic as an old Twilight Zone episode and not her own name?
Several more bodies appeared beside her, tapping their toes and swiveling on their heels, impatiently waiting to cross. Whoever she was, she was unaccompanied. There was no one ready to take her arm, no one watching anxiously from the other side of the street wondering why she had fallen behind. She was all alone, and she didn’t know who she was supposed to be.
“Stay calm,” she whispered, searching for clues in the sound of her voice, but even it was unfamiliar to her. It said nothing of age or marital status, its accent nondescript and noteworthy only for its undertone of anxiety. She raised a hand to her lips and spoke inside it so as not to attract undue attention. “Don’t panic. It’ll all come clear in a few minutes.” Was she normally in the habit of talking to herself? “First things first,” she continued, then wondered what that meant. How could she put anything first when she didn’t know what anything was? “No, that’s not true,” she corrected herself immediately. “You know things. You know lots of things. Take stock,” she admonished herself more loudly, glancing around quickly to ascertain whether or not she had been overheard.
A group of perhaps ten people was moving toward her. They’ve come to take me back to wherever it is I escaped from, was her first and only thought. And then the leader of the group, a young woman of perhaps twenty-one, began speaking in the familiar broad Boston tones that her own voice strangely lacked, and she realized she was as inconsequential to these people as she had been to the two women she had overheard earlier. Was she of consequence to anyone?
“As you can see,” the young woman was saying, “Beacon Hill is one of the areas that makes it easy for Bostonians to walk to work. Long regarded as Boston’s premier neighborhood, Beacon Hill has steep cobblestone streets lined with private brick houses and small apartment buildings the construction of which began in the 1820s and continued through the latter part of the nineteenth century.”
Everyone took due notice of the private brick houses and small apartment buildings as the young woman continued her well-rehearsed speech. “A number of the larger and more elegant homes have been turned into condominiums in recent years because of the housing shortage and Boston’s soaring real estate prices. Beacon Hill used to be a Yankee stronghold, but while many of Boston’s old families still live here, people of all backgrounds are now welcome . . . as long as they can pay the mortgage or the rent.”
There was some benign twittering and much nodding of heads before the group prepared to move on. “Excuse me, ma’am,” the tour leader said, her eyes opening wide as her lips popped into an exaggerated smile, so that she resembled a happy-face button brought to life. “I don’t believe you’re with this tour?” The statement emerged as a question, the last few words curling upward along with the speaker’s mouth. “If you’re interested in a walking tour of the city, you have to go to the tourist office in the Boston Common, and they’ll sign you up for the next available tour. Ma’am?”
The happy-face button looked in distinct danger of losing its happy thoughts.
“The Common?” she asked the young woman, whose easy use of the word ma’am suggested she must be at least thirty.
“Just keep heading south on Bowdoin until you hit Beacon. You’ll pass the State House, the one with the gold dome? It’s right there. You can’t miss it.”
Don’t be too sure, she thought, watching the tour group cross the road and disappear down the next street. If I can misplace myself, I can lose anything.
Inching one foot in front of the other as if she were stepping into unfamiliar and potentially treacherous waters, she moved along Bowdoin, paying little attention to the nineteenth-century architecture and concentrating on the road ahead. She crossed Derne, then Ashburton Place, without incident, although neither these streets nor the State House that suddenly loomed before her evoked any sense of who she might be. She turned the corner onto Beacon Street.
Just as the Happy Face had suggested, the Boston Common stretched before her. Ignoring the Granary Burying Ground, which she had no trouble recalling contained the tombs of such diverse notables as Paul Revere and Mother Goose, she hurried past the Visitors’ Center toward the large Public Garden, knowing instinctively she had done this many times in the past. She was no stranger to the city of Boston, no matter how much of a stranger she might be to herself.
She felt her knees go weak and forced her legs toward a waiting bench, letting her body fold into it. “Don’t panic,” she repeated several times out loud, using the words like a mantra, knowing that no one was close enough to hear her. She immediately began a silent recitation of known—if largely unimportant—facts. It was Monday, June 18th, 1990. The temperature was an unseasonably cool sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit. Thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit was the temperature at which water would freeze. One hundred degrees centigrade was hot enough to boil an egg. Two times two equaled four; four times four was sixteen; twelve times twelve was 144. The square of the hypotenuse was equal to the sum of the square of the other two sides. E = mc2. The square root of 365 was . . . she didn’t know, but then something told her that was all right—she never had. “Don’t panic,” she heard herself say yet again as she began smoothing out the wrinkles of her tan coat, feeling slim thighs beneath her fingers. The fact that she was a veritable font of useless information was reassuring because how could a person retain such knowledge and not, at some point, remember her own name? She would remember. It was just a question of time.
A little girl came racing toward her across the wide expanse of park, arms extended, her portly black nanny running to catch up. She wondered for an instant whether this might be her little girl and instinctively reached her arms toward her, but the nanny quickly pulled the child out of reach, steering her toward a nearby set of swings, eyeing the bench suspiciously. Do I have children of my own? she mused, wondering how a mother could forget her child.
She glanced at her hands. At least a ring on her finger would tell her whether she was married. But her fingers were devoid of jewelry, although there was a thin line on the third finger of her left hand where a ring might once have been. She studied it closely, unable to say for sure, noticing that her muted coral nail polish was chipping, and the nails themselves were bitten to the quick. Her gaze dropped to her feet. She was wearing low-heeled, bone-colored patent-leather shoes, the right one of which pressed rather too tightly against her big toe. She pulled it off, recognizing the name Charles Jourdan printed across its instep, and noting she was a size nine, which meant that her height was probably at least five feet six inches. Even with her coat buttoned tightly around her, she knew from the way her hands grazed her sides that she was slim. What else had she been able to figure out? What else did she know about herself beyond the fact that she was white, female, and if the Happy Face and the backs of her own hands were any indication, well over twenty-one?
Two women walked by, their arms entwined, their large purses slapping at their sides. Her purse! she thought with great relief, feeling for a strap at her shoulder. Her purse would tell her everything—who she was, where she lived, what color lipstick she wore. Inside would be her wallet with her identification, her driver’s license, her charge cards. She would once again know her name and address, the year of her birth, the kind of car she drove—if, in fact, she drove at all. Her purse contained all the mysteries of life. All she had to do was open it.
All she had to do was find it!
Stuffing her foot roughly back inside her shoe, she leaned against the dull-green slats of the park bench and acknowledged what she had known all along but had been too frightened to admit—that she had no purse. Whatever identification she might have been carrying when she began this strange odyssey, she wasn’t in possession of it now. Just to make sure, to satisfy herself that she hadn’t dropped her bag carelessly to the ground when she sat down, she took a concentrated look around, checking, then rechecking, the grass at her feet. She even circled the bench several times, once again catching the suspicious eye of the black nanny, who was pushing her young charge on the nearby swing. She smiled at the dark-skinned woman, then wondered what exactly she had to smile about, and turned away. When she looked back several seconds later, the nanny was hurriedly ushering the loudly protesting youngster out of the area. “There, now you’ve scared her,” she said out loud, automatically feeling her face for any signs of disfigurement. There didn’t seem to be any, so she allowed her fingers to continue their Braille-like reading of her features.
Her face was a narrow oval, her cheekbones high, perhaps a touch too prominent, and her eyebrows were full and untended. Her nose was small and her eyelashes were caked with mascara, although it seemed to have been applied unevenly and with a heavy hand. Perhaps she had been rubbing her eyes, she thought, causing the mascara to cling to certain lashes while abandoning others. Perhaps she had been crying.
She pushed back her shoulders, stood up, and abruptly marched out of the park, ignoring a stoplight and running against the traffic toward a bank at one corner of Beacon Street. She knocked loudly on the glass door, catching the attention of the manager, a prematurely bald young man whose head seemed several sizes too small for the rest of his body. She deduced he was the manager because he wore a suit and tie and was the only male in a room full of women. “I’m sorry,” he told her gently, opening the door just wide enough for part of his large nose to protrude, “but it’s after four o’clock. We close at three.”
“Do you know who I am?” she asked desperately, surprised at the question she had not meant to ask.
The man’s frown indicated that he interpreted her remark as a demand for special treatment. “I’m really sorry,” he said, an unmistakable edge creeping into his voice. “I’m sure that if you come back tomorrow, we can take care of you.” Then he smiled, a stubborn pursing of his lips that brooked no further discussion, and walked back to his desk.
She remained on the other side of the glass door, staring in at the tellers until they began whispering among themselves. Did they know who she was? If they did, they soon tired of her presence and, prompted by their manager, who was gesticulating wildly, returned their attention to their computers and balance sheets, ignoring her as if she no longer existed. Did she?
Taking a few deep breaths, she proceeded along Beacon to River Street, back toward the steep cobblestone streets lined with private brick houses and small apartment buildings from whence she had sprung fully grown and totally lost. Did she live in one of these nineteenth-century homes? Did she have enough money to cover the mortgage or the rent? Was she concerned at all about money? Was she a wealthy woman? Did she work for a living or did she hire others to work for her? Maybe instead of living in one of these fine old homes, she cleaned them.
No, she was too well dressed to be a cleaning lady, and her hands, while undeniably a mess, were too soft and uncallused for someone accustomed to physical labor. Perhaps instead of cleaning these houses, she sold them. Maybe that was what had brought her to this part of town. Maybe she had come to meet a client, to show off a recently renovated home and had . . . what? Been hit over the head with a falling brick? Despite herself, she quickly felt her head for bumps, finding none and ascertaining only that her hair had come loose of its tight clasp and was hanging in stray wisps at the base of her neck.
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