Critical Injuries

by Joan Barfoot

Published by Key Porter Books

336 pages, 2001


An Unfamiliar Disobedience

"Hop in," Lyle says, and in Isla hops. He does a little number on her thighs: "tickling the ivory," he calls this. It still delights her to climb into his old dented green pick-up, so large and high, sturdy and workmanlike. Not like the toy sports car he uses for work, or even like her own practical compact, but a serious vehicle designed for serious pursuits.

Although they haven't always been serious in it. Once, they made love in the bed of the truck on a well-used old mattress Lyle was about to take to the dump. "One last time," he said then, from his own Lyleish combination of immediate lust and permanent sentiment. That was a couple of years ago.

This journey is for some other purpose, celebratory and impulsive. Something to do with ice cream? At the far, far end of it, that much trickles back, but there's a problem: a profound interruption after that hopping-in moment; something like an electrical outage.

Isla perceives an absence of memory, and right on its heels an urgent longing for memory, along with a powerful, simultaneous desire not to remember. How odd. She's pretty sure she doesn't ordinarily give much thought to memory, that it doesn't usually loom so consciously large. She notices then the concept of consciousness: that something, anything, might or might not loom large in it. Also that she has, having lost it, regained it. Which has to do with memory, the desirability of it, or the importance.

This distress, this disorientation, is annoying; like something itchy she should be able to scratch. Petty, when there's something large that ought to concern her.

Something itches and it seems she can't scratch. That could get maddening fast. She fidgets, and mysteriously feels herself failing to fidget. "What the hell," she thinks, meaning to speak, but hearing her words fail to arrive in the air.

This is peculiar, very troubling, but perhaps the cause will come clear if she's patient and waits. That usually works, although sometimes things take their own sweet time about coming clear, and sometimes they do so in ways she would not have chosen.

Well, if she knows that much, she must have memory; and suddenly so she does, a great swoosh of scenes, voices, words, sensations, events, years and years worth roaring back into her head like a train in the night, brightly lit windows, faces pressed against glass, tearing through darkness full-tilt.

Banging into the hard wall of Lyle saying, "Hop in."

Where is Lyle, and where, for that matter, is she? In this darkness she can't make anything or anyone out, and has no sense that there's another soul in the room. At least it seems like a room, an enclosed, stable, solid feeling to the air. She must be lying down -- how else could she achieve this quality of stillness? -- but she isn't absolutely certain of even that much.

She is certain, though, that there must be other things she ought to be doing besides lying around in, presumably, a room for, presumably, some reason. What should she be doing? Depends what day it is, and what time. | September 2002


Copyright © 2002 Joan Barfoot. All rights reserved.


Joan Barfoot is the author of Some Things About Flying, Charlotte and Claudia Keeping in Touch, Plain Jane, Family News, Duet for Three, Dancing in the Dark, Getting Over Edgar and Critical Injuries which has been longlisted for the Booker Prize.