I rub my hands over the newspaper article again, to check it hasn’t disappeared. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night thinking it has and then I have to run downstairs to the kitchen, the floor freezing my bare feet, and pull open the right drawer. It is always kept in the same place. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost the clipping. It’s eighteen years old so I couldn’t find it anywhere else now. And I need it. I know all the slips and dodges memory makes to get out of my grasp. Even if it wasn’t for that, there aren’t many photos of myself and Liam as children. It’s a bad photo, faded. The paper itself is yellow and brittle. But it’s what I have.
I’d like a photo of every event in my life. It’d stop me wondering with bewilderment; Did this actually happen? Nothing seems all that real to me.
Seven-year-old Oliver Ross.
This is unfair. I saved my brother’s life. I know I did. No other explanation makes sense. I’ve heard five million good explanations for why I don’t remember it. The smoke caused me to hallucinate. I was traumatised. Of course I would block out the memory.
This was mine. I was raised to be useful and sometimes now I feel almost worthless. It’s a thing to remind myself, and it has been since I was a kid. I saved my brother. I did something important. Not being able to remember it is a minor concern.
I have my work phone in front of me, its ghost-glow the only source of light in the kitchen. I’d go to bed but I know I won’t be able to sleep. I look down at the text again, hoping it might be gone. It’s not such an impossible hope, after all. Not when my original memory of saving Liam isn’t there.
The text has stayed the same.
Is this Oliver Ross? You have a little brother called Liam and used to live at Summerview? (If you’re not you can just ignore this. Though I’d really appreciate it if you told me. Sorry if it’s a wrong number.) If it’s you I’m sorry as well, for contacting you out of the blue like this. I got your number off your business website.
Look, if it’s you sending the notes I have to let you know that if I get another one I’ll report it. It’s scary, and I don’t understand why you’d do it.
If it’s not, I was wondering whether we could meet up? I was thinking at around the entrance of Farmleigh in the Phoenix Park, about three o’clock Sunday afternoon. Tell me if the time or place isn’t okay. Does anyone else know that you didn’t save Liam? I’d like to talk about that day, if you’re interested.
Megan. We used to play together, I know, but I can’t remember much about it apart from a heated argument we had once. I don’t know what we argued over.
I haven’t replied to the text yet.
This is what I remember, and also what I know. When I was six my dad died, after a heart attack. After that I always thought of my family as something of a fragment. We didn’t have many relations. My paternal grandfather died when my dad was nineteen; their side of the family was known for issues with CHD. My mother is always warning me and Liam about it. My father was an only child. My mother had one sister, in Australia. Her own mother had also died, after my birth but before Liam’s. My father had two distant American cousins. Neither of our living grandparents were capable of caring for two small children. So there were the three of us, me and Liam and Mum, getting tossed along with limited help. That was why it happened.
When me and Liam were kids we spent a lot of school holidays in summer camps. When I was seven Liam was still in Montessori. After our dad’s death our mother struggled to afford it.
I only have blurred memories of that time. I remember the summer holidays that year, when I was seven. I was packed off to some cheap sports camp at first, and she had trouble getting the bus down to collect me. I was always the last to be picked up, and after that we’d hurry to go get Liam. There was a small savings account, which helped at first. When it ran our mother found a teenage babysitter who took us often that summer, generally for nine or ten hours a day. She was in her last couple of years at secondary school, so she seemed very old to me. I have a vague memory of her name being Allie. There was another friend of our mum’s that took us for two weeks; she had her own kid, a girl of around nine. Theoretically we were supposed to play with her but because of the age gap it didn’t happen. When I was a teenager I found out that the friend hadn’t been paid for it. She fed us while we were there, of course, and one day she bought Liam a teddy bear. Megan’s family were our neighbours. She was eight at the time. One day I was allowed stay at her house, while Mum brought Liam somewhere else.
I have to drag my mind back to the task at hand.
I think a bit. I can make it to Farmleigh in the van, though it’ll take a while. The place will be packed, mid-afternoon on a Sunday. I will be perfectly safe whatever happens. It’s a good choice. Megan, if it is Megan, thought I might be sending her notes. Threatening ones, I would assume. Maybe she thinks they’re related to the day I saved Liam, or the day Liam was saved. If they are, I might be singled out. This feels like something from a damn spy film, something stupid and contrived.
I text her back.
I’ll meet you. Farmleigh at three is fine.
After that I go to bed and sleep badly.