Read/Write Head was based on a one-sentence premise that I discovered in an old notebook (“How would it feel to defragment your mind?”) and was then written much faster than my other stories. The word associations were generally those that occurred to me first; the main character has my name as a reflection of the many personal links. – Tim Major
Timothy John Major blinks rapidly.
“I can come back a little later if you’d prefer?” She must be an intern: other than the name ‘E. Tooley’, her badge is plain. The nametags on the others’ labcoats featured a logo, three trapezia interlocking to create a triangle of red, green and gold. A clipboard rests in her lap.
“It’s all the same,” Timothy John Major says, “To me.”
“You’ve been given a drink already?”
Timothy John Major glances down at the mug in his hands. The tea ripples. A lake within the crater rim of a sunken volcano.
“Here it is,” he says.
E. Tooley smiles. Crooked, teeth just visible. Nicola Bradshaw, Year 6.
“And you’re okay to begin?”
He raises the cup. Begin drinking, or begin something else?
She smiles again, the edges of her mouth more pinched than before. Begin something else.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I should explain. I’m an intern—”
Internal bleeding. International dateline. Man of mystery. Velvet.
“—and I’m here temporarily, working with the team. I’ll not be involved after this stage. I just need to collect some preliminary details.”
Timothy John Major copies her smile. “Yes. Thank you.” He extends the word ‘you’ to show that he has encountered an obstacle.
E. Tooley glances down at her badge. It is precisely the same size, with the same rounded corners, as a bourbon cream biscuit. Matlock, with a first-ever weak cup of tea. “Oh, sorry. I should have said. I’m Elaine.”
Timothy John Major grits his teeth. Pelles, Lancelot, Galahad. The Once and Future King. Paige, Marley, Ingham, Robinson. Seinfeld. 2nd and East 88th, Manhattan. Manhattan. B-side of The Winner Takes It All. An eel I, Ani Lee.
He nods stiffly.
“Just a few questions, then. Your procedure wasn’t conducted in the UK, is that correct?”
“No. Reykjavik, Fifteen Straumur. Sixteenth of April, twenty-ten. Early. Eight-oh-seven until nine-seventeen.”
Words push at the inside of his lips. The temperature. The wallpaper.
“Wasn’t that when—”
“Eyjafjallajökull.” He pronounces it carefully. AY-uh-fyat-luh-YOE-kuutl-uh.
Elaine Tooley, intern, smiles again. A fraction more tooth. Mrs Lindquist, Geography, second period, Tuesdays. “I suppose that makes it easy to…”
She coughs and looks at her lap. She makes marks on the clipboard form. “Sorry. Look, I have to ask this. Was there a particular reason?”
Forgetful Timothy John Major. Absent-minded. Why can’t you just think more carefully when you put something down? Say it out loud as you’re doing it. It’s Tuesday morning and I am putting my keys in the bowl beside the stereo. It’s Friday lunchtime and my sandwiches are in the fridge because the brie will smell. Hey, don’t worry about it. That’s what the internet is for.
“Lots of reasons.”
“And the company? What was it called?”
Funny Games. Michael Haneke. Palme D’Or. The Lost Cities of Gold. Spandau Ballet. Hawn.
“Seems that they’re long gone. Was there any paperwork?”
Forgetful Timothy John Major. Keep receipts and important documents in one place, the inner suitcase pocket. Hardly worth going, but you know how it is. Just have to show up, in and out in forty-eight hours, maybe see the geysers in between conference sessions. A drink with the dullards. 1120 Krona for a weak lager. The Blue Lagoon’s shut. Ash cloud like a bursting cauliflower.
“And what did they offer, exactly?”
‘Exactly’ blooms in his mind. “Do you suffer from short-term memory loss? Momentary or longer-term confusion? Wish you could recall facts and figures at the drop of a hat? Freeze your memory problems today. Call MemorIce Rekyjavik five-five-four-eight-oh-four-four for a free consultation.”
Elaine Tooley, intern, lays down her pen. She tilts her head, neck exposed, Grace Kelly, To Catch a Thief. “How did it feel? At first. This isn’t one of the questions.”
Timothy John Major gathers his wits. “Do you wear contact lenses? Remember when you first wore them, or glasses, when you left the optician? The individual leaves on the trees, the small print on signs in shop windows?”
“No. I don’t wear them, I mean.”
But Timothy John Major is on a roll. Timothy John Major brakes for nobody.
“So imagine that sensation, but applied to the inside of your mind. Thoughts, images and concepts in absolute clarity. Memories of people, memories of facts, memories of thoughts. Twenty-twenty. Associations. Memories of memories.”
His voice remains level but words come thick and fast, jostling him, racing each other to leave his mouth. Wacky Races. Dastardly and Muttley. Stop the Pigeon. Stop that pigeon now. Stop.
He sees gleams of silver in the eyes of Elaine Tooley, intern. “It’s okay, it doesn’t matter,” she says.
“The first PC my dad brought home, eighth of February nineteen-ninety-four. He wasn’t technically-minded, but I was. Tended it better than I did the guinea pigs, left those to my sister. Once a week, on Sunday morning, I set the defragmentation tool running. Sat for hours facing the monitor. A church pew. Rapturous. Watched it ticking away, block by block. Scanning the hard drive. Related fragments, picking up and moving, drawing together. Associations, access points. Green for used, red for fragments, grey for free. Grey matter.” Oh dear. “What can the matter be? Sorry. Afterwards, time the difference, load up Cannon Fodder, whole seconds quicker. The quick and the dead. To the quick. Don Quixote.”
Elaine Tooley, intern, stands up. “I have everything I need. They’ll call for you in just a moment.”
She backs away, Grace Kelly again, Rear Window in reverse. Timothy John Major is left alone in the empty waiting room. It is plain with pale green walls, Kemplah Primary bathroom, and the only furniture is the row of crimson seats, Danby Lodge visitors centre, December 1993, before the fire, and a table with a rack holding copies of National Geographic, Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health. Above the magazines someone has bluetacked a postcard to the wall. What did the fish say when it swam into a wall? An orange fish, face pressed against the mud. A speech bubble, thick spot-varnish black. Comic Sans within. Dam.
The image abstracts. Holy Island Easter 1995 GCSE revision sky-blue, Nemo, Netherlands, Firefox snout orange. Post-its on the fridge, I’m sorry, it’s just become too much, N x, not Comic Sans but as close as handwriting could be. Walls, walls, walls, sausages.
Timothy John Major is floating. He extends in all directions, forward, backwards and side-to-side, everywhere except here, in this waiting room. His face is pressed against the mud.
Tim Major on the web: