Originally written for Exeunt
Memory is unreliable.
I don’t know what shoes I wore to Fiction, but I remember the dress – eggshell blue with ruffled tucks that tugged at my knees as I crossed and uncrossed them in the dark. The first few times I went to BAC, several years ago now, I could never remember whether I needed to turn right or left coming out of Clapham Junction. Now I know the route by heart; big road, little road, little road, little road, big road, little road, BAC. I check Google maps. I’ve missed one. Perhaps it flashes by too quickly as I jog up the hill. Always only just on time.
Memory is unreliable.
The screen tells us. We’re seated for a lecture as the room fills up, but our headphones have removed the normal conversational hum that fills a space which hasn’t quite settled down – instead we have low music, the occasional cough or shift of a seat. “The number on your headphones corresponds to the number on your seat.” 4072. I’ve committed that to memory. I won’t need it.
A series of slides, like a memory test. An oddly dated hotel room. A forest. My visual memory (the only decent bit) holds them perfectly. Could describe the items in them, if called upon. Won’t need them.
Then. Deep breath. Lights fade. I look straight up at the last lamp as it dims to nothing, directly above my head, and descend into darkness. Smiling. My favourite place. I would gladly pay the ticket price not to be given a show at all, but just to sit in darkness for the same duration. It’s a luxury; rarer than gold, now. In this city. Complete pitch. How precious.
My companion arrives. A soft French voice that whispers though no one else does and I will never know why. I don’t picture her – she is always behind me. Perhaps she has a long beige coat. I think. Yes. And dark hair. Shoulder length.
We go up to the hotel room. I unintentionally neglect the previous visual cues and instead construct my own room. It has odd empty spaces, unfilled by sound or hint of what might be there; like the unfinished edges of a painting.
So proceeds the dream. We move around the hotel. The tasks are random. The stray people we meet have a logic entirely of their own. Sometimes I wake up in a car, driving with my companion, endlessly through the rain. The music is playing again; awakening a memory barely 20 minutes old. Feeling much older. It will reappear afterwards, again and again, as though it’s now the hold music for my brain until it abruptly stops. A few days later. As though someone has just paused the tape. To listen.
One of the voices is Chris Brett Bailey’s and I grin a Cheshire cat grin of recognition into the darkness. I wonder how all our reactions look. Uncensored. Unwatched.
But I can never quite sink into Fiction. Not all the way. Though the scattered logic is that of a dream, the conscious mind struggles to piece it together at the time of happening, not in a hazy post-REM wake. And I am not the protagonist – I cannot effect change here, only be carried through a narrative that I know is unaltered by my presence. My friend Natalie later points out her confusion at characters describing things to each other that they could both see – she had assumed that perhaps the action of the world was being described to her because her (our) character was blind. I can’t tell whether it’s trying to be deliberately subversive of more common, less clunky methods of audio narration or not…
Because the technology, the production is slick. It’s beyond slick; it’s incredible. At one point we walk into a room and it fucking smells different, and I spend the next 5 minutes wondering whether someone has quietly crept around the space spritzing that, or if it was just the most incredible coincidence. But it seems a highly unlikely moment and setting for an audience member to have had a casual root through their bag to apply more perfume and I feel like I’m in one of those old Febreeze adds. Blindfolded and sniffing around. In this darkness, all of your other senses become razor blades; you can feel yourself contained within every border of your own body.
My companion needs a pen. I need a pen. We are thrust back into light and I realise the journalist next to me has patiently sat in darkness with a notebook and pen waiting in his hand for the entire piece. He immediately begins to write.
Memory is unreliable.