Isolation Island 4 - Not Matilde
After the Colonel left, the Librarian continued with my induction.
“If this is a library, where are the books?” I said. “There are no books on the shelves.”
“They’re stored in here, she said, holding up a small black electronic device. This is Kindle. It contains every book ever written.”
“So, if there are no books, what does the Librarian do?”
“I look after Kindle. Keep it charged. Update it with the new books. People write new books every day, they’re merciless, they have no regard for the readers.”
“What if I want to read a book? Do I borrow Kindle?”
“No of course not, I am keeper of Kindle, nobody else can handle it. If you want to read a book, then I read it to you.”
“Can people not read their own books?”
“Reading alone is not encouraged. It’s too solitary. Reading should be a communal activity. If it’s a particularly good book I’ll read it aloud to the whole village.”
“And these stories I have to read, are they from Kindle?”
“No, they’re not published books. They’re uploaded straight onto a website by writers. No editing, no quality control, quite a random selection.”
“And I just read them, rate them, give the good ones a cherry. Nothing else?”
“There is a facility enabling you to leave a comment, but I advise against this. Writers are funny creatures, some of them take offence at the most inane comment.”
I sat down at the computer and she showed me how to locate the website. I wrote the password down on a post-it-note so I wouldn’t forget it.
“How do I select which ones to read?”
“You’ll be able to see which stories have been read and which haven’t. I suggest you use the ‘choose-random-new-story’ tool, that way you don’t pick out exciting sounding titles or the like, it’s the exciting-sounding ones that disappoint the most in my experience.”
I chose a story at random as instructed and started reading. It was set on an island with two inhabitants. One of the inhabitants called round the other’s house early in the morning to ask for his help searching for a missing rabbit. The rabbit, it turned out, had moved to a more exciting island. Frankly, I couldn’t blame him. I ranked the story low, though not too low, as I feared they could get even worse.
I read for an hour before the Librarian interrupted me with coffee. “I didn’t know how you took it, so I made it strong with just a little milk.”
“I don’t know how I take it either,” I said. “I’ve had my memory wiped.”
I tried the coffee and it tasted good. “It tastes good,” I said.
“How are you getting on?”
“It’s hard work. Some of the stories are really good, there aren’t many that are really terrible. What I find difficult is that you’ve no idea what is coming next, it could be a poem, a long piece of prose, it could be an intense deep and emotional story you have to fully engross in or just a short throwaway jokey piece. You lurch from one style to another.”
“You’ll get used to it,” she said. “It’s the differences that make it enjoyable.”
I read for another hour and took another break. I was starting to get overwhelmed.
“That’s probably enough for your first day, Terrence,” the Librarian said. “Reading can start to fry the brain if you’re not used to it. You should get out, explore the island. As long as you’re back for six, there’s a welcome meal for you.”
“What’s six?” I said.
“Ah yes, you’ll need this.” She took a black object out of a drawer. “It’s called a watch. You wear it on your wrist like this. When the big hand is at the top, on the 12, and the little hand is at the bottom, on the six, it’s six O’clock.”
“I think I’ve seen one of these. A bigger one, on a tower somewhere.”
“Don’t think too much, Terrence, we don’t want your memories to come flooding back or we’ll all be in trouble, but if you’ve remembered how to tell the time it’s helpful.”
“So where shall I go? What if I get lost?”
She laughed. “You won’t get lost. It’s only a small island. “
In spite of the Librarian’s confidence I stuck to the coastline. However, she was right, it was a small island, not much more than a mile or so in diameter, and an easy walk, no hazards.
It was an idyllic location, I thought to myself, quiet, away from anywhere, sandy beaches, the sort of island the rich would buy for their summer holidays.
Who were the rich? I wondered. What was a summer holiday? These thoughts came to me, remnant words, whose meaning was dependent on memories I no longer had. Words that were lost before I knew what they were.
The thoughts quickly washed away, like waves washing onto the shore then immediately departing. I was still getting used to the absence of memories, for without memories forming any form of thought was difficult. Words came to me but had nothing to connect to. I decided not to care, to walk round the island enjoying the view, the sunshine, the silence, and the fact that I didn’t have a care in the world.
Suddenly I was disturbed from my carefree pondering by a shout in my ear. I turned to see a mad woman, there are no better words to describe her. She was dressed in what looked like the rags removed from a corpse. Her hair was wild and tangled like seaweed around a corpse. Corpses! Where had I seen corpses? I had no memory of corpses, yet there they were in my every metaphor.
Before I could ponder my metaphors further, I realised she was talking at me.
“You’re new,” she said. “Can I trust you?”
“Of course,” I said. “Where did you come from?”
“I escaped,” she said.
“But you're still here.”
“They think I'm dead,” she said.
“There was a body. Washed up on the shore. It must have come from the Mainland.”
“The Mainland? What's that?” Again, my memory tingled, thoughts tried to form themselves, but there was nothing there. Another word without memory to give it meaning.
“I dressed her in my clothes and smashed her face with a rock. She had dark hair like mine, and everyone is supposed to forget that anyone exists outside of the Island, so nobody questioned it.”
So her rags did come from a corpse.
“Who are you?” I asked her.
“I'm not Matilde.”
“You’re Not Matilde? Then who are you?”
“Matilde is the name They gave me. So any name but that. They took my memory, I don’t know who I really am.”
“Who are ‘They’?”
“You are. They are. Everyone is.”
“Where are you living?”
She shook her head rigorously. "Enough questions. I need food."
"I don't have any."
"Steal some. Bring it here. I've not eaten. I have water, but there’s no food."
"Why not come back with me? You’re wrong about the people in the village, I’m sure you are.”
"You're new. What's the point of telling you anything, your mind is empty? Just bring me food. Leave it here, I can watch this spot from a distance, so I’ll know it’s safe. And please, please don’t tell anyone about me."
I returned to the Colonel’s hut feeling exhausted and confused. Who was not Matilde? Who were the ‘They’? Why was she so scared of them? What was The Mainland. It sounded familiar. I knew the word, but I couldn't connect it with anything.
I looked at my watch. It was 5.25. I’d remembered how to tell the time at least.