The Memory of an Elephant

Jane had the memory of an elephant. People would say it and she’d smile and say thanks, but she’d get this weird look in her eye, and when our psychology professor said it, she started shaking. I thought Jane’s reaction was strange, and I thought she was cute, so I asked her out for a drink.

We went to this place off-campus and talked. It was weird how much Jane seemed to know about me. I said so and she shrugged. I said she must have the memory of an elephant, and she laughed nervously and got that weird look in her eye.

I asked Jane if the expression bothered her. She said it didn’t, but she laughed nervously again. She went to the bathroom not long after, and I noticed she had a book in her purse with pictures of our classmates and information on them, including me.

When Jane came back I said so it was all a trick, and she said what was? I said I knew, and she turned pale. I wondered what the hell was going on, and I couldn’t think of what else to say, so I said did she really have the memory of an elephant? Jane said of course not, that was ridiculous, it was just a proverb, and then I said I had the memory of an otter. I said it was weird sometimes, but otters’ memories weren’t proverbial, so nobody ever guessed my secret.

Jane said was I serious? I said I was, and she sighed and said what a relief not to be alone. She said it was terrifying, wasn’t it, how did a thing like that even happen, and God it felt good to know she wasn’t alone.

I said I didn’t know how it happened, but when I thought back to my childhood I was always swimming and rooting around in the mud. Jane smiled and touched my arm. She said afterwards when I thought back on this what would I remember? I said what did she mean, and she said she’d remember savannah and baobab trees and the psychotic hippopotamus at the watering hole, and then she said I didn’t have the memory of an otter, did I, and God she was an idiot.

I said she wasn’t an idiot and I believed her, never mind I didn’t have the memory of an otter. Jane got up to leave. I begged her not to. I said I liked her, I didn’t care that she had the memory of an elephant, I was fine with it, and if she wanted me to, I’d help however I could, and I’d be discreet.

Jane sat back down. She said it was discombobulating having the memory of an elephant, that she felt totally alone. She cried and I held her, and we went back to my place. We undressed, and Jane said she wouldn’t remember anything after except for a flock of vultures eating a dead lion probably, and was I sure I was okay with that? I said I was, and we had sex and I held Jane and told her I wanted to be with her.

In the morning I asked Jane if she remembered last night, and she said not how I might think. She said she remembered a light rain and hiding out under some trees and her friend stomping the hell out of a cobra.

I asked if she remembered having sex, and she said she didn’t. I said it didn’t matter, I enjoyed being with her, I didn’t want her to leave, I wanted to help her. I said she should go see a psychiatrist, and Jane said so I did think she was crazy. I said I didn’t. Obviously I did, but over time I became convinced Jane really had the memory of an elephant. I fell in love with her, even though I could see she didn’t really care about me, and that she was only with me because she couldn’t figure out what else to do.

Jane went to several psychiatrists. They all said she couldn’t have the memory of an elephant, but when they hooked her up to machines and asked her to remember, her brain activity increased, but not in the parts where memory is stored, and sometimes when she swore she wasn’t remembering, her memory centres would be blazing.

One psychiatrist was so baffled that he decided Jane must actually have the memory of an elephant. He said we should find the elephant and see if it had Jane’s memories.

I had Jane be as specific as she could with her memories. We tracked them to Tanzania in the African Great Lakes region, and flew there to search. It took three months, but we found Jane’s elephant. She stomped up to us and hugged us.

The psychiatrist ran tests on Jane and the elephant. He said it was the damnedest thing, but Jane’s memories and the elephant’s were switched. He said he didn’t know if he could do anything, but dissecting the elephant’s brain might give him a shot at helping Jane, or at least of helping the next person to experience such a memory transference. Jane said okay. She said things were such a mess they couldn’t get any worse, but I couldn’t let them do it. I was in love with Jane, and the elephant knew that, and we took off together.

It was weird living with an elephant. I lost weight because we were roughing it and I didn’t know about wilderness survival. Still, our shared memories kept us together, and the elephant looked out for me, until one night when I was missing humanity and the physical Jane, and the elephant and I started making out.

It got too weird for me. I pushed the elephant away and rolled over and went to sleep. In the morning the elephant was gone and there was a dead otter lying beside me.

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