You wake up in a hospital room. The room is cold. It smells of bleach and rosewater. You are a small girl propped on two sturdy pillows, your bony legs and hips wrapped beneath stiff white sheets held fast with hospital corners. When first you wake, your mind buzzes with noise. You are lost in this tiny space. People talk to you, but you don’t understand them. They touch you, but your skin is numb. Only when they slide a sturdy needle into your arm does your body respond — searing pain shoots through you like lightning. You scream until the needle is removed. They don’t try it again.
Since the lightning in your veins, you’ve been wildly awake. Your eyes flit around the room naming, cataloguing, remembering.
You watch the clock arc its hands in a circle. You name the numbers, the minutes, the hours. You remember the names of the days, the months, the seasons.
They bring you food and you label that too.
Chicken and rice.
You are ravenous. You eat everything.
Nurses come in every hour to push buttons on machines. They ask you how you feel. They ask you if you want anything — coloring pages or a picture book? You know, even though you are just a little girl, you are beyond coloring pages. You are beyond picture books. You choose to say nothing. You choose to stare at the wall.
You learn you’ve been here three full days. Three days: two lost in the fog of forgetting what once was, and today practicing, relearning what now is.
A man, the doctor, checks on you. He tells the nurses to make sure the girl eats. He tells you, you are a very lucky little girl — you almost starved to death. You don’t like him. He presses his fingers into the thin bones of your wrist. His touch snakes into your skin prickling you with fever and the slippery sweat of nausea. You say don’t touch me and rip your arm from his grasp. He grabs you again and you try to bite him. The doctor makes a note on your chart and walks out of the room.
Police officers in crumpled blue uniforms stand outside. When the door is open you stare at them. They wave to you and you name their parts.
One of them comes into the room and gives you a stuffed animal. He says it’s just like the one his daughter loves. You hold it in your arms and smile because you know it’s what the officer expects. When he leaves, you lift the animal to your face and name it — teddy bear — then you place the toy at the side of the bed and turn the bear’s dead plastic eyes to the corner.
As the girl, you occupy yourself counting the puckered holes in the ceiling tiles. You reach 3,924 when a new person, a woman, comes into the room. She pulls up a chair and smiles like she knows you. Like you are friends. You’re not. You have never seen her before.
She says my name is Margaret Williams, I’m a detective and I’m here to help you.
You say your name is Ana, because you know it is.
The detective asks you your last name. That, you don’t know. So you lie and say it’s it funny because my last name is Williams too. The detective scratches a pen across a small pad of paper.
You, Ana, watch the detective’s blunt teeth slide together when she asks you about the things before you woke up in the hospital room. She asks you how old you are. How long you’ve lived in Hancock. Was the old lady your grandmother? What was her name? Where are your parents? Do you know how the old lady died? Were you there when it happened? Why didn’t you tell anyone?
You struggle with each question. You don’t know your age, so you ask. The detective tilts her head and says you’re probably five, maybe six. You remember to remember those numbers. You don’t know how long you’ve lived in Hancock. You don’t even know what Hancock is. You don’t remember any parents or old ladies. Your mind is filled with dark corners. You feel yourself chasing after answers, running down hallways of memory, knowing what the detective wants is playing hide and seek. Your answers wait to be found, but you remember nothing. All you find is a line of locked doors and dead ends.
I don’t know anything, you say. I don’t remember.
The detective tells you it’s okay. There’s no rush. She says, we can talk about it later. Maybe you will remember something tomorrow morning. Until then Ana, she says, you should rest, you’ve been through a lot. The detective leaves you alone in the room.
You watch the light under the door blacken with shadows. You hear the detective in the hallway talking to the police officers or the nurses or maybe the doctor. The detective says it’s just a matter of time before our little, lost girl remembers everything. She says once she does, we’ll know the truth and they can put this baby to bed.
However, you won’t remember. You’re not allowed. The time before you woke up in the hospital bed wants to keep itself secret. You know you will have to live with the locked doors of your memory and so too will the doctors and the nurses and the detective with the blunt, sliding teeth.
You press yourself in to the bed’s pillows. In the solitude of the room you roll your new name across your tongue until it is smooth and familiar. Until it is yours.
This is who you are now. This is who you need to be.
Imagine all of this.
See yourself lying in her bed, roll her name across your tongue and if you are lucky, if you are paying attention you will begin to unlock the secrets of our little, lost girl.
Our girl named Ana Williams.