by Sadie O'Deay

With nothing else to do, he concentrated on healing, hoping his injured mind would knit along with his bones. He, Noah Pike. He rolled the name over and over in his mind until it sounded familiar from sheer repetition. It was small comfort. Noah was taken off the dilaudid, and for a while pain was enough distraction to keep him from thinking about anything else. The IV tubes were taken out, and he was fed solid food again. He submitted to the humility of catheters and bedpans, but shaved his own face with the electric razor a nurse gave him. With the razor tracing his jaw, skin and bone beneath his fingertips, he wondered what he looked like. He was too frightened that he didn't already know to ask anyone.

When the pain began to diminish, he grew bored and fretful. He asked himself rhetorical questions, like how he could speak English perfectly well but not recognize his own name. He read the cards that came into his room, brought by his three friends via airmail from the States. Well-wishings from friends, sponsors, girls or girlfriends, letters from his father. He'd been a professional motocross racer, they said. Jesus, he thought. He couldn't remember any of it.

It seemed to him there was a block in his mind, like an impermeable wall of dark, featureless stone. It closed off all access to his memories, of himself, his family, his life, leaving his mind blank as the field of snow where he'd been found, half-dead of exposure, they said. Surgeons and psychologists came to look at his head and talk to him, but there was nothing they could do. Nothing, they said, except wait.

When his friends came to visit him, he focused on learning about them. They talked about his past, urged to, Noah figured, by the shrinks. Raul was tall and solid, built like a tank, with a shaved head, goatee, and heavy brows. He laughed often and raucously, and referred to almost everyone as "cocksucker."

"There was one time at Loretta Lynn's," he remembered, "When you came ripping out of the gate, took the holeshot, and whipped the bike deep over the first doubles. You flew straight over the flagman's head, cleared him by maybe six inches. Cocksucker almost shit himself, but the crowd loved it."

Or, "I'll never forget how that girl came up to you last New Year's at Justin's and slugged you in the jaw while you were dipping punch--what a cheap shot! Sexy though, and a mean right hook. You never did tell us what that was all about, you sly cocksucker."

Noah said, "We may never know," and Raul glanced away, mumbling embarrassed apologies.

The other guy was Pete; short and skinny with a mop of curly brown hair. Raul called him a cocksucking hippie. Pete just smiled and shrugged and pointed out that hair came and hair went, but Raul's fat tub of guts just got bigger every year.

He told Noah, "You race motocross, you snowboard, you kite surf. You spend all your free time at bars or parties. Nobody knows how you're able to do it. Every time some journalist interviews you, it's always the same thing: You're one of the craziest bastards on the pro circuit. Don't you find your lifestyle exhausting? What makes you so driven?" Pete shook his head. "And you know what you do? You just smile and say, I've always just been me. Now I get paid for it."

The woman's name was Jamie. Pete and Raul treated her with a relaxed air that suggested they'd gone beyond any sexual attraction and into the ease of long familiarity. She was pretty in an unobtrusive way, with short dark hair curling close to her scalp and eyes an odd shade between purple and gray filling her triangular face. She was taller than Pete, suntanned, her body straight and slim as a boy's.

Jamie told him about his father, how Len Pike had groomed his son to be a motorcross champion. "Your mother died in a car accident ten years ago," she explained, and it was odd learning he'd had and lost a mother he had no memory of.

Jamie also read to him, sensing he was bored and restless--spy novels or action thrillers. He didn't understand Italian television, so her daily readings became his main source of diversion. He liked it; she didn't try to push a past on him he wasn't ready for.

One day, half-drowsing to the measured cadence of her voice, he interrupted her. "Jamie? What do I look like?" The question came out of his subconscious; he hadn't meant to ask it out loud and now came fully awake. Fearful of what she might say, he kept his eyes closed. He wished he'd kept his mouth shut as well.

Her voice faltered and died, and she was so still he couldn't even hear her breathing. "Well," she said finally, and blew out a long breath. "That's a--I can't--wait a sec." The chair legs creaked and her footsteps padded out of the room. He opened his eyes as she came back carrying a small mirror, the shaving kind with one side of the glass magnified.

"Here," she said, and pushed the mirror carefully in front of his face.

His disappointment was so strong he could taste it, bitter and despairing. He didn't recognize his reflection at all.

Oh, it was an okay reflection. Green eyes stared back at him out of a face too boyish to be plain, not chiseled enough to be handsome. He looked younger than the twenty-four he was supposed to be: small nose, full-lipped mouth, square chin, straight brows. His hair was just a shadow on his skull, barely there, impossible to tell what color. Above his left temple, stiff black nylon hairs stitched his scalp together. He traced two fingers along the stubble.

"Dark blond, when it grows." Jamie's voice was gentle. "Height, probably five-ten."

Noah shook his head slowly. The alien reflection shook back. Jamie lowered the mirror; he felt her watching him. "Damn," he whispered, and closed his eyes.

After three weeks in the hospital, Noah Pike was pronounced physically fit to fly home. His pelvis was healing rapidly and the stitches had come out of his scalp, leaving a sickle-shaped red scar. Psychologically, his diagnosis was "possible long-term amnesia."

He spent the flight--first class, his seat reclined to allow him the most comfort possible--reflecting on how well he'd gotten to know his three friends, discovered their quirks and habits even when most of their conversation revolved around him. What he knew of himself, so far, smacked of a daunting cocksureness, and he wondered if he'd known Raul, Pete and Jamie as well before his accident as he did now, with his memory wiped clean. Somehow, he doubted if he'd have bothered to take the time.

Noah's father met them at Dulles airport. Len Pike was tall, strong, grizzled, and ill at ease. Par for the course, Noah thought wearily, not recognizing the man. He returned his father's hesitant smile of welcome without expression.

Raul noticed and clapped a hand on his father's shoulder. "Not to worry, Len. You guys will be like old friends in no time." He grinned at Noah, who was supporting most of his weight on a walker and feeling undignified and nervous. "That is, until our boy here comes to and remembers all those times you put him and me on our mini bikes and ran us at each other, to see who could knock the other one off first. I know I still feel the bruises." That relaxed his father a little, but their laughter was strained, off-kilter.

His friends loaded Noah horizontally into the back seat of his father's Jeep, and drove away promising to visit soon, leaving Noah alone and apprehensive in his father's company. The man didn't talk much on the drive to Arlington, just explained gruffly that Noah would be staying in his old room at his house, he hoped he'd be comfortable there. "The doctors say the more you're around people and places you knew well, the more likely it is something will trigger your memory."

Noah said, "I hope you're right."

But his father's house, a stone and shingle ranch on ten wooded acres, triggered nothing. Negotiating the porch steps on his walker was humility and agony, but Noah almost welcomed it. Physical pain kept dread and frustration at bay. He came to the threshold of his room sweating with the pain and effort of being vertical, shaky on the stupid walker, and stared.

He was aware he rode motorcycles for a living. He knew this in the sense that he knew the earth orbited the sun, something he'd learned was a fact but never actually had to focus on. That kind of textbook knowledge hadn't prepared him for a room stuffed with trophies and walls hung with ribbons, number plates, and framed photographs of himself. There he was racing, leaning into a turn with dirt flying, or beaming on the winner's podium, or as a kid helmeted on a tiny mini bike, no more than seven or eight years old.

Noah swallowed and wondered hollowly if any of it would ever cease to be a torment, should his memory not return.

His father shifted beside him. "You really don't know it, do you? And you don't--you don't know me."

Noah's mouth twisted bitterly. "Let me tell you something. I didn't even know my own name until they told me, and then I had to learn it." He nodded at the room. "How can this mean anything, when…" he swung his head toward his father, searching for the words. "I know a pike is a fish, and a road, and some sort of spear. How can I know these things, but not know it's my own name? How?" He was shouting, breathing great gasps, staring wildly at the stranger who was his father.

The stranger said, "I don't know, Noah. I don't know."

So he had nothing to do but wait and hope his mind would heal as he could feel his body doing. Six days a week, a physical therapist came to his father's house. Under this professional guidance, Noah limped painfully around the living room, sweating and cursing, catching the edge of the walker on loose carpets until his father removed them. He grew a little stronger every day, widened his circles a little further. The bleak January landscape outside his windows made him restless.

He played chess with his father, who was surprised Noah even knew how. "Why do you want to play?" Len asked suspiciously the first time Noah suggested it.

Noah shrugged. "You have a chessboard on your coffee table."

"So? Been there for years. You never wanted to play before."

"So now I do."

The first game Noah won easily because his father didn't think much of his opponent. After that he lost three in a row, each by a smaller margin, and the fifth game ended in stalemate. His father was surprised and pleased.

"Where did you learn to play chess?" he wanted to know.

Noah had no idea. But it became something of a ritual, a common ground between strangers, and a way of getting to know his dad.

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