Remember Me?(5)

by Sophie Kinsella

“Thank goodness for that!” Mum lowers her voice a fraction. “It was like talking to a lunatic yesterday, or some... retarded person.” “Lexi isn't a lunatic,” says Maureen evenly, “and she can understand everything you say.”

The truth is, I'm barely listening. I can't help staring at Mum. What's wrong with her? She looks different. Thinner. And kind of... older. As she comes nearer and the light from the window falls on her face, she looks even worse. Is she ill? No. I'd know about it if she was ill. But honestly, she seems to have aged overnight. I'll buy her some Creme de la Mer for Christmas, I resolve. “Here you are, darling,” she says in overly loud, clear tones. “It's me. Your mo-​ther.” She hands me the paper bag, which contains a bottle of shampoo, and drops a kiss on my cheek. As I inhale her familiar smell of dogs and tearose perfume, it's ridiculous, but I feel tears rising. I hadn't realized quite how marooned I felt. “Hi, Mum.” I reach to hug herbut my arms hit thin air. She's already turned away and is consulting her tiny gold watch. “I can't stay more than a minute, I'm afraid,” she says with a kind of tension, as though if she lingers too long the world will explode. “I'm due to see a specialist about Roly.” “Roly?”

“From Smoky's latest litter, darling.” Mum shoots me a glance of reproach. “You remember little Roly.” I don't know how Mum expects me to keep track of all her dogs' names. There's at least twenty of them and they're all whippets, and every time I go home there seems to be another one. We were always an animal-​free familyuntil the summer when I was seventeen. While on holiday in Wales, Mum bought a whippet puppy on a whim. And overnight it triggered this total mania.

I do like dogs. Kind of. Except when six of them jump up at you every time you open the front door. And whenever you try to sit down on a sofa or a chair, there's a dog on it. And all the biggest presents under the Christmas tree are for the dogs.

Mum has taken a bottle of Rescue Remedy out of her bag. She squeezes three drops onto her tongue, then breathes out sharply. “The traffic coming here was terrible,” she says. “People in London are so aggressive. I had a very unpleasant altercation with a man in a van.” “What happened?” I say, already knowing that Mum will shake her head. “Let's not talk about it, darling.” She winces, as though 24 being asked to recall her days of terror in the concentration camp. “Let's just forget about it.” Mum finds a lot of things too painful to talk about. Like how my new sandals could have got mangled last Christmas. Or the council's continual complaints about dog mess in our street. Or, to be honest, mess in general. In life. “I've got a card for you,” she says, rooting in her bag. “Where is it, now? From Andrew and Sylvia.” I stare at her, bemused. “Who?” “Andrew and Sylvia, next door!” she says, as though it's obvious. “My neighbors!” Her next-​door neighbors aren't called Andrew and Sylvia. They're Philip and Maggie. “Mum” “Anyway, they send their love,” she says, interrupting me. “And Andrew wants to ask your advice on skiing.” Skiing? I don't know how to ski.

“Mum...” I put a hand to my head, forgetting about my injury, and wince. “What are you talking about?” “Here we are!” Maureen comes back into the room, bearing a glass of orange juice. “Dr. Harman's just coming along to check you over.”

“I must go, darling.” Mum gets to her feet. “I left the car on some extortionate parking meter. And the congestion charge! Eight pounds I had to pay!” That's not right either. The congestion charge isn't eight pounds. I'm sure it's only five quid, not that I ever use a car My stomach plunges. Oh my GodMum's getting dementia. That has to be it. She's already going senile, at the age of fifty-​four. I'll have to speak to one of the doctors about her.

“I'll be back later with Amy and Eric,” she says, heading to the door. Eric? She really calls her dogs some odd names. “Okay, Mum.” I smile brightly, to humor her. “Can't wait.” As I sip my juice I feel a bit shaken up. Everyone thinks their mum is a bit crazy. But that was seriously crazy. What if she has to go into a home? What will I do with all the dogs? My thoughts are interrupted by a knock at the door, and a youngish doctor with dark hair enters, followed by three other people in medical uniforms. “Hello there, Lexi,” he says in a pleasant, brisk manner. “I'm Dr. Harman, one of the resident neurologists here. These are Nicole, a specialist nurse, and Diana and Garth, our two trainee doctors. So, how are you feeling?” “Fine! Except my left hand feels a bit weird,” I admit. “Like I've been sleeping on it and it isn't working properly.” As I lift up my hand to show him, I can't help admiring my amazing manicure again. I must ask Fi where we went last night. “Right.” The doctor nods. “We'll take a look at that; you may need some therapy. But first I'm going to ask you a few questions. Bear with me if some of them seem blindingly obvious.“ He flashes a professional smile and I get the feeling he's said all this a thousand times before. ”Can you tell me your name?“ ”My name's Lexi Smart,“ I reply promptly. Dr. Harman nods and adds a tick mark in his folder. ”And when were you born?“ ”Nineteen seventy-​nine.“ 26 ”Very good.“ He makes another note. ”Now, Lexi, when you crashed your car, you bumped your head against the windshield. There was a small amount of swelling to your brain, but it looks as though you've been very lucky. I still need to do some checks, though.“ He holds up his pen. ”If you'd like to look at the top of this pen, I'm going to move it from side to side.“ Doctors don't let you get a word in, do they? ”Excuse me!“ I wave at him. ”You've mixed me up with someone else. I didn't crash any car.“ Dr. Harman frowns and flips back two pages in his folder. ”It says the patient was involved in a traffic accident.“ He looks around the room for confirmation. Why is he asking them? I'm the one it happened to. ”Well, they must have written it down wrong,“ I say firmly. ”I was out clubbing with my friends and we were running for a taxi and I fell. That's what happened. I remember it really well.“ Dr. Harman and Maureen exchange puzzled looks. ”It was definitely a traffic accident,“ murmurs Maureen. ”Two vehicles, side-​on. I was down in Emergency and I saw her come in. And the other driver. I think he had a minor arm fracture.“ ”I couldn't have been in a car crash.“ I try to keep my patience. ”For a start, I don't have a car. I don't even know how to drive!“ I'm intending to learn to drive one day. It's just that I've never needed to since living in London, and lessons are so expensive, and it's not like I can afford a car. ”You haven't got a...“ Dr. Harman flips over a page and squints at the writing. ”A Mercedes convertible?“ ”A Mercedes?“ I snort with laughter. ”Are you serious?”