This month at Lethe sees the release of Forget Yourself, by Redfern Jon Barrett, a queer dystopian speculative-fiction novel from the author of The Giddy Death of the Gays and the Strange Demise of the Straights. Read an excerpt from the opening of Forget Yourself here:
I am living in a hole. I am living in a hole in the ground. This is where they put me, though I don’t really know who I am and I will be someone else pretty soon.
Tarp above; mud below. I am less of a nuisance here.
It is important that you know: I love you.
Of course I have no idea who you are.
But I have no real idea who I am either, so it seems fair to me.
Will you think of me, holding you? I have blonde hair that reaches my shoulders and I am of an average stature—though of course my definition of average will be misleading. I have the long fingers of a thief.
I love you because here, in this hole, that is all I have. Love and earth and rainwater. Perhaps you aren’t real. That doesn’t matter.
I will still hold you.
Will you let me?
I am not dangerous.
Tomorrow I will wake up someone new. The same damp earth will be under the same toes; the same fingers will clutch the same food and bring it to the same lips. But someone else will taste it.
The same eyes with someone else’s vision.
The same brain with someone else’s thoughts.
this is the end.
I have tonight. Tonight is all I have left.
These hours are for me, for my story.
About how I broke the world.
It started with a breakup—I imagine that to be common. The book tells us how breakups should happen.
If one person cheats, the other breaks up with them.
It’s simple enough, and happens to be the first proverb on love in the book. Page 15, written in purple biro. Someone I didn’t know had remembered it and written it down.
I had loved her, as far as I could tell; but she couldn’t believe it. She lashed her tongue to all who would listen: Blondee is cheating. Blondee is cheating with Tie. Even after he was dead—especially after he was dead.
‘Never cheat’, says the book. What exactly cheating was, well, that was not so clear. My body—my full hips and thighs and too-small breasts—those I had shared only with her.
But my mind?
Tie had been there from the very start.
When people arrive here—awakening from a death-sleep which was the end of their old life—they are named by the clues they came with. I had nothing. Nothing but mid-length blonde hair. I was naked. It was how I came into the world.
So I was called Blondee.
I remember a small crowd. I was in the courtyard at the centre of the compound; a single water tap, some broken flagstones, and three-dozen old vacuum-tubes hammered into a row to form a fence. I wanted to know who I was. My skull throbbed. I had memories, but none of them were personal, none of them were really mine, and they were flat, two-dimensional, meaningless. I knew what bread was, and how to clean my teeth. I knew what a city was. But there was no detail. I didn’t know my favourite type of bread or what colour my toothbrush was or even the name of a particular city. When I thought of a city I conjured up tall buildings and empty streets, a lifeless, pointless shell. Those were the memories we were left with.
Tie was the first person who blurred into view that first time I forced open my aching eyelids. He was smiling in a kindly way. He was disturbing. I tried to cover my breasts, left with the pointless, heaving memory of shame. I was declared a minor-theft. Like I say, I have long fingers. A lot of the others were there, though I can’t recall which ones, and they were bored by my arrival. My terror was banal. Tie gave me a blanket, and someone said ‘Blondee’.
We’re here because we’ve committed a crime—that’s what we tell ourselves. I didn’t look so bad, so my crime must have been minor. Due largely to my fingers, I must have been a thief.
That was a long time before Ketamine came into the world. She had also been dropped in with the rations, her mind blank, a carrier-bag of possessions straddling her arm. She was thinner back then, her eyes so innocent you’d hardly have thought she’d committed a crime at all. She was declared a minor. She was pretty, with her long black hair; clearly a seductress. So her crime, she was informed, must have been minor, and it must have been sexual. In the bag was a t-shirt, the word ‘Ketamine’, white on black. That must have been her name. It was added to the back of the book with the others.
We fell in love and she came to live in my triangle hut: a large window propped up against the outer wall of the compound. That first night she’d lain next to me, trembling and confused. She trembled on her last night with me as well.
I knew it was over one day in particular—one of the days just after Tie’s death. We were in our triangle-home. The crisp cut of scissor scattered another flurry of tufts to the floor.
She was cutting my hair.
The hair gently meandered over the smooth brown-and-yellow pattern, carried by a breeze that no number of rags stuffed between gaps could ever really get rid of. Another snip and the draft caught the yellow strands at knee-height, carrying them away from us and to the edge of the lino, which I had cut into shape and used as a rug to hide the worst of the dirt floor. Korma-flavoured noodles and home-made fuck-me-fuck-me perfume wafted through the air from next door, mingled with the tinny music from an ancient player. Ketamine’s nipple had rubbed against my arm as she leant over my neck, la-la-ing along as she inspected her work.
I must have looked unhappy. I was thinking of Tie. Tie rotting.
“Are you done yet?” I swept my hands down myself, my skin all tingled and itchy, the stool pressing wood and metal into my arse.
“No, no, no,” she sang, the notes matching those caught on the air.
It had been my idea that songs should have words, but it wasn’t something I’d be able to prove. The sun shone strong through the glass. I needed air.
I stood up, showering my warm feet and the cold lino with hair. I almost hit my head on the shard of mirror which hung from a string.
“I’m not done,” she squawked.
“You’re still thinking of him. Aren’t you?”
“He’s dead. He’s dead and you’re still wasting your thoughts on him. You’re with me, Blondee. You’re with me.”
“You’re so young, Ketamine.”
That did it. We had argued before, but not like we did that night. All night. She told me I didn’t love her. I said that her gossiping had given me a reputation: no-one trusted me. She countered that she had only told the truth. What could be wrong with the truth?
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