A neuropsychiatrist deals with two patients traumatised like her by the Second World War and explores the working of human memory both individual and collective.
“To restore the human subject at the centre – the suffering, afflicted, fighting, human subject – we must deepen a case history to a narrative or tale…”
from “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” by Oliver Sacks
“… But if we write the history of this period of blood and tears – and I firmly believe we will – who will believe us? Nobody will want to believe us, because our disaster is the disaster of the entire civilized world…”
from “The Holocaust Kingdom” by Alexander Donat
Emma and Frank.
EMMA You must be Frank Smith.
FRANK Yes, I suppose I must. Yes, of course I am. Yes yes, and you’re…
EMMA I’m doctor Bergman. Come in and sit down. Tell me in your own words what seems to be the problem.
FRANK Well, doctor, I… now that’s funny, I… You must be standing in for doctor Ellis – he’s off on his holidays, is he? I think it must be you that Anna saw – when was it? Two or three years ago now. Seems like yesterday… No, must be more, must be more. Funny how time slips away… We were very impressed with your diagnosis. Laryngitis, you said. And there we were thinking she just had a bit of a sore throat – always so fragile, Anna, even in the finest weather, the slightest little chill… where was I?
EMMA Where indeed? I think you were going to tell me what the matter is.
FRANK No no, that’s your job, you’re the doctor. Where’s old Ellis off to this year then? Bognor again? Or Brighton? Anna and I had the most wonderful week in West Wittering, before the war, must be – God, must be five, six years ago now. Long walks on the beach, not a soul in sight, the wind whistling round our ears. We told them we were married. Nobody knew. Nobody about. Hardly the height of fashion, West Wittering, but that’s what we wanted. We didn’t want to meet anyone. We didn’t want to mix. We were a world unto ourselves. Bugger Bognor, we said. Blast Brighton. Let’s get away from it all and walk in the wind in West Wittering… Or was it East Wittering? Such a nice man, doctor Ellis, don’t you think? Always a kind word for everyone, nothing too much trouble for him, great bedside manner.
EMMA Actually it was a doctor Phillips sent you to me.
FRANK How’s that? I don’t quite… Is he a small fellow, with glasses?
EMMA He’s a general practitioner in Dover, who looked after you there, do you remember? He recommended you come to me.
FRANK I’ve never been to Dover in my life. What would I want with Dover? Give me West Wittering any day. Damn Dover… Ah, now wait a minute… of course – that’s where aunt Beth moved to when uncle Harold died – how is Beth? I haven’t seen her in…
EMMA In how long?
FRANK Let me see, must be… I was still in short trousers… must be going on ten years…
EMMA So you have no memory of Dover. What about Bognor? You mentioned Bognor just now. What do you remember about Bognor?
FRANK Nothing. We didn’t go to Bognor. We went to West Wittering. Or maybe East Wittering. May have been Worthing, but certainly not Bognor. You’d have to ask doctor Ellis about Bognor.
EMMA This doctor Ellis, where does he practise?
FRANK Where…? Well, here… doesn’t he?
EMMA Where exactly is “here” for you?
FRANK What do you mean, where is here? Here is here. Where do you think it is?
EMMA What town are we in?
FRANK Well, Teddington, of course… Aren’t we?… That’s not it, is it? This isn’t doctor Ellis’s surgery… Are we still out there? I thought I was back, I… Am I still out in the camp?
EMMA What camp?
You appear to be having a few problems with your memory, Mister Smith. It’s playing tricks on you. That’s why you’re here. I’m a neuropsychologist, I take a special interest in cases like yours. You can stay here with us. This is a home for people like you.
FRANK You mean I’m a nutcase? I’m round the bend, is that what you’re saying?
EMMA Not at all, you’re perfectly sane as far as I can see. Only your memory has been playing tricks on you. Can you tell me the last things you remember before coming here?
FRANK Last thing I remember… Last thing I remember, after the boats, is… the action, actually seeing some action at last… Soon find out who your real friends are… Ginger, Taf, Tinker – well, Tinker never found out who his friends were… Yes, we’re going into this…
EMMA This what?
FRANK This… camp.