1st place The Memory Palace

The Memory Palace

The leaving at first was fragmented, and, Jane hoped, not discernible to anyone but herself.

If one word was not immediately recalled there were plenty of others that could be substituted, she told herself.

But she knew well that the word had left and left in such a public place, in front of a class of students. What other words would go, she wondered, or how many had in fact already gone without her noticing?

Jane kept careful watch and the number of missing words seemed not to increase dramatically. It was apparently called word finding which seemed an odd way of describing a situation where the word was definitely lost, rather than found. Just one more reason to look forward to her imminent retirement Jane thought.

People’s names vanished next. Not just the ones that were mumbled in introduction to a group but to forget the name of her neighbour Sue was quite worrying.

The trouble is,’ Jane told her niece, ‘There’s just so much information in my brain that the recent stuff doesn’t fit’

A compulsory cognitive test to renew her licence caused Jane to panic and despite her shy nature she mentioned the upcoming test to her peers at coffee and mahjong. There was plenty of advice.

‘You will need to spell the word world backwards’ Simone advised, and added. ‘Remember the R is in the middle, that helps.’

‘Counting backward from one hundred by seven was a disaster for me‘ Simone added. ‘I was so keen to pass that I didn’t realise I had written it down wrong. All that memorising wasted,’ she said sadly.

Andrew was, as always, quick with advice. Just count back by ten and add three – easy as’ he said.

Jane felt quite nervous as she approached the GP’s rooms for the appointed tests. Her optometrist had given her the all clear and now came the cognitive test before she saw the doctor for the final hurdle that meant her license was secure for another year.

As she waited she reviewed the information she had gleaned. The counting backwards from one hundred, drawing a clock face, the spelling tests.

The fresh-faced young nurse greeted her warmly and invited her to sit. ‘Hello Jane’ she said warmly. ‘Can you tell me what the date is?’ Jane looked at her blankly. ‘Well, can you tell what day it is?’

Jane burst into tears and left the room.

Another appointment was made and with much encouragement from the nurse and the GP Jane was able to pass the dreaded test and proudly tucked the vital document into her purse. Another year before she had to front up again.

Things did continue to deteriorate though. Missed article in the house and missed appointments. Her son John put up a white board where Jane could keep track of her day-to-day happenings and her pass words were recorded in what she hoped were secure but retractable places.

A podcast on how to improve her memory turned out to be her undoing. The idea of building memory palaces appealed to her sense of the ridiculous.  Relate what you want to remember to something outrageous and make it into a story, the memory champion advised.

Jane was keen to start and decided to begin with names she knew well until she got the hang of it. States and capital cities would be her first step into a life of perfect recall.

Even though she should have really waited till it was cooler Jane set out and paused at a vacant lot. She imagined the queen sitting in this vacant land and for Brisbane Jane gave Liz a very bristly chin. Queensland and Brisbane sorted. Easy, Jane thought.

New South Wales and Sydney, after some pondering became, as Jane glimpsed the ocean, a brand-new baby Southern whale holding up a picture by Sydney Noland.

Road works caused a detour but Jane continued with her quest. Gazing to the West took care of Western Australia and she imagined her friend with a pronounced limp from Perthes disease hobbling in that direction.

South Australia alluded her and Jane realised that while she had been concentrating, she had both turned into an unfamiliar street and begun to feel quite faint from the sun.

Realising that she was well and truly lost Jane began to weep and sat on a stone step, the only seat available.

Sue, her neighbour bent and patted her shoulder. ‘Are you lost Jane? Come and we’ll get you out of the sun.’

‘I’ll be alright if I can find the Queen’ Jane said between sobs. ‘She is in a vacant lot and has bristles on her chin.’

‘Of course dear.’  Sue said soothingly. Let’s get you home and ring your son. John’s been so worried about you.’

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