I had woken up later than usual. I went downstairs and began toasting bread for my breakfast. My fat mop of a dog soon waddled down the stairs and plopped down at my feet to sleep once again. I stroked her ears then went to retrieve my toast. As I was spreading apricot jam on the toast the phone began to ring. It made me jump and the butter knife slipped out of my hand before clattering to the ground. No one had called since the day after the funeral and it was strange to hear the familiar tone in the empty house. I picked up the knife and hurried to the phone.
"Hello"? I asked as I cleared my throat.
"Hello? Carter. right"? I didn't recognize the voice.
"Yes, this is he".
"Hello, Carter. This the man from the hospital you dropped off the other day. The one by the river."
"Oh. Yes, ok. Hello- oh..um", I once again faced the awkwardness of talking to someone with no name.
"I was just wondering if you could come down here to the hospital. I'd like to ask you a few questions about my...condition."
"Yes...alright... I'll be down there in a bit."I said, a bit confused. Why would I know about his memory? But I was just glad to have something to do besides walk the river and read.
I then hung up and got dressed. I grabbed my toast and got in my old car. I pulled out of the driveway, careful not to hit the old pick up I had sitting on the curb which I had no idea how to fix. I drove down mainstreet and pulled up to the hospital parking lot.
When I got to the hospital lobby a plump ,red haired woman lead me to the man's room. He looked slightly better, his body free of caked mud and crusted blood, though he still looked quite skinny and his head definately looked worse now that it wasn't hidden by dirt. The wound traced from the very bottom of the back of his hairline to the top of his right ear, only covered by a bandage and his messy hair that went down to his shoulders.
I sat down in the plastic chair next to the man's bed and the plump woman soon left. He smiled at me and shook my hand.
"Thanks for coming, Carter. So... I'd like to get right down to it."
He took his gaze away from me and stared out the window where an old tree sat.
"Last night, I had a really bad dream." He then looked at his hands,"It was about murder and shootings and things like that...It got me thinking. About...what I was before this happened. You were the first person I assume that saw me. I was wondering how you found what happened." He looked up at me and locked his gaze with mine, his brown eyes were unreadable.
"I don't know a lot. I walk by the river quite often and found you by the bend. You were half buried in mud, I hardly recognized you as a person before I came closer. I saw you were unconscious so I took you to the hospital."
He nodded and once again looked out the window. If he was trying to hide his disappointmaent he was a horrible actor. I could tell he was hoping for some more information about himself. I have to admit, I did too. He looked so skinny nad sick when I found him, I wondered what he'd gotten into. I wondered if he had a family or people looking for him. What his name was.
"So what do they call you"? I asked.
"What"? he asked as he turned to my direction.
"The staff, what do they call you?"
"Sir or son or you... or they just point," he faintly smiled and I noticed his tooth behind his left canine was missing.
" Does it get tiring, never being specifically addressed'?
"Sometimes. I was hoping you could help me with that."
"I like Walton," I said. He didn't really look like a Walton but it was such a great name, I couldn't pass it up. I had to get my kicks from somewhere, why not naming strangers.
"I meant you'd know my previous name,"he said.
"I know. I get tired of not specifically addressing you. So I think you'll be Walton".
"Alright. I don't have anything better."
He looked at me for awhile longer.
'Do you remember anything more since yesterday"?
"Just guilt. Overwhelming guilt. That's all I remember feeling. It's the same feeling I get after the dreams." His voice became hazy and distant. "I thought maybe I could find out where it's coming from. Why I feel this way. But I guess not."
I knew what he meant. I felt horrible guilt after Susie died. Like I could've done something or taken better care of her, but deep in my heart I knew it wasn't my fault. That's what made it bareable. But I knew the guilt he was talking about a whole different kind of guilt. Just the way his voice became heavy when he said it I knew I'd never known such guilt. And if I was lucky, I'd never know.