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Doug saw her again and remembered.

Walking down Renovation Row, sidestepping scaffolding, skips, red-backed builders arguing with their handsets. Heady blue smoke, drifting out of a beaded doorway. Burble of voices and mood-jazz. He looked in and she was there: propped on a stool at the bar, eyes wide, wet, cigarette pinched between finger and thumb. Swaying slightly.

She always had liked head-cafs, he recalled. Her own bit of Amsterdam, right here in Middle England.

Moody, mad, usually-stoned Mandy.


He lies back as they wheel him through. A steady rumble and clatter beneath him, trolley wheels on the floor. Almost musical.

Oh, Jess, he thinks. Where are you when I need you, Jess?


He'd seen her standing in a queue outside one of the museums.

Maybe the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht. Just one backpacker amongst many, yet for some reason her face had lodged itself in his consciousness, anchored itself in his mind, so that when he saw her again, in a brown café off Rembrandtsplein, he'd remembered.

Eyes adjusting to the gloom, lungs filling with hand-me-down dope, he'd remembered her face, gone over, dropped into the vacant chair next to her and said, "Hey, you're... don't I... aren't you...?"

She'd giggled, hand covering her mouth, big round eyes ever widening. "Yeah, but aren't you... weren't you... oh, what the hell." Primly she held a hand out for him to shake. "I'm Mandy. You want to fuck me?"

The kind of first encounter you'll always remember.


The beads jangled not-quite-musically as he pushed them aside.

Sweet smoke assailed his lungs. Head-cafs had been legal in the UK for close to a year now. It was as if they'd followed him back from Amsterdam, just as Mandy had.

He breathed deeply. Pulsing jazz filled his head, and he remembered.


Lots of things. A succession — a barrage — of images, memories, tastes and smells.

Walking. Uneven cobbles that left feet sore, ankles aching. The trams and the bicycles. Young men riding sit-up-and-beg bicycles, their nonchalant girlfriends sitting sideways on the luggage rack, not holding on, just balancing, as the bikes rushed madly across the tramlines and along the red-surfaced cycleways.

Shabby little men — why were they always short? — standing in doorways, approaching you like a long-lost brother: "Live fuck show, my friend. The best you will find. Live fuck show." Then, to your back, insultingly: "Very educational, my friend..." The language of porn was always English, it seemed.

The Oude Kerk in the heart of the red light district: surrounded by alleys and side-streets, rank upon rank of full-length glass doors with security cameras overhead, lingeried women and girls posing, lip-licking, smiling-mouths-blank-eyes. Men pissing against walls or into canals — no wonder the place smelt so bad. Earnest kids running errands: brown packages underarm — hash, cash, the latest splice.

Screwing all night and most of the day, in the ramshackle hotel off Damstraat. Sniffing bulldog capsules to keep going, finishing up aching and bloody and skulldead.

The club on Oude Zijds Voorburgwaal. Swoozy, schmoozy music played by a white-haired head on DVDesk. Mandy stoned, swaying to the sinuous beat. Doug wedged against the bar, keeping as close to upright as he could manage while the room moved around him.

The kid in rainbow shorts and body-sculpture, passing him the mouthpiece of a hubble-bubble and grinning like a born-again.

"Wanna slice?"


"Wanna slice, man?"

"Slice of what?" Then understanding. Not slice: splice. Headstuff. Play with your mind. Rewire your head, reconstruct your world.

Mandy, one honeysuckle leg twining around him, pushing him harder against the bar. "Wanna splice?" he asked her, laughing.


Mandy, perched on her stool at the bar, swaying ever so slightly to the mood-jazz generated by the soundbox over by the rack of Moroccan pipes.

Doug walked across. Sat down on the vacant stool by his former lover. "Hey," he said. "Long time."

She looked at him, eyes widening. "Long time for what?" She sucked hard at the pinched cigarette.

"Hey, Mandy. How long is it? Five months? Six?"

"Mandy?" she said. "Who's Mandy?"

He stared at her. What did she mean?

"And who are you?"


He'd met her in a coffee shop in the Jordaan. He'd been in the city for three days now and he'd just wanted to get away from the rush. He'd headed west and north, zigzagging through sidestreets, working his way steadily across the concentric rings of canals until the whores and the mouthy Brits and the frantic good-time rush were all behind him.

He found a quiet coffee shop, ordered a double espresso and sat by the doorway. She drifted in past an oil drum painted blue and planted up with geraniums. She sat at his table as if she'd always known him and said, "Hi, I'm Mandy. I saw you at the Rijksmuseum and now I see you here. It must be destiny. Would you buy me a coffee?"

That was how it had happened. He remembered it clearly. So clearly.


"Don't tell me you've forgotten," he said. "What is that you're smoking, Mandy?"

"My name's Jess, and it's straight speed-injected tobacco, nothing fancy."


She was a performance artist. Everyone who came to Amsterdam and stayed on was an artist of some kind.

She shucked her clothes and painted herself grey and stood motionless on a box on the Rokin while tourists posed by her for photographs or tried to get her to respond to their shouts and cat-calls. "There's never been a statue like you," he had told her, when he first saw her act.

She'd looked puzzled. Shook her head. "I'm a naked grey woman who doesn't move," she explained, as if to a child. "They — " the tourists, the rest of the world " — they see what they like, but I am just a naked grey woman who doesn't move."

Sometimes she was like that in bed, and all he could feel were the involuntary muscular surges deep inside. He never quite understood why that turned him on so.


"Standing on your box," he told her. "The naked grey woman who doesn't move."

She hissed smoke between her teeth.

"Jess," he said. "Surely you remember..."

And then he realised: six months wiped out. Blanked. She must have spliced him out of her mind. Poor Jess, who had always refused to take a splice for fun: what had made her wipe him from her memory?

They'd been good times, hadn't they? Passionate and fun, the ending no more messy than one might expect.

"I know you," she said now. "You go to Cypherdelica, don't you?"

He shrugged. Play it her way. "Sure, Jess," he said. He used to meet her there all the time, after she'd followed him back to the UK.

"So what is it you're after?"

"Jess," he said. "Jess, babe. It was good, wasn't it? You and me. Old times' sake: I saw you just now and it all came back. We had good times."

Was she edging away from him, or was that just his imagination?

"Hey, Jessica, you okay?"

That was the barman. Stooping-tall, grey-haired, one eye looking at you, the other over your shoulder. Handy trick, that.

"The lady's fine."

She opened her mouth to speak, stopped.

"I said, you okay, Jessica?" The barman was persistent.

"This guy," she managed. "He..."

"We had a thing once," Doug said to the barman, man to man stuff. "A big thing. A good thing."

"I don't know who he is," she said. "I've only ever seen him at Cypherdelica before: he stares at people. I don't know what he's on..."

To the barman, again: "She's wiped it from her mind. One of these brain splices: inject it into the brain stalk and it rewires everything. She's edited me out, for some reason. I don't know why. We had a good thing."

"I don't know what he's talking about."

"I painted you grey, like a statue," he said, trying to keep the urgency from showing in his voice. "You can't have edited it all away!"

"You're bothering the lady."

"She's bothering me! Jess, you have to remember!"

"I think you'd better leave." Somehow the barman was standing at his side now, a hand on his arm. Doug brushed the man's hand away, stepped towards Jess. "Babe, tell this creep to take a jump. Just you and me, babe. Jess? Like old times."

She stood, knocking the stool over as her legs straightened. "I don't know you," she said. "You're the creep. You're on another planet. I've never fucking been to fucking Amsterdam."

The hand on his arm again. Doug ducked down, grabbed the leg of the toppled stool and swung one-eighty. The stool crashed into the barman's hips, a sudden vibration reverberating up the leg making Doug drop it, hold his hand in shock at the sudden pain.


He remembered a fight when he was seventeen.

Over a girl, of course. She was sixteen and blonde and far too beautiful and she already had a boyfriend, which was what caused all the trouble.

Dancing, they'd only been dancing. It was a slow one, though, and they'd been up close, limbs tangled, dancing. And this jerk had grabbed his shoulder, spun him round and taken a swing, all so fast Doug barely had time to react. To duck, come up under the swing, shoulder-barge the jerk in the chest. The kid was winded then, staggering, and it had been easy to land a series of punches in his face, felling him.

Teach him a lesson.

The girl's name was Claire, he found out later, much later.


Now, the barman had him by a fistful of shirt, his other hand balled into a fist, swinging in.

Doug twisted, tried to pull away but couldn't, and the fist mashed into his face. He cried out, then bit down hard on bone and flesh.

The barman squealed, jumped away, releasing Doug.

Jess was screaming now. He turned to her, confused, then turned back to see that the barman, blood streaming from one hand, had the stool in the other, raised above his head, coming down, down, smashing onto Doug's head.


A policeman, some kind of doctor. The two of them talking, not aware that Doug was conscious. Or not caring.

"...concussion, no fractures to the skull, broken nose, he'll have a sore head."

The barman. They must be talking about the barman.


He remembered.

The hand on his arm. "I think you'd better leave."

Doug looked at the hand, looked up at the barman's face. The guy was young, looked athletic enough, but what the fuck?

Doug shrugged the man's hand away, stepped towards Jess. "Babe, tell this creep to take a jump. Just you and me, babe. Jess? Like old times."

"Oh, Doug," she'd said. The veil was lifting. She was remembering.

"Doug, I thought you'd never — "

But the barman hadn't read what was happening, he put his hand on Doug's arm again. Doug turned. "Look, man," he said. "Just leave us, will you? The lady's fine."

As Doug turned away, the barman stooped, grabbed a stool, swung it hard and fast.

Doug raised an arm, braced it, and the stool shattered like balsa across it. "Not a good idea," he said, stepping towards the stunned barman.

He grabbed a fistful of shirt and swung the big man onto the bar, sent him skidding along its surface and off the far end. Yeah, he remembered all right. Broken nose, concussion, that'd teach the jerk.


"Some kind of splice," the doctor told the policeman. "Fucked up his memories."

The two stared at Doug. He was, he realised, lying on some kind of bench. Strapped down.

"They're doing the rounds," the doctor went on. "The slightest thing kicks off a memory: an intense, vivid, eidetic flashback, so real it's as if you're reliving the experience. But it's more than that: he's not just reliving his memories, he's rewriting them, recompiling them. Memories getting mixed up with fantasies."

"What do you make of this?" The policeman was holding a crumpled piece of paper, a newspaper cutting. "Amanda Coetzee," he read. "Something about a South African woman, died of an OD in Amsterdam. It was in his wallet."

"Maybe he knew her," said the doctor. "Maybe that's why he's screwing around with brain splices."

"And the woman in the head-caf today?"

"Oh, just an innocent bystander," said the doctor. "Maybe he knew her, maybe not. He's fantasised about her, worked her into his memories until he's convinced that she's a part of his life. He probably spends more of his time reliving his fantasy episodes than he does in real life. Compressed experience: zipped up like an archived computer file. I'd bet that while we've been standing here talking — for, what, half a minute? — he's probably subjectively lived, or relived, hours or even days of vicarious experience."


He's on a trolley, in some kind of operating theatre.

"Will it take long?" he asks.

It's a different doctor now: face-masked, dark-skinned, turbaned. He raises his eyebrows. "Long? That depends on your definition, rather, doesn't it?"

"Until you've done it. Until you've wiped my splice?"

"To me," says the surgeon, "it will be a matter of minutes: a quick job before my afternoon round of golf. But to you? You and I are asynchronous, aren't we? You are in your own world, reliving and reinventing your own history at a much compressed rate."

It's true, Doug supposes. If what they say about his splice is accurate: the slightest trigger sending him into a relived experience that he reworks and embellishes as he goes along. Living his own, very subjective, history over and over again in endless variations. Objective seconds could become subjective hours, days even. Maybe longer.

He lies on the couch, watches as the surgeon goes about his business, readying himself for this quick operation before going to play golf.

And he remembers. So much to remember, so much to put right.

This moment, he realises...

This moment could last forever...



In 1998 I went to an educational conference at the University of Amsterdam. I stayed in a rather shabby little hotel on the fringes of the red light district, and in those three days I fell in love with the city. The buildings were beautiful, the atmosphere so friendly and laid back. It was a wonderful place, and it was just begging to be written about. I made notes while I was there, and a year or so later wrote ".zipped". I wanted to capture something of the mood of the place; and also I wanted to write a kind of kaleidoscope of a story, one packed with fragments and shards, the many facets of the city being reflected in those of the story. That's where it started from, anyway; the writing always transforms these things, though, and you should be true to the story rather than the inspiration. It's always a fascinating journey, from inception through to finished piece, and one of the many reasons I love being a writer.

Incidentally, the "very educational" comment was genuine. That made me laugh so much!

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