Remainder - By Tom McCarthy

For my parents


ABOUT THE ACCIDENT itself I can say very little. Almost nothing. It involved something falling from the sky. Technology. Parts, bits. That’s it, really: all I can divulge. Not much, I know.

It’s not that I’m being shy. It’s just that—well, for one, I don’t even remember the event. It’s a blank: a white slate, a black hole. I have vague images, half-impressions: of being, or having been—or, more precisely, being about to be—hit; blue light; railings; lights of other colours; being held above some kind of tray or bed. But who’s to say that these are genuine memories? Who’s to say my traumatized mind didn’t just make them up, or pull them out from somewhere else, some other slot, and stick them there to plug the gap—the crater—that the accident had blown? Minds are versatile and wily things. Real chancers.

And then there’s the Requirement. The Clause. The terms of the Settlement drawn up between my lawyer and the parties, institutions, organizations—let’s call them the bodies— responsible for what happened to me prohibit me from discussing, in any public or recordable format (I know this bit by heart), the nature and/or details of the incident, on pain of forfeiting all financial reparations made to me, plus any surplus these might have accrued (a good word that, “accrued”) while in my custody—and forfeiting quite possibly, my lawyer told me in a solemn voice, a whole lot more besides. Closing the loop, so to speak.

The Settlement. That word: Settlement. Set-l-ment. As I lay abject, supine, tractioned and trussed up, all sorts of tubes and wires pumping one thing into my body and sucking another out, electronic metronomes and bellows making this speed up and that slow down, their beeping and rasping playing me, running through my useless flesh and organs like sea water through a sponge—during the months I spent in hospital, this word planted itself in me and grew. Settlement. It wormed its way into my coma: Greg must have talked about it to me when he came round to gawk at what the accident had left. As the no-space of complete oblivion stretched and contracted itself into gritty shapes and scenes in my unconscious head—sports stadiums mainly, running tracks and cricket pitches—over which a commentator’s voice was playing, inviting me to commentate along with him, the word entered the commentary: we’d discuss the Settlement, though neither of us knew what it entailed. Weeks later, after I’d emerged from coma, come off the drip-feed and been put onto mushy solids, I’d think of the word’s middle bit, the -l-, each time I tried to swallow. The Settlement made me gag before it gagged me: that’s for sure.

Later still, during the weeks I sat in bed able to think and talk but not yet to remember anything about myself, the Settlement was held up to me as a future strong enough to counterbalance my no-past, a moment that would make me better, whole, complete. When most of my past had eventually returned, in instalments, like back episodes of some mundane soap opera, but I still couldn’t walk, the nurses said the Settlement would put me back on my feet. Marc Daubenay would visit and brief me about our progress towards Settlement while I sat in plaster waiting for my bones to set. After he’d left I’d sit and think of sets—six games in tennis or however many matching cups and plates, the scenery in theatres, patterns. I’d think of remote settlements in ancient times, village outposts crouching beneath hostile skies. I’d think of people—dancers, maybe, or soldiers—crouching, set, waiting for some event to start.

Later, much later, the Settlement came through. I’d been out of hospital for four months, out of physiotherapy for one. I was living on my own on the edge of Brixton, in a one-bedroom flat. I wasn’t working. The company I’d been with up until the accident, a market-research outfit, had said they’d give me paid sick leave until May. It was April. I didn’t feel like going back to work. I didn’t feel like doing anything. I wasn’t doing anything. I passed my days in the most routine of activities: getting up and washing, walking to the shops and back again, reading the papers, sitting in my flat. Sometimes I watched TV, but not much; even that seemed too proactive. Occasionally I’d take the tube up to Angel, to Marc Daubenay’s office. Mostly I just sat in my flat, doing nothing. I was thirty years old.

On the day