Focal Dystonia

by Olga Wojtas

I have a memory of rewriting the future. Not in a target-setting way, such as I’ll be married by 25, be earning  £50,000 by 30, have four children by 40. And not in a geo-political way, such as North Korea opts for nuclear disarmament. No, if someone was a problem, I blew them away. You know how to blow someone away, don’t you? You just put your lips together.


“Is it a memory or a flashback?” he asked.

“What’s the difference?”

“What do you think the difference is?” he asked.

“I’ve never thought about it.”

“Would you like to think about it now?”

No, I thought, all I would like is for things to be back the way they were. But if there was a chance that he could help me, it was wise to play along.

“All right,” I said. “A memory is you recalling something that happened. A flashback is a distortion of a narrative’s chronology.”

“That’s interesting,” he said.

I was going to ask him why he thought it was interesting, but I’d worked out he wanted me to answer questions, not to ask them.

“What,” he said, “about the view that a flashback is external validation of something that happened? If it’s just one person’s memory, it could be flawed. Everyone has false memories. You hear about an event, and you conjure up such a vivid picture of it that you think you were involved.”

“I’ve never done that,” I said.

“But if you had, you wouldn’t know,” he said.

This seemed to me so absurd that I forgot myself, and asked a question. “Does any of this really matter?”

“You think it doesn’t matter?” he said.

“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”

“That’s interesting,” he said. “I’m going to refer you to a Dr Gladwell. She’s very good.”


Dr Gladwell will lay the letter back down on top of the file.

“So your doctor didn’t do any tests?” she will ask.

“No, he just said he was going to refer me to you.”

“Have any close relatives experienced anything similar?”


“Try to remember.”

Spinning the Rolodex of remembrance. No, no, no, no and no. This is a unique experience for me.

“Do you play the French horn?”


“The tuba?”


“Any brass instrument?”


“The bagpipes?”


“The muscles around your lips are affected by a condition called focal dystonia, which musicians can suffer from,” Dr Gladwell will say. “There seems to a genetic element and a neurological element to it. But not in your case. It seems to me there may be a psychological element, so I’m going to refer you to a professional in that area. Please don’t misunderstand the word psychological. I’m not suggesting that you’re mad.”

Dr Gladwell will give a reassuring laugh.


I am Aeolus. I am Amun. I am Ehecatl. I am Fujin. I am Enlil. I am Fei Lian. I am Stribog. I am Vayu.


Remembering the future is a very different art from foreseeing it. It requires the delicacy of a soft summer breeze, the warmth of a mistral. And then to change the future requires the intensity of a cyclone, the strength of a hurricane. Sometimes my lips ache for days.


Dr Gladwell will lay the letter back down on top of the file.

“So your doctor didn’t do any tests?” she will ask.

She will not notice that the letter is beginning to flutter.


Olga Wojtas

Focal Dystonia by Olga Wojtas first appeared in Issue 8 of Bare Fiction Magazine (August 2016).


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