Author : Alex Bauer

The light on the wall is green. The machine beside her is on and receiving. The walls bleed nuclear colors like a pool of oil before shifting to uniform white. First session in years, motivated by some desperate nostalgia. The machine hums, squat and blinking, next to her. Now he comes in, sits at the end of a long steel table, sighing.

“Why did you wake me?” He says. His voice is jerkier than she remembers, more pained. Expectant. That, more than anything about present circumstances, chills her to the bone.

“Can’t we talk? I want to just talk.” She says, unsure with his attitude. “It’s been a while.” The room is stark white; the only smudge to its banality is she and he. He practically glows here. The only place he ever has, she thinks. The thought too bitter to stamp out. His face is vague as if he were a stone in a river. Worn by too much time, too much self-correction. Brown eyes that were once blue cup her in the palm of his gaze.

She looks away, looks to the doctor watching from somewhere behind the one-way mirror taking up the right side wall.

“Mm,” he burbles. “Suppose it has. You’re the one who wanted to see me every morning. So, here we are. Though I think a lot more mornings have passed between this one and the last, you know.”

She flinches. He drums his fingers on the table, looking at a point between his hands. Considers it. Always considers it. Something hot catches in her throat, finding herself unable to speak for some time. The strange aeroshape of a gun sits between his hands like she’s always imagined. The coroner’s report hasn’t faded like his face. Single exit wound out the back of the head. His front teeth knocked out by the cycling of the receiver.

The machine hums, squat and blinking, next to her. A strange tickling sensation at the base of her skull. Digital blood pours out his mouth. He laughs, looks down at his now stained clothes, the chipped front teeth on the table.

“Just let me go.” The fading memory says. “Please. You came in here for nothing. This isn’t some weird absolution.” He looks at her again, his eyes reflecting all the pain she felt. Too long since she’s been here, too long since she’d let this memory out. “Do you even remember my name? Do you?” Panic writhed its way down to her very pith.

He favors her with a bloody smile. “Of course not.”

“Turn the machine off,” a voice intones over the speakers. She looks at the mirror, sees only her own panicked rictus.

“You’re just talking to yourself again.” He says, shrugging. “Makes no nevermind. Too much guilt, too much booze. You tried to drink me away and got weepy eyed and came back to this looney bin to see what you could remember.” The gun solidifies on the table. He picks it up.

“Turn the machine off, ma’am.” The doctor says again. She very calmly reaches over to switch the machine off when he points the gun at her. Simple light and digital outlays set in the walls make it look real, but all the same, she jerks back.

“You remember this because it was yours. You remember the details more than you remember me. So, you feel guilty. It’s normal. Maybe not for as long as you have, but normal enough.” He leans back, running a wavering hand through blood-shiny hair. With a sudden jerk, he’s leaning forward, wavering and warping as if the world can’t contain him. Her mind can’t contain him. “Wanna see how I did it? It’s there. You think about it. That’s why you do this. You don’t even wanna know why, just how. You think about doin–.” She lunges, flips the switch, and he bursts apart in a fountain of light motes.

Silence. “Are you all right, ma’am?” Says the man on the speaker.

“Ye-yes. I…shouldn’t have come.” She says.

“Quite alright. This form of interactive therapy is only good for the short-term. It’s been too long. But…seeing what was said, would you care to step into my office? I think we need to have a talk. And not about your son this time.”

She nods, not trusting her mouth, stares at the machine as if it were something alive. Very gingerly, she peels the diodes from the base of her skull, winces at the few strands of hair plucked out with it. The walls bloom psychedelic before returning to their neutral state. She places them back on the table and looks at them there between her hands. Considers them.

Finally, “I think I’d like that.”

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