Author : Mark Cowling

Alan studies his reflection in the bathroom cabinet mirror. His face seems wrong — older, for a start. And unfamiliar in a way he can’t define, like something put together by the police from eyewitness descriptions.

He looks around the room, now unsure why he is there. A note has been stuck on the mirror: “brush your teeth”. Alan obeys the little yellow square. Rivulets of pink swirl down the drain when he spits. He checks his teeth in the mirror: his gums are bleeding.

There is another hand-written note stuck to the back of the bathroom door, “don’t forget to flush.” Alan stares at the unused toilet before doing as he is told.

“Ah, Mr Winter.” A man wearing an expensive suit takes him by the arm and leads him through to the living room. “We really don’t need any coffee,” says the man with a smile. Alan decides to go with him; the man seems to know what he is doing.

Alan finds himself sitting on the sofa in the living room. Opposite him are the man and a woman of a similar age, mid-thirties. They could be friends of his son, perhaps. Acquaintances from the office. But there is a business card on the table: “Vincent Fitzgerald. Swift & Richardson.” They must be lawyers.

“As we were saying, Mr Winter, the contract you signed does have a robust clause covering proprietary information. I really do wish we could do more for you.” Fitzgerald sighs theatrically and shakes his head. Alan isn’t stupid, he knows when he is being patronised.

“They’re claiming you underwent illegal information masking. Which is what they always say in cases like this.” The woman speaking now. She doesn’t seem any more sympathetic.

“Information…” Alan says.

“Yes. To prevent data scrubbing. Memories, I mean,” adds Fitzgerald. “That’s how the company is explaining the irreparable damage we believe they caused to your brain. But there is really nothing we can do. As far as the law is concerned, that data belonged to the company. And when you retired, it was your legal obligation to relinquish all sensitive and–”

The woman interrupts and speaks to her colleague directly, unconcerned with lowering her voice. “This is useless; we’ve gone through it five times already. We can’t make it any simpler.”

“Well, we have the signature. That’s all we legally need,” says Fitzgerald.

The two lawyers stand and so Alan stands too. They smile and shake his hand. They speak but Alan is not really listening. Thank you for your time. It was very nice to meet you. We wish you all the best for the future…

Alan stands in front of the bathroom mirror again. He feels uneasy, but can’t think of anything that should make him uneasy. There is a nagging voice in his head. The voice is muffled, as if underwater, something is very wrong it seems to be saying. Alan doesn’t know what to do, so he follows the advice of the little yellow note. He brushes his teeth for several minutes, spitting blood into the sink.