Author: Marina Barakatt
You don’t know where you are or how you got there. You figure that it’s technically a prison, but nicer than anything you’ve ever paid money for. The bedroom alone is as big as your apartment. There’s a King bed and a hammock on the patio. The patio of your dreams. There’s even a kitchenette with a small electric stovetop.
You walk the outer wall, counting steps, concentrating hard on taking one step per second. You count exactly 1,200 steps. The first time you think it’s a fluke. You start the third lap immediately after the second, increasingly agitated every time you land at an even 1,200. You try to keep track of days by scratching marks in the wall, but every morning you wake to find them gone. Not painted over, just gone. You begin scratching marks into your arm.
The restaurant is big enough for dozens of tables but only one is positioned precisely in the middle of the room. The wood of the empty bar and maitre d’ stand gleams with fresh oil. Corners are free of dust and dirt, even with the windows open and the lace curtains dancing in the constant, pleasant breeze.
Three times a day, a meal appears on the table. Never the same thing, never anything you dislike. Always just enough food to keep you full until your stomach starts to grumble. Bottles of juice and water in familiar brands appear in the bedroom’s small fridge.
At first you refuse to eat, though you find yourself compelled to wander towards the restaurant at mealtimes. The aromas wafting off the plates drive you crazy, but you’re damned if you’re going to eat food without seeing any evidence of its preparation or ingredients. On the second hungry evening, a note sits next to the plate.
Please eat, it says. It’s safe. The heavy paper is neatly folded in half.
After the hunger strike, you stay in the restaurant for three full days, trying to see the meals arrive. You sit in the chair and stare hard at the table, but inevitably, despite your best attempts to keep your eyes open, you find yourself squeezing your eyes closed and shaking your head to fight through fog. When your head clears, the table is back to the middle of the room, bearing a new meal.
One night you arrive to find perfectly cooked steak, creamy mashed potatoes with green beans that are crunchy in the way you like, and a velvety red wine. Next to the plate sits a large steak knife. You hold the knife in your hand, feeling the weight of it. They’ve never given you a knife this sharp before. You run your finger lightly along the serrated edge, so sharp it nearly breaks your skin, a thought forming into your head. You look around to make sure whatever it is is watching you, then let the knife rest lightly on your skin. You begin to press.
A sudden sensation envelops your head, like you took a huge bite of ice cream and then stood up quickly. You try to maintain your grip on the knife but realize that you’re bent at the waist, elbows tucked into your stomach. When you open your eyes, a bowl of creamy pumpkin soup sits on the table. The air around you somehow feels apologetic.
You sit for a moment, running your fingers over your wrist, then something releases in your chest. You stand and flip the table.