TW: mentions of home invasion, gun violence
“Have you thoroughly considered the risks?”
“Have you seen a specialist and tried other avenues?”
“I have,” the woman took out a manila folder and handed it to the man. “It contains my medical history and a signature from my therapist.”
He took it, flipped through it, and then placed it down on the small table beside him next to the voice recorder. “Thank you, we’ll call the number to corroborate your story. Just a few more questions left.”
The woman shifted in her seat, crossing and uncrossing her legs. Her face was gaunt and the trace of beauty in her face was buried under bags and deep lines.
“Are you aware that some memories may resurface?”
“You may come to us for another session, however you might not remember having come to us in the first place.
“We will do our best to make sure that the procedure is permanent. Now, do you have everything set for your new life or do you need us to provide you with new memories? Our writers are-”
“I have written new memories myself,” she interjected with another folder held up in the air between them. “I’ve sold my house and quit my job too. I’m all set.”
“Good, good,” he took the folder, placing it on top of the other. “Just one more question that I need to ask of you. Will you please describe the memories that have made you decide to alter your entire life? You may have all the time that you need, you can even write it down if you prefer,” he lifted a clipboard with paper and a pen from his lap.
She raised her palm in refusal, “I’ll think about it too much if I write it down.”
The session ended and he pressed the off button on the voice recorder and placed it in the inside pocket of his suit jacket. He held in a sigh as he gave a final glance at the woman with her head in her hands on her lap.
“There’ll be someone in shortly to take you in,” he told her, grabbing the folders off the table. Once the door to the room was closed and he was out of ear shot, he finally sighed.
The secretary, Dalia, looked up at him from behind her desk. “A bad case, Dr. Samuels?” she asked. It was a small practice which had only one secretary in this section of the clinic. Here lied three ‘cozy’ offices where potential clients were given a free consultation and were made aware of all consequences of going through with the procedure.
“Not any worse than any other case,” Samuels replied. He dropped the folders on her desk. “Call the number of her therapist and send the other folder to the new memories techs.”
“Sure thing,” she opened up both folders.
“I’m taking a break.”
She nodded as she punched in the numbers on the landline with the phone to her ear.
He walked away with another sigh. Before he worked here, Mitchell Samuels was a middle school counselor. When he’d been invited to work at the new clinic, the first of its kind, For New Beginnings, he jumped at the opportunity to dump his dull life for well… a new beginning. Here he guided people to a new life. Whether they realized that they’d rather overcome their painful memories or alter them. Some only altered what was painful, others started over with entirely new, fictitious, memories. Though very few were afforded the chance. It costed a whopping million dollars for the procedure and a bit of that lined Mitchell’s pockets. More than he ever earned as a school counselor dealing with whiny kids with superficial problems.
It was a good life honestly. He stepped outside and took out his electric cigarette. Ever since he’d first tried to have kids he attempted to quit smoking, the electric cigarettes weren’t meant to be a permanent replacement, but things didn’t go as planned.
The day was beautiful, so he decided to go for a walk. He’d walked about 2 and a half blocks when a woman caught his attention. Hair the color of Autumn, freckles, and eyes that turned into pure gold when caressed by the sun. She was in a sleek pants suit and sneakers. She held two coffees in a tray on one hand and a phone to her ear in the other. What a beauty she was, if he were a confident man he’d introduce himself to her. Alas, he was not.
As he was about to turn his head, her eyes met his. Unconsciously, he fixed his hair and smoothed out his suit jacket. Even from where he stood he spotted the flush across her cheeks. He waited for her, feeling like a failure of a man for counting on a woman to make the move, despite the other part of his brain telling him it was okay, these were modern times.
She crossed the street, making her way toward him. An increase of insecurity gnawed at Mitchell and his heart hammered in his chest. He had no issue with talking to women, as was seen in how well he handled his female clients, though admittedly it’s easier with a practiced script, but potential partners were a different situation. Maybe due to the consistent amount of times his heart had been broken by ex-girlfriends and most painfully, ex-wife. He accused himself every time, which he recognized was wrong, but the acknowledgement didn’t change it.
He opened his mouth to greet her, but he noticed she seemed frantic so instead asked, “Are you all right, miss?”
“Am I all right?” she said exasperatedly, like he’d asked the most ridiculous question in the world. “Of course not! Where have you been, I’ve waited for you for so long.”
“I’m sorry?” Ah, so this was just a case of mistaken identity. He would have face-palmed at his own foolishness if it wasn’t for how foolish he’d look doing so. “I believe you’ve mistaken me.”
She appeared stunned to the point that she nearly dropped the coffees in her hand, she did, however, throw up the hand holding her phone. “Are you still that angry about our last argument that you’d really act like you don’t know me?”
He thought hard, thinking back to all the women he’d had arguments with recently. There weren’t many since he didn’t make it a habit to get into arguments. “I really have no idea what you’re talking about. Look, I’ve got to get back to work,” he turned to leave but her hand reached out and snatched his wrist. He shuddered and turned back to her.
“I’m not looking for an apology,” she said weakly, dropping her eyes to the ground. “I just want you back home. I miss you. A woman gets lonely without her husband.”
Mitchell’s eyes went wide. This woman thought he was her husband? She was clearly ill and he did feel sympathy for her but it was better to not get mixed up with her. He wondered if she mistook every man she made eye contact with for her husband or even if she had one. Chances for the latter were low. “I’m really sorry, but I’m not married and I have to get back to work.” He gently plied her hand from his wrist and walked away without a backwards glance.
Dalia looked up at him when he came back, “Good break?”
He scratched his head, the woman’s beautiful face coming back to him, “Sort of.”
She gave him a suspicious look then turned back to whatever she was reading at her desk. “A client is waiting for you in your office.”
“Thanks.” Now back to the humdrum of everyday work.
At the end of work he went straight home, like he did every day. Threw his keys on the kitchen counter, poured himself a glass of whiskey, lounged out on the balcony, and considered getting take-out for dinner, like he did every day. As he looked across the city landscape, he wondered how his ex-wife was faring. Was she happy and healthy? Had she moved on to a better man, as much as it pained him to think she had, he hoped so.
The saddened expression on that strange woman’s face as she pleaded for him to go home with her flashed in his memory. He understood that loneliness, that missing someone you loved to the point it tore at you. He hoped she’d get the help she needed, though it wouldn’t be from him. He downed the last bit of whiskey and decided just to go to bed hungry.
The next day, though it had hardly been the plan, he took a walk and ended where he’d met the woman. Perhaps it was an uncontrollable curiosity. Whatever it was, he’d come. Much to his surprise she was waiting for him. She came to him with the same hurt in her eyes.
“We don’t have to go home, just spend time with me. Let’s get lunch. Anything,” her voice was so broken it reminded him of the sound of his own voice when he’d asked his wife to work things out together.
He gulped the lump in his throat down. “I’m sorry, I-”
“You really can’t have forgotten me? It’s Lola!” she gripped at his suit jacket and looked up at him with tears in her pretty golden eyes. He agreed to lunch.
And the next day, and the next day, then dinner one day, and a movie another. Soon he’d nearly forgotten how they had met, she was just the beautiful Lola who wrapped both of her arms around his.
“Is that really you, Dr. Samuels?” Dalia asked one day as he was coming into work.
“Excuse me?” he stopped in his tracks.
“Well,” she leaned forward. “You just seem to look happy.”
He smiled, not nearly matching the huge grin on her face, “Is that an insult or a compliment?”
She leaned back, “Neither, it’s an observation. I was just wondering if maybe you’ve gotten yourself a lady.”
He flushed and glanced away before looking back at her. “Nothing like that.”
She laughed with an eyebrow raised in suspicion, “I’m sure Dr. Samuels. There’s a client waiting for you in your office.”
To be honest with himself, he wasn’t sure what to make of his relationship with Lola. But what he did know was that he was happy being around her. He walked into the room with a smile, “Hello, I’m Dr. Samuels.”
The other man smiled back and the room didn’t seem as glum as it had before.
Going to the house of the woman who had and probably still believed a strange man was her husband probably wasn’t a stellar idea. Especially if it was the strange man who was going. Bad idea or not, that’s what Mitchell did.
It was a small house in a sweet little neighborhood. Families barbequing, kids riding their scooters down the street or playing in the basketball court. It was the kind of neighborhood he and his wife had imagined moving to when they had kids. But they never did have any, in fact, he would never be able to.
Lola unlocked the door and waved him inside, entering after him. She locked the door, which he thought was strange in such a peaceful neighborhood.
“Would you like something to drink, tea or coffee?” she spoke in a meeker voice than she had with him before.
“All right, please make yourself at home while I get it ready,” she directed him to the couch.
He sat down and took in his surroundings. The walls were plainer than he expected, all white. He wondered if she hadn’t lived here long and so hadn’t gotten around to painting them. There were a few photos on the wall, they consisted of her and people he assumed were her friends. No wedding photos, unsurprisingly. What was surprising was that the photos all looked recent, none looked any older than a year. Nor were there any photos of anyone who looked like they could be her relatives, despite how often she talked about them.
In fact the room felt entirely impersonal, like a real person in her mid-30s didn’t live there. His 28 year old sister who hadn’t lived in her apartment but a few months had more of a homely feel when he visited.
“Here we are,” she said, placing a platter with a teapot, cups, sugar and milk on the table. She flipped over the teacups on their plates and poured tea inside.
“Do you not have any photos of you and your family.”
“They got burnt in the fire when I was a child. Any that survived are with my parents. Any sugar or milk?”
“A teaspoon of sugar and just a bit of milk.” He watched her mix his tea and then took it from her offering hands. He took a sip, perfect. “What of any recent photos?”
“Huh?” she sat down. Her face contorted in genuine confusion and she glanced around the room. “Why don’t I,” she whispered, putting her fingers to her lips. She bit her bottom lip and seemed to struggle to recall. She smiled and looked back at him, “Oh well, you know how it gets sometimes. Work and life gets ahead of you and when you do get to spend time with your family it’s the last thing on your mind.”
“Even with your sister?” Lola had told him that she and her sister got along like best friends since they’d been born the same year.
She raised an eyebrow at him, “What are you talking about?” She took a sip of her tea. “I don't have a sister.”
He pinched his eyebrows together and with a little more annoyance than he planned to show, he said, “When I told you about my sister you told me about yours.”
“Oh, oh, right,” she laughed. “A little joke of course. We’re Irish twins.”
Except it hadn’t sounded like a joke. Either she was pulling his strings or she was genuinely confused about her family. He looked around the room again and something clicked. The recent photos, the confusion about her family, and the subsequent filling in those blanks. Filling in for memories that hadn’t been written into the system was a part of the altering program. It was a method of keeping the patient from overthinking missing memories and searching for the old ones. She had to be an ex-patient from the clinic.
“Excuse me,” he said standing up. “I just remembered I have something to attend to.
“What? Can’t it wait?” she panicked, getting up after him.
“I’m sorry, it can’t.”
“I see, let me walk you to the door.”
She walked him to his car and kissed him on the cheek before he got in. He watched her for a moment after he started the engine. Even her worried expression was beautiful. At that moment he realized he loved her. He drove off towards the clinic.
During the weekend no one was inside. Everyone had a set of keys so they wouldn’t get locked out when they left on break and had to be buzzed in. Due to also having closed up on occasion he knew the passcode to the alarm. He reached into the back of the car and grabbed his hoodie. He knew where all the surveillance cameras were but he was no spy or ninja. As he walked through the clinic he still avoided the cameras as best as possible on the way to his boss’ office.
Luckily, his boss never remembered to lock his door. Unluckily, the file cabinets automatically locked upon closing. Which he remembered when he tried wriggling one open. Then he thought about how his own cabinet once got stuck, in which in frustration he hit the back of until it opened. He did so with this one and voila.
Since Mitchell had been hired soon after the clinic opened, she’d have to be one of the test subjects, one later on considering the photos, which meant she retained her name for research purposes. This was what this cabinet held.
He flipped through the pages and… Part of him had wished she’d just been crazy. He had a degree in crazy, crazy would’ve been easier. As he skimmed through her file he knew this wasn’t close to easy.
During a night-time break-in at the subject’s house, her ten year old daughter woke up to find the perpetrator. The girl screamed, alerting her father. He attacked the perpetrator with a knife he’d hidden in his pillow. The perpetrator defended himself with his unregistered gun and shot off two bullets. One hit the subject’s husband, the other strayed during the struggle and hit their daughter….
“For three years she [the subject] hardly took care of herself. I have to periodically visit to practically feed and bathe her. No therapy, no pills, no hospitals have helped. Is she even alive in that head of hers? It hurts,” the subject’s brother accounts the trials the family has suffered.
Mitchell believed he’d been helping people put their pasts behind them, but he doubted Lola was the only one stuck between lives. Would this prove to hurt them even more? But Lola had been living hell on Earth before the test.
He snuck out of the clinic and locked himself in his car. Tears fell freely as he cried silently against his arms lying on the wheel. He thought about Lola, how she still thought he was her husband. It’d be wrong to continue to play house with a broken woman. It’d be wrong to ignore all the signs of her confused mind and act like he’d never read her file. It was wrong to go back to her house now. Wasn’t it?