The writer trips and falls over the newly waxed floor in the hallway of the space shuttle outside her dormitory.
“Fucking stupid, so clumsy. Sorry.”
The cleaning robot tilts his head. He looks at her like he’s never seen anything before.
“What are you sorry for?” the robot asks the writer.
“I’m just so clumsy. I always get into trouble.”
“You are no trouble to me,” the robot says, and extends a robot hand to help her up.
“I ruined your floor. You’ll have to rewax it.”
“Why are you worried about that?” the robot asks, “I live forever.”
“I just don’t want to be a burden.”
“So you would rather burden yourself?” the robot asks.
If a therapist or a lover had asked the writer this, she would’ve snapped at them, with something sarcastic and angry, like a shield to block herself. After all, they were out for themselves, she was sure of it, and she was nothing but a vessel for their ideas. But the robot was a robot, unflinching and unchanging, with a voice like unlined static, a velvet hammer.
“I have to go to art therapy,” the writer says, and the robot’s voice resonates inside of her.
So you would rather burden yourself?
Would rather burden yourself?
Burden yourself, burden yourself, burden yourself?
The writer in the space shuttle continues to write:
It appears that I’ve been misinterpreting this the whole time, and that ‘damaged’ is a value statement, not a statement about the thing itself. The thing itself being empathy and my mode of being.
I wasn’t unable to function -because- of empathy, or so I thought. I’d let this thought follow me around for my entire life, constructing a story that would burn down the bridge that allowed me to continue with existence unhindered. I must shield myself, bury myself. I couldn’t stand another minute of this, I needed to scratch at my skin until I got to the bone underneath, and even then it wouldn’t be enough.
It got to the point I was apologizing to cleaning robots for stumbling on floors they made slippery. That’s how much I’ve lost myself in the search for healing my “damaged” self.
When I get home, I’m going to spit in the face of the next person who tells me that I don’t talk enough. I’m going to kick down the door of the apartment of the old lady with the crosswords puzzle and tell her to find a new home. I’m going to smash in the window of the car parked in my flowerbed.
I’m going to stop smiling when hunchbacked old men demand it from me on the streets, their mouths pulled back in the steely grin of the possessed. I’m going to run over them like street markers, showing me the way to never looking back.
The writer doesn’t recognize at first, the creature in her bed with its arms wrapped around her shoulders, her legs wrapped around her thighs. Even when the creature breathes into the writer’s ears, whispers, “Remember me?” like an uncomfortable sex dream.
For a few seconds upon regaining consciousness, the writer thinks she is back home, and she’s forgotten to close the window again. Look, another lover has crawled up the drainpipe and into her bed, and thinks this gives her permission to crawl into the writer’s head. She thinks the industrial fan blowing air through her room on The Halcyon is the sound of the wind howling outside through the grass.
But when the creature kisses her on the chin and says, “What a beautiful meteor shower,” the present comes back to the writer. She realizes she is on the Halcyon, not at her home. And she remembers the intern, wheeling her across the bridge, climbing into her bed. She remembers the knuckles against the throat.
She remembers the sex like a firestorm.
“You can’t do this to me anymore,” the writer says.
The writer expects the intern to grip onto her tighter, to squeeze her and whisper, “Wasn’t the meteor shower hot enough for you baby? Don’t you want to have a little more glow?” The writer expects the intern to choke her until the writer complies, pulls back the sheets and lets her slide in.
“I’m not here for that,” the intern says, and she rolls off the writer. “Come here, I want to show you something.”
The intern pulls something out of her pocket and in the dark haze, the writer thinks its a knife. But then the intern crouches next to the desk in the writer’s room and begins unscrewing a panel on the wall. Not a knife, a screwdriver.
The intern prys the panel open, exposing a small chamber inside the wall.
The writer climbs out of bed and crouches next to the intern.
Inside the chamber is a glowing vial, and some kind of wire apparatus, ancient and alchemical, that seems to be manipulating the liquid in the vial. It resembles, to the writer, a spider.
“They’re pumping AHG into your dormitory,” the intern says.
“The acronym isn’t important.”
She takes out bolt-cutters, cuts the delicate, thin wires, and cuts the wires connected to the glowing vial. She pries the vial out of the chamber, holds it up in the dark. It illuminates her face, and for a moment, the intern appears human.
“They concluded the insectoid damage was too much after reviewing your progress in art therapy. Have your dreams been more vivid since you’ve come here?”
The writer nods.
“Another few days of exposure to AHG and you would’ve stopped dreaming. A week, and you’d find yourself unable to write. By the time you got home, the pain you’ve felt your whole life would be a dull ache in the back of your brain, like a pustule or a sore, something pushed to the back of your sensory perception. And you’d live your whole life without quite remembering the pain that used to plague you.”
The intern pockets the vial.
“But you’re safe now. Your welcome, I think,” she says, kisses the writer on the cheek.
“But why?” the writer asks as the intern heads for the door. “Why did you tell me about this?”
The intern pauses.
“I’d hate for everyone else to miss out on that frantic, self-loathing kind of sex.”
Note: This is part of my Psycho-Surreal Memoirs Series. You can find more by looking through my feed. They're designed to be able to be read in any order.