A helmet encased my head, pouring heat across my forehead. Little needles poked through the top and sides, resting in zigzagged rows against my scalp. They didn’t hurt, but they were irritating as all hell.
“Are you going to tell me what I’m guinea pigging for yet?”
Margaret, my best friend since pre-K, adjusted the knobs on top of the device. Chewed on her flaking lower lip. And asked, “If you could erase any novel from your mind, so you could read it over again like it was the very first time you ever picked it up, what would it be?”
“Can we make it a TV show instead? Reliving Breaking Bad would be badass.”
She shook her head of black curls. “There are too many episodes. Too much to erase. I want to stick to a single book. No Hunger Games or Harry Potter. Nothing from a series. One book. Your choice.”
“I mean, I think it’s obvious.” I lifted my arm. Flashed her my fifth (or was it sixth?) tattoo. My favorite line from Gone Girl was written in typewriter font across the forearm.
“Okay, good. I figured. Already have the proper files downloaded.”
I was going to ask her why she had even bothered to ask, but she was in full-on mad scientist mode, which meant it was no time for jokes. I might have been a lazy, procrastinating, broke ass writer, but Maggie was the same age as me and already bringing home a six-digit paycheck.
She was a mixture between a computer engineer and a natural scientist and maybe a brain surgeon. To be honest, I had no idea what her official title was. Hence mad scientist.
“This is going to be cold,” she said, pressing a liquid soaked pad against my leg before sliding a needle into my vein. “You shouldn’t pass out from this. It’s an intravenous drug, yes, but it’s only meant to slow your brain’s processing speed. To numb the neurons that are transmitting information across your…”
She droned on as I drowned her out. She paid me good money to help with the experiments she didn’t have clearance to attempt at the… office? Lab? Department? Wherever the hell she worked, over in Washington.
The ‘services’ I provided for her kept me in my apartment, because freelancing sure as hell wasn’t paying the rent. Honestly, our arrangement was golden. I barely had to do anything, aside from sit there and answer survey questions. I liked spending time with her. And I trusted her. I knew she wouldn’t do anything immoral, put my life in danger.
At least, not on purpose.
Apparently deleting a 432-page book from my memory took just as long as reading a 432-page book, because the process lasted six hours. Not that I’m complaining, because it only felt like ten minutes for me. Not even.
All I know is, one second, Maggie was typing numbers into her computer and the next, she was popping the helmet off of me and handing me a book to read.
“I really wanted to monitor your brain activity as you read it,” she said. “But it’s getting late. I need to get at least two or three hours of sleep tonight. I’m sure I’ll be awake by the time you finish.”
So I stayed the night at her place and read by the flickering light of her stone fireplace. This book was soft covered, but at home, I had a limited edition hardcover copy of it signed by the author. My favorite author. The author I aimed to be half as good as. A quarter, even. She was a fucking genius.
But, at the time, I couldn’t remember any of that. All I remembered was that Maggie handed me a book and told me to read it for one of her experiments. I didn’t remember what had happened in the story. And I didn’t remember what it had meant to me.
So when I finished, I walked into the kitchen where Maggie was sipping coffee, and tossed the book on her table. “It’s trash.”
I could see a hint of a smile beneath the cup. “Come on now. I need accuracy.”
“I’m serious. That was a best seller? Horrible ending. Unlikable characters. Unreliable narrators. Not my style.”
She squinted her eyes into slits, like she was trying to tell if I was pulling her leg, and I did a dead stare back. Shrugged my shoulders.
Then those eyes widened. Coffee sputtered from her lips. She looked between me and the doorway that led to her equipment, like she was trying to decide which to run to.
She chose the room. I followed her into it, watching her flip through papers, saying, “I think I fucked up. Oh God. I fucked up bad. Fuck fuck fuckfuckfuck.”
I reached for her shoulder, like I was approaching an animal. “What do you mean? Did I mess something up for you?”
“Did you — Ugh.“ She grabbed my wrist. Yanked my arm into the air so I could see the tattoo. “This is your favorite book. Favorite doesn’t even cover it. You were obsessed with it. Obsessed. Never shut up about the damn thing.”
The machine must have erased my memory of the tattoo too, because it held a line from the book. I looked at it like I was seeing it for the first time. Like I didn’t know why it was there.
It said, “Life is a long line of fine” with an olive leaf underneath. One of the quotes from the book. I remembered the scene it came from. I thought it was stupid. One of the worst parts of the entire story.
And in that moment, I was pissed. I didn’t stumble into tattoo parlors drunk off my ass. I thought out my tattoos for months, years. I only got meaningful designs. If I had that line sunken into my skin, then I must have really loved it. It must have really meant something to me.
And now it was a blotch on my body, ugly as a scar.
I’m not proud of what happened next. All the cursing and screaming and smashing. Throwing low blows, about exes that dumped her and the mother that abandoned her. I was a complete asshole.
But she deserved every word.
After my outburst, we spent twenty minutes on opposite sides of the room. Her, still flipping through papers, glancing at her computer, mumbling under her breath. And me, just staring at the tattoo.
Until I broke the silence by saying, “Remove Ronnie.”
She looked up, a question mark written on her face.
“Erase my memory of him,” I said. “And don’t even say you can’t, because you can.”
“I can’t – do that for you – even if I – It’s messed up now. The numbers are – they’re all wrong.”
“That’s why you should do it now. It won’t just erase my memory of him. When he calls or texts or tries to hook up again, I won’t love him anymore. I’ll hate him. Right? Right?”
Her fingers scratched under her bangs. “I supposed. I… I really don’t…”
“You just ruined my tattoo. Destroyed my body. Make it up to me. Make it up to me, so we don’t ruin our friendship over this.”
It didn’t take much convincing. For a science oriented mind, she was overloaded with emotions. I could always pull at her strings with the right words, the right inflections. The perks of being a writer.
I guess that’s why she agreed.
It happened a week later. Maggie invited me over to her house, popped the helmet on my head, and erased Ronnie from my mind. All the late nights watching his band play. All of the afternoons waiting for texts he never sent. All the mornings listening to him sneak out of my apartment and into another.
We’d dated for three years – if you could call it dating. I was a body to him, and not even the only body, an exclusive body. But he was everything to me.
I knew I deserved better, but I followed him around like a kicked puppy. Answered every booty call. Helped him with every favor. I was madly, deeply, irretrievably in love.
When Maggie finished wiping away that hurricane combo of longing-love-jealousy-joy-sadness, she explained the situation to me, so I’d be prepared when he inevitably contacted me. She told me that there was a boy named Ronnie (a name that suddenly sounded so ugly). That he lived next door to me. That I used to ‘be’ with him. That I used to love him.
And when I drove back to my apartment and collided with him in the hallway, I didn’t feel a flutter. I didn’t feel the lightness of love. I only felt hatred. Pure hatred.
I was finally over him – and I couldn’t feel more alive.
Margaret Lee – Personal Log 0127
It has been a full week, one hundred and sixty-eight hours, since I successfully performed the memory altering procedure on Lily.
Since then, she’s been hermited, locked in her apartment writing, which I initially regarded as positive. I took it as a sign that she had a clear head and could finally focus on her life’s work.
But I checked in on her today and I was wrong. There were no visible signs of distress. No bloating, red eyes, nausea, flushed skin, scratching.
But her apartment…
Pictures of Ronnie wallpapered the rooms. There had to be hundreds of them — some pulled from social media and some snapped from her window. She had red Xes over his eyes. Blood spurts scribbled across his genitals. Unintelligible words and triangular symbols (which appeared satanic) written across mirrors in zigzagged lines.
She was obsessed with him. She hated him with the intensity that she originally loved him.
I should’ve checked in on her earlier, but she sounded fine over the phone. She swore she was doing well.
Obviously, I needed to fix what I had broken. To set her mind back to normal. But to accomplish that, I needed to lure her back to my apartment. I say lure, because she refused to go with me. She kept murmuring (sometimes screaming) phrases that sounded nothing like English.
I went into her bathroom to search for pills, for something strong enough to sedate her, but I found…
I don’t want to write the words in case the cops confiscate this log and use it as evidence. But, then again, I suppose I should cooperate with the police. I suppose I should be the one to call them.
I suppose the dead body in the bathtub is ultimately my fault.