Mrs. Reynolds was in the chair for the third time that month alone. Penny supposed it made sense. The sensation was nearly addictive. A light feeling. A feeling where you didn’t have to think, or worry, or anything else. It was amazing to experience. Better than anything else she’d ever experienced. Was amazing there weren’t more people addicted to it already.
At some point, she was sure, they had made the machine to actually help people. Then again, Botox’s original purpose was to treat people suffering from muscle spasms or something like that. Wasn’t long before that caught on as cosmetic. Being used to make people feel better about themselves.
That was it. The Memory Eater (trademarked, of course) was this generation’s Botox. Made for those who had something horrible they genuinely needed to forget, used by those who wanted a weekly touch up to feel young and light again. Health consequences be damned. They were the type of people who had no problem shooting a deadly toxin into their faces to pretend they weren’t aging. Just a small step from there to letting someone mess around inside your brain for five minutes for a mental touch up.
The orb-like helmet lifted, the rather self-satisfied-looking Mrs. Reynolds coming out of her daze. She released a deep breath before looking at Penny.
Penny managed to force a smile. “Feeling well, Mrs. Reynolds?”
“As always, dearie.”
She called everyone “dearie”. If she was trying to feel younger from the Memory Eater she was sabotaging herself there.
“Good.” Penny continued to smile. “Same time next week?”
Mrs. Reynolds hummed her agreement, fishing around in her purse for undoubtedly her credit card. Or, more precisely, her husband’s credit card.
Will a carefully cultivated show of will power, Penny managed to smile all the way up until Mrs. Reynolds walked out the door, leaving it open behind her.
It was just a fact, perhaps something telling about society, but a fact none the less. People didn’t want to remember anymore. Not that Penny could really blame them. Memories were painful. Sometimes it would be nice not to have to remember every troubling thought that had ever appeared. And even she had to admit that that high, that feeling of freedom after a session was unlike anything else. But even that high wasn’t worth the loss, that blackness that sat just on the edge of the mind that told you that there used to be something there that you would never be able to remember again. Perhaps it was just her. The procedure was supposed to wipe out any memory of there being a memory you wanted to forget along with it. That was taken care of during the defragmenting. Perhaps they had just screwed up with hers. Or maybe that lingering nagging feeling of forgetting something just didn’t bother other people as much as it did her.
She sighed, looking out the window. It didn’t help that it was an amazingly dreary day. She didn’t do well in the rain. Make a day grey and cloudy and she could make it out of bed in the morning. Perhaps she was solar powered. She didn’t do well at night either.
Sam stood in the doorway, snapping Penny out of her thoughts.
His smile faltered slightly before he recovered. “You ok?”
Penny paused, nodded. “Just the day, I think. It’s too grey out.”
He walked to her, kissing her hello before looking at her again. “Did I just see Mrs/ Reynolds walk out of here again?”
“Always,” Penny answered.
“I’m surprised there’s anything left in her brain to wipe at this point.”
“You assume there was something in there to start with,” Penny said.
Sam raised his eyebrows, but just kept smiling. “Touchy today.”
Penny shrugged. “Are we getting lunch?”
“I have an appointment,” he said. “Though I thought I might be able to offer you dinner tonight instead.”
She nodded. “All right. I’m on my own for now then?”
“Just for now.” He kissed her again.
She let him. Sam was a nice guy. Tall, dark, handsome enough. Even if he couldn’t kiss especially well or any of that stuff, there was no doubting that he was a good boyfriend. And after four years together, breaking up and rejoining the dating scene just wasn’t worth it. Doubtful she would do better.
And one more kiss. He really liked kissing. “I’ll see you later.”
She nodded again, watched him leave. She could always skip lunch, she supposed. She did often enough. Just got something from the vending machine out in the hallway outside the office and then made her very healthy lunch of chips and candy that was one hundred percent desk-eating safe.
The voice made her jump through herself. She really had to stop getting lost in thought. The blond man stood just inside the doorway, waiting for her to answer. Her stomach twisted annoyingly. She pushed it away. “Can I help you?”
“I think so,” he said.
She waited. He didn’t bother to continue.
“Do you have an appointment?” she asked.
“I actually just wanted to talk to you.”
“To me?” She frowned.
He handed her a flier. “Come to this tonight.”
She looked at it. A concert of some sort, apparently. At a club. Late at night. Just the sort of thing she didn’t go to. “Thank you, but I don’t really—”
She went for the same sort of protest, the words dying in her throat. Something about it just seemed…familiar. The black spot in her brain attempted to flicker. Did she used to like going to clubs? That would be a big part of her that had changed from the Memory Eater if she used to. A memory that connected to enough of her that it changed her in such a major way.
She hadn’t had them remove something that important, had she? She hadn’t meant for them to. Not that she could remember. And she could sort of remember that. Then again, that was just one more nail in the coffin toward the technician having done something wrong. Botched the defrag or something like that.
She was nodding before she realized it. Stopped when she did. She looked at him for another moment before answering. “All right. I’ll see if I can drop by.”
The blond man smiled. Possibly even looked relieved? “Great. Great. I’ll let you get back to work.”
She nodded, watching him turn to go. She moved to the doorway, half-unwillingly, called after him. “Hey, do I…do…do you know me?”
He turned in the hallway to look at her for a moment. “Just, come tonight. Ok?”
Dinner was normal. Sam and her discussing their day, their work. The club certainly was not. Dark, smoky, it was just the sort of place she hated. But even she couldn’t deny the little thrill she got just by being there. The energy, the people, it gave her goose bumps just being there. The adrenaline maybe. It was terrifying, but undeniably thrilling.
Oh, and the noise. It had been years since she had been anywhere nearly as noisy. The band was already playing. Some grungy, alternative rock…something. Certainly nothing that would be on any radio station she ever bothered to listen to. And just in case the audience wasn’t aware what music they played it was headed by an appropriately dressed-down singer/guitar player. Long hair, dirty clothes, the whole thing.
She looked closer. He wasn’t handsome, really, but she still couldn’t stop staring. That same, odd feeling in her stomach hit her. She knew him. She didn’t know how she knew him, she didn’t remember knowing him, but she knew she knew him.
He looked up, met her eyes. If she had any lingering suspicions that look of shock would have told her. She might not remember knowing him, but he sure as hell remembered her. That wasn’t him trying to figure out where he knew her from, that was pure shock in seeing her there. You didn’t look like that if you didn’t remember someone. He looked back away, focusing on his guitar she supposed.
She stepped into the shadows up against a wall. It felt somehow safer. It might not be her scene, but there was no way she was leaving now.
He was over to her as soon as the set ended. “What are you doing here?”
“I was invited,” she said.
She opened her mouth, shut it again. Had to settle on shrugging.
He looked her over. “You don’t remember still?”
She looked at him.
“I’m going to kill him.” The man looked around the club.
Penny repeated, “Who?”
The front man sighed. “The guy who invited you. Blond? Sort of stocky?”
“Him. I’m going to kill him.”
Penny shook her head. “Who are you?”
He sighed again, still focusing on the club rather than her. “That isn’t important.”
“It is to me. Trust me.”
He looked at her, still didn’t answer.
“I have an entire part of my life I quite obviously can’t remember. It’s driving me mad. Do you know what it’s like to go around day after day with the same nagging feeling in the back of your mind that there’s something tremendously important that you can’t remember?”
He took another moment. “No. I don’t.”
“Then tell me who you are,” she said.
“Curt,” he said finally.
“And how do you know me?”
He pressed his lips together tightly. “How’s Sam?”
Penny’s brow furrowed deeply. “Tell me what’s going on.”
He shrugged, stuffing his hands in the pocket at the front of his ripped, grey sweatshirt. “I promised I wouldn’t.”
“Promised? Promised whom?”
“Still insisting on the ‘whom’ thing, huh?” He shook his head.
The corner of her lips twitched. She felt the urge to stamp her foot, just barely managed to reign in the impulse. She wasn’t four. “Who.”
“Your boyfriend,” he said.
“What about him?”
“You asked who I promised.”
“You promised Sam?”
“What…when…I…” she settled on, “explain.”
Curt looked around, finally looked back at her. “Come backstage. I’d rather not talk out here.”
She hesitated a moment, found herself following all the same with little protest.
Curt opened one of the doors, motioned for her to enter.
She stepped inside, looked at the dirty…dressing room she supposed it was. “This feels oddly like a set up for a rape scene in a movie.”
“Trust me, if I did that you’d probably like it.”
Penny frowned. “What makes you say that?”
“You have every other time we have.”
“Had sex?” He pushed a pile of clothes off the counter, sitting on it with a thud. “Oh, yeah.”
“I don’t remember—”
“Well, that’s how it’s supposed to work, huh?”
She stayed standing, close to the wall. “How long ago did we…”
He shrugged. “Six, Seven months ago?”
She shook her head. “I’ve been dating Sam for four years.”
“You’re suggesting I cheated on him?”
“Suggesting nothing. I’m saying you did. Frequently and happily even.”
“I wouldn’t do that.”
“This thing wouldn’t.” He waved his hand dismissively over her. “Penny did. I don’t know what he did while inside your head. You’re not the same girl anymore from that.”
“What Sam did?”
Curt shrugged again.
“Who did I used to be?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Are you happy with your little button-down life?”
“I’m not happy not knowing.”
He pulled at his left ear, looking off somewhere over her shoulder. He sighed. “I’m no good for you, you know?”
“I’m never going to settle down. Hell, the way I’m going I’m not going to make it past thirty. That’s my ten-year plan, to not be here in ten years. You don’t want that. You thought you did, but it’s better for you this way. Why do you think I agreed to stay away in the first place?”
Something flickered again, went away. Her mind had been too thoroughly wiped. There was no undo button after delete. “I wanted to be with you?”
“You were enamored with the club scene, with the music. You loved it. At least until whatever he did.”
“I…” she felt dizzy. She couldn’t tell if it was the information or the smoke. He had a needle. She was pricked. It was anyone’s guess how he had gotten to her so quickly.
His arm went around her waist. “You’ll be fine. You’ve got to go home.”
The world started to spin.
Curt watched her being carried away. “You need to stop getting her to come here.”
Alex shook his head. “You love her. If you’d just admit that you’d make everything a lot easier.”
“She doesn’t want to be here.”
“Really? Because she keeps coming back,” Alex said. “It’s you that won’t let her be here. And constantly wiping her memory like this can’t be good for her.”
“Then stop bringing her here.” Curt turned away from him, moving for the dressing room.
“You could have that thing you’re looking for, you know. You don’t have to be miserable all the time.”
Curt didn’t turn around. “See you tomorrow night.”
Alex sighed, watching the unconscious woman who was almost out of sight. He’d get them together if it killed him. He had to. Curt would die young if he didn’t have her. And she was unhappy…The question just was if Penny would have any real memories left by the time they did.
Jessica Dall is a writer living in...