by Jim Toal
Pamper yourself in stunning surroundings at our world-class equipped clinic and well-being centre in the heart of the beautiful Cotswolds, England. — The Lakeside brochure, Introduction
The question was: Was it really her? And if the woman wearing the silly, battered, red leather coat when I picked her up was not really Mel, then who was she? Or, indeed, what was she? And what did it matter that I felt glad about the final treatment, and relieved that it would soon be at an end?
“For old time’s sake,” she said, getting into the car and fingering her coat. “Do you remember?”
“Barely,” I said. And that was the honest truth. I barely remembered anything about her, about us. But I knew that her sentimentalism was something to dislike. “You ordered the taxi like I said?”
She nodded and looked out of the window. The winter light made a white mask of her face and glazed her black hair. She was a fading ghost. “Funny, isn’t it?” she said, sighing. “When you think about it.”
I shrugged, irritated. “It’s for the best,” I said. “We agreed.”
“Yes, I know,” she said, turning to face me. Her green eyes remained beautiful in her diminished state, but I was tired of the rest of her.
“I’m only half the man you once knew,” I quipped.
“One-sixth to be brutally accurate,” she said. “But just the same, I can’t help thinking of it being so final, you know.”
I ran impatient, gloved fingers around the steering wheel. “No more than last-minute nerves,” I said. “Don’t worry, it’ll soon be over and then everything will be fine.”
“Suppose so,” she said. “No complications.”
“No complications,” I echoed, squeezing the accelerator with a brogue.
We offer a comprehensive range of treatments, from the more traditional spa treatments to our ground-breaking life modulation treatment, for a guaranteed stress-reduced lifestyle. —The Lakeside brochure, page 2
I travelled most of the journey to the clinic in silence, watching the grey winter afternoon streak by through the car window, while Alex hummed along to Radio 2 and lectured me on the freedom we’d enjoy after the final treatment. I half-listened to this man, once my husband, now almost a stranger. Our lives tied by the finest thread.
We passed a bare field strewn with sugar beet, winter fodder for sheep. The ease of reducing life appalled me. All this had been Alex’s idea from the beginning. I’d been against it, but he’d talked me round. After five treatments, there seemed little point in turning back now. Alex always wanted an end product.
“It will be a new life for both of us,” he concluded. “A new life.”
When he pulled into the carpark, the sky had darkened, and the car came under siege from sudden, theatrical hailstones. We waited for the shower to pass in the dim interior of a pounding drum. The clinic, housed in a beautiful Georgian mansion, was lit up like an exclusive hotel.
I began laughing. “Is it ever going to stop?” I said.
“Damn it,” snapped Alex. “Let’s make a dash for it.”
I ran ahead, yelping like a hysterical child across a carpet of pinging hailstones, as Alex strode in my wake. Upon entering the heavy panelled doors, we both stood in the hushed reception slightly breathless.
I brushed the hailstones from my hair with my fingers, removed my coat and handed it to the receptionist. The receptionist slid a glossy folder across the smoked glass counter. We signed some documents and looked at each other.
I tried to hug him, but he backed away. I offered a flat smile. “Bye,” I said. I held out a trembling hand.
“The last farewell,” Alex said. His handshake was businesslike and firm to the point of being painful.
Our fully trained staff and expert medical team will ensure that, whatever treatment you choose, your every need will be catered to. For a truly exceptional experience why not upgrade to our Premium-Plus package? Ask any member of our staff for an immediate quote. — The Lakeside brochure, page 2
Mel offered her hand, and I took it in a brief handshake. Her hand was smooth and cold, light and finely boned as a bird. Her eyes were moist.
She nodded, and we headed to separate changing rooms. I was aware of her lingering in the corridor but didn’t hesitate. There was no going back, and, if she was having doubts, I wanted to nail them. I slipped behind the male changing room door. The door sucked shut.
Colours projected through fine mist, criss-crossing the treatment booth. The temperature was at my personalised setting of a comfortable 25 degrees Celsius. Occasional gusts of cool and warm air wafted across my body, each offering a different scent: tangerine, jasmine, spruce.
Cocooned inside, I was always amazed that the treatment was so easy, and the final one was no different. Lying in the semi-darkness, the only difficulty was avoiding sleep. A familiar, disembodied, female voice advised me to free my mind of thought, to contemplate nothingness.
But, when my eyes inevitably closed, the voice, with a puff of peppermint, roused me gently to remind me of the benefits of staying awake both on my account balance and the efficacy of the treatment.
The final experience was released. To add a theatrical flourish, I had chosen a spectral green light effect that radiated to the top of the booth where it glowed like phosphorescence on dark water. I left the booth feeling more woozy and disoriented than usual.
The technicians wrapped me in a bathrobe and guided me to the viewing area. I was seated on a huge, black leather sofa before a large screen and given a cup of the green tea I liked. I was handed the remote and reminded about how to operate the review and selection process.
The blue button brought the screen to life. I pressed play. “Ah,” I said. Despite myself, I felt my throat tighten slightly.
The screen showed Mel and me on the beach at Bamburgh, an early weekend away. The wind streaming through the dune grass, and Mel’s dark hair whipped across her face. She was wearing her favourite red leather coat. Eider ducks bobbed in the waves, and a fisherman rode a bicycle along the shoreline. We made love for the first time in the dunes. Her long, pale body stretched out on the sand, her searching, green eyes fixing on my face.
“The good times,” I said. “She wore that coat today.”
“Unfortunately, sir, it is necessary to cut away every experience, even the joy,” said the voice. “It can prove problematic if not dealt with carefully. Think of a surgeon having to take healthy tissue to make sure all the unhealthy material is removed. Do you wish to proceed with deletion?”
“I’ll admit this is more difficult than I expected,” I said. “Who would’ve thought that things could turn so sour?”
“Your decision, sir,” said the voice. “However, we must caution that retrospective deletion is costly when the process is so advanced, unless fully covered. We do offer our Platinum-Plus Package that caters for all circumstances. Do you wish me to quote for an upgrade, sir?”
“And her? I assume...”
“All simultaneous, sir,” the voice interjected. “There can be no doubt with Platinum-Plus. She will remember nothing of you, and you nothing of her. Guaranteed, one hundred percent, forever.”
“Put it on my account,” I instructed. “It’s for the best.”
“Thank you, sir. One moment please.”
Ethereal music played for a few seconds before the voice confirmed a successful transaction.
Back in the booth, I witnessed the green light transformed into a psychedelic spiral through which the light itself drained away like water down a plughole. A warm wave swept from my gut down my legs.
“What an incredible feeling,” I gasped. “A little, if you don’t mind me saying, like making love for the first time.”
The voice paused. “Final completion is always very popular. Does sir feel well?”
“Very well, thank you.”
I was given more tea. More documents and disclaimers were signed. Under Data Protection, the deletion would remain scrupulously private data, to be shared with nobody. Measures had been taken to ensure third-party compliance, including quarantine of all electronic information.
Light of foot, I made my way to the dressing room, where I showered and moisturised, and arranged my hair into an artful little quiff.
We are experts in relationship remediation, divorce consolidation, bereavement nullification and other stress-reduction therapies. There are no negative life experiences that cannot be reconciled by our sector-leading life modulation treatments. Put your problems firmly behind you at The Lakeside. — The Lakeside brochure, page 4
Was it possible to feel any better? I’d been able to upgrade the treatment to include a full body massage, mani-pedi, and facial before leaving the changing rooms, to quote the therapist, “glowing with confidence and well-being.”
I took a light lunch in the restaurant. Through the window I could see the day had grown brighter, and the lake was a silver plate. I watched a pair of coots weaving in and out of reeds at the edge of the water.
I collected my coat from reception and attempted to exchange a pleasantry with an older man who looked disoriented and stared straight through me. His face was overworked, taut and tanned, his thinning hair rigid with gel. I quickened my step to the exit where my taxi was waiting.
At The Lakeside we take quality and confidentiality very seriously. All of our ground-breaking treatments use only the most advanced technology, and are completely confidential. You can expect total peace of mind at The Lakeside. — The Lakeside brochure, page 6
The question was: Who was she?
She was tall, slim and exceptionally beautiful with dark hair and piercing green eyes. She collected a retro red leather coat from the receptionist. When she noticed me staring at her, my mouth became dry, and my stomach fluttered like a schoolboy’s.
Her taxi arrived. She looked straight at me, her eyes sparkling. “Good morning,” she said politely and hurried past.
I quickly looked around for an excuse to interrupt, to delay her. I opened my mouth to call after her, to say anything to make her wait, her shoe was untied, a mitten had dropped from her pocket.
I couldn’t speak.
My heart was pounding. Her perfume lingered like the scent of food to a starving man. I stood helplessly rooted to the spot as she left the building.
The receptionist came over to me. “Can I help you, sir?” she asked.
I didn’t respond. Trapped like an insect in amber, I watched the beautiful woman exchange a few words with the driver before climbing into the back of the taxi. The taxi pulled away, and I rushed to the exit to see it disappear behind a stand of beech trees, beyond the lake glistening in the low winter sun.
Neither Lakeside Ltd, its clinicians, technicians, therapists or other employees, servants or agents (including every independent contractor from time to time employed by Lakeside Ltd) shall in any circumstances whatsoever be under any liability whatsoever to the applicant for any loss, damage or injury (including death) whether accidental or otherwise of whatsoever kind arising during or resulting from participating in any treatment — The Lakeside: Terms and Conditions: Liability, paragraph c
Copyright © 2015 by Jim Toal