Void and Repair
by A. A. Khayyat
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Subtle afterimages flooded the black field behind June’s eyelids. Colorful shadows of amorphous objects caromed against the periphery of her eyes, bouncing from the edges of the dark field to the center.
She opened her eyes and the immediate taste of bile twisted her stomach. A trashcan stood beside the bed. Three prescription bottles and a tall glass of water stood on the bedside table with a tissue box and a table lamp towering over them.
Her arms strained as she raised herself up, her head throbbing in three different places and her neck locked in a pang of dull pain. She slowly propped herself against the pillow and the headboard, smacked her dry lips, exhaled a squeaky moan and reached for one of the prescription bottles, struggling with the childproof cap and whispering a curse.
When the cap finally came off she fished a pill out with her finger and flung it in her mouth, downing it with urgent gulps of water.
The afterimages dissipated as she blinked a few times, rubbing her eyes in slow, circular motions. Her neck popped when she twisted her body to set the glass down.
The door opened and Stellan came in, smiling at her. “Morning, Bug.”
“What time is it?” said June, her voice hoarse and weak. She reached for her phone buried underneath the tissue box.
“Eleven-thirty.” He sat on the bed, right by her covered legs.
June paused, rolled her eyes and dropped her head back onto the headboard.
“I slept all day yesterday,” she said. “Why didn’t you wake me up?”
“Because you’re recovering. Who cares if you slept all day?”
June squeezed her eyes shut and pulled the blanket sluggishly over her face, letting out a muted groan.
“How are you feeling?”
“Like crap,” she said, pulling the blanket off her face and massaging her eyes. “Everything hurts. I don’t know if I can feel my legs.”
“Sure you can,” said Stellan, reaching underneath the blanket and playfully squeezing her toes.
She drew them back quickly. “Your hands are cold.”
He glanced at the table. “Did you take your pills? You still got to take those, you know.”
“Yeah, I just did.”
“Actually, you were supposed to take that a couple of hours ago.”
“I literally just woke up.”
“Did you take the clonazepam?”
“I don’t want you getting any seizures.”
“I don’t want to take the clonazepam. You take those as needed.”
“All right, all right,” said Stellan defeatedly. “How’s the patch?”
“Still there.” She pulled up her shirt and bent her head down, peering at the patch lying seamlessly under her left ribcage. The flat, skin-colored VAR implant contoured to the curve of her body and a soft orange light flickered from the inside.
“It’s working its magic,” said Stellan. “Just one week, okay?”
June ran a finger over the implant, the soft fleshy texture rubbing against her fingertip. She drew back her gut reflexively. “Feels weird. It’s like it’s not even there.”
“It’s okay,” said Stellan. “Mine, too.” He lifted his shirt, revealing the implant on his waist. It was smaller and rounder, blinking with the same orange light.
She glanced at his implant and frowned at hers. “How come yours is smaller?” she said.
“Because it’s an anchor patch, remember? It keeps an eye on yours, kind of. Regulates it if you get any residuals.”
She blinked. “Oh yeah,” she said, shaking her head. “Sorry, I’m not all here today.”
“No, it’s fine. You’re going to be forgetful the first couple of days. It’s normal.”
June grimaced, falling back onto the headrest and bringing her arm to her gut. “I just want the nausea to go away,” she said, whimpering. “I hate it.”
“I know,” said Stellan, grabbing her leg. “Want me to make you anything?”
June shook her head. “I can’t.”
“You’ve got to eat something. I’ll get you some crackers, at least.”
June rocked back and forth, glancing at the window, the curtains and Stellan, sitting beside her legs. “I want to do the painting residual test,” she said at length.
“Today?” said Stellan.
Stellan nodded. “Okay,” he said. “Want me to bring the stuff here?”
“I don’t care.” She raked her hair. “I’ll just get up.”
“You can paint here if you want,” said Stellan, scratching his five-o’clock shadow.
“No,” said June, looking around her. “There’s not enough room. I don’t want to spill anything on the bed.” She moved her legs and bumped them into Stellan. “Scoot, baby.”
* * *
Stellan had placed a large paper pad on the coffee table when June wobbled into the living room, wrapped in a blanket with her hair tousled. Her eyes drooped and her teeth clattered.
“Cold,” she said.
“It’s seventy-three in here right now,” said Stellan, laying down a couple of paintbrushes and a jar of water on the table. “Wait.” He ran to the wall, looked at the thermostat and went back to the couch. “Yeah, it’s seventy-three. Could be a fever. You sure you don’t want anything?”
“I really want coffee.”
“No, you won’t keep it down. I’ll make you some tea, if you want.”
“I hate tea. I just... I don’t know. I’ll start with crackers.”
Stellan smiled and stuck his thumbs up.
“Love you,” said June, smiling back.
“Okay,” Stellan clapped his hands and sat down beside her, “this should be pretty straightforward.” He took out his phone and tapped the screen a few times. “You’re going to tune your VAR implant and color in some water.”
June rocked back and forth, nibbling on a cracker and staring at the art supplies in front of her. “Just water?” she said.
Her blanket shifted as she felt for the implant. “How do I do it again?”
“Okay, so,” said Stellan, still looking at his phone, “you put your finger on it and focus your attention on the watercolor. You’ll get the wave-link signal if you do it right.”
June stuffed the rest of the cracker in her mouth and put her hand on her implant.
“Yeah,” said June, blinking.
“Close your eyes.”
“Okay, remember,” said Stellan, “I’m going to be focusing on the thing, too. If anything goes wrong, I’m anchoring you back, all right?”
June nodded, her finger pressed against her implant patch.
When she opened her eyes on Stellan’s cue, she felt a velvety wave wash over her. Her side-effect symptoms vanished, and every nerve ending on her body relaxed, opening her up to a blanketing caress of warm air.
“How are you feeling?” asked Stellan, his voice echoing.
June blinked, breathing gently. “I feel good, I think.”
“Okay, great. Take your hand off the implant.”
“Babe, are you feeling this?” June stuck her arm out of the blanket and curled her fingers in the air.
“A little bit. You’re getting all the good stuff, though.”
“It’s so weird.” She smiled. “I mean, in a good way.” She chuckled.
“Okay,” said Stellan, gesturing at the pad. “Color in the first thing that comes to mind about water.”
June picked up a broad brush, dipped the bristles in the jar of water, twirled it over some dark blue watercolor and waited, staring at the blank sheet of paper. “Like, just how I feel about it? Or do I actually paint water?”
“Anything you want,” said Stellan. “The first thing that comes to mind.”
“Okay,” June tightened her grip on the brush and began to color horizontal strokes.
The wave was still passing through and over her, guiding her hand over the paper. Streams of blue overlapped as the bristles glided over the blank space. June noticed the wet color bloom out in zigzagging, veiny forks as dark blue bled into lighter blue.
She colored in almost half the page and set the brush down. The wave left her, and she sat back blinking.
Stellan turned the pad toward him and perused it. “How are you feeling now?” he said.
“It’s like I was flying. You didn’t feel that?”
“I felt a tingle. Describe this.” He tapped the pad. “What you just painted.”
June turned to look at him. Her lip curled in a half-smile. “What?”
“Talk to me about the water. Anything ring a bell?”
June stared at the pad. “No,” she said. “I don’t know, it’s just water.” She pointed. “I made the bottom darker because, you know, water gets darker the deeper you go. Duh.” She reached for the brush. “I’m going to throw in some fish,” and immediately turned to Stellan. “I can do that, right?”
“Have at it,” said Stellan, sitting back and crossing his legs. “I don’t care.”
She dunked the bristles in the water jar. The dried blue drifted off of the brush and into the water, darkening it. She then swirled the brush over some black watercolor and colored in solid ovals with triangles sticking out of one end. Her hand clutched the brush rigidly, her tongue stuck out from between her teeth.
Her eyes narrowed as she focused.
“How many legs do squids have?” she said. “Arms, tentacles, whatever.”
“I don’t know,” said Stellan, squinting at the ceiling. “Like, ten or twelve, I think.”
“Wait,” she swirled the brush over more black, “actually, forget the squid.” She colored in a solid circle, a vertical line protruding out of it and finished off with a horizontal line cutting through the vertical one and an upside-down V sticking out of the bottom of it.
June drew another, smaller stick figure, glanced at Stellan and dropped the brush in the water jar.
“What is that?” said Stellan, his hand reaching for his implant patch. “Who are they supposed to be?”
“Scuba divers,” said June, scratching her head, “I guess.”
Stellan’s hand fell off the implant. He breathed. “Oh, okay,” he said, chuckling.
“You and me, maybe?” said June. “Swimming for our lives, or something.” She went for the brush again.
“Okay, that’s enough,” said Stellan, giggling and leaning forward.
“You’re drowning. And I’m saving you because—”
A heaving wave, spiraling forcefully up her spine, jolted her upright. She was tense for a moment and then sank back in the chair. Her eyes blurred and everything diluted to a foggy blackness.
She then opened her eyes to Stellan’s nudges.
“Babe,” he said, his voice low. “Babe?”
“Yeah,” she said, rubbing her eyes and leaning forward. Her patch buzzed and then stopped. “What happened?”
“Residual moment. We were cutting it real close.”
She looked at the coffee table in front of her. The pad, the watercolor kit and brushes were strewn about.
“I had to anchor you in,” said Stellan.
“How long was I out?”
“About twenty minutes.” He checked his watch. “Yeah, fifteen, twenty minutes.”
“I don’t get it. I didn’t feel anything.”
“You were kind of going off the rails.”
June glanced about. “It’s so weird,”
“What are you feeling?”
She waved her hand in front of her face. “Kind of a haze, or something.”
Stellan set his phone down on the table and narrowed his eyes, biting his lips in what appeared to be a pensive moment.
June stared at him, cocooning herself in her blanket and shivering. A tingle crawled up her spine as the implant patch pinged and clicked. “Something wrong?”
Stellan smiled at her. “No, everything is fine.”
“Like hell,” June sniffed.
“Everything is fine.”
June’s eyes drifted from one thing to another: the walls; the TV on the cabinet; the curtains; the framed pictures; and the slightly prickly rug her bare feet were resting on.
Everything moved in soft, undulating motions whenever she maintained her gaze on something. It was as if the room breathed along with her, inflating with each inhalation and then gradually shrinking at the moment she began to exhale.
The air around her was still but oddly tangible. Her senses seemed to catch every fluctuation, triggering a reaction that sent shaky signals over her body. But she leaned back and closed her eyes, chuckling at the stimuli.
Stellan was staring blankly.
She turned to him. “You okay?” she said.
“Yeah,” said Stellan, blinking. “Just zoned out for a sec.” He granted her a meek smile.
“What’s wrong, babe?” said June, blinking her eyes at the shimmering floaters she saw in her field of vision. “Tell me, please.”
“It’s just weird. When I anchored you in, it’s like I felt a few things, too.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everything the doctor voided out of you.”
June closed her eyes and contemplated on what that could mean, focusing all of her thoughts at the unknown catalyst that had brought her and Stellan to this moment in time.
But nothing was there. She bit her lip and shook her head, her hair swinging left and right.
“Yeah, you shouldn’t be remembering any of it,” said Stellan. “And that’s good. The point of all this is you forgetting and fixing things as you go. So it’s fine.”
“But you’re feeling it instead.” June gave him a hard look.
Stellan shrugged. “It doesn’t matter,” he said, giving her what she knew to be the sincerest of his smiles. “You’re getting better. If anything happens, I’m sure they can void out what leaks through to me, you know?”
June narrowed her eyes at the table and thought. “Want me to call ARCO?” she said. “We have the doctor’s number. He said he could drop by.”
“Nah,” said Stellan, leaning back in his chair. “He said the first week was going to be a tad strange for both of us. We’ll be solid, okay?” He winked at her.
“Positive.” He reached out and held June’s hand. She felt a slight tremble of his fingers and squeezed them, looking at him with a warmth manifesting in a smile of her own, despite the shimmering sparks of colors she saw floating around the room and framing Stellan’s face like thin lines of burning phosphorous.
“Are you seeing any of this?” she said, her head snapping to follow each speck drifting around her.
“What?” he said.
“All these sparks. They’re all over the place.”
He nodded. “Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “I told you. You’re getting all the good stuff.” He giggled. “All I’m getting is” — he snapped his fingers and closed his eyes in recollection — “peripheral afterimages.”
“So you kind of see what I see, but not as much.”
“Not as forcefully, I guess.”
He nodded and reached out to hold her hand. She stuck her hand from underneath the blanket and held his firmly.
“We’re going to get better, okay?” he said.
“You’re fine, babe,” said June. “I need to get better.” And she paused. “I’m ready for something else,” she continued at length. “Another test.”
“You want to do another one?”
“Might as well. It’s not like we got anything else on the agenda.”
“I’ve never taken off this much from work.”
“Me neither. It’s great.”
They both chuckled, and then Stellan got up. “All right,” he said, clapping his hands together. “I’ll be right back.”
The faint whirring of the printer buzzed from the adjoining, newly renovated office. As June stared at the TV screen, watching a muted trailer for an upcoming superhero movie, Stellan came back with several sheets of paper in his hands.
He sat beside her on the couch and placed the papers on the coffee table. “Okay” — he gestured at the table — “this is part two, right here. I’m going to say some random words and monitor for residuals.”
“Fun,” said June, peering at the papers.
He picked the sheets up, went over them quickly and leaned back, singing a song under his breath as he scrutinized the details. “You need to tell me if any of the words make you even remotely uncomfortable, okay?”
June nodded and watched him in anticipation, wrapping her blanket around her shoulders.
“Ready?” said Stellan. “Hand on the patch.”
June tapped her foot and bit her lip, placing three fingers on the patch on her waist. Stellan shot her a look. “Road,” he said, glancing at her.
“Car.” He paused. “Red; grass; bridge; water; computer; ocean; river; sister; mountainside; lake; house; coffee; tequila; fish; lunch; accident; tornado.”
June said nothing. Her eyes darted as her fingers gauged for any subtle changes in the patch.
“Ocean,” said Stellan.
“You said that already.”
“Oh, right, sorry.” He licked his lips. “Sister; mother—”
“You said ‘sister’ already, too.”
“Right. Damn it. Okay: river, Green Meadow.”
“Silver Creek, DUI, seatbelt, cold, death.”
June shook her head at length.
She narrowed her eyes and furrowed her brow as she tried to remember what all those words were associated with. She strained and dipped her head, her fingers pressed firmly on the patch as it sent subtle pulses of warmth through her fingertips and up her spine.
The minuscule reverberations invaded her neurons, prompting more tingling sensations.
She glanced at Stellan. “Nothing. Those words mean nothing to me.”
He dropped the sheets of paper onto the coffee table again and leaned his head back, eyes closed. June waited as his face compressed in thought, the bridge of his nose wrinkling.
For a minute he remained this way, almost as if in meditation.
His eyes shot open and he leaned forward, massaging his head. “Yeah, Bug?”
“Is something wrong?”
“No, no.” He waved a hand at her. “Everything’s fine.”
“Are you sure, babe?”
He nodded and smiled. “You aced it. I feel good about this, Bug.”
* * *
Copyright © 2018 by A. A. Khayyat