Void and Repair
by A. A. Khayyat
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Two voices spiked and dipped.
“She...” said Stellan, “listened... over...”
“Void...” said the other voice, “doesn’t...”
A faint light threaded through to her eyes as her eyelids struggled to open all the way. Circular bulbs flooded her senses, and she closed her eyes again.
“Isn’t there, like, a...” said Stellan, “like a fail-safe, or something?”
“The idea was to let the VAR implant settle in for a week,” said the doctor. “Hers is gone. And we can’t replace anything yet. It’s too soon.”
“What’s going to happen to us?” Stellan’s voice broke.
The doctor seemed to pause. “We put the old memories back—”
“No, no, no, no, no, you can’t do that.”
“We can’t leave the void there. It’ll saturate stuff you don’t want on there.”
“Mother—” Stellan’s voice was drowned by a crashing sound.
“Stellan, please,” said the doctor. “Have a seat.”
“I’m not,” he paused, “I’m not. You said it was going to work. Now my brain’s all fried, too.”
“No, you said it was going to work. You’re going to bring back my fiancée now. I swear to—”
“No, she almost—”
The sounds withered away, and June could not hear anything anymore.
* * *
The ceiling was blank. When she blinked she saw a blur that wobbled with a gelatinous consistency. It shook erratically and heavily before settling into a plain whiteness.
She blinked again and the ceiling returned.
A weight pushed down on her head, and her whole body ached. Her arms and legs were sore, and her lungs were stiff.
Broken sounds rang within her head, shattering into faint, incoherent echoes.
She turned her head and saw Stellan sitting on a chair, bobbing his head.
He opened his eyes and stared at her. “Babe?” He pushed himself off of the chair and landed beside her. “Baby?”
She smacked her lips and stared at him.
“Baby, can you hear me?” said Stellan.
June opened her mouth but only a thin, compressed trace of a sound came through.
“What, baby?” said Stellan, holding her hand. “What do you need?”
“Wat—” she breathed, “wa—”
“Water? You want water?” He grabbed a cup of water from the bedside table and eased it to her lips.
She nudged his hand away. The IV tube — its needle fastened tightly to her wrist — extended from the top of her wrist and down her arm.
“Okay,” he said, placing the cup back on the table and going back to her. “Baby, are you okay?”
She shook her head. “I’m sorry,” she said, maintaining a narrow gaze.
“It’s okay,” he said, running a gentle hand over her head. “How are you feeling?”
“I know.” He kissed her on her forehead. “I’m glad you’re all right.”
June turned away and faced the window. She felt a hollowness in the pit of her stomach, an emptiness that was supposed to be filled with a kind of potential energy. She reached down and pressed a finger on her waist. The cottony texture of gauze met her fingertips and her eyes watered.
A thousand images began to flood back into her head, shooting past her in spectral blurs. But her brain registered them all: a suffocating clasp of cold water; a drowning girl; the impact of blunt trauma; a dead, bleeding woman sitting beside her.
Her body jerked upward, and she began to shake, clawing for Stellan’s hand.
He held her fingers tightly and leaned forward. “It’s okay. It’s okay, I’m here.” But his voice was uncertain. He was choking up.
She looked at him as he began to shed his own tears. “I can’t breathe,” she said.
“Yes, you can, okay?” he said. “You’re going to be all right.”
“Where’s the patch? Anchor me in, please.”
“They’re gone, babe. The doctor took them out.”
A tear rolled down her cheek, and her lips quivered.
“It didn’t work out for us,” said Stellan. “The doctor said he’s never seen amnesia like that before. He said it was dangerous.”
“I was happy.”
“I know. But you almost died.”
“They’re coming back to me.”
She clawed at her apron, feeling it tighten around her as ghostly impressions began to form in front of her, drifting in a kind of haze that pulsated.
“I need to leave,” she said. “I can’t stay here.”
“No, we’ve got to stay here, babe.” He ran a hand over her head. She looked at him pleadingly. “They need to look after you.”
“I know, baby. They took out that stupid thing. We’re good. They’re monitoring how the stuff is filtering things back—”
“I can’t stay.” Her voice rose.
“It’ll be all right, babe.”
“Look at me, babe.” He kissed her on the shoulder.
“I need to see Mom and Mimi,” said June, her voice croaking and thin.
“No, you don’t,” said Stellan, gently turning her over. “Look at me.”
She narrowed her eyes at him.
“We’re not doing anything until they straighten you out,” he said.
“I want to die.”
“No, you don’t.”
“I want you to be happy.” Her eyes watered.
“I’m only happy when you are.” He wiped his eyes.
“Don’t lie to me.” A tear trickled down her face. “I’m nothing.”
“June!” He hissed through his teeth. “We’re not leaving till they straighten you out. They did this to you, okay? They’re fixing it. We’re not going anywhere.”
June’s lips shook. She opened her mouth to say something but only tremulous sobs quivered out.
Stellan backed up, wiping more tears from his eyes. “I don’t feel good,” he said, facing the door.
June saw him trembling, confused. His body was bent, his eyes were darting around the room and he began making thin, quivering sounds that were muffled by sudden, quick breaths.
“Stell?” she said.
* * *
When June was cleared for discharge, she was shuffling beside Stellan, whose shoulders were still hunched. They made their way to the car in a kind of somber drift, neither one of them talking as the overcast sky began to shimmer and roll out grumbles of thunder.
June felt the tiny pattering of rain on her arms as Stellan unlocked the car.
The living room was quiet. The silence was deep and empty as June watched Stellan sit beside her and stare at nothing.
She uncapped one of her prescription bottles, eased a pill into her hand and threw it in her mouth, chugging some water afterward.
Stellan was trembling.
“Stell?” said June. “Stell, you haven’t said a word since we got back.”
“I killed them,” he said.
“I killed them.”
She stared at him, her jaw worked as memories flooded back, pounding her head.
“Is this a joke?”
“I couldn’t do anything.” He got up, lost and dazed. “They were there, alive. I couldn’t do anything.”
His hands were curled into a fist, and he turned around frantically, his head snapping left and right.
“Stell,” said June.
“I killed them,” he punched a wall.
“Stell!” June shot to her feet.
“I’m so stupid, stupid, stupid!” He punched the wall each time he said it and fell to his knees, his knuckles smeared in red.
June stood over him shaking, her eyes watering. Her hand faltered as she touched him on the shoulder.
He shrugged her off and crawled away, trembling like a cornered animal.
“Stell, what’s wrong with you?” she said.
“I killed them. I let them die. I killed them!” He clawed his face and dropped forward, sobbing into the ground.
“Memory leaching,” said the doctor, as he stood over him in the living room, waving a small scanner over his face. June watched Stellan’s limp body as he lay in a delirious stupor, mumbling and murmuring.
Her hand went up to her mouth as she fought back tears. “Why is happening?” she said. “What the hell did you do to us?”
“June, listen,” said the doctor, raising his hands, “I gave you all the necessary precautions you needed to take—”
“You ruined us.” She stomped toward him.
“There is a way to reverse the leaching, June,” he said quickly.
“You’re not planting anything in us again.”
“He’s in a kind of twilight phase now, June.”
She looked at Stellan again as memories of screams and suffocation etched through her. Her stomach sent a surge of bile, and she clutched her chest.
“The memories are still leaking from what he got out of you,” said the doctor. She turned and glared at him. He raised his hands placatingly. “Hear me out, please. Shock him out of it, and he should go back to normal.”
“How do I do that?” she said.
The doctor went silent. June noticed the slight frown of concern warping his face. “How do I do that, doctor?” She spat the last word out.
“He has your memories. Take him to where it all happened.”
Mimi’s face blazed across and she stepped back.
Stellan sat up and exhaled, and began to sob and keen.
June clasped the doctor’s wrist. “You’re helping me,” she said.
“You did this. You’re seeing it through.”
“June, I warned you both about the implications—”
“You could have kept us at ARCO for a week.”
He stuttered. “Most patients make a full recovery in—”
“Help me get him to the car.”
* * *
June clutched the steering wheel and glanced at Stellan, sitting with his head resting against the window. His eyes were half-open and he was still mumbling. The wipers squeaked against the windshield as rain slapped down in torrents.
“She told me she wanted to swim, too,” said June. “Mimi did.”
Stellan blinked and breathed.
“‘Junebug, you suck,’” June went on. “’Grandpa swims faster than you.’ She would be like, ‘The fishes like me better anyway. I’m a mermaid.’” She sniffed. “‘Look at my mermaid suit!’ I took a shine to the fins. They were so cute.” She wiped her face.
Stellan said nothing.
“But,” June said, “it doesn’t mean I have to live like this forever. We messed up, Stell. Real bad.”
She heard faint whispers and sat up rigid, glancing at Stellan who was still not responsive, lost in groans and delirium.
“I couldn’t do anything,” said June, her voice trailing to a whisper. She sniffed and blinked as tears rolled down cheeks. “But it wasn’t my fault, okay?”
“I killed them,” said Stellan.
“No,” said June. “No, I didn’t kill them. I did what I had to do to live. I had to survive. I’m human.”
“I killed them. I killed Mimi.”
“I didn’t kill, Mimi. She wanted me to make it, okay?”
June closed her eyes and snapped them open to the wail of a car’s horn. She swerved back to her lane and wiped her face as a sob shot out of her.
“I’m not worthless,” she said.
“I’m weak,” said Stellan.
“No. You don’t know anything.”
“I’m nothing. I don’t deserve to live.”
June screamed, “Shut up!”
Stellan jolted forward, his eyes wide open.
“I’m stronger than you.”
“No,” said Stellan, his voice drawling and slurring.
“I can live through this,” said June.
“I need to die.”
“I’ll be free.”
She cranked the radio up, drowning Stellan’s moans with rock music.
After she pulled the car up onto the emergency lane, June slowly opened the door and stepped out of the driver’s side, walking around and yanking the passenger side door open. Stellan’s head dipped to the right and he opened his eyes, looking around aimlessly.
“Look at me: June,” said June, grabbing Stellan’s face and pushed it up so that their eyes met.
“Let me tell you what happened,” said June, sidling to the side as Stellan’s eyes took in the surroundings. He began to wail as an SUV pulled up to the curb. The doctor rushed out.
“Look at me: June,” said June, grabbing Stellan’s chin again. “This is where it happened.”
“No,” said Stellan.
“Mom was driving drunk because Dad had left us. Mimi was strapped in the back seat playing with a mermaid toy. I was in the front, arguing with Mom.”
“No!” Stellan clutched his head, his nails digging into his skin.
The doctor stepped forward. “June,” he said, “I suggest—”
She pointed at the doctor: “You shut your mouth!” She went back to Stellan. Her lips were quivering. She faltered, wiping tears from her eyes.
“I argue with Mom,” she said. “She throws a fit, starts banging her head on the steering wheel—”
“Shut up!” said Stellan.
“Mimi is crying in the back, talking to the mermaid because no one’s listening—”
“I hate you.”
“Mom swerves a little too hard to avoid a head-on collision with a truck—”
“I need to die.”
“We go right through the guardrails.” She turned, walking to the guardrail and tapping the cold metal. “Right here.” She looked over the edge toward the dark, murky water. It crashed against the mountainside, belching silvery surf upward. “We go down, down, and crash.”
Stellan clambered out of the car and stumbled toward the guardrail.
“Get away from there!” said the doctor. “I can admit you both—”
“We wanted to breathe,” said June, sobbing as the whispers grew louder. “But we can’t. I can swim. Mom was dead. Mimi’s belt buckle just wasn’t there anymore. I don’t know why.”
Stellan began to climb the guardrail. “Shut up, you can’t stop me,” he said. “I’m going down there to be with them now.”
June followed him. She eyed the doctor who had his phone out. He tried to dial a number, dropped the phone, picked it up and dialed again.
June looked Stellan in the eyes. “I will live through this.”
“No,” said Stellan, shaking his head.
“Yes,” said the doctor. “I’m on the highway, somewhere between Silver Creek and Green Meadows. Please, send someone—”
June clasped Stellan’s arms and threw herself off of the ledge, pulling Stellan with her.
He screamed as they fell. June locked her eyes into his. “Close your eyes, June,” she said.
And the cold engulfed her as they exploded into the water.
Stellan thrashed and flailed as he sank below her.
June kicked toward him and wrapped her arms around his waist, straining, spitting out bubbles and gritting her teeth. They both sank.
Again, she strained, tugging upward.
Now, they both began rise.
Her eyes narrowed, her mouth closed. She closed her eyes, and her ascent slowed to a stop as a whisper grew louder from below.
Opening her eyes she saw the vague impressions of the source of the whisper; the blue cracks were tearing through the water. Out of them came a little girl’s voice. She felt two tiny jabs of pressure pushing against the small of her back, propelling her through the water again, pulling Stellan effortlessly along with her.
She looked down, catching a glimpse of a subtle face smiling at her before her head broke the surface. Stellan drifted beside her.
With her arms still hooked around him, she rode the wave toward the rocks, shielding Stellan with her own body before the impact knocked the air out of her.
* * *
June opened the door to the hospital room and walked in, smiling at Stellan, who was lying in the hospital bed, strapped to many kinds of machinery with a bandage wrapped around his head.
“Hey, babe,” she said, holding a paper bag in her hand.
“Hey,” said Stellan, weak and in a daze.
“Got you some soup.”
His eyes followed the bag. “I love you so much, lifesaver of the year.”
“Whatever.” She sat beside him. “You doing okay?”
“I can’t remember much.”
“Yeah, that’s going to be there for a while.”
Stellan exhaled audibly. “Did you get your ARCO eval yet?”
She shook her head. “No need,” she said. “The memories are all back.”
“All of them?”
Stellan did not say anything for a little while. “I’m sorry, Bug,” he said at length.
“It’s okay,” she said, nodding. “I want them all back.”
He gave her a sideways look.
“I know Mom and Mimi are doing a lot better now.”
Stellan lifted his hand and set it on top of hers. She clutched it and he winced.
“Sorry,” she said, loosening her grip.
“You’re the toughest girl on the block, you know that?” said Stellan.
“Whatever.” She chuckled.
“I felt I was falling apart. During that whole time I, kind of, remember hearing you,” he made his hand into a fist and lightly punched the air. “You were breaking through.”
She smiled at him for a minute. “It’s because you have a thick head, Stell.”
They both chuckled.
“I can’t laugh too much,” he said. “My neck.”
“I know.” She fished the paper cup of soup and a plastic spoon out of the bag and pulled off the lid. “You hungry, grandpa?”
“Love you, babe.”
“Love you, too, Junebug.”
Copyright © 2018 by A. A. Khayyat