Have you forgotten something?
Only thirty-nine years ago, people had to live with all the detritus of their lives, all their messy emotions and foolish embarrassments swirling through their brains, making it hard to think straight, see clearly. And then the clever scientists or the doctors or whoever came up with the memory overwrite system, and suddenly it was possible to forget… well, anything you wanted.
Mavis hadn’t really ever held with the memory rewrite, at least not to the extremes it was sometimes taken. People forgetting every little thing that they didn’t like, leaving them with more holes in their brains than the offspring of a sieve and a colander. She’d had a few little things done, just with the home kits of course, everyone did.
But this one…
She stepped into the glittering hospital waiting room prepared, determined. Focussed on forgetting the past so she could look to the future.
She was ushered into room twenty-three; a sign on the door said that her attending doctor would be Ambrose Terwilliger. The linen was crisp, clean and the pale sky blue colour that seemed mandatory in all hospitals, and although it was hardly luxurious the bed wasn’t uncomfortable. She’d filled out everything weeks beforehand and didn’t even have to change out of her clothes; all she had to do was let the nurse fit the electrodes . His gloved hands were cool when his fingers brushed her forehead.
It seemed only a few minutes before the doctor bustled into the room. He had sideburns and a thick, wiry beard flecked with grey and his brown eyes sparkled as he smiled at her.
“Afternoon, Mavis. All comfortable?”
“Yes, thank you.” She tried her best not to nod; the nurse had been very firm about that.
“Good, good. Now, you’ll be feeling a bit drowsy any moment now, Mavis.” His voice seemed to suddenly be coming from a long way off, and the edges of her vision went dark and blurry. She tried to keep her eyes open, to keep listening, in case he said anything important, a sudden surge of anxiety about the procedure spiking through her veins. Maybe she didn’t want to forget…!
“Just let yourself fall asleep Mavis. Just like last time…”
When she woke to the soft whirring of the machines and the sound of quiet voices outside her room, Mavis felt for a moment as if there was a vast hole in her head, sucking at her brain like a riptide, making every thought feel sluggish and heavy and slow. Her hand itched, and she scratched at it, leaving a smear of lipstick on her skin. How did that get there?
After a while, she drifted off, only to awaken with a more pressing need than an itchy hand. Nature called, and after looking around for a helpful nurse and coming up empty, Mavis levered herself off the bed and ambled towards the corridor and the toilets. As she inched her way through the empty hallways, feeling as though her head was full of cotton wool and her joints were made from barbed wire, she wondered why she was here. Or, rather, still here. It was only a day operation, but the sky outside was a faded orange as the sun set somewhere far away. Surely she should have been discharged by now?
The bathrooms were much the same as the rest of the hospital; glossy, white and with a faint smell of disinfectant and sick people. The mirrors winked at her in the glaring fluorescent lighting as she chose a cubicle.
Mission accomplished, Mavis moved to wash her hands in the stainless steel sinks, only to freeze at the sight of her reflection. Just how had she managed to smear lipstick all over her torso? She tugged at the thin fabric of the hospital gown and saw that it went right under the neckline. She pulled the neck down and stared at her chest.
The word was scrawled, thick and clumsy, upside-down on her skin, scarlet lipstick the same livid red as blood. Her knees buckled beneath her and she reached out to lean against the mirror, leaving a scarlet handprint on the glass.
The brightly lit halls of the hospital were filled with the sounds of people as they went about their business. Mavis lay in the bed for a moment, green sheets pulled up to her chin, before sighing and getting up. Swinging her feet over the side of the bed, a flash of red in her handbag caught her eye. Her lipstick, lying open on top of everything else. How careless of her. She snapped it shut and tucked it away, swinging the bag over her shoulder.
A nurse smiled at her and waved as she wandered out into the lobby. Her head was aching abominably, and she felt her answering smile was more a grimace than anything. As Mavis walked past the reception desk, a flash of movement in the corner of her eye made her turn, but it was only her reflection, staring wide-eyed and ashen-faced from stainless steel wall panels. Mavis frowned. There was something red on her shoulder.
The word flowed down her arm, following the curve of her muscles, crude letters sticky when she reached up to touch it with shaking fingertips. Her heart began to race and her vision blurred.
“All done, Mavis. Nothing to worry about, and not a single blip on the REM monitor.” The doctor smiled at her as he pulled the yellow sheets back and helped her stand. As she walked out the front door and glanced at her watch, she thought she saw words ghost across the skin of her forearm, written in thick red letters.
But they vanished before she could read them, and she put it down to post-op weirdness. Fishing her lipstick from her bag, she frowned. Surely she’d had more left on the stick? Oh well. She’d just have to buy some more.