MIND GAMES • by Barbara A. Barnett

Richard draped his trench coat over the back of George Arboral’s sofa, wishing he could cover up the lingering scent of sweat and sex. But unlike George, the sofa’s Italian leather cushions remembered everything.

While George paced across the living room, an unshaven mess in his rumpled business suit, Richard asked the same question he had started with the day before: “Where did you last see your mind, Mr. Arboral?”

“How am I supposed to know?” George flailed his arms until they found something to break — today, a collection of ceramic penguins, chipped and gaudy and out of place with the marble mantelpiece they occupied. “I don’t have a mind!”

Richard fought off a shudder; two years of cases like this under his belt, yet he still found it eerie how the mindless managed to think. Their brains stayed put and kept them functioning, but their minds, the memories and ideas that made them who they were — those had a tendency to pop out when life’s little stresses became too much, leaving CEO types like George flopping around like the Scarecrow in Oz.

Richard brushed the penguin fragments into a neat pile. “Those were your wife’s.”

George slumped into an armchair. “I have a wife?”

“She’s the one who asked me here, Mr. Arboral. To help find your mind.” Richard crouched down to search beneath the coffee table — a monstrously ornate piece with a faux-marble top. All he found were dust bunnies and a battered Chinese takeout menu. “Don’t you remember?”

“Of course I don’t remember.” George kicked the table, knocking a collection of erotic romance novels to the floor.

Richard frowned. “Those are your wife’s too.”

“I have a wife?”

“Yes, Mr. Arboral.” Richard lifted a sofa cushion. Nothing but loose change and chip crumbs. “You have a very lovely wife.”

George sat up with a start. “How do I know I’m really this…” He chewed on his lip for a moment. “What is it you keep calling me?”

“Arboral, sir. George Arboral.”

“Well, how do I know I’m that guy?”

Richard reached underneath the sofa. His hand closed around the condom wrapper he had tossed aside the night before. “Look in your wallet, Mr. Arboral.”

“My what?”

“That lump in your back pocket that you’ll be paying me out of later.”

While George fumbled for his wallet, Richard headed into the kitchen, the condom wrapper crumpled in his hand. George’s wife Lorraine was leaning against the kitchen counter, a lipstick-smeared cigarette in her hand and a grin on her face.

“How long can you keep this up?” she asked.

“Another day or two.” Richard threw the condom wrapper in the trash. “I gotta report back with something soon or the agency will get suspicious.”

“And if that happens?”

“They take you in for questioning and scour this place until they find your husband’s mind, at which point we’re both screwed.”

“Too bad.” Lorraine stubbed her cigarette out on the counter and sauntered toward Richard. “What about a repeat call?” Her grin melted into the helpless pout with which she had entered his office two days before. “My husband is so careless with his mind,” she cooed, brushing her fingers up Richard’s back. “I’m afraid he’s gone and lost it again.”

Lorraine pulled him in for a kiss, but Richard drew away and untangled her hands from around him.

“I could lose my license for this.” Richard glanced toward the living room. He couldn’t be certain, but he thought he heard George sobbing. “Why don’t you just leave the putz?”

“Leave him?” Lorraine snorted. “Not after the prenup that bastard made me sign.”

“If it’s the money, I could spot you for a bit and — ”

“And then maybe I could get my own little job at the local diner?” Lorraine looked him over with a sneer. She stood with one hand on her hip, backlit by fluorescent lighting that accentuated her too-short skirt and her dyed-too-many-times hair. “The sex wasn’t that good.”

Richard shook his head, thinking he must have lost his own mind to have risked his job for George’s one-time trophy wife. “No, it wasn’t.”

Richard strode into the living room. He expected George to wrinkle his face in confusion and ask who he was — that had been their routine for days. Instead, George stared at his driver’s license.

“This is me,” he said, tears in his eyes. “I know my name now. My address, my birthday, my height.” George looked up and smiled. “I know my name now. It’s…” He glanced back at the license. “It’s George Arboral.”

Richard sighed. “You sure you want your mind back? Life hurts a lot less when you can’t remember it.”

“No, it still hurts.” George swiped at his damp cheeks. “But I’d like to know why.”

Richard opened the cabinet where Lorraine had stashed George’s mind on top of a pile of board games. The tangled mess of thoughts and memories threatened to unravel in his hands, like a loosely wound ball of yarn a kitten had batted around the floor. Only when he held a mind in his hands like this did Richard appreciate how cruel one could be. George might never fit the pieces together, but if he did…

“Why don’t you pay me first?” Richard said. “You might change your mind once you have it.”

Barbara A. Barnett is a 2007 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, where she learned valuable things about writing and the evil ways of chickens. Her short fiction has appeared in publications such as Flash Fiction Online, Shimmer, Hub and Every Day Fiction. Since earning a dual degree in English and music, she has spent most of her professional life working as a grant writer for various performing arts organizations in Philadelphia. She lives with her husband in southern New Jersey and can be found online at www.babarnett.com.

This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.

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