The line for the Erasing Office is always long, but I can never remember to arrive early.
Today I’m wearing a yellow skirt that tickles the backs of my knees when I sit, making me squirm and fidget with the fabric. Once I get home, I swear, I will get rid of this skirt so that I never find myself writhing in my chair again, but as the seconds pass my resolution fades to something fragile that slithers behind the image of my husband’s blotchy red face and starts to melt around the memory of my college graduation, until it disintegrates entirely.
I blink. I look down at my skirt. It is very pretty, I decide.
The woman behind the desk is writing on her clipboard with cramped script, and her hairline has been pulled very far back from her forehead from years of wearing a tight bun, and something in the strict set of her lips reminds me of my mother. I think my mother used to make that same sort of expression when I was younger, before she divorced my father. Or had Father divorced her?
The woman is talking to me, I realize. “Mrs. Livia Thompson, correct?”
I nod halfheartedly. The name swirls around my head, searching for something to anchor onto. It wedges itself deep inside a flickering recollection of laughter and clinking wine glasses.
“There’s a funny story about my name,” I say, thinking aloud. She raises an eyebrow. “A secretary misreading it. Or a waiter mispronouncing it. Maybe — maybe it was a friend’s story. I can’t — I don’t — ” Her eyebrows remind me of wriggling worms. I giggle.
She peers at me, her lips pressing into such a thin, pinched line that it’s as if they’re receding into her mouth. “It doesn’t really matter, does it, Mrs. Thompson?”
Her eyes are like stagnant puddles. I imagine splashing all through them. “I guess not.”
This room is small, with a single window behind the desk, and through the dusty glass all I can see are gray buildings lined up in a row, with marshmallow-shaped topiaries deposited seemingly at random in the yards. I try to remember the last time I had a marshmallow. It feels like it’s been a very long time.
“Why did you schedule an appointment with us today?” she asks.
I open and close my mouth a few times before words come out. “My husband and I were arguing.”
The air in the room smells mechanical when I breathe in, like it was manufactured in some sterile oxygen-plant miles away. The metallic tang on my tongue reminds me of tasting coppery blood in my mouth. What injury could I have had that made me taste blood? All I can conjure up is mist — of course. I would’ve had the memory erased. No use clutching to past trauma when you can make it disappear with one quick swallow.
She runs her finger over the letters on the clipboard as if to prevent them from marching off the page. “What were you arguing about?”
He slammed his fist down on the kitchen counter and was suddenly right beside me, grabbing my shoulders, shaking me like a rag doll. When I stopped fighting him, he got even angrier.
“Think, Livia, for Christ’s sake! Think for yourself!” he yelled.
I backed up against the wall and let the fog swirl inside my head, pressing at the backs of my eyeballs and spilling out my ears. “If you didn’t think so much you wouldn’t be so angry all the time,” I told him. “You’d be like me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t want to be like you. You’re a ghost of the woman I married.”
“I’m happier than you.” Wetness, trickling down my cheek.
His eyes are saying something, but there are clouds tangling in my temples and I close my eyes. His voice floats around in between my ears. “You aren’t happy. This isn’t happy. This is empty.”
I look away from the lady, my head throbbing in time with my heartbeat. The headaches, the chills, the dizziness — side effects of the pills, I’m told. It’s worth it, though, worth the dark spaces if something can make the darker feelings in my stomach go away, the ones from when I think about everything awful in the world.
My mouth feels rusted shut. I lick my lips and croak out, “I can pay for the pills.”
Silently the woman reaches into a drawer and produces a plastic cup of water and two circular blue capsules. Funny. I thought they were pink. My hand stretches out, hesitates — but then my brain remembers my husband’s hot breath in my face. The pills are suddenly on my tongue. They tumble down my throat like something being pushed into a black hole, and the color of the medicine ceases to matter.
Everything ceases to matter.
“Thank you, Mrs. Thompson,” says the lady in a pleasant monotone, like a prerecorded answering machine. Her clipboard seems like an extension of her arm. “Go ahead and sit while we call your husband to pick you up. You don’t have to worry about anything.”
I am nodding, somehow, and drifting out of the office, past the line of anxious- and confused-looking people that stretches all the way down the hallway. The sky above the waiting room is dark gray. Clouds. Is the storm outside, or in my mind? Smoke coursing in my veins, cradled in my palms, pressing on my spine, like drowning in too much air.
I can barely crumple in a seat before the fog comes, newly strengthened — heavy, smoking tendrils of it, white and fluffy and enveloping. They remind me of marshmallows wrapped around my head.
I try to remember the last time I had a marshmallow. It feels like it’s been a very long time.
Allison Light is a fifteen-year-old high school sophomore in Arkansas who splits her time between reading, writing, and wishing she had written the things she reads. She also loves the piano and theater. She has a poem in the Young Writers Literary Journal – 2011.