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art by Tim Stewart

Trick of Memory

D. A. D'Amico spends his days surrounded by blinking blue lights. To most they are just dive lights attached to computer servers, but to David they are sage advisors, each whispering a thousand and one tales of horror and heroics. At night he writes. He is currently working on several projects, including a novel length version of his award-winning story "Vector Victoria", and a lengthy piece of very dark fantasy. He can be found on Facebook under authordadamico, or at his web page dadamico.com.

Paolo was in the middle of it when Lisa walked in. He had been toying with the tiny gold pill for nearly an hour, pressing it against his thin trembling lips, tasting its burning sweetness on his tongue. He had been careful to allow just the tiniest of doses into his system--until Lisa returned.
She burst in unexpectedly, shooting into the room like a bullet through glass.
He jerked. The pill slipped from his fingers, snatched up by his tongue in the last second. He swallowed, gasping as the acrid tang ripped a path through his esophagus to lodge like a cancer in his belly. He clutched at the wall. He wheezed, panting for air; thoughts of deception lost in a flow of foul mucus.
"You didn't!" Lisa's first words were shrill and accusing. "Not again?"
Paolo dropped onto the metal-framed kitchen chair, clutching his belly. His long legs collapsed beneath him. He could feel the drug burning into his bloodstream like some intelligent acid. He hadn't really intended to use it--at least not a whole one. A taste, a dip of the tongue here and there to take the edge off, is all he wanted. Now he'd lose it all.
Lisa swam before his eyes, popping in and out of existence as she scurried around the room. She yelled, a shrill noise that sheered through him like razors and burst against his ears in acerbic bubbles she flickered across the living room.
He could really feel it kicking in now. The drug had reached his brain. It spread like a mold into his memory, stealing into his cells to leach away his thoughts. It was called Vive, a synaptic inhibitor that destroyed short-term memory. Taken in moderation it could dampen recent pain or tragedy. Taken foolishly, it could erase days, months, or even years from a mind.
Paolo had taken a very large dose.
"How could you?" Lisa pulled a bottle of Cuervo Gold from the antique day hutch opposite the aluminum table. She filled a jelly jar with the bright yellow tequila, snatched a pack of cigarettes from the table, and lit up.
"Has it really been that bad?" she asked, her voice a low rumble. She knew the answer. Paolo could read it in her eyes.
The previous few months had been a hell of endless arguments. They had fought constantly--over money, over his job, over hers. Jealousy and infidelity crept in, coloring the arguments with suspicion and accusation. The battling erupted in bloodshed at times, leaving Paolo scarred and weak.
Now, it would no longer matter. With one stroke, she had given him peace.
He lifted the bottle, tilting it to watch as the honey-colored liquid within swirled and eddied.
"I hadn't planned on taking it all," he said finally. "I just wanted a touch, enough to get you off my mind for a day, no more than that. It's your fault, really."
"How dare you," she growled, slapping the bottle of Cuervo from his hands. It landed on its side against the brass talons of the kitchen hutch, label facing up. Liquid seeped from its cracked neck like blood from a wound.
He laughed. His voice cracked. A longing for solitude crept like a thief into his mind.
Lisa blew smoke into his face, bringing him back to the present, pushing at his resolve. He tensed. His fists clenched, whitening at the knuckles. He wished that she would just finish her screaming and leave.
She crumpled the empty pack of Salem Lights and made as if to flick it toward his face. He flinched, losing ground once again. He turned, and headed for the bedroom door. She followed.
"You can't keep walking away from me," she screamed.
He sat on the edge of the bed, and rubbed his face with a large weathered hand. If he kept taking deep breaths, he thought, the urge to kill her might go away.
"Listen," he started. "In a few minutes things are going to be different. I'm not going to remember much. Hell, you might even seem attractive to me again."
She slapped him. The pain stung his eyes. The salt taste of blood filled his mouth. He put a finger to his lips, touched the warm fluid, and smiled. A dizzy feeling had welled up within him. It tingled, adding a fuzzy quality to the light in the small bedroom.
"You're lucky I won't remember that," he said. The air had grown hotter. It was coming.
Lisa crossed the room to stand beside the drab double bed they shared. Paolo saw her as a blur now, her image splintering as it moved. She appeared to be rummaging in the desk, searching for something.
"Getting hot now," he giggled as he flicked a bead of sweat from the tip of his nose.
Suddenly he remembered the heat wave of the previous summer, only a few months gone, and how they had fought then. That was the day she had stabbed him with the kitchen knife. He could almost feel the icy pressure of the blade entering his right arm just above the elbow. He could taste the bile rising in his throat; the cold fear he had felt then.
Lisa had returned from her foraging in the desk, in her hand a small glass vial. Paolo couldn't see the contents clearly.
"What's that?" He asked.
She laughed; the sound was like breaking glass.
He remembered a time when he had enjoyed that laugh. He also remembered growing to hate it.
"This," she said holding up the small bottle. "This is what you bought a month ago."
Paolo remembered standing in the rain, a cold orange glow shining down from a mercury vapor lamp on the corner. He remembered the impossibly fat man with the strange face. He remembered features that had appeared slanted, as if caught in the act of melting. Paolo remembered how nervous he had been, and the prohibitive cost of that one gold pill.
"How'd you know I'd gotten it?" He asked. He remembered that day clearly now. He remembered coming home, walking up the darkened wooden stairs to the stink of boiled fish.
"I've known for weeks," she sneered. "Do you think I'm stupid? You're a coward, Paolo. Sooner or later you would have gotten a pill, and I've been waiting for you to use it."
"Why?" He asked, remembering a specific fall day not too long ago.
Memories began to flood through his senses at an alarming rate, brought to the surface by the slightest suggestion. They were confused; sensations overlapping, their intensity increasing.
This wasn't right. He should be forgetting.
"What did you do?" He asked. It had become blazingly clear that something was wrong.
"You didn't think I'd let you just walk away from all this, did you?" She cackled. Her face was a mask of hatred. "I switched the pill, you idiot. I did it weeks ago."
"No...." His voice trailed off. He couldn't move, could barely speak. He could no longer process the memories fighting through his consciousness. She had poisoned him.
"Yes, I switched your precious little pill." She pushed him flat onto the bed, standing over him with a smirk on her face. "Guess what I switched it with."
His mind boiled. He remembered everything, images flashing behind his eyes in staccato bursts. One memory forced its way to the forefront. Vive was only one half of a pair of potent drugs, having a counterpart that actually enhanced memory--ReVive.
The memory of that tiny gold pill blazed in his brain. He lay there unable to move, endlessly recalling Lisa's last words: "Guess what I switched it with?"
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Author Comments

We've all wished we could forget the past, escape from a poor decision or a failed relationship, or just edit our minds. It's instinct to avoid pain, but it's also human nature to dwell on the what-ifs. Much of my earlier writing explores the consequences behind careless decisions and poor choices. It's telling, I suppose, but good writing should always come from somewhere deep inside, from places you'd only show your friends or lovers.

- D.A. D'Amico
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