This month’s story is the start of a collaborative project a friend of mine proposed to me. Claudia is a photographer and since we’re both looking to spread our creative wings a little more this year, we decided to do it together. The image above is one of hers and she prompted me to write a story about it (remember, how I talked about prompts?). In turn, I gave her a story I wrote last month to create an image to.
Alright, enough of the foreword.
The ground was damp and cold beneath Clara’s feet as she stumbled barefoot through the knee-high grass. She hadn’t had time to put on shoes, hadn’t even had time to get dressed properly. She clutched the cage in her hand, its door swinging open and closed. It made a clang-clang noise that seemed so loud in Clara’s ears. As if that noise alone portrayed all the emptiness she could feel herself drowning in.
„Where are you?“ It came out as a whisper, not as the shout Clara had intended. She was afraid she’d wake someone even so far away from the residences, afraid that they would see the panic in her eyes and have her committed. Afraid that the doctors there would tell her that this was exactly what they’d always worked towards. Afraid that she’d have to agree or else she’d be put back on the meds.
„Come back, please.“
But the memory that had escaped didn’t make a sound.
It had been an experimental treatment. Twelve trauma patients in the psych ward had been selected to undergo what they called ‚memory extraction‘ a few moths ago. Clara doesn’t remember much from that time in her life. Her mother had volunteered her for the trial.
She’d expected it to be painful, but it turned out so much worse than that. After the memory was extracted, she had cried for days. She would later find out that the other eleven subjects had cried for longer.
The first time they’d brought her her memory mere hours after the extraction, it was curled up on the bottom of a wire cage, asleep. Its fur was grey, tiny claws at the end of its arms and legs. From afar, it could pass for a bat.
A bat with deep red, skinned wings and bright purple eyes.
The doctors had told Clara she was to take care of it now, like a pet. With the distance they had created, she would be able to overcome her trauma more easily because it was no longer a part of her.
But all Clara had wanted then was to be rid of it. It was gone from her head, no longer in her dreams and everyday thoughts. It needed to be gone from her life. And yet, she couldn’t bring herself to let it go.
She used to keep the cage door wide open all the time back then. She had hoped that it would have the natural instincts of the animal it looked like and fly away when she refused to feed it. But whenever she came home, it would sit in the cage, its claws perched curiously on the bars.
Waiting for Clara, watching her every move.
At night when the cage was shut tight, it would growl and cry. It was a terrible sound, one that would keep Clara awake even after she’d dangled it out the farthest window of her apartment.
After a while, the cries got less.
After a longer while, Clara found a permanent spot for the cage in the kitchen.
And after an even longer while, she forgot to purposely open the cage door every morning in the hopes that it would just leave. It hadn’t seemed to be going anywhere, anyway, despite the fact that Clara never fed it.
„You’ve made remarkable progress, Clara, I am so proud of you,“ Dr. Snowfield said. Her glasses were perched low on her nose as she studied the file in her hands. „It appears you’ve successfully completed the treatment.“
Clara sat on the chair opposite of the doctor’s desk, her hands tucked beneath her thighs.
„I don’t understand,“ she said. „I don’t feel complete.“
„But of course you do,“ the doctor said. „Letting the memory go was the last step. By freeing it from the restraints you put on it you’ve conquered your trauma.“
Clara looked at the woman before her. She was still holding the file, now scribbling something in it.
Not once since Clara had stepped into the office had she looked at her.
„It doesn’t feel like success to me,“ Clara said quietly.
„Clara,“ Dr. Snowfield said with a sigh. „A memory, once extracted from the traumatized mind, will take on any shape the owner gives it. It might be an animal or an inanimate object, whatever symbolizes its place in the owner’s life. The extraction forces you to deal with it externally. It makes it easier to stop identifying with the traumatic event itself.“
„But my memory is gone. It ran away.“ Or flew away. Or crawled. She’d never actually seen how her memory had moved around. She hadn’t paid that much attention to it.
„Nonsense,“ the doctor said. „You dealt with it and conquered it. There was no use for the memory anymore and it went the way all the unnecessary memories go.“
„And where is that, exactly?“
Finally, Dr. Snowfield looked at her. There was a smile playing on her lips, one that was supposed to portray her superiority. Her eyes wandered up and down Clara’s form for a moment too long, then she closed the file with a thud. The sound annoyed Clara more than it should have.
„The ether, of course. And now that it has gone, your treatment is finished. You can be so proud of yourself. Not everyone in the trial did quite as well as you did. Evelyn will see you out.“
In that precise moment, as if planned, the door to the office opened and the young receptionist that had led Clara in motioned for her to leave. Reluctantly, Clara stood up. She wondered if she should shake hands with the doctor, but Dr. Snowfield was already ruffling through another file. Another client. Another treatment.
Another success story?
„Congratulations,“ Evelyn said in the waiting room as she helped Clara into her coat. „It’s always so wonderful to see the success the doctor has had. All these happy, content people. Without Dr. Snowfield, where would they be?“
Yes, where indeed. Where would Clara be? Still at the institution, possibly. Was the emptiness she felt now the price she had to pay for her freedom?
„Have you had the treatment yourself?“
„Of course, multiple times,“ Evelyn said, her smile reaching nowhere near her eyes.
„Does that feeling go away? That hole in my stomach?“ For a second, as Evelyn’s eyes flickered to the doctor’s office door, Clara thought she’d overstepped.
But then the woman said:
„You fill that hole with new memories every day.“
„Of course only good ones. For all the others, you make an appointment.“
So there we go. Did you like it? Leave a comment below and sign up for the newsletter to be informed whenever I post a new story!