Authors: S. M. Lumetta
“Vivi,” the handsome, burly tree of a man begins, his lush baritone breaking over the second syllable, “there is no possible way to ever thank you for … well, shit, everything! But hot damn, lady, I love you so much. So fucking much.”
Vivien stands tall in the arc of his embrace as his hand settles on her stomach, round and swollen with the promise of their future. Stray locks of her long, black hair curl about the edges of a beaming smile as she watches him, eyes swimming with joy.
“My Nash, you massive sap,” she says every bit as emotional as he is. “You know I love you more than anything, but cork it because our guests may actually hurl. And since you’re going to be a daddy, start curbing the f-bombs. Merry Christmas, everybody!”
A rumble of laughter blankets the room as we raise our glasses to toast. My chest constricts with happiness. The echo of camaraderie warms and envelops us like the heat from the fireplace, but not nearly as much as the strong arms circling me from behind.
“Lucie?” Vivien no longer sounded at ease. “Are you all right?”
Stillness seeped from my muscles, leaving the fibers weakened and limp and my nerve endings frazzled like an ebbing power surge. I slumped a bit more into the chair and rested my head on my knuckles. Pain throbbed blandly behind my eyes.
“Depends,” I said, my throat dry.
My responding sigh was a sad, resigned confirmation. I hated the word more than the so-called gift itself. Nodding, I reached for the glass of water on the table and guzzled it gone. I set the empty glass down before fixing my eyes on her.
“May I ask you a personal question?”
“All right.” The quiver in her voice belied her curiosity.
“When is your baby due?” As soon as it passed my teeth, I regretted the question.
The shock on her face was immediate and painful. She struggled to maintain a neutral expression, but it was thin. She was unable to speak for a moment, too busy fighting with herself.
My breath was stuck in my chest until I finally coughed it free. “Fuck!” I blurted, stumbling over my tongue to apologize. “I’m so sorry, Vivi—um, Dr. Bonnar, that was so out of line.” I stood abruptly to leave as quickly as I could. When she didn’t stop me, I continued swiftly through the exit room where an orderly waited with a wheelchair. I glared, irritated with the liability policy. I was perfectly capable of walking.
Wordlessly, he steered me to the other wing of the hospital and the thankfully private room I currently called home. I marinated in something like guilt along the way. Vivien was one of the only constants in the life I knew. She was incredibly patient with me, so I went and socked her in the stomach with a personal question like that. Did I basically call her fat? She wouldn’t be so upset by that, right?
Jesus, I am an asshole.
After depositing me in my room, the orderly helped hook my IV back up to my pain meds after I climbed carefully into bed, having learned it was best to avoid putting pressure on the burns, which extended from my arms to the heels of my hands.
Once settled, I contemplated the time I’d been in the hospital. I had more than twenty-five years under my belt, but only the weeks since I’d woken were available for recall. My memory, my family, our home—all of it was gone. I didn’t remember that my mother’s name was Jude, and my father was Roman. I couldn’t have told you our house was in Somerset, New Jersey, on a nice plot of land. His job, my education, where we had lived before … I was unable to recall a single detail. I had amnesia and not much else. I was an empty slate.
The first time I had opened my eyes post-trauma, my lids were heavy over blurry sight and my head throbbed. My surroundings had slowly come into focus, but the world had not. My room was cold and bland with off-white, naked walls, a window with cheap, beige plastic blinds, a stiff-backed chair next to the door, and awful fluorescent lighting.
I’d been afraid to turn my head, instead painting the room with my eyes from one side to the other. Rubbing the scratchy, over-bleached blanket between my fingertips, it took a full minute before it finally clicked. I choked on my own spit when I’d realized I was lying in a hospital bed.
Panic seeped in, trickling into my ears and crawling up my legs. I felt a chill from the inside out and that craptastic blanket became my security, twisted and pulled tight within my grip. My lips trembled as I had struggled to dig up clues.
Clutching my stomach, painful with knots, I had shut my eyes and tried to think. Tripping through the multiplication tables, the alphabet and other various textbook exercises without much ado, I then prompted myself with “my name is,” and a black hole swallowed me.
I’d sunk beneath waves of hysteria, the monitors howling in alarm as my heart rate skyrocketed. It wasn’t until I had heard those awful sounds that I’d even realized my arms were bandaged and that I was hooked to wires and IVs. The visual made the injuries real, and a slew of aches and pains trampled my body like a metaphysical stampede.
A choreographed circus of nurses and doctors had swept through the room like a tornado. Painkillers soothed the physical discomfort, but nothing was touching the hollow pit in my stomach.
Who am I? What the hell happened to me?
I had to learn the answers to those questions. My doctor stood, stiffly listing off the medical issues while a nurse explained them and filled in the gaps.
“Even without head injuries, trauma of any kind can be enough for memory loss, though your amnesia is quite extensive. I have to say, an angel must be looking out for you,” she’d said.
I had quirked a brow at her, briefly chewing on the word “amnesia.” The inundation of the first vision had then interrupted any conscious thought.
“You can’t be real, angel,” he declares.
A shimmer dances through me. Unable to stop myself, I tuck the errant lock of curly brown hair behind his ear.
He exhales on contact, and his body and shoulders release the breath and tension as though he’s been holding them in since birth.
I reemerged from the fog of foresight without the privilege of his next words to find panic all around me. My doctor was shouting for a litany of tests. He thought I might be having a stroke based on strange eye movement and non-responsiveness.
Despite their concern, I’d zoned out, marveling in the mental movie of a first meeting with what felt like a soul mate. Why was I seeing this? Had this happened already? It didn’t feel like it, but considering I remembered nothing before waking up, I had doubts. In any case, where was this man and why did seeing him in my head comfort me so much? The short scene had settled into my bones and warmed me where I’d unknowingly been cold. I didn’t understand it at all.
Between my non-stroke and the amnesia, I was under constant watch for several days. It seemed like I was being rushed to a new test every hour. MRIs, CAT scans, EKGs, I stopped trying to make sense of the slur of acronyms being tossed around. Every one of them found nothing unusual. That was enough to send me to psychiatric for evaluation, where Vivien was assigned to me, but only after being questioned by three different doctors.
Vivi initially came to my room while my injuries healed and I lacked the energy to go to her office. She made it clear from the beginning that she wasn’t going to pussyfoot around any issues, which both relieved and terrified me. When I confessed to the vision, she stumbled.
“Wait, what? Is that—are you saying you remember your boyfriend?” She looked up from her notes and scooted the chair noisily across the linoleum toward my bed.
“No.” I’d shaken my head, certainty warming me from the center of my being. “This hasn’t happened yet.”
She’d blinked three or four times before her mouth hung open in anticipation of her next question. “Are you sure?” She had scoffed at herself, choosing to rephrase. “That is, it may just be a memory of how you met. Sounds like a great love at first sight story to me.”
“I realize it sounds ridiculous, lady, but if there’s anything I
know,” I’d said through my teeth, defensive and embarrassed, “it’s that this. Has not. Happened. I remember gagging on those horrible runny eggs for breakfast yesterday—I nearly yakked all over the floor. That kind of memory feels different. This one feels …
She’d held my eyes for a moment before looking down and scribbling on her notepad. “Okay. What makes you so certain it’s different?”
“I feel it in my gut. It’s called instinct.”
To my surprise, she hadn’t reacted to my impatience, but moved on to ask questions about every detail, physical and perceptual, surrounding the premonition. In every subsequent meeting, she’d tried to trigger memories and always prodded for my feelings on everything.
Remembering how kindly she’d treated me despite the crazy-sounding claim of clairvoyance, I felt even worse about offending her. I was struck by the oppressive feeling of guilt, the strongest reaction I’d had to anything since I awoke with no memory.
When an orderly showed up to take me to my morning session, I refused to get out of bed.
“I remember you,” I said, my voice weak and sad even to my ears. “Hank, right?”
His demeanor visibly shifted from professional distance to childlike surprise. “Yeah, that’s me. Most people don’t bother to learn my name.”
I smiled for show. “I have a lot of room up here,” I said, tapping my temple.
He frowned, but checked himself. He insisted we had to get to Vivien’s office, but I told him I couldn’t go. Eventually he left.
It wasn’t long before Vivien herself arrived at my door, appearing incredibly uncomfortable. “May I come in?”
I set down the September 2009 issue of
I was perusing for the third time in as many days. I was at once nervous and hopeful. I chewed the dry peeling skin on my lower lip. “Of course. Please.”
Hesitantly, she came in, set her briefcase to the side, and sat primly in the guest chair. Gulping and inhaling slowly, she released her breath and looked me in the eyes.
“I apologize, Lucie,” she began, “but I have to recuse myself as your therapist.”
My stomach plummeted to my feet. Given my overstep at our session, I couldn’t fault her. “I understand. I’m sorry for getting so personal. It was—”
She trampled my apology as though she hadn’t heard me. “I shouldn’t … I shouldn’t share this, but I miscarried just after the New Year.”
I gasped, feeling the delayed aftershock of an epic case of foot in mouth.
“Crap,” I said, brilliantly. “I’m so sorry.”
“Don’t apologize, please. It
crap because this is my third. I keep avoiding the tests they want to do.” She pauses to laugh humorlessly. “Stupid, right? I help people face their fears for a living, but I refuse to face my own.”
I felt like I was watching a car wreck. She stood and pulled a Lady Macbeth, wearing circles in the floor and wringing her hands. She would stop and go, avoiding various mental walls while worries and obstacles bubbled off her tongue. Soon enough, she went silent and stepped up to the side of my bed. It was only then that I understood that the nerves were all a preamble to the greater precipice. I watched her gather her courage and leap.
“You asked me when I was due. Why? What did you see?”
False hope was a horrible thing, and though I firmly believed in the truth of each foresight thus far, the last thing I wanted to do was mislead anyone.
Suspended in a brief reticence, we eyed each other with similar scrutiny. I deliberated but eventually opted for utter transparency.
First asking her to sit, I kept my voice low as I recounted the premonition clearly, as if I were watching it on the wall behind her. When I’d finished the short but vivid story, I watched her tears fall in horror. Telling her had clearly been a mistake. I opened my mouth to apologize again, but she jumped up and hugged me, practically landing in my lap.
“Okay, if anything is inappropriate, it might be this,” I half joked. A big part of me relished the affection, however awkward and potentially unprofessional. I had the sinking notion that it was something my life had sorely lacked.
She snorted a laugh and released me, standing up straight. Now unguarded and off the clock, Vivien Bonnar was an entirely different person. “It’s so dangerous for me to believe you, but I can’t stop myself from hoping. At worst, it reminds me that it’s still possible.”
I smiled, relieved.
“I’m also absolutely positive that I
be your therapist.”
“Yeah, you broke up with me already,” I said, snark and sarcasm saving me from the dread of seeing someone else and talking through all this crap again.
She laughed and it brightened my spirits. “I’ll make sure you’re referred to someone great, I promise. Don’t worry! I can see your wheels churning.”
“Now who’s psychic?”
“Well,” she said, grinning widely. She leaned forward to squeeze my hand. “I hope I’m not overstepping any bounds myself by asking if you could deal with me as your friend?”
“Excuse me?” Trying to loosen her up during our daily sessions over the past couple of weeks had failed to significantly crack her professional demeanor. I couldn’t help but be surprised.
She laughed again, louder. “What? You don’t have room in your entourage?”
I smirked. “Rude.”
I felt better than I could remember.
I scanned the entirety of the rundown restaurant, spotted my reflection in the window, and paused. Washed out and pale with a generous five o’clock shadow, I turned away. I knew what I looked like, but it was all a lie. I didn’t really exist. And after more than a decade in this profession, that was probably the only thing I truly believed.
I was a faceless, nameless ghost. No one noticed me unless I wanted them to, and if I did, I was the last thing they saw.
Assassin, hitman, mercenary. No matter the title, I was the definition of a killer and an unfortunate reality most of the world would rather not acknowledge.