Brian: 29 Days after Event
I have not slept for days. What if I close my eyes—even blink? Could I become someone else? Someone who I cannot control. Someone who will replace me. Someone who will take her from me. I can’t live like this much longer. I must sleep—
Must fight against them—
I squeeze my eyes closed. The darkness is unsettling. Blackness resting like a heavy weight on my chest. My heart is beating fast. My arms start tingling. Pins and needles stab my feet. Angry white noise fills my head. Am I dying? Are they trying to kill me? I jerk up, eyes scanning the fuzzy darkness. I’m still me. The tension in my shoulders releases, my head rests on the pillow. I close my eyes again.
I’m leaving that plane when their minds, all one hundred and ten of the other passengers on that plane, merge into my head. Their faces flashing like one of those old projector movies. Their memories stuffed into the catalog of my own life. Their faint, agitated voices haunt me for a release I don’t know how to give them.
The film ends and strobes of hot, white light explode into sparks of color on the backs of my eyelids. My heart thuds against my chest, throat, neck. Or is it the vibrations of them pounding on my mind?
Above their chatter, I fixate on the white noise of her breathing. She is real; she is my anchor, and they will not take her from me. I snuggle closer, inhaling her lavender scent. Their voices fade further from my mind. A gray fog begins to swaddle me. The fog becomes thicker and tighter, until all the space around me is forced into a matte black darkness, and there I find myself, alone.
A hand grabs me, my arm breaks out with gooseflesh. “Wh-What?”
“You’re okay, sweetie.”
She sighs. “You were tossing and turning.”
“Sorry, crazy dream.”
I close my eyes and—like studying a fuzzy and faded photo—her pale, freckled face and delicate lips, framed by fire-red hair, come into focus.
“What about?” she repeats.
I blink my eyes to clear the image. I study my fiancée’s face. Her long brown hair, full lips, eyes like golden-brown marbles, and that flirtatious smile—her name pops into my mind—Brenda.
“Were you dreaming of her...again?”
“No!” I blurt out the lie.
“Tell me the truth.”
Brenda puts her hand onto my chest and rubs small circles with her fingertips. “I still love you.”
Brenda clears her throat.
“I love you, too—” I have to sort through a flood of names to remember hers. “Brenda.”
Her lips curl into a cheeky smile; she always has that smile when I say the wrong thing. I kiss her on the cheek. Brenda rolls over, and I swing my legs off the bed. Brenda's long, curvy body fills my space.
I smack Brenda's dangling foot. “Time to get up, or you’re going to be late.”
Brenda grins as I step out of the room, her voice pleading after me. “Five more minutes. Put the coffee on, please.”
As I sit down to eat my breakfast, I look to the clock and think, Is Brenda getting out of bed this morning? The bedroom door opens. “You’re alive. I thought you were going to sleep the day away.”
Brenda sticks out her tongue, rolling her eyes.
She moves around the kitchen, studying every detail—every movement labored and exaggerated, like a wind-up doll. She glares at me while grabbing her coffee mug from the cabinet. She sniffs the air, walking to the coffeepot.
“What are you eating, sweetie?” Brenda yawns while pouring the steaming coffee into her mug. Her sideways glances and jerky movements are annoying, but I’ll hold my tongue.
“Eggs and sausages,” I say, stuffing a fork full of the greasy food into my mouth. “And two pieces of toast and some coffee.”
“Hungry, are we?” Brenda sits at the table and begins poking through the Chicago Tribune. My head is filling with anger, the way she attacks the pages, popping the seam, crinkling the paper in half, releasing that inky newspaper stink. She mumbles as she reads the article—pausing, she slurps her coffee.
Annoyed, I answer, “Yeah, just a little. Why, what’s it to you?” Small toast crumbs and spittle project out of my mouth.
“Didn't your mom tell you not to talk with your mouth full?” Brenda laughs like a scolding mother, grabbing a napkin to wipe my mouth.
I smack her arm away. “What the fuck is wrong with you, girl?”
Brenda cradles her arm and snaps, “What’s wrong with you?” She pushes away from the table, towering above me. Her eyes burn through me, eyebrows raise into the angry wrinkles forming across her forehead.
She mumbles something and spins on her heels, walking away. A cabinet door opens and slams shut. The ice machine clinks ice into the glass. Water turns on, the drone of the mechanical pump drilling into my head. She walks to the table, plops into her seat, and gulps her water.
I drop my fork onto my plate. “Do you have to drink so fucking loudly?” I shake my head. “Drinking like an animal.”
Brenda huffs. “I’m going to ignore the fact that you cursed at me and point out the total weirdness that’s going on.”
I put the last forkful of runny eggs and sausage into my mouth. “Like what?”
“Well, first, you’re eating eggs and sausage.”
“Well before the event, you barely ate any meat, and you absolutely hated eggs.” Brenda swirls her glass, making the ice clink against the sides.
“Can you stop that shit?” I stand with my plate, walking to the sink. “Nothing but clink-clank with the ice, and nag-nag about what I’m eating. Who the fuck made you queen of the kitchen this morning?”
“Please, calm down and relax.”
“No, I’m fine. Just trying to have breakfast without my mom analyzing my every movement.”
“I’m not trying to be your mom.” Brenda looks into the glass and sighs. “I’m just bringing it to your attention. Maybe you can discuss it with Dr. Shirley today.”
“Oh, I see what this is about. You and Doc have been talking behind my back.” I throw the plate into the sink. “Well, fuck both of you.”
Brenda walks to me, shaking her head. “I have not spoken to Dr. Shirley yet, but—”
I step into Brenda's space. “No fucking buts. Don’t talk behind my back. I eat what I eat, and you and that quack doctor can suck on these—” I gasp as the chill of icy water splashes on my face. Brenda pushes me out the way as I rub my eyes. My vision blurs. I grab a dishcloth and blot my face. The odor of fried meat and grease makes me nauseous. I throw the cloth down. The kitchen is a mess of pots and pans. I see Brenda’s coffee mug.
“You want me to put your coffee in a travel cup?” I turn and start fumbling in the cabinets, the tap-tap-tap of Brenda's heels on the hardwood floors growing louder.
“Are you trying to drive me crazy?” Brenda's voice is soft and shaky.
Brenda moves closer to me, pulling me into a tight hug. “I keep telling myself how much I love you, how much I care about you, but you’re not going to drive me crazy.”
She holds me by my shoulders; if she lets go, my muscles will dissolve away, and I’ll collapse into a puddle of nothing.
I whisper in her ear, “I’ll not let you go.” She nods then pulls away. I wipe the tears filling her eyes. “I’m sorry. I’m trying my best to control them.”
Brenda shakes her head. “Do you even remember how you treated me just now?”
“I have to visit Dr. Shirley and then go to the clinic.”
“What? Why do you have to go to the clinic again?”
“Nurse Marci asked me to stop by.”
“I don’t trust, Marci.”
“She’s the only person I trust there.”
“I don’t like any of this.”
“I’m going to pick up Granny and take her as well.”
Brenda swirls her finger between us. “You need to stop worrying about Granny and those people in your head, and focus on me.” She leans in and kisses me on the cheek. “Focus on us.”
“Yeah, right... But those people are me now.”
“No, sweetie. They are just memories, and memories can be forgotten—”
“Recuerdos llenan el vacćio,” I blurt out.
“What does that mean?”
I hunch my shoulders. “No clue.”
“You have to—”
“Brenda, these people want to get out.” I point to my head. “And I’m afraid of losing control of them.”
“Just...” She kisses me on the lips. “I love you.” She turns and walks out the door.
It takes me a few minutes to realize she is gone. I look at my watch. I have to leave if I’m going to make my appointment with Dr. Shirley. I stare at myself in the mirror. I’m still me, right? My reflection nods in agreement as I walk out the door.