Fiction | Lisa L. Kirchner
Lisa L. Kirchner is the author of Hello American Lady Creature: What I Learned as a Woman in Qatar.
Her works has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Salon, among numerous other outlets.
She currently writes an advice columnist for Creative Loafing Tampa, “Love Confidential.”
Kai walked into the waiting room and looked around – low table with some entertainment rags, Mid-century modern couch, fluorescent overhead light. Seemed old-fashioned and on the chintzy side for what this service cost. Even the nub of the woolen fabric felt uncomfortable against his arm as he sat back with a magazine. So much for this therapy of the future nonsense, more like it’s on life support.
The title he’d grabbed, Celebrity Interiors wasn’t one he’d expected to find in a therapist’s office, but it was exactly the kind of trash he secretly loved to read. He looked toward the door, then searched the remaining walls. It appeared that the room he’d walked into had just the one door, it was a dead end. Where’s the actual office part? The overwhelming feeling he was being had forced Kai onto his feet. I’m out, he thought, throwing the magazine on the table.
“This is what you expected, Kai,” a disembodied voice boomed. Kai looked toward the sound, but when it came again he had the disorienting sensation of realizing he couldn’t tell where it was coming from. “Less, that is. Something that wouldn’t live up to its reputation for excellence.” She sounded hot to Kai.
He looked around again. Still nothing. Not even speakers. What the fuck? “Who’s there?”
“No one, that’s how this works.”
“Excuse me?” Kai asked.
“We’re already reading your thoughts,” she said. “You signed the waiver as part of the pre-appointment assessment.”
Had he? Kai made a mental note to actually glance at those things before he signed them.
“It wouldn’t have made any difference if you had read it, you would’ve signed anyway.”
Even as he acknowledged that truth in his mind, he objected. “That doesn’t mean I like it. But also, if you can get in my head, why do you need a voice? Especially one with a British accent.”
We don’t. Is that better?
“Oh, Jesus. No. Keep talking.”
“That is the standard selection. And you know why we have the accent. It was designed for you, by you, to get your attention. We have accessed not only a complete portrait of you as an individual, your preferences, behaviors, and desires, but we’ve assessed what you need in an encounter to ‘un-break you,’ as it were. Your words, not ours, for what we call our premiere package—the Catharsis Encounter, designed to bring about real cognitive change on key issues in your life. Of course there can and will be other issues that may arise, but when it comes to your primary reason for being here, you attachment disorder, this service will reverse its symptoms. In your case, you’ll find empathy.”
“That’s not why I’m here. I…”
“Yes. You think your girlfriend sent you because secretly she wants to get married and have a babe.”
“She did. Send me. And she’s about to turn 30.”
“Indeed. Our assessment, however, is of you. You’re about to turn 40, and you’ve never maintained a relationship for more than a year. This lack of intimacy in your life stems from your own stunted emotions.”
“What about…?” Kai faltered. Hearing it stated thusly put him on edge. “I guess that makes sense.”
“Of course it does. Not that we want to discourage you from asking questions.”
But Kai was stymied.
“Excellent. Please note, you can’t get hurt nor can you hurt anyone else. And may I remind you, since you have a bit of a problem with details, that you’re not to discuss this session with anyone. And don’t complete that thought.”
Kai, of course, had been having many thoughts while she spoke. He wished he could see her. He wondered what the complete evaluation of his personality had been and when were they going to give it to him. Why did they mention hurting people? At that particular moment, however, he’d been thinking he couldn’t wait to tell Chen what a load of shit this was. This whole thing had been her idea in the first place. He probably should break up with her. First he’d tell her about it, then he’d end it.
“You may be right about breaking up with Chen, but not because this session doesn’t work, rather, because you won’t have any interest in her emotional limitations. Makes sense, right, Kai? After all, who would go out with someone so emotionally stunted as you but someone with some issues of their own?
“But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. In any case, the moment you leave this room the experience will begin to fade. All that will be left in its place will be a feeling of lightness, joy, and exuberance. Furthermore, should you begin speaking of your session, you will quickly experience a mild seizure that will render you unconscious as the trackers we’ve left in your brain light up on our end.”
“Don’t worry, Kai. It’s not permanent. The memories and the trackers fade together. All you’ll remember is an experience of total satisfaction.”
“It’s not a scheme, darling.”
The voice had changed. It sounded just like… his mother?
“On the other side of this session awaits an ability to give and receive the love you’ve always wanted. That I could never give you.”
If this was the fucking session, Kai had some things he wanted to say. But again, before he could react, the voice interrupted. The normal voice, or as normal as a disembodied British lady voice could be.
“We’re done with the preliminaries. Step through the door, please.”
A door-sized piece of the wall slid aside, revealing black, seemingly empty space beyond. I’ll take pictures, remind myself, Kai thought. Maybe I can record the whole thing.
“We’ve zapped your batteries, Kai. Go on, check.”
Kai stood and pulled his phone from his pocket. Dead. He tried to sneak a look at his wrist, tapped it several times. That was dead, too. He hadn’t missed so much of the small print to know his $250,000 fee was not refundable so backing out now seemed foolish; it was already too late, they were in his goddamn head. Then he wondered, if it’s possible to access thought, and this technology exists, why doesn’t every company have a therapy division that investigates competition?
“This technology creates a profile of an individual for therapeutic purposes, and in no way can it dictate behavior.”
“What about the seizures?”
“A seizure isn’t a behavior.”
“It’s the threat that dictates behavior. Technically speaking, I’m sure you could kill someone.”
“Technically speaking, most people are already mostly dead.”
The resonance of that statement was so strong, Kai had said the same thing so many times, he felt compelled to walk into the void.
The door slid shut behind him, leaving an entirely blackened room, but soon he began to make out a gray mist.
There must be a source of light coming from somewhere, he thought. But the disembodied voice did not respond. “Where’s the light com…”
Before he could finish his question, two shapes emerged in the mist. Floating almost. Their faces seemed blank. They wore… prairie dresses? Even as he noticed this, they seemed to solidify. Then a third woman joined them. She was black. She held the lantern high in his face.
“Who you?” she asked.
“Kai,” he said.
“Kai?” She spat. “What kinda name is that for a girl?”
“I’m not a girl,” Kai said.
All three women giggled. Their faces were solidifying. He heard the sound of crickets. Looked up. The moon?
This is a pretty good trick, he thought.
“Hurry up,” said the oldest girl, grabbing him by the arm. “I’m Meg. You met Amina. That’s Katherine. You found us just in time, we was just getting water for the morning. Come on! If you get caught out here they’ll get you for sure.”
“Who’s they?” Kai asked as he looked down and observed that he, too, was in a dress. Instinctively he grabbed for his penis. Where the fuck is my dick? He looked around, expecting some kind of response. Nothing. “Can’t you tell what I’m thinking?”
“Maybe we should leave her out here,” the younger girl said to Meg, who hadn’t let go of his arm. Then she asked, “Where’s your family?”
My family? Might as well be dead. His mom ran off when Kai was eight, and his dad had moved the pair from place to place through a revolving door of women. Kai hadn’t seen him since he left home at 17. He wrenched his arm away and yelled at the sky, “I came here to deal with my family. What is this crap?”
The sound of a horse’s ninny sounded in the distance. Amina broke forward, grabbed Kai, and tossed him over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. “We don’t got the time for this. Not with that mouth.”
“Ain’t nobody got time for this,” Kai mumbled, giggling as he recalled his favorite Throwback Meme from a few years back. How did they even know that? Maybe there was something to this therapy. He couldn’t get hurt, right? Then Amina pinged his head with a rock.
Later, he wasn’t sure how much later, he awoke to the sound of muffled grunts. In the bed next to him, a large man was grinding away on Amina. He instinctively backed away, but then lunged toward him to push him off the bed. A meaty hand whacked the side of his head, and then the man began to grind away on top of Kai. In this unfamiliar female form he had the rage, but not the strength to fight. He couldn’t believe the pain.
And then he blacked out again.
The next time he awoke, the first thing he was aware of was the pain between his legs. His head ached and his heart was broken. Where am I? He wondered. He looked down and saw the dress, and then he remembered. Amina was gone. His next awareness, though he didn’t know how he knew, but he knew. He was pregnant. This makes no sense, he thought. What happened to my life? I run an Internet company. I have a girlfriend. I’m a fucking man. He started weeping.
Amina came in with tea. “Kay, girl, I’m so sorry. That man, he come in here seems like every night. I don’t say nothing, I gotta keep this job. My folks brought me here to get rid of me, just like somebody wanted to get rid of you. I don’t know nothin’ else to do and I got nowhere to go. But I’m gonna get gone soon, you’ll see.”
“I don’t want to see. I want to go home now. Can someone please, shut this thing off? I’ve never raped anyone, I don’t deserve this. I put myself through fucking Harvard!” Kai was yelling. Meg rushed in the room.
“Kay! Please. What’s wrong, Mina?” Meg rushed over to comfort Kai.
Mina handed him the tea. “Nothing wrong,” she said, staring into Kai’s eyes. “She Touched is all. Drink this.”
Kai took the tea and drank it. As he drifted off to sleep he knew, again, without knowing, that this baby was his father.
* * *
Kai’s eyes weren’t yet open when he felt his attacker light upon him again. “Aaaaarrrrgggghhhhhhh!” He yelled as he easily tossed off his assailant. He threw the sheets aside and saw Chen on the floor, looking hurt.
“Baby! Oh my god, baby. Are you ok?” She looked up into his face, and a tenderness he’d never known before melted his heart.
“I’m fine, babe,” she said. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you.”
He scooped her off the floor and into the bed, he’d never felt so relieved and happy in his life and the dream was already fading. “I was just having the worst dream… Will you marry me?”
“Don’t be stupid,” she laughed, but seeing his face she became serious. “You’re not joking. Oh. Babe, I…”
“Don’t you want to?”
“Kai, neither one of us wants to. Are those tears? Wow.”
“Of course, but… Never mind. I was just having the worst dream. Everything’s gonna be fine. I should probably head to that therapy appointment you made for me.”
“Kai, that appointment was yesterday.”