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Tabula Rasa Kristen Lippert Martin

BOOK: Tabula Rasa Kristen Lippert Martin
12.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub



NEW YORK, NY 10016
1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2
ISBN 978-1-60684-518-9
EBOOK ISBN 978-1-60684-519-6



 he points to the chair. “Sit.”
S I don’t want to sit. The chair is cold metal, and I’m
 wearing a backless hospital gown. So I stand there staring
 at it until Nurse Jenner clears her throat.
“Come on now, Sarah. We can’t keep the doctor wait-
The first time I saw this chair, I thought it was an elec-
 tric chair. I thought they were going to kill me.
But they’re not. I know they’re not. I remind myself of
 that again.
The chair keeps me upright so they can access any part
 of my skull—front, back, sides. Long-term memories are
 scattered throughout the upper brain, and getting at just
 the right ones so they can be neutralized is nearly impos-
 sible. But that’s what we’re here for today. Stage six of the
 nearly impossible.

“I thought I was scheduled for next week,” I say.
“Schedules change. Just be glad. It means you’re that
 much closer to a fresh start.”
She’s right.
And so I sit.
Nurse Jenner starts securing my restraints: first the one
 around my neck, then the ones for my wrists and ankles,
 and finally the belt that goes around my chest. She fastens
 all of them a little too tightly and then gives me two pats
 on the shoulder.
“Try to relax now. This isn’t your first trip to the rodeo,
I know what’s coming next, and I hate it. She’s going
 to lock me into the halo. It’s this metal birdcage thing that
 holds my head completely still while the doctor works on
 me. I have four metal inserts embedded in my scalp and
 forehead, and the points of the halo snap into the inserts. I
 feel the click-click-click against my skull as she finishes lock-
 ing down all the prongs.
“What’s the matter with you today? You’re shaking all
“I’m a little cold.”
“You know you’re not supposed to move at all.”
“Yes, ma’am.”
She heaves a sigh and hurries away. A moment later she
 returns and drapes a scratchy blanket across my bare knees.
After checking my blood pressure, she gives the thumbs-up
 to the doctor in the booth above the operating room. I hear
 the door latch as she departs.

Now we can get started.
A spotlight comes on above my bald head. Once all the
 injections are done, my hair will be allowed to grow back,
 but right now I’m on a special chemo regimen to keep
 me completely hairless. Otherwise they’d have to shave
 my head every time they did a memory modification. Bald
 makes it easier for them, and it doesn’t really matter to me,
 since I can’t see what I look like anyway. There are no mir-
 rors or shiny surfaces to be found in this place.
Well, not many.
In the outdoor exercise area, there’s a small pond with
 goldfish and water lilies. It’s a nice spot to relax. Or it was,
 right up until a girl fell in and drowned. An orderly found
 her floating facedown in the black water, her hospital gown
 spread out at her sides like wings. Afterward, Nurse Jenner
 said to me, “I bet she fell in while she was trying to see her
 reflection.” I got the message: This is what happens when you
 don’t follow the rules.
The doctors tell us it’s got to be this way. Seeing things
 from our past—even our own faces—can cause a setback
 in our treatment. They go to great lengths to make sure
 we remain unknown to ourselves. Not that any of their
 precautions can keep me from wondering. I’ve tried to put
 together a mental sketch of myself by running my hands
 over my face. I must have done it a thousand times, but I
 still have no idea if I got anything right. The girl I see in
 my mind’s eye remains a blurry, half-formed image.
The only thing I’m pretty sure of is that I normally
 have dark hair. My skin is sort of olive toned, and usually

olive skin goes with dark hair, not blond. I figure I’d be
 a warm, toasty brown if I could just get a little sunshine,
 but we don’t get a lot of sun here. Wherever we are. In
 every direction there are jagged, white-capped mountains
 like rows of shark teeth. What’s beyond those mountains,
I don’t know. Maybe if you walk out there, you get to a
 point where the world simply falls away.
Just like my memories.
Any minute now, a male voice will address me. It’ll be
Dr. Buckley. I’ve met him just once, in the hallway out-
 side the director’s office on the first floor. He looks like a
 middle-aged Santa Claus: brown beard streaked with gray,
 bright red cheeks, and a twinkle in his blue eyes. He’s up
 in the surgical booth right now, behind smoke-colored
 glass, operating the injection needles with a robotic arm to
 ensure absolute precision.
“Are you ready, Sarah?”
And there’s Dr. Buckley now. Ho, ho, ho.
His question is just a formality. What am I going to say,
 no? Besides, now comes the only good part. I talk with
Larry. He’s Dr. Buckley’s research partner.
Larry is the one who reads the CAT scans and the MRIs
 and then decides where to drill during these head-mining
 operations. He figures out the this to take and the that to
 leave alone. He’s also an expert on hypnosis.
Larry talks to me throughout the operation. I have to
 be awake and alert during surgery so they’ll know imme-
 diately if they’re damaging something important. While

Dr. Buckley is busy puncturing my brain with needles,
Larry will have me count backward from one hundred by
 sevens, or he’ll read me lines of poetry and ask me to repeat
 them back. Sometimes he tells me really bad knock-knock
 jokes, and I just have to say, “Who’s there?” at the right
 moment. Larry assures me that laughing at the punch line
 is not required or expected, which is good, because the
 jokes are never funny.
“Good morning.”
Larry’s voice startles me. He sounds so close, but I know
 he’s not. He’s up in the surgical booth. I’ve never seen him,
 and I only hear him through a speaker on procedure days.
“Big day today,” he says.
“Is it?”
“I’m sure you’ll be ready for whatever comes your way,
It’s strange, I know. We seem to talk about nothing,
 and yet I feel like everything Larry says to me is somehow
 important. Maybe it’s just that his voice is the only thing
 that keeps me from drifting away for good. Sometimes—
 maybe a lot of times—I want one of those needles to go in
 a little too deep, in just the wrong place. Would it really be
 so bad? I’m sure there are worse ways to die. Loads of them.
I could never say this out loud. Nothing gets the staff
 riled up like saying you don’t care. These memory modifi-
 cations are a chance for a new life. And they cost a fortune.
The huge expense gets mentioned a lot, especially if the
 nurses think we’re being uncooperative. They seem to

think all the research money they’ve invested in us to help
 get our lives back on track will make us feel obligated and
 appreciative. Maybe it should, but it doesn’t.
“What’s on your mind, Sarah?”
Can that really be my name? I’ve said it over and over
 again, trying to force this square peg into its round hole.
It never fits.
Just as I’m about to answer Larry, I hear the high-pitched
 whine of the drill starting up.  Dr. Buckley is in a hurry.
“Hold still now. You’ll feel a sharp prick and then pres-
 sure in juuuuust a moment. . . .”
I’d rather not picture the drill that’s about to bore its
 way through my skull, even if Santa Claus is the one oper-
 ating on me. I need to distract myself. I know my post-op
 recovery is going to be deadly dull. The only things we get
 to watch on TV are old cartoons, and I’m tired of watching
Tom and Jerry in the rec lounge.
“Larry, can you sign off on a reading request for me?”
Only Dr. Buckley and Dr. Ladner can give permis-
 sion for us to read. And like the cartoons, the books they
 approve are usually really old. I guess they figure old books
 don’t matter anymore.
“Sure,” he says. “How about Hamlet?”
Dr. Buckley must also think it’s a strange  suggestion,
 because he abruptly turns the drill off.
“I tried out for a part in Hamlet when I was in college.
Did I ever tell you that, Sarah?”

Larry has never shared anything personal before. He
 knows that.
“I wanted to play Polonius.”
“Oh yeah?” I ask. “Why not Hamlet?”
“Because Polonius has the best line in the whole play.”
“Which is?”
“‘This above all: to thine own self be true.’ Good advice.
Though not always easy to follow.”
“Or in my case, it’s impossible.”
Larry knows what I mean. I can’t be true to myself if I
 don’t know who I am.
“Don’t be so sure, Sarah. I’m less worried about you
 than I am about me.”
Should I ask him why he said that? Reassure him that
 he’ll be all right? I say nothing.
A moment later, I get that sharp prick that Dr. Buckley
 warned me about. I suck in my breath and feel an intense
 cold where he’s stuck the needle in. Once the area is numb,
Dr. Buckley will begin drilling. That’s the worst. I hate the
 smell of the smoke and bone dust.  
“Just remember, Sarah, sometimes the answers to all our
 questions are staring us right in the face.”
I’m not sure what Larry’s talking about, but I stop won-
 dering about it almost instantly. They give me something
 to keep me calm during these procedures, and it must be
 kicking in.  
“Dr. Ladner,” Dr. Buckley says. “Are you quite ready to
The drill starts up again, but I don’t care. I don’t care

about anything. I feel like my body is a wagon and my
 mind is a horse, and somebody just unhitched the two.
Despite what I tell them—that I’m ready to start my life
 over as a tabula rasa, a blank slate, whatever you want to call
 it—right now all I want to do is slip away into the cool,
 velvet nothingness that’s calling to me.
That’s what I want. That’s what I need.
With each slow blink, time passes quickly, and nothing
 happens. No more needles, no more drilling. I’m just sit-
 ting here, waiting. Whatever happy juice they squirted into
 me is wearing off, and worse, I’m getting feeling back in
 my scalp. I’d ask what’s going on, but that would be a waste
 of time. They never, ever give you reasons for their delays.
I’m able to move my eyes just far enough to see the
 observation window. It’s up high, on the other side of the
 room, opposite the doctors’ booth.
Someone is up there watching me.
It’s her.
I feel something rise in my throat, fierce and foul. My
 teeth clench together, and an intense hatred fills me up so
 hot, so fast.
It takes all my strength to force my fisted hands to open
 and relax. I need to stop this. It’s ridiculous for me to feel
 this way. She’s some consultant they’ve brought in from
New York. I don’t know her. I’ve never seen her before
 this week.

Ms. Hodges. That’s her name.
“Whoa. Everything all right in there, Sarah? Your heart
 is racing,” Larry says.
“I’m fine.”
“You sure?”
“Yeah. Totally fine.”
There’s no reason for me to have such a strong reaction
 to this woman. She’s a stranger, and though it’s possible she
 reminds me of someone I used to know, there’s no way to
 be sure. I need to ignore these feelings. That’s all. Ignore
 them. Because I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t.
As the woman looks toward the surgeon’s booth, I sneak
 a quick glance at her. She’s wearing an ivory dress with lots
 of draped fabric. It’s elegant. Toga-like. Several gold brace-
 lets circle her wrist. She spins them around, but as our eyes
 meet, she stops and lets her hands drop to her sides.
It’s hard to tell how old she is. Fortysomething, maybe?
My eyes dart toward her hair. It’s the most perfect shade
 of red, and if I didn’t feel so murderous right now, I’d admit
 that she’s beautiful.
You know, for her age.
I squeeze my eyes shut, hoping that when I open them
 again, she’ll be gone. But she isn’t. I want to make these
 feelings go away, but hatred is a sticky, clingy thing, and I
 can’t seem to get rid of it.
I remind myself what I’ve been told nearly every day
 since I arrived. Paranoia is a side effect of these tabula rasa
 treatments. So is a strong feeling of déjà vu, loss of depth

perception, balance problems, color blindness, and, accord-
 ing to Larry, an inexplicable affinity for people wearing
 wooden clogs.
That breaks the spell a little. A smile tugs at the corner
 of my mouth. I wait for Larry to ask me what I’m thinking.
He’s probably the only person who could tell me exactly
 how many times I’ve smiled since I got here.
Suddenly all the lights go out.
The room is black and instantly colder. The darkness
 only lasts a moment, but it feels much longer.
When the lights come back on, so does Larry’s micro-
 phone. “You okay down there?”
“I don’t know.”
A drop of blood slides down my forehead, pauses
 momentarily above my eye, and then drips onto my lap. I
 must have jumped when the lights went out. I didn’t think
 it was even possible, but somehow I tore one of the metal
 inserts loose from my skull.
The lights flicker and the heart rate monitor leaps back
 to life long enough to beep once.
“Sarah,” Dr. Buckley says through the balky speaker
 system. “I guess . . . having . . . technical . . . some-
 one . . . will—”
The power goes out again, and this time the outage
 drags on.
Just as I’m starting to panic, I hear a door open and then
 footsteps. My whole body stiffens at the sound of someone
 hurtling toward me. Whoever it is knocks a piece of equip-
 ment onto the floor as he approaches.  

BOOK: Tabula Rasa Kristen Lippert Martin
12.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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