He awoke to the phone ringing. He rolled towards the bedside table and tried to grab the phone without opening his eyes. He failed three times before finally succeeding.
“Hello?” It was five in the morning. No one called that early unless it was an emergency.
There was a dull buzz on the other line. The man groaned and hung up. Eighteen minutes later, the phone rang again. He picked it up, said hello in the same perplexed tone, and heard the dull buzzing. This time, he listened to see if someone would speak. They never did, and after five seconds, he hung up. The noise stayed in his ears through breakfast.
He had an extra hour to spare before leaving for work. He spent it stretched out on the couch, staring at the few photographs he had hanging from the walls. There were memories trapped in the photos, but the man felt none of them. He attempted to reclaim the joy he had felt in the company of his entire family at a barbeque five years ago. He attempted to reclaim the pride he had felt when his younger sister graduated university. He attempted to reclaim affection as he looked at the photo of himself in a suit standing next to a woman in a wedding gown. He had proposed to her at the park where they had first met.
All he felt was a desire to go back to bed. His eyelids were heavy and it took effort to keep them from falling shut. He needed to make another cup.
He did just that, listened to the percolating of the coffee maker, and inhaled the crisp scent as the coffee was dispensed into his mug. He drank it black. He wanted to be awake, not hindered by added sugar or milk.
It wasn’t enough. His eyelids were threatening to conquer him. He made a third cup and only then, did he feel as if he was going to survive the day.
The small sliver of confidence he had vanished as he took his position behind the counter of Rush Coffee Shop. Rush was on the corner of a busy avenue, two streets away from a high school, and five streets from a road that connected to a main highway. If there was a moment of peace, it would not be found during the eight o’clock morning shift.
He went through the motions: he pulled a cup from the stack, checked off the boxes that applied to the order, pressed a few buttons on the coffee machine, sealed the cup, and handed it off to the customer. The pattern repeated for eight more hours and with each passing hour, he wondered why he bothered. He was helping to make a stranger’s day better by getting their order correct, by giving them the extra kick in their step, but he did nothing for himself. Routine was his jailer.
“You can go,” his boss said. He hung up his smock and punched out. “Same time tomorrow,” his boss affirmed.
He said nothing, only nodded, the dread creeping up his spine. Goosebumps settled on his arms.
There was one more stop to make until he could be reunited with the only solace he had: sleep.
He entered the office at exactly half past four. The door made its usual creak. The receptionist smiled her usually false smile. “Mr. Coyle will be with you shortly.”
He sat in the waiting room, folded his hands together. The clock ticked. The secretary clicked a pen at the front desk. His foot scuffed against the maroon colored carpet. The pasty yellow walls tormented his eyes. He focused his attention elsewhere. He unfolded his hands, cracked each knuckle. He was in the middle of the ninth crack when he heard, “Mr. Brennan, you can go inside.”
He rose. He made the journey to the room at the end of the hallway.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Brennan. Please have a seat.”
After a few seconds of silence, Mr. Coyle gestured an arm forward. “The floor is yours.”
Kyle recited his day, emphasizing the lack of a voice on the other end of the phone call, the hollowness in response to his memories, the trap of routine that he was caught in.
Mr. Coyle reclined back in his chair, peering above his rounded spectacles. They hung on the brim of his nose. “Kyle, I told you this wasn’t going to be easy.”
“You did, but I never expected it to feel like…this.”
“Most don’t,” Mr. Coyle folded his hands on his lap. He spoke as if he were reciting a grocery store list. “Prior to the procedure, I explained to you the after effects, and you willingly signed the consent form.”
These were facts that Kyle knew, facts that Kyle didn’t want to hear. He thought undergoing the procedure would help him to not drain the energy from his body and paint the world with a monochromatic brush. Everything he once knew possessed an echo of familiarity, but only an echo.
“The side effects take a while to get used to. When you first came to me, Kyle, you were desperate, wild. The life you were facing was taking a clear toll on your well being.”
Kyle remembered, but the emotions attached to the events were fuzzy. They felt far away from him, and the more he tried to focus on them, the less comprehensible they became. He remembered Marie. He remembered her diagnosis. He remembered her still body, the burial, and his purposeful destruction of their apartment. That was all however, a catalog of events with no reason behind them.
“You won’t figure it out,” Mr. Coyle stated absently.
Kyle broke from his trance, his brow furrowed as he stared at the other man.
“You won’t,” Mr. Coyle repeated again. His eyes met Kyle’s, and they seemed void, a mirror of disinterest. “You wanted to remove the connection between your pain and your ability to function in the real world. This is what happened, Mr. Brennan, exactly as you asked, exactly as you signed for. This was a one time job, no going back. You are one of many. You made a decision that you believed was best as did many others. There is nothing special about you, Kyle, or your situation.”
“Okay,” Kyle resigned, pressing his back further into his chair. “There is nothing special about me.”
“Say it again.”
“There is nothing special about me.”
It felt easier for Kyle to submit. Mr. Coyle was giving him an order and it felt correct. This was indecision being eradicated from his everyday life. “There is nothing special about me.”
Mr. Coyle smiled, or something of the sort. His lips merely twitched upward. “Well done. I think that’s enough for today.”
“Okay.” Kyle rose from his seat and headed towards the door. It opened and closed with a gentle click.
Kyle stared at the ceiling. He hadn’t been able to sleep. Every position he tried made his body ache. He had been repeating Mr. Coyle’s words on loop. He didn’t matter. What he did wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The procedure made sense at the time, or so he told himself. He couldn’t recall the emotional strength behind his decision. Kyle could rationalize it. He had lost someone who meant a lot to him, and he chose to run, rather than coping with the repercussions head on.
“What have you done, Kyle?”
Kyle’s head jerked to the side and before him was a woman. She stood tall, black hair, cut to her shoulders, a nose splattered with freckles, and brown eyes that were puffy underneath as they stared at him. He blinked in succession to see if his mind was playing a trick on him. The woman remained in the room.
“What have you done, Kyle?” She asked, concern harbored in her tone.
“What do you mean ‘what have I done’?” He took in the sight of her, noting her rich brown skin. He had a strong urge to reach out for her, run his fingers along her arm. He didn’t understand why he possessed this longing.
“This…” She gestured her arm in his direction. “This…procedure.”
“It was necessary.”
“Necessary for what?”
“To get away.”
The woman shook her head. “I didn’t want any of this for you. I told you that I wanted you to live your life and… you went and completely…” She didn’t finish. A tear rolled down her cheek.
Kyle rubbed the nape of his neck. He believed he should know why the woman was upset, but his mind was a blank slate. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? That’s all you have to say is sorry?”
“Do you even know who I am, Kyle?” The woman moved closer to the bed, though did not sit down. She watched Kyle skeptically.
Kyle forced himself to pay attention to the woman despite wanting to close his eyes and let darkness surround him. He knew that wouldn’t happen. It took the average person a couple of minutes, him a couple of hours. Maybe the tiredness was finally catching up to him. His mind had snapped, or had already snapped, and the result was a remnant of a person he once knew well.
Her name was on the tip of Kyle’s tongue. He had thought about it briefly while conversing with Mr. Coyle. The connection to his heart and brain had been severed leaving him staring at the biggest piece of his past without so much as an ounce of care. This was better, he told himself. This was the better choice.
“Marie.” It came out as a whisper.
“You do remember.”
Kyle nodded slowly. “I do. You died.”
Marie exhaled a shaky breath. “So did you. This isn’t living.”
“At least I’m still here.”
“That’s not the point, Kyle.”
He shrugged his shoulders in response. “There’s no point in debating. There’s no point in you being here. You died, and I chose how to deal with it. You can’t be mad at me for choosing. If I hadn’t chosen, well –” Kyle pressed his lips together, his feelings once again confusing him. He remembered crying for hours at a time. He remembered not leaving his house. He remembered thinking about following Marie’s exit. His reaction hadn’t been okay. Dr. Coyle said so prior to the procedure. The procedure was the cure. What he hadn’t known was that he would feel as empty after it was done as he had before it. It was as if someone had opened him up and stole the box that held what made him human.
He dismissed the thought. It was better this way. He wasn’t special.
“If you hadn’t…?”
“If I hadn’t chose, I would be dead. Is that the answer you wanted to hear, Marie?”
Marie’s eyes fell shut. Her bottom lip quivered. It parted for a second, but no sound came out.
Kyle exhaled a sigh and reclined on his bed. His limbs felt heavy. His head throbbed to a mantra of no more, no more, no more.
It was the first night he fell asleep instantaneously. He didn’t know what had caused Marie’s appearance, but he longed to rid himself from her and the confusion she brought.
The ringing of the phone pulled him from his sleep. Kyle groaned as he reached for it. He missed the first time, his fingers knocking into the charger that cradled it and tipping the phone slightly to the left. When the phone hit the nightstand, he reached for it again and succeeded.
“…Hello?” He didn’t know what time it was, but there was a faint trace of light in between the cracks of the blinds. His attention shifted from how early it was to the dull static on the other line.
“Hello?” He asked again. When no answer came, he shook his head and hung up. It was an annoying joke that someone was trying to play on him. He rolled over onto his side attempting to fall back asleep. He failed, and his day repeated the same way as the one before it: monotonous.
A week passed, a phone call occurring every morning at the same time. Kyle had asked who the caller was, what their purpose was, but the static was the only answer he received. He had thought of Marie, though she had presented herself only once. Kyle had written that off as a bad dream, hindered by his tiredness. The phone call on the other hand pulled him from the darkness, a distinguishing line between his reality and his subconscious. He shared the recurring phone call with Mr. Coyle at their next meeting.
“And there’s never anyone on the other line?”
“Not that I can hear. I don’t understand.”
“Someone’s probably having their round of fun. I wouldn’t place a lot of your concern on the matter.”
“I…I can’t sleep though, Mr. Coyle.”
“It’s not as if your sleeping record was on point to begin with, Kyle,” he reported with a shrug of his shoulders. “This may be a hindrance, but I have a strong intuition it’ll be over soon.”
Kyle’s gaze lifted to meet the other man’s. He was uncertain as to how Mr. Coyle could sound confident in his remark, but Kyle didn’t understand a lot of things since the procedure. He reclined against his seat, a sign of resignation. “Okay.”
“Now, repeat after me. It’ll all be over soon.”
“It’ll all be over soon.”
“It’ll all be over soon.”
“Good.” Mr. Coyle rose from his chair and gave Kyle’s shoulder a firm squeeze. “You’ve done as well as you could have following the procedure.”
Kyle nodded in response and made his way to the door. There was a black hole inside of him, swallowing up what emotions may have remained inside. Mr. Coyle’s words replayed in his head until they captivated every ounce of his attention.
Unlike the sessions before, Mr. Coyle followed Kyle’s exit a few seconds later. He slipped a file to the woman at the front desk. Her brows rose.
“Place Mr. Brennan’s file in the back with the others. I doubt he’ll be answering the phone tomorrow, let alone be here.”
The woman took the folder in her grasp, releasing a small sigh. She didn’t hesitate to obey, turning on her heel and heading to a door that was marked for staff only. She slipped a key inside of the lock and pushed the door open. The room was no bigger than a closet, containing standard office supplies stacked in cardboard boxes or on shelves. The only out of place object was a white filing cabinet. The woman opened the second drawer of the filing cabinet and slipped Kyle’s file in between those belonging to a Mrs. Beam and a Mr. Brick. She closed the drawer with a shaky hand, her eyes shifting to view the label that was placed on the metal.
Megan Manzano is currently attending University in order to achieve a Bachelor’s degree in English. She is a resident of New York City and has been published in The Anglerfish Magazine, Teen Ink, and Everyday Fiction. She recently picked up a job as an editor for Fantasy Works Publishing. Her favorite activities include reading, blogging, finding ways to travel, and expressing her imagination through writing.
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Cover Photo: AK Rockefeller (https://www.flickr.com/photos/akrockefeller/)