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The Favor – Megan Marie Sullivan

Jul 16, 2021 | Fiction | 0 comments

I had a patient who could punctuate his sentences by cracking his finger bones on his temple, his palms empty and outstretched, then level to his shoulder at the point he was making. It was a move I could never make myself, even though I tried, night after night. My fingers never fell for it. I was not him.I wanted the world within him. I wanted his soul in a bottle, to write my name on the inside of his skin. I wanted to reopen his wounded memories and sting his charred flesh with my tongue. I wanted to look both ways in the telescopes of his eyes, see his friends, his girlfriend, his french-cuffed shirts and his insular bar crawls. I wanted him to love me, the way I obsessed about him. My patient would never do that; his girlfriend’s name was Kharisma.

I studied her steady movements, her calm and calculated air. She suffered from synesthesia. Her demons were mismatched and unaligned sensory perceptions.

Sounds, images and text were

alive, constant shape-shifters,

One appearing as another automatic and involuntarily.

They

were as present as the spirits of yore,

the ancient play-actors, hoofed feet and stinking of sulfur

who would appear occasionally as a wife or a brother,

until that person walked in, startled and surprised.

You were here long before you got here,

but you were not yourself.

                             Something inhuman was your substitute,

                 you had an awkward alternative,

                           your other You, that was me. I was You.

I was You.

I had a patient. I approached him with the set of Kharisma’s gestures and expressions, lined my feet up right to his, didn’t smile her smile, just grin her grin. “This is important,” I told him. We were alone in the fancy foyer of his apartment, the checkered marbled floors already making me dizzy. Wearily he eyed me. I hid my fidgeting well in the cloak of her countenance. My eyes stated the desire at hand, he whistled to his wallet. He could punctuate his sentences in ways I never could. My eyes were empty and outstretched. His girlfriend was only level to his shoulder, so to ensure the illusion I stood slouched. I had practiced night after night – slouch, stand, slouch, stand. Her, me, her, me.

I had a patient and he asked me “What do you need the money for?” “For the treatment,” I told him. “I have to go down to the pharmacy, but your insurance won’t cover it.”

“That’s not it, is it?”

“To taste the flowers.” I replied. “They are serving flowers at the bar down the street, but I am out of steady cash. I’ve spent too much time studying,” I said, pretending to be his girlfriend. I was her.

“They don’t serve flowers at the bar down the street, Kharisma,” he replied.

“They serve them night after night,” I said. “I studied the menu and they are steadily increasing the flowers.” I stared at him with her eyes, which I had studied while she slept. She did not sleep well, and would open and close her eyes throughout the hours. Open, shut, dream, awake, dream, awake, shut tight.

I had a patient and he asked me what I was up to. He asked me if I was trying to trick him, or was this some sort of role play? Of course I wanted his money – to start, and his apartment, his fancy shoes – these were all his dreams, and I wanted to feast on them all. I wanted him most of all to believe that I was his Kharisma, but she was not me.

I had a patient and I asked him: “Why would I trick you?” I approached him, not smiling – she does not smile, she grins. She is always calm, even when she hears colors. He and I were locked in a staring contest. My patient wouldn’t even begin a sentence, let alone punctuate it. His eyes were empty then, hiding his emotions, his fidgets, searching into mine, trying to figure out if it was her or someone else. Or maybe she had another disease that he had not told him about – something much worse than feeling a high-pitched whistle like a prick to the bone or seeing a lightning bolt of static in between the wintry fleece blankets. Perhaps this is why she slouched. And she slouched in a way that’s very different from how other people slouch. She slouched like a flower that was left at a bar. I had practiced all night. Me, the flower, me, the flower, me, his flower.

I had a patient: “You are acting very strange,” he said.

“Very strange? I can hear you ignoring me.” If I couldn’t love him, I could become him, but it was never that easy. I had to watch his gestures: His bitten lip, his sighs and moans, the windows his shoulders make when he’s tired. My arm shot up to my temple, I cracked my fingers. I fidgeted with my lips. That’s when his girlfriend walked in.

“You, who are you?” he said, looking at both of us, so startled.

“Me, I’m me,” she said, so meekly. “Not her, she’s not me.”

__

Megan Marie Sullivan graduated from Northwestern University with an MA in Creative Writing in 2012. She currently lives in Chicago and train robots for a living.

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