Lia Mitchell is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis. She studies lowbrow French novels by day and writes short fiction by night.
“Just drink a little,” the doctor’s always coaxing. “Let’s keep body and mind together,
But Paul’s about done with his body, the whole sluggish, heaving, stinking thing; even its few bestial pleasures disgust him now. Mostly it’s good for turning food into shit, and millions of other bodies can perform this function in roughly equal capacity. And that’s only his own species. Think of this on a planetary scale: the world has been eating and shitting itself for how many billions of years now, without cease, without him. No great loss.
And oh, he’s got reasons. His murdered parents. The other pharmacy trainee who caught him stealing. Pretty Dierdre, all her tears. So many manipulations and coercions, small and large, minor and fatal. It all seemed so natural at the time, that his stronger mind and body should prevail over weaker ones, that he should get what he wanted, because he could take it, and why not.
Yes, well. The good thing about total annihilation is that it’s total.
Parasitic, dishonest, cruel, brutal, wrong: these are words whose definitions he’s come to understand only recently, through this unwelcome transformation that’s returned him to the old death spiral of his youth. Only he’s heavier now, falling faster. One evening he was calmly slicing cross sections from his mother’s brain, her skull an empty bowl beside him on the kitchen floor; ten days later, deprived of his self-prescribed chemical cocktail, his own head’s turned upside down and inside out, an imploded wet mess that he’s desperate to escape.
There is, however, an obstacle.
“You should try geometry,” the doctor says when Paul’s begging, pleading for the drugs—to be his old power-filled self again, to drown this idiot child somewhere subconscious, where he can’t feel a thing. “It’s both abstract and concrete. A logic you can see. I’ve always found that very comforting.”
A gentle, personable man, slim and smiling—crushable, Paul thought, before he tried and found himself on the floor, agony in his shoulder—the doctor sedates, calculates, hydrates intravenously. He examines the room with a practiced eye: no fabrics strong enough to bear any weight, no potential ligatures, nothing that could be made sharp. Forestalling all reprieve, he holds his patient trapped inside the wasting shit-machine; for what purpose, he won’t say.
Paul tries wedging his body into the tiny space between the wall and the toilet, positions his head just so, relaxes and waits for pressure on his carotid artery to carry him away into euphoria and darkness. But then the static clears, and what’s left is the doctor, checking temperature, blood pressure, heart rate.
“Clever boy,” he says. “But I’m clever, too.”
Just be still, Paul tells his heart. Stop. That’s an order. But the stupid meat conspires against him, confessing itself to fingers on his throat, his wrist. Lungs, too—stomach, intestines, all his organs thump and gurgle along like robots programmed by the enemy. Only his brain is loyal.
Fuck them, it says. Let’s do this. Smash me against the wall.
The attempt ends in a bloody nose, concussion, restraints. Later, holding a bottle of juice-algae blend and threatening the tube again, the doctor sits on the carpet next to Paul, who’s curled up like a bound fetus, trying to swallow his tongue.
“My colleagues think I’m crazy,” the doctor confides. “Keeping you around like this. But you should realize, your reaction is very normal. This is the sanest you’ve been in years.”
Paul stops straining his mouth—painful, not worth the effort. If he could just not breathe. It shouldn’t be this hard to quit.
“And when you understand that, and you see the possibilities—how useful you can be—well, I think you’ll decide to live.”
Nothing should be this hard. He’s tired. He needs to shit. Everything hurts.
“All right,” Paul creaks out, to his failed heart, traitorous guts, the fucking doctor. “Fine, all right. For now.”