She tells me I eat too many sweets as she digs her hands into my chest. She reminds me I should look after my health; after all, I won’t be young forever. That is not true. I taste the thin film of chocolate on my tongue.
You’ll be delicious, she tells me after she sees all my organs are present and whole. My mother used to do the same thing with eggs.
You’ll be delicious, she repeats, and don’t forget, Friday, 9PM. She smiles as she stitches me back up.
I get to my feet and pull a piece of paper with my mother’s credit number.
Here, I hand it to her, so you don’t forget.
She looks offended, her poised red lips sinking into a frown.
We signed a contract, she reminds me. I’ll look after your mother.
Her eyes are wide and empty. I wonder who she took them from. I wonder if she’ll take mine after she eats me. I head towards the door, my stitches burning slightly.
Don’t gorge yourself, she reminds me. Her arms are pale against the black of her dress.
I won’t, I say, which is true. There is no more chocolate in the pantry. I have nothing left.
I leave the parlor in a haze. Nobody attempts to mug me. Nobody leaving a parlor has anything worth robbing.
I make my way out of the parlors’ square. The streets are barren, people ducking in and out of buildings in shame. This square is a final resort. I sigh in relief when I reach the bustling business center. Here, everyone’s eyes are their own and no one speaks of the parlors one block away. They are a distant nightmare that happens to other people.
My mother works in an office on the fifteenth floor of a bank building. I have memorized her break times, and just as I reach the bottom of the building she comes out.
It’s great to see you, she smiles. How was work?
Fine, I lie, although I haven’t worked in days. My mother is of the old order. She has been working in the same office for forty years. She had no idea what people sign away in the sterile waiting rooms a block from here, and I intend to keep it that way.
I love you, honey, she smiles. I have to go.
The elevator ride up is a whole minute. I nod and watch my mother turn away back towards the building. I head to my shelf apartment.
I climb up the stairs of the complex until I reach my hall. My fingerprint opens the door to my shelf. It is a small one, coffin sized. I crawl in on my hands and knees and lay down. The pantry directly above me is empty except for one last sleeping pill. I swallow it.
I think of my mother in her old apartment, not the closet one she has now but the one I grew up in with the chipped chairs and the paintings of canned food. She was proud of those. I hope she’ll be able to buy that place back with the consumption money. I dream. I dream of my mother vacuuming and singing. I dream of her in her closet apartment big enough for the two of us to stand up in, and not much more, asking if I’m alright back when people began disappearing.
The alarm wakes me. It is a series of beeps and twinkles. I get up automatically, chew a teeth cleanser and spit the refuse in the refuse drain my head. I shimmy into day clothes and pull myself out of the shelf. There isn’t a line for the complex’s bathroom.
I go out to the street. I arrive to the parlor early, early enough that someone else is waiting as well. He is leaning against the wall and trying to sort his breathing. He keeps checking a timer that tells him how much time he has before he goes inside.
You too, he says when he sees me.
I nod. I don’t want to get one of those just yet, I say.
It was a bad idea, he admits.
All of it?
He doesn’t reply. He pulls a photo from his pocket.
She’ll get better, he says.
The girl in the picture is about seven years old. I wonder if she remembers buying eggs in shops, or running inside an apartment.
It isn’t so bad, the man says. Besides, scientifically, with the stuff they inject you, it’s like falling asleep.
He sounds smart. His timer beeps and he walks inside.
I count, hoping that when I reach a certain number I’ll somehow know he’s dead and it’s my turn. When I forget what number I’m on I walk in.
The waiting room is empty except for the woman dispensing timers. She has someone else’s skin stretched smooth across her face. Her eyes are bright. I assume they’re hers because they’re nice eyes. If they were someone else’s, someone higher up would’ve claimed them.
The door to the operating room opens.
Perfect, the woman in the black dress says. She leads me inside. I leave the timer behind me. Disrobe, please.
I do. She leans over me and inserts the IV line. It is quality stuff. I never would’ve been able to afford it.
I remember what the man said about falling asleep. I think about my mother in her closet apartment as the woman raises the scalpel. I close my eyes and dream of her.
Noa Covo is an aspiring teenage writer. Her work has appeared in Reckoning and will appear in an Eerie River Anthology. She can be found on Twitter @covo_noa.