Three pieces of bread roll out of the slot in the door. I quickly crawl off my mattress and grab the closest roll. I gnaw at roll, glad that at least the midday meal came on time. I offer you some of my food, and you hungrily snatch the piece of bread and chew on it.
Lizzie picks up a roll and stares out it. “It’s moldy!” she exclaims.
I don’t know why she’s complaining. “It’s normal prison fair. It is bread to keep you alive. Porridge in the morning. Bread for midday. Soup for the end of the day, and then the dim light in our cell will go out, and we will sleep, waiting for the dim light to flicker on. It has always been that way; it will always be that way.”
I work on chewy on the bread. The green spots on it are the easiest areas to eat.
She stares at me, her mouth agape in shock. “They expect us to eat this? What do they think we are, animals?”
Well, yes. I think they do think of us as animals. We are food for the Xatron. I just shrug again.
Nathan trudges over to the last piece of bread, and bites into it. He looks disgusted and he quickly covers his mouth. I can see him trying to swallow. Why is he disgusted?
He turns toward me. “Do you not taste how terrible this bread is? It tastes like – I don’t know – garbage or dirt.”
“How do you know what garbage tastes like? Have you ever eaten out of a dumpster?” Lizzie asks.
“Well, no. But I’ve smelled them, and this tastes like that smelled,” he replies.
All this talk of taste and smell. These are things that can be ignored. Pushed away and forgotten, just like the memories.
“Do you not taste it Lily?” He asks.
I refuse to answer to that name. I will not be some random guy’s dead girlfriend. Sorry, just not happening.
“Umm, sorry. Hope,” he corrects himself.
“It is all the same. There is nothing to taste. Nothing to smell.” Both of them focus in on me like hyenas. What the heck are hyenas? I suddenly see an image of a hunched over beast with bristly brown hair, and lips stretched backward into a mocking smile. Hyenas are scavengers though aren’t they? I don’t even know why I know this. I haven’t ever left this cell. I’ve never seen a hyena, at least that I know of.
Lizzie is waving her hand in front of me. “Did you hear me? Are you there, Hope?”
“Huh?” I didn’t hear anything.
“What do you mean you can’t taste anything?” She asks, exasperation coating her voice.
“Umm, just what I said. I don’t taste anything. Or at least I assume I don’t since you guys seem to think this tastes bad, whatever that is. And to me it is nothing. It’s a little hard except for the green spots which are softer, though a little slimy.” I pull at the long black sleeves of my prison shirt. These questions are making me uncomfortable. I can’t explain why. I don’t know.
Nathan squats down in front of me. “Li – Hope, you say you can ignore the taste. How? How do you eat this and ignore the taste and the texture.”
“I don’t know. It’s gone. It’s all gone. I don’t know why, or how. The barriers protect me.” The barriers? What am I talking about? That barrier in my mind, the one I ran into when searching for my memories, that must be what I am talking about. But what do I mean when I say they protect me? From what? Myself? Maybe they protect me from my own memories.
Nathan is saying something, “…Hope.”
“Hmm?” I don’t want to admit I wasn’t actually listening. I don’t normally listen to people, but I am not around people normally.
“What are you talking about? What do you mean the barriers protect you?” He asks again. He has really pretty hair. I kind of just want to reach out stroke his soft golden locks, and feel if they are as soft as they look.
“Um, Well. I don’t really know.” How do you tell someone there is a barrier in your mind that protects you from your own memories, from taste and smell? I guess you wouldn’t really know how to tell some that. You probably don’t have a barrier, but you wouldn’t tell me if you did, would you.
I guess I could try and tell them. What will it hurt? They might think me insane and finally leave me alone. The worst case is they will be here for a while and eventually the guards will take him away, like they take everyone away.
What do you think I should do?
You don’t ever plan on talking to me do you? You just listen to me ramble on, always staring at me with that blank look on your face. Well fine. I’ll tell them.
I crawl to the cement wall and lean against it. I need its support right now. “I have a barrier in my mind. It protects me from memory. It protects me from the tastes and smells of the world, I think. I live in this cell alone, but sometimes others join me, I think. I think it protects me from the very memories of them.”
Both of them stare at me. Lizzie opens and closes her mouth a couple times. “I don’t understand. It isn’t possible to force yourself to forget something,” she finally speaks up.
I shrug. She can think what she wants.
Nathan sits down next to me, and grabs my hand. I stare his hand. Why is he holding my hand?
“Do you push all feeling behind this barrier? Do you feel pain from your ankles? Do you care about the people who have come through your cell, or have you forgotten everything except existing?” He asks.
I shrug again and wring my hands. I guess the worst scenario is they won’t stop questioning me. “I don’t know. The barrier keeps me alive. The barrier keeps me sane. I don’t know what you mean by asking me if my ankles cause me pain.”
His face is too close to mine with those disturbingly blue eyes. How does someone have such blue eyes? I want to back away, to crawly into my corner and hide. He is too close. “Your ankle is bent at 90 degrees. Do you not feel pain from that? You obviously can’t walk on it.”
I look down at my ankle. It’s much better than having my attention captured by those eyes. I can’t remember why they are like this. Something tells me I use to walk like these other two people, but it was a long time ago.
“I don’t know. I feel nothing from it.”
I pull my hand out of Nathan’s grip and crawl around him, back to my mattress.
Lizzie sits on one side of me, and Nathan on the other side. They are trying to talk to me. They are asking questions, but I ignore them. I need to settle my mind. To meditate. Questions are making the barrier weaker, I am certain. Meditating will strengthen it. Now that I know that the barrier is protecting me. I must protect it.
Lizzie pokes me. “So you don’t feel pain? You don’t care for others. You just exist in this cell. You aren’t living!”
She can accuse me as much as she wants. I truthfully don’t care. “Remember rule one? Leave me alone. Remember rule two? This side of the room is mine. Go back to your side of the room.”
They continue to sit there, so I ignore them and focus inward on nothingness. I push away their distractions.
Three bowls of soup are slid through the slot in the door bringing me out of my reverie. I look around and notice the other two have gone over to their side of the room and fallen asleep on the smooth concrete floor. Good.
I crawl to the door and grab a bowl, sucking down the liquid soup. For a second I think about drinking down the other two bowls of soup since my cell mates are asleep, but it wouldn’t be right. I can’t just go and steel their rations from them, even if they are ungrateful. In fact, I should wake them up so they can eat before the bowls are taken away. I crawl over where they are sleeping against their wall.
Who should I wake them up? Lizzie is more annoying to be around, but Nathan has those disturbing eyes and bothersome questions. He also keeps thinking of me as his dead girlfriend.
You look over at Lizzie. Yes. She probably is the best choice to wake up. I crawl over toward her and poke her. She doesn’t wake up. I shake her a little, and she jumps up, almost stepping on me.
“What the heck!” she screeches.
So much for doing a good deed. “Soup is here. Thought you might want to eat.”
I crawl back to my mattress. The dim light will turn off soon. It is time to sleep. I lie down, and relax. I feel safe knowing you are watching over me while I sleep. I feel confident that you will wake me for anything important.