by Pauline Yates
You sit opposite me—my replica. You mirror how I looked the day I left my husband at the door of this clinic. Your hair is cropped short. You wear my clothes. Your complexion has changed—it’s rejuvenated—but that’s to be expected after a month of treatment. The clinic physicians are careful. There must be no suspicion when you resume my life. Only Sandra Nelson, our doctor, knows the change I did make. She promises to keep my secret—especially from you.
Sandra stands behind you. I like her confident smile. I’ve forgotten how many replicas she’s made. She did tell me, but the drugs that keep me alive distort my memory. It doesn’t matter. Numbers will mean nothing after today. I welcome the moment my world turns black, but I can only welcome death because you sit with me—alive, coherent, ready to chase the dreams I ran out of time to catch. You’ll have time to catch those dreams now. For you are me.
“The memory chip is prepared, Katherine,” Sandra says. “Are you ready to proceed?”
I smile when you turn your head. My name is your name. But I’m the one who answers. “Was the segregation successful?”
Sandra holds up a computer chip. “Your memory bank is as you requested. I’ll hold the isolated memory sequences in a secure containment for a period of twelve months. If, after that time, there is no evidence of cerebral cortex disorientation, those sequences will be permanently deleted.”
“I’m ready.” I am, though I wish I could delete those memories immediately.
I watch a monitor mounted on the wall behind you. This will be the first and last time I view my life as I want you to remember it. I’ve been warned this part of the procedure is confronting, but, because I requested segments of my memories be removed, I’m the only one who can confirm I’ve missed nothing. One overlooked detail could collapse the charade I agreed to when I first entered this clinic. Am I right to hide the truth from you? I want to die knowing I am.
“The drugs will help you relax,” Sandra says.
She speaks to you now. I like the way she doesn’t differentiate between us. It’s imperative she doesn’t, for when you walk out of this clinic tomorrow, her part in the charade will continue. I trust she’ll stay true to her promise. I want you to know nothing but happiness. And have a clear conscience. That is my gift to you.
You don’t flinch when Sandra inserts the chip into an electrode attached to your temple. You’re brave. I know the sting of the memory transfer. When your eyes close, I watch the monitor. An image appears on the screen—my husband—yours now. He smiles in this memory, but his eyes reflect worry. I left the worry so you’d understand his elation when you emerge a healthy, cancer-free woman, another success for this New-Life Cancer Clinic. He doesn’t know the real procedure this clinic performs. Sandra will reassure him that gaps in your memory are common for patients in remission. That’s all he, and you, need to know.
As my life rolls like a movie across the screen, my lack of tears proves I’m doing the right thing. Though I will die, I will continue to live. My husband will have the wife he loves. My children will have their mother. They need never know I lost my battle with cancer. Or the decision I made. You’re a gift to my family, the last gift I’m able to give.
When the monitor turns black, I study your face. You sit, thoughtful, but you don’t smile. I lean forward. “Are you happy?”
You stare at me. “Yes. But I don’t know why.”
“Why is not important.” When you frown, I look at Sandra, confused. “Did something go wrong?”
Sandra places her hand on my shoulder. “I suspect she won’t be happy if she doesn’t understand why she’s happy.”
I pull my lips tight. “She doesn’t need to know why.”
“She does. There’s no triumph if there’s no battle.”
I twist my fingers together. “I only want to give her the best part of me. That’s all she needs.”
Sandra squeezes my shoulder. “She can’t be the best part of you without all of you. If you don’t show her why, you risk her repeating your journey so she can discover the path to happiness herself.” She smiles. “Don’t fear the journey. It made you who you are today.”
Who am I today? A desperate, thirty-six-year-old woman ravaged by incurable cancer? Or a woman determined to fight past the end? My path to this point is two years treading the fine line between life and death. Days of joy, when I thought I’d conquered my demon, nights of despair when the demon rose again. I accepted my end, but at my end, my fight is not over. That’s why I’m here. You are my last battle. I can’t fail this.
Taking a deep breath, I nod at Sandra to insert the excluded memory sequences. I don’t watch the screen. I watch you. Tears well in your eyes as the memory fragments complete for you the battle I waged. Now you see what I didn’t want you to see—the agony of months of chemotherapy, the loss of independence, the lies I told my husband to hide the daily torture of excruciating pain so I could make the most heart-wrenching decision of all. I pray you won’t need to fight my battles again, but if you do, you’ll know how to triumph.
Sandra removes the electrode from your temple. You lean back in your chair. Your cheeks glisten with tears. My life—yours now— shines in your eyes. This time, you smile.
My gift to you was an empty box. Now it is full. I know who I am.
I am you.
This battle, I win.
Pauline Yates is a 2017 Fiction War and 2018 NYCMidnight Short Story Competition finalist. She is the author of ‘In the Absence of Time’ in the Reading 5×5 Anthology, Metaphorosis Books, ‘An Aftertaste of Earth’, Metaphorosis Magazine, and is the author of the digital interactive thriller, ‘Rumours Uncut’, produced by Story City, Brisbane. She lives in Queensland, Australia, and can be followed on twitter @midnightmuser1.