Afterward, I’m at the sink washing my mouth out when I make eye contact with myself in the mirror. I straighten up, letting the cold water run over my hands as I stare myself down, trying to see what a stranger would see. The corners of my mouth turn up slightly, the sign of someone ready to smile at a moment’s notice — or to smirk. Stubbled chin, perhaps a sign of someone not overly concerned about appearances, or perhaps a mark of a dangerously antisocial character in the processing of withdrawing from society. My nose…is a nose. I don’t think you can read anything in someone’s nose.
My eyes, though, are what caught my attention in the first place, and are what I keep coming back to in my self-analysis. If you’d asked me what they showed, I would have said horror, revulsion, fear, sadness — all of the things I was feeling when I ran for the bathroom. But looking at myself in the mirror, I don’t see any of that. I see tiredness, something that goes deeper than the slight bags under my eyes and permeates the orbs themselves. It’s an emotional tiredness, the look of someone who’s given up on caring. I scan my face for a hint of compassion, and I see none.
I lean heavily on the sink and stare myself down. I’ve killed. Not just the rat, though that is obviously sharpest at the moment, but people. I beat Aaron Lovell to death with my hands. I tricked Jonathan Caraway into a fatal car accident. And yes, in both cases they were actively trying to kill me, but though that may explain what I did, it does not change it. Dr. A may have turned them into monsters, but what did I turn myself into to beat them?
I set a building on fire with people inside, many of them simply incidental bystanders. I burned a man alive in a car. And again, the latter was to save my own life, and the former was to save the lives of many others, including those bystanders, but the extenuating circumstances don’t alter the toll this is taking on me. These choices are becoming easier, less demanding, less concerning.
I used my best friend as bait, allowed him to take a beating meant for me, just to get the upper hand on someone. What kind of person does that? I glower into the mirror, my reflection scowling back. My mouth turns down, no smile or smirk ready now, but just a deep disgust for the person I’m regarding.
Suddenly I stumble forward a step, knocking my forehead painfully into the mirror. It stars at the impact, triangles of glass dropping away to smash further on the floor, but I barely notice. I’m staring in horror at the porcelain basin of the sink on which I’d been leaning. It has broken away beneath my hands, leaving me holding about half of it. Water runs from the faucet over the half still attached to the wall, pouring down to soak my shoes, but even beneath the flow I can see that the sink is still eroding away.
I drop the piece I’m holding and hurriedly shut off the water. Both pieces of the sink are vanishing at an impressive rate, steadily being erased from existence. I grab the portion still attached to the wall, putting my hands in contact with as much of the surface area I can, and concentrate on calling back the nanobots. What’s the opposite of loathing? Love? I grit my teeth and try to think loving thoughts.
It’s to no avail, though. Whether because I did it wrong or because there’s simply no way to call back the nanos once they’ve begun their mission of annihilation, in mere minutes the sink has completely disappeared. There’s nothing left but a faucet sticking out of the wall and a thick gray paste on the floor, where the water has soaked into the ashy remains.
So. Apparently if I’m feeling loathing at a target I’m not touching, the nanos will strike out at whatever’s to hand. That’s incredibly horrifying. And yet, when I look in the mirror again, all I see is resignation.
I walk back down the hall, trying to touch as little as possible, and re-enter Dr. Simmons’s office.
“Hey, Doc? Do you have a mop? And gloves? And…a good excuse for why a sink is missing?”
Back at home, I shuck off my clothes, get in the shower and try to relax. It has been a long and unpleasant day, and I can’t even wallow in it; if I let myself get too carried away, things will start dissolving. So instead, I end up doing daily affirmations in the shower, reminding myself of everything that’s good in my life.
I have a car again! Top of the list, easily. It’s the American dream. The attendant debt is also part of the dream, I suppose. Americans have weird dreams, when you get right down to it. Still: no more bus shelters, no more bus. That’s fantastic. And I am putting gloves on every time I drive until I kick this power, because I am not risking going back to that.
I have excellent parents. They raised me well, they’re renting me the place that I live, they care about me and they express it during infrequent visits, so they’re not constantly helicoptering my life. It’s a good balance, and they’re good people.
My job is great. It keeps me active, it’s enjoyable, and there’s most of an actual building where just months ago there was only a burned shell. There’s a lot of satisfaction in seeing something tangible take shape like that.
I have friends who care about me; two of them, in fact. This is a bit weird, honestly, but overall a net positive. I’ve always been a loner, and just didn’t bother to make lasting friendships. But I’m glad that Brian and Regina seem to be proving the exception there.
And finally, I have Netflix, an absolute godsend to binge-watchers and B-movie aficionados everywhere. Which is where I park myself post-shower, sprawled out on the couch in boxers with my mind disengaged.
An hour or so into the movie, my stomach informs me that I should get dinner. My brain informs me that perhaps my friends would also like dinner, and so I text Brian and Regina with, “Dinner tonight?”
A few minutes later, my phone buzzes, and I’m surprised to see that it’s an actual phone call from Regina. Mildly concerned, I pick it up.
“Hey, Dan, it’s me.”
“Yeah, what’s up? Everything okay?”
“What? Yeah, oh yeah. I was just calling because Brian emailed me to ask me to let you know that his phone is broken.”
“Okay, what? Run that by me one more time.”
She laughs. “I got an email from Brian, saying that you texted while he was making dinner, and he dropped his phone in the sink.”
“Oh, man! Sucks. Sounds like it’s just one of those days all around.”
“Yeah, something’s probably in retrograde somewhere. Anyway, he’s obviously already got dinner, and also now no phone, so he says he’s staying in tonight.”
“Okay, cool. Thanks for letting me know.”
“Hey, Dan? Is everything all right with you and Brian?”
“Sure, as far as I know! Why, what’s up?”
“I don’t know. It just seems a little weird that he emailed me and not you.”
“Man just dropped his phone in the sink. He’s probably a little frazzled. And not to point out the obvious, but you probably come to mind for him before I do. We’re friends and all, but there’s a hierarchy.”
“That’s true,” Regina says, though something in her voice suggests that she doesn’t agree with me. I figure that if she want to vocalize those objections, she will, and otherwise I don’t need to poke at them. We say our goodbyes, and I unpause the movie.
Fifteen minutes later, my stomach reminds me that friends or no friends, dinner still needs to happen, so I pause it again and ransack my house for food. This is about as exciting as my evening gets, at least until I check my phone to see an email from Brian.
There’s no subject, but the preview line says “J. R. Dupont,” so I open it eagerly. Inside, it doesn’t say much more. After his name, it says “Medical Litigation Support,” followed by an address downtown and a website. I browse around the website for a bit, but don’t find the name “Jules” or anything directly linking him to Rossum Medical Supply. That is, until I get to the contact information. The phone number provided on the website matches the one I got from Nathan for Jules Dupont.
“All right, Ichabot!” I say out loud. “I’m on your trail now.”
Netflix and solitary living may make for a quiet life, but it’s possible that I’ve ended up with a few quirks. Don’t judge.