The doctor fitted the silicone bracelet to my wrist on a Friday afternoon. Her silver-rimmed glasses slid down her nose as she sealed the clip with a foreign electronic device. It was new to her too, doing this, but the results were undeniable. That’s what she said.
I walked out the building unusually alert to the sound of my footsteps, to the weight of my body pressing down in my rubber-soled shoes. There were birds chittering somewhere nearby, I thought in the bushes, and I smiled in their general direction. It was the kind of pacifying smile you give to a mother whose child is playing up, one which says: It’s okay, I understand.
‘Is it done?’ Dan asked when I got back. I closed the front door and double locked it, out of habit, which he observed with detached annoyance. I showed him my wrist and he grunted. ‘Well. Let’s hope it works.’
I’d become impossible to please. I realized that. Sometimes, as I stood stirring soup for lunch or watching pork chops sizzle and spit in the pan before dinner, I imagined that I was speaking to God. What would you like? God said to me. You can have anything, anything at all, so what would you like? But I couldn’t trust Him, and even if I could have, I wouldn’t have known what I wanted. I’d think of the things I used to dream of and feel as thin as the tinned soup bubbling in front of me – lava in a silver rock pool.
‘Look at this,’ Dan snorted, putting his phone in my face. I prepared to fake a smile, to wait for his seething silence, but then I snorted a laugh too. I felt humor – genuine and fizzy – exhumed from inside of me. He smiled, eyebrows slightly raised.
‘Pizza?’ he asked me.
‘How about I make something?’
He groaned. ‘Honey, not more soup.’
‘Not soup. How about I make something nice? Something from scratch.’
He stroked his chin, eyes off to the side. ‘If you’re sure…’
‘I’ll see what we’ve got in.’
The cupboards were lined with cylindrical tins, their silver containers all sealed in red sheening paper; cream of tomato, cream of tomato, cream of tomato. I told Dan I’d go and get the ingredients for seafood risotto – he nodded, jaw slightly slackened, but said nothing.
The roads were busy, lit up red. People were coming home from overtime shifts in cold, grey offices. Car horns raged – I could hear the sighs behind them. Everyone wanted a piece of Friday night oblivion; beer and TV, or wine and TV. A brief steal away from the stress that frayed pink, healthy brain cells. The traffic was stop-start, but my mind held still.
I suffered from travel sickness as a child. A single car ride could send me shivery and retching. My parents tried to cure it – newspaper on the floor, tiny green tablets, soothing classical music, all the windows open, even on the fast roads – but the only thing that helped was a little wristband found one homeward trip in a dilapidated pharmacy in Calais. It had a small, plastic stud that pressed against my Nel-Kuan acupressure point. After it had been put on, I felt like I’d been swallowed by a thick blue bubble. My stomach still turned, flipped and flopped, but the repercussions were far away. I glimpsed the prescribed bracelet on my wrist, turning the wheel in the half-light of winter dusk, and I realized that I was being swallowed by something new.
Dinner was sublime. Dan ate the risotto with such genuine gusto it made me bubble with laughter. He looked up afterwards, bowl licked clean, and his eyes gleamed with something insurmountable. We went to bed and were still awake for dawn-break. We kissed each other with small, whispering lips, laughing in the pink-curtained sunrise. Joy spread its fingers through my saturnine soul, polluted me like spilled fuel atop a river stream. Life was good, getting better. As Dan kept saying: I was back.
To top it off I was painting again. Dan pecked me goodbye in the mornings and I’d straighten his tie like they do in corny movies, then ascend to my attic studio. For years, I’d resisted what everyone had told me; that I should take commissions, let go of my artistic sensibilities, paint whatever the hell people wanted me to paint. My mind could no longer fathom my reasons for stubborn refusal. I worked with the radio on – got to know the pop songs and morning show presenters, hummed along to the ad break jingles. I was taking so many paid requests, through Facebook, through Instagram, I finished the day paint-stained, with a bank account as swollen as my appetite.
My sleep was good. I’d ditched meditation. The weekend papers were readable for the first time in years. Dan watched, smiling admiringly, as I shrugged at the headlines and rolled my eyes at my once favorite columnist, Mabel Baptiste, who always had something to be outraged by. Menstruating Mabel, that’s what I called her. Dan laughed so hard his nose turned tomato.
Time had lost its meaning; ambition had lost its sense. What good could those things do me now? I still felt the old hesitancy, before I took action, and this pained me. A request would come through for some pop art recreation of someone’s mother or sister, done in the Warhol-Monroe style, and my fingers would twitch. A brief, violent determination to say no. Then it was gone.
It was the dream that did it. I was a child – maybe ten or eleven years old – and we were in a house that was apparently our house, even though it wasn’t. My Mother was there. She told me that we had a long trip ahead of us, and that I shouldn’t eat before the journey. When she turned her back to me, I picked a shiny green apple from the fruit bowl. I bit into it with a delight of disobedience, but as the sweet flesh came away in my mouth, I realized it was riddled with black pips. I began spitting them out, but they kept coming, filling my mouth and nose. I tried to call out to my Mother, to reach for her long skirt swishing gently as she cleaned the dishes. But I couldn’t move, couldn’t make a sound.
It was very early when I woke. Fear grasped my heart before a pulse went through me, replacing the panic with a whooshing sense of calm. But the bracelet couldn’t erase the memory of the dream or the cold sweat it had left me in. I got out of bed, careful not to wake Dan, and walked across the landing for a shower. As I moved through the silent house, I felt a muted paranoia somewhere in my periphery. I tried to move my bracelet, adjust it a tiny bit lower or a tiny bit higher on my wrist… but it wouldn’t budge. That’s when I went online.
I wasn’t scheming to get rid of the bracelet. Why would I? It had saved my life. But after pages and pages of gushing praise and sound medical research, I felt certain there must be someone who had needed to remove it, if even for a short while. I knew how to reach the dark web from my addiction days. I sat on the closed toilet seat, bathed in the blue glow of my phone, and retrieved my exact prescription from my email. I copied and pasted its name into the search bar, followed by – ‘removal’.
It loaded slowly, the text appearing juddering and broken. What happened next was a tugboat of anxiety, the panic always replaced by a synthetic layer of calm. I read the different post titles – ‘My bracelet made me a ghost’, ‘Soul-stealing’, ‘government conspiracy!!! they want us to submit!!’ – and my breath caught on the inhale, then came back out smooth as velvet. This area of the internet was swamp infested, yet the stories ached with familiarity; depression, suicidal ideation, a past with drugs or drinking. And then the bracelet, good for a while, but followed by a nagging sense of loss. A growing disdain for the person before. I realized that I had begun to hate the old me, to think of her as someone unproductive and useless.
My mind swam against the tide of thinking which insisted this was frivolous, fine – funny even. I scrolled until the first licks of dawn glinted in the mirror edge. The methods for removal were dangerous. I remembered putting a wine bottle in a shoe and hitting it against the wall when I didn’t have a corkscrew. I broke the neck and my fingers were rinsed with wine and blood. After a while, I concluded the most feasible way for disrupting the bracelet was a magnet. I read an account from user IYHYI_33:
I used a neodymium on mine. Got if off Amazon. It took a while, but it worked. You’ll come back in waves, and it feels bad (like seriously, baaaad). Went to the doctor to get mine “fixed” (ha!) and never went back. Been getting batshit emails ever since.
Dan barged into the bathroom without knocking and I jumped, hitting my elbow against the tiled wall so that reverberating chills rang through my arm.
‘What are you doing?’ he asked.
‘Sorry love. Couldn’t sleep.’
His hair stuck up at the side and his eyes were squinted. ‘What are you looking at?’
‘Let me see,’ he held out his hand.
I passed him the phone.
He stared at it uncomputingly before sighing and handing it back. ‘Why do you want magnets?’
He grunted a half-nod. ‘Let’s go back to bed.’
So we did. He’d be up again in forty minutes, maybe less. I imagined his morning routine. He’d dress, brush his teeth, then drive the car he was ashamed of into the office he resented. Dan took his coffee milky, flirted with the receptionist. His job was vague to me, even though I listened to him talk about it incessantly. HR. He was always sick of the staff and their determination to take liberties; his manager, a woman, Alicia, wanted to raise awareness of mental wellbeing. He disagreed. Liberties.
I roleplayed the same as the other days, but once his tie was straightened and his car gone, I got dressed. Jeans, chucks, a long-sleeved top and an even longer-sleeved jumper. The streets had succumbed to a second silence following the ebb of rush hour and I drove to our local hardware store to collect my online order.
The house was silent when I returned, and I put the radio on. There was a breathless feeling that wouldn’t leave me, like I had a thick woolen scarf wrapped around my face. I took out the cardboard box and cut into it with my craft knife. The magnet was inside another box, and I took it out and felt its cold, silver surface in my palm. It was weighty. I held the magnet against the bracelet like a cold press against a wound. It didn’t seem to affect it. After half an hour of staring out the window, scared to move, I took the magnet off and stowed it back inside the boxes, sighing.
I was starting to think that I was being ridiculous, that it was all fine, when a message came through on Facebook. A lady wanted a tasteful oil painting of her favorite horse. My fingers expected compliance, but I typed out a refusal. The waves started then, an assault of feeling; lashings of desperation, untempered anger. By the time Dan had got home, there was soup boiling on the hob and I’d drank an entire bottle of wine.
He didn’t say anything. I suppose he reasoned that soup could be acceptable, on occasion, though he didn’t smile at me and inhaled the entire bowl before retreating to the bedroom. He came back down fifteen minutes later. I heard him stamp in the hallway, fuss in the kitchen, then he came to stand in the doorway of the living room.
‘The washing up,’ he gestured behind him.
‘You haven’t done it.’
‘Oh,’ I scratched my nose and turned away from him. ‘Do you mind, honey? I’m feeling a bit tired.’
He groaned. ‘Great. Are you going on your run then?’
‘You always go…’
‘I caught my ankle funny earlier.’
I could hear him clanking and sloshing in the kitchen. There’d be the smash of a dropped plate in a minute. I felt resentment thicken like a blood clot. I stood and went up, then up again to the attic. I sat in the exact center of the plastic covered carpet and considered the sloping roof, the skylight showing a flinty sky. My mind was slippery, spinning faster than my other self – which existed somewhere beyond my thoughts – and I was dizzy with the dissonance.
I pictured the earth, a blue marble amidst the expansive solar system. I kept zooming out and out until the sun was the size of a cough sweet. This usually made me feel better, but I kept being pulled back by the gaudy colors of the artwork surrounding me. Kids cartoon characters, people’s mild-looking relatives, sketches of holiday cottages and favorite ponds. Art that belonged to society. Soulless living.
It was red in my belly, but I didn’t know where the rage began and ended. My hand found a still-wet painting and smeared it until my fingers turned blue-green. Then I came for the others. I threw the canvasses uselessly against each other so that they clattered and fell, cowering on the floor. I squirted black paint over sage fields and azure eyes. The more I ruined, the better I felt. Like a child’s reversible sweater, I was inverting something outward in, or something inward out. By the time I’d fully extended the blade of the craft knife the whole gallery was a storm.
Dan came up, a confrontational silhouette in the doorway, the empty wine bottle clutched loosely by his side. He must have been through the trash. I quickened my pace, hot blood streaming out as I tried to force the knife through the silicone fused to my skin. He was calm, shaking his head as if exasperated.
‘You’re insane,’ he said, putting the wine bottle down and trotting back down the stairs.
Three of them twenty minutes later. All in white uniforms. I was sobbing in the corner because I knew that I’d fucked it. They spoke in calm voices and helped me up by the shoulders and the crook of my elbow. Dan stood by the door, still shaking his head like a long-suffering parent. I could sense resignation in the uniformed men, they didn’t see me as a troublemaker. They wrapped something white and absorbent around my bloody arm, then continued to steer me peaceably by the shoulders down the stairs and down the other set of stairs, until I was out of the house and in the ambulance.
Why are hospitals always blue? Is it supposed to be calming? Machines beeped next to the patients they were attached to. There was nothing wrong with me, yet I was regularly sedated. The doctor, with a distracted twitch and a clipboard, explained that my malfunctioned bracelet had caused a surge of hormones.
‘We’ll fit you with a new one, only a different model,’ he said.
‘A different model?’
‘Don’t worry. You’ll feel much the same. Your husband tells me you were getting along superbly. But this one is more resilient.’
‘But what if I don’t want it?’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I don’t want another one.’
He looked at me contemptuously, like I was asking him about the hospital lunch menu or something else otherwise beneath him. ‘Your husband has already signed the papers. Because of… how you came in, your history, he has that power. But I wouldn’t worry yourself, what you experienced will never happen again.’
I let my head sink into the flaccid pillow. I tried to engage God in conversation, but He wasn’t in the mood. They knocked me out with anesthetic to secure the new bracelet. I didn’t see it happen, just woke up with it already there. Dan took me home three days after I was taken in. Things got back to normal.
As the weeks passed, and then the months, the episode –as Dan called it – began to feel more and more distant. Like a childhood memory you’re not sure really happened. Who was that woman? I’d ask Dan, turning my wrist to see the silver scar in the sunlight, and he’d say he didn’t know. A bad woman. Not me, not the real one.
Things are peaceful now. Comfortable. Dan’s had a promotion in work, he’s earning more money. I’m frailer than I used to be. It sometimes feels like I’m much older than I am, but then I find purpose in being helpful.
I catch myself in the mirror now and then – brushing my teeth or fixing my hair – and I see the blush rolling over my cheekbones, the neatness of my face… and I smile. The truth is that I’m fine. Healthy. Fulfilled. I see my old friends. Meet them in coffee shops or vegan cafes, and they look up at me like they expect to see someone else. But then they settle, pacify, hear about my commissions and my cooking, about our daily routines and our improving finances, they look around, smile, clear their throats before saying: ‘That’s good, honey, that’s great. I’m so glad that you’re doing better.’
Caragh Medlicott is a freelance writer and Senior Editor of Wales Arts Review. After graduating with a First-Class Honours degree in English Literature and an MA in Creative Writing from Cardiff University she began a full-time writing career in Cardiff. Recent short stories have appeared in East of the Web, The Cardiff Review, Parthian’s Cheval 12 anthology and Bandit Fiction. She was shortlisted for the Lunate 500 award in December 2020.