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art by Steven R. Stewart

Suspicious

James Patrick Kelly has won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. His novelette “Plus or Minus” is currently a Hugo finalist and is featured in his most recent publishing venture, James Patrick Kelly’s Strangeways Magazine, available on Kindle and Nook. His website is www.jimkelly.net.
Marva wanted to keep an open mind, but she suspected that Doctor Kamer wasn't about to help her. Maybe it was the background music playing in his office. Baroque sonatas. Too damn serene. Over-confident. Doctors had ruined her life and this one was like all the rest. And then there was the curved furniture, and the moonscape on his flix. So he had the kind of income that could buy a vacation in space. Blood money, squeezed from other people's misery.
"So Mrs. Gundersen," he said. "Why are you here today?"
"Didn't you read my file?"
"I did." He blinked at the desktop and it lit up; the reflected light of a folder turned his skin to milk as he peered at it. "I have reports from Drs. Maffei and Orosco and Smithson and Dejani."
"Then you know what I want."
"May I hear it in your own words?"
She hated being the person it was about. "I had a memory implanted," she said. "It was a mistake. I want it gone."
"Why do you think it was a mistake?"
"Because it changed who I am."
"And who were you?"
Her hands closed into fists. She could tell that he had made up his mind about her. "Okay. I thought I was happily married. Jeff and I were together for twelve years. Never a hint of trouble. We were content, at least I was. I was never suspicious. Never. That wasn't the kind of person I was." She noticed his fingers tapping on the desktop. "You're taking notes?"
"Is that a problem?"
She batted at the air in front of her as if to ward off a bad smell. "Two years ago he was in Manhattan to negotiate a deal for the patents to new flash steam process. He was an intellectual property lawyer. He and Cindy were killed in the VX nerve gas attack in Times Square. They were seeing the robot revival of Cats. Cindy was his secretary. Got that?"
He nodded.
"He was staying at the Algonquin. Cindy wasn't supposed to be in New York."
"All right."
"What do you mean, all right? He didn't tell anyone she was going."
"You think there was something suspicious going on.
"I think they were having an affair."
He swiped several pages of her file, looking for something. "It says here that they were staying in separate rooms."
She reached behind her neck and tugged at the short hairs. "I went down to identify the body." The pain helped her focus. "Afterwards, I had to pack up his things. A pair of her shoes were in his hotel room."
"Maybe she took them off. They were working late and she took her shoes off. "
"One was under a chair."
He gave a noncommittal grunt. "But you were still not sure about this affair."
"I kept going back and forth. Missed him terribly then hoped he was burning in hell. I mean, Cindy, we treated her like a daughter, used to have her over to the house for Thanksgivings. She even looked like me." Her face twisted. "A much younger me. I talked to her fiancé, Shawn. Sweet guy, said that they were set to announce a date when she died. He was sure she was innocent. None of it made sense. All I knew was that it was tearing me apart."
"Tell me about the implant."
"So I read about alternate memory, you know, as a kind of grief therapy. I met with Maffei."
"This would be…." He glanced at the desktop. "…Dr. Louis Maffei?"
"They took his license because of this. Does it say that? He claimed that if I had a memory of going down there and catching them in the act, then my suspicions would be confirmed. I could come to a resolution. Let Jeff go. Move on with my life."
American Express called to confirm that Jeff Gundersen had charged $508.89 to the St. James Theater only Jeff never went to the theater, and when Marva checked the St. James online she found that $508 was the cost of two tickets in the center orchestra and then she was staring out the window of the bullet train at Long Island Sound and at the wainscotting in the elevator as the doors rattled shut, and then Room 534 and they were in bed and Cindy was wearing a blue teddy with the crotch unsnapped--Jeff gave Marva lingerie every Valentine's Day--and Marva had a moment of double vision and it was her astride Jeff, body a little thicker than Cindy's, hair a bit duller--but then it was Cindy again, her friend Cindy and her husband Jeff and Marva kicked one of Cindy's shoes across the room and all she could think to say before she slammed the door on her marriage was "Enjoy the show."
"And now you want this false memory gone?" A double tap and Dr. Kamer's desktop went dark.
"Obviously."
"You've been to three other neuropsychiatrists. They've told you what?"
She felt the heat rise to her cheeks. "Orosco told me that Maffei deserved to have his ticket pulled, but that he didn't want to help me."
"Didn't want to or couldn't? Implanted memories are more durable than those acquired through ordinary learning. What you are asking probably would not fix the underlying symptoms."
"Smithson tried to erase the memory, but it's still there. I never should have trusted him. And Dejani says I need cognitive behavioral therapy. I'm not talking about this for the rest of my life so he can pad his appointment calendar."
Dr. Kamer leaned forward. "Mrs. Gundersen, I wish you could hear yourself. You're suspicious of every…"
"I knew it." She shot out of her chair. "I knew it the moment I walked in here."
"Mrs. Gundersen, I…"
But she was already through the door. It felt as if there was a noose around her chest. Kamer's receptionist and the old man in the waiting room looked at her as if she were crazy. But she wasn't. Not at all. She had every right to be suspicious of them. The lot of them.
After all, she knew what she knew.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, July 12th, 2011

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