Chapter 12: Automaton

…And the 12th chapter:

Alicia knew.

The moment I walked in the door, I could tell that somehow my roommate knew everything.

She’d been pacing a groove in the oak floorboards.

It was her thing. Pacing. Nervous, sad, excited: pacing.

She immediately pulled me into her arms.

“I’m so sorry, sweetie.”

I took a deep breath. It shook on the way out, like a sob threatened.

No tears. Not yet.

“Your mom called me. She was worried. She tried to get a hold of you all morning.”

“I–I went running.”

“To Coronado?”

I nodded, not looking at her.

“I was late.”

“Oh, sweetie,” she sighed, bemusement and gentle exasperation in her voice. She didn’t bother telling me not to go running so far without proper preparation, like water. I knew it already.

“How about you take a long, hot shower? Then I’ll make you some lunch and we’ll talk.”

I nodded again.

I moved mechanically, jerkily. Like an automaton.

It was easier, not to think.

Objective: shower, wash hair, wash body, dry body, dress.

No thought required. No emotions.

When I reappeared in the living room, Alicia took one look at me and shook her head. Picked out something else. Apparently matching wasn’t a concern in the straightforward dressing objective of an automaton.

Alicia put a bowl of lobster bisque in front of me. My favorite. Trying to bribe me into eating.

I pushed it away.

Blinked up at her.

So tired. In my very soul. Wanted to crawl into bed and never come out.

“I’m going to pack you a bag,” Alicia told me, her voice imminently reasonable and slow and loud, as if I were a child. Not that I could blame her. There was some sort of disconnect between my emotions and my thoughts and my body. I felt like two people. Or more.

“The funeral’s on Friday.”

Funeral. It felt like a slap. I winced.

“Dad pulled some strings. We’re catching a military transport out of Coronado to Hill Air Force Base.”

“The admiral knows?”

“Yeah. He called me when his men found you passed out.”

“Oh.”

“It’ll be okay, sweetie.”

I nodded, a meaningless gesture. A mere head bob, a mechanical glitch in an automaton.

We went back to Coronado.

Wasn’t that the definition of madness? Repeating something over and over again hoping for different results? Like life. Waking up. Running. Writing. Eating. Sleeping. Rinse. Repeat. Same results. Madness. Pointless. Mechanical.

The admiral greeted us when we arrived. Pulled me into his arms, all gruff and comforting. It almost made me smile.

He escorted us to the plane. I didn’t really look around. It was big. Seats placed along the sides and two long columns of seats back to back in the middle. There were some people already on board, most dressed in military BDUs, a few in civies. One of the crew buckled me in gently, calling me ma’am and telling me something that I ignored.

Soon the engines rumbled to life, a roar of sound that seemed to move from the floor into my feet and the rest of my body. It felt like Jonah in the whale, trapped in the belly of the beast, a living machine. Stirring to life beneath me, stretching.

The sound grew, deafening me, a roar that filled my outside and my inside. It sounded like me, the part of me screaming on the inside. The silence shouting on the outside.

It picked up speed, lifted into the sky, carried me away. One machine inside another. Like automaton nesting dolls.

hires_060723-F-7234P-163.jpg
Inside of a military transport aircraft

 

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