Bloody Valentine’s Day Contest Honorable Mention
Fifty Dollars by Larry Allen Tyler
What happened to me?
What’s happened to my eyes? Where are my hands? Why can’t I speak? Am I dead now? I suppose I could be. This is what I always assumed death would be like: a void, an interminable pause, a great chasm like the space between stars. And why, why is it I don’t care what has become of me? Where did my passion go, the passion I had just a few days ago? What happened to my passion for adventure, for challenge, for sunshine, for music, for hotdogs? What is happening to me? What exactly is happening to me, and how can I be curious about this with no more than a passing interest? It is, after all, the loss of my whole self, the dissolution of my being. Why don’t I care? Beside me a voice is whispering, “Are you still loved?”
I don’t know. I can’t answer that. But it’s such a sweet voice. She whispers again: “Are you still loved?” The voice encircles me.
I want to talk to her but I have no tongue. When she stops whispering, the emptiness that follows is beyond silence. But in that emptiness passion seeps in once again.
How did I get here?
It is Monday, isn’t it? Oh hell, it could be Tuesday or Sunday or no day at all.
Think, think back. The day doesn’t matter, but memories do. Think back. How did I get here?
“Do you want fifty dollars?”
Of course I do. Fifty dollars to a struggling student without the cushion of rich parents or a fat scholarship is the stuff of life. It’s two pizzas and two cases of beer. Of course I do. “Are you still loved?” she asks again. Tell her yes. No mouth, no words. Nod your head. What head? Let her know, damn it. Don’t let her get away. Of course she loves you, she’s still right here by your side, isn’t she? (Do you have a side?) Somehow I’ve got to let her know. She must know. But what can I do?
Get back to the memories. Think back.
What was the fifty dollars for?
“We’re conducting an experiment.”
Where do I sign?
What was the room like that they led me to? What did it look like? It was white. Of course it was white. How could a room for experiments be anything but white?
Who was there?
There was a guy there. No, it wasn’t a guy, it was a fat old doctor, a doctor with a pompous beard and a woolen suit coat. Did he have a clipboard? He must have had clipboard, and a pen too that he’d keep clicking.
But there was an assistant in the room also, wasn’t there? Think back. Yes there was, and my god she was pretty. Did she speak? Think back. Yes, she did. “Have a seat,” she said. And her voice was soft and sweet. Yes, yes I know that voice. It was the same voice that is whispering to me now. Say it again, please. Say, “Are you still loved?” Yes, I love you. Deeply and completely, I’ve loved you and only you for all of eternity.
But is “to love” the same as being loved? It must be.
“Okay,” a voice says. It is tinny and electronic. Not a sound so much as a pulse inside me. And it isn’t her voice. It’s the fat old doctor’s voice. “We’ll give him another hour.” No, not another hour. Please! I can’t last another hour, you must know that. Pull me up now. Pull me out of this and back into her arms. Take me out of here.
Why would she be laughing?
Milgram and Zimbardo, they know about this. The cold monocled Nazi doctors, the barbarian torturers, the body snatchers and curious medieval witches and alchemists. All of them. They know about this. They all had the same question, and their question needs to be answered. Let’s see what a person can withstand. At precisely what point does deprivation rob one of all humanity? They’re leaning forward, watching me.
“Don’t you want me?” the voice coos. Oh God yes! Of course I do. And I want you to still want me. I need you to want me, to love me. You do, don’t you?
“No response,” she says.
No response? Look at my heart rate, my breaths, my brainwaves or something. Surely, you must be able to tell.
She wants to know if I was still loved. She asked me that just a minute ago didn’t she? It couldn’t have been more than a minute ago. Or was it an hour ago or a day? Months or years maybe. Wait for me, I’ll find a way to tell you.
She laughed. I know she did. I heard her laugh and there was no love in that laugh. I can no longer hear or see or feel, but I can still sense things around me, and there was no love in that laugh. All the feeling, all the passion was gone from the questions she had asked me. I felt it then, the warmth, the passion, the humanity, but it’s gone now. “Are you still loved? Don’t you want me?” Ask me again.
“Are you still loved? Don’t you want me?”
The answer, the answer is no. No, I’m not loved. I’m not loved by anyone and I do not even love myself. I have no eyes or hands or tongue or soul. And so, no. No, I guess I no longer want you.