“Addy. Head’s up.” A thick plastic business card landed on top of the pile of papers on her desk. Addy held up her right index finger as she finished typing with her left. She pulled out her earbuds and looked at Roger.
Roger pointed to the card. “SIMTEX. Review’s yours.” Addy watched him disappear past her cubicle and looked at the card on her desk.
The fluorescent lights above reflected off the silver embossed logo. A rainbow-hued hologram reading simulation behind it caught her attention. Turning the card over, she dialed the number listed and arranged an appointment. “Great. You’ll send a car for me? Okay. I’ll see you tomorrow at ten.” Hanging up, she inputted the appointment into her work calendar.
At ten sharp, Addy’s buzzer rang and she sailed down the four stories. At the bottom, she brushed her dark hair in place and straightened her scarf, a favoured gift from her deceased grandmother. She straightened the sleeves of her trenchcoat and brushed past the crook of her arm. A flood of memories rushed through her brain and she shook them off. That was her past life; she was a different person now. Squaring her shoulders and lifting her chin, she walked outside to greet the driver.
Inside the town car, she took out her notebook, jotting down her first impressions. The drive was silent, the only sound coming from her pen against paper. Addy stared out the car window, excitement fluttered in her belly. She looked down at her notepad, surprised at what she had written. Nana. Blinking rapidly, she tore the page out, scrunching it into a little ball and stuffing it into her bag, burying it deep. Now was not the time to think about her.
The car slowed outside a wide chain link fence with a rusty-looking worn out warehouse spanning several blocks in the center. The driver rolled his window down and entered a code into a keypad outside the main gate. A section of the fence opened and the driver drove through.
“Why all the extra security? Are you afraid people are going to walk off with your equipment?”
“In a way,” he said. He pulled the car to a stop just outside a section of the warehouse where a tiny door stood. The driver got out of the car and opened the door for her. Addy climbed from the car and a cold wind pulled at her scarf, billowing it behind her. She caught it, tucking it into the V of her trench and thanked the driver.
The door to the warehouse opened and a elegant woman stepped out, her outfit tasteful. Her dark hair was swept into a graceful chignon at the base of her neck. The woman smiled as she extended her manicured hand for Addy.
“You must be Addy,” she said. They shook hands. “I’m Olivia.” She opened the warehouse door and gestured for Addy to walk through. “I’m going to be your guide throughout this experience.”
Addy walked through the doors and marvelled at the contrast between the outside structure and the inside. She had expected one large empty space but walls and stairs took over the entire area, creating several floors. Soft white light backlit the areas, giving it a softer appearance. The clean, modern architecture reminded Addy of Frank Lloyd Wright. “I never expected to see this. Are your offices here too?”
Olivia nodded as she started climbing the rail-less stairs. “It’s a nice surprise, isn’t it?” She explained how SIMTEX was studying the brain and the projection of traumatic memories during certain situations in people’s lives, causing them to react badly to stressful situations. Once SIMTEX located the memory of the trauma, they worked towards freeing people from reliving it on a daily basis.
“So you help people with PTSD?” Addy asked.
“Yes, but we do have other clients who wish to work on other memories in general. Many of our clients have PTSD and it’s proven very effective for them.”
She followed Olivia to the third floor where a single door with a reader sealed the entire area. She watched as Olivia placed her hand on the reader and heard the locks disengaged. She pushed the door open. The room was entirely white. A recliner with a small side table stood in the center, floating in the room.
“You can hang your coat and bag over there. When you’re ready, please take a seat and I’ll be right back with the equipment.” Olivia slipped out of the room and Addy hung up her trench.
She settled into the recliner, luxuriating in the soft leather. The door opened and Olivia strode over to Addy’s side, laying a titanium case on the table. She unlocked it, opening the lid. Nestled inside the black foam were an eyepiece, earpiece, and a pair of gloves. Olivia handed her the earpiece, explaining how Addy would always be in contact with her through the communication device.
“In our simulations, we encourage people to revisit traumatic experiences they can’t seem to get past. Is there a situation or event you would like to work on?”
Addy chewed on her lower lip. She hadn’t expected to be vulnerable for a review. “Um, I guess….my mom disappearing after dropping my sister and I at my grandmother’s.”
Olivia gave her a sympathetic smile. “I understand. And did you end up living with your grandmother?”
She cleared her throat, swallowing hard. “Yes. She would’ve been a hundred last year.”
“Oh. She’s passed away?”
Addy’s cheeks coloured. “It’s compli—, I mean, yes, she’s passed away now.”
“Well, let’s see what we can do to help you get past that memory of your mom abandoning you.” She pressed a few buttons on the eyepiece and handed it over, explaining how the eyepiece and gloves would act as her real eyes and hands in the simulation. “Once you put the eyepiece on, the program will start the simulation. I won’t be in the room so as to give you space to walk around but remember we’ll be in contact via the earpiece. If you ever feel unsafe or want to stop, just let me know. Do you have any questions?”
“I don’t think so.” Addy pulled the eyepiece on, feeling the sides of the glasses mould to her face. She heard footsteps leave the room. Everything was dark until a sound beeped and a familiar scene appeared in front of Addy’s eyes. She looked around in amazement—she was in her favourite armchair at her grandmother’s house. “Oh.”
“What do you see, Addy?”
Addy got out of the chair, walking over to the dresser, running her finger along the edge. It felt so solid and real. The walnut colour was just as she remembered it. Her fingers traced over an ornate silver picture frame, an old woman hugging a laughing child within. She picked up the picture frame, tracing the old woman’s face.
She cleared her throat. “I’m-I’m at my grandmother’s home. But I thought…I thought this was supposed to help me deal with my mom…leaving. The details are…” her voice trailed off and looked around in amazement.
“Remember Addy, the details are coming from you. We’re merely supplying the construct. Your memory is doing all the work.”
Addy nodded, continuing through the living room, every inch opening up a memory for her. Faint laughter rang in her ears and she spun around, expecting to see her sister chasing her through the living room. She stopped outside her sister’s and her old bedroom. Faint images of her grandmother sat on the edge of her bed saying goodnight floated in front of her. She squeezed her eyes shut, turning away.
Her footsteps took her down the hallway. Pictures of her own mother as a child with her sisters making faces hung on the wall. She headed for her grandmother’s bedroom at the end of the hall. The door was ajar. Bright sunlight streamed through the thin gap. Tiny motes of dust danced in the air.
A shadow passed by the door, blocking the sunlight for a few moments. A chill ran down Addy’s spine.
“What was that?” Alarm raised her voice.
“What was what?”
“I don’t know. It was…something.” She reached her grandmother’s room but stopped short at the door, her heart pounding inside her chest. “Would…will I see my mom in here?”
“I wouldn’t know—this is where your memory decides which course to take. Would you like to continue?”
Part of her wanted to see. The other half told her to turn the entire simulation off. She could feel sweat gathering in the creases of her hand.
“Addy, would you like to continue the simulation?”
Wiping her hand on her jeans, Addy told Olivia to keep the program running. She took a deep breath. The hinges creaked as the door opened. Her grandmother’s room remained the same. She could see a faint ghost of her grandmother pleading with her to stop. An older Adeline stormed out, her grandmother’s money clutched in her hands. Her lungs felt heavy; her breath grew shallow.
“Adeline? Is that you?”
The whisper-thin voice raised every follicle of hair on the back of her neck. She held her breath, not wanting to move. Was it really her? Addy’s mouth was cotton-dry. “Olivia.”
“What’s wrong, Addy?”
“M-my grandmother’s here. I th-thought I’d see my mom here…” Addy spit out a crazed laugh. “Why is my grandmother here?” her voice rose, her heart pounding madly against her chest. She stared at the familiar figure in front of her, frozen with indecision.
Her grandmother smiled at her. “Oh, it is you, Adeline. Come. Come sit with me.” Her grandmother sat on the edge of her bed, patting the space next to her.
Addy’s resolve broke. She raced to her grandmother’s side, grabbing her frail hand, feeling her paper-thin skin. “Oh nana. I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” She threw her arms around her grandmother. Her grandmother’s familiar warmth surrounded her.
Her grandmother stroked her hair and Addy felt the tension in her chest ease. This was right. This was what she remembered. She lifted her head and her grandmother smiled at her, wiping the tears away.
“Now, now, child, there’s no need for tears.” Her grandmother examined her, cradling Addy’s face between her soft hands. “Now, let’s take a look at you. Oh, you’ve grown lovelier.” Her grandmother’s face grew serious for a moment. “Adeline, there’s something I need to tell you…”
Addy was about to respond when her earpiece buzzed. “Addy. I’m sorry but we’re going to have to shut the simulation down. There’s a bug in the system and we’ll have to reboot the whole program.”
Addy stiffened. “No, no, wait—”
“Adeline. Listen to me. I don’t have much time.” Addy turned to her grandmother, waves of emotions crashing within her. Her grandmother leaned forward, gazing deep into her granddaughter’s eyes. “I have something important to tell you. A message.” Her hand shook trying to hold onto Addy’s. “I forgive you. I know it must have been hard—” Her grandmother’s mouth kept moving as she faded into the background.
Every cell in her body froze. She could hear a tiny voice in the earpiece but her grandmother’s words kept repeating in her head. “Nana—”
The scene darkened before fading completely. Addy looked around her but all she could see was darkness. The sound of a door opening spun her around. Olivia came running in, pulling the equipment off her.
“Wait!” Addy exclaimed as Olivia collected the equipment. “I need to speak with her again. I need to explain—”
Olivia shook her head. “I do apologize, Addy, the system will need to be shut down completely so our programmers can find the bug and fix it.”
Addy ran her hands through her hair. “But…my nana said she forgave me—.” Her lower lip quivered. “I need to explain to her that-that it…it was my fault—” she covered her mouth with her hand, swallowing the words.
Olivia’s eyes speared Addy’s. “She said she forgave you? What happened?”
Addy shook her head, her eyes dancing away. “N-nothing.”
Olivia gave her a sideways glance. “You have to remember, our memories are fragile. If you experienced anything in our simulation, your memory obviously wanted to bring it up. We don’t dictate what happens; your memory does because it’s trying to work something out.”
Addy’s hands clenched, her neck growing hot. “I need to go. Thank you. I got what I needed for the review. This…simulation you have here is really top notch.” She raced to grab her coat and bag. “How do I get home?”
Replacing the equipment in the foam, Olivia closed the case and walked towards her. “I can have Reg take you back.” She turned to Addy, her head tilted with curiosity. “Are you sure there’s nothing you want to tell me?”
Addy shook her head, her bright smile hurting her cheeks. “Nothing.”
Olivia’s tawny eyes searched hers for several heartstopping seconds. “All right then.” She walked Addy to the main entrance where Reg was leaning against the side of the car, smoking a cigarette. When he saw them approach, he snuffed it with his heel and opened the door for Addy. Olivia extended her hand. “Thank you for participating in our program, Addy. I do apologize for the sudden glitch. I hope that won’t be reflected in your review of our services.”
“It’s fine.” Addy got into the back of the car, her heart frozen inside her chest.
Reg started the car and headed out of the lot. Addy looked back at the building one last time, chills trailing down her spine. She faced forward, her heart thumping a mad rhythm inside her chest.
Outside Addy’s apartment, she raced up the stairs to her apartment without a glance backwards. She reached her place and slammed the door behind her. Her heart didn’t stop pounding until she heard the lock engage. She jammed a chair under the knob. Her footsteps took her backwards until her thighs bumped against the arm of the couch.
Something slid under Addy’s door. She ran to look through the peephole but didn’t see anyone there. Bending down, she picked up the envelope and turned it over. It was in her grandmother’s handwriting. Her head pounded as she pulled out a card.
Addy sat on the edge of her couch as she scanned the note. Then read it again. It fluttered to the floor as she sat back, covering her eyes. A single sob escaped her lips.
My dearest Adeline,
If you are reading this, it means your secret has died with me. I understand the daily
pain this may cause you and pray you can one day forgive yourself for what you’ve
If you can find help for your drug problem, my death will not be squandered in any way.
With love, and until we meet in another life,