Sparse terrain. I took the drugs today.
They’re a necessity, like my breathing tube.
The drugs make everything clear. Still,
there are mornings when I look at them: small,
ovoid forms; oral pharmaceuticals. I roll them
between my fingers, look out the window,
see red dirt pile everywhere, see red dirt
like my brain’s own piled thoughts, drifting
mechanisms, uncertain shifts and loops.
They said it would be good therapy, seclusion.
They said it would be necessary. When I served,
psywar soldier, it was all necessary:
the mental bombs, the shadow-sliding, the smart
guns. The smart guns were the worst.
Have you ever been shot before? They prep you.
Pre-shooting shooting. You feel it deep, practice
absorbing the impact. I look out the window.
I take a walk. Everything is red. I’m red also,
my suit slick with copper. I’d like to be done
with red. I’d like to not be done with red.
There have been days, you know,
when I haven’t taken the meds. Unfortunately
they’re counted. My body’s monitored. One day,
I told them: it’s easier, the red, more soothing;
it drifts over me and stills me.
That day, they ordered me to take my meds,
as though they knew from the hush in my voice
I hadn’t, as though they knew. They turned
off the holoscreen until I complied. I cried
so hard the windows turned white. I cried
so hard I couldn’t breathe. It’s funny,
putting in a breathing tube while you sob.
But I went for a great walk. The world hammers
inside of you when you’re sick, and my heart
hammered then. Where would I be when
they came for me again? Where would I be
when the red drifted away outside?
Could it drift away inside? They’d given
the consequences if I suicided:
what would happen to my legacy, my family.
The damned red. As if that would help me,
talking about my family. It’s like a penal
colony here with one person. And the drifting
away is tempting. But I get better. I improve
in slow gulps and long stretches of red walks.
The only stress is wondering what to do
when I go back. I wonder what my mom
will say when I get home. Will she make
my favorite cake? Anything, I’ll say,
other than red velvet. Then I’ll look
out the window, long for home.
(Editors’ Note: “Convalescence” is read by Erika Ensign on the Uncanny Magazine Podcast Episode 24B.)
© 2018 by Alicia Cole