Rehab

The knock comes after midnight. Four silent men in dark hooded sweatshirts carry her in, tip her off the stretcher onto the bed, and leave. Doctor Sam stays behind.

Liz stares down at her client. The young model’s eyes are open but unfocused, deeply shadowed. Her lips are cracked, her hair matted with dirt. Her pallor redefines heroin chic.

“Did it . . . work?”

“Of course.” Doctor Sam’s lipless smile curves below his sunglasses. “Her treatment was a complete success.”

The doctor rummages in his bag. He pulls out a misshapen bowl the color of old ivory and strips plastic wrap from the top. Then he takes a silver spoon from his pocket.

Liz frowns. “What’s that for?”

“The last of the treatment.” His black lenses angle toward the girl on the bed. “Sit her up.”

A perfect size two again. Liz grips her shoulders as the doctor force-feeds her. It looks like chopped herbs in molasses and smells like nothing on this earth. The girl starts moaning and struggling, her eyes wild.

Liz tightens her grip. Extreme rehab isn’t pretty, but she’s tried everything else.

Minutes later, Doctor Sam shoves the last spoonful between the girl’s bleeding lips. Her gaze is glassy and passive and empty. As the doctor puts his strange bowl away, Liz feels her own hands trembling.

“Now what?”

“Look directly into her eyes and speak her name. Tell her what her job is.”

Liz skips commercials and TV walk-ons: the clinic doesn’t recommend either after treatment. Photo shoots are fine, though. Runway work is OK. Both make money, which is more than her client has done this past year.

When Liz finishes, the girl nods once. Her eyes are only slightly less empty.

“Sleep now,” says Doctor Sam.

Liz takes out her checkbook. Her hands are still quivering, and the number is large and hard to write clearly. Harder than she expected. She realizes she has misspelled the clinic’s name, crosses it out, starts over.

L-a-v-e-a-u.

The doctor takes her check and turns to leave, his long coat swinging behind him. As he reaches the door, a last spasm of anxiety brings Liz to her feet.

“Isn’t there anything else I can do for her? Pilates? Medication? Special diet?”

Doctor Sam glances back, lenses flaring in the motel lamplight.

Never give her salt.”

Ω

Ann K. Schwader  Ann K. Schwader's website lives, writes, & collects way too many books  in Westminster, Colorado. Her dark SF poetry collection Wild Hunt of the Stars is due out in April 2010 from Sam’s Dot Publishing.

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