Dying, by itself, wasn’t particularly inconvenient. The amnesia that went with it, however, was. It was precise, like the memories had been cut away with a knife. There were no fragments or images like the leftover pieces of a particularly vivid dream. The memories were simply, absolutely, gone. Two years removed. A surgeon’s knife was a butcher’s job in comparison. I had only my notes to go by, bound up in a journal that I’d found tucked inside my jacket, sealed in a Ziploc bag with some car keys. There were stones in my pockets, river stones, heavy enough that I’d had to pull them out, one by one, wallowing at the bottom of the river. The water filled my lungs and my chest convulsed, trying to breathe in the bracken silt, until the last of the stones fell away and I was free to find the surface. It was dark there on the bottom of the river, but my bare feet found the bottom, and I shoved away. Found the surface. Clawed my way to the bank.
Two years, my journal said. I still worked as an accountant and I’d earned a raise but no promotions. Same house. New car. I’d find it parked up the path where a small lot had been cleared away in the trees to allow people to overlook the river. It was late in the day, the sun slipping towards the horizon, and I wondered what day it was. I hoped it was a Friday. I could use the weekend to catch up on my life. The stones in my pockets—the careful notes of my journal—this was not a murder. This was suicide. A futile gesture, since no one had died for about three years now. Just forgot. Died, came back, and forgot everything that happened, all the way back to the first time they’d died. Like hitting the reset button.
I’d run my car off the road that first time. Through the guardrail, tumbling it down the easy slope and into the river. The impact had knocked me unconscious and I’d drowned by the time the rescue crew pulled me free. That was my reset point. A dark night, the river, and a car ponderously filling up with water. I’d killed myself in almost the same place I’d died the first time. I wondered why that was. The person that threw herself into that river was a stranger now, lost, and I was left wondering what had driven her to such desperation. We shared a name, muscle and skin, but I didn’t know who she was. All that I had was this journal in the Ziploc bag.
My house was not empty when I pulled up into the drive. I entered the kitchen, coming in through the garage, and had just set my car keys on the table when I heard a creak from the hall and someone said my name. I screamed and threw myself back, hitting the wall. I stood there—paralyzed—and stared at the stranger that regarded me. He moved warily, as if I were a startled animal. I noted his black hair, brown eyes, careful layers of muscle—very little stubble on his rounded jawline.
“Sandy,” he said again, his voice low, “You’re soaked through.”
“Who are you?” I whispered, edging back.
He froze, one hand raised as if to reassure me. I huddled in on myself, arms pressed in against my stomach.
“I just died,” I said, “in the river.”
He took a step back, put his hand half in his pocket. Stared at the ground. When he spoke again, his tone was bitter and my blood ran cold. I was shivering violently now, muscles jerking like they remembered the water in my lungs.
“That’s twice now. Twice you’ve done this to me. Us. I’m Dean. We’re engaged.”
I looked at my hand in reflex. It was bare of a ring. His was not.
“I don’t know.” He threw his hands up and turned away from me. “We met a few months after your car accident. Why don’t you go get cleaned up and put on some dry clothes? I’ll go pack my things. I don’t think you’ll want a stranger sleeping over here.”
“I have an apartment. I’ll just go there. Call you tomorrow, okay?”
I nodded, numb. He vanished off into the living room, clearing the way between myself and the stairs. I took them at a run, fleeing the stranger that was in my house, bewildered and afraid. He came up to the bedroom after I’d turned on the shower and I could hear him moving about, jerking open the closet door and dresser drawers, kicking them shut. I stood there under the flow of water until I could no longer hear him. It reminded me of the river. I turned my face up to the nozzle, held it there under the spray, wondered if that was how it felt with the river stones holding me down, letting the entirety of the river’s mass press on my limbs and steal away my memories.
My journal had no mention of Dean. I read it sitting there on the floor of my bathroom, wrapped in a towel, the mirror covered with condensation. It talked about my job, things I needed to do, meetings, people. Everything that would help me recover from losing two years of my life. My relationships with my friends, my family, current events. Passwords to my computer, my bank account, online shopping. There was nothing about Dean. I read through twice, and on the third attempt I tore one of the pages, frantically thumbing through them as if I’d somehow missed something, a letter tucked between the thin paper that would explain all of this to me. Nothing. I threw the journal and it banged against the closed door.
Then, I cried. Sandy-before was a stranger to me and she’d taken my memories away, left me alone in this terrifying world—familiar enough to feel right, but with objects and scents I no longer knew. Cologne, an additional towel on the wall rack. A fiancé and no ring on my own hand.
There’s no explanation for why people stopped dying. The animals still did. Humanity did not. Our population was frozen—there were no more children born—and science was still waiting to figure out how the aging process would work. It upset everything. Death was far more common now that there were no consequences. The police force was overwhelmed with murders, to the point they could only investigate the serials. The sporadic ones, the moments of anger that only escalated once in a while—the restraint had been removed from those. Like cutting the brake lines. The suicides, too, had increased, as had the accidental deaths. Nothing was final. We were no longer afraid.
I wondered if my first death had truly been an accident. Dean’s wasn’t. It was a mistake, he said, when we talked over the phone. He regretted it. During the first year, when the world went insane and people were testing out this newfound immortality in droves. He’d shot himself and revived gasping, his bathroom wall sprayed with blood. It had been a nightmare to clean, he said, as if that was the worst part of it all. Drowning was much cleaner.
We went out for dinner a few days later, once I had my feet on the ground. I wasn’t sure if I truly understood the world I’d woken up to, but Dean was confident. I’d done this before, he said. The last time it had only taken a few days for me to readjust to my life. I kept such meticulous notes at work, it was easy. The restaurant was generic Italian and I found the sauce heavy and insipid, as if the kitchen were afraid to try anything for fear of offending someone’s palate. Dean talked about his job, about the promotion he was angling for. He told me of our times together, how we’d go to baseball games and what I’d wear when we went to clubs. He loved horror movies and told me we’d go see one soon. Maybe this weekend. I did not say much of anything. I told myself that it was because I was still so unsure of myself, of my place in everything around me. I felt adrift. Like I was still caught in the river and the current was pulling me along, that the stones had slipped from my pockets and I was lost in the tumult. I could only keep treading water and hope that the surface would appear.
After dinner, Dean dropped me off at my house. We stood on the front porch and I wondered if I should invite him in, if I could at this point. He didn’t say anything, just looked at me with a furrowed brow, like a dog at the window. Then he leaned forwards and I felt his lips on the line of my jaw. They lingered there and I didn’t move, aware of his hands at my hips, not quite touching just yet. My back was straight and I could only think of my own breathing. Then Dean drew back, leaving a cold spot of moisture from where his lips had touched my skin, and he stepped away, down off the porch.
“I’ll pick you up this weekend for the movie,” he said, “Around eight, I guess.”
He turned and walked away. I stared down at my hand as his car backed out of my drive. He’d bought me a new ring as I could only assume I had lost the original in the river. It was a plain gold band. Cheap. He didn’t say it, but he was waiting to see if this would still work. He didn’t want to waste his money on a broken relationship. I’d thrown away years of effort when I threw myself into the river.
I turned and fled back into the house and locked the door behind me. I checked the backdoor and windows as well. I told myself that it was because crime was up since we stopped dying, that there was a higher chance that a home intrusion would result in the homeowner being killed. Then I went upstairs, to my closet. I had stowed my journal in the back, in an old shoebox. I took it out and sat on the floor, cross-legged, and thumbed through the pages. I did take such meticulous notes—there were lists of the movies I’d seen and the places I liked to shop. My favorite restaurants. I skimmed that page, searching the entries. I did this twice. The Italian place was not listed. We’d gone there for our anniversary each year we were together, Dean said. We loved it.
I returned the journal to its hiding place and stood. I looked through the shirts, flipped through my blouses, one by one. Studying them. I found, at the back of the closet, a number of t-shirts for a baseball team. Their fronts emblazoned with the logo, the backs either bare or sporting an unrecognizable name and number. There were four in all. I stepped back and looked at these for a long time. I did not really like baseball. This, I knew, without the help of my notes. I’d never really cared much for sports.
Didn’t people change in a relationship?
I asked my coworkers about Dean. They talked to me carefully now and I thought that perhaps they knew something happened, but did not want to bring it up directly. I was caught up on my work. The adjustment was almost seamless. There were notations of important life events—how Jessica married three months ago, how David’s son was now four years old, and how Eric had tripped on the stairs and broken his neck last month and was still trying to dig through his archived e-mails to understand what he was doing here. It was enough to get by, the details of their lives would be obscured by the casual detachment that the workplace fostered. I saw the looks though, the wary glances in the hallway that said not everything was right. Perhaps they knew the signs better than I did. I’d done this twice now, after all.
They told me I’d had my difficulties with Dean. That I was often stressed by our relationship, that I worried about the two of us a lot. We’d fight and break up, then he’d show up that weekend with all these plans for a romantic trip and talk me into going with him and it’d be better for a few days after that. I’d be happy. Then he proposed and that put an end to our regular breakups. He’d send me flowers sometimes, have them delivered to the front desk and I’d go down there and bring them back to my desk. I’d leave them there until they wilted and someone else would throw them out after I’d gone home for the day. It was more detail than I expected and this was why I thought they knew I’d killed myself. There were clues here, subtle signs that could help me understand why I’d done this. This, and the journal. I brought it to work with me and read it over my lunch break, sitting at my desk with my pasta half-eaten in front of me, flipping through the pages and re-reading every word. My doctor was located on Elm St. My air conditioner had been repaired the previous summer and I was putting back money for when it finally broke for the last time. I’d changed which church I went to. All these little details in my precise script, little phrases with no embellishment. No explanation. Just facts.
I was starting to hate the before-Sandy.
Dean was passive in his anger. I learned this in bits and pieces, how he would look away and sigh—a sharp gesture—when I did not react to his advances. How he would move away from me and excuse himself to his apartment shortly after. Even that seemed like an accusation. He never invited me over and he never returned to gather the rest of his belongings. Like it was just a temporary thing, that we were on hold until I came around. He’d tell me that we would do this together, that we liked this and enjoyed doing that. Together. As if I’d suddenly remember and it’d all be okay if he just said it often enough. I would look in my journal after he left, even though I knew most of the entries by heart now. I didn’t have the park we’d go to on weekends listed as my favorite place and I didn’t write down any of the horror movies as ones I’d seen since the first time I died.
I didn’t see him angry until some months into our struggling relationship. I was cooking dinner, my attempt at reconciliation, at saying that this house was his house as well and we could pretend and be normal for a little while. I made stir fry and I put peanuts in it, and when I set down the plates at the table he recoiled, standing and stalking to the other side of the kitchen. I stared at him and he leaned up against the back wall, letting out his breath in a huff, arms crossed. I knew the posture. He wasn’t looking at me.
“Dean,” I said, “I didn’t make it spicy if that’s what you’re worried about.”
“I’m allergic to peanuts.”
I was quiet a moment.
“I-I forgot,” I said, reaching for the plates to take them away, “I’ll order something instead.”
“Yeah. Do that.”
My hand stalled in mid-gesture and I stared down at the steaming food, the brown noodles and the pile of vegetables, littered with the offending item like slick insects.
“I’m sorry,” I said, “I’m really trying here.”
“Yeah, you’re trying.” He didn’t keep the bite out of his voice. “We shouldn’t even be having to do this at all. And all you say is you’re sorry.”
“I don’t know why I killed myself,” I whispered, “I don’t know what else to say.”
“Don’t know why?” He threw his hands into the air and turned his back to me. “You were being selfish! Did you even think about what that would do to me? To us?”
“Were we fighting just before? Like this?”
“No! I don’t have a clue why you killed yourself. For kicks, I guess. Oh, I’ll just go pop in the river for a swim and not come up for air.”
“You shot yourself.” It came out with more of a sting than I intended, like the crack of a whip. I regretted it instantly. Dean went still.
“I wasn’t in a relationship,” he said, each word measured. I could hear the heat behind them. “I didn’t have anyone who cared about me.”
I couldn’t find a reply to that. Maybe I was selfish. I hadn’t even written down his peanut allergy in my book. I hadn’t written down anything about him.
“You know what?” he sighed, running his hands through his hair, “I’m going home. Just forget it. We’ll try dinner some other night.”
I let him go. The door fell shut behind him, hard. When the engine of his car died away in the distance, I stirred to life again. I returned to the kitchen and took out a bottle of hot sauce. It was from a local farmer’s market. I’d written that down in my journal, which day to go, which vendor to see and what flavor to buy. I poured this liberally over both plates and ate first mine, then his. I felt sick after, my stomach full to the point it hurt.
The peanuts were the best part.
I talked to Jessica the next day. I went to her cubicle and sat there and we held the conversation in a low tone. I asked her how her relationship with Ben was, how things had changed for her after she’d gotten engaged. She was quiet a moment, studying me, then she put her hands in her lap and composed herself. It was a deliberate gesture, an indication that she was giving me her full attention. That she took my question seriously, that she understood it was more than just idle talk.
“This is about Dean, isn’t it?” she said.
I looked down at the ground.
“I don’t like to interfere in other people’s relationships,” she said, “but Sandy, you’ve killed yourself over this before—and I think you’ve done it again. You don’t have to tell me if I’m right or not. But I think that says a lot on its own. Have you asked any of your friends about this?”
“I didn’t find any notes left in my journal,” I said, “and all the ones I have in my address book…we haven’t talked for a long time, they said.”
“And isn’t that kind of telling?”
She said it with an air of expectation. I just stood and returned to my desk. I sat there a long time, staring at the computer monitor, until the screen went into hibernation and I was forced to stir the mouse to jog it awake. I thought, then, that I understood before-Sandy. She’d given me a blank slate. All the important details, the things I needed to establish myself. Nothing else. A second chance, to do things differently this time.
To decide for myself on Dean.
He was like a wart, I decided, on my drive home. Stuck there, part of my flesh, and I saw it every time I looked at myself in the mirror. I had to get rid of it. It was a blemish and I picked at it, constantly, and tried to pretend it was nothing. Like a stain on my skin that I could cover up if I was just skillful enough with the concealer and blush. Something I could put a bandage over and pretend it wasn’t there, that it wasn’t a problem. That everything was fine or that I just needed to try enough. It had to go.
I left my house after dark. I’d never been to his apartment but I called one of his friends and got the address. I took a longer route there so that I would drive past a construction site on the way. I parked the car in one of the gravel turn-offs beside the road and walked along the fence surrounding the site until I was out of sight of the street. Then, I climbed up and over the fence, landing hard in a crouch. There were neat piles of building materials stacked in rows. I found what I was looking for at the end of one of these lanes, where scrap material was piled to await disposal. There was a length of rebar there, about the length of my forearm and the width of my thumb. I took it with me.
Dean’s apartment was on the second floor. I bought a bouquet of flowers with the longest stems I could find from the grocery store down the street, and I slipped the rebar into the middle of them. Then I waited at the outside door to Dean’s apartment building until someone came along and I begged them to buzz me in, I told them that I wanted to surprise my fiancé. For our anniversary. He recognized Dean’s name and knew that he was engaged, so he let me in. I saw him look at my hand, noting the ring. I hurried upstairs and then hovered there outside his door, listening to ensure the other resident had gone inside and the hallway was empty. Then I knocked.
Dean was surprised to see me. He glanced backwards, at the living room beyond. Uneasy. I wondered why he’d never brought me here. It was curious.
“Sandy,” he said without much enthusiasm, “I didn’t think we were doing anything tonight.”
“I wanted to surprise you.” I clutched at the flowers nervously. “Can I come in?”
“Well—okay—but I don’t have much furniture. Just cheap stuff. I never really built this place up because I thought we were going to live together.”
His voice had taken that hard edge again. I didn’t reply, just let him turn around and start to move inside, through the entryway. The door slipped shut behind me with a heavy click and I pulled the piece of rebar free. He didn’t realize it, didn’t realize anything. There was surprisingly little effort involved. The weight of the metal was enough, gravity pulling the rebar downwards, like it was eager to be reunited with the earth and only needed the slight push I gave it. I felt the muscles in my arm all too clearly—how the bicep strained a moment, how the forearm seemed to twist and the wrist gave a sharp bite of pain as it rotated around. I felt the impact up through my elbow. It made my fingers go numb. There was a heavy sound, like I’d dropped a sack of potatoes on the tiled floor, and Dean sagged as his knees folded under him. His body was squat, lax. His head draped against the wall and lolled there, eyes open and unfocused. I raised the piece of rebar up again, the metal protesting at the movement, as if it didn’t want to leave the earth. I let it drop again and Dean shuddered and slid further towards the ground. There was blood slipping down his forehead, like fingers caressing his hair. I’d not touched him back, not in the entire time we were together since I died in the river. He’d stroked my hair, kissed my face, touched my shoulders. I never moved.
I raised the rebar. Let it fall. I did this, mechanically, watching with a sort of detachment as the blood puddled in the hollow of his neck and overflowed onto the floor. How the side of his head seemed to bow inwards. Like a waning moon. My muscles hurt and I stopped a moment, letting the tip of the rebar touch the tiled floor. I was panting. My shoulder ached.
I wrapped the rebar in plastic bags and put it back into the flowers. I cleaned the floor and the wall. Dean was right—blood was messy. I couldn’t imagine what it had been like to clean up after a gunshot to the head. This was bad enough. I threw the soiled cleaning supplies into another plastic bag and tied it up. I’d take it with me. Dispose of it elsewhere. The entryway was now relatively clean, the only blood spots were close to where he’d fallen. He’d think he had slipped and fallen, perhaps, when he came around in a few hours. I didn’t really care. I wasn’t feeling much of anything at the moment, just a sort of light-headed sensation, like I was floating. I walked through his apartment and looked at each room. There was little furniture and fewer personal belongings. Pictures of himself with his friends, some memorabilia from his baseball team. I found a few framed photos of us, shoved off to the side. They weren’t recent. They were the before-Sandy. My smile looked strained.
I left with the flowers and threw the bag of bloody rags in a random dumpster in a parking lot on the way home. I threw the engagement ring out the window of the car as I drove away. When I reached my house, I put the flowers in a vase of water on the table. I put the rebar at the back of my closet, still wrapped in plastic. I left it there, letting the blood dry, resting in the corner next to the shoebox with my journal. The flowers remained on my table until they wilted and then I threw them out. I threw out the rest of Dean’s belongings as well, his cologne and his toothbrush and the woman’s sized baseball t-shirts. The bottle of fragrance broke from the fall and the garbage can stunk of spice and the sickly-sweet perfume of half-rotted lilies.
After that, I did not see Dean until almost three weeks later, while grocery shopping. I stopped at the mouth of the aisle, staring, and my heart tumbled over itself. He was standing there, by the jelly, trying to decide between apricot and blueberry. I could go up to him. Introduce myself. Smile, flirt. Start over. I’d know all his favorite things, what movies to suggest we see, which baseball tickets to surprise him with. He wouldn’t know that I’d killed myself twice before. He wouldn’t blame me for it, again and again. I could be perfect and he’d love me for it, for understanding him and knowing and liking all the things he knew and liked. I’d know not to cook meals with peanuts.
I walked down the aisle, stopped next to him. Reached in just beside him so that he was forced to side-step out of politeness.
“Excuse me,” I murmured.
I picked up the the first jar of peanut butter my fingers closed on. I dropped this in my basket, turned my back, and walked away.
Thank you to Kelsey Lynne for sharing the complete text of her story “Resettin” for free on the web. The complete book, Best of Ohio Short Stories: Volume 1, features seventeen additional stories. Click here to find the book on Amazon. E-books are also available, click here for links.
Kelsey Lynne is an automated testing developer. She enjoys writing in her free time, typically between the hours of midnight and 1:00 a.m. When she is not coding or depriving herself of sleep to write, she enjoys painting or playing the harp. Her education consists of a computer science degree and two years of a creative writing minor, before she changed her minor to business so she could take exciting classes like Finance 101. Kelsey lives with her three cats and one dog.