Better than Healed
Editor’s Note: The most unique flash in our March inbox, we fell in love with the eerie universe Cohen created in “Better than Healed.” Sometimes the mirror we’re looking through is not a mirror exactly, but we’re transported all the same.
Welcome. I do hope your trip up here was pleasant. Such lovely weather, isn’t it? The sun like a gold coin in blue water. I’m so sorry you’re here under such unfortunate circumstances. You have my deepest condolences.
That’s Larry. He works the front desk. He’s actually a former patient if you can believe it. Scoliosis. Look at his posture now. Straight as a spear. Would you like to speak with him? He was working the day your husband died. Perhaps he remembers something I forgot. Not now? Very well.
I’m afraid it’s not possible to see the room where your husband died at the moment. We’re currently cleaning it. We change lives at the institute but not routines. Routines are so important. Wouldn’t you agree? While we wait, would you allow me the pleasure of a tour? I admit, I’m a bit of a show off. I’m proud of my institute. It’s the sun in my sky. A sun like a gold coin in blue water.
I’ve designed most of these. Conventional equipment fails to meet the needs of the damaged body. That machine strengthens the fingers as well as the toes. The beam and rope assembly helps patients regain their balance skills. The net on the ceiling? Harder to explain. This one is designed for the neck. The harness attaches over the head. Yes, it does look rather like a torture device, I suppose. What’s the maxim? “No pain, no gain?” The road to rehabilitation is a rocky one. Many days are challenging. But the good days are like sunshine. Sun like a gold coin in blue water.
Take a peek through the door. All of our patients are in there. Meditating. Work on the body is useless without a healthy mind. The invisible injuries are the most difficult to treat. The traumas and scars of memory. Our fears. Your husband had a great deal of those, I’m afraid. But of course you know that. The light is lovely in there, isn’t it? We built the room with a southern exposure. A perfect view of the mountains through those windows. The sun like a gold coin in blue water.
This is my favorite spot. A clear mountain view. The air is so brisk and invigorating. Look at that sky. The sun like a gold coin in water. How lovely!
If you’ll permit me to be blunt, your husband was difficult at first. Stubborn and skeptical. Yes, I’m aware of what he told you about the institute in his early letters; the police mentioned it on their visit.
Of course his stories were absurd. You realize that. You know they’re lies. Delusions. There has always been talk, I’m afraid. Mad scientist stories of grafting wings and claws onto patients, giving them webbed toes and fins. The stuff of folk tales. Laughable, really. Yes, you should laugh. Laughter scrubs the spirit. Your husband was a great laugher by the end, once his wounds healed, and his misconceptions lifted. He had so much potential.
Yes, this is the room where he drowned. A tragedy. Mind your step, the floor is slippery.
I understand you’re troubled over how your husband changed his will. It is troubling, but we must honor the wishes of the dead. By the end, your husband became a great supporter of our work. I believe he wanted a legacy here. He had so much potential at the end. He was so changed. For a brief time your husband became more than human. Much more. Beyond rehabilitation, better than just healed. And he loved the pool so much. How ironic he ended there.
Do you see the drain shining down there? Almost like a coin or a sun. A sun like a gold coin through water.
You’re sure I can’t interest you in lunch? Goose is our chef’s specialty. He prepares it with olive oil and watercress. No? You’re quite sure you must be going? I understand, of course. The clock is a merciless tyrant.
I hope you don’t mind if I eat first. The geese are especially tender in the spring. I have no idea why that is. Amazing how far they can fly, though. 1500 miles a day if the weather is fair.
We sometimes have more exotic items on the menu. Venomous snakes. Various insects. Rare fish. It’s funny, some cultures believe what you eat, its essence, becomes part of you. It’s also funny how the sun is like a gold coin in blue water.
Please take a seat. I insist.
In fact, this is not my lunch but yours. You’re quite hungry. Starving. Yes, it is delicious, isn’t it? You’ll want to eat every last bite. You’ll remember your husband as a sun like a gold coin in blue water. Shining. Forever happy. When you finish your meal, the pain, the questions, the memories, all of that will be gone.
There’s a train at six. Larry can drive you. You feel better, don’t you? Letting it all go? Sometimes the best way to heal is to forget.
I’m also glad you came. Think nothing of it. I live to heal. Yes, it was a lovely day for a tour, a real blessing. The sun like a gold coin in blue water.
What’s that? You wish to stay on? But of course. I’d hoped you would.
Your husband had so much potential. If only I’d been able to fashion the gills properly. But you. I see something even greater in you. Your arm muscles look well developed, yet you’re thin. You’re light as a feather. With rehabilitation, you could do extraordinary things. Humans accept limitations too easily. A weakness of the imagination. Something I don’t tolerate here.
If you’ll just follow Larry, he’ll show you to your room. You’ll be quite comfortable. You’ll fall into our routine easily. You’ll see. You’ll be so much better than just healed.
Tomorrow we begin.
Michael Harris Cohen’s work is published or forthcoming in a bunch of places including Black Candies, Fiction International, Catapult’s Tiny Crimes, The Dark Magazine,Fanzine and Conjunctions (web). He’s a recipient of a Fulbright grant and fellowships from the Atlantic Center for the Arts, The Künstlerdorf Schöppingen Foundation, Jentel, The Djerassi Foundation and OMI International Arts Center. His first book, The Eyes, was published by the once marvelous but now defunct Mixer Publishing. He lives with his wife and daughters in Sofia, and teaches Creative Writing and Literature at the American University in Bulgaria. Twitter: @fictionknot