At the top of the hill there is a dark house. Visitors come to the front door, and while they wait to be admitted they glance about, not wanting to be seen.
Deliveries are made to the back of the property, occasionally a goat, often large oblong boxes, and various other peculiar things in unusually-shaped boxes. Post is taken in at the front door, but Haroun, the regular postman, does not like to have to ring the bell. It is always answered by an androgynous person, dressed all in black and with glittering coal-black eyes. They never smile or offer a pleasantry about the dreadful/wonderful weather. A short, chilling, ‘thanks’ is all he ever gets.
When Eli came to the front door the same person answered his knock and allowed him in, as he was expected.
‘What services do you require?’ they asked him.
‘I’ve done something really stupid,’ he said, ‘and I need it erased. I heard that you could arrange that.’
‘Not I,’ said the dark-eyed one, ‘but it may be possible. You will have to make your request to the Professor.’
The Professor was a short, thin and insignificant looking man in a tweed suit, whose domain was a small office on the first floor of the dark house.
‘First, I have to outline some conditions,’ he said. ‘This establishment does not involve itself in cases of murder or resurrection, no matter what you may have heard.’
‘No problem,’ said Eli. ‘I haven’t murdered anyone.’
‘I am pleased to hear it. Your request was for an erasure?’
‘Not of a person.’
‘Of the memory of some act, or of its consequences?’
‘Both would be nice.’
‘Both would be very expensive.’
‘Oh, well, the memory then. I suppose if no-one remembers what I did, they won’t know the consequences are my fault, will they?’
The Professor gave Eli look he did not quite understand, but it made him feel uncomfortable all the same.
‘How many what?’
‘How many people’s memories would need to be adjusted?’
‘Write down a detailed account of your error, including details of the two…subjects.’
The Professor handed Eli a pad of paper and a biro, then he left the room. Eli spent an uncomfortable half-hour recounting and reliving one of the most excruciating episodes of his life. As soon as he placed the final full stop, the Professor came back in. He took the pad from Eli and scanned through the account, sighed and curled his lip. Eli felt a deep sense of shame, and wanted to take it all back, but it was too late.
‘We will send you a bill,’ said the Professor. ‘You should understand that late payment is inadvisable.’
‘Er, yes, sure. How long will it take?’
‘No the … procedure.’
‘Our specialist should have a free spot this evening, around midnight. I assume you would prefer not to wait longer?’
‘Maybe,’ said Eli, ‘my memories of the whole thing ought to be erased as well. Would that cost much more?’
‘I don’t advise that. How would you know to avoid such a banal mistake in the future?’
Eli signed a contract, not in blood, thankfully, and left the house as fast as he could. All he had to do now was to stay away from home until the early hours of the morning.
He crept in at four o’clock and slipped into bed next to Sarah. She turned over and seemed to half wake, but she did not scream at him, so that was good.
In the morning he got up and made coffee. When she came downstairs, Sarah gave him a confused look.
‘What’s wrong?’ he asked, innocently.
‘i feel like, I don’t know, I feel like I’ve forgotten something important.’
‘If it was important, it’ll come back to you,’ he said cheerfully. ‘Have a coffee, that might help.’
That afternoon, the big test, they went to the pub and met up with Gaby and Andy. Gaby and Sarah were best friends, but today they were very ill at ease with each other.
Afterwards Sarah was quiet and withdrawn. Eli asked what was wrong.
‘I don’t want to see Gaby again. I can’t stand the sight of her.’
‘I don’t know, I just can’t.’
A few days later, a plain white envelope came through the post. Financially speaking it was a kick in the groin, and Eli was glad he had gone for the cheaper option, but there was also a subsidiary element, which he was afraid would turn out to be even more costly.
“Your services will be called on at some future date, and you may not refuse.”
Eli, who had been feeling very relieved and comfortable, suffered a flashback to the forgotten thing — Gaby’s soft thighs, Sarah walking in on them at just the wrong moment, his marriage and his life torn to shreds for a piece of stupid weakness. The Professor was right, his mistake had been banal. It was bad, but this bill he held was worse. Up there in the dark house they still knew what had happened. He had written it all down for them, after all, and then he had failed to read the contract.
At some ‘future date’ he was going to have to pay. Too late now, he realised that there might have been a better way, and that perhaps the easy way did not exist.