And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. —Nietzsche
Amy looked around. Everything was pink. Pink walls, pink bedspread, pink pillows, pink TV. Pepto-Bismol pink, Freudian pink; as if the Disney princess had died. Banksy would love this. She turned on the TV; every show was in pink. The Bachelor was in pink. Jamie Oliver was in pink. Even Shark Tank was in pink. Reality was the new pink. Or pink was the new reality.
There was a note, Reality isn’t for sissies. There was a night-light in the corner. A pink night-light, of course. What was this, a punishment? A reward? A lesson? Amy reached her hand out and she could almost reach from one end of the room to the other. It reminded her of youth detox, separated by glass walls from the adult detox. The youth got perks but it was hardly worth the staring. People often wanted to save the young while they simultaneously kept them trapped in glass for observation.
It reminded her of an episode of Law and Order SVU, or one of those other god- awful TV shows where the killer fed his victims through IV’s and paralyzed them. The doll theme was what, a motif?
Be a little more original, she said, just a little.
Nothing in response.
Why don’t I ever get to be the detective?
The doll was merely the prop between the hero and the bad guy.
Amy looked around some more. There were some pink cookies on the dresser. She picked one up, it was plastic. There were frills on the bed. It wasn’t a fuchsia pink, not a pink full of life, it was half-dead pink—Victorian pink. It was a cat’s nose. Fuchsia sounded a lot like fascist.
Yes, pink could be both life and death. They would love this analysis. She stacked up the pink cookies, six in all. Pretended to eat, to enjoy her surroundings, suspecting a camera was watching.
That grew old fast.
Amy remembered the plastic pink cakes she has as a child and how sometimes she forgot that she was only pretending to eat them. She would serve them, pretend to eat, then repeated this process. It seemed only natural to take an actual bite. There were only so many directions one could go with cake or with pink. Soldiers could go to war, save other soldiers, change the course of history. Pink could only repeat itself.
The door was locked. She never should have said that she hated the colour pink. She never should have questioned anything at all. Perhaps she never should have tried breathing. She decided to lie down and try to get a new perspective, as much as one could when everything was pink. She tried to change the colour in her mind.
Your perception is your responsibility. You can change it. You are responsible. You are response-able.
Amy made herself small. She made the environment disappear. She learned how to make herself disappear; with a little effort she could do both simultaneously.
Everyone wore black but the founders, who wore black or white. They could do that, they were not zookeepers. Amy learned to fear white. Now she feared pink. Perhaps she had always feared pink. Everything was a performance. Everything was analysis. Everything was black and white and pink. When hypocrisy was policy, one couldn’t even trust the colour of the walls.
Amy was so tired of being analyzed and observed. Tired of self-improvement. Tired of being a narcissist corrupted by society. Tired of being saved. Even in here, she was saved by the usual middle-aged, hopeless, women. The ones who seemed to get off on her stories of trauma. The ones who wanted to patch up all her scrapes and bruises one moment, then turn on her the next to say that she was narcissistic, corrupted and fucked up. Men who used her were creeps, but when women did the same thing they were treated like Mother Theresa.
Amy played along for long enough. She played along until something sinister reached into her throat and dragged her tongue out of her mouth. She wasn’t even sure if it were herself speaking; none of what she said followed any script at all. All anyone ever spoke in that place were abstractions. I feel A, I think B, I intend C, therefore X. I am a narcissist.
“I am broken,” Amy once said.
“You mean you feel broken,” a follower said.
“No, she means she thinks she’s broken and she feels sad,” another follower said.
“I don’t feel sad, I feel broken,” Amy said.
Eventually, Amy learned to follow the script, even though she didn’t approve of it. She knew how she felt and it wasn’t sad. She knew what she thought too. The script had the unintended or intended consequence of removing any sense of self. Everyone sounded exactly the same.
She was so broken when she showed up that she would have done anything. “I will do anything!” she said, and everyone clapped. Now she was free, she had been told, though apparently not since she could not wear white or even pink. Just black as if every day was a funeral for her past self.
Amy banged on the door. Nothing.
Response-able my ass.
She sat down. She stood up. She looked in the fridge. Water, soup, meals in cans. She looked under the bed. Nothing. More nothing. More pink nothing. Brilliant.
I am not a fucking doll.
Maybe that was the meaning. She thought she was a doll, but she was not a doll. Besides, she never wanted to be a doll. Other people wanted her to be a doll so she let them. She let them observe her through glass. She let them drool. She let them pour vodka down her throat when she said she was finished. It was not news to her that the princess dies. Most people seemed to think that the real tragedy was when the princess grew up, or when the princess learned to speak and became the monster.
The founders talked about how a girl being raped was response-able. Indians who had their land stolen were response-able. They used the word Indian on purpose, they liked to shock, and they liked to see who would confront their obvious rejection of any humanitarian mission.
The founders had encouraged one young woman, possibly even a teenager, to masturbate in front of the group. No one seemed response-able; everyone seemed to stay stuck in voyeuristic pleasure, shock, disgust, or some mixture thereof. Groupthink. But Amy had become one of them. It was hard to explain how this could happen, how one could be overpowered by a group. By founders and rules and the pushing of boundaries. No one knew what they could do until they were doing it, at which point they wouldn’t even notice it happening.
Amy did some push-ups and tried to make her vision go red. Red was better than pink. Almost anything was better than pink, when you got down to it. Really—almost anything.
Why was there no mirror? Wouldn’t that be the right metaphor—a mirror?
I am response-able. I am myself. I am a flawed, screwed up being, just like everyone else. I am a narcissist corrupted by television. I am not a celebrity. I am not on television. There is no camera, no one really cares. Here, there is no meaning. I am not a beautiful snowflake.
I see pink because I choose to. I see red because I choose to. The world is neither red nor pink. I am an ant but more than an ant because I am response-able. Everything I thought I knew was wrong because I am a narcissist and the world will not be green just because I want it to be. I can change. I can change the way I see things. Did you hear that? I can change, I said! I’m changing!
Nothing. No response.
Able my ass.
Response-disabled. Maybe it was all in her mind. No, they were winning. This was the problem with cults that believed that everything was always your fault—they could get away with anything. Do people die of insanity in solitary confinement? What about pink solitary confinement? Would they bring sanitary napkins of she happened to need them? Would they bring anything?
The toilet was in the room, not separated by anything, just like in prison. She recalled the statements made by the leader.
“Nothing says more about a culture than how they treat taking a shit. Cats bury it. Dogs leave it for someone else to clean up. Birds drop it on unsuspecting victims. Our closest relatives, the chimps, fling it at zookeepers.
“Western culture, in a sense, has gone backwards. We’ve brought waste inside the house, ridding of the outhouse where one could get away from the awkward overhearings and smellings. One might think that this is because we’ve started to accept ourselves as being no better than a chimp, but it’s the opposite. We’ve brought it inside because we continue to suggest that it, indeed, does not exist. Why hide something that doesn’t exist? We don’t need a separate building to act like it doesn’t exist, we are that evolved. We have done the same with sex.”
People were therefore encouraged to go in front of everyone.
“You are no better than a chimp. You just don’t have a zookeeper and this terrifies you, so you act as your own zookeeper. Keeping yourselves locked into houses and bathrooms. Army, do you have anything to say?”
They had taken to calling her Army. She was too polite, she had been told. Politeness was a symptom of neurosis.
“Are you an army or a mouse? Get rid of your zookeeper. You haven’t taken a shit in days. Go for it.”
Amy snapped back to the current environment. The room continued spinning. Not unlike the pink walls of a massage parlour where she once worked. Did they know this? Yes, they knew this. Torture.
The massage parlour smelled of baby oil, smoke, cologne. Amy liked to hide in duvets while she waited, even though the room was already overheated. She liked the blankets. They made her feel even younger than she already was, like she was having a sleepover, like she was safe. It was a married couple that ran the place. The guy was quiet but sweet and brought them beer. The woman was evil. Amy wondered if they did this on purpose. Smart if they did. Fucking brilliant. Fucking Freudian A plus.
The walls of the massage parlour were the same shade. They looked like cotton candy thrown in a dumpster. I am cotton candy thrown in a dumpster, Amy thought. She twirled around until she became so dizzy she fell over.
No one is going to pick you up, you whore, she thought she heard someone say but maybe it was her imagination. Maybe the whole thing was her imagination. Yes, it was all just her imagination.
For awhile, Amy was living at the massage parlour because she had nowhere else to go. It was depressing but she wasn’t alive enough to notice. Now was she alive or just startled? What was she now? Response-able?
She recalled the fat men, the pink walls, the smoke, the sounds from the other room. Fakers. They were all fakers some just put in more effort. Amy’s work name was Y oyo.
“Yo-ho-ho,” one drunk guy said, who barely looked old enough to be there and finished before he had started, then demanded his money back.
Amy snapped back into the room again.
You are not back there. You are here. You were only time travelling. You are response-able. You are talking to yourself because nobody else cares. Face it, nobody else cares.
Yo! Amy shouted. YO-HO-HO.
She had come to this place, initially, when a girl who worked with her at the massage parlour told her what a good place it was. A different place. A new place. Amy suddenly realized that she couldn’t even remember the girl’s work name. She never knew her real name. Her work name—Lisa? Lola? Leanne?
Amy had been the cute one, the girl next door; it was all just marketing. The woman in charge complained several times that two white girls were too white girls too many. Maybe the whole thing was punishment, maybe the girl wanted more clients. Even white girls got clients that otherwise could belong to Lisa/Lola/Leanne. Amy didn’t know what happened to her, but she cursed her for bringing her to this place. Never trust a whore.
Go away, Amy said, but no one was there. It felt like someone was there. Someone getting beneath her skin to unwrap her like a banana. She was suddenly very itchy. She held her knees into her chest and danced in her mind until the itching stopped. Danced in a waltz that was so repetitive that she started to feel like a moon. She could dance this way forever. She watched the children on TV do their dance. What the hell was this?
Everyone was trapped in a musical version of who they had been, who they were, joining together for a finale. Please tell me what a piece of crap I am again, she said without irony. I will do anything.
Maybe this was just one of those improve scenes where all you had to say was switch and suddenly what was a pink room was a beach or museum or train station.
Amy tried to do laps around the room but it was too cramped. Better stick to push-ups. She popped in some more nicotine gum. At least they were kind enough to leave her that. Though if they wanted her to see herself in her complete utter horror—why not let her see herself chain-smoking surrounded by pink? What would better mirror a porn set inbetween shoots?
She tried to get as much nicotine as she could at once but ended up only swallowing the drug portion of the gum, leaving her throat itchy and parse. Light came in from a corner of the room. She felt like she were underwater. She felt like a blister ready to be popped.
It was as if each motto was taken from the opposite of a fortune cookie. Just give up. You do not matter. You are nothing.
And Amy had ate up every last one, swallowed it down. now she was just trying to throw them back up like a cat’s hairball. Cats look like they’re going through labour with hairballs. She remembered the teachers in school saying good girl. It was something to hold onto, her goodness. But it was a lie. What did it really mean to be a good girl?
The massage parlour was better than this. At least there you knew who you were. Even if it was a whore, at least you knew.
I’m not your puppet! I’m not your chimp! I’m not taking a shit!
You are time traveling again, she thought or said, it was now impossible to tell the difference. Your goodness has been undone and forgiven. A match has been lit.
Amy got out a bottle of strawberry Ensure from the beer fridge. It tasted like Pepto- Bismol but at least it advertised itself as fake, and therefore was the most real thing in the place.
I am a fraud.
The lights suddenly turned on.
Amy started to laugh. How would she ever explain this to anyone, if she ever got out? How on earth? Maybe that’s why no one ever leaves these places, how does anyone ever explain? It’s easy to laugh at scientologists until you have become one. There was no word for what these people were, strangely, since they seemed so fond of labels. They rejected certain labels, like when Amy called herself an addict; they said that she was trying to be special. “But I am an addict,” Amy said, confused. Besides, what was special about being an addict? Almost everyone Amy had known had been an addict.
Amy felt like she was dancing without even moving. She felt like some part of her was on fire. Now what?
Now nothing. Now it was over. Now and only now. The TV wouldn’t turn off.
Amy cried, which was just what they wanted, but she cried all the same. She whispered, Hush hush, you narcissist, hush, hush. She fell asleep and when she awoke there was a mirror in the room. Amy stared into it.
I am a monster, even in pink.
Maybe we were all always time travelling, always off some place in the future or in the past. But perhaps people who talked about the present were also elsewhere. They were kids on roofs dressed as witches, were old people in bed looking back at pink rooms, were teenagers in closets for seven minutes of heaven. The founders said, “Behind every killer is a scared six year old child.” We were all monsters living in a time when we were less horrible, were all swallowing fortune cookies like secrets, waiting for salvation to come. We were all pink to the core.
Pink was the most dangerous colour of all. Pink was made entirely of abstractions. Nothing pink was really digestible. Pink cake only reminded you of how disappointingly human you remained. Pink was the grenade that only exploded in some other time, some other universe.
You win, Amy shouted. But as before and as in the future, there was nothing left but to keep serving the same plastic cake without ever taking a bite. There was nothing left to swallow or cough up. Good girl, Amy said, good girl.
Her dreams were always pink from then on.
Jill Talbot attended Simon Fraser University for psychology before pursing her passion for writing. Jill has appeared in Geist, Rattle, Poetry Is Dead, The Puritan, Matrix, subTerrain and The Tishman Reviw. Jill was shortlisted for the Matrix Lit POP Award for fiction and the Malahat Far Horizons Award for poetry. Jill lives on Gabriola Island, BC.