Bottle It Up

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
I try not to stay in here for long. It's better to be in and out, to forget the ugly side of it. All around me, advanced biotech glass jars line the shelves, crowded together as much as possible. The sounds of my own past torments echo from them, just faint enough to ignore, although the buzz still irritates me.
I can't leave yet. Dr. Thomas made it clear that I need to deal with this, but just seeing the task that looms above me makes me nervous. I hate the way my hands sweat, the fear rising to my throat. Maybe... maybe if I purged, I'd be better able to deal with it.
With quiet resolve, I search around the shelves for a nearly-full jar, checking their pressure valves. I sift past each jar, untouched from when I'd last filled them. Some of them still have their unremoved price tags, but the older ones are labeled. Back when my dad gifted me my first jar to deal with stress, I was more organized. I pass labels like "Difficult Clients" and "Lonely Nights" but my hand stops when I reach "Arguments with Dad". It's been so long that those arguments are hazy and distant. I can feel them like a tip-of-my-tongue memory, like if I searched, I could find what's missing. I don't try to. I shake my head, moving on until I've looked at all of them and haven't found extra space. I pull away from my search with a sigh.
There's more jars than I thought, more than I feel I can handle. They're everywhere, and at my worst I don't even separate them by singular experiences like I'm supposed to. I can spot those ones clearly; they vibrate with the burden of carrying what I couldn't handle on my own. My anxiety worsens. I back up to see bright neon price tags glaring down at me in disappointment. Flashy lettering yells at me: "Sick of feeling? New designer glass allows you to get rid of your pesky emotions!" With the most unwelcome sight of all: the "$49.99" right below it.
"You've developed a dependency, Blanche." Dr. Thomas' words echo in my mind. "How long has it been since you've processed an emotion?"
"I... Last weekend I was happy to finish a business deal?"
"I meant the negative ones."
I'd tried to recall going through all the emotional stages of calming down, but nothing came to mind. Emotions took time to process, but more than that, I'd come to like the emptiness. It wasn't peace, but it was quiet. The diet version of peace, maybe. If there was a clear feeling from purging, it was release. It was that beautiful sensation of breathing into the chamber and feeling the emotions flow out of me like rainfall in reverse. It was watching the bottle get cloudy and start to whisper with words I'd never have to hear. It was the click of my closet door once I was done.
I of course tried to explain all of this to Dr. Thomas, but he didn't listen.
"You're spending too much money on those jars."
"...I'm aware."
"Isn't that something you'd like to change?"
"At some point, yes."
Dr. Thomas fixed a stern expression on me. Then he turned to his computer and tapped in a few words.
"Fifteen thousand dollars."
"That's how much you've already spent."
My stomach had dropped so fast that I felt nauseated, unused to the sensation of fear. My fingers twitched for a jar, but I wasn't allowed to bring them to therapy. He let the silence settle before he spoke again, sadness weighing on his features.
"I used to think this new technology was a cure-all. I prescribed it to my patients, my family... and we got distant. If you don't talk about pressing emotional issues for too long, things break. There are effects— detrimental effects— that come from overuse. It isn't too late," he pleaded. "You can still learn to process your emotions before you run out of time."
I didn't buy his sentiments, but he was right about one thing. I am running out of money. And now I'm running out of time.
I bite my lip, running my fingers across the glass jars, feeling them whimper. Aren't I a better person for this? I never lash out at people. I never have to cry. I don't even have to slow down to deal with it all. Maybe it would even be worth the money...
No, there has to be another way. My eyes are drawn to the center shelf, which holds the few dangerously-mixed jars. I step closer to inspect one of them. Though it shouts and shakes, it has sat there for an entire year with no change. I pick it up to inspect it closer. The pressure gauge reads higher than the others. If I was able to purge this much and the bottle didn't break... perhaps the bottles can handle more than I thought.
The first smile of the day breaks over my face. Sure Dr. Thomas, I can release the emotions. I'll just do it my own way.
I grab a new jar and an old one, hoping that age might have dispelled some pressure. Placing the old one on the floor and kneeling besides, I perform familiar operations on the mechanized lid, sliding the pressure lock and then flipping up the nozzle. The bottle hisses, but before it can release too much, I flip the new one, hit its button, and shove the two together.
An angry noise bursts from the impact, but I hold the jars together with resolute determination. The yell sputters into a whimper, and then there's a hiss of what I hope is the clouds fusing together.
It only takes a minute until the hissing has quieted down enough that I think I've succeeded. I shake my head with a little laugh, feeling foolish. To think that I had assumed the jars had a maximum level. The advertisers only said that to make people buy more products. I wasn't an addict after all, I was just an innocent customer being taken advantage of. Funny that they thought they could fool me when—
The moment I lift my pressure off of the two jars, the bottom one fires the other into the air with a sound like an air rifle. It's so fast that I can't even blink before there's a crash above me, and glass rains down from above. I flinch down instinctively.
But that's just the first volley of projectiles. The second ones that hit me are much harder to hide from.
I am flooded with emotion. Filled with water before I have time to breathe. So many feelings have crashed into me that I can't pick apart the sticky torrent of emotion. It takes all that I am to just keep breathing.
Crumpled on the floor, over my sobs, I hear... words. They're whispers; so quiet at first that I think it's insanity kicking in.
But then I see fast, blurry images starting to take shape. I see the argument. The... the one that made me leave the house. Screams echo through my head, so loud it's like I'm experiencing them for the first time. There's a crash of a door and the feeling of cold air rushing over me.
I blink and there's another argument. As the memory clicks back into place, I realize at once that this is an older one. Dinnertime. More screaming. A glass shatters and I know I have done it.
More arguments flicker through my newfound memory like a flip book, so overwhelming that my chest burns with pain.
Then everything slows down, and I see one final memory in perfect clarity.
I already know it's a good one. It's a spring day outside, and the sky is so bright and clear. I feel... laughter. It bubbles in my throat, brought about by some pure childlike joy. My small hands wrap around the worn ropes of the swing from my backyard. I'm practically bouncing in my seat. Finally, he pushes me on the swing and my laugh breaks into a squeal of joy.
I look back and I see— I see a younger version of a man I know. A man I've known my entire life, because he's my father.
I man I now know only by the name of Dr. Thomas.