The Happy Place
by MacKenzie Jennings
7:15am Morning Check. 10 mg Tyntranzipam7, 2.5 mg Hypnopion, single dose of B12, folate.
I’m polished clean and minty fresh. There’s a lock of hair though that refuses to stay put, flipped one way in contrast to the rest. A rebellious lock of hair that refuses to acquiesce. I know that if I were to try to fix it, it would be a struggle. The lock of hair, it may behave at some point during the late afternoon when it’s Coffee Hour.
The lock of hair, it knows it has to behave at some point.
My smile is ready, radiant, just in time as the PsychMonitor beside the bedroom door crackles on. The angled, smiling face of my Doctor fills the screen. He’s rejected his monthly forehead filler, and it’s the first time I’ve seen such lines—“wrinkles” as the textbooks have told us; “glabellar lines” as science has us believe—on him, ever. They’re deeply grooved, guarding each brow from the other. I can’t stop staring at them. It’s not as if I’ve not seen wrinkles. After all, the ones that form in little webs around the eyes and curves around the lips, vital indicators of Happiness, and Happiness is essential.
Thus, retinoids, Idebenone, pentapeptides, laser resurfacing, and chemical peels for the eye area have been Emphatically Forbidden. Botox around the lips, also Emphatically Forbidden. Traits of Happiness must be evident.
You see, Happiness equates to Harmony. Happiness leads to Peace, Prosperity, Productivity, and Progress.
The lines on my Doctor’s brow are indicators of something else. He’s choosing his expression today. He’s been frowning. A Doctor, an Official, unheard of.
His ever so slight act of Rebellion sends a tingle through me, spreading its heat to my cheeks and forehead.
“Kate, Happy Morning. Lovely day today, don’t you think?” my Doctor says with a grin, one that relaxes those lines. There’s something there, however. He undoubtedly thinks I don’t see it, but since I’ve started storing my Supplements away, I’ve been able to see more of what I know I shouldn’t, everything Emphatically Forbidden.
And now, his liquid eyes are alive, awake.
“It is a beautiful, Happy Morning,” I say, offering up a practiced and polished smile of my own. “Henry loved the citrus muffins, by the way. You must thank your wife for the recipe. Citrus is so difficult to replicate.”
The Doctor’s smile wavers, only just. “I’ll pass that on to her,” he says. “Have you taken the Tyntranzipam7 as prescribed? After your last stay in the GriefWard, it’s essential that you continue the treatment for the next six months. Afterwards, we may get you on a mild dosage of Pharolyzine-D and see how that goes. It’s relatively free of side effects, so it’s a possibility.”
For a fleeting moment, the air feels cold. My head throbs. My pulse quickens, and all things mechanized inside of me activate. I’m trembling, and I can’t let him see me like this or he’ll know. They’ll know. They may even know that ever since I’ve left GriefWard, I’ve stopped taking my Supplements. I’ve stashed them away in a jewelry box in the Privacy Chamber, the spare room free of monitoring as we’re all permitted, but I don’t believe privacy actually exists anymore.
My dry lips move on their own accord, my voice used to the routine. “Sounds like a plan. Please say hello to your wife. Henry sends his regards as well.”
The Doctor’s smile hasn’t broken since. He’s as practiced as I am. “Until our Afternoon Check then. Happy Day, Kate.”
“Happy Day, Doctor.”
The monitor goes black, and I only now realize I’ve been twisting my wedding ring around and around on my finger.
9:30am Morning Exercise. 2.5 mg Hypnopion and 5mg Seropax, one women’s multivitamin.
The air in Area Outdoor Garden C-18 smells nothing like the air outside from the Old Life, from what I remember of it. Since I’ve stopped my Supplements, the chemical tang of the “air” has grown stronger, an antiseptic, metallic replica of fresh greenery, blooming flowers, and moist earth. During yoga sessions, I’ve been close enough to the ground to see the little nozzles burrowed amidst the rubbery grass emitting tiny puffs of something gaseous and heady.
The sky and sun high above the Tower Blocks, the City, have always projected perfection: the sun is a brilliant, yellow blossom, the blue sky dotted with pillowy clouds. The temperature is never above and barely ever below 75 degrees. The evenings occasionally promise rain, but it’s never more than a rumble of a thunderstorm. It’s a great waste, the rain, but we’re told we’re “never in short supply,” never in need of anything, ever.
Oh, the things we’re told. I made mention of the lack of milk delivery to Henry a couple of weeks ago. We used to have fresh milk delivered every morning. Lately, however, and without notice, that delivery has dwindled down to a bottle per week. Soon, we’ll be lucky if we’ve any powdered supply in stock.
Henry simply said I was “being silly,” that it’s “probably a delay in Dairy Services,” and that I “shouldn’t ever worry about such things” because “worry leads to stress, which leads to depression, which, inevitably, leads to Psych.”
“We’re Happy, yes?” he asked me, peering at me over his morning crossword. Once, we had “newspapers,” but “news” in the New Life is Emphatically Forbidden, as is Old Life history, research, curiosity…all of it…because All of it, all of everything that Was and Is, leads one to Unhappiness. “If you’re Unhappy, Kate, you must share,” he said.
I have been a little less forthright towards Henry since.
The low drone of a RotoChopper flying above, no doubt scanning for anyone out of line, startles me into the moment.
“Did you forget to breathe?” huffs Gretchen beside me as she gracefully moves into a lunge. “Must breathe. You’ll pass out otherwise.”
Our yoga instructor is quick to correct Gretchen with a luminous smile. “She won’t. She simply needs to breathe to move,” she says with a beam directed right at me. She’s golden, glossy, and Happy. I wonder if it’s even natural for her, that Happiness. “You’re doing wonderfully, Kate. All right, now reach out slowly and hold, like a tempting bit of chocolate’s in front of you.”
Everyone chuckles. Oh, it’s all so cute and funny. And Happy.
I hate yoga. I’d rather run, free myself out here, but I know if I were to sprint away at any point, on my own, I’d be sent to Psych. Out here, during Morning Exercise, everyone must form in groups. Apparently, it’s easier to see the outcast within a mass from a Bird’s view.
I saw a dying Bird once. It had malfunctioned and had smashed right against my living room windowpane. The creature twitched and fizzle-popped on the flower bed, emitting smoke and a spray of sparks. I watched it die through my window, stared as its eye, the red of the camera RECORD light, blinked dark.
“Kate, wanna go back to PsychWard?” hisses Daisy from behind me. Her voice is laced with poison, but I know if I turn around and face her, she’ll have on that rosy smirk she’s honed over the years since I’ve known her. She breathes against the back of my head, her lips near my ear so that it’s just between us. Her breath smells of violets and gin, of something Emphatically Forbidden, but no one would ever turn her in due to her husband’s status. It pays to be married to a PharmaTech. “Remember that, Kate? How long were you in Psych? What, a couple months?”
“I was in GriefWard, Daisy. You know that,” I say, keeping the bite out of my tone. It still sounds forced, brittle.
She snickers. “Toe-may-toe, toe-mah-toe.”
“How long have you been off your Supplements, Daisy?” I say softly, barely perceptibly. “Only an Unhappy person would say such ugly things.”
I smile prettily at the yoga instructor, following her lead, secretly pleased that Daisy, for once, has gone silent.
I’m not looking forward to this afternoon’s Coffee Hour. I don’t know how I didn’t see it, didn’t realize it before, how wrenching it is to actually deal with people like Daisy.
We’ve been so Happily medicated, it’s made us all blind to our own friends and family.
11:45am. Lunch.2.5mg Hypnopion.
Lunchtime is specifically for the Family. Our Officials have determined that the more time we spend together in our Family Units, as busy as the workday may be, the Happier we are.
I don’t how much longer I can stay like this, how much more I can take before I break and I am truly put into PsychWard. An entire Family on the opposite side of our development—a Family I never got a chance to know—was sentenced to PsychWard. They’d had a row at the Civic Center during a symphony concert and were taken out in ElectroCuffs, linked together like a chain gang and still heatedly arguing, obviously off their Supplements.
That was over a year ago, and the family’s not been back.
I dutifully bring Henry a bagged lunch (soyacheese on seeded bread, orange synthgrapes, thermos of tea) every workday during the week. My routine has always been to walk straight for his office on the fourth floor in the RyzerCorp building, never once stopping to look around the place. Singular goal achieved, no deterrent, and everyone’s Happier for it. Now, though, everything’s changed. I keep my stride steady and assured so that I don’t arouse suspicion. I nod and smile politely, greeting all of Henry’s colleagues as I pass by.
My senses, however, are on overload. The Supplements dull any sort of “harsh” sensory experience. Instead, scents are light and pleasant, always. Tastes are subtly delicious, always. Sounds, for me, were akin to listening to everything happening from a distance, at a soothing volume. It’s not that way for me anymore. Upon entering the RyzerCorp tower, when I once heard the soft murmuring of conversations happening around me; the gentle chiming ring of telephones; the soothing sounds of classical music courtesy of the only radio network we have, I now hear it all as if it were happening all at once, in stereo. Light and color are brighter, sometimes violent, tormenting my sight. I’ve become practiced enough since I stopped my Supplements though that I can pretend.
One has no choice but to pretend. It’s not as difficult as it sounds. Perpetually Happy people are often in a protective bubble, shielding them from the reality of what is actually happening around them. Our oppressors though, they make everyone Happy, and that’s all that really matters, isn’t it?
Henry swivels around in his new chair. His smile is wide, the crinkles around his eyes, more apparent than ever. His superiors must have appreciated something he produced, some sort of Hospital sales projections, I don’t know. I don’t understand his job, but spouses without an Employee Permit aren’t permitted to know much of anything. Our duty is merely to help in creating a sense of Harmony, providing a loving support and sense of comfort.
My stomach feels knotted just contemplating the reality of Henry’s job, the very idea of what RyzerCorp represents. After all, they’re part of the collective to make certain everyone remains Happy. Oh, so Happy.
I hand Henry his lunch bag, beaming back at him, hoping the pain in my gut comes to a halt lest it forces me into revealing how I actually feel about all of this. “Soyacheese with extra chutney. Thought you’d like that today,” I say, keeping my smile loose and easy, open and Happy. “New chair?”
Henry’s grey gaze is unfocused. He blinks at me uncomprehendingly. A sign that he’s been prescribed another Supplement. Probably over the lunch hour, but I think it’s too early for lunch Supplement effects to kick in. Was he prescribed something midmorning? “I…I found it at my desk when I got in this morning,” he says with a grin. “Must’ve done something good, right? Yeah. The boss is Happy.” He swivels around again in his chair like a kid, showing off the chair proudly, grinning loopily at me as he spins around and around.
Not good at all. How Productive can he possibly be for the rest of the day, like this?
I drop to a crouch in front of him, place my hands firmly on each of his knees, trapping his chair still. I want these next words I say to him low enough that the sensors don’t pick up anything but a murmur. “Henry. Focus, darling.”
He’s anything but focused. He twiddles a ballpoint, clicking it again and again.
“Henry, you have to listen. Look at me.”
He looks down at my hands, now gripping his knees so tightly that my knuckles have gone white, locking them in place. Then he stares at me, his eyes round with surprise.
“I need you to listen to me carefully, sweetheart,” I whisper. “You can’t let them give you any more Supplements. You won’t be Productive today if you’re like this, and if you’re not Productive, that’s a sign of Unhappiness, and you know where that leads you…”
Realization edges its way through the haze. Henry slowly nods, now comprehending. “PsychWard.”
“I don’t know what’s going on,” I say, eyeing the edges of his cubicle just in case. There are eyes everywhere, Camerabots watching indoors, Birds outdoors. “I think it’s intentional. I think they’re trying to force you out.”
“But why?” he says, attempting a half-smile. Despite the Supplement clouding his sense of reality, Henry’s there, wading through the haze, smiling though. He is just as practiced at this as I am, as I’m sure many of us out there are. “I’m Happy. I do my job every day. I never get bad evals. I’ve never been reprimanded, never been demoted. I got a new chair for pete’s sake. What’d make them think I don’t wanna be here?”
I look at him helplessly. I don’t know how to answer him as it could be anything these days. Population control is a popular rumor behind the entirety of our survival in the New Life, here in the City. I wouldn’t doubt it. The Old Life tended to fold in on itself with the decimation of most of our natural resources. What little was preserved here, in the City, within the bubble protecting us from something else we may never know.
And why would we even care? Why would we question? We’re Happy.
Rumors are kept to a minimum, whispered only in Privacy Chambers between loved ones, hinted at publicly by the Rebellious who stay hidden and smiling among us.
And then it hits me. I am so stupid. Of course. They know I’m not taking my Supplements. They must. But I don’t understand how they possibly could know. I’ve been so careful about hiding my Supplements, a slick slight of hand I’ve cultivated carefully as I’ve made a show of pretending to take them daily as scheduled.
So they’ve caught on to my little trick, and now they’re punishing Henry for it. Even with this bit of knowledge, my stomach turning over and over inside, hurting, I smile and bear it all.
“I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong,” I say, gently loosening my grip on his knees, kneading the soreness out of them. “I think if you keep in control of everything, keep as focused as you can while you’re here, working hard, I think everything’ll be fine. Show them you’re Happy, and everything will be okay.”
He nods, grinning broadly. “I’ll do my work. I will, Kate. I’m fine. I’m Happy.” He’s showing signs that he’s growing alert, present.
It’s not the Happiness I’m worried about. It’s the Productivity that concerns me. It would help if I even knew what he actually did for a living. “Of course, darling. Do you know what you have left to do today?” I ask, hoping for some sort of relatively intelligent answer out of him. Anything at all will do.
“Just a report to finish. I can do it,” he says right before he kisses my forehead. His voice then lowers to a whisper as he leans in and nuzzles my ear. “They’ve seen you crying, Kate. They know you’re still Unhappy,” he says, “You need to take your goddamned Supplements because if I get sent to Psych, pretty soon, you will as well…and we…Well, we won’t ever come out, will we? Never…ever.”
I pull back at his words. He’s smiling, but his eyes give away his revived alertness, the hot suspicion and anger at me. That’s why he was given the extra dosage today. Perhaps he’s been given this every day since. I never knew this. Never once sensed the suppressed rage at home. The heat prickles up my back, radiates through my chest, flushes my face. I originally stopped taking my Supplements because I flat-out refuse to let anyone control my grief, as much as HypnoTherapy, PharmaTherapy, and endless sessions with Counsel and my Doctor have tried to do so. Those months in the GriefWard were a waste, simply an exercise in emotional suppression the New Life has determined we suffer through.
Happiness equates to Harmony. Happiness leads to Peace, Prosperity, Productivity, and Progress.
Henry strokes my cheek, his smile stiff and forced now as he gazes at me. “You’ll be better, Kate, won’t you? You’ll be Happy. For us?”
“I will, Henry,” I say softly. I can’t let the tears come. I have to smile for him, for the cameras around, smile and bear it. “Afternoon Check with the Doctor. That should help.”
With that, Henry smiles tenderly, lovingly, as much as he can manage for all appearances. “There she is, the lovely woman I married.”
1:45pm Afternoon Check. 5 mg Tyntranzipam7, 2.5 mg Hypnopion, quarter dose of vitamins B6, B12, C, D, Calcium. 50mg caffeine permitted (limited).
My Doctor sits straight as a board on the loveseat across from me. He sips his tea while glancing over his notes on his Smartpad. His normally pressed suit is rumpled today, and that doesn’t surprise me after what I saw this morning. That spark of life there, a sense of normalcy akin to what I remember of the Old Life. The frown lines are barely noticeable, only to those who have it in them to actually look for them, like me. They’re still there, thin streams dividing his brows. He’s gotten a haircut since I saw him last. Probably sometime this morning. It’s boyish but grownup, a manicured scruffy look. I want to compliment it, but I know that sort of thing is Emphatically Forbidden. The line between Doctor and Patient must never be crossed.
Even still, my Doctor has been my constant. Always there for me. Over the past few years, I think I’ve seen him more often than I have Henry.
“There’s been record of your still grieving from your miscarriage, Kate. Your moments of Unhappiness,” he says softly. “Your Supplements are merely there to lessen your grief while you Progress through these sessions with me. They’re hardly a replacement for human support.”
My teacup tips from my hand, spilling its lukewarm contents all down the front of my dress. I don’t know how I did that. I’m normally so together, so practiced and able, even when something startles me.
Like the revelation that my Doctor has just broken the Law.
Doctors must always enforce Supplements over therapy.
He’s up from his spot on the loveseat, napkin in hand, reaching over to blot the stain, his own actions as awkward and rushed as mine.
I tut-tut at him, beaming broadly, waving him off, away from me, all show. “Sit, sit!” I insist. We have to show control. “I’ll pour you a fresh cup. Have a cookie. First ones I made this morning, so they’re not hot and fresh, but they’re chewy.”
My Doctor clears his throat, jots down something on his Smartpad. Probably noting my floundering, my forced cheerfulness. “Kate, as required, I’m to perform a yearly inspection of the Privacy Chamber in each Patient’s household.”
I can’t let him see, I can’t let him in, read my anxiety. He can’t find my Supplements. Even still, I manage a breezy smile. “Oh, of course! Funny, I always thought PsychTechs performed those sorts of inspections, but a Doctor…I mean, I’m honored. Please.”
I’m up and ushering him towards the hallway, having him follow me when all I really want to do is run out the door. Even if it means a pursuit from PsychTechs in their RotoChoppers and on their motorbikes, I don’t care anymore. I’ve got to do something.
“Just through the bedroom back there, door to your left,” I say, pointing the way through the hallway. I manage a dry chuckle. “Avoid the bathroom if you can. I’ve sprayed the whole thing with mold remover.”
He stops for a moment, hesitating, and then turns to me. “Could you show me please? I’d rather Patients be present during the inspection, for transparency purposes.”
My heart is racing as I lead him through the bedroom and into the Privacy Chamber, just large enough to accommodate a couple of people, a few shelves, some storage boxes, and my old vanity. My palms grow clammy at the thought of everything stored in and on my vanity. I know now I’ll have to show him everything. I will be dutiful though. Anything he asks. Anything he wants to see. Transparency purposes. I think I am going to be sick.
My Doctor shuts the door behind us, and the automatic light, soft and rosy, switches on, washing the tiny room in a warm glow. I’ve backed against the vanity, my arms crossed around my chest, like I’m guarding everything, I know, but I can’t let that show. I can’t. I smile nervously at him.
He sets his Smartpad on a shelf, pulls me to him, and kisses me.
I’m so stunned by all of it happening here, now, it takes me a minute to sense, to feel, to experience this moment. His lips are tender-soft and warm. The scent of him, like rich tobacco and maple autumns from the Old Life, brings me into the moment, and I return his kiss, deeply, tugging him closer to me, cupping his head against mine. I’d forgotten what that was like. To feel everything, the rush through the body. That passion.
When we break the kiss, we’re breathless, our heads still touching. His fingers trace along my cheekbones.
“You know we have a problem now,” he finally breathes.
I close my eyes and exhale, before I open them again and answer, “You’ve meant to do that for some time.”
“For months,” he murmurs, brushing his lips against mine.
We kiss again, and it burns us both. The truth of the matter.
4:30pm Coffee Hour. 2.5 mg Hypnopion, 90mg caffeine permitted (limited)
Daisy is undone. Her dress, blooming with a magnolia pattern, is prim and pristine as ever. Her garnet updo, perfection. Her lipstick, however, is slightly smudged, and there are pink streaks on her teeth. The other ladies are feigning ignorance, denial. Gretchen though, ever-chic in a linen pantsuit, steals an apologetic glance at me over her cup of coffee.
In the New Life, only a Daisy, in her excess, can pull off drunk during Coffee Hour. I suppose I ought to be ashamed for her, but just over an hour ago, I was up against the wall of the Privacy Quarters, my skirt hiked up around me, my legs wrapped around my Doctor. My arms break out in gooseflesh just at the thought of his lips ravaging mine, the warm feel of his body against me.
“So, how’s Henry handling his new job expectations?” Daisy asks with a sneer as she reaches for another cucumber sandwich. She takes a bite and makes a face as she does. Then she spits up the remnants into her napkin, grimacing at the mess in her hand. “Can’t even afford wheat bread,” she mutters.
Henry couldn’t possibly imagine. Not this, any of this, from me. The thought of him, what I’ve done, what I haven’t done, makes me ache. Then there’s the fact that I don’t even know about Henry’s work, that Daisy knows more about his other existence than I do, and that hurts all the more.
I think, for the first time in a long time, I have the ability to be angry even.
I force a chipper smile, all things considered, and dig into my teacake, suddenly ravenous. “Handling them well,” I say. “He’s very Happy.”
Daisy titters against a milky hand and rolls her eyes at the other ladies in the group. “Very Happy.” Her gaze hovers in my direction, glinting ice. “I mean, be realistic, Kate. How on earth can either of you possibly be Happy after what you went through?”
Gretchen sets her coffee cup down. “Enough, Daisy,” she says quietly, her voice etched with a warning tone.
“What, that out of all of us, she was the only one sent to PsychWard?” Daisy says with a lipstick-coated sneer.
“GriefWard, Daisy. She was in GriefWard, and she’s Happy now,” Gretchen says, keeping her voice low and controlled. I hate that she’s doing this for me.
If it hadn’t been for the fact that Daisy’s husband is head PharmaTech for RyzerCorp, I would never have even known her, never have gotten together with this litter of cattiness. And only a Daisy would be the kind to see just how far she could go before one of us, any of us, really snaps.
I won’t play. I won’t. Think Happy thoughts. This home, this life, Henry.
My Doctor. Warm thoughts.
“A miscarriage isn’t cause for grief, Gretchen, when all a girl has to do is try, try again,” Daisy says with a saccharine smile at me.
It’s all a blur, a force of color and sound. Everything’s noisy and rushed around me, all around me. There’s a shriek, followed by screams, the scattering of my coffeeware, gourmet roast splattered all over my clean carpet. Blood running in rivulets, droplets of crimson on my pearly sofa cushions. A cake fork, its tines embedded into Daisy’s right eye. Her skin has grown bleached-pale. Her damaged eye seeps blood and something viscous and stringy.
I don’t know how my fork got there, really, from my grip to her eye socket. I feel awake and burning, and I’m up on my feet, moving quickly across the living room to the corridor. My Coffee Hour guests, I can’t make out their voices individually, but as a collective, they’re nothing more than a screeching pack behind me. Gretchen takes the lead, right on me, begging me to do something I can’t quite understand because the sirens.
The sirens, deafening. One of the ladies has activated the Emergency Port in the recesses of my coffee table, letting the PsychOfficers know something’s happened. Something Emphatically Forbidden. Even worse, something Dangerous.
My hand, reaching for the handle to the front door, an escape, is suddenly snapped behind my back, its arm twisting painfully. White hot pain streaks up my back, and my face is slammed against the corridor wall. The bulky, massive frame of a PsychOfficer overpowers me from behind. His strong fingers dig into my skull, mussing my hair, grinding the side of my face into my cushioned wall.
I suppose I have no need to be self-conscious about that stray lock of hair after all.
And my wallpaper. I really ought to have a new color up. The lavender just doesn’t work in the corridor. Have to make sure to ask Henry about it.
My head slams against the wall twice, and I don’t see stars, despite what fiction has one believe.
Everything simply goes red and then completely dark.
The voice, honey-toned. I can’t seem to find…can’t seem to open my eyes.
“I need you to stay awake, Kate. Can you hear me?” I feel a gentle smack to my cheek, once, twice. “They’ve got you on an experimental Supplement I’m not familiar with, so I’m helpless unless you stay awake, okay?”
The ground moves underneath. It feels like we’re traveling, moving fast, shifting past continuously, smoothly, like rolling liquid. The pain behind my eyes, excruciating. I open them slowly. The light is flat and grey, not the intensity of the artificial sunlight I’ve been used to for so long. My head is at an awkward angle against the window of a vehicle. I’m sitting in the passenger seat. The air in the vehicle stinks of hot ozone and ruin, decay.
Somehow, I’ve managed to leave the bubble of the City.
I twist in my seat, trying to shift around. It hurts when I do. My Doctor is there, keeping his gaze steady on the Great Deadlands ahead of us, manually driving the vehicle. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone manually drive before. Something of the Old Life, something I’d only seen on film clips, television recordings.
And then it dawns on me, we’re in a real car. The very idea.
It makes me laugh. Hurts to laugh. It could be the Supplements. The pain of the attack.
My Doctor gives me an odd look. “What.”
“Why what?” He smiles crookedly at me.
“Why are you doing this, taking us out here?”
He shrugs. It’s casual. I like casual. I never see casual much. “I figured it’s the right thing to do.”
“The right thing?”
“Making you happy.”
And for the first time, I finally feel content.