"Alright Frank, let me try to explain this to you." Melody twisted the corner of her mouth and looked off in the distance, as if searching for an answer amidst the mint green curtains' ruffles. She turned her head, eyes locking with his. "Imagine," she began, "you're reading a book. You get all the characters, actions, thoughts, smells and tastes and sounds... all the textures. Right?"
Frank nodded, scratching his chin.
"Okay, even though you have all that, you still only barely get a taste of what the guy wanted - even when you get into the book. After you close the back cover, it's over. You're in your life, and the book's characters are just that, fiction. So far so good?"
"Uh huh." Frank wasn't a big reader but this made good sense. "What's she getting at," he wondered.
"Okay. Now let's say you can read people. Except..." Melody paused, words coming out more slowly and measured as she grasped at a way to describe something to Frank he'd neither done nor would be able to do. "Except, it's more than reading a book. You cease being yourself and become for an instant, that person." Frank's quizzical expression prompted her to continue. "Frank, you ate Chinese food last night, right?"
Frank's eyes popped open a little and he smiled, realizing she'd peeked. Something she'd promised never to do unless she absolutely had to. "'S right, Mel. Mandarin chicken."
"Frank, you had Lobster Kew. And you got really bad indigestion afterwards, so bad like you've never had it before. You got cold sweats, stomach cramps. You were nervous, but you didn't tell May about it because you didn't want to worry her. You got up from the table quietly and walked back to the bathroom as if nothing was wrong and you were just takin' a piss break, and you quietly threw your guts up into the toilet. You saw some blood coming up too. Been happening for weeks now." Mel looked hard into Frank's eyes. "You need to call a doctor. That ain't good Frank. You're probably thinking to yourself, 'What's so different about that from reading a book?' Well let me tell you. Frank, when I am in your memory, it's not just reading. I *am* you. I feel what you felt. Every thing that you experienced and did I did, from looking at your wife's neck and getting turned on the way back to the table and kissing it, to the way the fork felt in your hand and the way you didn't feel like eating after you sat down."
Frank sat back quietly releasing a long breath.
"Now... instead of reading you, Frank. Imagine being me, and having to read that guy's corrupted filthy mind. I remember the way his wife's neck felt in *my* hands when they crushed it and the way she looked at *my* face when the light went out in her eyes. I remember how light she seemed when *I* carried her downstairs. I remember how it felt when the saw began cutting into the bone and the way *my* teeth gritted. It's terrifying Frank. Terrifying and disgusting."
"Because you had to feel it..." Frank nodded quietly, staring at the tabletop, finally catching a glimmering of understanding.
"No Frank, not because I felt it." Frank looked back up at Mel's eyes, suddenly they were very cold and lifeless. "It's because it felt so damn good Frank. I enjoyed it." Her eyes suddenly filled with tears, her hands flying up to cover them. "I didn't just enjoy it then, Frank. Sometimes I dream about it. I wake up and wonder if it wasn't me. I wonder whether or not it COULD be me. I lose a piece of me every single time I touch something like him Frank. I don't know how much of me is left anymore."
Melody's choking sobs filled the empty diner. Frank leaned across the table, his hand tentatively touching her shoulder. She continued to sob and Frank gave her a comforting squeeze. "I'm sorry Mel. I didn't know... who could know? Jesus... I'm sorry. I promise this will be the last one."
The ride back to her apartment was quiet. Eyes read and puffy, Melody seemed in a world of her own. Inside, Frank quietly turned the knots of his conscience over and over again, wondering why anyone would have to endure such horror with such gifts, and why he'd been a party to it.
Pulling up to the steps of her building, Frank put the car in neutral and pulled the emergency brake, it's loud familiar grind shook Melody from her thoughts. She turned to him and quietly gave him a hug before pulling the handle on her door and stepping out into the night air.
She turned, looking over her shoulder. "Night Frank, I'll talk to you tomorrow." He looked so concerned... his eyes sad and baggy. His compassion made her smile in a way. "Thanks for listening to me complain."
"Hey anytime Mel... try to get some rest ok? Be careful."
Mel smiled weakly and walked up the stairs to the apartment. Frank watched the varnished black doors swing shut behind her and waited for the quiet electric latching noise before he leaned over and pulled the passenger door shut.
Sitting back up, he heard a noise. A dark shape loomed at his window, fists shot through the opening, hammering his face and head. Consciousness began to leave in bright red sparks of pain. He was dimly aware of being pushed across the vinyl seats and unceremoniously propped against the passenger door. The car began to move, and he remembered no more.