The New Life

“Welcome to The New Life. How may I help you?” She’s startled, as always. Fidgeting, watching me nervously, clutching her ugly-green purse’s handle like her life depends on it -  If she’s here, it probably does. I put on my kindest smile. “Are you looking for a new life?” She nods, hesitant. Everyone comes here either unsure or ridiculously certain. I grab the paperwork. “I’ll be your host today.”  She follows me timidly down the corridor, staring at everything in the dim yellow light - the plush carpet, the curtain of beads at the end of our path, at me - with wonder-wide eyes. Beads clack gently as I part the curtain. We reach the Hall. She stands stock still at the entrance, eyes darting across the space.  “H-How does it work?” she asks. “Chat around, find someone whose life you think would suit you.” She usually has a hard time doing just that. “If they’re willing, we get you a booth and swap your lives.” “I’ll… forget everything about my life?” “Yes. You’ll swap places, memories, personalities. You’ll become them.” The first few times I’d used this line, the awe behind it was real. After the first couple weeks, I learnt to fake it well enough. With a gulp, she slinks across the Hall and finds the most nondescript chair to sink into. I head to the bar, kick off my stupid, compulsory heels and order a grasshopper. It’s on the house for employees, and this was going to be a long night. I know from experience. Whoever decided on the one-customer-at-a-time rule and the let-them-set-their-own-pace rule is an asshole.  The Hall’s crowded as usual. I always wonder at the number of people willing to lose themselves entirely. There are many who keep coming for new shoes to slip into, not remembering that they’d chosen the ones they now wore, just days ago. Some lives were just empty, with nothing to give.  There’s a tap on my shoulder. She’s back, alone.  I… don’t remember what happened next, the last time she was here. Or the time before that.   She tells me the one she chose will join us in a moment. I get started on the paperwork.  “Let’s wait in the booth and set-up,” she suggests, and I comply. Everything’s ready. The required magic is at my fingertips. She’s ready in her place. All we’re waiting for is the last link.  I feel her tug on my elbow, sharp.  I’m yanked into place across her, our hands linked.  The last link. I didn’t see her talk to anyone in the Hall, did I? *** [One week later] The neon-red sign blinks at me from over the entrance.  The New Life.  I hold onto my purse for courage - a green as drab and lifeless as me. A bell jingles when I step in. A woman in a suit looks up from adjusting her high-heels, and switches her frown for a smile.  “Welcome to The New Life. How may I help you?” Penmancy gets a small share of every purchase you make through these links, and every little helps us continue bringing you the reads you love!