The man seated on her sofa wore baggy black sweat pants, black polo shirt, and black sunglasses, and reeked of cheap aftershave. He tapped his fingers on his knee as he waited for her response.
"Are you're sure this will work?" asked Daphne, looking at the contraption spread between them. It had a large metal ring connected to white wires, which were connected to a wooden box that was badly planed.
"Yu-huh," said the man leaning forward. "You wanna do this or what?"
"How long does it last?"
"Forever. Or until you forget. Like if you get Alzheimer's, or you know, you die." He scratched his chin.
"You mean I can't remember it the way it really happened?"
"Look lady, I haven't got all night. I've got other clients. Three hundred bucks or I leave."
"Now just a minute here! I think I have a right to have my questions answered!"
The man leaned back into the sofa, sighed, and spread his arms across the back of it.
"You could write it down, just as you remember it now. But if you read it later, you won't believe what you wrote."
Daphne nodded. She bit her fingernails and swayed nervously from side-to-side.
"Come on..." said the man.
Daphne held up her hand.
"This is a big deal for me. My whole alibi depends on this."
"If you do it, you will absolutely believe your own lie. That's the way it works. I guarantee it."
"You do? I mean, because if it doesn't work, I'll go to prison and there won't be anyway for me to cash in on that promise. You're not the one with anything to lose, I am--"
"Yeah, well, I'm losing time."
The man stood and started to pick up the contraption.
"Okay, wait," said Daphne. "Ugh, I'll do it. I'll do it."
The man put the contraption back down and held out his hand palm up.
"Yes, I know."
Daphne went into her bedroom, closed the door and went to her stash in her sock drawer, pulling out three bills. She returned and handed the money over.
"Thanks," said the man, stuffing the bills into a money belt hidden under his shirt. "Now just sit down on the floor--"
"I won't fall asleep?" she said, kneeling down on the carpet and adjusting her skirt.
"I thought I was going to be dreaming?"
"Part of you will be."
The man picked up the metal ring and put it around her head, tightening it in the back so that it fit securely around her forehead. He flipped up the top of the box and flicked a switch. The box hummed to life and the ring grew warm around Daphne's head.
"That tingles a bit," she said, then giggled. "I don't know I just did that..."
"Harmless side effect. It will go away as soon as we're done."
"Oh, I feel buzzed," she said, giggling again.
"Yu-huh. Anyway. Let's get started. Think about what you did yesterday. First focus on where you were--"
"I was in the cafe down the street, in the basement--"
"You don't need to tell me, just think about it. Hold it in your mind."
"Now think about what you did there. What was the sequence of events."
"It was the meeting. I spoke my turn--"
"You don't need to tell me. I'd rather you not in fact. In your head--"
"I voted," said Daphne, beginning to laugh. "I voted!" Tears started to stream down her face.
The man looked down at the carpet. He took off his sunglasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.
"Is that so bad? Why is it so bad?" asked Daphne in a child-like voice.
The man looked up at her. He reached over and ran the back of his hand down her wet cheek.
"Focus on how you felt when you did it," he said.
"Elation," said Daphne, smiling.
The man started to cry as well. He wiped his face with the bottom of his polo shirt and sniffed deeply.
"Okay, now I'm going to switch modes. Now. Focus on your alibi. Where were you yesterday?"
"At the rally for leader," said Daphne, her eyes glazing. "I feel strange."
"Just focus on where you were. What did it look like? What did it sound like?"
"Crowded faces. Adoration. Murmuring."
"What did you do?"
"I chanted. We sang patriotic songs. We raised our fists."
"What did you feel?"
"Love for leader. My heart was full."
"Good," said the man. He flicked a switch and the box turned off.
"What was that?" asked Daphne. "I feel nauseated." She held her stomach.
"Yes, the machine fogs your memory a bit, but you'll be fine." The man loosened the ring and removed it from her hair. "All done now."
"Wait, what happened?"
"I was just running a spot check to test your loyalty to leader."
"Oh," said Daphne. "I hope I did well."
"Yes, very well."
"Who are you? I don't remember letting you in."
"I'm from the ministry," he said, pulling out a badge from his pants pocket. "We thought there was a chance you were a subversive, but you've checked out."
"Oh. No I would never--" said Daphne, shaking her head.
The man smiled and patted her shoulder.
"Not to worry," he said, replacing his sunglasses. "I'll let myself out. You should get some rest."
The man picked up the contraption, shoving it under one arm and left. Daphne watched blankly from the carpet, searching her mind for something she never realized she'd lost.