FanFic - Other
"Testify "
Part 1
by Elizabeth
Disclaimer: Jason Katims et al. own the characters.
Summary: Kathleen Topolsky has something to say.
Category: Other
Rating: PG-13
Hell hath no limits, nor is circumscribed
In one self place, for where we are is in hell,
And where hell is must we ever be.
--Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus, 2.1(121-3)


I was a little late to work today. I wasn't noticeably late but I was still late. That's not good. Because getting to work late is bad, right? I think I know that.

I missed the 7:30 Metro and had to catch the one that comes at 7:40. I know this because I found the ticket in my purse and the time was wrong, not my regular time. Or at least I think it wasn't my regular time. And I think the ticket is mine. I do remember the woman I sat next to. But I don't remember the walk from the station to the office. I wonder if it's warm outside, if it's sunny. Maybe it's spring.

I have to make a fresh pot of coffee because all the coffee in the office kitchen has gone cold and developed that film it gets when it sits for too long. While I wait for it to brew, I look in the refrigerator. Bagged lunches and yogurt. Boring. I close the door, turn, and look at the counter. It holds coffee cups, endless rows of them. Sometimes they get washed.

The coffee is done. I pour a cup. It's hot and it has no taste. That's one of the strange things about now. Nothing has any taste. I actually don't remember eating. I try to think about it, but mostly all I remember is endless cups of tasteless coffee. Is there knowledge in that?

The utensils in the kitchen are all plastic; they sit in a little drawer next to the sink. I open the drawer and there they are. White and shiny, just waiting for someone to pick them up. I sometimes think when they're rustling, the shifting sounds they make when the drawer opens--I think they're trying to tell me something. Sometimes I close my eyes and open and close the drawer, because I'm pretty sure listening is good. But today they are silent. They just sit there, mute, even though I jiggle the drawer a little.

I leave the kitchen, walk to my desk. I always hear myself walking down the hall now. It seems no one is ever around wherever I am, and the only noise I hear, the only sound that proves my continued existence, is the clipped sounds the heels of my shoes make. It's almost a song.

Clip--clop. Clip--clop.

The sounds cancel each other out, don't you think? And yet they make a perverse melody. I sometimes catch myself humming it as I walk. Maybe it's important, but it's not really a song I like.


I've got a lot to atone for. How long will I be here? I have no idea. Let me begin at the beginning. My apologies to my parents. I wasn't the dentist you wanted me to be. I wasn't the happy wife and mother you hoped I'd be. I was never the sunny blond child you wanted. Peroxide fixed some of my problems.

School year transgressions would only bore everyone. Pulled hair when I shouldn't. Stole lunch money when I didn't need it. Spread rumors because I could. Small, petty things. Stolen lipsticks at the drugstore. A mere drop in the bucket compared to later.

College years are fuller, richer. Boyfriends; interchangeable Ken dolls who drank too much and cried when I slept with their best friends. People whose work I stole, roommates I used and broke. It's a litany of broken rules, most of which I don't even remember. Perhaps I need to be sorry for that too?

Then my first years at the Bureau, when I took any assignment that came my way, where I backstabbed and sabotaged co-workers because I felt I needed to. Where I slept with directors and sub-directors and assistants to sub-directors and sometimes even their assistants. A jumbled parade of pale, bored bureaucrats; women who smelled like white-out and Jean Nate and men who smelled like paper clips and Old Spice. All done in an attempt to get what I wanted.

A pile of sheets laid out before me, but I still remember none of the encounters. It was almost always the same. Flirt, talk, "yes." Apartment or house, bed, look at the ceiling while I recited a litany of imagined orgasms. Oh God! That always struck me as an ironic mating cry. If God was really paying attention, I think the sex would have been better, or I would have at least been able to drop the facade of care and just barter; a straightforward exchange not dressed up by pretended interest.

'I think I saw stars.' For some reason, that line was always popular. Mostly all I saw was that spiderwebs are prolific on ceilings. I actually don't like stars all that much. When I was younger, I would go outside at night and look up at the sky. I was always afraid I was going to fall up. A stupid fear, but it was mine. My knowledge?

Recently, my boredom is all I have to atone for. That means I'm getting better, right?


My desk is still messy. I keep meaning to clean it up, but it seems that no matter how much I do to straighten it, it always looks the same. I swear the papers are reproducing somehow, spawning lots of little paperlets that I have to read and file and pass on.

You know, it's interesting, but when I stop and think, really think--when I try to remember what happened after the fire--I draw a blank. I remember a fire. I'm pretty sure I do. I was hurt, I know that. Or I think I was. I remember a smell--a rich, heavy smell that seemed to hurt my lungs and everywhere else inside me. I remember fear, the taste of it. It reeked and had a green metallic taste, fresh and sharp and bitter. I think fear was once my very best friend.

When I went back to work--though I don't exactly remember going back, I just remember sitting at my desk one morning--as if I'd woken from a dream and found myself back in Washington, neatly pressed and ready to join the world of federal workers. Roll in at 9-ish, punch out at 4-ish, and wait for those holidays.

There was a bouquet of flowers ripe with the full deep scent that comes right before they wither, and it sat on my desk, right on top of all my papers. There was a card with the flowers, and it said "Welcome Back and Feel Better." I asked Dave, who sits in front of me, about the flowers and the card.

"Geesh, Kathleen" he'd said. "You're so funny. Miss 'I don't remember what happened.' You played the big hero, remember? Just like you wanted. You had what everyone wanted, and you were on the side of truth and justice and whatever else we're supposed to be serving."

He smiled at me. "We really missed you." And then....then I think he whispered something under his breath when he turned back to his computer. I have my suspicions now about what he said.


If I push hard at the scattered corners of my brain, I get ideas. I think that I pushed someone too far once--I think I underestimated someone. Something? I think I played my hand too soon, and I think I am atoning for that. The name Max seems so familiar to me. I asked my mother about it when I called home the other day.

"Max?" she said. "No, I don't think we know anyone named Max. Do you want me to ask your father?"

"No" I told her. "Don't worry Daddy. It's not a big deal."

I think it is, but I think the answers are inside me somewhere and not with anyone else. If I could look inside myself, would I find pockets of knowledge in me? Would they be written on my body, inked under my skin? Sometimes when I'm at my desk I look at my knees. If I had a knife, I would peel the skin away and check under my bones for messages.

I think I made things worse once. I think I tried to save myself. I think I may have seen things that others have only dreamed. I just can't remember if I dreamed too.

My parents--I talk to them a lot. I don't think I talked to them before much. Maybe they were gone, I don't remember. I think it was too hard. Now it's easy. I speak, they speak. Just pleasantries and nothing more. Sometimes my father whispers something to me before I hang up the phone. I think I know what he means.

When I was in college, I majored in English. I almost blew my chances for the Bureau-I picked medieval literature, and the only foreign language I spoke was Latin, which hasn't been the language of the world for quite a while. But I took a few Berlitz courses and all was forgiven.

A lot of medieval English majors pick Chaucer. Showers of April or May or spring or whatever. Tales. Stories. Lessons wrapped in a confection of plot and details.

Me, I liked Chaucer ok, but my interests were very focused, specific. I liked Abelard and Heloise. Other people did too, but Heloise was always the focus. Brilliant woman, seduced. Went to the nunnery as a sign of her love, and was there, unhappy, for years. Because she loved.

I always liked Abelard myself. The seducer. He had knowledge, and he dangled it in front of Heloise. I don't think he seduced her with songs or poems, I think he seduced her with what he knew of the world. I think he seduced her with ideas.

I liked the idea of that, the idea of knowledge as seduction. I think I used to know things. I think I used to find that seductive, I think it gave me power. I think that maybe once there was a man I wanted to draw into my world. I think he lived in a sleepy town that had secrets, and I think I wanted to pull him in and show him my knowledge, the kind that involves pain and sorrow and joy and makes you rethink it all.

For all the flap over the fall of man--the loss of Eden--no one really ever mentions that it was knowledge that killed it all. It's just easier to displace blame. I've always understood how Eve felt. Who could turn down the chance to understand? Psst, I have a secret. Just wait while I recall it.

Abelard once put Heloise in a nunnery to save her. Or so he said. This was before he was castrated and forgot the world. He went to see her, and they made love in the church. She wrote about that in her letters to him, later. She never forgot the knowledge and the destruction that he gave, and she made him remember too, even though he wanted to forget.

I wanted to offer that, I wanted to be that knowledge that can never be forgotten. I wanted to have the power to destroy. I think I held it once. Perhaps that's why I'm here now?


The memos on my desk are bewildering. They are numbing. Now that I've been "pastured"-that's what I assume I've been, put out to pasture like a horse that's only good for photo opportunities-I do nothing but read memos. I don't even go to meetings anymore, or if I do, I don't remember them. All I remember are the memos.

Let's look at a random few, shall we? Memo one is about parking. It urges us all to carpool or take the Metro. I assume I take the Metro, though I only remember today's ride. I scared the woman who sat next to me. I remember her. I think that's good.

She was trying to read. I couldn't see what she was reading, but it was big and thick and looked important in a not-really-sort-of way. I don't remember starting up a conversation with her, but I remember grabbing her hand, and telling her, imploring her to remember. "What did I forget?" I said, and my voice sounded familiar to me. I think I spoke that way once, I think I begged and tried to make deals and I think they all backfired and I think that maybe I made things worse, that maybe I was always a pawn and that I didn't realize it. The woman moved away from me, though she leaned over and whispered to me when she got off at the Metro Center stop. I think I know what she whispered. I think I'm trying. I swear I am.

Memo two is about travel. It reminds us that receipts now need to be itemized by day and by category. Remember to paper clip them together, and not staple. Thank you.

I think I was once somewhere that had bad food and waitresses with full doe eyes who maybe knew more at sixteen than I did at thirty. I think there was once a boy who carried the weight of the world in his eyes. I think, but I don't really know. I think the answers lie in my elbows, in that nice circular knob of bone. It's too bad all the knives in the office kitchen are made of plastic.

The third memo is about changes in bureau stationary. The logo is now three colors instead of two, and could we please refrain from sending out official correspondences on the outdated paper? All we need to do is call x642 and put in a request. And we'll get what we need. The number is always busy when I call, but that's ok, because I have nothing to send.

At the bottom of each memo is the Bureau's logo. But when I look at it, all the words are wrong and the pictures are gone. It's like that every time. I sometimes think about asking Dave or someone else, but there's never anyone around when I remember. I forget again and again, and I get reminded again and again. It's a vicious cycle. That's government work for you. Vicious in its numbness.

The words at the bottom are all blurred and smudged but if I relax my eyes I can see the message.


I like the bathroom here. It's nicely done-big, spacious, and it's always clean. I forever find myself looking in the mirror. The bathroom has a nice mirror. It's big.

Sometimes, I am sitting at my desk and I have a thought. I look around, and I think that all that's real is my thoughts. My body is an illusion, a trick of light and something else. I press my thumb into my thigh, and watch as an impression appears on my skirt. The material is soft beneath my fingers, but what if material doesn't really feel like that?

I look around sometimes and I wonder what reality is. What is it that makes the walls of my cubicle blue? It's been a long time since I took a science class, but I think it has something to do with the properties of light. That's an acceptable answer. But then what is light anyway?

I think there are answers stored in me somewhere, I just have to find them. I stand in front of the mirror in the bathroom. I am washing my hands. The soap is pink. The water is hot. I look down at my hands and wonder if they have always been mine. Are they my hands at all? I lift them up to look, I touch my face.

I look at myself in the mirror. What makes me real?

The soap burns my eyes and I have to splash water on my face. It runs down my skin, and I think that maybe the flesh beneath its path is clear.

Once upon a time there was a witch. (I never wanted to be the princess.) She had all the mysteries of the universe stored in a cabinet. She never opened the cabinet. Just knowing she had the knowledge was enough for her. She was happy to know that it was all hers.

It turns out that she didn't know anything, because one day the cabinet fell open and all that was inside was ants. And how sad is it that I can't even remember what I didn't used to know?

Oh, right.

The end.

Can't forget that.


Dave comes by my desk. It is morning still, though I am not sure if it is today or another day. I think I should start keeping track of the days. Maybe I should get a calendar for my desk; maybe I should get one for my apartment. Do I have one? I try to picture rooms and clothes and a life, but all I see is my desk and my papers and me, standing and looking out of unseeing eyes.

Maybe I should write all this down. Maybe I need to keep a list. Maybe if I remember....

He leans down and smiles at me. "It's too early to frown!" he tells me. "You've got a long, long day ahead of you. Lots of time to think and work."

"You're right," I tell him. I look down at my desk. The memos and papers are still there. I think I can see all the little words waver. They all look like a word I know well.

"Doughnut?" It appears under my nose. Powdered sugar falls onto my hands. I look at it-smell the sweet yeasty scent. It revolts me. It smells like fear. I once thought fear had a particular scent-maybe I just thought that, in fact-but now I know. Fear is whatever you want it to be.

"No thanks."

Dave shrugs. "Suit yourself." He takes a bite, and I watch as red leaks from the corner of his mouth.

He leans in. The stain sits, a tiny red tear dangling from his mouth.

I haven't cried in a long time. I haven't laughed in a long time. Sometimes I don't think I breathe. My body sits elsewhere, my soul is here.

Dave's head tilts to the side, and I don't think I know him.

"Testify" he whispers, and his smile is sweet and sad. The bones in his face shift, and I think I see that his face isn't really a face, that it's just a whisper, a formless shape that my terror creates. I didn't think this was my fear. Isn't this what I've always wanted, isn't this where I've always wanted to be? Don't I have knowledge somewhere inside me?

The chair beneath me wavers, and I look forward. The walls of my cubicle are gone, and I see the white walls of a room I may have lived in once.

Once upon a time, I had a plethora of pretty pills every day. I once had a sibilant siren sitting on the wall, staring at me, his hissing a harmony. Pssst....

I see faces. I think I saw them once, I think I wanted to know them once. I think I had something once. I think I knew something once.

I see the endless cold desert. I see myself, resting. Resting. Receive restful repose, and dream an eternal dream. I don't think so.


I have a lot to answer for. I think I've always known that.

But here in hell--forever is what I have, and it's all the time I need.

I'll testify.


Quem deus vult perder prius dementat.
Those who God wishes to destroy, he first makes mad.

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