Last Resort

Linda Niehoff    

The memories moved up from the dark bottom of dark water and hovered just below the surface like oily inky fish. Evie couldn’t see their details, but she could see enough. Then they moved and when they moved, she screamed. And rode in a yellow taxi to the drive that circled around a fountain on a drizzly afternoon where the thousand elm trees covered her like an umbrella as she pulled a compact suitcase inside.

The tiny pink pills were for forgetting. They were the color of a fragile thing in a second hand shop like a rosebud on a paper thin plate. Not something trapped in a container, tumbling out into a trembling palm. On bad days they were the color of open mouths.

Evie knew for a little while what it was to forget. Forgetting was deep and blue and rose up and up in tender waves. It felt good in her veins. But soon the forgetting shrank.

The glossy brochure was for when the pills stopped working. The brochure promised. Guaranteed. Forget everything, it said. Its cover showed a large L-shaped porch wrapped around the stony building, holding empty wicker chairs. Eighteen acres of nothing, the pamphlet boasted. And time, it said. Time to forget.

A Thousand Elms was a resort – a last resort. It even said so on the cream letterpress stationery that seemed haunting and final in its black unfrilly letters. The place was old. Ghosts whispered in the chandeliers and in the cords of the ancient limping elevator with the accordion door.

Dinner was simple— lettuce and a square of beef. The dining room uncrowded, the wait staff like the stationery was cream and black. Simple and stark. Afterward, she wandered around the building and found alcoves and dead ends and a shadowy pool in the basement empty of people. She walked down hallways past all those closed doors guarding private lives like sentries. No noise came out into the hall except once a TV slightly too loud blurted out canned laughter. She wondered what they all wanted to forget, but she had to be careful. The fish almost started moving again. A flash of their black slithering skin was enough.

Evie thought of other things. She counted people. Each one she saw. There weren’t many—she didn’t even get up to ten. It wasn’t the season.

The rain had stopped so she went outside. It wasn’t dark yet but there was a soon feeling in the mosquito thick air that had driven everyone else inside. The windows behind her on the stony building were tall golden rectangles reflecting the evening light and hiding people as they listened to recorded laughter. Ahead of her globs of light shimmered in the touching branches and a darkness beyond waited.  Everything felt in-between. Not light not dark not summer not fall. Not remembering not forgetting.

Evie wanted to forget. Wanted it more than anything. All at once it seemed so easy to turn back around and go inside one of those golden rectangles. To shut herself away and curl up into laughing voices. But with darkness coming soon the golden evening was more beautiful. Maybe because it was the final edge of light.

And for a tiny second before the fish moved again before they came up close to the water and revealed their dark oily skins, before they turned full moon eyes up to her and opened pink and silver mouths to devour her, she felt a tiny bubble stretch inside her. Just a few more seconds of that precious not summer not fall light. She breathed in the silver grass, the wood smell that seemed sweeter in the almost dark that smelled like earth and green and life. The bubble grew, and she knew its thin shell was fragile. That when something grew too big it burst.

But she couldn’t help it. The not day not night was so perfect so beautiful it almost held her in its own soft shell. And she stood watching it even as the light faded thinking it was almost worth it. It was almost worth the oily fish and their pink gaping mouths.


Linda Niehoff is a writer and photographer living in a small Kansas town. She’s in love with silver water towers, ghost stories, and instant film. Her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in TriQuarterly, Necessary Fiction, and Midwestern Gothic, among others. She blogs on and off at and is on twitter:@lindaniehoff.

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