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22 February 2009 @ 01:47 am
Vertical Amnesia [Atsuko Chiba]  
Title: Vertical Amnesia
Character: Atsuko Chiba
Fandom: Paprika (film)
Genre: Psychological
Rating: PG
Word Count: 1,972

A/N: I saw Paprika tonight with some friends. Awesome movie, very trippy and psychedelic.




Vertical Amnesia

…in an absurdist's world, the individual is just a pawn…

"Dr. Chiba, the patient is ready for you."

Atsuko turns around and accepts the basic information, a carefully stacked together packet on clipboard—convenience. Her eyes roam over the pages, piling up the information behind vaults inside her mind to access that afternoon, if possible.

If possible.
—dreams make everything possible, even—

"Tell him I'll be there shortly," she answers, not even looking up.

The new assistant (incompetent) smiles impassively and leaves (like an existential waddling twaddle). Atsuko sighs dramatically, wondering why she even hired the girl, asking (no one) if she even needed an assistant. Secretary. Amanuensis. Puppet. Whatever. It doesn't matter to her.

She has Paprika. And Tokita (she beams secretly at that). And Shima, but she would never let him know that.

"Oh, Dr. Chiba!" the girl calls out from down the hallway. "If you don't mind, I mean, if it's not a trouble—"

The girl stops. Atsuko whips around her head, hair tossing into the wind and sheathing her like a dead blanket. There. She swore it fleeted by. In the window: a face.

Osanai?

It escapes capture (delineation) and slithers back into the shadows like a serpent on its belly. Hides into walls, blending perfectly, and never leaving behind any vestiges. A master of disguise, of lies, of fusing reality and fantasy.

Osanai, is that you? Why, I thought you died.

She sneers and mocks, he veers and walks. They never make contact, and like two souls lost at sea—desolate and mismatched—he steers clear of her presence. The silhouette dilutes into nothingness. Rise and surge, Osanai spreads out his arms and melts into glass.

"Did you see that!"

"See what, Dr. Chiba?"

"Nothing," Atsuko whispers and holds a hand to her throbbing neck.

It feels like she's been shot straight through the spine.

. . .

Shima invites her and Tokita to dinner one night (unusual) and comments on her fastidious attention to clothes (typical). He commences the conversation as usual: a skirt-suit? Smart and practical. And ends with a barely concealed innuendo: You two not having any trouble, eh? Eh? Eh?

She gives him a withering look. He shudders, understood the message.

"Shima…have you been?"

"What is it, At-chan?"

"Don't call me that. Be serious here. Have you been seeing things lately?"

He pauses for a moment and gathers his wits into a tight fist before rolling the dice. "Define 'things.' Such a broad term, could be anything."

"Dreams."

"Nothing bizarre or unanticipated. We can't stop humans from dreaming, can we?"

"No, I suppose not."

"Don't worry about it. I'm sure you're just working too hard, like always. Maybe go on a small vacation? Get some more sleep."

Another withering look, and the other doctor wilts. He swivels around on the metallic seat and attends to Tokita (meticulously separating the noodles from the seaweed silks). And just then, Shima spots something he should not. Something tellingly unnatural and fantastical.

Phantasmagoria: noun; the ramification of any post-traumatic event.

A figure heaves and unfolds (bald and shiny) and lifts his arms into the air, like in a pagan incantation, and opens the dimly lit ceilings and disappears in smoke.

Smoke and mirrors, false and fallacious.

A logical fallacy, an impossibility.

Shima downs his drink in a hurry and switches on a ready-made smile. "Nothing to worry about, nothing at all."

. . .

In her sleep, Atsuko runs down a long, long corridor that stretches for miles without end. Without signs or indications or anything but the impending feeling of hurry, rush, runrunrun!

She sees her pale reflection(s) along the mirrors lining the sides, covered with tulle and paper screens. She pierces a hole through the rice-walls with her spindly finger and peeks through: there. Found it.

On a platter of bark and vines, she sees Osanai's severed head.

. . .

"What if we're still in a dream, a nightmare. What if all these months have been…faulty?"

Shima considers her words carefully before venturing. He straightens his back and greets her with a straighter smile.

"Nothing is going on, Atsuko. You worry too much. This is reality. You are real, and I am real."

Cliché.

"What about The Chairman? Is he really gone too?"

"Of course."

And he looked so convicted there; she nearly pitied him.

An even larger cliché.

"If you say so."

She represses the urge to slap him—again. Repression, repressed desires and memories, they are the foundations of neurosis and pathology. She should know.

. . .

Every morning, Atsuko replays the same sequence. She calls over her assistant (clueless and safely naïve) and together, they walk down the hallway.

And sometimes, she could swear she sees Osanai laughing. And other times (most of the time) she sees her own face gazing back grim and properly constrained.

"Dr. Chiba, are you all right?"

"I'm fine. Let's go over the patient's history again."

. . .

Tokita is such a child, Atsuko thinks.

Like a mother, she gently peels off the sticky candy strips from his shirt. He whimpers something incoherent in his sleep, and she giggles. Something about giant robots and mechanized bodies.

Tokita makes her laugh and cajoles her into happiness.

And that is enough (it always has been).

Really? Is that so?
—Who're you?

I'm you.
—Shut up, I'm not in the mood tonight.

You're never in the mood. I'm so lonely by myself, Atsuko. At-chan.
—Go find your own friends.

She shakes out her hair and straightens the vanity, tossing out take-out containers and chocolate wrappers along with the odd ancient mascara tube or two. "Leave." And Paprika does, but not before blowing her a kiss.

Atsuko sinks down on the bed next to the snoring Tokita and pats her husband's knee.

. . .

The onslaught of migraines takes her by surprise. Each day, they ebb away at her conscious memories and concentration until she can barely function.

Shima keeps playing it off as overwork and compensates by buying her expensive herbal tea (swears up and down that they work like a charm, like a bloody, miraculous anti-drug). Atsuko complies by the third day, too exhausted to fight him off. And grudgingly admits that they alleviate the pain…somewhat.

"Tokita asked about Himuro. What am I supposed to tell him?"

He mulls this over, digesting the restoration news and composes an answer for her. Pithy and ambiguous, just what Tokita would expect.

"Tell him that we are doing the best we can."

Atsuko sighs but demurs. They have a binding, unspoken contract. Tokita will never know.

"Have you been dreaming at all lately?"

"Atsuko, you ask me that every morning and every day it's the same answer. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to warrant your attention" (suspicion).

"Don't you think that it's strange? No one in this entire city recalls what happened but us. Why?"

"Who knows? People are weird like that, block out unpleasant occurrences or pass them off as hellish reveries. Why should we care? Makes our job much easier, and besides! We finally received the government agreement to officially launch DC Mini."

"But—"

He cuts her off with a wave of the hand. An impasse to avoid, a nonchalance he has mastered.

. . .

By the end of the month, she sees Osanai everywhere.

He follows her into restaurants, from home, to work, and spies on her in the shower (most unnerving). Out of mist and dust, she sees his face clear as day. A bit slovenly in appearance but still had that trenchant, cunning devilry in his pupil.

Patience, she reminds herself. Wait for the trap to spring, wait.

"What the hell are you doing here?"

(Patience is an overrated phenomenon.)

"Admiring."

"Well, don't."

"Think you've won, Atsuko? Think that we're defeated, that we're dead or whatever the hell happens to people after they leave this world?"

"No. I don't know. And I don't care. You're as good as invisible to me."

"Then why are you so bothered by me? I've always loved you, you know."

"Thank you but no. The feeling is not reciprocated."

"Sugar and spice, ever heard of that?"

"Yes, and what you're getting is all spice."

"That's no fair."

"Tough. That's life."

She slams the window down and slips out of her dress. The cotton laces swim around her feet like lost fish seeking home.

. . .

Her voice cracks and breaks and her throat is all tied up in knots. When she runs fingers over her heart, pieces of flesh fragment and fall. The body is a myth. The mind is…

The mind is nothing.

Everything is nothing. Even nothing is nothing.

And all she knows is the apparition of white satin nooses and the Laughing Man (The Chair Man). Then she goes blank. The world drops from its clavicle-pedestal, and she goes with it, right over the precipice.

Someone shakes her, hard, and Atsuko emerges (irate), swathed in sweat beads and pooled over dreams.

"I know who did it."

Shima sighs and Tokita bites down on his lip.

"You've been hallucinating. The Chairman was captured, remember? He's in prison now," Shima says quietly.

"Then…what about Osanai?"

"Dead. We recovered the corpse among the rubble."

Atsuko groans and crashes into the headboard. IV tubes fly haphazardly, scrambling to flee the room, like a flock of impetuous fluid-birds.

. . .

"She's losing her mind."

"Should we hospitalize her?"

"It's only for the best, only temporary. I'm sure she won't mind."

. . .

In the world of dreams, Atsuko faces the demon gates. They open, creak, and out blooms a naked woman. She gathers her skeletal arms over childlike breasts and drawls out in a thin, tiny voice: why are you here?

Fatigued and jaded, Atsuko responds, "Because I'm asleep." Idiot.

The woman frowns, too annoyed, and inches closer until they are nose-to-nose.

"But you're not supposed to be here. This world is in between real and unreal. This is surreal. Here, you can make anything you want. Here, you can even play god. If you like."

"I'm not interested in that. I just want answers."

"Then ask away."

Atsuko notes the disappointment and artfully sidesteps the invitation. "What is happening to me? Why am I seeing things? Why can't I remember?"

"Because you're crazy! We're all crazy."

"That's not it. Shima's been 'imagining' things too, but he's not confessing. Tell me what's going on."

The woman sighed. "Still don't get it? It's really simple, actually. When that human merged the two worlds of dreams and reality, he did a very stupid thing. Once you unseal the taboo, you can't close the dimensions off to each other. And he—like that other idiot, the minion—is trapped between worlds. Stuck, you can say."

"And there is no way out?"

"I don't know. I'm only a figment of your thoughts, your dreams. You know as much as I do."

"Then there's no way out."

"If you say so."

"But why are they haunting us?"

"Don't know. Could be a cry for help or something far pettier like revenge."

"Idiots, absolutely. So what can I do?"

"Figure it out."

. . .

When dreams and reality collide, when the universe shatters and resets to repair itself, when life itself is a sham that's not even ideal, when Elysian has been a conjured mess all along.

"If you are here…" Atsuko begins.

"We always are," Osanai echoes back.

"Then get the hell out."

"We don't want to."

"Not a choice."

Mirror shards crash and swirl around in lacey, placid ribbons. She eyes her face in a thousand expressions, fixated and frozen. And in this myriad, she springs herself free and traps the two ghost-men.

There.

They lie motionless for eternity, and Atsuko flashes awake.






 
 
 
treeflamingo: lobsterphonetreeflamingo on February 23rd, 2009 05:21 am (UTC)
This is interesting. It's been a while since I saw Paprika, and I actually found that the amv that introduced me to it was rather more forceful (narrationally, ideationally, intellectually, emotionally) than the movie itself, so in the end my impressions of the movie are sort of over-ridden in my memory. But I like what you've done with this here. Paprika came with one of those semi-canned non-endings that "leaves it up to the viewer" to decide what happens. Frankly, I consider that sloth in story-telling (to a certain extent, in certain circumstances, in this circumstance). What I'm rambling around to here is that I appreciate your supplying an ending. It is a good one.

Also, The world drops from its clavicle-pedestal is one of the most original and specific images I've ever read.
Y U no auto-translate?lye_tea on February 23rd, 2009 05:56 am (UTC)
Thanks. :3

Usually, I hate half-assed endings; they're the bane of my obsession with animanga. But for some reason, I was okay with Paprika's. I guess, sometimes, it's good to have a slightly disappointing denouement to give all the more reason for fanfiction.

Awww, thank you! I had a sudden image of the Titan who held the world on his shoulders and tried to depict that in the story.