It was the umbrella that made Patrick hesitate that day. He prided himself on his resolve, to know what he was doing, to think things through, to make good decisions. Especially when a drug like Tabula Rosa was involved. Patrick took it often, but he knew that it was strong, and he considered the implications before he took it, every time. He had learned how to clear his mind, how to use the drug safely. At least he was pretty sure that he had. He rarely hesitated. He knew that hesitation could alter the affect. But that umbrella—it was one of eight on the restaurant deck, which reached out over Lake Champlain. Patrick had just delivered a small collection of beers and waters to a table when he saw it, one red burst leaping, aided by the wind, out of its weighted base, making a dive for the water. Patrick had turned from inside the restaurant, made a move to help out, when the man at the umbrella's table, an older gentleman in a brown suit, rose and snatched the umbrella back, it twirling slightly in his hand. It kept happening in his mind; the image stayed too hard, wanted to be held onto. This was not the first rogue umbrella. Since the acquisition of the new, waterproof umbrellas, it had been noted that they were not adequately (or even partially) attached to their bases, and at great risk of being lifted by the wind. The solution, of course, was to close up all of the umbrellas, despite the hot sun, to prevent further escape attempts. The staff did this quickly, Randy grumbling about how easily he could solve the umbrellas-not-attached-to-their-bases dilemma if only he could be paid to do so, if only they would consult him. Loraine rolled her eyes at his cockiness, but also agreed, but also insisted that the sun was nice. They spent the greater portion of the next half hour weighing in on what the higher-ups at Emilia-Romagna should have done to prevent embarrassing umbrella oversights. Patrick tried to remain silent, but it was a thing to talk about. It was these sorts of conversations that Patrick was seeking to medicate by eradication. He didn't care, and it was only made worse when he was forced, out of boredom, to participate, and let the little bit of him that did care creep into his brain and manifest. So. This is what he had set himself to focus on as he swallowed this afternoon's sweet little blue pill. When a memory is created, your brain cells carve a path through the wrinkles, neuron receptors each tapping each other on the shoulder, creating a circuit with a specific outcome, like a Rube-Goldberg device created for each moment your mind sees fit to hold on to. This path is the memory. The brain makes proteins during the initial creation of a memory, and it needs to make new proteins in the same places every time the memory is revisited. Since the proteins are new every time, the path may change slightly with each remembering; like water traveling down a stream, creating meanders, the sinuosity of a memory increases the more often it is remembered, tales growing taller through repetition. If protein synthesis is blocked when a memory is revisited, the stream forgets its path, the memory is erased. This is what Tabula Rosa does. Unlike the deep bed boasted by a river, the path of a memory is easily washed away, like the rivulets near the wave-line of a sandy beach. If there are no proteins created to follow the path as it is remembered, it is gone instantly and forever. All you have to do is throw up a dam and make sure to visit the right memory. Some were irresponsible about how they used Tabula. Patrick was not. He bought the drug illegally, yes, but he still followed, as near as he could, the processes that the doctor would have put him through if he were using it under less questionable circumstances. He cleared his mind. He took a full two minutes to focus on what he wanted to erase, just with his eyes closed. Then he opened them, and wrote down what he had been thinking. He did this outside of Em-Ro, on one of the benches by the dock. If anyone asked, he said he was writing in his journal, but they knew. You don't usually rip out and throw away the pages of your journal immediately after writing in it. Patrick had gone through the steps this afternoon. Had relived each dull, but genuinely friendly moment with a customer from that day—he found he could actually behave more genuinely since he had begun taking Tabula, because any feeling of repetition would be gone. He also wrote down all the stupid things his coworkers had said. Not stupid, maybe, but unnecessary. His account was plain, succinct. He had gotten better. He'd felt confident when he popped the pill out of the blister pack, as he dropped it on the back of his tongue. But as he swigged on the water to wash it down—those umbrellas. They had been beautiful. Patrick was feeling that sort of regret that he really hated to feel in tandem with the pill sliding past his Adam’s apple. And of course when you don't want to think about a thing, it becomes the most difficult thing not to picture, that twirling red octagon, the figure dangling from its pole. He stared hard at the words on the page, just short of reading them aloud. It almost passed. I am getting the right memories—I shouldn't even be thinking that. The fat woman in the red shirt wanted a scoop of chocolate and a scoop of vanilla on the side. I asked her which side she wanted it on. The red woman/ umbrella laughed and leaped over the side of the—no! He had about a 40-second window. He allowed one second to breath. This one was going to be fucked up, but he had to salvage it. He read the rest of the paper quickly, tore it out, of the notebook, and called a cab. His head ached. It took him a minute to remember his address. His felt his mind clearing, but not in the usual, relieving way. Patrick slumped into his Nag-Champa-smelling beer-can of an apartment. Not much larger than a walk-in closet, Patrick had been living in this treasured little nook in North Burlington for three years now. He didn't need much. He and his basset hound, also called Patrick, lived on a boat-like futon above a sea of intimidating white tile. On one side of the apartment was a rudimentary kitchen: a sink, two burners, and a mini-fridge. On the other side was a many-paned window taking up the whole of the wall, the sill of which Patrick used as a bookshelf. The place didn't cost much. Before the Patricks had lived there, it had served as a massage studio for the woman that owned and lived in the front of the building. It would have been the perfect size for a massage studio. Patrick felt very cozy there, but it was true that he sometimes felt the place barely contained the length of his limbs. At least it had a porch. Patrick the hound did not get up when Patrick the human arrived home. Patrick the human followed suit, doing little else before collapsing next to the hound on the futon. Patrick the human had not intended to have a dog with his own same name. In fact, the dog had belonged to his ex-girlfriend, Trina, and she had named him Patrick (the hound) before she'd even met Patrick (the human). Once they felt certain that they were going to be in a real-deal relationship that could possibly last a good long while, they'd made an attempt at renaming the dog, but he refused to respond to anything else. And anyway, it was only on rare occasions that it was unclear whether Trina was speaking to Patrick or Patrick, and the relationship in fact only lasted five months. It turns out Patrick the human got along better with Patrick the hound than he did with Trina, or than Trina did with the hound. And so the Patricks took up cohabitation, although it was still Trina who did the majority of the dog-walking. She was more responsible. It just made more sense that way. Patrick the hound let out a low, mild fart—just enough to rouse Patrick the human from his stupor. The two made a brief eye contact before both realizing the movement at the door. Right. Patrick (the human) had told Lily she could come over. In fact, if memory served, he'd told her that she should come over. Lily Peltier was the girl that Patrick was not supposed to sleep with. Unfortunately, Patrick could not help what had already happened, and now it didn't seem to matter if it happened again. Here was one of the bad memories he had held onto, in hopes it would help him be a better person: Laragh had introduced him to Lily because she spoke French, and Patrick had always been talking about how he wanted someone to practice his French with. Lily was young and wispy and beautiful. That wasn't entirely why he had agreed. It also wasn't why he'd broken up with Laragh that same day. He had been planning on it, felt it coming for weeks. It was just one of those things. She had cried so much, and then she looked at him, right in the face, and asked him to please not sleep with Lily. He had closed his eyes, shaking his head with a hand on her shoulder. "I wouldn't. Put that idea out of your head." Patrick hoped, but wasn't sure, that he hadn't gotten the idea to sleep with her right then. Sex with Lily had been fantastic in the way that young girls love wholly, don't know yet how much they should truly doubt love and its many gray areas. She had a tiny, tightly pale body, her blonde hair almost white. She was nineteen and shaved everything. She was precocious on purpose with a sexual naïveté that got Patrick off too quickly. Here she was, behind the window, knocking. The unevenness of the panes of glass cut her body up into sections, at the neck, across the belly and forearms, and into her legs. Patrick found himself staring a minute. He got up when he saw her grin spreading. "Bonsoir, mon petite chou." Lily stood in the doorway. This was the awkward part, when they weren't having sex, but speaking French in a way that seemed all too familiar. "Entrez," Patrick said, holding Patrick back with a gentle foot to the neck. Lily set her bag down on the floor, then quickly leapt up and hugged Patrick, short of kissing him. "Comment s'est passé ta après-midi?" "Suffisant." The puzzle of how to go from awkward acquaintances to people that are having sex with each other is much easier when you are drunk, but with enough audacity, you can simply figure what a drunk person would do and then do that. Patrick began lifting Lily's shirt off before he kissed her. She quickly stopped speaking French. Like the first time, Lily's eagerness to have him inside her came too quickly. Unfortunately, Patrick knew that he was also known to come too quickly, and made an attempt to satisfy her, or come near to, before he let her remove his underwear. It was that bad. She was already moaning on him. Her vagina felt like a baby horse was eating an apple out of his hand, and it was too late and the underwear was coming right off. He had a condom, and then he was inside her, but he kept his hand down there too. This could work. Her nipples were so red against her white skin. He was afraid of coming, but the way she kissed him made him feel like a thing that was wanted and not judged, and just as she shrieked, he came. It was fast. It might have been too fast. Holding each other's sticky bodies after, he asked if she finished, and when she said yes, he didn't believe her. But he had never believed any girl that told him she came. He got up to turn the fan on, and after a moment she walked naked to the mini-fridge and got them each a beer. Back in bed, Lily kissed him on the forehead and then reached without looking to turn the light on. It was these small over-familiarities that waried Patrick of her. These moments when it was clear that his level of commitment to this situation did not come close to hers. He wondered idly if she told people that he was her boyfriend, then let the thought go, guessing that the secret was even more fun than the pretense. Either way, being with her was easier when he was horny, and now he just felt sad and tired again. "What time is it?" Lily sipped her beer and then retrieved her phone from her purse. "Oh. Je dois m'en aller." Patrick nodded. It was easy that she lived with her parents. Everything about nineteen seemed dangerously easy. As she dressed, Patrick felt a dull, awful noise in his head, a screeching, like twelve thousand birds fighting with each other, a half-mile away. He drank the rest of his beer quickly, kissed Lily goodbye, and as her headlights pulled back from the window, he drank the rest of her beer too. The screeching got quieter. He had only taken a couple sips of a third beer before he was sleeping. Here he dreamed of beautiful girls that hated him but let him fuck them. He dreamed a world of vanilla on the side, and eight lurid umbrellas in the sun, lifted out of their bases by the wind. Patrick doesn't get up to help. He knows what will happen. Eight people, one from each table, jump up and snatch the ends of the umbrellas almost in unison. The wind picks up, and they each go twirling into the air, over the railing. Eight red octagons, eight dangling humans, land gently in Lake Champlain, then struggle wetly to shore.