The Procedure by Nicholas John Greenfield

Photo by Fred Moon on Unsplash

By the third procedure, Lily had lost about ten years. The doctors (a team of seven, two of whom always wore sunglasses) had warned us it would happen, and I should have been ready for it as Lily had already forgotten my middle name, the number of our first house, and the name of her youngest nephew.

“I haven’t got a one-year-old nephew,” she insisted, sheltered in the kitchen while we ran through the list of “memory recall” questions the doctors had given us.

Being a patient person, I insisted she did, but she got so annoyed that I saw little wrinkles pop up in the fresh skin around her eyes and thought better of pressing it further.

The whole thing had begun two years before when we were travelling through Chile. We’d never had kids, but the absence hadn’t left us unmarked and, as we sat in a dusty bar drinking warm beer, Lily had been distracted by a table of travellers half our age.

“They look so young, don’t you think?”

I’d been trying not to, the low-cut tops and short shorts dangerous. Granted permission by the question, I chanced a glance.

“They are younger.”

Lily hadn’t looked at me, the hand that slipped from mine answer enough.

The next day she told me about the procedure, well, series of procedures, for it would take ten in all, though you could “jump off at any point” as Lily called it.

Ever the one with the cold bucket of water, I asked what the side effects were.

Lily pretended to search the small print. “Some memory loss, they say.”


By the fifth procedure we had to leave notes around the house or else she was prone to panic attacks. I’d moved into the spare room, terrified that she would wake one night and find a stranger in her bed.

Each morning I’d creep in with a cup of tea and gently wake her and for the first week I’d marvel at the way the years fell off to reveal the woman from the pictures the doctors had made us throw away.

Lily at 38.

Lily at 35.

Lily at 29.

I stopped opening the curtains when she looked 25 and instead kept the door closed and used the torch on my phone to find the bedside table. When she was up, I found excuses to avoid eye contact or pop to the shops, locking the door before I left in case she decided to go for a walk and not come back. Cruel, I guess, but something inside me did turn cruel. I felt I was being left behind, for my face grew older while hers lost a year in three days.

Down the pub, my mates mused over getting it done themselves, and I imagined sitting around a table of young-looking people who had no idea who I was. Eventually they stopped inviting me and I went to the park instead, preferring the birds that never grew old and had no opinions of their own.

Then it happened.

“Can I help you?”

Cold milk hanging from my index finger, she greeted me at the front door, 22 years old, the age she had been when we’d met. 

“Why do you have a key to my house?” she asked with a note of panic.

“Oh, I found it on the footpath,” I lied and she took it from me and I heard the door lock and a week later all of my possessions were out on the street and I had moved into a hotel with a view of the park half-blocked by a used car dealership.

When we met, we’d sworn to grow old together, and for a while, we had.

About The Author

Born in the UK but Australian since 2004, Nicholas has been living overseas and writing off and on since high school.

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