Visiting my parents’ still bodies was always a bittersweet experience for me. To my eyes they looked the same as they had fifty years ago – just laying there as the life-sustaining machinery beeped and buzzed, filling the room with the electronic white noise that kept them alive, yet trapped in their shells. I could see them through the plastic draping around their chambers, and they merely looked like they were asleep. So I told them about my day – the race, how good I felt, how I missed them and how glad I was they were still in my life. The conversation was one-sided, as it always was… until I heard her voice.
“Happy birthday, Johnny-Boy.”
With those words, her inimitable husky voice echoed inside my mind. It sounded like she was standing next to me, although I knew it was impossible. I had been looking directly at her at that moment, and she hadn’t moved a muscle – she never did any more. Neither of them had in years. When they first went under, they used to twitch and spasm occasionally, but that stopped after only a few months – they were now little more than two living statues, as they have been for the past half-century.
I immediately wrote off what I thought I had heard as my imagination playing tricks on me – technically I was getting up there in years, too. I felt a little worn down, too, presumably from the race. But there was something about the quality of her voice – I hadn’t heard it in years, and I didn’t think that I could have called up a memory of it with the authority and clarity I heard in my mind. The only way I can describe it is like when you smell or taste something you love that you haven’t experienced in years – you think you remember it, but once you finally experience it again and anew, you’re reminded of how incomplete your sensory memories of it actually were.
Still, I told myself that it was nothing more than a brilliant flash of nostalgia – the fleeting result of a perfect storm of circumstances that allowed me to remember her voice with absolute clarity. That was about a week ago.
Today, I found myself once again in the cube, as if waking from a dream. I didn’t remember how I got there, nor did I remember what I was doing. All I knew is that I was being restrained by several doctors and nurses. I also remember feeling exhausted. At first I thought it was because I wasn’t fully awake and my mind was quite foggy. In hindsight, however, I recall a palpable feeling of fatigue throughout my entire body – more than I’d ever felt running any marathon.
When I came to my senses, I discovered the KeepSystems staffers were in the act of pulling me away from the clear, plastic drapery that kept my parents safe and protected within their little “nap bubble.” I still had the poly curtain clutched in my hand and the doctors had just stopped me from trying to tear it open.
The doctors led me from the room as the squadron of nurses descended on my parents’ cube to ensure that nothing had been breached. As I found myself escorted through the doorway, I heard my father’s disappointed voice, clear as day.
“Dammit. She still looks like shit.”
When I heard Mom’s birthday wish last week, I was able to chalk that one up to my imagination – after all, it made perfect sense at the time, given the day and reason for my visit. But Dad’s voice today? I was him. In my head. It had to have been him, because what he said made no sense to me whatsoever.
At least not until I looked down and saw the tube of lipstick that I was holding in my hand. Dad always had demanded Mom wear lipstick – he said she looked her best that way.
As the doctors huddled around me in the hallway, speaking to me about the dangers of what I almost did, I realized I was no longer holding the lipstick. I looked down and watched my hand pat my front pocket, moving of its own accord.
“We’ll hang onto this until tomorrow, Johnny-Boy,” Dad voice echoed through my mind as I looked on. “Just leave the driving to me.”