Author : Steve Smith, Staff Writer

“I don’t care if it’s selfish, I don’t want you to go.” Sam stood halfway between the doorway and the foot of the bed, caught between staying and walking away.

“It is selfish, but I understand. I’m tired Sam, I’m worn out and it’s time for me to give in to the natural order of things.” The older man’s voice was slow, patient but firm. “No man was ever meant to see as much as I’ve seen in my life, and a man can only take so much.”

Sam wiped moisture from one cheek, quickly as though it might not be noticed. “Whatever it is that’s broken, get it fixed. We’ve got lots of money…”

Jacob cut the sentence short. “It’s not about money. There’s nothing to fix, no worn out part to replace. My body’s working just fine, it’s me that’s broken. This body and all its incarnations has allowed me the lifetime of four ordinary men. I’ve seen three partners age and wear out of their own accord and you, well it has seen you grow from a nervous youth into the poised and confident professional that another much younger man will take his turn caring for in my absence. I’ve had enough, done enough and seen enough. God damn it I’ve felt more than enough and it’s time to move on.”

Sam moved to the side of the bed and reached for Jacob’s hand. The flesh was warm, almost real. Jacob closed his hand around Sam’s tightly. Sam could feel tears welling up again, and through clouding eyes looked at everything but the man propped up in the hospital bed. Monitors tracked vital signs, the numbers exactly to spec. Diagnostics scrolled past on a pair of displays to one side, mechanical equipment passing test after test, repeating ad infinitum. Sam finally met Jacob’s gaze, friend and lover for longer than either of them had imagined possible. Jacob’s eyes burned with a crystalline intensity that, while artificial, shone with an inner light that was purely his own.

“I don’t understand Jacob, if everything’s working, then why? What is it that’s so bad about staying alive? Is it me? If it’s me Jacob, say so and I’ll let you find someone else. I don’t want to be the thing…”

“Sam,” Jacob interrupted again, “it’s not you Sam, trust me, you’re the only thing that’s kept me here this long.” Jacob raised one permanently manicured hand and pondered it, flexing the fingers and turning it to study the hairs on its back. “I can’t remember a time when I was really real. I’ve forgotten what touching real flesh with real flesh feels like, and I don’t believe anymore that what I feel now is the same. I can’t remember what my first lover liked for breakfast. I can’t feel the warmth of the sunrise on my face, the magic of being underwater or the thrill that comes with being out of breath. I’ve been living for so damn long, and I can’t remember what it feels like to really be alive.”

Sam’s cheeks were wet now, and no effort was made to conceal the tears.

“I can’t even cry anymore. I’ve loved and lost so much and I can’t even shed a tear.”

Sam stood stoic, this argument had gone on before but this time there was no fighting back.

Jacob held Sam’s hands, and locking eyes said, “When I’m gone, have whatever flesh of mine remains cremated, then cast me into the wind. In the mornings, look to the east as the day breaks and feel my warmth there. In the darkness know that I’m never far away.” Jacob settled back into the pillows on the bed, and said simply, “I love you” before closing his eyes for the last time.

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