Author : John Eric Vona
She opens the car door and superheated air rushes out like blood from an open wound. Across the dying lawn, he stands just inside the house, watching her go. The doorway frames him poorly, a picture shoved off-center in too large a frame. He wears only plaid pajama pants, and even at that distance, she can make out the lines of his chest, the faint shadows and contours of ribs like demonic fingers gripping his innards. He could never keep the weight on once the ozone deteriorated, pouring cosmic radiation into their atmosphere.
“That’s why I have to do this,” she silently reminds herself. “Because if I don’t, he never will.”
“Drive safe,” he calls to her, always the worrier of the pair, making what she must do all the more difficult. But she never likes to worry and doesn’t, even as she leaves for the first of many surgeries. She is a woman of action. Typically swift and unabated, but now she finds herself frozen in the pounding heat, her straw hat providing too small a shield against the sun’s brutal cast, held by the thin thread connecting her to her husband, a long glance of long lovers’ eyes. She hesitates.
Just last week she woke thirsty in the middle of the night and he was right there with a glass of water. Before she fell back asleep she felt his lips on her back and he said, “I’ll always be here to take care of you.”
How is it the hollowest of promises are always the sweetest?
For years she’s been watching him die, seeing the signs of cancer and age in both their irradiated bodies. She could feel ‘always’ slipping from them.
When they saw the first modded humans walking through the mall, the little orange creatures half-machine, half man’s reimagining of God’s image, they were both disgusted. But secret even to herself, she admired their courage and it wore on her with the beating of the cosmos on the planet, as modding went from elective to doctor recommended, as more people seemed less like people, as his body shriveled before her eyes.
But still he recoiled from it. He loved her and he was afraid that somewhere between surgeries, one inevitably leading to the next, their bodies shrinking to be more compact and efficient, the insertion of genetically enhanced organs and plastic blood vessels, the network of bio-monitors and their army of corrective nanites, the new, resistant skin and the silica neural pathways that would replace her primitive mushy brain, that they would lose each other.
But her fears mattered too and she feared one day he wouldn’t be there in the night and even more so that neither of them would be.
“Will you give up your humanity to live a longer life?” He’d once asked her, but now, he calls across the lawn again, “drive safe.”
“I will,” she calls back and then to herself, “if it means keeping you.”
She wishes the moment could last forever, even with all its imperfections: the feel of sunscreen thick on her skin like lard, the heat inside the car reaching equilibrium with the heat outside, her husband standing too far away to be touched or even really talked to. But she knows they can’t stand there forever, that even the longest of glances must end and even though she’ll hold the memory of his eyes into the future, the present must become the past. She gets into the car and pledges to herself to hold fast to that memory, fade as it slowly, surely will.