Author : Hillary Lyon
The old woman leaned over the tombstone, and wiped the flat screen embedded in the front. It was grimy from exposure to the elements, but with a few gentle, conscientious strokes with her handkerchief, came clean. She sighed wearily, stepped back, and digging through her over-sized purse, located the small remote needed to operate the screen. Two clicks of the green button, and it flickered on. A middle-aged man, handsome in an everyday kind of way, smiled at her from the ether. He waited for her to speak first, like the gentleman he was.
“Hello, Archie,” the old woman said softly.
The man on the screen raised his eyebrows in happy recognition. “Well, hello, Frida! How have you been, sweetheart?”
Frida knew this wasn’t really her dead husband, that this apparition on the screen before her was just an amalgamation of data culled from his digital life. But still—it was comforting to hear his voice, to hear him say her name again.
“My arthritis gives me grief, but other than that, things are fine.”
“Maybe you should exercise more,” Archie offered. That was his answer to almost everything.
“Uh huh. I’ll think about it.” How many times had they had this conversation? Some things never change.
“How are the kids? Behaving and getting good grades?” Archie tilted his head inquisitively, like a golden retriever anticipating a treat.
“Well, as I told you last time, Valerie is married and lives in Fort Worth. She has two kids—Chelsea and Dennis. You’re a grandpa! Jeff is divorced again and can’t seem to hold a steady job. I’m so tired of worrying about him—”
“So don’t,” Archie snipped, catching Frida by surprise. He used to be more patient with family dramas, she recalled. Seeing her reaction, he immediately softened his tone. “I don’t remember any of this. Sorry.”
I’m sorry, too, Frida thought. Especially since I paid for the premium package; when presented with new information, it’s supposed to be integrated into his avatar’s persona. She’d have to contact the company to complain. Again.
Archie’s expression brightened. “It’s so good to see you! What brings you here?”
“It’s our anniversary, Archie. Would’ve been 47 years ago today.” Frida sat on the small concrete bench beside the grave. The sun was pleasantly warm on her face and arms.
“Hoo boy! That’s a lifetime!” Archie laughed.
“Yes, it is. Or would have been.” Frida took her eyes from the screen and looked around the cemetery. It was a gorgeous day. She took a deep breath. “Archie, I’m selling the house. It’s too big with just me. I’m moving south, to a more temperate climate.”
“But that house—it’s home!” Archie looked perturbed. “I put so much work into it. The kids’ll have to go to new schools—they’ll lose all their friends.” On screen, he shook his head sadly.
“Archie, honey, you don’t live there anymore. Neither do the kids. They’re all grown up now, remember?”
“Can I go with you?” Archie looked astounded and sad, like a family dog left by the side of the road.
“I’ll see you next year, hon.” Frida clicked the red button on the remote, and closed the program. She patted the tombstone affectionately as she rose; she knew his avatar wouldn’t process this conversation, but felt better for having told him. Frida leaned over and kissed the warm stone, her lipstick leaving a dusty-rose colored imprint. She stopped herself from wiping it off; old habit. Laughing quietly at herself, she walked away into that beautiful spring morning.