Author : J.D. Rice

The worn grandfather clock stood idly in the corner, looking out of place against the stale, concrete wall. Its slow and steady ticking echoed quietly around the room, breaking up the silence between the room’s two occupants. Sitting behind a white-washed desk, Mark Wells, a young loan officer, shifted his weight uncomfortably as the woman seated in front of him stared at him with desperate eyes. She shed no tears, holding her resolve that he may, miraculously, find a way to give her what she wanted.

“Mrs. Simpson,” Mark said. “There really isn’t anything else I can do. You financial situation precludes any additional loans from us. My hands are tied.”

“My son needs this treatment,” Mrs. Simpson replied. “He’s been so happy for so long. I can’t bear to see his entire world change just because I’m a few thousand dollars short.”

“I understand your predicament, but~”

“Look here!” Mrs. Simpson pulled a worn photograph from her purse. In it, a young boy smiled at the camera, chocolate frosting covering his face. To all appearances, the boy could have been no older than four.

“This is my son a few years ago, on his 15th birthday. Look how happy he is. You would really take that all away from him, just because his father ran out on us? I’ve already skipped half a dozen treatments for myself. I won’t let that happen to my son.”

Mark tried his best to look sympathetic, taking the picture from Mrs. Simpson and looking it over to buy himself some time. If what this woman said was true, her son was now just a few years younger than Mark himself. Most people didn’t start taking IV-88 until they were adults. But some parents just couldn’t let go of their young ones. And given that the children were happy and considering the relative safety of taking the so-called “immortality drug” – the government could do nothing to stop them.

“My husband had the career. That’s him in the background. When he first left, James was so distraught. He cried for his father every night. But after a few years, it’s like he hardly remembers him.”

“And your husband has no interest in supporting your medical expenses?”

“He won’t even take my calls.”

Mark nodded and looked back down at the photo. The kid was cute, all right. But to spend almost 20 years in the body of a four-year-old? Mark couldn’t imagine it if he tried.

Just then the grandfather clock gave three loud bongs, indicating the passing of the hour. Mark looked up at the clock’s worn, wooden frame, and his thoughts drifted to his own grandfather, who had passed the clock onto Mark when he died, just a few years before IV-88 hit the shelves. What would Mark and his family had done to keep his grandfather around just a few more years? How much money would they have spent on treatments? Would his grandfather have even wanted to live forever?

“Is there really nothing you can do?” Mrs. Simpson finally said, looking down at the floor.

“No, you’ve reached your financial limit. I’m sorry.”

“Very well,” Mrs. Simpson said, quietly taking the picture back from Mark and stuffing it in her purse. As she walked out of the room, Mark heard her finally start sobbing. Her voice echoed down the concrete halls, growing fainter every moment, until all went quiet.