by Suzanne Palmer
Sky egg blue, a nest
a floor of fissioning stone
cottage made for close company
lonely of but one.
* * *
Not that he really understands how the house floor works, given the odd impositions of the world surrounding him. It works, though; radiating warmth up through his feet as he paces, casting furtive glances back at the replica of an ancient machine where it sits upon a replica of an ancient desk, through which he has been trying to pull—tap tap—new words.
It’s the first poem he hasn’t crumpled up and tossed into the fireplace at the end of the vaulted room. The novelty of paper, of fire relentlessly marching from crisp edge to blackened ash, has consumed several salvageable scraps of work, but he’s not here for scraps, for minute victories; he has come to be the flame, set his long-slumbering and cold imagination alight, and perhaps also to bury the embers of something else that never was meant to be.
The exhausting act of having crafted something that might not suck propels him past the desk, the textured matte black bulk of the Underwood, the thin flag of paper still standing his tiny effort up into the air. He needs to walk before he can judge: keep as is, keep going, fall into the limbo of tinkering, or smother now before he gets too attached.
The Project has thoughtfully provided him with boots and a walking stick propped by the door. He slips his feet into the boots and glances up at the large thermometer mounted on a turquoise porch post just outside the door. Turning, he checks the mechanical clock over the fireplace, then picks up the old-fashioned inkpen where it dangles on its string from the logbook by the door.
Day 7. 11:43. 12C, he writes on the next empty line. Sunny. 1070 hPa. The task is not as onerous a condition of his residency as he’d feared.
He slips on his coat, notebook in pocket, and steps out the door. Pausing there, he marvels at the pure existential joy of going for a stroll on an alien world, and one that he has, effectively, entirely to himself. For someone who had lived much of his adult life in the cramped and crowded towers of Old New York, the rolling hills and wide skies of Ekye are a dream. As a poet floundering, rendered wordless by the stale dregs of his own substanceless life, it is an offer of resurrection, reincarnation.
The hills that nestle around the cottage are a deep green, covered in a thick tangled carpet of a grasslike creeper named popim-weed. A forest of blue and green umbah-trees lines the ridge, and a lazy river winds its way down below through a field of green, fuzzy boulders called mossums.
Be cautious outdoors above 20C, they’d said.
That had worried him, but they assured him he was in no direct danger. The landscape gets more active on warmer days, they’d explained. Keep your walking stick and watch your footing, and you’ll be fine. Remember you’re on an alien planet.
Oh, and if it gets above 30C, don’t linger below a mossum field.
A thick stone wall curves along the hillside behind the cottage, and above that, mossums are scattered in the bright midday sun like enormous green pebbles tossed from the riverbed. READ MORE
by Will McIntosh
I held Mimi’s hand as a nurse wearing a sari pushed the IV needle through the loose, spotted skin at the crook of her elbow.
“I’m scared. I want to go home.”
The nurse patted Mimi’s shoulder. She didn’t understand the words, but Mimi’s tone told her everything.
“If you want to call it off, we can.” I wanted to tell her this was the only way—that if we went home now there’d be nothing to look forward to but a long, slow descent into hell. But I couldn’t. Considering what they were about to do, it had to be her decision. I clasped her hand. “But you have to be sure. A year from now it’ll be too late.”
Mimi squeezed her eyes shut; tears rolled out of the corners. “Tell me what to do. Is this the right thing? I don’t know anymore. I’m just so scared.”
“I know you are. Anyone would be.” Suddenly I was doubting this whole plan myself. When they wheeled her into surgery, it would be the last time I’d ever see her. I’d get to talk to her again, and she’d be in a place where Alzheimer’s could never reach her, but I would never see her again. That was sinking in as I sat there squeezing her hand.
The body has to go, because they’re not copies.
We’re not duplicating her brain, Dr. Prakash had said. We’re extracting Miriam’s essence—the parts that make Miriam who she is—and installing it into a new, generic brain of sorts.
It’s still you. That’s the point—it’s still you.
“I just don’t want to lose you,” I said.
Mimi broke into sobs. We’d cried so much in the past seven months; more than in the fifty years before that combined. We’d been blessed, truly blessed, and I didn’t want it to end. Maybe that’s greedy. Maybe I should have been grateful for a good life with Mimi and accepted that the last few years of it were going to be hell.
“Okay.” Mimi nodded bravely. “I want to do this.”
I kissed her on the cheek, trying to hide my own doubts.
I caught a final glimpse of her bare foot jutting out from under the sheet as they wheeled her down the white hallway. Then she disappeared around the corner.
As I sat in the waiting room I tried to get used to the idea that Mimi’s body was gone now. I would never exchange a glance with her again, never feel her weight on the other side of the bed.
It wasn’t about sex. That’s less of a big deal at our age. No matter how many articles they publish in AARP Magazine about great senior sex, the urge just isn’t there the way it was when we were twenty. Back then we had great sex, I’m happy to say.
I checked my watch. I had at least sixteen hours before Mimi would be ready to go home. The plan was for me to get some sleep, but now that this was actually happening I wasn’t sure I could sleep.
So I sat, and I dreamed about the past. You do that a lot when you get old. More than I would have guessed, when I was younger.
Neither of us remembers the first time we met. It was probably in church youth group, when Mimi was thirteen and I was sixteen, but it’s hard to say, because we grew up in the same Upper Manhattan neighborhood and lived three blocks from each other our entire young lives.
We both remember when we became boyfriend and girlfriend, though. We were hanging around in front of Dunkin Donuts, down on Diechman Street, which was the main drag in our neighborhood, and Bobby Barnett turned and asked Mimi if she wanted to go to the movies with him. And out of the blue, I blurted out that Mimi was my girlfriend. She looked at me, startled, but she didn’t disagree.
So I took her to the movie. It was Indiana Jones, by the way. Mimi insists it was Arthur, but we saw that later. READ MORE