Tuesday, July 9, 2024


A Better Place

"Soon you'll be with Grandma again," Marie said, squeezing her father's hand.

"I'll miss you, Mouse," Alexi whispered, finger twitching as he tried to squeeze back. "But it'll be nice to see her again."

"Don't cry, Mouse. I'll e-mail. More often than she does." He gave a long sigh that trailed away to nothing. He seemed to collapse into himself.

She brushed the leads aside to kiss his forehead, then called the Transition Nurse.

Alexi rang the bell again. He heard rapid footsteps, they stopped. She was probably looking through the peep hole. Then the door swung open.

"Alexi!" A young good-looking brunette wearing tight-fitting pants and a loose, puffy blouse smiled and gestured him in. She turned and walked away, obviously expecting him to follow. She looked just as good from this side. Checking her out, he realized he recognized her walk. "Come on, Alexi. I've got great coffee." She turned around again. He felt his ears burning. She laughed. "You can be any age you want. Didn't they tell you?" So this is what she had sounded like before the cigarettes roughened her voice.

"I know, but... I didn't realize. You look wonderful, Mom."

In the kitchen, a tall thin man was pouring coffee. There were no pictures of his father as a young man. But George had died before Transition recording went commercial. Alexi just stood. So many things to say, he didn't know where to start.

"I'm Phil. You must be Alexi. I've heard so much about you." He smiled, handing Alexi a full mug. "You take it black, right?"

In-a-gadda-da-vida was playing on a radio turned down low. A copy of Edvard Munch's "The Scream," obviously cut out of a magazine, was thumbtacked to the wall. This guy was living here. With Mom. Who was a hot chick about 25 years old.

He took a sip. It was superb coffee. He pulled out a chair and sat down. Wow. Being dead was going to take some getting used to.

He cleared his throat. "Can't you make her e-mail Marie more often? This is hard for her. Sorry. I did not know I was going to say that."

Phil set his coffee down and put his hands in his pockets.

"It's difficult at first. I remember. You still have 1 foot on the other side of the grave. But Sonia is who she is. I can't make her change. And I don't want to."

His mother hugged him. "Stay with us Alexi, until you get a place," she whispered. "And I recommend 21. You were so handsome at that age."

Alexi gently disengaged from her. He looked at Phil. "Help me get my stuff?"

"Marie. I think I know what you're going through. I tried to put my affairs in order, to save you the hassle that faced me when Grandma passed, but you know how it is. Do what you think is best. Don't worry about my feelings, because it's not my problem anymore. It might help if you think of me as stationed overseas."

"I stopped by to visit Grandma. She is doing very well, living in a nice little brownstone." With her boyfriend Phil, who looks younger than I do. As does she.

"I told her you would like to hear from her more often, but don't hold your breath. I'll write more soon."

"Marie. Good to hear Simpson is taking care of all that legal stuff for you. I trust him. Trusted him.

"I don't know what you mean about 'Getting to be like Grandma.' This is my second day here and it's my second e-mail message. I am using Grandma's computer. It's much nicer than any she had in life. I almost said 'real life.' Sometimes this doesn't feel real. For instance, her computer is wherever you want it to be. You sit down at the dining room table and think 'I want to do e-mail' and it rises up out of the simulated wood. That's a technology you won't have for a while in the material world!

"Other things are really different too. For instance, Grandma told me I should take on the appearance I had when I was 21. She has framed pictures on the wall in the stairwell of her house. Many are of me as a young man. I stared at a picture taken one Christmas not too long after college, visualizing that face as my face. I didn't feel any change, but when I looked in the mirror in the bathroom I saw that I was young again. I reached up to touch my face and the image in the mirror did the same. It felt like a miracle. My body, I have no aches or pains, but my senses are not deadened. Rather, I have the most intense feeling in my skin everywhere. Truly, I never felt so alive. (I know that sounds weird.) It's like youth, but with the understanding that it should be savored.

"I went for a walk. Nothing was identical to any place I can recall from before my death, but it is all familiar. I almost seem to know what's around each corner, even though I have never been there. I will have to ask whether we create our own reality here or have subconscious access to spatial information. Or something else.

"Outside it looked like the middle of the day, just like when I first arrived. I have no idea how time passes here, if it passes at all. There are some funny things about the city, beyond my inexplicable familiarity with it. Architecture is more than just eclectic. Half a block of 1970s urban eastern US transitioned abruptly into 1940s Paris or a modern Asian metropolis. I didn't see many people. In fact, thinking back, I didn't see anybody. Yet I found Grandma with no trouble. Maybe you only meet people here by design, not by chance. If that's the case, it will be hard to make new friends! Anyway, the city is like a dream city. I saw a place that looked like the Taj Mahal. It was a good 2 miles down a wide straight boulevard. I wanted to see it better, and suddenly I was there. Stone lions in my face.

"I was so shocked that I instantly thought of Grandma's place. I panicked. In a split second I was there. On the front stoop. Everything was quiet. I haven't seen any birds here. Do I have to imagine them? I was nervous about trying the teleportation thing again, so I just went inside. I will try again tomorrow."

"Marie. That is so strange. Three days have passed here, yet apparently several weeks have passed out there. I guess the speed of computer processing is more than offset by the number of calculations this virtual world requires. I don't like that. Heaven shouldn't be slow. It reminds me that this isn't real. But here is something realistic! I am visiting Grandma and it's supper time. I better get down there. I will write more soon."

"Marie. I don't know how much time has passed out there. I'm afraid I let things get away from me. It seems the day/night cycle here is a matter of consensus. Or maybe individual choice. Perhaps a whole week has passed, local time.

"I'll just come out and say it. I met someone. You remember I speculated that one only meets people one is searching for. I wondered if that meant the people I meet are not real. Not even as real as I am, I mean. But then I remembered Phil. I met him, even though I was not looking for him, because he is with Grandma. So the structure of this universe is not so malleable that it makes up everything you ask for. When I went looking for Grandma, I found the real Grandma. 'Real.'

"So I thought about Ellen Pierce. We were best friends up to about the age of three, when she moved away. I ran into her years later in an airport. She recognized me, with a beard. I didn't recognize her. Anyway we chatted that day and talked about getting back together, but we never did. I went looking for her, walking through the city with her in mind, and there she was. Sitting at a little white table in front of a cafe. Not 19, like she was the last time I saw her in life, but about 30. That is the age she chose to wear. Funny how if you don't feel old physically you don't feel old mentally. We got to talking and, well, one thing led to another. The simulation of physical feeling is uncanny. But I woke up this 'morning' and realized I wasn't sure how long a time had passed. I walked out onto the hotel balcony and watched the sun rise, huge and bloody, beyond the sea of buildings. First sunrise I saw here. There was a rippling in the air, like summer heat, or haze at the horizon. Then I realized it wasn't sunrise. It was sunset. The sky got darker, lights came on all over the city, and I thought of you. I caused a keyboard to mold itself from the balcony railing. A chill wind is blowing. There are no stars, and many of the city lights have gone out. I hear Ellen moving in the room behind me. I will write again tomorrow."

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