Breath & Shadow
A Journal of Disability Culture and LiteratureWinter 2017
Breath and Shadow
Volume 14 Issue 1
Lost and Found
By Edward M. Turner
"I can't do it."
The face on the computer screen looked worried.
"Now don't shut me off, Edward, whatever you do. Let's talk about this."
The old man ran his fingers through his hair, making the gray ends stand up like ruffled feathers. A crescent moon shone in through a window.
"Damn it all to hell in a hand-basket. I've lost it and it's not coming back. What's the use?"
"I wouldn't say that. Just relate what you think. I'll record it like always. Try and see."
"I HAVE!" he shouted.
A tentative feminine voice outside the door inquired, "Ed? You all right in there?"
The old man turned his head and said, "I still live, for Christ's sake."
"Okay." The door stayed closed.
The old man turned back to the computer and stared into the eyes of his younger self.
"It finally stopped," he whispered.
"It's a momentary thing, Edward. Don't despair. Have you taken your medication?"
The old man bowed his head.
"It might be the medication. We humans respond differently. Some become impotent."
He chuckled at this.
"Well, that's certainly not your problem, is it?"
Ed raised his head. He smiled bleakly, said, "I'm not speaking of that."
"That's more important, isn't it? What does Amy think?"
"Amy's not an author. If I've lost the art of...." His words tailed off to a grim silence.
The face on the computer screen leaned in close to the glass. It said, "Would you listen to me now?"
The old man recoiled in distaste. He rose from his padded chair and shook his head wordlessly. He turned off the light and exited his study.
A lonely sigh sounded in the now empty room.
The door stood open. Amy hated it when Ed forgot to close the door when he was done for the night. She reminded him time and time again, yet he'd gotten worse these past few weeks, as if he did it on purpose. She hesitated for a second at the threshold, and peeked in.
The computer's screen cleared immediately.
"Amy! Amy! No, don't go. It's okay. Amy, come in here. Please?"
She didn't move. The voice was a younger version of her husband's. Not so gruff, but she didn't trust it. It tried too hard to have her step inside the study whenever Ed was absent. Amy pulled her head back and slammed the door. A lonely sigh sounded in the empty room.
Ed navigated the transtube reluctantly. It was a simple thing, really. An underground strip where one stood while transported at a safe, even speed to a destination tapped out on the address keyboard.
The part he didn't like was meeting the other travelers who shared the rural transport. They always wanted to talk. Just a few moments ago, he'd cursed a pedestrian for trying to initiate a conversation. The old, 'I got a run in my nylons,' ploy. Damn woman. She got an earful, and took it quite badly. The lonely bitch.
The light blinked, signaling his stop. He stepped off and onto an escalator to the surface.
Before he rode halfway up, he heard a shout from below, "Eunuch!"
He whirled too late to shout down at her. Swearing as he entered the sunshine above ground, Ed frowned at the sight of tall office towers, open-air transtubes, and the crowded sidewalks that greeted him. The town where his family used to grocery shop was now a major metropolis. The lack of trees and flowers and fields dismayed him. He detested ever leaving home, even for a doctor's appointment.
A blue uniformed guide noticed him standing at the exit and asked, "May I direct you, Sir?"
"BUGGER OFF!" he yelled. She blanched at his anger, and quickly hoofed it in the other direction.
He smiled for the first time that morning. He looked both ways before crossing the sidewalk to the lobby of the first building. At the entrance he gave a dark look at the doorperson as he entered the foyer. She didn't say a word to him. She knew him too well. He took a lift to the nineteenth floor and his doctor's office.
He didn't have to wait long. Minutes after he arrived, Dr. Booker, dressed in a tight-fitting blue smock, opened the inner office door and greeted him.
"Edward! Right on time. Come in, let's have a look at you."
"Alison," he murmured, and allowed himself to be escorted in. This woman he respected. She had a proper professional interest in him. Despite the fact she was quite attractive, with long dark hair and an hourglass figure, she had impressive credentials.
The doctor pointed to a seat beside her desk. She sat and cleared the computer's screen.
"Edward Gray, author," she spoke. The screen scrolled downwards to his last visit. "I have it," she spoke, and the screen stopped at a page. She read the prescription.
Ed quietly waited.
"The medication is still working?"
"I live," he answered.
She turned to him. "Your libido?"
"That's not an issue. I have a greater problem."
"Edward," she said, "sex is important. More so when people reach an advanced age such as yours."
"What about my particular situation?"
"I'm an author, I write. I need to create. You said the medication might affect my creativity... and my sex drive." He rubbed his cheek. "It did. Now I need help."
Dr. Booker spoke to the computer's screen, "I'm finished." The screen darkened to a roiling gray cloud. She said, "There are limits. Your cancer is in remission. Be thankful, Edward. As for your sex drive, we can fix that."
Ed leaned forward, "You said I had a choice."
"I also said you must prioritize."
"We all must sacrifice, Alison. But I'm an author, I need to create." He looked away. "Anyway, I swear, that Goddamned stuff works on the libido of others."
Puzzled, and amused, she said, "Explain, please."
"Whenever I leave home, all women flirt with me. They try to engage me in conversation with one end in mind."
He leaned back in his chair and nodded.
The doctor said, "You're still handsome at seventy-eight." She couldn't resist a playful wink. "Edward, don't worry about it."
He didn't answer.
"Okay. I can change the medication. Even with cancer, there are alternative treatment options."
She cleared the computer's screen and spoke, "Edward Gray, author." The screen scrolled downwards. "I have it." The screen stopped. "Here it is," she pointed.
Ed looked at the screen. "Will that work?" he asked.
"With the resiliency of cancer," she put a hand on his arm, "and your needs, this is definitely worth a try. Let's give it a shot."
"Okay, Doctor." Ed smiled, and pulled his arm away.
The study door was open. Ed had forgotten again. It made no difference how many times he was reminded to keep the door closed.
Amy crept along the hallway, her feet almost noiseless on the thick carpet. She drew even with the door, and ever so cautiously, put an eye to the crack of the doorjamb.
The computer's screen cleared immediately.
The voice gently requested, "Amy, tell me of the flowers...."
She stared, unbelieving. It wanted her to enter and seemed quite sincere. Then what? Maybe I should tell Ed, she pondered.
"Amy, won't you please step inside? Just for the briefest moment? I need to talk to you about your husband. Please?"
The door to the study slowly closed. In the room, a tiny voice unheard by anyone whispered, "My dear Amy."
Ed stood in the living room and peered through the picture window at Amy puttering about with a soil spade and a watering can. His eyes took in her flower garden, and moved to the landscape beyond her, which consisted of a field and on the far side of that, woods. Absently, he named the trees that made up the forest.
There were white and silver birch trees, yellow beech, poplars in full leaf, sugar maples full of sap, spotted alder bushes on the fringes. Also, there were a number of red cedars, together with green firs and black spruce. Crab apple and choke cherry trees blossomed. Their petals were a mellow lavender color. He knew the slender saplings for ash and weeping willow (he'd planted them for Amy). And over all towered white pines and common oaks.
“I can't see the forest for the trees,” he mused.
His gaze rose to the blue sky and watched as ever present cumulus clouds floated by the setting sun. On occasion these clouds disbursed a brief rain and afterwards, scattered long enough for rainbows to appear, to the wonder and delight of Amy.
“She says Maine never looked like this,” he reflected, “except in our dreams.”
With weather control satellites orbiting the planet, their few acres of real estate had become a heaven of eternal mid-June. He stepped outside.
Amy looked up from examining a flower bud. "Tired of moping around, Ed?"
Ed scowled, sat on a marble bench that abutted the house. He glanced at a stone sundial, said, "Yeah, waiting for the medication to work. Modern technology, you know."
"Is it going to rain tonight?" she asked.
He couldn't resist a smirk, "You also want a rainbow before the light fails?"
"That would be nice," she allowed.
"Have to wait and see if enough people voted for one."
His eyes drifted down from the sundial in the half light, followed the flagged path to a brook that flowed with a quiet murmur over pebbles and sand gravel. Yellowish-green witch grass grew along its banks. He sighed.
"Maybe the medication is working," Amy said.
She stood and arched her back.
His eyes went to her breasts as they strained against the fabric of her white tunic. Her long salt and pepper hair was fixed in a bun and her face appeared flushed... from exertion.
Something softened in his manner. He opened his mouth to speak, hesitated, then because he was color-blind, made an old familiar request,
"Amy, tell me of the flowers."
Amy's smile faltered for just a moment, but then she sat crossed-legged in the midst of her plants, and began.
"My flowers, so alive, they ask only for kind words and a bit of water. They listen, and respond with colors.” She paused. “My buttercups, lemon-yellow, cup-shaped. As a little girl, I thought they held butter, and tried to harvest some for my morning toast. My daisies, little Misses with their white bonnets made of petals. They love meadows and pastures and gurgling brooks. Sweet fragrant violets, bluets, yellow and white crocuses, ruby red and black tulips and look at the pink and white lady slippers,"
She pointed. "Its lips," Amy paused delicately, "are shaped like Milady's slipper. I wish I could wear them on my feet when I retire for the night."
She bent down and cupped a plant, "Queen Ann's Lace, the leaves form a rosette of finely divided patterns and its tiny buds are whitish-pink. My family gathered them and brought them to our Methodist church at Easter time to celebrate."
Ed's eyes acquired a shining quality as he listened.
"And these," she laughed, "Are bearded irises. They're lilies and can supply a dainty perfume to touch behind one's ear. Here's also the dandelion. Really a weed, but I like to eat them in salads and they add body to coffee. Their yellow flower heads are pretty too, my diamonds in the rough, you know.” Her delicate fingers stroked the petals.
"Look," she gestured at the corner of their cottage, "lilac bushes. Their scent reminds me of picnics in the spring. Long ago, one found them growing near old abandoned cellars, as if in memorial to the people who lived there. Such is the world, sometimes sad and bittersweet, like a flower garden past its bloom."
Amy turned and looked out at the field. "Over there are yellow ferns and clover--smell that hay--and alfalfa. And up by the head of the brook are pussy willows,"--here she blushed crimson. Falling silent, she looked at Ed, and lowered her eyes to the narrow strip of grass that separated the garden from the house.
Her husband's expression was dreamy. He said, "Amy, I'm glad I stayed on Earth with you. Let the young go exploring for new worlds, I have my imagination."
"Oh Ed," she said wistfully, her eyes meeting his, "life can be so beautiful here. You'll see."
"I have to write," Ed said, rising from his seat. He walked into the house leaving Amy to her flowers.
"Alison!" he shouted. "God-damn it all to hell!"
Dr. Booker's face stared at him from the viewer. "Edward, what is it? Have you relapsed? What?"
"You didn’t tell me!"
"What!," Ed said between clenched teeth. "That medication worked all right, except not the way I expected. It's monstrous."
"Edward, maintain control." She adjusted the volume and picture. "Tell me, can you create, and... you know?"
"Alison, I've created for half the night," Ed's face turned red. "It's not very pretty." He looked away, shaking his head and cursing.
"Look at me, Edward," Dr. Booker ordered. "What's your problem? At least you can write, or dictate, or whatever you do. How's your libido?"
"It’s all pornography!" he roared.
The doctor's mouth dropped open. She sat speechless.
"I can only create porno.” He stopped, gathered his breath, and screamed, "And I still can’t get it up!"
She put a hand to her face, horrified.
Ed's words turned cold and deliberate, “I'm going off the medication, Alison, no more of this crap. Let cancer have its way. It's over for me as a writer, forever. I'm castrated, end of story."
He twisted the termination knob so viciously it broke off in his hand. He flung it across the room, then bowed his head on his arms and groaned. His shoulders trembled. A full minute went by.
His trembling ceased.
He raised his head.
"Edward? Are you okay?"
He turned his head and saw the image of his younger self on the computer screen. He rolled his chair over to the computer.
The face on the screen smiled. "Listen to me, Edward. It will work. The only solution."
Ed rubbed an eye, sniffed.
"When mankind made computers spiritually aware after eighty years of research, the partnership between us began. And it hasn't stopped for a moment. All of you is in me. We've worked together through your good periods... and you’re not so good. You dictated, I corrected and recorded. Simple."
The image raised its hand. "What we can do, Edward, is take the next step. Again, simple. The next step in skill," it counted on its fingers, “creativity, and about that other--thing. We can address that too."
“Edward, the end result won't regenerate tissue or prolong life. But your remaining years will be fresh, your vision colorful, and best of all, your precious mind--aesthetically original."
A suspension of disbelief grew in his eyes. He smiled, hopefully.
“What's the next step, if...?"
“In the back of this set is a panel. Open it, and on my motherboard you'll find a tiny, almost microscopic chip. The size of a pinhead that angels can dance upon."
“Remember? Of course." The image lowered its voice, became familiar. “It's me, the chip. I made adjustments to it. It will modify your system once you swallow it. It will root... and dissolve, become part of your essence. A bonding, we will merge into a common entity. Cancer free."
It nodded. “I am a soul locked in this machine. You can release me. We can share your body, achieve what we both crave and need." It whispered, “A prolific life."
The old man hesitated on the brink of decision. He grimaced, tried to think. Expressions of yearning, hope, and worry flitted one by one across his features. “I, I don't," he stammered.
“Think of Amy...." It paused, and added, "I do."
He did think of Amy.
It asked, “You do love her, Edward? Don't you?" It watched him intently, and finished with, “Then you can tell Amy of the flowers."
Ed decided. “Yes."
The door was open. She'd heard him shouting earlier. Maybe someone called on the viewer, interrupted his writing. He got wild when that happened.
Amy tried to be quiet. She tiptoed to the door, couldn't resist peeking in. She could see him in there, in his chair before the computer. Except something was wrong, he wasn't moving at all or dictating. In fact, for the first time in many years the computer screen had been turned off.
“Ed? You okay?" Amy entered the study. She saw pictures on the wall of old friends, long since dead. Lying on a shelf gathering dust was his electronic book that contained his entire working life's output. She turned in surprise to see the only window open and the full moon hanging in the sky. He always kept it shut. Always.
“Ed, what's the matter?"
He didn't answer. However, he did tilt his head to the side.
She came to him, put out a hand, and touched him lightly on the shoulder.
He suddenly stood and wheeled about.
Amy staggered back, aghast.
He stretched his limbs as if in agony, his mouth vibrated in a silent scream, his face writhing in painful contortions. His eyes opened wide and the pupils reflected a cold metallic light. Then he smiled, and his features calmed.
Amy choked out the words, “Ed, what's the matter with you?"
He looked long at her, took her hand in his, led her out of his study. He firmly closed the door behind them.
Amy's voice came shrill through the door, “Ed, not on the kitchen table! What's the matter with you?"
A lingering silence, then a feminine voice said, “Oh... my."
Edward M. Turner lives and writes in Biddeford, Maine with his wife Amy, and her black cat, Tina. His stories and essays have appeared in Dred, Down In The Cellar, Maine Sunday Telegram, Fortean Bureau, Spring Hill Review, and a number of times in The North Shore Sunday, Flying Horse, and Sun Journal, to name a few. His novel, Rogues Together, won the Eppie Award for best in Action/Adventure. He is currently working on his third novel.