Carlton wouldn’t be home until late. Andrea had learned to expect as much, and she couldn’t blame him for it, really. Their work was too important. Most of the time, she was at his side too, brewing the coffee and dipping the bags of tea, washing her hair with spritzes of dry shampoo in the warehouse bathroom, and only driving home to Palos Park for the rare weekend when the grandchildren were in town.
This was supposed to be such a weekend. Andrea had left the Peoria office early, after helping set Carlton up, and was home cleaning the house and preparing snacks for her children and grandchildren. They were supposed to arrive the next morning from the east coast, their bags bursting, their eyes wide and expectant of the glee only grandparents could bestow. Andrea swept the corners of the kitchen and moved along to the crevices beneath the refrigerator and stove. The remnants that appeared were indiscernible grey chunks and wisps of dust from ages ago, a stray penny, a curl of white hair, a raisin that had gone sooty.
Andrea tsked and bent down with the dustpan; her hips and knees moaned and stung in defiance. The tile sent a chill up her palms, to her elbows. She could hardly discern the creaking of the house as distinct from the creaking in her own body.
Her husband came through the door with a paper package in his arms, covering his face. Sweet Mandy B’s, the bakery on the southeastern edge of Peoria, with the birthday cake crepes and the coffee rolls that stayed sticky and mouth-watering for days after purchase. Andrea scuttled over to him, her stocking feet catching crumbs, and took the package.
Her husband’s face had a pallor that was growing. It used to be that Carlton only looked haggard in the morning, before his coffee and bran. Then he became to get forgetful early in the evening, and made obvious, trifling mistakes around the office when he was sluggish from a big lunch. Old age had come to claim him at the edges of the day, but those edges kept expanding, drawing in, approaching and cresting over one another; it would go on until no moment of Carlton’s life was left unperturbed.
“I made blondies and that walnut fudge they like, dear,” Andrea said, taking the package and placing it on the counter. “You really shouldn’t have.”
Carlton dragged his hat off his scalp and squeezed it between his hands. He stood by the door, looking up and down at the kitchen as if scanning it.
After a time, he said, “Got everything ready for the kids.”
“Sure do, dear.”
Andrea took his hat and encouraged him to offer up his coat, and placed them in the front of the closet where he’d have no trouble locating them in the morning. She set a timer on the coffee maker as she walked by. The house was always beckoning, moaning, creaking, and asserting its many needs. There was never enough time to keep everything together.
Carlton Avers slipped his black work socks off and left them in his slip-resistant work loafers. Andrea found him on the couch with his feet splayed inelegantly across the table. He had a smart glass tablet in a weak, two-handed grip, and appeared to be reading a magazine in very large serif text. As she passed, Andrea caught a few of the words: sub-tropical humming bird populations, yada yada, forest restoration programs, localized rebuilding.
“What you got there Carly?” She asked.
“Well,” he pulled the smart glass down.
A hand found the sprouting whiskers in his chin. Andrea made a mental note to replace the razor Carlton kept in his work locker.
”Finished the rough prototype for the Box with Ted today,” he continued. “Think it’s gonna go pretty smooth, actually.”
“Oh, is that a fact?”
He cracked his mouth open and the words around on his tongue a few times before saying, “Eh-yup. It’s time. There’s no point in dithering around with simulations and tests anymore. Just need a brain to shove in it.”
He chuckled and pulled the smart glass back up. Andrea was standing in the middle of the room, doing very little.
“What about the body?” She asked.
Carlton lowered the smart glass a few centimeters and squinted at his wife. “What about it? It’s years from getting operational, Smithy, you know that.”
Smithy had been Carlton’s nickname for his wife since they’d gotten married. He was surprised and impressed by her choice not to change her surname. Andrea Smith didn’t know any other women her age who’d kept their last names. A few took solace in the hyphen, and patted themselves on the back for the showing of strength. Only half of their identity had been erased by their husbands’; that was what Andrea thought about it.
But when it came time for children, the hyphen solution had reared its head. People were forever thinking that their daughter, Dani Avers-Smith, was one of those crouching, liberal, compromising women who’d combined their name with their husband’s. Their son Houston just went by Avers, which drove Andrea crazy. She still wrote “Houston Avers-Smith” on all his birthday and Christmas cards.
Andrea paced to the other end of the room.
There was a deer in the back yard, chewing, with short antlers that had been broken in a mating scuffle, or perhaps simply through the harshness of winter.
She said, “It just seems, seems a bit, well. How are we supposed to sell the damn Box thing, without a body?”
“There will be a demand.” Carlton’s voice was gruff and authoritative now, the same tone he used when the children were around and acting up.
“Sure, sure,” Andrea said. “But I can’t imagine how awful—”
“Walt Disney froze just his head,” said Carlton.
Andrea did not need to hear his position in this issue; Walt Disney had long been Carlton’s go-to anecdote in support of BrightBox. She rolled her eyes and began walking back to the kitchen; Carlton raised his voice.
“Walt Disney knew that the brain was all that really mattered, that anything else could be replaced. When the brain dies right now, the person dies with it. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The body is tertiary to the main goal, Smithy, no matter how much a person would prefer to have one.”
“Oh sure, of course,” Andrea called. She turned the spigot on and ran a glass under the white stream of heavily pressurized water. Carlton was still speaking but she was missing the essence of it. A few words floated in.
“Unprecedented, absolutely unheard-of -”
“It certainly will be.”
“It’s gonna sell itself, just think about it!”
“I know you’re right,” Andrea called, “I do, but I just don’t know if it’s the most humane thing to do. Let a person live their whole afterlife in a itty bitty computer? I just don’t know if everybody would appreciate that kind of life, Carly, I just don’t. Maybe Walt Disney did. But not everyone’s so cerebral.”
“Can you grab me a beer?”
Carlton fell asleep before his beer was half drained. He was never a big drinker, but ever since his brain had started to slip it made him exhausted after a few sips.
Andrea left him there, though she pulled the smart glass from his grasp and slipped it back into the protective sleeve. Then she padded down the hall, ran a bath, and prepped for bed.
Click here to read Synapse from the beginning.
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