Jed laid in bed half-awake, thinking about the words he was missing from his latest writings. That was part of the trouble those days. The other side of his bed where Selma used to lay was empty. His lover for so many years, gone for more days than he could count.
He sat up and grabbed his IMoovOns from the bedside table, putting the large metal frames with tinted lenses over his eyes and attaching the sticky pads to his head. His therapist told him to reserve it for certain occasions, when needed most, as part of his healing process. Jed knew it wouldn’t last forever. Today it was deserved. He pushed the GO button on the left arm of the frames.
Selma appeared next to him as though a television screen had been turned on, transmitting through thin air. A translucent pigment of light cast down from Heaven, he thought.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said to her.
“Enough already, you know I’m not really here.” Part of her programming was to boldly motivate him.
Hard encouragement mode.
Her holographic image was a depiction taken from several years before she died. Her appearance was still bright then. The program let her speak as though she was there, but with therapeutic behavioral tweaks calibrated to Jed’s mind through brainwaves measured by the IMoovOns.
Jed dragged his legs over the edge of the bed and lightly grazed the sides of his face with his fingers. Lines indenting his loose skin.Reminders of his seniority.
“Can you please be here for real, just today?” Jed said.
“I’m here. Your memories of me are strong.” It felt patronizing but needed to be said.
Jed looked away. “Some memories are wanted, others, not.”
“Our love transcends memories, time and space. You always told me that,” Selma said.
He sighed, eyeing the notebook on the bedside table. There were notebooks strategically placed throughout his home in case the words sparked within him and he could jot them down. But it had been months since he’d turned ramblings into prose. He opened it to the passage still in need of much work:
Vince sat in his room with tears of frustration dripping down his cheeks. The gates of reason were closing as feelings of isolation grew. Alone in a world of robots and humans—the latter becoming as impersonal as the former—was a dark place to be. His coping methods were meeting dead ends. Help was just a phone call away. The noose in his closet also grabbed his immediate attention. This left Vince with a choice: make the call, or end it all…Does the chasm of positive reality usurp that of the negative?
“It’s grim, but there’s a message,” she said.“Where does it go from here?”He thought about it, letting it fester. Minutes passed.
He was about to close the notebook when he noticed a phrase he’d written at the top of one of the pages. There’s no end to the nihil. To him, nihil meant, ‘I have lost the meaning of life, so I’ve affixed this word to it connoting my anger at God for prying my love away’.
“Deep down, you know that’s not true,” Selma said, without being asked.“You haven’t handled your grief. The world won’t cure your pain for you.”The creases around her dazzling blue eyes complimented their beauty as she spoke. Her hair was just as he remembered it: silver with thick luster. He wanted to smell it.
This ghostly concoction of Selma is right, he thought. But he was stuck. It tormented him as though he was Vince, and that the decision was not a clear one.
Before sliding his feet into his slippers, Selma said, “Maybe if you turn the way you speak so antiquatedly into words on paper, we could move on.” He did feel a bit pretentious about that. “And for God’s sake, would you give Frank a call today.”
Why? he thought.
“It’s been nearly six months already! My death is a change you need to deal with. Change is part of the blowing winds of life. Adaptation makes us better people, to carry on telling our stories. Dwelling on life’s shortcomings is not the way to better days. Grief versus love, no contest.”
It sounded scripted, contrived, but it tickled him. The lines in Jed’s face crept upwards as he slid his feet into the slippers and got up.
Selma followed him as he walked over to the bay window of the upper floor condominium. They watched the city life going by as the sun broke through the clouds shining onto Jed’s face. It shone through Selma but somehow made her glow even more. She turned and held a radiant grin at him. He knew what it meant. He hit STOP and took off the IMoovOns. Selma disappeared. He dialed the number. She wasn’t supposed to be present during his calls with the therapist.
“Jed, how are you today?”After small talk, things got serious.
“So… today’s the day,” the doctor said.“I trust that you’re ready.”
“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Jed looked over at the IMoovOns sitting on the table.
“Great. If you stick to the plan, all will be—”
“Doctor, is there any chance we can prolong the program?”
“Jed, you know we can’t do that. The program is set to auto-expire. There’s no turning back.”Jed kept silent. “It’ll be OK. You’ve made significant progress.”
Jed groaned. “For the most part.”
“Let’s talk more tomorrow when you come in. For now, maybe head out with a friend or something.”
“I will. Thank you, Doctor.”
They ended the call. Jed nearly put the IMoovOns back on but stopped himself. He had to start resisting such temptation. Instead, he made another call, needing to get outside—ideally not alone. Selma’s translucence could not accompany him outdoors.
“Frank, it’s Jed.”
“I know, your name and picture popped up on my screen.”
“What are you up to?”
“Five-foot-nine, shrinking by the day.” Jed missed Frank’s humour. “Where the hell have you been?”
“It’s been a while, huh? Great to hear your voice.”
“You too, old friend.”
“I was thinking, how would you like to head to the Old Rook tables and play this morning?”
“Yeah. I know it’s out of the blue, but it would be great to get out. What do you say?”He gripped the phone tight.
“Er… Felicia and I have plans.”
Jed’s face slumped; his grip loosened. “I see.”
“But to be honest, I’d rather play chess in the park with you, ya ol’ bastard. One second, I’m gonna see what she says.” The line went mute. Moments later, Frank returned.“Felicia says go for it, but to show you no mercy at chess.”
“Brilliant,” Jed said. “Thank her for me. How does eleven work?”
“Eleven works great! I’ll bring the pieces.”
They ended the call. So far, so good, Jed thought. He immediately turned Selma on, unable to contain himself.
“See. You should have done this sooner,” she said. He agreed.
She was with him while he got ready. They exchanged few words, but her presence comforted him. While about to leave, Jed perused his hat collection hanging on the coat tree. Lifting up a sullen-looking cowboy hat revealed a frilly brown fedora with decorative silver-shining strap and a hand-stitched blue daffodil interlaced on the side.
Selma smiled. “That’s the one from Amore!”
He put it on. “I remember the day we got this, strolling hand in hand along the boardwalk on our twenty-fifth anniversary. You spotted it at that local artisan’s shop.”
“I knew it would look good on you… still does.”
“I love how spontaneous you are,” he said.
“You mean were.”
Jed looked down. “Right.”
“Why haven’t you worn it?”
He shrugged. “There was no reason to wear something so uplifting, so reminding. But seeing your smile now brings to light our time in Amore.”
“Keep wearing it. I won’t be giving you any others.”
“Its memories will have to last until I too turn to dust.”They stared at each other in the mirror: one human, the other a glimmer of one.“Well… I need to go.”
“I know. Go on,” she said. He wanted to kiss her so badly.Instead, he hit STOP. All went silent as he stood there alone.
He left and headed for the bullet train, narrating his lingering passage to himself a few times, hoping the fresh air and pure daylight would rejuvenate his creativity.
Still nothing. Sparkless.
After the short ride, he exited the station across from the park and headed for the chess tables in the thick of the trees. The natural world of the park nestled within the metropolis comforted Jed. He stopped next to the stone chess tables to look up the long thick trunk of a familiar tree. Its short-studded canopy resembled the turret of a medieval castle. The Rook, he said to himself. Its symbols and memories went beyond words. Timelessness perhaps. Jed’s eyes moistened as a hand suddenly touched his shoulder.
“You’re early, as usual,” Frank said, jovially.
“It’s good to see you.” Jed said, peeling back the layers of wrinkles and droopiness in Frank’s face. Such an adorned soul, he thought.
“What’s with the twinkle in your eyes? Did the doctors give you some new meds?”
“I’m trying to end the nihil,” Jed said.
“Never mind. Let’s go play.”
They sat at an empty table as the shade from the trees blocked the beaming sun and a comfortable breeze flowed through. There was banter among the other players mixed with chirping birds and bristling leaves. They positioned the pieces on the table as Jed took out a coin and held it up so Frank could see it.
“Heads,” Frank said. Jed flicked it up. It landed in his palm, revealing the face of Queen Elizabeth II. “My move.” Frank picked up his knight and moved it three squares up and one to the right.
“So, how’s Felicia?” Jed said, as they moved their pieces at a steady pace.
“She’s good. We’re thinking of selling the house and downsizing.”
“You’ve been saying that for years.”
“I think it’s serious this time. It’s too much work now.”
“We… I mean I have been really happy in the condo since we downsized,” Jed said. Frank nodded while taking one of Jed’spawns with a rook.
“What’s new with you?”
“Well, I’ve been doing this new type of therapy where I can see Selma as a projection, and she can speak to me.”
Frank’s eyebrows raised. “I’ve heard of that. I4Gotz er something?”
Jed smiled. “IMoovOns.”
“Right. Is it working?”
“It’s working, but…”
“Today’s the last day. The program ends tonight.” Jed looked away.
“Tonight? What are you doing here, then?”
“Spending time away from it, with friends like you. It’s what I’m supposed to do.”
Frank squinted. “It brings your wife back but wants you to spend time away from it.”
Jed nodded. “It’s supposed to help me through the grief and get me back into writing again.”
“You’re writing again?”
“I’m struggling though.”
“With what?” Frank said.
“Oh, just this one passage.”
“Maybe you wanna hear it?” Jed subtly asked.
Frank flicked his fingers toward himself. “I’m all ears.”
“Sure. I can listen while kicking your ass at chess.”
“OK, here goes…” Jed recited it from memory, perking up his head after he spoke the final sentence.
Frank furrowed his brow. “Jed, are you suicidal?”
“No,” Jed said, perhaps mildly lying. “It’s more of a metaphor.” He slouched awkwardly.“Vince deciding to seek help is me finding a way through.”
“From Selma? Er… the Selma program?”
“It sounds analogous to someone in purgatory: somewhere between Heaven and Hell.But the gods that-be allow them to choose where to spend eternity.”
“So, God lets them decide?” Jed asked.
Frank nodded. “And there’s no turning back.”
“What about the sins, the baggage, the regrets? Doesn’t that carry weight?”
“It does, but see, now I’m speaking in metaphors.”
The lines on Jed’s face nearly crumpled with ecstasy. His creased eyes nearly watered while staring at his friend. “I should have reached out sooner. I’ve been missing this.”
A few chess moves later, Jed said, “Do you ever hope that life gets easier with age?”
Frank gave him a firm look. “Things may never get easier. But there’s still plenty to smile about.” Frank then made a move on Jed’s king. “Checkmate!”
They played until mid-afternoon when the height of the sun shone above the canopy of trees and began to overheat their aging skin. They packed up the chess pieces and stood to leave.
“Thanks, Frank, this was just like old times.”He haphazardly grabbed Frank and hugged him deeply. There was a light embrace in return before letting go. Frank never was much of a hugger.
“Let’s play again soon,” Frank said, then turned and walked away.
A gush of fresh energy accompanied Jed the rest of the day. Walking in his front door, he hung up his hat and spotted a notebook sitting on the table. He brazenly grabbed it, plucked the pen and opened to a fresh page to scribble something down. This thought brought others, invoking more until a perpetual stream coursed its way from brain to hand to page. Flickers became sparks, then fire, running at full blast. He stopped to read the cohesive parts, the ones that finally turned over his passage:
In the midst of his dichotomy, Vince smiled; a smile so brave as though it took an army of ten-thousand soldiers. His walls of ignorance began breaking down. Today’s the end of the nihil! He picked up his phone and dialed for help.
That night, before going to bed, Jed put on his IMoovOns for the first time since the morning. Selma walked over to him. His legs dangled off the edge of the bed. She looked down at him and put the projection of her arms on his shoulders.
“You did it, Jed. That’s the formula. I’m so proud of you.” Her words were slow and lucid. He couldn’t feel her touch but imagined a warmth embracing his shoulders where the light of her arms rested.
“I couldn’t have done this without you,” he said, looking up at her.
“These sparks will continue.”
He un-slipped from his slippers and sat back in bed. Selma got in next to him and kept silent as she stared at him vivaciously.
He knew what it meant.
Jed fell asleep wearing the IMoovOns, Selma’s fading glow next to him. When he would awake the next morning, she’d be gone. Her program, obsolete, but his memories of her would live on.
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