Cleaving of the Mind
by Ian Cordingley
The waiting room walls are sterile white and the furniture is dated and ugly. Sophia caresses my hand; Dr. Berger simply says, “It’s not looking good.”
Well, of course. Wires and tubes shove their way into my father’s body. Now he’s just telling me how much time they’re going to keep him in this state and of course how much money will be required.
I nod. “My mother is inquiring into private care.”
She’s been perched by his side, as if she expects him to impart some great insight before he passes. As the one holding the purse strings, she’s been making all the arrangements, leaving me the provisional head of his estate. When he passes, the fight will get ugly.
“Mother has also requested neurological regenerative stimulation.”
“Rehabilitation is quite impossible, I’m afraid.”
I know that. The best we could do is make him sit up and with a quivering arm deliver spoonfuls of pudding to slide off his face. “I know, but I think she wants more of a cosmetic purpose.”
“You mean REpenthe?”
I nod. A row of multicoloured disks rests in a shelf above my desk at home: closer to the man than my father himself.
Dr. Berger checks his clipboard. “It’s possible,” he admits, “but it’s coming out of your nickel.”
“My mother has made the arrangements.”
“All right,” Dr. Berger replies, closing his clipboard. “I’ll be making a preparatory examination before he will be released to private care. Then he’s in your hands.”
“Thank you.” Dr. Berger has been my physician since I was a boy. Out of the corner of his eye I get a glance of sympathy, understanding. Wrestling with my mother will not be easy; I have a hard road ahead. Sophia squeezes my hand but I am numb, too many emotions fighting to gain dominance. At least Daniel isn’t here to take it.
* * *
I’m in my sanctuary. A pillow is wrapped over my head but it does no good: the walls pulsate with the fury. Like their previous arguments I anticipate this one will end quickly. But I do not know that tonight will be different.
“Don’t you even think of walking out that door!”
“Or what?” Daniel roars back. “What are you going to do, spank me?”
Father sputters out a reply, one Daniel has heard a thousand times. It will have no effect: he’s talented and young. Father’s competitors are actively courting Daniel and he has too much brains to stay aboard a sinking ship.
“Your family needs you here.”
“My family,” Daniel is on the verge of hysterical laughter. “What about me? What about me?”
“You selfish little... I raised Astral from nothing at your age.”
“And look what you’ve done with him now. Or have you not been paying attention?”
Never before has his son been this cruel to him. Father pauses for a moment and when he opens his mouth again his voice has noticeably changed. “I am a dedicated man, dedicated to my work and to you.”
“Bull!” Daniel roars. “What complete bull!” He stomps towards the door.
Father angrily implores Daniel not to even think about it but stays at the top of the stairs and, unless he is prepared to physically hurl himself between his son and the door, this argument ends tonight.
“You’re a rotten father, and a rotten businessman,” Daniel says taking the knob in hand. “I hope you choke.”
The house vibrates with fury as the door slams shut. Seconds later Daniel’s car, an old internal combustion monster, growls into life and speeds off into the distance. Mother comes out of hiding and she and father chatter busily, walking into another room.
The coast is clear. I come out of my closet. I slip into my bed sheets, confident that tomorrow will be fine. My parents sleepwalk the next morning, more cordial than usual. When the realization does come, it slides in slowly, burning as it goes.
I won’t see my brother again for eight years, not personally. I see him all the time on the television, on the web. But I won’t be in the same room with him until the day they bring his body back with honour.
* * *
It’s an exorcism in reverse, a pathetic attempt to keep the spirits in. Father has two nodes, old but serviceable, in his skull. He’s propped up and cables are running to them. Mother is by his side. I am at the back with the technicians.
“We’re all set here.”
Mother nods. “Very well, get on with it.”
An olive coloured disk is slipped into its slot. A couple of key taps later the data begins to transfer back from the computer to the skull from whence it came. Almost instinctively my father’s eyes open and he begins to drool.
My mother smiled. “He enjoys it,” she says. “You’ve chosen well.”
It’s maybe my first real compliment from her in my life. “Thanks,” I reply. “It’s one of Daniel.”
“Oh, I know he’ll enjoy it,” she said.
Out of respect for my mother rather than father, I chose something from Daniel’s younger years. He was an object of aspiration to my easily impressed eyes: tall and strong, handsome. Girls flocked to Daniel the same way they avoided me.
Granted his young adulthood was probably the most august period in his life. There are reams of data to choose from: happily bouncing in training on the moon, posing heroically in his flyer. Too many bad vibes attached to that.
But I don’t think father even cares about that anymore. He’s staring into space. A technician wipes some drool off his face and checks the connection.
“So, this is Daniel Leon’s pop?”
I nod. The technician working the controls shakes his head. I can sympathize. What’s the point, propping up an old man too far-gone, particularly one who was a regular asshole in life, to satisfy his demented wife? But he’s my father. I’m beholden to my family’s eccentricities.
My mother is happy that my father is happy. She caresses his hairline. It almost looks like she’s sincere.
“So, this was the old days.”
The technician raps the screen. “This,” he explained. A couple of stills float by with indecipherable data below them monitoring their progress.
“Yeah,” I say. It’s unusual for the both of us.
Daniel Leon. Drove headfirst into the moon and got killed while saving about a couple dozen lives. Not the first loss of life but arguably the first bona fide hero. I think I’m beginning to believe the hype too.
Dad was broken up about it, wanting to show more grief than he was allowed to. But at the funeral he was stone-faced and brave, across from his former partners and present rivals. He appreciated the warm and lavish send off.
At times I’ve wanted to try out REpenthe. It’s not for commercial use and every year some sucker deep fries his brain trying. But I want the old memories back, liberated by some shock through the deeper regions of my brain.
In a sick way my father is lucky. He can have his back. The selfish bastard.
* * *
While I go through the disks again the next day, in anticipation of his next treatment, I find something interesting. Buried on one of the clear pink disks that retain father’s middle age. It’s very well labeled, viewed frequently.
I run through it several times before I realize what I’m watching.
My father opens the door. Daniel is standing in front of him.
Daniel had three Earth-side leaves. He spent them in the Bahamas and the South Pacific, where it was sunny and warm. It’s autumn now and getting colder.
My father stands there for a moment. “Well, you want to come in?”
Without word or gesture Daniel walks in. He’s a physically fit specimen, not showing any of the creases he received while training vigourously. He takes his coat off and plunks it onto the rack. It’s not the union coat he was so fond of wearing.
“All right,” Daniel says. He gave up the habit before he left. He accepts the cigarette which my father thoughtfully lights.
“So,” father says, “you’re back?”
Daniel nods, “For a couple of months.”
“Spending it at home?”
Daniel shakes his head, “I’ve made plans.”
“I understand. When I was your age...,” my father prattles on. Daniel sullenly stands there and smokes. They move into the living room and my father offers whisky, which is gratefully accepted. I never once heard of him drinking.
While they’re pulling out miracles I expect them to produce a feast from loaves and fishes.
They sit down. “You’re kicking Astral’s butt.”
Daniel nodded. Extra clientele: Astral’s been relegated to the thankless resupply jobs. By now he’s made a couple of service commendations for speed, reliability, responsibility. He’s going to go very far.
“Not sorry about it, I take it?” my father asks. Daniel just shrugs. Father smiles.
“It must be exciting. I could dream of going up there, back when I was your age. It was a different time.”
“I know.” Daniel could practically recite my father’s retellings of his ambitions. When he was younger it was all he wanted to talk about. “I like it up there.”
I pause for a moment to consider what I’m watching: they sit, father almost on the edge of his seat; Daniel slung back, defiant, but not ready to leave just yet.
I fast forward: they spend time talking. Daniel eventually gets up to leave. Father walks him to the door.
“When are you going up?”
“March,” says Daniel. “I’m going to do a lot of surfing, swimming.”
“Good for you. You deserve it.”
Daniel, outwardly, is unmoved by the sentiment. Some measure of my father’s love must have crept into him, in fantasy if not in fact.
“Call me sometime. I want to hear how you’re doing.”
“I’ll try,” Daniel says. The change in sentiment is unexpected but there’s reason to be cautiously optimistic. He lets father give him a pat on the shoulder before he goes.
I check the timestamp. It was set eight months before Daniel died. I was at home the whole time and Daniel never again walked in the door. But my father acted as if he would at any time.
* * *
I take my time telling Sophia about it. She’s noticed I brood more frequently. “Your mother?” she asks, knowing the answer is something different.
“Not quite,” I reply. She’s made a list of demands but I comply with it easily. I’m not telling her about it, this lie.
I turn the disk over in my hands. Technically this is illegal. Back before my time, when my father wisely invested in the industry before it went big, there were God knows how many disputes, legal alone. I leave the philosophy and religious aspects to wiser men.
Not that I haven’t considered it, the human condition, I suppose. Now that we have the technology, what’s to stop us from making broken things new, old relationships fresh? I’m not so strong that I’ve never thought for a moment of rewriting the past, having a father who bothers to play ball with me sometimes.
Sophia sits next to me. “The next day’s load?”
I shrug. “Maybe.”
On tape I have Astral’s finest hour: the first few commercial habitats on the moon. I’ve only known it through interviews, long faded magazine covers and photographs. Father is always beaming and I think he’s truly satisfied with himself for the first time in his life.
For an extremely tiny window, he and my mother were genuinely happy with themselves, confident in their future. The last few seconds of recollection are my mother pregnant with Daniel, smiling and happy.
I turn the lie over in my hands. What else haven’t I found? Or maybe I’ve pumped it into him already? No consequences, of course, not at this stage. I just feel disappointed.
Daniel never believed in it. My father was important, wealthy and reckless enough, but not Daniel. I think it was all spite. My collection of pleasant times is tiny but it exists. All I ever wanted was one disk, even a small one.
“I think you’re doing all right,” says Sophia.
That makes one of us. “Thank you,” I reply.
She kisses me and leaves me to my thankless task.
* * *
He’s taken a turn for the worse and it is questionable whether we can proceed. But money overrides all other objections. He’s propped up and his skull is visible through his thin pale skin. It’s harder to hook him up. A forest of wires surrounds him. Monitors cheep with increased urgency. My mother caresses his hand while the plugs are connected.
I’ve been asked to bring a stack. I’ve got a pretty good lineup. Some power greater than me has convinced me to create an extra copy of the lie. I have it in the palm of my hand.
“Okay, good to go. The day’s stuff?”
The technician has his hand outstretched. “You know, the data?”
“Oh, that,” I reply. I pass him the small stack. He piles it up, takes the top disk and inserts it into the tray. When he drives it home my father barely blinks.
The technician shakes his head. “Oh, it’s taking,” he says, “it’s just not good enough.”
I watch my father’s head move slightly, rolling as if in ecstasy.
“It’s beginning to fade,” he explains, tapping the side of his head. “And it’s not getting better anytime soon.”
“How long until...”
The technician shrugs. “Your mom’s decision, only real concern of mine is how I get paid.”
I stand for a moment and watch. My father’s brain readings are lazy lines looping into hills and falling into short valleys. I’m not a doctor but that can’t augur well.
My mother caresses his head. Poor bastard can’t tell the outside world; he’s high off the memories piped into his skull. And there’s not much time left for that.
I place the disk of the lie on the technician’s table. Father deserves one last time with his son.
Copyright © 2008 by Ian Cordingley