The IV-Therapy Coffee Shop
of the 21st Century
by Jhon Sánchez
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Ricardo hated second opportunities. This life has meaning only because we know we cannot repeat its moments. Uncertainty is a sea with floatation devices like love that we grip to keep from drowning. She didn’t understand that the eventuality of forgetting, the prediction that one day his skin wouldn’t feel anything for her made his love more meaningful.
But if one day, if they take my dry fingers and dead muscle to reproduce even the kinesthetic memory from my corpse, how could I yearn for her? Love was possible only because he would eventually forget her birthday, her taste for coffee, her aroma, the ticklishness of her bellybutton. Love was wishing to be providing those tickles when her body was absent. He wanted to lick her stomach and smell her ears in the morning whenever he was with clients showing one of his paintings. No, he wouldn’t want her like one of those medieval pillories, securing his head, his hands, his memory, even if it were made of the smoothest of wood, her skin.
She tugged at the gray hair on the knuckles of his hand.
He pulled his hand away.
She cocked her head, shaking it. “I have given half my life—”
Ricardo coughed as the waiter approached, bowing to show Marinella that her IV was ready.
“Our daily dose for preservation for those who want to live and... die and live to be with our loved ones once again,” she exclaimed and flinched with a gust of wind that entered through the door. It had stopped snowing. She extended her arm, folding back her red cashmere sweater to reveal her milky skin. The waiter inserted the needle attached to an IV-like bag.
Then, from a tray carried by a younger waiter, he served the coffee, in shiny china. “This is genuine 21st-century,” said the waiter tapping a cup with his middle finger. “If you break it, we will kill you.”
“You’d be doing him a favor,” Marinella muttered under her breath.
The waiter looked quickly from Marinella to Ricardo’s eyes and withdrew without a word.
Ricardo lifted his eyebrows, forming two triangles, and started rubbing them. With uncertainty, he stammered, “This so-called relationship. Why don’t you leave me alone? I’ll die without—”
“Gratitude and loyalty are what you owe to me. I don’t want to remember you like a rotten potato. There are certain things that you just need to do in life. It’s your damn responsibility—”
“What responsibility? It’s my life. I get to make that decision for myself.” He lowered his voice: “Why can’t we just have a conversation to solve our problems? Of course we have broken hearts—”
“Let me finish—”
Marinella looked away through the window with a frown.
“Can I?” he went on. “Why don’t you take your suicide pills?” Staring down at his Wellington boots in blemished brown leather and dotted with tiny flakes of snow, he realized that he didn’t want to say that. It’s like what everyone else is doing, he thought: killing themselves because of a birth defect; killing themselves because they couldn’t get into a school; killing themselves because of a neck pain. In the next life they hoped to find something better; better luck and a better body.
Marinella laughed loudly. “Don’t you see? I have obligations as a lawyer. Let me enjoy my coffee.” She sipped and blew on the liquid as if it were too hot. She held the cup with both hands, enjoying the warmth and steam that escaped. “Eighty years with the same wrinkles, the arthritis, going deaf and blind. You cannot paint like this,” she muttered. “What a shame for a painter.”
So many times she had told him that she learned to love him because of his paintings, as if they were somehow similar to her father’s dolls. The first time he had decided to stop taking the IV, she convinced him to go back by telling him that the arthritis would slowly erase his essence, his desire to paint in the next life.
She had been reflecting the position of the government: “All pain and mostly chronic pain causes anxiety and depression. This eliminates the true person within. Reducing and controlling the pain is the best way to keep your memories and maintain the emotional balance needed to identify the matching body in the next life.”
“That is what I want. Life is about dying and... and forgetting.” He sipped his coffee. It tasted bitter and burnt.
“You know what your problem is?”
“Don’t tell me that I feel superior to everybody.”
“No, it’s that you don’t know what happened between you and me in our previous lives.”
“Neither do you. Anyway, I don’t care about that. I believe in the process of—”
“You’re afraid, afraid like a child, but as soon as you understand how much you need it, you’re going to come back pleading, ‘Can I have a double dose,’ acting like a brat... I hope that, by then, all the deterioration won’t have caused too much damage.” Again, imitating a child’s voice and with a pouting face, she continued, “‘Double please’.” She dropped the coffee cup on the saucer, spilling some over the table.
Ricardo took a napkin and wiped the puddle with so much force it made the table wobble. “Why don’t you go to Hell? Go and kill yourself.”
“Listen, I have perfect health. I’m much younger than you and” — she lowered her voice — “try to understand. I’m in a unique position.”
It was a reference to her job as the General Counsel for the Body Preservation Society. She had told him many times of the cases that were unsolved, the parental rights during the afterlife, the marriage contracts for eternity, the age of consent for suicide, the criminal consequences of killing someone.
“You lawyers. I always thought that lawyers would eventually be extinct. But doctors... Hell no! They were like life itself.” He thought about surgeries, the nurses that used to weigh the patients, the classic instruction: “Open wide” or “Take a deep breath.”
“What was the name of the instruments they carried around their necks?” he asked with a quiet voice as he drew an image with his hand along the collar of his poncho with its pre-Columbian designs.
“A stethoscope,” she answered with the exaltation of scoring a point in a game. “I know those eyes, this gesture with your eyebrows. You don’t miss doctors. You miss your brother.” She caressed his jaw and yanked a stray hair from his goatee.
He remembered when his brother had called to read him a headline from The New York Times. “The Soul is a Dispersed Atomic Body: The Evidence for Reincarnation and Immortality.”
Johnny had been so worked up at dinner that evening that the frantic movements of his hands made him look like a person under the effect of some psychotropic drug. “Immortality... the dream of every doctor.” Ricardo had searched his brother’s voice for sarcasm, at that moment and in the years that followed, but could find none.
Johnny couldn’t have imagined what would happen after the discovery: suicides en masse, the collapse of the healthcare system, the worldwide abolition of the death penalty to appease those who now considered death to be a reward. People stopped having surgeries or taking medicines. Shortly afterwards, Johnny’s practice went bankrupt, and Ricardo found him with his throat slashed with the same scalpel that he’d used for ambulatory surgeries. Even for Johnny, suicide turned out to be the only remedy.
What would Johnny have said about the elimination of pain so that people can die or live more easily or whatever? He imagined Johnny saying with a wink, “Pain always announces that something is wrong in the body. We just need to listen to it.” How could he have explained to him that this was no longer necessary?
People live like zombies, without feeling anything at all, afraid they won’t be themselves in the next life without the dose. What would have happened if Johnny had died after the body preservation therapy became available? Ricardo would probably have had Johnny’s body stored in the closet. If he fit there. He was so tall.
Ricardo felt ashamed, wishing his brother would one day visit him in a new body to retrieve the memories of his previous life. His brother’s body might be hanging like a stuffed moose. He had that face. When he would become old enough in his new life, they would probably have had coffee and talked about how they once played basketball. He would have asked Johnny if his new body was any good at it. Nothing like that could happen now. Johnny could be anyone, living without knowing who he was to me. But, at least I grieved for him; I buried him; I let his body go, with no artificial hope of downloading his memories as if he were some immutable computer. A world without loss lacks appreciation.
Marinella took out a book entitled How to Die and Be Born Into a Successful Life.
“Don’t tell me you’re reading that crap.”
“You don’t want to talk and—”
Four beats of a drum interrupted the piano music that up to that point had been a low, repetitive background, and a man in a tuxedo said in a loud voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are going to announce a special show for today: ‘An open heart surgery.’ Back in the 21st century, doctors used to practice surgeries, even heart transplants to avoid heart failure or a broken heart.” There was a dissonance of sustained piano notes.
As a crew of doctors in white aprons and nurses walked to the stage, the antique TV monitors scattered throughout the coffeeshop captured a different view of the scene. The slow piano music turned jazzy accompanied by high, fast, drum beats.
A man in a light pink gown entered from the opposite side of the room, appearing on all the TV screens as he bowed. He climbed onto a stretcher. A flock of nurses pushed the stretcher to the center of the room.
The tempo of the music slowed as some doctors wound their way to the patient. As emotionless as robots, they lifted the man from the stretcher and moved him onto an operating table. The music now became more rapid with a clapping background as if it were an invitation for the audience to follow. The doctors shifted the patient’s body slightly towards the cameras, focusing them on his hairless bottom. “Take a look at that ass. This is probably the last time you will see it,” said the host.
Ricardo observed the audience laughing and shook his head. What is this? He wanted to stand and leave the coffee shop. Did she bring me here to mock me?
He rested his head on his hands, obstructing his view of the performance. The music echoed heartbeats that one of the monitors showed in ascending peaks.
I wish I had earplugs. He even thought of rolling up some napkins and stuffing them into his ears.
“Unbelievable,” exclaimed Marinella, “that we once subjected ourselves to torture in the hope of living a little longer.”
Yes, he replied to himself. I would go back to those days. But Marinella couldn’t relate to that. She was born only two years before scientists discovered that soul was a kind of magnetic energy.
Ricardo met her at a bar, not long after she had finished law school. That night, they laughed when she told him that as a little girl she had imagined the soul like a thief leaving a fingerprint on a baby’s brain. “I guess I want to attend to my clients with the same precision I apply when caring for my dolls. You know, my father gave me the most important lesson of law in my life. He always said when he gave me a doll, ‘Listen to what the baby wants’.” Her hand gripped the bar counter next to Ricardo’s hand. “That’s what makes me a good lawyer, listening to what the baby wants.”
It was a quality he liked about her. She was loyal, and she didn’t care for what others thought, only in what she believed was right. That’s why he was convinced that she would love him no matter what, even though her friends didn’t like him because he was so much older than she was.
She told him that one of her classmates had said about Johnny, “Are you kidding me? An old man who lived through the years when hospitals still existed?”
“But, I really don’t care,” she’d said back then after kissing him on the chest. “I like you. I feel a certain energy when you frown in that unique way of yours.”
Ricardo peered questioningly at Marinella, who traced the peaks above his eyebrows. “And, if you decide to jump to the next life soon, then I’ll have a lover thirty years younger.” He felt hurt, nauseous, but he put his feelings away and tickled her. “Then, you would be a pedophile lawyer. I would be just a baby, a mere toddler. Remember, marrying minors is still against the law.”
They never married. He had explained to her that it was better to wish for the commitment than to actually have it.
“Scalpel!” one of the actor-doctors yelled from the stage. Ricardo tried to convince himself not to stand up and leave. “Suture!” “Hemorrhage!” “Blood pressure!” Those were words he probably never hear again. Sacred words in this perverse scene.
He had kept his head bowed for several minutes but finally lifted it when everybody was clapping effusively. He wished he hadn’t. The doctors and nurses had formed a human pyramid, and the main surgeon was holding the patient’s heart in his hands, still bleeding and palpitating. It made Ricardo remember when he was small and cut worms into pieces that remained twisting and slithering as if they were baby snakes. Heat traveled up to his ears.
“Let’s go,” he said to Marinella. He swiped his payment into his communication device and grabbed her by the arm but released her when the waiter came. The white cashmere on her arm showed the mark of his fingers on the stubble of the wool. It surely had left a red mark on her skin. She was always like that, bruised by a simple grip. For a moment he imagined a computer engineer reading this moment from her skin in hieroglyphic symbols, reading his kisses in her lifeless lips. The lump in his throat moved up and down.
“A deep breath,” said the waiter as he took the IV needle out of her other arm. He offered her a Band-Aid, saying, “They used these to cure bleeding wounds.” She declined it and folded her arm.
In the meantime, Ricardo, wrapped in his hunter coat, paced back and forth between the table and the entrance. When he saw that Marinella was gathering her things, he opened the door, waited for her and let her go first.
As she exited, she muttered, “I thought you would enjoy the show.”
From behind the closed door, he could still hear the host, “Don’t worry, our patient died, but he has performed similar experiences in past lives. We have applications for volunteers to participate for the show in March. You too can show your ass and give your heart to everyone.”
The strong wind beat against the door behind them, and Ricardo stomped out into the slurry of ice.
Copyright © 2018 by Jhon Sánchez