You Two Should Feel Very Lucky
Enlarge: A A A
They spent a few hours in the hospital bed before a company man came around. “Huge, enormous pleasure to see you’re awake,” he said. His gaze mapped their body. From its new and strange position, Veen’s eye caught his, and he deigned to look embarrassed.
When he went to shake hands, each of them lifted the arm they owned. He shook Laura’s and ignored Veen’s. You don’t shake with the left hand, she thought. She hated him. Relief seeped through their connected neural tissue like mold through the thin wall of a company apartment; Laura thought the company man was on their side. Veen hated Laura, too.
“I’m going to be your liaison with the board,” he said. “My name’s Eric. So extremely, powerfully glad to meet you. You’re Laura and Parvin, is that correct? The company is going to take care of you. Just a few minor papers.”
From his briefcase, he produced a contract that smelled like the inside of an ink printer. “After you sign, we’ll release your pension payment. We’ll move you into executive housing, provide you home care. Everything we can afford.”
Laura’s letterboard translated her text into an electronic voice with clipped contours, smooth but atonal. You have a pen?
Veen keyed in a slow sentence while Eric enthused about benefits and searched his pockets. What if only one of us signs it?
Eric’s smile, motionless. “I think you’ll find it covers all the bases.”
She clawed for the contract across the expanse of their chest until Laura reluctantly gave it up to her. She had to hold it out to her side to get it into her new field of view. Consent to an extensive NDA. A prohibition on leaving company grounds without an escort. An advance directive entrusting their remains to R&D. That would be why the company hadn’t already piled them into the waste liquefactor.
“The other thing,” Eric started. His tone was too pleasant. Veen strained to swivel her gaze back to him. “The board has no interest in assigning legal blame for this.” But, Veen thought. “Taking care of you is our number one concern.” But… “But we do have a duty to help save future employees from an incident. Help us figure out what happened before you went through. Which one of you made the fatal error?”
Laura reached for her board. Veen waited to be condemned. But Laura said, No error. Routine trip.
“We’ll review the tapes,” Eric said. “The doc says your memory might be a bit fuzzy.”
They signed. Laura’s signature was a shaky scrawl, Veen’s disproportionate and childish. She’d been right-handed.
Eric paused for a moment outside the viewing window before he left, and his expression brimmed with pity and disgust and shivering voyeurism, like looking at them was a guilty pleasure.
When he’d been gone long enough, Veen reached for the board. It was the first time they had spoken to one another. I was in beam A. I must have—
Laura put a frightened groan through their mouth. Her hand, humid and weak like the twisted paw of some dying old woman, groped Veen’s. Her thumb impressed unparseable letters in Veen’s palm.
Veen’s ex Annie used to trace letters on the tender inside of Veen’s wrist, between the green rivulets of her veins, to distract her on cramped company shuttles. Veen pulled her hand away, offended, as though there could be any boundary between them for Laura to violate.
She realized what Laura had been trying to tell her, or maybe Laura broadcast it fully formed into her mind. Veen shoved the letterboard on its magnetic arm away from their bedside. Of course the company would be logging their keystrokes.
Veen’s memory wasn’t fuzzy. Before they went into the pods, they stripped to go under the gel shower with its eye-prickling smell of fake citrus. They small-talked as they climbed into the beams and avoided looking at one another’s aging bodies. Was it the mouthguard? Veen had stopped Laura from putting it in. There was a rumour the company calculated the gel dollop for a male mouth cavity and women’s tongues could get spliced.
Beam A always ran the countdown. She couldn’t remember if she’d flicked the right switches, because it was all in her arm and she hadn’t been thinking about it. She’d been thinking about her breakup with Annie.
When she turned on the beam, it was like the void stretching them open. Then much more pain than normal. Consciousness for a slice of a moment on the receiving floor of Endurance Orbital; something wet sticking her hair to her cheek on the stinging cold glass. Someone yelling in Farsi, so she’d thought, No, Mama, don’t be mad! They had been in surgery for thirty-six hours to salvage their clusterfuck of a body into something two people could survive inside.
The hospital air was hot enough to choke on. Endurance Orbital, perched on the furthest rim of company space, couldn’t support a printing rig. Replacement parts for the AC in the recovery ward had to be beamed in from Inspiration Orbital, and the nurse said they had been in the queue for three months.
The doctors obscured their prognosis except to say that Veen-and-Laura would be alive in a month. Unless, say, a Laura-bezoar that the surgeons had missed was growing right now inside Veen’s rerouted meandering spine, preparing to produce teeth and blonde hair. And if only one of them died? Their brains were inextricably enmeshed, but you could live without one hemisphere of your brain.
The nurses, who’d gone to identical sensitivity trainings, took them back and forth from appointments with a merciless physiotherapist who handled their body as something only marginally animate. Staring at the ceiling was their main pastime.
Laura occasionally tried to converse with their boards. So where are you from again? Like they were at a fucking conference. Veen wrote back, In Canada, you wouldn’t know it. But when she said so, it came to her that they would never be allowed to go back through the beam; they were marooned on Endurance Orbital for the rest of their lives. She lost taste for the conversation.
Even by the time they were transferred into a beige company apartment, nobody had called either of them on their sleek new company phones. Their old ones were worse for wear after their brief stay in Laura’s liver.
Veen didn’t expect contact. After her sisters started catching her drunk in the orchard as a teen, her family had given up on fixing her, and she’d given up on getting them to understand her. Annie was, who knew, elsewhere.
Laura sent a number of emails to a Matt Riviera. Once she opened an album of photos of herself, smiling so wide it made her ugly, standing beside a man ten years her elder on some chilly quay. She deleted the photos one by one.
That first night, Laura woke Veen up at an incoherent hour of the morning by smashing nonsense into the letterboard. Veen’s dreams were meshed with memories she’d never had; waking from them felt like sitting up in a tar pit. Laura typed, I want to look in the bathroom mirror. The day nurse had draped a sheet over it. Casually, without asking.
If they manipulated the helper arms folded into the ceiling with the bedside console, they could pour themselves into the wheelchair from the segmented bed without the help of the nurses. The chair was uncomfortably narrow and had only one letterboard, on Veen’s side, but the day nurse assured them accommodations were in the printing queue.
Veen pawed the light switch in the bathroom. Laura pulled down the sheet on the mirror. It was as bad as expected.
Laura made a familiar hitching noise with their mouth. Don’t fucking cry, Veen thought.
We can have it taken out, she said on the letterboard, and passed it to Laura.
What part? Laura said.
I mean the mirror.
I need it for makeup, Laura said. Veen’s spike of irritation must have made it through, because she added, The doctor said we should keep our routines.
I just don’t see the point.
The point is it’ll feel good. What’s your problem?
How much of our morning will be makeup exactly?
Laura was silent for a moment. She accepted the letterboard from Veen, but she just stared at it.
Finally, she wrote, About half as much as before, I guess. Veen didn’t get it until Laura gestured at her half of their Cubist face. A choking laugh escaped from their mouth.
She passed the board back to Veen, and Veen, suspicious of Laura’s goodwill, thought back to their conversation with Eric. Wouldn’t it have made sense for Laura to tell Eric who was in beam A, when he asked for reasons their trip might have failed? They’d have checked the logs; it wouldn’t matter. She combed through reasons Laura might have protected her. Her hand shook over the board. Eventually, instead of asking, she typed, Let’s go back to bed.
For the rest of the night, drifted in and out of sleep, jerking each other awake with errant brain noise and someone else’s sleep sounds in their mouth.
They asked the day nurse for pencils and paper. To draw, Laura lied cheerfully. So they could talk and not be monitored. No security cameras in their bedroom or bathroom. Laura, with her shaking hand, took time to connect the pencil to the page.
I know this is dumb, she wrote. Then, Who are we going to date?
This is what you wanted paper for? thought Veen. But she took the pencil when Laura offered it. She just didn’t know what kind of answer Laura wanted.
Their mouth sighed, and Laura took the pencil back. You only date women? she wrote.
At which point Veen guessed Laura only dated men. The first thing she felt was a sucking, selfish relief that Matt had never sent Laura an email.
I was engaged, Laura wrote. I don’t want to be alone.
Although Laura seemed only half-finished, Veen reached for the pencil and wrote, There’s two of us.
The joke apparently didn’t scan. Laura snatched up another paper and ground the pencil into it. Their face twitched with her emotion. Veen would have grabbed the paper away to keep it from tearing if not for a prophetic vision of Laura stabbing her hand with the pencil.
Laura showed the paper. You think I’m a fucking bimbo. Instead of passing Veen the pencil, she threw it to the ground.
Veen reached for the letterboard. You’re BEING a fucking bimbo. She said it only to hurt Laura. It didn’t feel as good as she expected. Laura slammed the desk with her hand, rubbed her side of the face, fell silent.
Veen strained her arm toward the pencil on the ground. She typed, Look, can we get that?
Laura made her wait for another few seconds, but finally submitted. As Veen fumbled for it, she felt Laura’s immense despair and would have flinched had they been two bodies.
Veen wrote, Why did you cover for me to Eric?
Laura squinted at it for a second before she accepted the pencil. I’m not spliced with Eric.
We’re stuck together, Veen thought. Their mouth made a laugh-like noise as Laura wiped their snotty nose and nodded. Veen swore she heard Laura think, You could say that.
Monotony calmed Laura. Veen wanted to scream most of the time. The nurses took them for walks because they weren’t allowed to leave alone. Neighbours in the gated executive compound would make a particular face when they passed: uncertainty (is that a person?), aloof disgust. They were a cluster of limbs spilling from the too-narrow wheelchair. Some days, Veen wanted to type to them Fuck you! Some days she wanted to type I’m sorry.
Primarily, Veen was restless enough to elbow out of their sack of skin, and sometimes, although it humiliated her, she was horny, too. She missed being desired by women. She missed being a woman. Under their blankets in the dark, she turned over memories of Annie’s flirtatious and callous love. She dropped them paranoically when Laura’s cognition murmured under hers. She was protective and embarrassed of those memories. She often had pins-and-needles in a phantom arm embedded somewhere in Laura’s intestines.
Time stretched and collapsed. Veen never knew what weekday it was.
When Veen felt private, she’d occupy herself with daydreaming gory suicides. An old habit, like biting your nails. Some of Veen’s neck muscles were too short, and it was giving her shooting pains under her jaw. The doctors said it wasn’t safe to do more surgeries. In the meantime, all she could do was take painkillers and imagine carving their hunk of meat and cartilage into two halves with a laser scalpel.
This was what she was doing, while Laura trained her hand with pencil crayon drawings, until she realized Laura was trying to get her attention. Laura pointed at the paper, where she’d written, Are you okay?
Veen flared angry for a second. Laura thought something that seemed calming and tried to reach for Veen’s hand. Veen flinched away, thought absurdly that she didn’t want to be touched.
A company phone buzzed in the next room. The night nurse knocked on the doorway and said “Hey, Laura, can I get it?” Laura made a sort of affirmative mouth-sound, a yeah. They could do yeah and nah now.
Veen stared at the paper. Her thinking was sluggish. Am I supposed to be?
Should we go to therapy?
Veen almost choked as the shape of the t-word became clear. Couples or singles?
“Nah,” Laura said emphatically. I’m serious.
You trust the EAP counsellors that much.
I don’t want you to hate me forever.
“Nah,” Veen said.
They’d run out of page; Laura was fitting writing into the tiny margin at the bottom edge: This is it for us, we don’t get to fucking divorce, we have to figure it out.
Veen snatched up a green pencil crayon and a new sheet of paper. I don’t hate you.
Laura pulled over a third sheet. Then what, she wrote.
I wish they had euthanized us.
Writing it down made it look stupid. Sticky self-pity hit her like a bullet. She set down the pencil and was already trying not to weep. Her sisters used to say, Don’t cry, it makes you look so ugly.
Laura wrote, The company wishes that too.
The night nurse knocked on the doorway again. “Hey, Laura? Veen?”
“Yeah,” Laura said for them, their mouth gummy.
“Eric called. He’s really glad for you. The investigation found no fault.”
The words knocked Veen out of their body.
“Funny thing. Just a failed part. Left it a bit too long. The orbital was still running the beam while they waited for the repair kit in the printing queue.”
Funny thing, thought Veen. Then, Found no fault.
After Veen agreed to settle for two measly ibuprofen for the pain in her neck, the night nurse turned off their bedroom light. Veen-and-Laura were alone in the dark together. In the silence, there was nothing to distract them from pain except the still-foreign landscape of their gut-sounds and breath.
Laura brought up her letterboard. The blue aura made Veen wince. Laura kept the letterboard up for ten motionless seconds. Then she put it down. Then she brought it back up. Remember I told you about my skiing accident? Maybe she had. My gyno as kind of a joke told me something to help with my shoulder that we could try. Just because I can tell your neck still hurts. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable.
Suspicious that she was filling out the sentences with so much politesse, like they were strangers.
Laura typed, It’s kind of unorthodox. But I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I don’t know if you’ve noticed.
The back of their throat stung. After a few seconds of waiting, Veen realized Laura wasn’t going to say anything else.
If she told Laura to fuck off, she could go back to struggling for sleep and thinking, occasionally, Found no fault. Or at least she could have deflected. She could have said, Don’t worry about me, there’s nothing you can do, maybe if you can get some sleep so can I. But she suddenly remembered how mildly and politely Eric had hated them. She thought, We’re stuck together.
Laura always managed to tune her thoughts so finely. Veen didn’t know how. She concentrated, tentatively, on radiating willingness and vulnerability. Envisioned her chakras opening or whatever. Her energy softening from red to blue. She invited Laura into her.
It took long moments. Veen began to feel stupid again for trying so hard.
And then Laura reached out with a jerk and met her there. Veen might have choked out loud with their mouth, because Laura’s intensity at that moment was overwhelming, frightening, desperate. Laura cascaded over her. Veen snapped back some; it had hurt.
Knowing what Laura wanted, Veen’s first instinct was that she didn’t want to touch their disgusting body like that.
Laura put away the letterboard. Their stomach was tight with dense emotion. Laura thought, But can I?
Veen withheld herself. Still too shameful if Laura felt the pinprick of hunger left over from when she and Annie had shared a bed, too, draped their slick limbs over each other in a gaspingly humid Saudi apartment; or maybe it was from Matt’s leathery cologne enveloping her when they stepped out on the deck of the clipper and Matt tucked her into his side to keep her from falling.
Laura trembled her unsteady hand up under their shapeless sleep gown, against their cold skin, slow, to give Veen the chance to slap her away. Laura thought, We don’t even know if we can yet. The tremors made her fingertips hover, flutter over the seam of the scar that bisected their belly.
I’ll take care of us, Laura thought.
Veen thought then, We’ll take care of each other.
She folded her hand over Laura’s, steadying it, and guided it down to the chimeric sensitivities poorly reconstructed between their legs.
It took a long time. They were clumsy with themselves and each other. Afterward, they were exhausted, sweaty, and it had barely seemed worth it. But still, once they settled and adjusted the sleep gown, they found it was comfortable to leave their hands loosely clasped, rested on their ribcage. Laura’s thumb traced divots on Veen’s palm.
They made half-conversation. Sometimes they used the letterboard; mostly they spoke privately, in the inner territory that still belonged exclusively to them, although they had to share it.
Veen watched the ceiling fan turn above them. Her side of the neck did feel a little better.
For the first time, their co-dreams were soft.No Comments