Marcus has implant surgery against his will.
The man on the plane pushed two fingers against the pilot's neck—no pulse. Then he unzipped seven black duffle bags and shoved six of them out the door. Hundred dollar bills sprayed into the blue sky. He studied the seventh bag—it contained enough money to start a new life in Seattle. This time would be different, he thought. It had to be different; he could never trust another person again, not after what she did. If was going to make it, he had to do it alone.
He zipped his bag closed, wrapped his arms through the handles, and clutched it to his chest. It was heavier than he expected, but with both engines turned off and the nose of the plane starting to tip, he didn't have time to take only what he needed. He shuffled to the open door, told himself that things would be better, and then he threw himself into a tapestry of Midwest farmland.
The wind immediately tried to snatch the future out of his arms. Can't trust that either, he thought. He adjusted his grip, wrapping any extra handle slack around his wrists, and interlocked his fingers.
Rows of corn start to materialize below him.
Dumping the first six bags took more altitude than he thought.
He reached for the parachute cord—
But before he could pull it, someone snatched the gaming goggles off his head.
He was thrust back into his sterile hospital room.
"It's time to get ready, Marcus," the nurse said, leaning too close to his face, exaggerating her articulation of each consonant. Her breath was steamy and smelled like an espresso machine. And her fat face was still just inches away.
He was still trying to piece together her words, trying not to feel like he needed to pull the red loop attached to his parachute, wondering why he agreed to be in this overly sterile, cramped hospital room that felt like a tiny cell block full of uber-happy, overweight prison guards. Was he the only inmate?
You're going to love your new implants, Marcus.
He remembered reading Oma's lips, her tongue pressing against the back of her teeth for the "l" sound, a smile spreading from one high cheekbone to the next after the "s" in his name.
According to Oma, he won't have to read her lips anymore. "Not after this surgery," she had said with enough enthusiasm for the both of them.
But he trusted Oma; she had earned it. So he agreed to the surgery. If they failed or, more likely, sucked, it would make her happy. They could go back home and never leave again.
He leaned around the fat nurse and found Oma sitting in a fold-up chair in the corner. She was knitting something, of course, probably another half-finished hideous sweater that he supposed to like. She looked at him—her knitting needles still stroking yarn into circles—and said, "You be ready when these nice people finish up. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Ma'am," he said, loud enough to feel the words vibrate behind his ears. It took him months to get comfortable saying Ma'am, but if he didn't say it, she wouldn't cook for him. It was a small price to pay for food and bonding with his adoptive parent.
Espresso nurse shifted her weight and Oma disappeared. Marcus noticed that the nurse had his virtual reality goggles trapped between her hand and hip. They were powerful enough to distract him from all of these surgery preparations. Why did she take them off so soon?
They must be planning how to torture him. Then they can go home, plug into their meaningless virtual social lives, and look for men who share their same opinions about the world.
He thought about how his avatar was about to become a permanent fixture in a Nebraskan corn field.
He reached for the goggles, desperate for an escape out of this cramped room. But just before he could touch them, she moved the goggles out of reach, shoved a small cup of what looks like liquid bubble gum in his face, and says, "You need to drink this, hon'."
He sniffed it. The smell was less repulsive than her ridiculous pet name, and for some reason—maybe because Oma was looking at him with her no-dinner-for-you-tonight look—he took it.
"One gulp and you can have them back," Pale-face said.
She was probably lying, but he didn't have time to decide otherwise. He put the cup to his lips and surprised everyone when he tipped it back like he was an adult drinking from one of those small, thick glasses.
What could only be a thick film of motor oil and fermented beats coated his mouth. And, like money from one of the duffle bags, he spewed it all over Pale-face's blue scrubs. She looked mortified, but couldn't find it funny: he was too consumed with trying to get more it out of his mouth.
Some of it oozed down the back of his throat.
Certain that his virtual reality self was now dead, and with his real self full of their nasty medicine, he lunged off of the bed. Game over, he thought. Oma's cooking or not, he couldn't stand to be hear any longer.
The icy cold floor pierced his bare feet. There are white curtains on the wall on the far wall, and they lead to a door with a long silver handle. Fighting off groping hands and Oma's soothing voice, he pushed his way to the door.
I can't do this!
The adults in the room blocked his escape, trying to console him with their pasty smiles and elevated voices.
They think being nice will work?
One of them holds out a popsicle.
He shouldn't sell-out for a popsicle—they probably had no idea why it worked so well—but flavors were like drugs to Marcus, an escape from pain and sadness.
They hoisted him back onto the bed, and he took a few licks, letting the cheap flavor smother his taste buds, washing the thick medicine down his throat.
He remembered the first time Oma made him strawberry Jell-O and how the squares wiggled in his fingers.
When he put one in his mouth, it disintegrated--along with his worries—into a million pieces.
Pale-face held out a shiny box with small, colorful tubes inside. "These are Lip Smackers," she said, still smiling as if she didn't know her teeth were corn yellow. The tubes looked like something in Oma's make-up bag. He didn't want to trade his popsicle for any of them. "You can choose one flavor," she cautioned.
He pointed to the red one with his middle finger—this one!—and narrowed his eyes at her.
Suddenly, the silver-handled door opened, and a tall black man with features like a young Denzel Washington entered the room. Oma stopped knitting. He looked purposeful and powerful, kind of how Marcus thought he might look like in a decade or so, after he conquered puberty.
Then everyone in the room started moving around with more purpose, too. The curtains on the wall parted, revealing two double doors, the popsicle disappeared, and his bed started to move.
There was a hand on his shoulder, holding him still. With his head on a swivel he searched for Oma's dark, calming face, but there was a forest of torsos all around his bed. "Oma, no! I changed my mind," he screamed out, hoping she could hear him. "I don't want to have surgery."Â
He shrugged off the hand and scurried to his knees, just as the bleached hospital walls began to close in
Where is she?
Someone raised the bed's side rails. They won't budge. And they feel cold like the floor.
She's standing in the doorway of the sterile, stuffy room, but it was too late; they were rolling him further and further away. He desperately wanted to get back into that room. And why was she just standing there, looking full of love, not trying to save him?
Someone smacked a silver square on the wall and more double doors opened. Oma reached her hand out.
Tears began streaming down her cheeks.
The double doors closed, and she was gone.
Slumping forward, the pink medicine robbing more of his will, he felt thick, adult hands rolling him over onto this back.
He studied a conveyor belt of blurry ceiling tiles.
More hospital doors opened and closed. He couldn't remember how to get out. Why did he let her talk him into having this surgery?
He was lost.
Several blurry faces leaned over him, fitting a mask over his mouth and nose. It was triangular and padded, and it smelled like strawberries.
They were so clever: smearing his flavor all over the mask, turning smells into comfort. He assumed this was supposed to make him feel better about their forcing him to fall asleep against so they could torture his ears.
His eyelids were heavy.
And they didn't understand that their manipulation toyed with the black hole inside him, that being separated from his grandmother made him feel desperate and alone like he was in the closet again after his parents died.
He held his breath. Not a long-term solution, but it would buy some time to get his emotions in check.
"Relax. It's okay, Marcus," someone mouthed, pushing the padded triangle against his face. He tried to rip it off, but their hands were stronger than his. His eyes widened, and he was fighting for each thought.
Someone was lying across his legs.
"Just relax," another one said, leaning over his face, wearing too much make-up. "Breathe." She looked like she was wearing a mask.
He couldn't focus.
Is she smiling, too?
Two prominent wrinkles between her eyebrows come into focus; they are getting quite a workout.
Maybe his rebellion was working after all. Maybe their little plan to control him would fail. Maybe they'd let him go home.
He vows to never leave his house again.
There was a subwoofer in the room; he was sure of it. It was subtle, but he could feel the dull, pounding bass of...Billionaire Baby. Irony? He wasn't sure.
Too much got in?
A tall woman entered the operating room and leaned over his bed. Her black hair was tied into a perfect bun on the back of her head, and an assistant was trying to tie her surgical cap around it. On either side was a Brazilian flag; he recognized the starry blue disk, gold rhombus, and green backdrop because Oma had been playing the World Cup non-stop for the past week.
In what he imagined is the world's most attractive voice, she said, "I see we've got a fighter."
The gaggle of white people laughed at him.
Need to breathe.
A few of them were bouncing to the music.
They were going to force him to sleep, cut him open, give him some technology that only Oma cared about, all while playing his favorite song? It was too much. Or was it?
The decision floated through his mind like a balloon trying to take flight in the rain.
Confused, and desperately needing oxygen, he reached out of his black hole to consume every single well-intentioned nurse hovering over him—
But nothing happened.
So he slowly inhaled their strawberries, on his terms, in his way.
"Good job, Marcus."
He hated every one of them.
How could she have left me like that?
The lights fuzzed and everything went black.