The future of medicine. (Flash Fiction 990 Words)
“Can…can I go home now?” Stan pushed up in his hospital bed but slumped back to the pillow. He licked his pale, cracked lips and cut his eyes to the woman beside him.
“You’ll be home soon enough, sweetie.” She rose from her seat and smoothed the gray curls from his brow.
His milky eyes met her dark, youthful ones and he smiled. He was glad she was here. The room was smaller than the one in ICU, barely a closet really, but it had a nice view of the hospital garden. And then there was Sophie. She wasn’t like the bumbling incompetents in ICU. She was never too busy to answer his call, never too vain to accept his advice, never too … never too anything. And a treat for the eyes as well. As she leaned over to adjust his IV, Stan followed the outline of her nipples where breasts pressed the material of her scrubs.
When she sat down, he turned to the window and watched a little girl chase a butterfly along the beds of roses outside. A young mother sped after her, catching the girl by the wrist and dragging her from view.
“I heard your daughter’s driving in from Houston,” Sophie said.
“Really?” Stan grimaced and Sophie adjusted his morphine drip.
He remembered asking about Amelia yesterday. Or maybe the day before. Regardless, it was good she was coming. She’d straighten things out and get to the bottom of why they weren’t letting him go home.
“Do … do you think she’ll arrive soon?”
“It could be any minute.” Sophie smoothed a hand along his cheek. Her touch was warm and soft against the growing chill. He looked up and smiled.
“I’m…I’m glad you’re here.”
When he spoke again it was at a whisper. “I’m taking Amelia ... to Jamaica. It’s her 13th birthday.” His brows bunched. “Wait.” He shook his head. “Her mother said... ‘no’.” He met her eyes. “But you ... could go.”
Sophie squeezed his hand. “I’d love to.”
The display of vitals behind Stan’s head registered the cadence of his heart.
Measured it precisely as its
Eighty … years,
Five …… months,
Three ……… days,
Six …………… hours,
thirty …………… minutes,
and twelve ………..…….. seconds
There was silence as they stared, unblinking, into each other’s eyes.
The display, and the window onto the rose garden went dark.
Time passed before the room’s lights brightened, and a woman stepped in, followed by a man.
“I didn’t think he’d ever die,” the woman said. She woke the display with a touch.
They were dressed in the same blue scrubs, the same white shoes, and the same hospital IDs pinned to their chests. The woman’s badge bore the name, Claire. She was heavyset, with mocha-colored skin, and the first blush of gray tinting her close-cropped hair. The man was taller, with soft brown eyes, heavy, dark brows, and an ID which read, Rashad.
“Yeah, twenty days is an eternity,” Rashad said, “but nobody’s gonna beat old-lady Jones.”
“She fell in love with her bot,” Claire said with a chuckle. “That’s how she lasted sixty days.”
“Sixty-three,” Rashad said. “I won a C-Note in that pool.”
He bent over and jammed his thumb into the back of Sophie’s neck. With a click, her head separated from her body. A panel on the wall behind him opened to reveal stacked rows of heads and a hanger of dangling arms.
Claire removed the IV bag from its pole and flipped it onto Stan’s chest. Next, she reached beneath his bed and removed an opaque plastic shell. Shaped like a trashcan sliced down the center, the two nested halves latched into place over Stan and transformed his bed into a coffin.
“Any relatives claiming the body?” Rashad removed a brightly colored tag from his pocket.
Claire consulted the screen. “None that want him. He’s a ‘B and B’.”
“Burn and bury,” Rashad mumbled scribbling onto the tag. He removed the tag’s adhesive back and slapped it on the bed as it hummed to life and rolled itself out the door.
“So, who’s next?” Rashad asked.
Claire squinted at the screen. “Damn, I’m gonna need reading glasses soon.” She leaned closer. “Looks like our next customer is a Ms. Grace Latoya Jones. She’s a G-14.” She tapped the screen and with a hiss of compressed air and a groan of stretching plastic, Sophie’s headless body began to expand. The full breasts became pendulous and round, the shoulders widened, and the belly swelled.
Rashad popped off Sophie’s slender arms, and hung them in the closet, before taking down a pair of thicker, darkly complected limbs. He snapped them onto her shoulders. High on the shelf rested the head of an elderly black woman. He took it down and popped it on Sophie’s neck.
“Claire?” Rashad said.
She looked up from a cabinet of IV tubes, needles, and gauze.
“You ever worry about ending up like this?”
Claire poked a key on the screen and Sophie rose from her seat, blinked her eyes, and looked around the room. “Companion-Bot SOF-13 system test initiated.” Her voice was mechanical and flat.
“I hope not,” Claire said, as Sophie extended her arms and flexed her fingers. “Sophie’s a good reason to live by the golden rule.”
Rashad closed the cabinet and followed Claire to the door.
“System test positive,” Sophie said. “Downloading protocol.”
The lights dimmed, and the blank window flickered to a view of a grassy field running down to a slow-flowing river. Sophie looked up and her eyes panned the room.
“How ya’ll doin’?” She said in a sweet, Southern drawl. “Would either of you folks be Miss Grace?”
“No, Sophie,” Claire said. “But she’ll be here soon.”
As they stepped from the room and the door closed behind them, Sophie turned and rested her hands in her lap. “All righty then,” she said. “I’ll be right here.”