She sat in the living room waiting for him to come home. She could hear the clock ticking but she refused to look at it. The party would be starting in an hour. She was ready, her dress freshly dry cleaned and her hair done up in a French twist. She had been waiting all year for this party; it was the first event they were going to attend as a married couple, and now they were going to be late. He was supposed to be back fifteen minutes ago. She took a deep breath and dialed his number again, glancing nervously out the window. The phone answered, but she saw nothing but black on the hologram screen. She tapped the device, wondering idly if it had broken. She hated all this new technology; it never seemed to work for her. The disembodied voice of the dialing operator told her to please leave a message at the light. The screen flashed, and she repeated her previous messages. “Calix…”
“Calix, where are you? Are you okay? Call me back, please.” He heard her voice floating somewhere to the left, replaying over and over. He couldn’t move, couldn’t reach her. He felt cold. His body had turned numb, half submerged beneath the water that was slowly filling the car. His arms were pinned to his side. All he wanted to do was answer her, but he couldn’t move his arms. “Gwen,” he choked, “Gwen.” He licked his lips and tried to swallow but the blood was rising fast, faster than the water. His eyes slowly closed. “Gwen…”
“Gwen.” She looked up to see August’s face, his mouth a thin morose line. He reached his hand out to her. She blinked in the bright lights that were shimmering out from behind his head. His voice swooped in and out. “Have you spoken to the doctor yet?” She nodded her head, getting shakily to her feet. Her eyes focused on the sign posted above the couch across the room: Berlin General Hospital. She had read the words over and over and still felt doubtful of where she was.
“He said that I could see him now. I was waiting for… I don’t know what for.” She felt the world begin to spin again and steadied herself against the wall. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply. She felt August take her arm and begin to lead her away. They were transported to the fifth floor, and Gwen allowed herself to be directed along the hallway, her quiet footsteps brushing against the tile next to August’s steady clacks. They stopped before a door, Gwen’s arm clenching August to a halt. She peered at the door with wide, uneasy eyes.
“Do you think he suffered much?” she whispered.
“His car was thrown into a ditch.”
Her panicked eyes turned to August and she made a wavering gasp. “Is that a yes?”
“It’s an I hope not.” August opened the door and nudged Gwen inside. They both stopped at the foot of the bed. Calix was laid peacefully, a blanket pulled up to his chin, covering, August was sure, the worst of his injuries. Gwen silently wiped her eyes and shuffled forwards. She perched herself on the edge of the chair that was pulled close to the head of the bed and stared at Calix. August could not see her face, but from her trembling limbs he knew she must be crying. August surveyed his friend, a tight knot forming in his throat. How could this have happened, he wondered.
The door opened and closed softly behind them and they were joined by a doctor. Gwen paid no attention as he and August began a quiet conversation in the corner of the room. She reached a hand to Calix but stopped before touching him, afraid to move much further. His face had a strangled look to it, she thought, frozen in his last moment of life. What was he thinking before it happened? How much had he struggled? Gwen rested her chin on the edge of his pillow. Tentatively she moved her fingers across his cheek. His skin was still soft, but it was cold and already it had that unnatural feeling things get when they’ve been in the damp for too long. “I’ll always love you,” she whispered, tucking a bit of hair behind his ear.
“When can he be released for candidacy?” August’s voice floated across the room to her. She sprang up and glared at him. He met her eyes, put his finger to his lips, and led the doctor out of the room, closing the door behind them. Her chest tightened but she turned back to Calix. Why can’t they just let us be? she thought. She let the tears come raging out then, burying her face in her hands. Her stomach churned and her ears buzzed. Behind her, out the window, colourful splashes of fireworks shot up into the sky, spelling out Happy New Year 2030 in sparklers that rained down the words in shimmering streams. Gwen felt blind to the cheer that was happening around her. Her year had ended, and the new one didn’t feel worth waiting for anymore.
It was a silent car ride home. August took an alternative route, driving through the tunnel instead of across the bridge where the accident had occurred. Gwen watched as the world around her ran by in a blur. She refused to look at August. When he dropped her off, he rushed to open the car door for her, but she brushed past him.
“Don’t be mad, Gwen. This is an amazing opportunity anyone would die for.” She glared at him. “Bad use of words. Sorry.” August scratched his head.
“He was your friend. Why would you want to do this to him?”
“I’m doing it because he was my friend.”
Gwen grabbed his hand and looked at him desperately. “Please August, please!” Her voice caught but she spoke firmly. “Please don’t play Dr. Frankenstein with my husband.” He could see the tears forming in her eyes again and felt his own throat tighten once more.
“That’s not what we do, and you know it. I promise Gwen, this is what he would have wanted. Calix was obsessed with the process; he never stopped asking me questions about it.”
Gwen shook her head, pulling slightly at her hair. “No. Calix only ever wanted me to be happy.”
“And this will make you happy, even if you don’t believe it yet.”
“I don’t give you permission. I won’t allow it.” She stood up taller, but August still looked far below at her.
“Unfortunately that’s not up to you Gwen. It’s what the government wants.” A dog started barking from inside the house. “What about Lancelot? He’s perfect, isn’t he?” Gwen bit her lip. Calix had loved Lancelot just the same after. The little puppy made Gwen feel uneasy now though. “And he was just an experiment; the technology’s gotten even better. We’ve well advanced since the dog trials.”
Gwen looked out across the porch. The swing swayed slightly in the wind. “It’s not right. I should have a choice. He was my husband. I should get to say if I want it or not.” She was beginning to feel lightheaded.
“Sleep on it. It will sound better in the morning, I’m sure.”
They stared silently at one another. Gwen turned on her heel and shut the door firmly, locking August out. He sighed and returned to his car.
Lancelot came galloping over to her. He had always seemed to think he was a much bigger dog than he actually was. He was a Pomeranian husky cross, a fluffy little thing with bounds of energy beyond his size. Gwen had found him shivering in the street a few years ago. He looked like such a tiny thing but then she brought him home and they spent the day together, and he had latched onto her. When Calix had gotten home that night, Lancelot ran circles around him barking wildly like he was trying to keep Calix away from her. Lancelot seemed like a fitting name. She bent down now and gave his ear a little scratch. “Looks like I can’t talk my way out of this one either. Will it be nice for you to have another in the house?” Lancelot barked and bounced excitedly. He ran off then came tramping back a few seconds later pushing his food bowl with his nose. She stared at it sadly. “Why doesn’t it feel the same?” Lancelot placed his paw over his eyes and groaned.