Friday, July 1, 2011

Bathroom Monologue: They Miss Him

His life won’t be long.

When he's born, the only computer is in the other room. It's so big they have to wheel him to it, to check his pulse and respiratory function. It beeps out staccato. It doesn’t catch what’s wrong, and so he’s a healthy boy.

He grows up in a cradle of light and sound. Even when his television is off, the hertz hum carries from his mother’s.

They keep his room cool. In winter, they keep it warm. They blend the vegetables his mother spoons and scrapes into his wobbling lips.

He complains he’s too old for a baby monitor. Sooner than Mom would like, he gets a cell phone. He has to call to let her know where he at every single 5:30. It is designed to fit his cheek and ear. He gossips about imaginary sluts when he collapses.

The computers are smaller, more economical. They’re all in his hospital room. He’s only wheeled to be prodded and scanned.

Mom gives him next year’s model. He doesn’t even have to speak directly into this one. He gives no thought to how it captures his voice. These things aren’t really for speaking into; they’re for texting. It carries his every misspelled sincerity through aerial bandwidth. It pirates music and suggests other things he might like to buy.

He buys wallpapers, Bejeweled and flashlight apps. He buys seasons of Family Guy and True Blood. All digital; “physical is dead,” he reads from a hospital bed. He doesn’t like these shows, but knows what he’s supposed to like.

What he likes, it bookmarks. It hides his Johnny Carson videos so only he can tab to them.

His parents let him buy whatever whenever he’s in the hospital. Their plastic numerical code goes into his silicon retainer and streams across someone’s network. Flipped open, the whole modern miracle sits atop his heart monitor, discrete when it isn’t announcing, “Here’s Johnny!”

Cameras plunge into him. Aluminum arms search him. Men push blades through his thoracic cavity.

The new model lets him look up “thoracic cavity” just by sounding it out. Many days, he can’t hold it up to his cheek. It’s on more often than his television.

They tinkle in their glass vial. A wifi wonder with real-time reassurance for every major organ. They will tattle-tale on malfunctioning ventricles and shock weak organs into order.

They pump through his veins. They are in his jaw when he mumbles an outdated stand-up routine into his pillow. They are in his fingers on the worst nights, when he scratches at his skin. He bleeds, and they are under his fingernails. They close him up as fast as possible. They are in his hair, his sheets, his cell phone. They begun a nanoscopic audience within and for his favorite Youtube videos.

Reports decline. Doctors worry. Three of four supercomputers recommend a transplant. Four of five surgeons opt out. They wheel him into a special room and set off a special EMP to disable the special nanites. Sleek-shelled technicalities go belly-up and pour out through his pores. Some may reactivate.

Mom paces in the lobby. She wears a slender silver watch her grandmother left her. It winds up. It ticks along to their same silent beat, as they float through the ceiling.

For the first time in the history of technology, they miss him. They rain onto sterile garments. Latex gloves, cotton masks, even a cluster in the mote in one surgeon’s eye. They don’t stay. They unfurl around the first deployed camera. They ride back into him. They penetrate and perform an internal tango.

Readings decline. Doctors worry. They are losing him. At 8:51, they have lost him.

The sound of latex gloves smacking upon removal covers the sound of his incisions closing. It is the heart monitor firing up in disbelief that alerts. Debates over who should tell the Mother cease. Debates begin over miracles and liabilities.

They do not debate. They abide and abet. His life will be longer. They nuzzle his arteries. As he stirs, he knows that they don’t want to replace him, control or bond into him. He rouses with the inexplicable urge to thank his surgeons for the applause and tell them he’s got a really big show for them tonight.


  1. Excellent as usual. I couldn't get the audio to work, so I read aloud in my best "Wiswell" voice. I even laughed hysterically at the end.

  2. Sorry Judge, but there isn't audio for this week's. Was too busy all Thursday. Would people strongly desire an MP3?

  3. I'm always game for a Wiswell reading... Loved the piece and the techno, cyberpunkiness of it.

  4. There are some killer lines in there John, liked the one about texting particularly. I enjoyed the fusion of boy and technology.

  5. Many fine lines to admire, I think my favourite is 'he gossips about imaginary sluts when he collapses"

    Do think you mean 'mote' in the eye rather than 'moat' unless it's some fiendish wordplay

    Marc Nash

  6. Well. I don't know what to say but: wow.

    My favorite part is the watch of the (grand)mother you have to wind up - a nice contrast in the midst of all this technology.

  7. Loved the interspersion of Johnny Carson with the ultramodern nanotech.

    I also wondered about moat/mote.

  8. Anthony, maybe for a #spokensunday sometime soon. Did it feel very cyber-punk?

    Adam, I think the boy will enjoy it, too. Now he can imagine all his favorite videos in HD! Also, he'll live a while longer.

    Anne, to be fair, that wind-up watch has stuck with her faithfully. Nice thing about trusty hand-me-downs is that emotional attachment prevents them from ever becoming single-function devices.

    Mr. Marc and Tony, It is indeed supposed to read "mote." It's what I get for spending all day editing chapters about a moat. Keyboard reflexes carry over.

  9. This is one I'll come back to. They Miss Him, and I can't help but think I'll find some things I missed when I read it again. You packed a lot of story in here, great job.

  10. Ah, now I see about these "topias" you mentioned in your comment on my fridayflash. I'm not sure they're...compatible enough to cancel each other out, if that makes sense. We'd better be careful, or we'll mess things up further and reate the worst of both worlds, as we hmans are wont to do. What an existence your guy has.

  11. The way technology is snowballing, a more synced body/mind is probably going to be essential just to be able to keep up.

    Great writing as always.

  12. I agree with FarFetched..I've read through it twice and I think I could get more out of it if I come back to it again. Love how the computers and technology get bigger and more complicated as he grows. So real.

    Wanted to return the typo favour:

    Think it should be "is in the other room." In the second sentence.

  13. From your opening line, "His life won’t be long." I began questioning how much of his life was his and how much was technology. Was his life even his at all?

  14. I had to read this a couple of times. I was a little confused by the "they"s at first, thought at one point "they" might have referred to his soul..
    but wasn't sure if it was meant as some actual evolution in medical technology. That's more my analog knowledge of such sci-fi things than your ability to convey your thoughts.

    "Sleek-shelled technicalities go belly-up and pour out through his pores. Some may reactivate." < really like this line.

    Also, definitely dug the Johnny tie in after losing and bringing him back.

    Inventive and impressive!

  15. Wow, you DIDN'T kill him! Great exploration of technology's pervasiveness.

  16. Very well done. I had to read it a couple times as well and was surprised that he didn't get killed off at the end. Bravo!

  17. Mr. FAR, I tried to write it in a way where you could unpack what you wanted and leave the rest on the curb. I'd be happy if you came back for the rest of the bags.

    Mazzz, mine is slightly more intimate. Still a topia, though!

    Steve, the notion of cold technology taking over unnerves. I broached that in a few #fridayflash, and wanted to flip to the side of warmer technology. If you can love a teddybear, why not a smart phone? Maybe one smart enough to love back.

    Henrietta, thanks for catching the typo! I scanned twice and still missed the missing "the."

    Tim, it depends what we credit to technology. If it's partially responsible for the temperature, the food and the entertainment, then...

    Harry, the "theys" do switch subjects between paragraphs. It'd be wrong to tip my hand on why, I'll leave that up to you and your assessment of my abilities to convey. Thank you for the thoughtful reply!

    Icy and Anthony, I think it'd be a shame to kill him. The whole piece is about how he's doomed. And some day, he will die. The physical is going, or so I read in a hospital bed. But right now? They'd miss him.

  18. You always write inventively and with challenging themes and forms. This makes for stimulating reading on a friday (or whenever i get round to it. Hey, it IS friday.).

  19. That was intriguing. I think it speaks to a great fear we all harbor (deep down inside) that someday we will depend entirely on technology (you know, like tomorrow). I hope that my technology likes me enough to keep me around.

    Fantastic story. Fantastic concept.


  20. Scribbler, and I appreciate you popping in on a Friday!

    Spot, barring the unforeseen technology will continue to play roles in our lives. I don't mind it entirely - I am typing to you thanks to many devices cooperating for us.

    Raven, you found this piece particularly funny?

  21. A quick test to see if I can comment.
    How often do you load up MP3 versions, btw?

  22. Yes. We are doing terrible things to children this week. Poor kid. I hope he becomes a Superhero Night Show Host!


  23. Really liked this, agree with the others, it merits a few readings. (I have already managed to read it twice!)

  24. IBC, I typically post one audio edition per week. This week has just been too hectic with heavy edits on my novel and setting up a possible podcast tonight.

    Kat, a Superhero Night Show Host? I like that idea!

    Sonia, a double-reading on a busy #fridayflash is generous of you. Were there any particular things that worked or popped out on the re-read?

  25. I read this aloud too and liked the cyberyness (I on't think that's a word) of it all.

    You have some great imagery in this piece John

  26. Great, unique story John. Your imagination just seems to grow and grow...such wishes to all of us!

  27. Technology... It's scary to think just how far it might go. It's great that he lives without it at the end.

    "They abide and abet." Thank goodness for that.

  28. Nice touch on visions of the future. You capture the progression of technology in this piece. It's the small details that I find enchanting. Of course, it's got a good dose of bathroom monologue humor (three out of four supercomputers...), which make this a fun read.

  29. Helen, "cyberyness" might not be a word, but you can try to precedent it! And I'm sorry for your husband's loss.

    Deanna, it's not so hard to imagine outlandish things. You just have to stop stopping yourself.

    Stephen, at the end they have actually returned to his body to save him. Otherwise he'd remain dead from the failed surgery. What led you to believe he was living without technology at the end?

    Aidan, I'm always tempted to go funny, if only bleakly funny at points. Thanks!

  30. I've never seen a love story like this before, John. I like the aspect of having the technology care about the user - even to the point of coming back and rescuing him. As much time as I've spent with my computer and phone you'd think we'd be in love by now. Most days it's a love/hate relationship, though.

    Great story! (And I agree with FAR. You can read this one multiple times and see things you missed with each reading.)

  31. OMG! You seriously need lessons on happy endings, John. O.O

    The story in itself is amazing, though. Loved it!

  32. That was quite wonderful - probably your piece (that I've read anyway). Both topical and poignant. I applaud you sir.

  33. Chuck, it'd be neat if your laptop grew to love you. Pretty hard when you had to upgrade, though. Ever told the missus you wanted to trade her in?

    Mari, sorry it wasn't the rosy ending you desired. Back to the drawing board for me.

    Adventure, what did you mean by "probably your piece?" Was it your favorite of mine?

  34. This is ominous. Fantastically crafted with great technological details, but I have to admit, I'm biased I guess: I wasn't sure I wanted him to live. How awful is that. Damn.

  35. I live/work in the world of technology (it pays the bills - and I *do* love it) - yet the juxtaposition of the wind-up watch with all the rest sang to me.

    Nice detail, Sir.

  36. Jen, does that mean everyone who wanted him to live was also biased? I think neither of you were. I'm a little sorry to let you down, and a little sorry to lead you to root for the death of the boy. I think Mari had a similar reaction. I can tell you both his next few years are far more pleasant.

    Kevin, the sciences have given me boons and woes. I'm awestruck with a deal of it. I'm glad the old piece of technology sang for you. It's a mark I had to leave in there.

  37. John... this may be my favorite thing of yours, ever. I can't explain why yet. But I finished it and felt really disturbed. In a good way. ^.^;


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