For less than the price a new automobile, one can purchase a replacement human; truly, it’s a wondrous time we live in.
Mr. Roosevelt explains the process very carefully to the family. Doctors take a scan of the subject’s brain and a sample of his or her genetic material, and within the span of two to four weeks they grow a clone of the patient, perfectly symmetrical in every way. They give that copy to the waiting family and take the original back to their facility for recycling. Legally, the government transfers all status of person-hood to the second, and as Mr. Roosevelt assures us, within months loved ones will have shifted their fondness entirely over for the substitution.
“It happens quite often”, Mr. Roosevelt tells confidently, “although many families will never make mention of the event.”
In more ways than one, I admire Mr. Roosevelt as a salesman. You would too if you could see the overall smoothness of his pitch. His well-tailored suit hangs comfortably over his healthy frame as he quietly delivers his sermon to the family with the calm, confident demeanor of a seasoned professor lecturing. He no doubt chose the time of the meeting carefully: any sooner he may have insulted the family with his mere presence; any later he may have lost the sale. With such precise timing, Mr. Roosevelt must possess a distinctly intimate knowledge of how families react to such tragedies.
For those of you unfamiliar, I’ll explain just how a family reacts.
I awoke, if you can call it that, in a hospital bed, paralyzed and mute to any attempts at communication. Despite my near-comatose condition, I could still hear, see, and feel the outside world clear as a bell. My eyes stared straight off like a dead man’s gaze, but behind them I could feel my consciousness sparking brightly alive.
A machine stood guard at the left of my bed, connecting with clear tubing to my arm. Simple dials on its top-most surface supplied my system with steady opiates to relieve my pains.
At the right of the bed, my husband sat on a beaten-down old chair, worn into a weakened slump by time. He had a hand resting on the side of the hospital bed and another holding up a used book which he read with bored indifference.
Besides him, my daughter sat doing homework. Even with her current circumstances and my present state, she had managed to find the resolve to spend her time dutifully working.
I tried to move my arms, my lips, my tongue, but nothing responded.
Many of my days drifted along in that manner, with me, the unfinished cadaver, lying out in the fluorescent light while my family kept to their tangential business around me. Everything I learned, I overhead from the short exchanges between my family and the hospital staff or from the occasional phone call my husband would make within earshot.
From such sources, I heard that in the early days of my illness many visitors came. Friends, colleagues, and extended family all made the pilgrimage to my bedside to pay their socially and/or consciously obligated tribute. In time these visits whittled down to the bare-bones of my immediate family, those who could not abandon me so lightly.
My poor old widower of a father made daily visits. He would hobble in on his bad knee, his weight half-supported via a crooked walking stick. Every day he would sit at my bedside, usually playing solitaire or watching the shopping network on the old television suspended in an upper corner of the room.
Once a week or so, my sister would stay with me. Her visits held the longest duration, perhaps due to the relative infrequency of their occurrence. She would usually work on her laptop or sing idly. I enjoyed hearing music again, even if the source could only quietly murmur the melodies to avoid disturbing any other patients. She and my father would talk about the old days, which usually devolved into saddened laughter, the kind that one generally reserves for funerals.
Of course, my husband would come when he could. He had begun working again in an effort to continue supporting the children, bless him. Every couple days he would stop by, occasionally with the children in tow. My daughter, the eldest of the two would usually busy herself with her own schoolwork and my son, only just entering grade school, would idly chat to me while he played with some action figures he kept in his backpack. I doubt he understood the severity of my condition, and expected me to wake up any day now. In a way, I appreciated his naivety; he’s the only visitor who would casually chat with me even though I couldn’t answer.
Eventually, the family fell into habit, with visits fitting nicely into scheduled times. What had begun as a tragedy had matured into just another facet of life, a simple obligation to check off the to-do list.
This is when Roosevelt had entered.
Before he came, the family knew options were limited. Members of the hospital staff mentioned a treatment plan, but the costs were astronomical and had little hope for success. The way I figured it, the only way the family could afford such a treatment would be liquidating assets: houses, retirement, college-funds, the whole nine yards.
Of course, the family could easily afford Mr. Roosevelt’s treatment.
“We can’t just replace her!” my father growls, besides himself with indignation that someone might even propose such an outlandish course of action.
“It’s not like that at all,” Mr. Roosevelt shakes his head calmly, “look, every cell in the human body is replaced in a manner of months. Essentially, we’re just replacing them all at once. It’s the mind, the soul that’s important, and that goes untouched.”
“Mr. Roosevelt,” my husband starts slowly, glancing briefly at my father and sister who sit in attendance of the offer, “this really isn’t something we’re interested in.”
“I understand it’s a big decision, and certainly can empathize with your reservations,” Roosevelt nods before reaching into his briefcase to pull out some papers and a business card, “here’s some more information about the procedure. Just to read over. Also my business card.”
“Before you go,” my sister stops him, “I had some questions.”
“About what?” my father snaps with annoyance.
“If someone is replaced through your program,” my sister continues, annoying her father’s interjection, “what state is the new person in? Like, what all can they remember?”
“Well, they’re more or less a carbon-copy of the original,” Mr. Roosevelt explains politely, “speaking with the patient after the procedure, they’re generally completely unaware that anything has happened at all. Generally they are informed, but that is ultimately the family’s business.”
“We’re not discussing this anymore,” my father decides aloud, “thank you for your time mister, please leave.”
“Let’s not be hasty,” my sister shakes her head, “I know this all sounds crazy, but think of Rachel and Jack. They shouldn’t have to grow up without a mother, nobody should. And what’s the alternative, leave her here as a vegetable?”
“This is my daughter we’re talking about! She isn’t just some appliance to be replaced if it breaks down. Just discussing this is disgraceful! There’s still hope for recovery.”
“Very small hope for recovery,” my husband corrects him quietly.
“Good lord, Douglas,” my father breathes with surprise, “don’t tell me you’re actually agreeing to this madness?”
“No, no,” he shakes his head, “I’m just saying we should consider every option.”
“That’s all I’m asking,” Mr. Roosevelt nods, “there’s no proper way to proceed, but we want to help in any way we can. You can personally call me any time if there’s anything tha-”
“I asked you to leave,” my father interrupts him.
“Yes, yes, sorry,” the salesman apologizes, “if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call.”
With that and a slight bow of the head, he ducked out of the room.
“I know it’s hard, dad,” my sister tries softly, “but I really think this is what she would have wanted. She loved us all, especially Rachel and Jack, and wouldn’t want to be a burden. I’m sure if she was in a state to reply she would agree.”
None of my muscles respond to my commands to move, my mouth sits shut.
“We’re not discussing this,” my visibly upset father shakes his head, his hands trembling all the while.
With that, the family sits in utter silence. Although unresolved, I notice my husband tuck the papers into his pocket instead of the trash-bin next to him.
Over the proceeding days, none of my family talks about the proposed procedure at all.
The following Sunday, my son sits happily by my side drawing in a notebook. My daughter has gone off to a friend’s and my husband sits looking over the child doodling.
“Do you understand Mommy might not be coming back?” he tries quietly.
“What do you mean?” my son replies, “she’s right here.”
My husband thinks of a way to continue the conversation:
“Remember when your grandmother got sick? A couple years back, maybe you can’t. Remember how she passed away?”
“You said she went off to live with her mom and dad in a big, bright house.”
“Yes, well. It’s possible mom might have to live there too.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad.”
“There’s other possibilities too, Jack” my husband adds, but trails off into a hush. His son continues drawing in the notebook, not taking the conversation too seriously.
Later that night, my father is back. He looks sore and weary, as if he has aged another decade in the last few days.
“I’ve been talking with the nurses,” he tells me.
“They say there’s a good chance you might come back. You know, I have a friend down south whose cousin had the procedure they’re suggesting and he came back from it good as new. I think, I think there’s really a shot for you to make a recovery.”
“The main concern is money. It’s always money.”
“I’ve brought this up with Douglas too; he thinks there’s a chance he might be able to scrounge up enough. It’ll be hard of course; I’m not saying it won’t be. But-”
He never spoke aloud for the rest of the night.
The following day, my husband and sister talk in the room. I strain to move, to do anything while my husband holds my son on his lap while he talks.
“I’ve been reconsidering the procedure that the doctors suggested. Your father has been calling me about it almost daily too.”
“I just don’t think it’s practical.” My sister shakes her head. “There’s just so little chance of success and the sheer cost. I mean, you’d practically be out on the streets.”
“But I’d have her back.”
“Or you could accept Mr. Roosevelt’s offer. You wouldn’t even have to tell my dad about it; we could say that we paid for the hospital procedure and that it was successful.”
“It just feels wrong.”
“You can’t be thinking of yourself,” my sister argues, “even the doctors know that there’s almost no chance of success with their operation; they just want you to fork over the money. Roosevelt’s way may be hard, but it gets results, doesn’t bankrupt you, and will give your children their mother back. It’s the lesser of two evils.”
“Will it still be her?”
“Yes. I mean- well, what difference does it make?”
“It makes a world of a difference,” my husband runs a hand through his hair as sweat runs down his swollen temples. Deep bags droop under both eyes.
“I don’t know what to say, Doug,” my sister sighs, “you know what I’d do if I were you, but I’m not. It’s your decision to make.”
“It’s just a rock and a hard place,” he groans.
A quiet lingers in the sterilized room. After a lengthy lacuna, a young voice interrupts the pause.
“Why don’t you just let mommy go to the big bright house?”
The floor creaks idly.
“She might not be ready,” my husband replies in a whisper after considerable thought.
As the hour grows late, my son falls asleep. He snores rather loudly, the only persisting sound in the room. My husband just stares into the distance, somewhere far-off in his mind. Sometime in this wait, my sister calmly excuses herself and leaves the room.
“What do I do?” I can hear my husband voice in a low-mutter, quietly enough to avoid waking our slumbering child.
I strain my muscles again to somehow communicate, and to my surprise, my arm moves ever so slightly. It’s too faint of a movement for an outside observer but a movement nonetheless, and its existence kindles a glimmer of hope in my thoughts. Move! Move! Move!
With a pained sigh, my husband clambers to his feet and carries out our son. He casts a look back from the doorway, but without observable response he departs.
The next day, nobody comes.
The morning after, two members of the hospital staff accompanied by one man in a suit stop by. They take my vitals, read my charts, and make notes on a clipboard.
As they do so, my husband stops by, having apparently made up his mind about a treatment.
“It’ll be over soon, dear.”
A nurse goes over to the machine besides the bed that normally administers my pain-killers, and adds new medicine to the device. She taps in a series of quick button taps on the touch-pad, and in response I can see a low anesthetic haze blooming around the corners of my field of vision.
First my breathing ceases, then my heartbeats, and finally with considerable resistance, my guilt.
They disassemble me with steady hands.
First, they strip off my clothing and jewelry, setting the meager belongings into a bent-up cardboard box at the foot of the gurney.
Once they’ve removed the clothing, they scrub down the skin, clearing off any dirt, sweat, and gunk that has formed during my stay in the hospital. The shave my head soon after, collecting the hair into a plastic bag and sending it to a company that assembles life-like wigs. After the hair, they clips my nails and wipe down the remaining body with a pale green cleaning agent before putting on gloves and preparing for the main course.
They peel the skin off with freshly sharpened scalpels.
As soon as they’ve detached the hide, they send it up to the roof to sun-dry into genuine leather. A couple technicians depart at that time to ensure the task completed.
Beneath the skin, they work to sever the muscle. They pull up the tendons with long curved pliers, lifting the living tendrils high enough to clip with a standard pair of scissors. After severing both ends of each muscle, they lift the tough flesh up and out of the body before setting the matter down into a glass trough. They repeat this process on every muscle, one at a time. By the time they’ve finished, the scale attached to the gurney has marked nearly twenty kilograms as being removed, and they’ve sent the glass trough off to the butcher’s to be ground down.
While doing so, they run several surgical tubes in to drain the bodily fluids. A line of jars wait on the floor, where they collect the fluids into separate pools. The blood quickly fills the first jar, the most massive of the set, while my bile runs into a much smaller decanter neighboring the first jar. My lymph drips steadily into an even smaller pitcher, and my spinal fluid gently fills up the smallest flask in the line.
At this time, they melt down the fat and miscellaneous tissues into a dull red paste. They churn this mixture constantly with a stained wooden spoon, to stop the stew from cementing or stagnating. Once satisfied, they pour the sludge into clear rubber bags and after stamping an appropriate address onto each container, place the bags carefully in their outgoing mail.
Now, the fluids have finished draining, and they can slip the tubes out of the remaining body and tape the filled jars shut.
Each organ must be removed individually and placed on ice. They take the digestive tract first, lifting out the intestines with gloved hands. Without the bonding tissues, they can pick out the organic tubing with relative ease, and hardly struggle at all to place the intestines into a white Styrofoam chest. Another chest waits for the liver, another for the stomach, another for the spleen, and even more for all the other little machines that cannot serve the body any longer in its current state. The heart sits in its own chest, quietly beating as though nothing’s wrong in the world, and the lungs quietly inhale another breath in their adjacent crate. Finally, and with considerable care, they pull of the brain through a sawed out opening at the roof of my skull, and toss it into the last empty crate, where it continues to command the other organs to the best of its abilities.
They glean some remaining objects into separate, dark-colored bags. One bag waits for the nerves, which they twist up in a coil like a roll of twine. Some straggling organs soak in water before finding their respective bagged homes.
Now at long last, they look at the bare bones basking out on the gurney. They let out a collective sigh of relief, taking pride in their efficient work, before grinding the bones down into powder and collecting this powder into an airtight container. In time, the collagen present in this dust can be utilized to form gelatin or other useful substances.
To finish their ritual, they wipe down the table, toss out their gloves, and soak their hands in a disinfectant. All the while, they chat idly amongst themselves, proud of a task completed smoothly.
I’ve always fancied myself as some kind of composition of parts, but now I’ve got no parts to be composed of. I reflect upon this thought for lingering moment while they pull in a box from outside the room. They heave the box onto the gurney, and I cannot help but notice a familiar weight on the scale.
They open up the box and a fresh clone looks silently up to the hospital ceiling, a perfect duplicate of me in every perceivable way. From the cardboard box at the foot of the gurney, they clothe the doppelganger in my familiar dress.
Its heart beats.
I longed to slip into its bones and take the body for my own, but I knew a ghost already lived within it.
Another perfect copy of myself.