Posted: Thu, December 27, 2012 | By: Reeve Armstrong
Cigarette smoke in front of a bronze strobe light looks like a demonic will-o-the-wisp through the haze of mist, on the marsh in the early morning. But I was actually in a hospital smoking during the operation; laying down the blue bed smugly. And that’s because we can today. There was a time when smoking was harmful to the body (there was a time when eating too much was harmful to the body as well) but these days we can get away with it. If someone had told me this twenty years ago, in 2013, while I was a disillusioned sixty five year old man with the body of a sixty eight year old, and circulation problems, I would have scoffed in the face of whichever naïve student it was telling me. Yet here I am, heading for ninety chronological years, with the biology of that naïve student.
I’m lying slightly. There’s very little biological about me. Most of my major organs are synthetic.
I peered down at my body while the machines did their work: Revealing, under a layer of soft beautiful Adonis skin, the furious, buzzing mechanical circus of alloys, wires; vibrant lights. My ribcage really is a cage.
This is where I should make an allusion to the “tin man” - although the truth is I kept my organic heart. I didn’t need to. I suppose it’s because, underneath, I’m still one of the older generation. Some part of my mind still holds onto the romantic notions of my childhood. Perhaps I’ve been over exposed to metaphors involving the heart. Or perhaps I’m trying too hard to relate to the poetry of Mr Armitage.
but not the pendulum, the ticker; leave that where it stops or hangs.
Finishing their work the robotic doctors gave me an injection. I watched in awe, again, as the liquid banally slides down the glass tube; trying to imagine all the artificial creatures - for want of a better word - programmed to go from cell to cell working their restorative magic. And that’s what it could be best described as: After all of these years fantasizing and working, humanity has finally made their world magical.
I stepped out of the clinic back into the city. The sky in tinged with vanilla and the rain is coming down. One of my more cynical friends describes the city as “a scrap-yard in September” although I think more of being in a car; watching the afternoon rain run down the window pane while the streetlights rush by. I walked to the bus stop. The advertisement was playing a familiar - but still amusing - cartoon of the stereotypical scientist chasing after Death, in the fashion of a Charlie Chaplin film. The scientist finally catches up to Death and pours something over him out of a conical flash. And like the witch in The Wizard of Oz Death shrinks down and melts away. The scientist looks at the viewer and smiles. The text appears: “Do you want to be a Phoenix? Apply today for your shot of Purple Love!” A smiley face with arms and legs is then shown hugging onto a comical depiction of a cell.
Later that day I met up with one of my professional associates. Since it was in the middle of the week the opium den had fewer than its usual score of patrons. His typical darkly satisfied-self, Henry, reclined lousily against the pink couch. One of his interesting quirks was that his had dyed his beard grey. (Maybe in an attempt to take the current trend of ironically dressing par early twentieth century to a new level of wit.)
“How was the clinic?” he asked dryly.
“It was fine as always. The coffee machine was broken though.”
Henry laughed mirthlessly.
“I had a dream I was drowning in coffee once - although I doubt dreams mean anything. Saying that, we still understand more about everything else than why we have dreams.” he said.
“Well that’s probably because dreams are boring.” I retorted, “Or have you finally cracked and are going to start babbling about the soul?”
We both laughed.
“I wouldn’t dismiss that one just yet. When it comes to getting our minds from wetware to hardware, there’ll need to be something that smells like a soul, otherwise it won’t work.”
I laughed, not really sure I understood the point.
“Do you ever feel guilty, Henry, when you see the people in the lower districts?”
Henry grinned wickedly, “Of course not; they have the privilege of being able to have children without filling in paper work, and sans in vitro. Besides you know how the argument goes: Overpopulation; the unwashed masses will eat us out of house and home…”
“And where’s that argument from? The idiotic ramblings of someone who has been dead for over two hundred years?” I replied affably.
“Remember that we needed a propaganda campaign to get those ‘unwashed masses’ to even accept the concept of the Purple Love.” Henry said, sharply, “Last time I visited the lower districts a tramp was ranting and raving about Icarus and his melted wings. So I said to him, ‘The moral of that story is not about flying too close to the sun; the moral is: Don’t make your wings out of wax and feathers.’ That shut him up.”
Henry continued, “There’s a little joke I want you to enjoy on your way back up to the Penthouse. Go and visit the old Cathedral.”
In the evening, as I was crossing the bridge, I noticed a dark shape balanced on the railings; gazing down into the shadowy waters of the river. “Down with Mumblecore!” she cried out through the fog. And then leapt. Another one with Rufus’ Syndrome.
The Cathedral still looks esoteric. Perhaps even more so, since it now stands sorely encircled by clean, hyper-modern surroundings- a tragic hero. It is abandoned and all of the windows are smashed. Graffiti decorates the brick work as you would expect to find on railway platforms. Maybe the most affronting thing about the relic is the graveyard. And as I looked at the desolating tombstones, now dishevelled and mostly unreadable, I felt a deep pang of human pity and sadness. Then thought about my wife. We had both realised the madness of the vow “Until death do us part” when made by phoenixes. So we went our own way. I now have a (chronologically) twenty-something lover.
So Henry’s joke: On the altar, a easel had been set up with a framed, I assumed replica, picture displayed Gauguin’s most famous painting. Spray-painted at the foot of the altar were the words ‘Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.’ And finally, in a touch of class - or maybe affection for my tastes - Henry had set up an old record player with a vinyl record awaiting the needle. I started it up.
The music played. Echoing around the great hall thanks to the wonderful acoustics.
Hey love, we’ll get away with it
We’ll run like we’re awesome, totally genius
Hey love, we’ll get away with it
We’ll run like we’re awesome