Short Fiction ~ Cyril Dabydeen
Honourable Mention, Strands International Flash Fiction Competition - 10
He keeps at it with style, about having recently recovered from a hip operation--what he wants me to know. Now he’s doing well. How well?
“But...?” I ask.
Milt grins; he’s in his sixties; as is Jim, his friend—a twosome. Both are retirees from the federal government, and they make no bones about it. Milt thinks about the pension he currently receives, and gloats, “If I live up to 85, that means I’ll get a million bucks from the government; I’ve done the math, sure. Christ, it’s like winning the lottery!” he crows.
I wait to hear more, looking at his almost rotund form--unlike Jim. “But the government--it’s the office politics I couldn’t stand!” Milt snaps next.
“Aw, what politics,” mocks Jim, looking at me askance. Yes, me.
And again, it’s about Milt’s recent hip operation. “I must try to get all the body parts I need now,” he grates.
“Before it’s too late, dammit,” he hisses.
Jim laughs. I bide my time, sort of, now indeed considering body parts in the offing. Old age, see, with Alzeihmer’s, dementia. Physiology, not psychology. I look at them both with curiosity. “Get it all now, once you sense it coming--the little pain in the bones, I mean. Yes, go and get it.” Milt’s eyes really focus on me. Jim nods; and he’s heard it all before.
“Because body parts will no longer be available with all the seniors now putting a premium on limbs,” Milt rationalises. “Soon we will all be waiting in line, like in your common grocery store.” Simple matter-of-fact logic—here in the men’s change-room after the swim. Not a doctor’s ward, ah.
Milt’s face mirrors a new reality, he and Jim being here to kill time.
I watch them having a “social moment”—like a genuine senior’s moment after swimming in the pool marked out for the elderly. “Parts are bound to be scarce, see,” Milt continues; then again about his hip operation. “It was quick, the bone cartilage replacement...titanium. In the hospital they wanted to send me home after two hours,” he almost shrieks.
“But?” I ask.
“I told them I need physio for two weeks; I insisted on it. I didn’t take acting classes for nothing.”
“I could have been one--”
“An actor. You’ve got to...these days.” Who’s really acting now? “Get all the body parts you can soon, bud,” he calls me in his thespian’s style. Milt’s now adamant. “Let the young people pay for it, the new workers. Christ, yes!”
Jim simply nods.
“Must I pay…?” I say.
“Think, man,” Milt beckons me.
"I am thinking,” I admit to parlaying, not demarcating, “What if I need a new brain?” I try humour, like my ploy. Jim bursts out laughing.
Milt has a jaded expression. “You can get that too, can’t you?” Who is cynical? “How about a new soul?” I attempt next. Why not? Milt looks at me in consternation. New soul?
“Maybe you really need a good soul,” he excoriates.
“But not a bad soul, eh?” Jim scoffs.
The transformative guru in me now: “It’s about one’s karma.”
“You’re getting metaphysical on me, man,” Milt peers into me. “Now if you see a beautiful woman–naked, I mean....” he raises his arms suddenly.
Thinking…what? I balk at his brand of metaphysics, not aesthetics. Objectifying …who? Transcendence is in the offing, see. Milt adds, “You will still lust after--?” “I will think only of...,” I try.
“Her beauty, is that it?” Milt forces the words out.
Ahem. Our jousting continues. Milt and Jim eye each other, then again look at me--as if to say “He really wants a new soul.” But wherein lies my soul? What neurons, molecules? A genuine social moment it is!
I invoke famed neurologist Oliver Sachs. But indeed it’s getting genuine body parts because of the panic about Alzheimer’s and dementia just around the corner. Covid-19, too. Watch out! And body parts being scarce in the capital-city--here like one’s hallowed place. Let Milt and Jim have it their way, I concede.
But it’s not like being in a monastery here, nor a place of pilgrimage or retreat. Milt casts a weird look at me. Jim’s in on it, too. Now what acting lessons must I take? I imagine being, well, Marlon Brando. Jim’s lips twitch. Milt, well, he won’t come here again. And I will yet consider having a new soul. Metaphysics, yes.
One female swimmer appears, out of the blue--mermaid-like, from deep undersea, you bet. Fantasy! But now, it’s really like having half a heart, half a kidney, and one lung stretched thin. I breathe hard and stretch my arms out. Hip joints pulled tight. Tissue, ligaments with titanium. Oh, a new soul I yearn for, believe me. I look left and right, for the imaginary mermaid thinking of an exquisite body and soul, yeah!
Cyril Dabydeen’s recent books are My Undiscovered Country (Mosaic Press), God’s Spider (Peepal Tree Press), and My Multi-Ethnic Friends (Guernica). Previous titles include: Jogging in Havana, Black Jesus/Stories, Berbice Crossing, My Brahmin Days, North of the Equator, Play a Song Somebody, Imaginary Origins: Selected Poems, and Drums of My Flesh (IMPAC/Dublin Prize nominee, and Guyana Prize for best novel). Nominated for the Pushcart Prize, he twice won the Okanagan Fiction Prize. Cyril’s work appeared in the Oxford, Penguin, and Heinemann Books of Caribbean Verse and Fiction. A former Poet Laureate of Ottawa, he taught at the UofOttawa for many years.