How to Stay Ahead
"So are you gonna sign this paper, Les? Promise to give me a hand when the time comes?"
It was Glen, waving the familiar white paper. If Leslie tried to ignore or deflect his efforts, he'd quickly come back to it.
Putting the Free Press down, she looked at him. "You make it sound like I'm your research assistant."
"Perhaps helpmate's a better word. Orhere's a new onewife."
When she didn't respond, he shrugged. "Once you made your unwillingness to fully join me known, what was left but a subordinate role?"
He was using his professorial voice, and she longed to wipe the supercilious smile from his face. She picked up the newspaper and began reading.
Neither could recall the exact moment when his initial interest in cryonics turned into a mania. Glen became fanatical, in fact, in his desire to cheat death. He'd always had an obsessive personality. Early on, it was backgammon and trips to minor league baseball games. Somewhat later, it was state capitals, and kids' books. All of his previous activities held some interest for her. It was fun to take vacations in Madison or Boston. Backgammon passed the time. But cryonics was a trip she wasn't going to take.
And soon its devotees, fellow travelers as she thought of them, clogged his email. From the moment he lit on cryonics, she was against it.
It was shortly after the acquisition of the last Oz book on his wish list (Shaggy Man of Oz) that Glen attended a conference on machine intelligence. Restless with the dull recitation of data at a panel on neuron transmitters, he drifted away and found himself in an auditorium where a man from a cryonics facility was making a presentation. The overflowing room vibrated with anticipation similar to that found in a backwater hamlet when someone in a tight collar and too-short trousers offered salvation to them in a steamy tent.
The speaker mapped out, with slides and power-point, how a brain could be surgically removed after death and preserved in liquid nitrogen. Some people opted for full-body emersion in the liquid, but Glen immediately preferred the idea of just his brain being preserved. He came home expecting Leslie to share his enthusiasm.
After hearing Glen's frenzied description of the presentation, Leslie couldn't help but picture an apple bobbing in a barrel at Halloween. Knowing her husband, she expected his interest to rise precipitously to a fever pitch before eventually falling at a similar rate of speed. But cryonics became an abiding obsession, replacing all his other interests, standing in the way of any emerging ones. He told her he couldn't bear to depart his earthy home leaving all of his "stuff' behind or to be deprived of seeing what the future held. He told her he didn't want to dieas if such feelings about death were novel.
"Don't you find it thrilling?" he asked. "Defying death."
Leslie struggled to suppress the volley of words that threatened to spill from her lips. Something about him being selfish, narcissistic and crazy.
She was what is known in cryonics circles as a "hostile wife." He actually gave her articles to read on the phenomenon. She was the crazy one.
"It's not just about my "stuff," he told her when she threw his words back at him. "Why lie moldering in the dark when I can see what's going on twenty, a hundred, a thousand years from now. Aren't you curious?"
It did no good for her to collect scientific data on how frozen bodies and brains were destroyed in the very process of the initial emersion, how cells were irrevocably broken down, how no one in the future would be interested in resurrecting cylinders full of egotistical men. Cryonics was not inexpensive either. The yearly upkeep on Glen's head would match their condo fees. None of Glen's other hobbies would drain their bank account at the rate this one threatened to.
The legal document he wanted signed promised she'd notify the facility immediately on his death. They'd send someone to the house or hospital to transport Glen to the lab for freezing. (She wasn't sure when the head came off). He'd have to depend on Leslie to facilitate the process through quick action, to be caretaker of both his death and the following procedure.
But she wouldn't do it. And they went round and round on this. It was all in the future anywayuntil it wasn't.
Glen was diagnosed with an inoperable tumorperhaps subconsciously anxious to bring their hostilities to a headso to say. Since the legal documents had not been signed, within a few weeks a woman named Stephanie was sent by the Midwest Cryonics to be in charge of both his death and his transport. She had the physical characteristics of an android along with its efficiency.
"Like hell," Leslie said when she came in and found the woman ensconced in the spare bedroom.
"Sign the paper then," Glen said, waving it from his bed. "Give me a hand. Do your duty by me."
"My duty's to take care of you and I intend to do just that. I can't believe you're burdening me with ... her." She and Stephanie exchanged icy glances. "Not at a time like this,'
"Exactly," Glen said. "At a time like this."
"I've already arranged for hospice," Leslie said.
"I don't see how hospice would matter one way or the other."
Leslie's anger grew daily. Thinking about Glen's head floating in a canister of liquid repulsed her. The money such care took irked her too. And this woman, injecting herself in their lives and his death, was the worst of all. Within days, Glen relied on Stephanie for everything. Stephanie was one of his cohorts after allvaliant people who wouldn't accept death. She understood him. He made the two of them sound noble instead of nuts.
Leslie, on the other hand, was a hostile wife.
She would show them just how hostile a wife she could be.
Stephanie slept deeper than usual that night, thanks to a dose of Ambien in her herbal tea. Leslie didn't have any liquid nitrogen, of course, so a tub of icy water would have to suffice.
His eyes flew open just before she stabbed him in the neck. He looked at her, at the paper by his bed, toward the door where help lie. But Leslie held herself together and the screwdriver in his neck while she watched the light in those hazel eyes fade. The heavy duty electric saw cut through flesh, tendons, bones without pause. It'd been a sound investment.
She'd draped herself in plastic, but the walls, floor, and bed were quickly covered with blood splatter and bone chips. Wrapping the decapitated head in another sheet of plastic, she placed it carefully in the bathtub. It bobbed for a minute, but then began to sink. Clearly, there was many ways for water to enter. Perhaps it would've been more buoyant in the proper chemicals.
Stephanie awoke quickly when Leslie tapped her shoulder.
"Is it time?" Stephanie asked Glen's hostile wife.
Leslie nodded. "Who's his handmaiden now?" she said, leading Stephanie to the tub.
Copyright © 2012 by Patti Abbott