When he was a very old man he had flashbacks of another life. He wasn’t sure if he saw his own life or a stranger’s life. Old age played tricks on a person, unexpected travesties and setbacks. Often he was afraid to get out of bed, afraid of a tumble and a broken leg. He was very old due to advancements in bio-genetics; but nothing could improve the quality of life for someone over one-hundred-ten. Of course there were distractions from the everyday pain of extreme age. Virtual Reality gave Eddie the option of living in a different world and becoming a different person like an actor in a play. It felt real. For a few hours he could be someone else. He could relive his own memories as well and change them so they were happier than the reality of the past. His body deteriorated and starved as his mind traversed the worlds of VR.
Eddie sat in an auditorium at the University of Arizona. He was attending a lecture by the noted investigator, Adamine Krator. It was a fascinating presentation; but Eddie felt agitated and insecure. He wasn’t certain why he was so troubled. He had the feeling he belonged somewhere else. He felt he was in several places at the same time. Was he really in Arizona; or was he in Red City. He knew nothing about Red City other than the uncanny feeling he had about the name. He couldn’t explain where it was located, on what continent or planet; yet Eddie felt he lived there. He wondered if he was really in Arizona listening to a lecture.
Adamine Krator was gesticulating as if he had Tourette’s; then he spoke, “We are the most controlled people, the most controlled civilization that has ever existed on this planet. There is no freedom.” The speech struck a nerve. Eddie felt compelled to tap his feet: three times with the right foot and four times with the left. Over and over he tapped. It was the only way he could avoid the manic feelings that were threatening to overwhelm his sanity. He was obsessive-compulsive, but he was reluctant to see a therapist. He was afraid to be labeled mentally ill. So he tapped and did other odd ceremonies meant to stave off catastrophe.
He was at the bar with Anthony. They had just moved to Tucson from Palm Springs. The move was a challenge both physically and emotionally. They left everything, friends and family, to start a new life together in a new city. Eddie missed his mom. Anthony missed his older sister. Eddie thought, “This is a memory… I’m not really here.” He wished it was real, but he knew he had a breathing tube up his nose and he was lying in a pool of his own waste. Virtual Reality was only an illusion.
The People’s Leader was on TV again. He shouted slurs and innuendos. The crowd ate it up. Threats fell from his lips like cherry bombs. The crowd responded with cheers. Some people brandished axes. Some had hacksaws. The bright lights in the stadium were like streaming acid. Human faces appeared to melt revealing beasts beneath the skin. They were enraged by the Leader’s words. Another violent, mass slaughter was unfolding before the eyes of a stunned nation.
Eddie heard a distant shout, “Roasted vegetables.” It broke through his reverie. Anthony was making dinner. Eddie loved Anthony. The young man was often over dramatic. He knew all the songs from every Broadway Musical. He sang and danced like a movie star. He invented his own characters. “You like this,” He’d say mimicking a Puerto-Rican actor or model, “You want some of this? No! You can look but no touching!”
Something snaked through the defenses guarding Anthony’s brain. A virus was brewing. Casualties mounted higher everyday. An old fashioned radio sent an emergency signal: imminent danger… leaky gut… limited income… no escape…
For no obvious reason Anthony exploded, yelling at the TV. Something in the news upset him. The outbursts happened a lot. He hated driving in the city, in traffic. He cursed other drivers as if they could hear his words. Anthony had a temper like a hurricane, but the fury quickly subsided. He was usually the gentlest man Eddie ever met. He worked as a health-care Aide for an older woman named Hannah. She became a good friend. He also cared for an older man who lived in the same facility as Hannah. The man was frail and sometimes delusional… more work for Anthony. He worked hard and it resulted in an emotional toll. Too many people were dying at the assisted living facility. No one had an explanation for the numbers of deaths.
Eddie wondered how Anthony could love him. Eddie was much older; but Anthony was devoted. He made Eddie laugh. Anthony was a cure… He broke through Eddie’s asceticism and extreme shyness.
Eddie was obsessed with the news. So much was happening in the nation and the world. It was hard to keep up, hard to understand. It wasn’t only Eddie… Most people were dealing with violent emotions. Calm was replaced with agitation. Identity politics skewered the nation. Anthony was particularly upset and on edge. He had to avoid TV due to an overbearing presence of propaganda. As a way to ease the unrest the couple spent more time in discrete bars getting mildly drunk. It wasn’t easy finding a quiet place.
The only relief was the music playing in Eddie’s mind. He’d seen too much in his years on Earth. Music was his only salve. Nuevo Tango was the music he loved best. Eddie listened to the Contradanza beats while wandering the pathways that ran through his brain. Timpany-percussion became more insistent, overriding the Latin harmonies like marching feet. The image of the New Leader overpowered the dream. Spies were everywhere. Eddie could no longer distinguish reality. Anthony appeared in the dream. He was resplendent in his sequin suit. He stood by to protect Eddie, but something was not working as planned. Nothing worked anymore. The pathways were closing down. Eddie was left to fend for himself. He woke in a dark, cold room.
He/Eddie realized there were alternatives. Nothing was as bad as imagined. Conversely, nothing was ever as good. Perfection did not exist. The poetry reading at the Coffee-Gallery was another distraction, another attempt to make sense of the incomprehensible. The poets were solemn and stolid like indefatigable vampires sipping at the edges of reality, seeking unsavory bites and exquisite sensations. Something was taking place beneath the masks and facades of the performers. Each poet rambled on about some mundane subject sidestepping the real issues that people were forced to confront. It made little sense. Eddie tried to decipher the true meanings, but failed. There was only one poet who seemed to say something he could understand. He looked young. He appeared thin, almost emaciated. He seemed to shiver while standing in front of the group getting ready to make a speech or read a poem. He said his name was Robert Anton. He read a screed about strange machines and alien worlds; at least that’s what Eddie heard… it was off kilter and obscure, but it seemed relevant. Anthony disagreed: he said the poem was only about bad relationships. After the reading the two men hurried home, wary of passersby.
Eddie heard voices and saw visions. Anthony held him. He was a comfort. They were legally married. After all it was a new day; but the day was quickly passing. Liberal policies were being revoked. Soon couples would be evaluated: some would be allowed to continue while others would be torn apart as blasphemous. The rating system had the blessing of the Church. The new government was beholden to the church. Evangelicals supported the government with votes and funds.
Eddie sat alone in the dark room. Sometimes he thought he lived in one of the new facilities set up to eliminate old people. Everything had changed. He thought about Anthony. He couldn’t remember the outcome. He wondered if it was real… what happened? They had a house together, and a dog… they argued about money like every other couple. There was a recession. It was a long time ago. Now everything was silent. Eddie assumed he was completely deaf due to the total silence; then he heard a sound. He listened to the soft thrumming in the walls. It was the first sound he heard in many years. It was deafening compared to the long season of quiet. Somewhere there was a machine that made the sound. Eddie began to hope. Perhaps this was not the end.