login bonus 188bet?live chat_free login bet of the day_login bonus winamax series 2019 schedule

By Jennifer Perrine

When Toby finished living his life for the second time, he was met with a blinding light. Had he known that this was the end, that he was waking now, reentering the world, he might have assumed the light was heaven, or death. If he had remembered in that haze that he’d chosen to Relive each day of the last four and a half decades, he might have recognized what a marvel he was, why a storm of imagists fluttered around his room to capture the moment and send it out live for the world to see. He might have done more than hold his hands up to shield his face from the jostling arms reaching toward him, the buzz of exclamations, the flashes of light that would expose his every expression. He might instead have held his hands up out of embarrassment at what his body had become, wasted in its pale yellow gown, gaunt in the way only a ninety-year-old man could be.

Only much later — when he finally spotted the screens in his room projecting a thousand copies of a weary, rawboned man cowering amid a throng of lovely young creatures — did Toby grasp that he was that man, he was the image, and he was old.

When Toby had signed up for Second Chance, thousands of people had already taken the plunge. It hadn’t been fashionable, exactly, and plenty of pundits still debated the ethics of the process on popular streams. But by the time Toby made his choice, Second Chance hadn’t been extraordinary, either, any more than plastic surgery or infidelity or any other method of coping with midlife crises had been. Second Chance had been popular with — and had, everyone knew, been marketed specifically to — people just like Toby.

"Eventually Straight," painting by Karen Eve Friedland

“Eventually Straight,” painting by Karen Eve Friedland

He’d had a good life: a suburban childhood with kind parents, a comfortable career in sales, a series of marriages to women who were ambitious, attractive, and kind. The last of these women, Gemma, had left him for another man, and when Toby tried dating again at forty-two, he found himself afloat in a sea of digital profiles, with no one taking a second look at his. He was a little paunchy, he knew, a tad gray around the temples, had a receding hairline that Gemma had assured him wasn’t as noticeable as he thought it was.

When, after three months, he’d failed to find even a measly hook-up, let alone an honest-to-goodness date, Toby decided he might be able to make it as a bachelor, even enjoy it. He’d been a serial monogamist since sixteen, never living on his own, moving right from his parents’ house to a dorm room to an apartment with his first girlfriend, Cynthia. Sure, he’d had short stints, a month or two here and there where he’d been on his own after each of his exes left: Cynthia for grad school, Anna for a polyamorous life that Toby had decided he couldn’t handle, Jessie for the children that Toby wasn’t ready for, and Gemma for her personal trainer. Those liminal periods after each split, which he sometimes referred to as his Lonely Times, hadn’t been all bad. He’d stayed up all night playing video games with no one to pester him about what a waste of time they were. He’d caught up with college buddies he’d never seen while he was hitched. He’d masturbated without guilt, instead of turning it into the sneaky, stealthy endeavor it always entailed when he was living with someone else.

But this Lonely Time was different. Those first months of bachelorhood, of living the dream, dragged on into one year, then another. When three years had passed since Gemma had left, Toby was still alone. His eyes and neck ached from sitting in front of a screen every night from the time he came home until he went to bed — first the dating sites, frustrating flirtations that led nowhere, then porn, then video games into the wee hours. His friends had stopped answering when he called them late at night, half in the bag, to talk about the old days, and when he finally quit waiting for them to pick up, he began looking up his exes online. Gemma had married and opened a gym with Mr. Buff. Jessie had two girls, already tweens now. Anna, who’d been a homebody for the entirety of their marriage, had become a travel blogger, visiting a new country each month. And Cynthia had fulfilled her dream of becoming a geneticist, though her profiles suggested she spent most of her time on the beach playing with her five-year-old son or eating complicated desserts with her artist husband.

“Once we’ve collected all the data, we’ll establish your current baseline — how you’d rate your life as it is now — and use this to code each cycle…”

Still, though, Toby wouldn’t have considered going to Second Chance if it hadn’t been for his parents. His mother, like her mother before her, had begun showing signs of dementia when Toby was in college and she was barely fifty. She’d been in managed care since Toby’s father died of a heart attack just after his fifty-fifth birthday, and Toby had done his best to go in with good spirits when he’d visited her, over and over, for ten years. He’d often looked around, though, at the other women who lived in her wing of the home, and wondered where their families were. Did they not have husbands and children, or did their families simply never care to visit?

It was this that he thought of on those late nights when he was in his cups, gazing at the images of his exes: how in those years leading up to his mother’s death, he had been so grateful to come home to Cynthia, to Anna, to Jessie, to Gemma, women he imagined he would grow old with, who would care for him if he ever got sick. His hope hadn’t flagged when each relationship hadn’t turned out to last forever. Rather, he’d believed — quite sensibly, he’d thought at the time — that because he was getting older with each marriage, there was a higher probability that his wife wouldn’t want to leave either, afraid that she, too, would be left alone in her old age.

But each had left in her turn, and Toby, three years after Gemma’s departure, was alone when he received the results of his employer’s annual wellness screening, which alerted him that he’d gained fifteen pounds since the previous year, that his cholesterol was high, as was his blood pressure, and that these factors put him at high risk of developing both dementia and heart disease, especially given his family history. He’d suspected all this already, had been panicked every time he felt tightness in his chest or forgot someone’s name, which had been happening more and more frequently. He’d tried to chalk it up to stress, to increased pressure at work, but there it was on paper: it was only a matter of time before he dropped dead in the kitchen, halfway through brewing a pot of coffee, like his father had, or spent his days frightened and alone in a facility, cared for by strangers. The results were still spread across his kitchen table that evening when he called the local Second Chance clinic and made his appointment.

The pamphlet they’d sent him in advance of the appointment had only told him what he’d already seen on TV and various streams: Second Chance would let him Relive his best days. It was the clinic representative, Bettina, prim in her light blue dress and immaculate makeup, who first informed him that he might — if he was very unlucky — need to relive all his days. “We’ll sequence your memories by sleep-wake cycle,” Bettina said, brushing an invisible mote of dust from the glass desk between them. “Each cycle will be its own discrete unit, and we’ll be conducting an fMRI the entire time we’re sequencing, so we’ll have some sense — based on which parts of the brain are associated with each cycle’s memory — of how you may have felt at the time. Once we’ve collected all the data, we’ll establish your current baseline — how you’d rate your life as it is now — and use this to code each cycle: 1 for low-quality cycles, all the way up through 10 for peak experiences. Then, you can select the order in which you’d like to Relive, with the code to assist you.”

Toby shook his head. The ads had made it look so easy — opt in, go under, and Relive. “Why not just keep the same order I had the first time?”

Bettina quirked an eyebrow ever so slightly, a look that Toby knew from his exes meant he’d said something thick. “Well — ” she said, drawing out the word, as if she shouldn’t have to explain something so obvious. “You could just keep the same order, but our clients, generally speaking, have only so much time. No one expects to make it all the way through another forty or fifty years, so they choose to re-experience the high-quality cycles first and save the low-quality ones for later…”

“With the expectation that they’ll never make it that far,” Toby finished.

“Yes, exactly,” she said, beaming at him, her perfectly white teeth somehow unflattering. “No one wants to go into the process knowing they’ll have to relive years of 1’s before they ever have the thrill of a 10.”

Later, when Toby saw his own code — tens of thousands of cycles ranked with digits — he realized just what an overwhelming process it was, and why Bettina had recommended letting Second Chance suggest an order based on his level of risk-aversion. Toby had never been particularly daring. He’d invested his money in safe bets, never went in for the thrill-seeker hobbies — mountain climbing, BASE jumping — that had become so popular among his coworkers. He ranked as moderately conservative on the Second Chance assessment, and when they showed him his sample order, it seemed about right — a string of 7’s, 8’s, and 9’s made up most of the first fifteen years, with a healthy dose of 10’s sprinkled throughout. It looked like he’d be reliving plenty of mediocre days, too, though — the 4, 5, and 6 days far outnumbered all the others and had to be worked in out of necessity, Bettina had explained. Still, the order looked perfectly acceptable to Toby. Surely, it would be better than the steady progression of low-quality days that the initial coding had confirmed he’d been living for the last three years.

Toby tweaked the sample order only slightly, requesting that the first few months he’d dated Cynthia, Anna, Jessie, and Gemma — periods that had consistently been coded high — be kept sequentially intact, so he could Relive them just as they’d happened the first time around. He made sure to cut off each sequence before the first real fights and tensions developed. Bettina approved the revised order, and that night, sitting before his screen, watching the blissful lives of his ex-wives, Toby signed the final paperwork without a second thought.

Even after Toby had left the Second Chance complex where they’d kept his body functioning for the last forty-five years, he still couldn’t escape the imagist paparazzi. On the few occasions when he ventured out of the special Third Chance suite that the company had provided him in exchange for continued monitoring and research, the imagists hounded him. “Tell us what you saw,” one yelled, dancing her rhinestoned breasts in front of him. Everyone here looks so young, Toby thought, and then he recalled what Dr. Mukherjee — the man who’d been overseeing his reentry into the waking world — had told him about Second Chance’s increased popularity: its population-savings programs subsidized by the government, the exponential growth in facilities that offered the procedure, the complexes built to store all the bodies while they Relived.

“How many?” Toby had asked.

“Millions,” the doctor had said. “Hundreds of millions. Almost everyone opts in, now that it’s affordable. If you’re past forty-five and still living your First Chance, most people would consider you a freak.” Toby had looked the doctor over. Despite his attempts at kindness — the doctor always had Toby’s housekeeper bring them a tray of tea, which sat untouched between them on the coffee table in Toby’s suite — Mukherjee was a formal sort, all business: no handshakes, no warm greetings. Often, Toby had woken to find the doctor already waiting for him, seated in one of the two minimalist chairs in his suite, gazing out the broad span of windows that ran the length of the living room wall. He was disconcerting, sitting there with his Streamer out, ready to broadcast every word Toby said, every move he made. It had made him so self-conscious that he hadn’t paid much attention to Mukherjee at first, but over time Toby noticed the hint of gray that peeked through the man’s black hair, the fatigue that sagged beneath the doctor’s eyes and along his jawline. Toby suspected Dr. Mukherjee himself must be close to fifty.

Toby knew better than to remark on someone’s age, though — his ex-wives had taught him that. Besides, Mukherjee had been the only person who talked to him without bombarding him with insensitive questions, who actually seemed to want to help him navigate this strange new world. “Millions,” Toby had said instead, echoing the doctor.

“Yes,” Mukherjee had continued, “and you’re the first of all those millions to wake — the first Third Chancer! It’s very exciting! We expect there may be a few more of you in the years to come — more people who beat the odds — but for now, you’re one-of-a-kind.”

Toby didn’t need the doctor to remind him he was a rarity. The imagists were reminder enough, thrusting out their Streamers to capture close-ups of his withered face, shouting their questions about what it was like to Relive all the way through to the end. He told them what they wanted to hear — that it was bleak, that it was unbearable to Relive the days when his marriages were falling apart, the lonely years after Gemma left. He never spoke of the other devastations, the childhood memories that had mellowed with age, but that, in the throes of Reliving, he’d had to experience anew: the boy on the playground who’d shoved dirt in his mouth and held him down until he swallowed; the night his mother had come home early from work to find him masturbating in front of the large living room screen; the hours as an infant that he’d forgotten altogether but that were inside him still, ready to be tapped — stretches when he was disoriented and alone, damp and hungry.

He never tried to put those Relivings into words, but he didn’t have to. The imagists would hurry on to their real question, the one they always asked. “How does it feel to be so old?”

Toby found this harder to explain. He’d had no process of aging, only waking in this body where the muscles had atrophied from disuse, where his skin had grown nearly translucent from lack of sunshine, veins shimmering blue under the surface of his face. Physical therapy had slowly, painfully restored his strength and capacity for motion. His voice, too, had to be trained back into speech after forty-five years of silence. “I feel like a monk returned to the world after years of celibacy and poverty and solitude,” Toby once said to the imagists, but even that, he knew, wasn’t about his age so much as his unique status as a Third Chancer.

Along the road that led to the coast, the forests had been cleared, and transport fleets and warehouses now stretched across the landscape.

What he never revealed to the imagists — and what they never asked about — was the crushing beauty of his last day before waking, the random 10 that Second Chance’s algorithm had placed into the order just in case he made it all the way to the end. For fifteen years, he’d slogged through a jumble of fear and regret: every slight he’d endured, every barb he’d hurled at the people he’d loved best. After all of that, one cycle of pure joy had burst through the cracks of the sequencing: a long day in June, only months before he’d met Cynthia, when he’d driven to the coast with his brand new license, the whole two hours on the road dappled with sunshine, a mix tape on repeat clicking over in the console. He’d smoked cigarettes on the dunes and watched the tide come in. A girl in a green bikini had wandered away from her friends, offered him a beer, kissed him delicately on the cheek, run a finger down his forearm as she inked her name — Alma — and phone number onto his palm. He’d driven back home at dusk, dusted with sea salt and sand and the faint watermelon hint of her lip gloss, and he’d sung along at the top of his lungs to every song on the radio, believing for the first time with his whole heart that anything was possible, that a girl could come up from the sea like a mermaid and choose him.

The next day, he’d gone back to working the fryer, back to basketball practice where coach made him do extra drills because his head wasn’t in it, back to history homework so tedious he threw his book at his bedroom wall. Alma’s number had smeared on his hand so that he could only really be sure of four numbers, and in the end, he didn’t even try to call. What would he have said to this mermaid girl?

In his Second Chance, though, that day of doubt had passed long ago, and he’d woken with the vision of Alma still fresh in his mind. Her number had been clear and precise on his palm, but when Toby called it now — seventy-some years later — of course it wasn’t Alma who answered, but some other girl who clicked off her screen as soon as she saw his ancient face.

Three months after his Third Chance began, Toby had regained enough strength and dexterity that Dr. Mukherjee approved Toby’s request to venture outside of the city. He had a car take him to the beach, or at least, the place where the beach had once been. Along the road that led to the coast, the forests had been cleared, and transport fleets and warehouses now stretched across the landscape. Toby could still see trees, even woods in the distance, but the canopy had been removed so thoroughly near the freeway that the sun blinded Toby for most of the ride. He fumbled with the music buttons on the car’s console, but didn’t recognize any of the songs. Even the oldies must have first aired during his Second Chance, and all of it sounded frenetic to Toby. He finally settled for adjusting the speakers to their lowest setting — there seemed no way to shut them off completely — and Toby sang the music he remembered so clearly from the last day before he woke. His voice still creaked from years of disuse, and when he tried to sustain a note, a shout of triumph turned into an abrupt stop, a catch in his throat that the car’s speakers filled with the low hum of synth.

He’d been told by the doctor that no one used the beaches anymore — too much flooding — but that he could visit the property Second Chance owned along the coast, near where the beach had been. It hadn’t been an option when Toby had signed up, but now every Second Chancer could have their name inscribed at one of these coastal sites. “Much better than cemeteries,” Dr. Mukherjee had said. “Less gloomy. More modern.”

Toby could see the vast white span of the marker long before the car reached it — it shone in the unimpeded sunlight and ranged low across the horizon, obliterating whatever view of the ocean there might have been. “Not much worth seeing there now, anyway,” the doctor had said.

If Toby had died, had not become a Third Chancer, his ashes would have ended up in that ocean, not because of his particular fond remembrance of it — he’d forgotten that June day nearly completely by the time he’s signed up for the procedure — but because all remains from the West were now disposed of there. “People have a hard enough time choosing their order,” Dr. Mukherjee had explained on one of his many mornings sitting in Toby’s suite. “They don’t need one more choice added to the mix, so we made end-of-life treatment uniform for all of our clients.” It had made sense to Toby at the time, the idea that all these Second Chancers, people who had few loved ones to mourn them, to persuade them out of handing over their remaining years to Reliving, would end up dumped anonymously in the sea.

But now, here they were, a fraction of all the Second Chancers’ names engraved on this wide expanse of bright metal, no dates to mark their births or deaths. It took Toby over an hour to find the name he sought, and even then, he couldn’t be sure that the Alma he found was his Alma. He brushed his fingertip over the little ridge of her name once, twice, again, wondering what she’d lived over in her Second Chance, which parts she had hoped to leave behind. Had the day they’d met been a peak experience for her, too, one that surely she would have picked as an early cycle to Relive, or had it just been an ordinary day, no better or worse than any other, something she might have saved for later and never witnessed again, already in her peaceful death?

As he let each of his fingers come to rest on a different letter of her name, it occurred to Toby that the day he’d met Alma could have been one of her worst memories. After all, he’d only been with her for an hour or so that day. What if she’d been on the beach drinking because she’d been trying to drown out some misery? What if she’d sought to run away from some pain through kissing a stranger?

Toby let his hand drop from the wall, ready to turn back to the car, make the return trip to the city, when his eye caught another name: Cynthia, his Cynthia. She’d had her Second Chance, too — part of it, anyway — and now her ashes had been flung in this same ocean, her name inscribed on the wall. Toby recalled dimly the joy of Reliving those early days with Cynthia, his first sex, first love. Just the thought of her had made his whole self stir. She’d been his closest confidante, the one who’d helped him brave the uncharted waters of life as an adult. She’d been wonderful to him. But now, her name on the wall, Toby wondered if she’d remembered it as he had. Perhaps he’d been just another tedious teenage boy, a pair of fumbling hands she’d endured rather than savored, a safe choice she’d stuck with until she mustered the courage to venture out and move on.

Once the thought had caught him, Toby couldn’t help but scavenge the rest of the marker, seeking out the other names. By the time the sun had dipped low behind the wall, casting a halo around it, he’d found Anna, and Gemma, too, and the whole ride back to the city, through twilight and into darkness, Toby wondered if their time with him had merited Reliving, or if he’d only been a blip on the long span of their lives. By the time he reached his suite, Toby had run through his memories of each of his exes, trying to guess how their time together had ranked for them, and his growing agitation made him shake as he tapped the console in his room to contact Dr. Mukherjee. The doctor didn’t answer — it was late, Toby knew, and surely the doctor had a life outside of the Second Chance facility — but the questions wouldn’t leave Toby alone, so he recorded a lengthy message for the doctor, begging to see the records of his exes, to know what order they’d chosen. He felt foolish even as he made the request, and yet Toby left the message intact, waiting for the doctor. He had to know.

Toby wasn’t surprised by Dr. Mukherjee’s kind but firm rejection the following morning. “It’s all confidential. You know that,” the doctor said. Toby had woken to find Mukherjee seated in his usual chair in Toby’s living room, in the seat that no one but the doctor had ever occupied. “You signed the same agreement before your Second Chance. We don’t give out information about a client’s rankings or order to anyone. Not even family.”

Not even family. Toby ground his teeth on the phrase, though he knew the doctor hadn’t meant to remind Toby of his solitary state. “Right,” Toby said. “But what’s the harm in sharing their records now that they’re gone?”

Dr. Mukherjee winced as if he’d been stung. “Of course there’s harm! Can you imagine what would happen if the imagists got their hands on those records?” The doctor shook his head. “Maybe it’s not such a big deal for those of you who began your Reliving in the first wave.” He flapped a hand at Toby, shaking his head again. “But even that would set a dangerous precedent. The Second Chancers who’ve gone under recently, they have friends, children, loved ones who are still going through their First Chance. Every one of them would be vying to find out how they were remembered, whether they were remembered.”

Toby saw it then, how all those dazzling young people who buzzed about the city every day would change, obsessed with poring over the information, trying to find out whether their good memories were truly good when matched against the rankings of the Second Chancers. Sure, some might wonder now, might speculate, but they would never have the data to confirm what gnawed at them: that their lives hadn’t mattered all that much to other people, that the joy they found in their friends and families hadn’t quite been reciprocated.

Toby ran a hand over his face, marveling not for the first time at how foreign his skin felt, its papery texture, its looseness from his bones, as if it had come unmoored. He let his hand remain there a while, resting on that stranger’s face, until another thought came to him. “You can’t give me access to those records. I understand. But maybe you could help me find something else, something that’s public information already?”

The doctor nodded slowly, pursing his lips. “Perhaps. What do you want to find?”

“Jessie Sanchez,” Toby said. “My second wife.”

Toby stood before the steely building, pressing the buzzer again. When the young woman came to the door, she only looked a little like Jessie — something about the angle of her jaw, the wry smile she twitched at Toby — but it was enough that he wanted to hug her. He resisted the urge, shaking her hand instead. “Thank you for meeting with me,” he said.

“Of course,” she said. “Come in.”

Toby followed her into a small room covered in sparkling metal and screens that hummed and winked with color. He still hadn’t become accustomed to the constant barrage of the ubiquitous screens, and he wondered why he had ever spent so much time seated before one, back in his First Chance. The girl stared at him — he’d forgotten her name again, though Dr. Mukherjee must have repeated it half a dozen times — and when she pulled out a Streamer and flicked it on, he barely thought to argue, awaiting the usual flurry of questions about his age, about waking from a Second Chance.

But the girl only crossed her arms, leaning back in her chair, squinting at him. “So, you knew Granny?” she asked.

Toby cleared his throat, suddenly nervous. “Yes,” he said. The girl adjusted her Streamer, and Toby saw his face fill one of the screens, heard his voice echo from a speaker, barely perceptible among the throng of other sounds. He licked his lips, trying not to look at his own image on the screen. “I was actually married to her a long time ago.” His eyes flicked around the room, trying in vain to find a still point on which to focus. “Surely you’ve got some of her old pictures saved somewhere. Maybe we could look at them together?” He didn’t mean for it to sound like begging.

The girl shrugged, her short bob swinging around her face. “If she had pictures, I don’t know what happened to them. Maybe someone kept them after Granny died, but we junked a lot of stuff when Mom went in for her Second Chance.”

“Oh,” Toby said. He looked again at the girl, whose resemblance to Jessie had disappeared in the torrent of images glinting off her skin. “Well, maybe you could just tell me what you remember about her. She and I didn’t really keep in touch after the divorce, and I just wondered — ” He inhaled, a deep shuddering breath, and a pain spread across his chest. “I wondered if she ever talked about me.”

The girl plucked at the ends of her hair, examining them. Toby could see her weighing her words, chewing on her lip. “Listen, I hardly knew Granny,” she said at last. “I was barely more than a kid when she died.”

Toby thought she hardly looked older than a child now. “But she must have talked about her life sometimes. Told stories, maybe?”

The girl blew her hair out of her face, leaned forward, pressed a button on her Streamer. Toby saw his face blink out on the screen, replaced with an image of a sunset, the sky vast and orange. “I’m sorry,” the girl said. “She never mentioned you. Not that I remember, anyway.”

Toby closed his eyes, rubbing his hands over the thin cloth that covered his bony knees. He told himself that Jessie might have had good reasons for not talking about him. Perhaps she’d wanted to keep their good times a secret that she could treasure, a freer life before she’d had children, grandchildren, so many responsibilities. He told himself that even if her new life had been wonderful, she wouldn’t have forgotten him — he was her first husband, after all. And then, when the worst thoughts crept in, Toby pressed his eyes shut tighter, telling himself that their marriage couldn’t possibly have been so bad that she wouldn’t have wanted to relive it even in the ordinary way, through plain, unenhanced memory.

He only opened his eyes when the girl spoke again. “I thought maybe you could tell me…” She trailed off, and Toby felt a flurry of possibility when he looked at the girl, her eyes intent upon him, expectant. He’d never know how Jessie had remembered him, how he’d ranked in her list of days, but he could make a good memory for this girl, the one whose name he couldn’t remember, the one who would one day choose an order and go under. He wanted to be one of the days she Relived before her time ran out.

“Yes, of course. What is it?” He thought of all the things he might tell her about Jessie. How they’d met at a club where her band was playing — he’d never seen anyone drum so hard without breaking a sweat. How, later, after the band broke up, she’d been the most tattooed receptionist at the walk-in clinic down the street. How her co-workers thought she was so tough until, in their wedding vows, he’d revealed how she left him little love notes on the refrigerator every morning before she left for work. How she used to nudge him awake in the middle of the night, when she’d had a particularly marvelous dream, to tell him about it before she lost the thread of it. How, even after she’d told him she wanted children, after they’d started arguing over the smallest of things, after he suspected their marriage would end soon, she still messaged him the same corny phrase — “Toby or Not Toby?” — to find out whether he would be home for dinner.

Toby would tell this girl anything about Jessie, and this would be a good memory, one that she’d want a Second Chance at. “Of course,” he said again, leaning closer. “What do you want to know?”

“I was just wondering,” she said, trying to look him in the eye and failing. “What is it like to be so old?”

Toby never really answered Jessie’s granddaughter, didn’t have any better words for her than he’d had for the imagists. He’d tried, of course — he thought she deserved that, if only for letting him into her home, letting him catch that faintest glimpse of his ex-wife in her face.

He’d told her it wasn’t so bad, that he often looked in the mirror and was surprised to see the old man staring back at him, but that had happened even in his First Chance. As early as his twenties, he’d had moments where he couldn’t believe he’d gotten so old, that he’d lived so long. But Toby could tell by the disappointed downturn of the girl’s thin lips that she hadn’t been asking what it was like to have an old body, not exactly.

Toby knew he didn’t have what she wanted. He couldn’t really tell her what it was like to be old, could only tell her what it was like to be old in this strangely youthful world where he might as well have been on display in a museum, he was such an oddity.

He expressed this all later to Dr. Mukherjee, who had been watching the stream from the girl’s apartment, had been waiting in Toby’s suite with questions about what they’d talked about after the stream ended.

“She wanted to know what everyone wants to know,” Toby said. “They treat me like a curiosity. She didn’t even ask me a thing about Jessie.”

“Well,” the doctor said, “you are one of a kind.”

“I know,” Toby said, “and that’s exactly the problem. Everyone wants to know if it’s terrible to be old, and of course it is. Everyone who would have been my age is gone — dead, or still living out their Second Chance. There’s no one to tell me what I should expect from the little time I have left, no one who understands how I feel. It’s goddamned lonely.”

Dr. Mukherjee nodded, fumbling his fingers against the arm of his chair. “You’ve never asked about the other Third Chancers,” Mukherjee said at last.

Toby leaned toward the doctor. “What other Third Chancers? I’m the only one. You said so yourself.”

“Not for long,” the doctor said. “There are six people who are within months of completing their Second Chance. True, it’s possible that some might not make it, even now, but probability suggests that by this time next year, there will be at least one more Third Chancer. Give it another five years, and that number will grow exponentially, as more of the first big wave of Second Chance clients comes of age, as it were.”

“A year, five years, what does that matter?” Toby said. “I’m ninety already. How much longer can I possibly have?”

“You’ve already had much longer than you expected,” Mukherjee pointed out. “It’s not inconceivable that you’ll be the one who greets the other Third Chancers when they wake, the one who shepherds them through this new world.” He paused, looking Toby in the eyes. “Wouldn’t you like to be that person? The one you didn’t have, couldn’t have?”

Toby rubbed his jaw, mulled it over. He wouldn’t wish on anyone the disorientation and dizziness of this weird world, but he’d never been much for altruism. What he wanted was a friend, someone who felt as out of place in this city as he did, and he told the doctor as much.

“I’m your friend,” Mukherjee said, frowning. “Don’t you think I’m your friend?”

“You’re my doctor,” Toby said. He realized he’d been gripping his hands, one inside the other, and he let them fall to his knees. He sank back in his chair. “As nice as you’ve been, it doesn’t really matter.” He clasped his hands to his face, feeling once again the surprise of the loose skin at his jawline, the drape of it over his cheekbones. “You’re not going to be here much longer anyway, are you?” He peered through his fingers at the doctor, making him disappear and reappear, like a child’s game. “It’s got to be nearly time for you to go under for your Second Chance, right?”

Mukherjee stared down at the floor, shuffled his brown loafers back and forth on the carpet. “I’m not going to have the procedure,” he said. “Second Chance is not for me.”

Mukherjee explained it all, but only after Toby prodded him in the only way he knew how: by sitting silently in his chair across from the doctor until the quiet in the room — no streams, no low hum of music — forced Mukherjee to speak, to fill the void.

“I was diagnosed with ALS when I was in my thirties,” he began. “Treatments are much better now than they were in your First Chance, but still, I knew that it was only a matter of years I had left. Most people in my situation would have gone into their Second Chance straight away. They’d be busy Reliving instead of witnessing their disease progress. But my wife wasn’t ready yet. She’s a few years younger than me — she wasn’t even thirty yet when I was diagnosed. She begged me not to go under, and really it wasn’t a hard decision.”

Toby sat a moment with the information, looking the doctor over with a skeptical eye. “I’m sorry if this sounds rude,” he said, “but you’re clearly no spring chicken. How long has it been?”

“Since the diagnosis? Fifteen years.” He laughed, a bitter exhale. “I know. The statistics say I shouldn’t have had much more than a few years. I’m an outlier,” Mukherjee said, smiling at Toby. “Like you.”

Toby shook his head in wonder. “I would never have known,” he said. “You don’t look…” He gestured at Mukherjee, slim and trim, with his sleek gray pants and crisp white shirt, his full cheeks and swirl of dark hair. “You don’t look sick.”

“Oh, I have more than my share of symptoms.” Mukherjee patted the arms of his chair, emitting dust motes that sparkled in the sunlight. “It’s why I always sit when I visit you. The muscles in my legs are the weakest. They get fatigued pretty quickly. And I’m known to trip from time to time, to drop things. It’s why I use this.” He pulled his Streamer from his pocket, placed it on the table. “I hate these things, would rather have a pen in my hand any day, but it’s just too hard to take notes that way anymore.” He glanced at the tea sitting on the table between them, touched the mug gingerly, as if it might still be hot, though it had been sitting there since the doctor arrived. “It’s also why I don’t ever drink my tea. Afraid of spilling,” he said, and Toby could see the faintest of twitches in the doctor’s hand as he grasped the teacup but did not raise it.

“But why have the housekeeper bring tea if you’re not going to drink it?”

“Appearances,” Mukherjee replied. “No one else knows. I want to keep practicing medicine, and I’m afraid if anyone found out…”

“And your wife, your doctor, they’ve kept it a secret all these years?”

“I don’t have a doctor anymore. He went under for his Second Chance shortly after my diagnosis, and since then, I’ve been treating myself. Unethical, I know, but I didn’t see any other way.” He glanced down at his feet, which Toby recognized weren’t so much shuffling against the floor as shaking.

“And your wife?” Toby knew he shouldn’t press the question but couldn’t stop himself.

“My wife kept the secret for years,” Mukherjee said. “She was the one who knew right away we couldn’t tell anyone, that it would cost me everything, that I’d be pressured into a Second Chance right away.”

Mukherjee shuffled his feet again, and Toby couldn’t help staring, wondering how much was the disease, how much was Mukherjee’s discomfort with the conversation. Still, he had to know. “Your wife, is she…”

“My wife’s Reliving her Second Chance,” Mukherjee said. “She went under three years ago. I visit her body sometimes. I’m not supposed to, but I can’t help it.”

“Why didn’t you just start your Second Chance when she did?”

The doctor raised his hands before his face, as if the answer were there. His eyes flicked from one palm to the other, searching. “It’s not the same,” Mukherjee said at last. “My wife begged me to stay in my First Chance so she could be with me until death. She may have changed her mind, but I didn’t. She only went under because she was getting too old. Everyone around us shunned her. No one shuns a Second Chance doctor, but his wife? She was just an old woman to them.” Mukherjee waved his hand at the broad expanse of window behind Toby, the skyline that Toby knew towered over them.

Toby turned around, as if he might see a crowd of imagists, a throng of city residents floating by his suite, tucked away on its high floor. Mukherjee’s wife was barely in her forties, Toby thought, and already too old to go on living. No wonder everyone’s so fascinated by my age. He turned back to the doctor, who remained staring out the window. “So you’re staying here for your wife?”

Toby might have been incredulous about this once, but now, he understood. If any of his relationships had worked out, if Gemma or Jessie or Anna or even Cynthia had chosen to go under before him, he would have stayed behind, no matter what. Or at least he liked to think so. Maybe, he thought, they never would have gone under if I could have just given them what they wanted.

Mukherjee still hadn’t answered Toby. “Your wife,” Toby pressed, “she was healthy when she went under?”

Mukherjee sighed and tapped at his Streamer, pulling an image of his wife up on Toby’s windowed wall, the screen that Toby thought had been disabled entirely. Mukherjee’s wife was tall and lean in shorts and a tank top, her waves of hair cascading behind her as she ran, a throng of people surrounding her. Marathon, Toby remembered, a word pulled from some old drawer in his mind.

“Elsabet loved running,” Mukherjee said, not taking his eyes off the screen. “This was only a week before she began her Second Chance. She broke a personal record that day.” Toby twisted in his chair to get a closer look at the image on the wall, but Mukherjee flicked the Streamer off before Toby could catch a full view of Elsabet’s face. “I bet she’s already Relived this one,” Mukherjee said, and Toby tried to discern whether the flatness in the doctor’s voice was bitterness, loneliness, or something else entirely.

Toby looked at the man seated before him, really looked at him: the blue smudges beneath his eyes, the silver beginning to grow out in his hair, the gaze that was forever wandering toward the floor, not — as Toby had thought — out of shyness or humility, but to steady his twitching feet as best he could. Toby asked the question that everyone had wanted to ask him — every imagist, every citizen who watched him on a stream — the question that was so close to the one they did ask, but was not at all the same. “What do you think it will be like to die?”

Mukherjee looked at Toby, stared him in the eye. “I don’t know,” he said. “I wish I did. It’s been too long since anyone really died — not in their Second Chance, but out here.” He gestured around Toby’s suite, its sparse furniture. “I don’t know what it will be like to die here, in this life, this First Chance.” Toby could hear the quiver in the doctor’s voice, the scratch of his loafers against the carpet. “I always imagined Elsabet would be there with me when things finally got bad, when it was my time to go. Now, I won’t know if she’s with me or not — maybe she’ll be in the middle of Reliving our honeymoon, or our first date, but she could just as easily be Reliving some day before I ever knew her, a day when, to her, I didn’t even exist.”

Toby didn’t know what to say. Mukherjee’s cheeks had reddened, and his face was turned up to the ceiling with the same tilt Toby remembered seeing long ago on Jessie and Anna, who had always struck that pose when they were trying not to cry. Toby had no consolation for this man, no wisdom to offer, any more than he’d been able to give the imagists the wisdom they’d tried to rip from him. He wasn’t a wise old man — he was a middle-aged man who’d daydreamed the rest of his life away and woken up one morning haggard and gaunt. He supposed it might have been the same if he’d remained in his First Chance, drinking and staring at the images of his exes, squandering years and turning pale in the light of his screen.

Mukherjee swiped at his cheeks, and Toby had enough good manners not to squint and look for tears, as he’d once done with his exes, as he was tempted to do now. Instead, Toby slowly rose from his chair and dragged it around the small table that separated him from Mukherjee, pulling it up next to the doctor’s chair. Toby settled himself back into his seat, and from here, he could see what Mukherjee saw: the blinding lights of the city flashing all around them, a whole world out there he couldn’t fathom any more than he could fathom death. He reached a hand up to Mukherjee’s shoulder, patting it for a moment before letting his hand rest there. He felt Mukherjee’s sobs then, a shuddering beneath his hand, and he kept his eyes trained on the flutter of lights in the city outside, promising himself he would keep this moment safe, would remember it and tell it to the Third Chancer who woke next, and the one after that, on and on, until he was gone, too, until he slipped off into that stream that ran only one direction, with no way to come back.

 

This entry was posted in nba odds 2019Fiction and tagged , . Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

*
*