August 19, 2010
“Hi!” chirps the thin, gray figure being disconnected from a net of cables by its husband and one of my camera crew. “What’s your name?” it asks.
“My name’s Piotr,” I tell her, as I make a note on the clipboard that I’m using as an excuse not to look into her eyes.
“Piotr,” it repeats.
“That’s a nice name,” she decides in a voice resplendent with stupid optimism.
We wait silently for a moment.
Three men in a cramped room with their heads bowed.
One very small old woman.
She smiles and looks around at us.
The only person who looks back does so down the vast, featureless lens of a film-camera. The camera catches the exact moments when her smile flickers, falters, and ultimately fails, wrecked by the question falling through her head.
“What’s my name?”
We have agreed not to try communicating with her. We know that the disease is already so far advanced that nothing of her actually remains. The attempt would only cause pain.
To her husband, losing her again.
To her, reliving the discovery that she has forgetten everything.
And to us. Who must watch.
I suppose the discipline was always too much to expect of anybody, especially anybody who has been in love.
“Eva,” her husband whispers, falling to his knees beside her. He clutches her hand and looks deep into her confused eyes. “Eva,” he repeats, looking deeper and deeper still for the faintest, most imagined spark of recognition, “Eva. Eva. Eva…”
I make another note and then step out of the room to wait for the scene to end. It’ll all be on camera anyway. There is no need to watch.
As I wait I take the liberty of boiling a pot of the crying man’s tea. I pour him a cup to sit waiting for his return, and another for myself. I stand as I wait, reading over the notes on my clipboard. As I go over and over the things I have written, I have ever less and less idea what they are about.
At last he comes out, trailed by my professional team of observers. Before he closes the door I see that his wife is again serenely plugged into her electronic canopy. Her eyes are unfocused against a dusty and unadorned wall.
“What was the point of that?” asks the tortured man, with a voice just broken and a face still wet from the ordeal just passed.
I honestly don’t remember, but at one point it seems I did, because written down on my clipboard is, “we need to observe the subject’s interaction with the object under simulation, in order to determine a baseline against which the emotional compensatory effect of the substitute can be determined.”
He never talks to me again.
He leads us into a room where our company’s product is kept. She is a perfect simulacrum. She stares up at the ceiling with unfocused eyes, her limbs as limp and detached as the body in the next room.
Its husband sits down on the bed beside it. He slips his arm behind its back and leans over it, before he snaps his attention back onto the lens of the camera and growls, “I can’t do it with you watching.”
We’re paying him five hundred dollars to do it with us watching.
“You’re being payed five hundred dollars,” I say.
He doesn’t look at me. He turns back to the doll, leans in and kisses it. The hurt and the anger slide off of his face. He’s crying again. Crying as he frantically undresses the doll. Maybe even laughing a little somewhere in all that.
I look down to make a note. I see it now. I see it all. How everything here, in this room and the next one where an anancephalic, geriatric life is being pointlessly protracted works.
I strike out all my previous notes and turn to a new page.