Friday, May 11, 2007

Praying to the Machine

Thomas had not slept in the same bed as his wife for over a year. It was all the machine’s fault, really. He still loved her, though obviously not quite as much as he loved life itself. He had cried for a long time when he first thought of it that way.

Everyone had thought the machine would be a revolutionary comfort. The exact place and manner of your death, though not the time, all available on a convenient printout sheet. They had tested it for years with the elderly and the mentally ill before they made their announcement. They had to be sure their science was more than a pileup of coincidences.

They tested it on two different groups. One group was told about the machine and its prediction for their deaths. The other group was observed in secret. They did not even know the machine existed. The preponderance of suicides in the first group, they adamantly maintained, was merely a product of statistical variance. There was no known case in which the machine had been wrong.

In many ways, the machine was a blessing. Men can be very courageous when they know they are going to survive. Numerous people celebrated what they called their newfound freedom or lease on life (only some of them sarcastically) by performing outlandish stunts. The phrase "death-defying" quickly became a joke for those who had submitted themselves to the machine’s test.

But not everyone wanted to know, of course. Some people actually wanted to be surprised by death. They thought that not knowing made life more exciting. They said it gave them freedom.

Before he underwent the machine’s test, Thomas had never understood what they meant. He had not believed that ignorance and freedom could be connected. But now that he knew he would die in his sleep, from a brain hemorrhage, with his wife lying beside him, wishing he did not know or that he could somehow forget was all he thought about. He would have prayed if he believed the machine could hear him.

He still spent time with his wife in their room, but whenever he yawned or felt himself getting tired, he took his leave of her and went to the guest room to sleep. They both cried every time he left. She wished he could stay with her to comfort her, to kiss her, to wrap his arms around her, but she could never ask him to stay. She loved him too much to ask him to give up his life for a night with her. She did not pray, either.

He held the beam in his hand and looked at himself in the mirror, wondering what he would look like once he was done. He had tried everything else. This was the only way he could see to be happy again; he needed to forget about the machine. All he really wanted was to lie next to her again, to feel her sleeping breaths on his face.

A red pain clouded his vision the first time he hit himself with the beam. He was bleeding from his ear already, but he had to do it again. He needed to be sure. He raised the beam again, in his stronger left hand this time, and brought it down with all the speed and violence he could summon.

Thomas stumbled out of the guest room, not remembering why he had been in there. All he knew now was that he should be sleeping with his wife. He loved her so much. All the blood was concerning him, too, but he thought she would be able to help him. He had to get to her.

He opened the door slowly and quietly, not because he did not want to wake her but because he simply did not have any more strength than that left. He could barely see her through the curtains of red and white that were flooding his eyes, but he knew she was beautiful. She was lying on her back, her hands resting on her stomach. They rose and fell with her deep, regular breathing. He wanted to call out to her but could not remember how to speak.

She awakened when he fell, the full force of his unconscious body almost throwing her off the bed. There was blood everywhere. It had trailed him to the bed and was now soaking through the sheets and dripping on the floor. The machine had not said anything about blood, or about love. It could not understand them. All it knew was death.

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