The Hold (conclusion)
His wife had said something that morning, going out the door. A nuisance, a little hackle raising… One of her near-arguments, that he never could win because she’d be in the car, backing.
Could you pound on a window, yell at your wife on a public street, “I want you out of there!”?
But…green, green, wait…’kay, there goes. Blue.
No, they didn’t have a driveway. Or both cars, here. They had an apartment.
An errand he was supposed to do…
He was supposed to pick up—
Or not forget.
“Ken, you can’t expect me…” Hands, frustrated. “This is your job.”
Shawna had said it, job. And so he’d said back, “You’re right. I don’t want you bothered if it’s a job to you.”
The hospice care got arranged. His sister came down. “Everyone’s on edge. Go on, the two of you, apologize. Peaceful thoughts.” Then she’d said, “Leave your shit at the door.”
He smiled. He lost the level he was on.
Let’s go, again.
And was certain, suddenly. Horrid guilt and panic. Hadn’t his mother wanted them all to come? The nurse practitioner telling them she was awake and comfortable, that it was a good time…but. Without saying maybe the last time. She’d encouraged them…be there. Decide about the dog.
Now, as though he’d stepped off a cliff, Keneliot felt footless. Why was it hard to remember the dog? The dog was old…Shawna thought the kids should not, after Grandma…
“But old dogs die. They can get that.”
“Oh, sure. It’s only the worst time in the world. Why don’t we adopt a dog?”
His marriage. Gotta stop the bitching. Have to be shiny for the public.
But none of it made sense. He only knew he belonged at the airport. Shawna had been telling him…he’d walked away from her, absentminded… And now he was off in the burbs, doing this promised, unnecessary chore, when he ought to be at the bedside, saying goodbye.
Or, what Rachelle had said…
What’s your best memory? If you were falling asleep, what would you be happiest thinking about? His sister had all this strange wisdom about dying…he didn’t know where she’d got it.
These things nagged until he couldn’t…making this point to himself, an utter loathing for blue lights rose like vomit…play the fucking little pissant game Noble was testing him with. Fuck Noble.
Noble made a noise with the door handle, a weirdly potent, kidney-jabbing thwack of metal.
He strolled into the room, getting too close for Keneliot’s nerves, stuck his face down towards the screen. He laughed. “Well, okay, you didn’t do so great.”
“I’m leaving. I forgot a place I have to be.” He heard his voice a little shaky.
Noble bounced sitting, and the chair wheeled, smacking the table behind; he looked up with an odd smirk. As though they were partners in some shady enterprise, and he was here to collect his share. “Why don’t you tell me about it?”
“Not your business.”
“No, seriously. Why don’t you tell me about it?”
“My mother’s in hospice. I have to go.”
“Oh, yeah? You ever read your own bio, Kenster? Your mother died last year, didn’t she?”
For a moment the truth of this had a comic run-in at the gateway with the other thing, the falsehood. The parts hadn’t fit, but the images were so vivid.
Noble’s expression begged to be clocked, but…cameras. Also, he looked fit.
“And so you’d like to know what just happened?”
But if Noble asked, Keneliot could guess enough of it. The game was hypnotic. While you were watching lights, you were being fed something. This was an unforgiveable exploitation of your own history. A grubby little analysis of what people felt bad about generally, attached…no, matched, by artificial intelligence, to an actual event.
“If a part of the brain is stimulated, and if it encodes a picture at about the same time, then it reads to itself like a memory. Like when I show you my badge…you don’t really know I’m who I claim to be. You’re not going to investigate…you take the signifier for the reality. Your brain knows how to store a memory. It knows what a memory looks like. It doesn’t know ‘reality’… If you’re philosophical, you can say reality is perception. And vice versa, right? No, the thing is, we want you to believe in this, Mr. Stiles. Reason we have to pick something self-refuting, documented. But imagine it wasn’t. Imagine I faked you into thinking you’d been friends in childhood with a famous person… Or that your father was an undercover agent for the CIA. Or, of course, that you were the victim of some kind of crime. You understand me.”
And that was all. Noble had asked nothing else.
He’d told Keneliot they would never meet again, but that he might, one day, get a message. The message would be a reminder. One day, if Representative Stiles could sell out to benefit Noble’s people, his reputation would be threatened.
By faults that could be invented at any time, testifiers who would lie with the conviction of truth.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)