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…” She waved her hand, frustrated. “This is your 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 had got arranged. His sister came down. “Everyone’s on edge. Go ahead, the two of you, apologize. Peaceful thoughts.” Then she said, “Leave your shit at the door.”
He smiled. He lost the level he was on.
Let’s go, again.
Guilt and panic, suddenly. 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. Not saying maybe the last time. Be there. Know you said thank you when she wanted you to take Dad’s flag, and his baseball trophy. Decide about the dog.
As though he’d stepped off a cliff, Keneliot felt footless. Why was it hard to remember the dog? The dog was old. Megan thought the kids should not have another loss, 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?”
Gotta stop the bitching. Have to be shiny for the public.
Somehow none of it made sense. He only knew he belonged at the airport. Megan had been telling him, and he’d walked away from her, sick of listening… 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. The Remembrance Circle, seeing Mom off.
If you were falling asleep, what would you be happiest thinking about? His sister had this strange wisdom about dying; he didn’t know where she’d got it.
These things nagged until Keneliot couldn’t any more…an utter loathing for blue lights rose like vomit…play this pissant game Noble was testing him with. Fuck Noble.
Noble made a noise with the door handle. The thwack of metal was potent, spurred a punch of adrenalin. He strolled in, got too close for Keneliot’s nerves, stuck his face down at the screen.
He laughed. “Well, okay, you didn’t do so great.”
“Look, I’m leaving. I forgot a place I have to be.”
Noble bounced sitting, and the chair wheeled back, smacking the table. 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.”
“She is? You ever read your own bio, Kenster? Your mother died last year.”
For a moment the truth of this had a comic run-in at the gate, with the falsehood. The dog wasn’t dead, a neighbor of his mother’s had taken her.
The emotion had been so vivid.
Noble watched with a face begging to be clocked. “And so you’d like to know what just happened?”
The game was hypnotic. While you were watching lights, you were being fed something. Some unforgiveable exploitation, a grubby little analysis of what people felt bad about generally, attached…no, matched, by background check, to an actual event in the victim’s life.
“You can say reality is perception. If a part of the brain is stimulated, while it encodes a picture, it reads to itself like a memory. Your brain doesn’t know the roadmap. A piece of information pairs up to another piece of information, and together they pull up stuff your brain thinks is a roadmap. Like when I show you my badge, you don’t know I’m who I claim to be. You take the signifier for the reality. No, we want you to believe in this, Ken. Why we have to pick something self-refuting, something documented. Imagine it wasn’t. Imagine I faked you into thinking you’d been friends in childhood with a famous person. Or your father was undercover for the CIA. Or you’d been the victim of some kind of crime. A thing you have no proof to anchor the reality of. You understand me.”
And that was all. Noble let him leave the room.
He said they would never meet again, but that Keneliot might, one day, get a message. The message would be a suggestion, and he might wish to make himself helpful.
The message would be a reminder.
False events could be invented at any time, testifiers could lie with the conviction of truth.
(2019, Stephanie Foster)