The Resident (part thirteen)
An Anniversary Party
Wissary pulled to Aura’s rear bumper. He pushed the engine button—
The car chimed in discontent. He took a foot off the brake, peering for a dashboard clue; the car at last mentioned that it preferred the brake on. He tried escape. The car disliked this, feinted with the locks, but clicked them off just as Wissary found the presence of mind to shove out.
He treaded in reverse along the hood to the passenger seat.
One plus, among dings uncounted, was all it really was. You didn’t lean to dig your receipt from your bag, debating whether some purchases could go in the trunk and be fetched later, after dark maybe…
While you were actually driving. So easy to forget.
John with a shovel came up the garage walk.
“Oh, no! I’ve missed your party!”
“They were just having salad.”
Left blank by this rejoinder, Wissary watched as John rammed the shovel in a patch of sod, then fore and aft, striking a clink. Here he kicked the blade in, and peeled back a toupee of grass. A foot or so ahead—astonishing!—he unearthed another rock.
“No wonder you let the front garden go. Nature’s ways are a mystery. They all seem to have ended up here.”
John raised himself on the shovel handle, and stared.
“The car is making a noise.”
“It is. I ought to see if Des can come speak to it.”
In John’s house—their house—the pantry was an alcove between doors, with steps to the basement, forcing anyone who stocked shelves to hover at a precipice. The far door opened onto a short hall to the master bedroom.
Wissary hugged his Whitman’s and his bag of personal treats: two DVDs from a bin, their covers touting heathery romances; some cherry-menthol cough thingies, for fun; a slim can of Spark! Power Drink in Mango Mocha; a second, labeled Pom-Kona Deep Energy Massage; a pocket level, a nail cutter, a magazine whose cover promised Meeghan Z’s Shocking Surgery!, Tom and Casey, Is It Really Over?, Tara Mezzaluna’s Finds for a Red White and Bluetastic Fourth!, The Beauty Hack You Won’t Believe!, Robby Kimbo Answers Our Rabbit-Hole Quiz!—each and every one of which stories Wissary died to read.
(Des would say: “You don’t know any of these people.”)
From the living room came voices, talking over each other, Debra not herself…but sullen, flat.
“That’s naïve, isn’t it? Change your ways or else?”
“It matters,” Aura said.
“I’m not comfortable treating Bridge like that.”
“Look,” Stu said, “let me be the last guy to pass on gossip, but…”
Debra laughed, a chilling one.
And Stu finished, “Make sure he tells you why he lost his job at Corwin.”
Wissary, eavesdropping, padded into John’s bedroom, shut the door with tenderness, able just to make out Des and Jennifer, coming down the stairs:
“…the trappers who save Tillie’s life are a racially mixed couple?”
“Because I have to get some people in there, if you know what I mean. Either the prairie’s chock-a-block with types, or Isaiah and Ned need to pull double duty…”
“Maybe you don’t want types.”
“Sweetie, I don’t even want Tillie, these days.”
He observed John’s bed, the pillows in cases too tight, the comforter a faux-patchwork, the colors yellows and browns. The Whitman’s box would mesh ideally in this scheme, but lack the gemlike setting, the spotlight that would surprise John’s eye…
Wissary turned to the dresser.
The sight of the original box brought a prompt from his consoling sweet tooth. It’s open already. He probably doesn’t count every piece.
“He probably does,” Wissary said aloud. “But I’ll take just a little caramel, or a little cherry cream, or both…”
Under the lid were only papers. Under the papers was a pocket-sized notebook.
I’m going to write all this for you, as textbook-y as I can manage. Not all that boring ! the way our scientists figured out the creation of us, but mainly, John, because I want you to try, after I’m gone, and when you can bear up with it, to see how nothing could be done. None of what I’ve told you will change the future.
I should say, change in the future. Yes, other Tithonians are living among us right now, and they’re a different generation, so they don’t get planet sickness. I know that’s hard to process, people from later times with genetic fixes that didn’t exist for me, but yet being present with me. Or past of me!
But think, to edit a gene, a single expression, with an outcome known, a known disease, isn’t the challenge of trying to prevent all disease, all reactions to who-knows-what, that can only wait to be discovered. I’m a pioneering Tith, and I knew I was when I volunteered to come back. I thought I might be a sore thumb, be hated for some weirdness about me I couldn’t understand. I thought I might be horribly lonely. I didn’t know I would get sick and die.
I didn’t know I would love you. I’m sorry and I wish I could be well for you, too, but truly, my Funny V, it was part of the bargain.
The rounded writing, hopeful even as hope refused help, swam before Wissary’s eyes. He put a sleeve to them. An absent hand dropped the new Whitman’s beside the old.
But at once, he thought better of this. His presence in the room must not be guessed. He gathered the chocolates, sighing at the vagaries of fate…
He then stole the notebook and slipped up the stairs to his room.
(2022, Stephanie Foster)