Edition 18: KFP By George Sandison
While waiting for his wife to arrive at the hospital, Mr Goldberg finds himself more and more perplexed with the world around him. The goings on in the ward, in his room, are beyond the probable. That’s when he starts to lose it. SY
I dreamt of you last night. You were on the other side of a canyon and walking away from me. It scared me. I don’t want anything to separate us, in sickness or in health. We know that health cannot be valued by something as crass as money. I wish you would see death differently though, take that gamble with me.
It’s an expensive clinic I’m in, for sure; all flashing lights, touch screen surfaces and devices I haven’t seen before. You know that smell people always talk about hospitals having? That clean disinfectant one that gets in your nose even after you’ve gone home? I don’t smell it. It doesn’t smell of anything here, except fried meat. I can see you wrinkling your nose already. Oh Susan, where are you?
They wheel him in on the second day. He’s in a thin-framed wheel chair, tall and lean, perfect physique. I’m eating breakfast, the same anonymous mush they gave me three times yesterday. It tastes fine but, damn it, I don’t know what it is. He’s got a bucket of fried chicken that he’s tearing into. It smells real good to me, I know you’d hate it.
The smell pours out of the red bucket he clutches and I can almost see the grease rolling through the room. He’s made the whole place feel dirty.
The nurse says to him, as they lift his leg into bed together, ‘You make sure you eat your supplements,’ giving him his own bowl of mush. ‘No filling up on that, ok?’ He chews his agreement through grease and chicken. I look at my own mush again.
You’ve not been to visit yet which worries me. My head is still pounding and my neck real sore: both are bandaged with some kind of spongy layer. My moods are all over the place; I need to talk to you. It must have been one hell of a wreck they pulled me out of. I’m not even sure how I got here, no one has told me yet. Maybe I’ve got concussion? That would explain the memory-loss too, I think.
This new guy’s lean, all twitchy energy, like he’s already bored with convalescence. I stare at the red bucket in his arms. It’s probably rude but I can’t ignore the smell. My stomach growls loud enough that he waves the bucket at me and says, ‘Howzit, broosh? Ya hungerin?’ His accent is strange, nasal and clipped; I can’t place it. He grins at me, which splits his long, thin face in half, before sticking spindly fingers deep into his maw to suck the slippery fat off.
You know I don’t eat that stuff, never have, but I haven’t eaten solid food for days now. It’s the kind of thing you can start to obsess about. I grit my teeth, nod and say, ‘That’s very kind of you, I would like some.’
He stares at me vacantly for a couple of seconds so I think he was joking about the offer, before laughing with a ‘Ya ya ya,’ noise, his jaw waggling loosely. I can see the bits of meat stuck in his teeth, his greasy chin and the way he eats with his mouth open, but swallow my disgust. He puts the bucket on the floor and slides it over to me.
I pick it up and read the name, KFP, on the side. The guy looks a bit like the Colonel, but he’s got a long tapering beard and is bald. The glasses are gone too. Must be one of those cheap knock-offs. I grab a drumstick of cooling, deep-fried chicken. ‘Thanks, it’s really appreciated,’ I say, as I slide the bucket back.
He says, ‘KFP iz major, broosh, ya?’ as he retrieves the bucket.
‘I always thought he was a colonel,’ I reply but I don’t think he gets it. He’s strange, like so many youths are. You’d laugh at me, stuffy old man that I’ve become, but you were always better with children. I’m sorry we left it too late.
I chew for a long time before swallowing, my neck burning. I don’t even know what’s wrong with it, every now and again nurses come by and takes some notes on their odd-looking tablets, tell me, ‘Optimal prognosis, Mr Goldberg,’ and leave me alone.
I guess that’s good, you know I think we should live forever. Being in here has made me think, in fact—I want us to be frozen just before we go. I know you think it’s silly but I’ll convince you. We’ll be the frosty Mr & Mrs Lazarus; time will mean nothing to us and our new bodies. I could give you children. I could make you a mother, youth itself.
I finish the last mouthful of chicken, forced to suck my fingers clean like him because there’s nothing to wipe them on. ‘Is it all boneless now then?’ I ask, remembering something from that advert I saw recently, the one that irritated me so. Popcorn chicken, or something equally absurd.
He pauses again before replying, ‘Boneless? No bones in KFP, broosh.’ He sounds faintly disgusted in fact.
‘They must have worked out how to grown boneless chickens in one of their labs then, eh?’ I smile so he knows it’s a joke. Without you I feel like I haven’t talked to anyone for a hundred years, I want to keep the conversation going.
‘Chickin? Don’t eats on chickin.’
‘I’m not the one who calls it Kentucky Fried Chicken, you know?’ I try and sound jovial, like one of our mock-arguments but he looks pretty serious.
‘P broosh. KFP. Kinshasa Fried Protein. Ain’t no chickins for eats here. That’s brutal.’
I laugh weakly at that. I’m sure he’s mocking me, but I can’t work out how. Isn’t Kinshasa in Africa somewhere, anyway? Not quite Addenbrokes, is it? It makes me think about his accent though, how the words don’t all make sense to me. I move the conversation on, ‘Where are you from then?’
‘You’re a footballer?’
‘Na, FA broosh,’ I don’t understand so he presses, ‘Federal Authority. Ya had a wire placed? Ya sounding fried.’
‘South Africa. I know where that is,’ I say, getting defensive. The accent isn’t quite right, but its close, I guess. Lord knows what this ‘wire’ is.
‘South Africa? That was like 60 years ago.’ I squint at him, trying to work it out. He’s playing with me, but I don’t understand why. Is it just because I’m old, that he’s some punk? ‘Serious, broosh. Relax, ya board will sort it out soon.’ He taps the side of his head. ‘It’s the software, give it time to patch.’
He’s really lost me now, my love, but I carry on, ‘I went to Cape Town once, years ago you know?’
‘Cape Town? Where’zat? Ya means the suburbs? Ya talks vital, old broosh.’
‘I call it speaking properly, I guess that’s changed,’ I reply.
‘Sure as, like the twentieth, man.’
‘The twentieth what?’ I ask. I’m losing the thread.
‘Century, ya? Broosh, where ya from?!’ He’s got that look I remember little Phil gave Dad when he talked about the dances he went to back in the fifties. Dad talked about ragtime and swing whilst Phil just yawned. He was a cheeky little squirt.
‘Well here, Cambridge,’ I say. He looks vacant now, so I continue, ‘England, the UK.’
‘Truths? I got storage of the name, ya, like from schools, but this ain’t the UK, broosh. Ya in the Peninsula.’
I let the mutual confusion hang and after a couple of minutes he gets some plastic sheet out. It looks clear to me but he stares at it intently, like he’s reading or something. He really is very strange. You need to come here soon so I can tell you all of this. He looks up at one point and sees me staring so I ask, out of embarrassment mainly, ‘What are you in for then?’
‘Upgrades. This fish goin’ swimming,’ he says. I double-take because for a second it looked like his throat flares out in little lined ridges, and don’t think me crazy, but just like gills. He grins lopsidedly and wide-eyed, blinks once and then again without opening his eyes, like he’s got extra eyelids. You won’t think me crazy, will you?
I must be tired or hallucinating from the painkillers or something. You know I don’t sleep properly without you. I rub my eyes, feeling disjointed, not understanding as he laughs loudly. He says, ‘Ya’ll be sweet broosh, just let that wire do the thinking.’
I don’t know what he’s talking about. With a sinking feeling I fear they’ve sent me a drunk for company. He’s been wheeled in here to dry out. That’s probably why they let the chicken in as well; they’re hoping it’ll soak some of the booze from his bloodstream. My head’s pounding so I lie back down and pull the sheet over me to sleep. I’m fed up with this piss-taking little brat. Where the hell are you, Susan?
I wake up because of the pain. It’s everywhere, from my skin to deep inside me. I was dreaming about you again. We were by the beach and you were grabbing my arm, pulling me into the ocean to swim. I was so sure it was you grabbing my arm, but when I open my eyes it’s just the nurse. My eyes fixate on her, my mind full of you, as I start to hear the alarm which sounds like it’s coming from my bed.
I’m trying to speak, to ask what’s happening, when I look down and see the nurse grappling with my arm. She’s opened my forearm up like a panel, the battery cover on a remote, and is…rooting around inside. There are wires, rods and mechanical-looking components in there. It takes a second to sink in and when it does I panic.
I try and push her off, stop whatever she’s doing to me but the moment I struggle she taps a button on the bed and I’m stuck to it. It’s like gravity just increased and all I can do is scream for help, scream your name. I sure do a lot of that.
She stays focused on my arm, working quickly despite me hollering in her ear as loud as I can. I call her all sorts of names, fear driving me to a vulgar lucidity. It takes a minute or two before the doctor arrives. He takes one look at me, swears and rushes over. He taps at the bed a few times and it all goes black.
When I come too it all feels like a nightmare, insubstantial. My head savages me worse than before but I can move again and my arm looks just like normal. You’re still stuck in traffic or a meeting I guess. The KFP-man is still there but he’s looking at me in a new way now. I’d almost believe I dreamed it all except the nurse and doctor are arguing at the foot of my bed.
‘The interface isn’t ready yet. It takes time to adapt, his head is at a very delicate stage even if the new unit isn’t,’ snaps the doctor, apparently at the end of a long lecture.
‘It’s not my fault,’ the nurse bites back, ‘I told him to eat the meds, and nothing else.’ That’s a lie, I’m sure of it. You know I do what I’m told.
‘What’s he even doing in here anyway?’ He hisses, ‘How many times do I have to tell you? You don’t put the cryo patients in normal wards. It’s not the same as wire implants, it’s just not.’
‘Fine, but you need to find him a bed in there. You want to chuck Mr Thomas or the old lady?’ The nurse folds her arms in defiance.
I’m trying to catch up and ask weakly, ‘What do you mean “cryo patient”?’ but they don’t hear me. In the bed opposite, the lean face is now punctuated by wide-eyed amazement.
The doctor glances at me, sees what I’m awake and whispers, ‘Shit,’ to himself.
He steps towards me and says, ‘Mr Goldberg, I’m going to take you to see a colleague of mine. We need to explain a few things. Carefully,’ he adds, whilst shooting the nurse a filthy look.
He helps me into a chair, the movement making my head rage anew. As we get to the door I whisper to the doctor, ‘There’s something wrong with my arm, I think the nurse did something to me,’ but he just shushes me and pats my shoulder. I say, ‘Have you seen my wife, Susan? She should be coming to visit soon, you know.’
He says, ‘Let’s save these questions for my colleague, Mr Goldberg, he’ll answer them for you.’ He doesn’t say anything about you and wheels me down the corridor in silence.
George is a writer in the mornings, tea-guzzler during the day, incorrigible critic in the evenings and a world-class fidgeter at night. He functions as editorial omni-gel at Unsung Stories in London, neatly proving that you can spend all your time making things up and get away with it. His work has appeared in Perihelion, Fiction on the Web and is forthcoming in the April 2015 Jupiter SF.
You can follow George on Twitter as @GeorgeSandison or find out more about him at his website, www.georgesandison.com.