Dressed in suit and tie, holding his cup of coffee, he moves to the large living room window of his small midtown condo, eyes fixed absently on the veiled Toronto skyline and the misty lake beyond it, the CN Tower now invisible in that grey shroud of clouds and thin rain. His mind drifts. The tower will reappear in a few hours, and someone unfamiliar with the skyline, a tourist perhaps, who has never seen a postcard, may find this act of prestidigitation wondrous, he imagines. Toronto’s needle — thin neck skewering the geodic head, restituted to its rightful place over the city. And then more drifting on heads and bodies and needles, as the remaining coffee cools in the mug. Inevitably, like a butterfly flitting about the garden only to land repeatedly on the same flower, his thoughts land on the severed head of his wife somewhere in Arizona. Her body, head-free, buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. He, in this tiny condo, wearing his grey suit and bright purple tie, holding the mug she made in her pottery class a year ago. An awkward thing really, deformed, with a handle that pinches his index finger forcing him to wrap his hand around its distorted roundness if he is to drink anything. She did this on purpose, he grins, so I wouldn’t take it for granted.
All this cost him a fortune. The house in Rosedale, gone. Once you make a decision, you can only go forward from there. All of the useless questions related to weeping are also gone. Now it is more like anger. Why did I make that decision? What got into me? Rhetorical questions to which anger provides the answers. Or answers provide the anger. The decision to sever her head. The decision not to let go. Separating her mind from her body. Her head from her limbs. He drifts again on the dichotomy of mind and body. Butterfly back on the flower. He remembers the last glimpse he had of her head upside down, dark brown hair frozen on it defying gravity, eyes closed, skin pale.
He grieved the loss of her body, all the details, the contours of her breasts, the roundness of her buttocks, the delicate tuft of her pubis, the hands, small and manicured wearing rings. She stood like a ballerina, straight back, long neck, feet curved outward, waiting for the bus every morning. The way she leaned forward when he spoke. Words she used that hailed from childhood, and friends and teachers. Her noisy way of chewing gum, wide-mouthed, twisting her tongue as she did. The plump grooves of her philtrum when she pouted.
All of that, he refused to forget.
She had vanquished it a year ago. The blood tests and CT scans came back clean. The hair grew back, curly, filled with the shine of hope. Remission, that cold word of anxious hope. Something that remits, may return, when least expected, when life has spread into its routine of health and habit. When the vomiting and feebleness have been forgotten. Before she knew what hit her, it was everywhere, giving her weeks to live, or rather to die. At first there were no outward signs. Then she got breathless and couldn’t walk. Took to bed, stopped talking, closed her eyes. Finally, the hollowed rattle.
He howled by her bedside. Tore at the sheets. Shook her by the shoulders. She remained inanimate despite his fury.
He can no longer remember how the idea formed so quickly. Someone mentioned this possibility within minutes of her death. He made the call. They came to pick her up, froze her, flew her to some plant in Arizona. He liquidated all his assets to pay for her body to be preserved, in stasis. Like science fiction, she would be reanimated when they found the cure. That chance to come back to him whenever, in thirty, fifty years, intact. He would be an old man. And she would be there, young and lovely, life still ahead of her, the voice, the posture, everything, minus the suffering. Maybe she would love him as before, despite the creases and old age. He would take the chance.
Within weeks of her cryostasis, there was an urgent call. He flew back to Arizona where a scientist in a white coat spoke of fractures appearing everywhere on her body, fissures in tissues and organs that rendered them useless.
The scientist, compulsively rearranging the papers in the file as she spoke, explained the more likely scenario, cheaper too, giving longer preservation for the money. “We could attempt rapid conversion to neuro-preservation, if you’re willing,” she said. Innocuous sounding words that meant: separating. The frozen head. From the rest of the body. By way of a high-speed electric chainsaw. Letting go of her body. Letting go of it all except her brain. “To keep it, you need the entire head intact,” the scientist explained. “We’ll sever it. One day, in fifty years perhaps, yes, that soon,” the bespectacled woman who wouldn’t live to see it said, eyes twinkling, “we will be able to regrow an entire body around the brain. Imagine that!” Her mind in another body instructing another heart, skin, lips.
Is it madness to love her so? He took the body home, left the head in a vat. I will come for you one day. You will not look like yourself. Perhaps they will be able to grow a replicate of you around your brain. You will awaken and look for me, your eyes wandering around the room thinking where is he, why is he late, while I stand there, the white-haired old stranger across from you, in a suit and a cane, a face vaguely familiar, holding an ugly cup of coffee. Not the husband she knew and loved. An old man with that insistent, loving look. Would she remember his touch, his lips, how he caressed her? Would she even want it?
He pours the remaining cold coffee down the drain and picks up his briefcase, looking for his keys. The CN Tower is now visible in parts, the geoid head mostly, all that drizzle having washed the fog away.