“Lagniappe” is a New Orleans creole word. It means “a little something …extra.” This is where you can get a peek at some of my flash fiction or what I’m working on next. This first story is a dangling conversation between a nurse and an old man in a box. Enjoy.
Roscoe Jean-Castle Mathieu
“How are you today, Mr. Gedde?” The archivist asked. The old man in a box turned toward the sound with liquefied eyes.
“Who’re you?” He asked. The archivist sat down next to the box, in the warm morning sun coming through Mr. Gedde’s hospital window.
“Still Amir Safavi, Mr. Gedde.” He said, thumbing through his paperback. It was going to be a long visit. “Do you remember when I came in yesterday? We talked about birds.”
The old man in a box let out a hoarse laugh.
“I remember I saw a little brown and grey thing, whistling a pretty tune like a nightingale, this morning on my way to the factory.” He said, smiling. A sunlit memory, a break in the clouds that had settled on Gedde without his knowing God knows how many decades ago.
“I know, Mr. Gedde.” The archivist said. “You came home and told your family about it. They wept for joy when you said it, because it meant you had remembered something.”
And they hadn’t come to see him since. Just the archivist, making his rounds, paid to talk the old bodies and worn-out minds out of their stuck memories. The geriatric drug kept them alive, certainly, but the pseudo-Alzheimer’s still took its nasty toll. The old man frowned.
“Did I?” He said. “I don’t remember that.”
“Didn’t think you would.” The archivist said, finding his page. He wondered who was visiting his grandparents.
“A beautiful sound, rustling paper.” The old man said. “I don’t like the datalinks or the holos, some things are eternal, like books…who needs a holo about formal logic, or of Shakespeare or the Holy Bible? I remember telling Rudy he was a damn fool for buying one of those computer-bibles they had for ten dollars at the dollar store…”
“Would you like to talk about the news, Mr. Gedde?” The archivist asked blandly.
“Why bother? It all just repeats anyway, says the same thing, over and over.” Mr. Gedde said, his wrinkles massing into a scowl.
The archivist looked up, hopeful for just a moment. There was a chance, however slight, that a Rerentol patient would reverse, begin to learn anew, beat back the demon degeneration that ate at all of their minds eventually. A renaissant…
Mr. Gedde had seen centuries. If all he could see were those old centuries, like a barely-living exhibit, they’d send him off to the museums. But if he could see the present, as well as the past…
“Once, Jan switched it to the news during…one of the elections…and the man was talking about a new deal, a great society, so I took my shoe and I threw it at the screen…”
The archivist sighed, and went back to his reading.
“I wonder if she’s still sitting and staring out the kitchen door…” The old man wondered aloud. One wizened hand idly twitched at a life support cord.
“Your wife is dead, Mr. Gedde.” The archivist said, looking away from the withered body in the box. He folded his book in his lap.
The silence dragged on. It was almost worse than Mr. Gedde’s endless Grampa Stories.
“I think you might be better off that way.”
Still not a word.
“My wife, I think she’s seeing someone else.” Amir said in a burst. He clapped his knees together around his hands, steadfastly staring at the wall. “My brother. He…we live together, and she and I…it hasn’t been fights so much as we’ve been …living apart, in the same house, if you know that one. She’s going one place, I’m going another, and he seems to be where she’s going. There’s so many times they’re on the couch together watching a holo and I’m sitting off on my seiza cushion reading a book…”
He looked down at the paperback in his hands. He couldn’t make out the title any more, and he couldn’t remember.
“Do you love her?” Mr. Gedde asked.
“…Maria?” Amir said absently, lost in thought. “I…I think I did, once. I … don’t know. Any more.”
“You did love her, or else it wouldn’t hurt so much now.” Mr. Gedde said. “Remember that and hold onto it. You did love her. You’re going to have a hard time through this, whatever you do. But remember, more for yourself than for her, that you were once kind to each other, even if you can never be so again. And if you must go, go. Don’t let convenience stop you.”
Uncontrollably, a memory from her room, when they were just kids, and Maria was laughing and he pulled her close and laughed with her. The archivist and the old man met eye to eye, and the archivist saw a spark there.
“Don’t turn out like me and Jan.” Mr. Gedde said.
The archivist felt a cool prickling across his skin.
“Renaissant.” He whispered. The old man blinked, his milky eyes covered over and the spark gone.
“We had three children.” He said. “Did I ever tell you about them?”
The archivist just smiled.
“Yes, Mr. Gedde.”
“Joan and Jay, they live in Ohio.” The old man said. “And Patrick’s a go-getter in New York. We lost Simon in the Iraq war, still don’t know what for, don’t matter anymore…”
The archivist sighed. The process would be slow, and uncertain, and he would have to tell Mr. Gedde many things about 2319, and endure many more Grampa Stories…but Mr. Gedde had seen the present. And that was enough for now.
Roscoe Jean-Castle Mathieu lives in Shenzhen, China. He does whatever work comes his way, mostly importing electronics and teaching English, and in stolen hours writes about what he sees.