Wednesday, July 12, 2006

July 12th

Mary’s been called away to help perform an emergency perfusion. Her mobile has a special, separate ringtone for sudden death emergencies. G-Spot Tornado by Frank Zappa. Mary says its panicky wingbeat is the only sound guaranteed to get her out of bed and into the car without the aide of cigarettes or coffee––which she doesn’t have time for when it’s a matter of someone’s loved-one’s potential decomposition. Because it’s massively important that the C.I.P. team get to the body as quickly as possible for Minimal Cell Damage and Maximal Care. The sooner they get to the Halted LifeForce the better it will be for eventual reperfusion and revivification. Over the years the C.I.P have tried to forge partnerships with various Funeral Directors, but it’s been pretty tough going. There’s still something of a stigma attached to the cryonics industry in the United Kingdom and many Funeral Directors don’t wish to become embroiled in its bad P.R. It’s a shame. Funeral Directors are everywhere, whereas there are only a smattering of cryonics organisations in Britain, with some of the practitioners forced to operate surreptitiously out of their own garages.
As the emergency team converges on the body Mary will phone ahead on her sleek silver Motorola and, in her most soothingly professional tones, ask the next of kin to please prepare a cold bath, and, if there’s an off licence or 24-hour garage open nearby, fill the tub with as many bags of ice as they can. Then, if it's at all manageable, lower the deceased’s body into the bath and wait for the C.I.P team to arrive. Once everything is in place blood circulation and breathing will be artificially restored with a Heart Lung Resuscitator. The body is then cooled to just a few degrees above freezing and transferred to the white customised stretch limo with smoky, blacked-out windows and driven back to the facility in Purley. It’s true that there's still a level of rumbling disquiet about the use of a converted stretch limo instead of the more traditional black hearse. But David Franklin says a stretch limo sends out the message that its incumbent is not being driven towards a worm ridden death, but rather to a terrific future party full of joy. I find David a little American when he gets like that. A little evangelically razzamatazz. But then Mary’s American and I love her so, well, there you are.
Anyway, back at the facility, Jon Votisky, their enormous maverick surgeon, will attach cannulae to the great vessels of the heart and gently introduces a glycerol solution via the major arteries. This procedure lasts about four hours and is known as cryoprotective perfusion. Once this stage of perfusion is complete the patient is immersed in silicone oil and cooled to minus 79 degrees Celsius (the temperature of dry ice). However, because this takes 48 hours or so Mary either returns home for a much deserved rest, or, if there’s a chance of complication, will stay and sleep on the couch.
I’m so proud of Mary in those rushed moments, heading off at breakneck speed like some state-of-the-art Florence Nightingale in her regulation CryoCare uniform and devastating Prada shoes. Pausing only to check herself in the mirror and perhaps apply a slash of lipstick or the wicked magic of a mascara wand. She says I have no idea how comforting her appearance can be to people. But of course I do.

July 11th

This morning Emily arrived on our doorstep still looking like Cleopatra and holding a box of Turkish Delight she’d brought back from her holiday. It was a lovely gesture I told her, accepting the box and complimenting her tan. I then spent the afternoon sitting at the our kitchen table, washing off the sugar dusting and checking the gelatinous chunks for puncture marks. This is because poisons injected into food with a syringe are almost impossible to detect. This is why I almost never eat jam doughnuts. Embarrassingly though, Emily called back round while I was still slap bang in the middle of it all. In my panicked state, I invited her in for a cup of tea before quickly rummaging around in the cupboard for a bag of Tate & Lyle icing sugar. Sprinkling it liberally over the wet Turkish Delight draining in the sink, then hurriedly tipping everything them back into the box.
I thanked Emily but told her I couldn’t really eat any because of the rigourous training I’d undertaken for the upcoming regional finals of the egg-and-spoon race.
“Oh Henry, don’t be silly,” Emily chided. “One won’t kill you.”
Fear gripped my soul. I’d only had time to check about half of the sweets before she’d called back round. Picking one at random was like playing some kind of sugary gelatin-based Russian Roulette. But then Emily ate one herself and again I was able to relax slightly, confident I wasn’t about to die a hideous convulsive death. At least for now.
I bit into a green one, cautiously, chewing slowly and grinning like a goon.
“We should do this more often,” Emily smiled.
“Absolutely. You should come over sometime when Mary’s here.”
“Mm.” Emily’s expression seemed to tighten slightly.
“Do these taste funny to you at all?” she asked after a moment.
“No. No, not at all.”
“Hmm, okay.”
“They taste great.”
“Okay. So anyway where were we?”
“I think you were about to tell me about your first husband,” I said, keen to get back to a topic away from the suspicious tasting quality of the Turkish Delight.
“Oh, hadn’t we finished with that?” Emily asked.
“Well you mentioned something about a restraining order.”
“Well...” Emily began, her voice catching slightly.
“It’s just I’ve never quite worked out the exact restraining order protocol,” I said, confidently helping myself to another turkish delight now. “I mean suppose someone has a restraining order of, say, 300 metres, and they’re exactly 300 metres away from you. Does that mean if you take one step towards them they have to take one step back? In which case, wouldn’t you be able to set off after them in a kind of Benny Hill-style pursuit? Forcing them to remain at least 300 metres away at all times?”
“No, Henry, it doesn’t quite work like that,” Emily said, smiling a little, but mostly bobbing down her ice cubes with a swizzle stick.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

July 5th

They undercharged us at the swimming baths today. The assistant rang up the £1.10 for Amy but nothing for me. I know I should have said something at the time but I didn’t. Instead I shuffled Amy into the changing rooms and climbed into the pool feeling as if I’d somehow shoplifted the very water I was wading in. Amy was oblivious to the whole thing, or course. She loves swimming. Loves launching herself off the side of the pool into my arms. Usually seeing Amy come hurtling towards me in her little inflatable pink armbands fills me with an indescribable joy but today I felt hollow and panicked. I kept wondering what I would do if a squadron of helicopters suddenly swooped down and landed on the playground outside. What if an armed police swat team in lightweight body armour came bursting through vast floor-to-ceiling windows, showering the pool with deadly shards of glass and seriously injuring my only daughter? All because I’d snuck guiltily away to the pool instead of stumping up the extra £2.60 for my own swim. How would I explain my cheap little skulduggery to Mary then, with a wounded daughter bleeding in my arms? It was a salutary lesson about the toxic nature of greed, and also about a father’s ability to protect the one he loves. Because you have no idea just how vulnerable you really are until you find yourself standing in a children’s pool, in your Speedos, contemplating an all out assault by a team of specially trained police marksmen.
So afterwards, while an adorably damp-haired Amy was lollygagging around the coin-op Postman Pat ride, I went over to the assistant, explained the mistake and paid up in full. She glanced up at me, half shrugged and put the money to one side.

July 2nd

Today we took Amy to see the Floating Zoo. Well they call it the Floating Zoo. It’s really just a monkey enclosure on a giant raft, but the kids love it.
Amy chose a spot along the South Bank just down from the London Eye and a vendor selling extortionately-priced bags of monkey nuts -- vacuum-packed for added freshness and sealed with fresh chives, cumin or the scent of black peppercorns. I asked him whatever happened to good old fashioned salted peanuts but he just stared at me. I bought Amy a packet under duress, informing him it was daylight bloody robbery. Okay maybe not outloud. But I should have done. Next time I will. I’ll be more assertive.
Then as we shuffled into position, using Amy’s size to broker a better spot, I kept an eye on Mary, gently stroking the back of her hand with my thumb.
Mary has a morbid fear of crowds. She suffers from a recurring nightmare in which she pushes her way through a crowd only to come out into a thicker, denser crowd. Then, feeling that this has to be the worst of it, pushes her way through that crowd only to find that the next crowd is even more congested and now seems to carry a dull braying animal sound. So she forces her way through the new crowd, but the next is packed almost solidly and its low aural undertow has grown to a menacing agitated roar. So she pushes on again. And again. And again. And so on until she wakes glossy with dread. It’s all classic anxiety stuff I try and tell her. Except that doesn’t help her very much. So I’ll try and take her mind off things by getting frisky. Maybe because there’s just something wonderfully sexy about her sweaty bedragglement. The way her black silk chemise clings erotically to her wonderfully lithe body. Only this doesn’t help much either, apparently, and she usually shrugs me off and rolls away, murmuring darkly in her hypnopompic fug.
Amy let out a little yelp as the Floating Zoo chugged slowly into view. Rows of bodies pressed themselves against the stone balustrade craning forward to get a better look. As the Zoo drifted past Amy giggled and rocked with happiness and I slipped my fingers into her little grey cord trouser loops so she didn’t fall in and drown.
To be honest Mary and I found the whole thing a little sad, but Amy looks so beautiful stupefied by awe we could hardly deny her her fun. But Mary was right when she called it tawdry. The monkeys seemed down in the dumps, scratching apathetically in the corners of their giant river-borne cage. And I’m pretty sure this was at least partly due to thin wire mesh surrounding its bars, which meant all the hurled vacuum-packed bags, and even individually aimed nuts, just clattered against its side and fell away into the Thames. Leaving a stippled line of bags churning and bobbing in its wake. I turned round to look for the vendor, but he’d gone.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

June 26th

I called my mother to try and determine whether or not she’s serious about being turned into a kind of plastic. She said, “Yes, I think it’ll be fun.” I said, “But you’ll be dead.” She sighed and said, “Even so.” I asked her if there was any possibility she might just be doing this to have a pop at her daughter-in-law, my wife, Mary. She said she knew very well who her daughter-in-law was. Then she said nothing. So I repeated the question. I heard her sigh again and thought I could just make out the inaudible sound of her eyes scanning the room as the radio burbled on in the background, filling the air between us, its space staticky with unsaid things and awkward histories. Finally she said, “No, of course not.” After that we spoke for a bit longer to take the heat off. Towards the end she asked if everything was okay. She’s been asking that a lot lately for some reason. I assured her that everything was just fine. I don’t think it’s fair to worry her about things like assassination attempts on my life. She has a heart condition.
Afterwards I rang InterFlora and sent my mother some flowers on Mary’s behalf. I didn’t tell Mary about that, of course. She’d kill me.

June 25th

Tonight’s meal was going perfectly until my mother announced her intention to be Plastinated after she dies. Plastination is a long drawn out process invented by an eccentric German doctor back in the 1970s. A sort of ghoulish film noir villain fond of long trench coats and Fedoras, he pioneered a technique that replaces bodily fluids and fat with reactive polymers, such as silicone rubber, epoxy resins, or polyester. Plastination halts decay and preserves the body in a durable lifelike manner pretty much indefinitely. The whole process, from start to finish, takes the best part of year and Mary feels this goes against just about everything they’ve been working towards at the Cryonics Institute and is yet another example of my mother’s persistently sly animosity towards her. Mary says my mother knows perfectly well how she feels about all this. Namely, that plastination is a clear and deliberate mockery of cryonics in exactly the same way the Black Mass is a clear and deliberate parody of the Roman Catholic service. I said I’d rather she didn’t liken my mother to a practising Satanist, but she told me to shut up and stop being so bloody nitpicky the whole time. After that it all got a little heated and now we’re sleeping in separate beds.

Friday, June 16, 2006

June 16th

I’ve been advised to move in brisk zigzags. Apparently this will make it harder for potential snipers to pick me off and kill me. I found the advice on a website offering survival tips against terrorist outrages, angry loners, biochemical warfare and stubborn hard-to-get-out stains like lipstick or engine grease. I have to say though, ‘harder’ is not exactly the most comforting term they could have used. I would have preferred, impossible. This is why I’m trying to mix it up as much as I can. In case the sniper learns to anticipate my random movements, I’ll throw in an extra zig when he’s expecting a zag, say. Or vice versa. Certainly the advice seems to be paying dividends. So far I’m still alive and my skull hasn’t been turned into a red tessellated mist.
Wheeling a pushchair in brisk zigzags is a lot trickier, however. Amy loves it of course but it’s making me a bit unpopular with other pedestrians.

June 12th

I’ve just spent a wonderfully lazy afternoon in the back garden watching Amy pootle about our refurbished lawn, trying to make sense of its new grass-rubber compound. At one point she looked up and asked me if it was spiky moon grass. I said, “No.” Then I thought about the importance of feeding her imagination and said, “Yes.”
She looked at me with a weary tolerance and said, “Yes, I know.”
Because of my near elimination from the egg-and-spoon race by the long-striding, big-haired, Luci Entwhistle I decided that perhaps it might be a good idea to install a short track of PlayTurf in own our back garden.
The brochure is a little worrying, though. It states, ‘This soft yet hard wearing surface makes it difficult to conceal dangerous items such as animal foulings, insects, broken glass and hypodermic needles.’ Hypodermic needles? Clearly doping is far more prevalent in all levels of sporting achievement than any of us dared imagine. All the way down to parent-teacher Fun Days. Although, come to think about it, it does make horrible sense. The size of Kenny Higgins’ dad for one thing. The guy’s built like a brick shithouse. He hurled the shot put as if he was flinging a golf ball at a thief in a getaway car. You just don’t get like that without some kind of help. Mary said he’s probably suffering from Bigorexia. Often I have no idea what Mary’s talking about about, but I love the way she bamboozles me with science. Although on this occasion I am familiar with the term. There was an article about it in her Cosmo this month accompanied by a black and white photo-spread. Pages and pages of silvery grey men with bodies like sinewy wrecking balls and weak, prematurely aged hearts. But anyway, this interlocking system of non-slip tiles will provide a safe durable grasslike surface perfect for our small 16x20 patch of garden. I’ll be able to practice coming out of the starting blocks away from the prying eyes of interested parties and the rifle sights of shadowy assassins.
The only problem is Amy. The phone rang mid-afternoon and although I couldn’t have been gone for more than two or three minutes, but by the time I got back the gum tree green track was littered with Amy’s pink plastic spades, cricket set, beachball and overturned tricycle. In the end I decided to leave the bric-a-brac as it was. They’ll prove a stern test for maintaining control over the greased egg I train with.
It was Mary on the phone. She rang to say she’ll be working late again. Suddenly I found my thoughts filling with Emily Graves. I imagined her blouse damp and diaphanous with the peppery steamheat of a tomato and basil sauce. Something suggestively erotic about the way she ladled the fresh viscous ragu into an orderly line of pre-labelled jars. I spent a while trying to catch a glimpse of her through her windows.
I failed.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

June 8th

Every Thursday I work for The Department of the Not Quite Right Department. The DNQRD is a subscription call-centre with very little power to effect any real-world change, but we like to think we can still provide a valuable and much needed service. Our job is to function as a kind of palliative or balm to the quotidian stresses of daily life. For a small monthly fee our customers can phone us up at any time, day or night, and complain about minor irks and niggles. Such as how their toaster hardly toasts on one side of the bread whilst burning the other, but is out of warrantee so there’s nothing they can really do about it. Or they’ll phone to say that their cable movie package just shows the same bunch of films over and over, most of which they rented on video months ago anyway, yet for some reason they never end up canceling or downgrading their deal. Sometimes the problems border on the existential––from fears that their son might be using drugs or secretly auditioning for a boy band, to the feeling that something dark and dangerous lurks in the modern soul. In these cases we’re under strict instructions to recommend they call the Samaritans, or upgrade their monthly subscription so they have access to a trained counselor. (They’re not told that although this does give them ‘access’ to a trained counselor, most of the time the trained counsellor is busy or depressed or out buying shoes because she’s overworked or depressed, so they’ll just get one of the normal operators who has to be extra nice to them because their Higher Subscription Code has been flagged.) At the moment the office is a little fraught over rumours the whole operation is about to out-sourced to a cheaper location. In Delhi.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

June 6th

I was slow and groggy coming out of the blocks in training this morning. I kept failing to respond to the electronic ripple of Amy’s toy starter’s pistol. My head felt fuzzy, packed tight with Styrofoam excelsior. I hardly drank at all last night and stopped altogether after Mike Thomson keeled over in front of me, but I guess even a tiny amount is enough to inhibit sporting excellence.
Plus last night I heard voices. Or rather one clear voice over and over. A coherent but only barely audible voice whose words were strangely elusive.
In bed, Mary took my clammy hand between her own cool delicate hands and assured me it was just a dream. But I told her that I was positive my dreams had only incorporated the external stimuli of a real voice because I’d heard it during what dream scientists refer to as REM-sleep or sometimes D-sleep. Then I started looking underneath the bed and peeking into cupboards before Mary pulled me back into bed. We lay there doing spoons. I slept intermittently, nuzzling Mary's neck with her long hair tickling my face.
Amy kept firing her gun and shouting at me to “Start, Daddy, start,” but I remained in my blocks, listening distractedly to its tinkling warble. It seemed to me the voice was still there underneath the surface of things, trying to make itself known.

Monday, June 05, 2006

June 5th

The biannual convention of the Immortalism Inc. used to be a swanky affair. They’d hire a conference room in a chi-chi West End hotel and lay on good food, wine and a smattering of celebrity speakers. Soap stars, mostly. Sometimes some of the younger stars, after snuffling cocaine, would start to couple behind the lush vegetation in the corners of the dim arboreal room. Large fronds would tremble and shake and emit the muffled but unmistakable sounds of coitus. But money’s tighter these days. Which is why we were in a carvery just beyond the Chertsey ring-road and the only celebrity on show was an ex-Radio 1 dj suffering from Bell’s Palsy.
Nevertheless, we refused to let that dampen our spirits. We smiled and chatted as we milled about, waiting to collect our colour-coded name tags before taking our seats in the designated conference area with its faux-pine finish.
“There’s no seating plan,” we were told. “Sit where you like.”
But you couldn’t really sit where you liked.
There was an unspoken seating plan. The distinguished, the middlemost and the johnny-cum-lateleys, stretching in higgledy-piggledy rows of injection moulded plastic office chairs all the way back the salad bar. It’s hard to know where I’d be seated without Mary, but because of Mary I was seated in the front row, second from the end on the right-hand side (facing the stage), with my super memory Sony dictaphone resting carefully on my lap to help with the minutes. An august quiet fell over the carvery as David Franklin emerged through the Fire Exit and grandly took the stage.
After standing, gripping the edges of the IKEA lectern and staring out into the audience for what felt like a whole minute but may have been no more than forty-five seconds, David said, “Someone once asked me if it was too late to cryonically treat Lenin. I just looked at him and said: ‘I’m surprised at you, Henry. You should know all about perfusion by now. You should know about the absolute necessity of treating a Sleeper immediately, before any form of necrosis has had a chance to set in. Lenin’s dead. He’s dead in all the ways that Immortalism Inc. seeks to banish forever. He’s terminally dead. It’s just hardened mulch in there. What the Russians are preserving is arrested decay. That’s what people see when they file through the crypt. The impossibility of Future Life. Finality. Death as the end. That’s why they feel sombre, quiet, even doomed as those guttering orange shadows flicker across their faces. But that, as you know, is for the history books. A body frozen inside time. At the C.I.P we freeze bodies outside of time. Our patented StoraFreeze tanks are the closest mankind has come to the true vessels of Time Travel. This is why we can offer people not just a better future, but the future––the world as it will come to be. We are offering life.’”
I don’t see why David let on that it was me who asked that question. It was a cheap shot. I don’t know what Mary likes so much about him. The guy’s a slimy ratfink, if you want my opinion.
After that dig I lost interest in the whole thing. I mean it’s all here on the dictaphone so I’ll have to listen to it sooner or later when I come to transcribe it for next month’s bulletin, but I stopped paying attention last night.
Instead I found myself thinking about our new cryonic head. We’ve had heads in our basement before, so why is this one suddenly playing on my mind? I suppose it’s the first time since we’ve had a head in the house that I’ve been shot at. In fact it’s the first time I’ve ever been shot at. Or at least it’s the first time I’ve been shot at and been aware of it, I suppose. Who knows how many bullets have been directed at me by lesser marksman. I could spend my days walking through a rain of badly aimed bullets for all I know. I’m probably not. But I could be. You should never rule these things out.
Still, the question remains: why this head? Why the dark fascination with Albert’s frozen head above any of the other frozen heads?
After giving David a rapturous standing ovation we made our way to the self-service buffet. Frank Milton was at the head of the queue, heaping food on to his plate that everyone knew he wouldn’t eat. No one said anything though because of Frank’s wife running off with one of her fifth grade students. The whole thing made the national press, where Frank’s wife went on record as saying that even teenagers with their first inept drunken fumblings were a marked improvement to making love with her ex-husband. How about that for the end of love. How about that for the final nail in the coffin of your romantic dreams. So we queued patiently.
David was over at the salad bar, holding an empty paper plate and staring intently into the amazing green eyes of a pretty girl in violent red boots. He said, “Cryonics is life insurance. Real life insurance. Because right now your life insurance isn’t really life insurance at all. It’s death insurance. It’s not your life that benefits, it’s someone else's. You don’t see any of it. You’re dead.” It was good advice but I’d heard it all before. Besides I was still rankled by the gratuitous way he’d name-checked me, just to score points with Mary.
Another thing that kept distracting me was the paper plates everyone was carrying. Every time I glimpsed one out of the corner of my eye I kept mistaking it for a circular saw. Confusing the corrugated edging for serrated teeth.
After I’d finally collected my sausage and chips and found a place to stand Mike Thomson walked over, tapped his nose and said, “Sub rosa, Henry.”
“Sorry?” I said, thinking he was talking about the wine.
“You have no idea, do you,” Mike said, gazing at me with his sad brown eyes.
Mike’s a sweet guy with an impressively cleft chin, but he was one of the diehard Edmund Cantrell supporters and now whenever he drinks his conversation lapses into crypto-paranoid utterances.
“No idea about what Mike?”
“About who you’ve got there.”
“Where?”
“Where do you think?”
“I don’t know.”
“Think about it,” Mike said.
“Sorry, Mike, I don’t really know what you mean.”
“No, Henry. I know you don’t,” he said. I thought Mike was going to elaborate but instead he clutched the back of his neck and dropped to his knees. A pale, stricken look giving way to a glassy unfocused gaze before he finally toppled forward and hit the ground. The beer from his plastic cup foaming rabidly on the floor for a moment or two before sinking into the thin dun seventies-style carpet.
Almost immediately, Jon Votisky, C.I.P’s massive, florid surgeon, appeared from nowhere, scooped Mike up, threw him over his shoulder and wandered off again. How on earth had Jon had gone unnoticed until then? He has a ruddy sun-blasted complexion that looks like the sound of frying meat, wears Hawaiian shirts, often with leis, and has a habit of belching into his colourfully patterned armpits. But there he was appearing and disappearing with Mike slung over his shoulder. Vast, adipose, enigmatic, yet strangely likeable. The whole thing seemed like a dream. I mean I know drink hits everyone differently, but it seemed to hit Mike in the back of the neck. I gazed down at my own beer and then tipped it away, just in case.
Mary appeared with a plate of cold cuts and a fresh beer.