Never Leave Me
K. A. Kenny
Chrissy tucked her blue chiffon dress and pulled the garden swing beneath her. “What color are my eyes?” she asked, facing Josh with her eyes closed.
He lowered the lid of his laptop slowly, his hand shaking. “What color do you want them to be, my love?”
A bright sun beamed in the blue sky, just warm enough to take the chill from the air. Multi-hued flowers swayed in the spring breeze, casting a light fragrance across the garden. Knee-deep in an alcove fountain, a goldfinch bobbed its beak into the water and splashed its wings.
“I asked first.” Chrissy sat up straight, laced her fingers in her lap, and bit her lower lip. Soft raven hair framed her pretty, pale face and curled under her chin.
“Your eyes are like the eyes of a fawn, beautiful brown, and they sparkle like polished agate.” Josh forced a smile, hoping his poetry would please her.
Chrissy sighed and shook her head. “Then it is me. Now you’re going to tell me my eyes have always been brown.”
Josh leaned forward. “Chrissy, dear, what’s the matter?”
“I remember my eyes being blue. If they’ve always been brown, my mind must be going. And another thing. You’re looking older while I look the same…except for the brown eyes. What’s wrong with me? I don’t mind looking young, but I want us to age together. I feel out of place, as if I don’t belong.”
Josh drew a calming breath and said softly, “I love the dress you’re wearing. It’s one of my favorites, and I haven’t seen you wear it in years.”
“Thank you. It was laid out on the bed when I woke up.”
“Josh, Chriss, anybody home?” Josh’s sister Jordan called from the hedge gate.
Josh raised his voice. “Here by the garden swing,”
Spotting them, Jordan nodded and headed over, her hopping gait like a dance along the flagstone walk.
“Such a beautiful day.” Josh raised his eyebrows and smiled.
Chrissy closed her eyes again. “Jordy, what color are my eyes?”
Jordan caught Josh mouthing ‘brown’. “Have you changed eye color? I heard they can do that now. Let me see.” She tapped a finger to her chin. “Last I recall your eyes were light brown.”
Chrissy opened her eyes, stared at Jordan then dropped her gaze. “Can I get you something cool to drink, Jordy?”
“Iced tea would be nice, lemon, not sweet,” Jordan said. Chrissy slid off the swing seat and walked slump-shoulder to the patio service counter.
“Sorry,” Jordan whispered in Josh’s ear. “I remember her saying she wanted brown eyes.” She squeezed her brother’s neck and kissed the side of his head.
“She’s upset about our age difference, too. Of course, our ages are different. It’s been ten years.” Josh lifted his folded hands to touch above his forehead. “No matter what I do, I can’t make her happy. I don’t think I can handle losing her again. Even one day without her. I just can’t.”
Jordan bit her lips and pulled her brother’s head into her arms. “You’ll start again?”
“I have to.” Josh kept his voice low. “Once depression sets in, she goes quickly.”
Chrissy handed Jordan a tall glass of tea floating with small ice cubes, topped with a lemon slice and a sprig of mint. Holding her stiff-lipped smile, she pulled the garden swing under her and kicked to start its motion.
“Thank you.” Jordan took a long sip then tilted her head toward Chrissy. “I stopped by to ask if you’d like to go to the craft fair with me. It starts in Sirena Park this afternoon and runs all weekend. We could go tomorrow, if you wish.”
“Maybe tomorrow.” Chrissy sighed. “It’s warm, and I’m feeling a little tired. I think I’ll go lie down.” She rose and turned to the house.
“I’ll check with you later,” Jordan called as Chrissy slid the glass patio door closed. She caught Josh’s tentative glance toward the house and squeezed his arm. Her walk to the hedge gate lacked its earlier cadence.
Josh found Chrissy reclined on the sofa, breathing slowly, her eyes fixed on the ceiling. “Are you upset?” he asked. She pressed her lips. A tear rolled from the corner of her eye down over her temple.
“Let me help.” Josh kneaded her neck. Chrissy rocked her head forward and lifted her chin. He pressed her second cervical vertebra once then the third vertebra twice. Her lips and eyelids parted slightly, and she went limp.
Josh carried Chrissy down the steps to his workroom and laid her gently on a gray, soapstone lab table. He removed her blue chiffon dress, her canvas garden shoes and white cotton stockings, her underclothes, heart-shaped earrings, ruby pendant necklace, and golden bracelet. Then he lovingly lifted her body into a wide, glass tank and opened the fill valves. He checked the cell assembly and flow tracks, and the additive manufacturing display. After replicating Chrissy’s pattern on the schematic and advancing the model number to forty-nine, he reset the eye color to bluish gray and tweaked up the dopamine receptors. Before pressing restart, he added ten years, composed a script to cover the lost time, and erased that day’s memories. Guided by cell-recognition software, two dozen forceps, pipettes, and laser scalpels swung over the still form.
Josh couldn’t watch. Every reset felt like he was losing her again. Upon Chrissy’s death he’d reclaimed her cells. He knew something was wrong with his calculations, something broken, a small fix, he’d hoped. He wanted her back and all the joy she brought to his life. Maybe this time.
# # #
Chrissy tucked her blue chiffon dress and slid onto the garden swing.
Josh closed his laptop and sat up. “You want to go to the craft fair with Jordan this afternoon?”
“That’d be fun,” Chrissy said, slipping the swing back as she leaned forward to kiss him.
“I love the dress you’re wearing.”
Chrissy smiled. “I haven’t worn this in years, but it was laid out on the bed when I awoke. You set it out for me, didn’t you? I know we’re aging, but you still prefer me dressing young.”
Josh flashed a who-me smile. “Still looks great on you, my love.” Then he saw a shadow cross her face.
“I don’t know,” she said, smoothing the skirt. “Seeing myself in this young dress makes me feel so old.”