Nancy

Bet woke up in darkness. Utter lack of all color or shape. He did not wake up to the orange glow of the sun through shut eyelids. He did not wake up to the darkness of a room before his eyes could adjust. He woke up to black; black without shape or form, black without depth or distance. Unbroken, unbeginning, and unending black. He cursed himself and moved his thumb.

Bet’s parents scrimped and saved so that at birth they bought him forty years of upper brain function and 50 years of right thumb movement. Few in the world had such luck. As far as Bet knew, his parents were the last of an old breed or the first of the new. Bet had no true memory of his parents. At least no consistent narrative of who they were or how they lived. Just a vague perception that they were not normal. In his mind they held the space of exiled angels dangling between this world and another. Parents today, in the year 2375 Yahoo™, couldn’t leave money to a loved one. Even if they could, the very act of passing along wealth to another is blasphemous.

Bet’s thumb pushed on his phone. The exact etymology of the word phone had been lost over the years. The object to which the noun referred was a small device implanted in the right hand, used to interface with the world and make transactions. Bet did not need to see the phone to do what he needed, his thumb moved by muscle memory. It searched the vendor site, found the products needed, and began buying them. This was a rare instance for Bet who normally purchased use of his body in monthly or even yearly installments (with a two year contract he once got 20/20 vision and green eyes), but times had been hard for Bet after his hours were cut.

On thebody.sense he bought use of his eyes, ears, nose, and mouth. He went over to limbsunlimited.genetics to pick up use of his arms and legs. He only bought walking for his legs, as running, jumping, and other luxuries cost extra. Many had never been able to afford legs at all.

While extremities and their use had been patented for some time, the senses had much more recently been acquired and patented. Before this, people went about using their eyes and ears as if they were free. It was a strange oversight of the firms to let this blatant violation of the first law of Freedmanism to go unchecked. Not that eyes or ears would do you any good without being able to pay for sound and light, but still as the first Law says: “Everything is owned by someone, and everyone must pay.” This was the string which held together the world. Maintaining this rule was the second task on many of the firm’s mission statements, right after: “high dividends for the stock holder.”

Everything bought, Bet sat up on his bed and cursed his stupidity for having forgotten to buy his senses in advance. The process had taken 1.6 minutes, time in which he was using air he had not yet paid, this cost extra. The breaths he had already taken would cost him more than every other gulp of air he would take all day. He punched his phone and bought a week’s worth of oxygen from zenair.life to be sure this would not happen again. Next, he waved his phone over his room and all the contents within, buying use of them for the day and prepared for his work.

Bet looked at himself in the mirror; 39 years old, salt and pepper hair, massive beard. His water bill was paid up for the week so he turned on the tap and let a drop of foamy grey ooze pour out. It was ugly and warm, maybe caused cancer, but you got the water you paid for. “At least it’s wet,” he thought attempting to rub the dampness around his head.

When he finished, he was dressed in a new suit. Everyday a new suit for everyone; the fibers were designed to disintegrate daily. “No hassle of washing, no lingering smell, no tiresome patching — a fresh new suit every day and completely biodegradable,” sang the ad from dudds.com. With Spread and Corn Toast in his belly and an energy blaster pill now pumping its “vitality improving ions” through his body, Bet left for work.

In the hallway Bet was greeted by a thousand other people going the same way. Each wore the same disposable suit; gray and thin, just enough material to fight off the cold and keep the dust off the skin. Bet nodded at his neighbor across the hall. He didn’t really know why, he had no relationship with the man except seeing him every morning. He got nothing from the nod. No credit was added to his account; no points were added to his facezip score. Yet every morning as he left his apartment, Bet nodded at the man. His neighbor, with disdain sharply turned the other way.

Bet walked down the hall as quickly as he could without running, just like everyone else. A long single-file line of humanity trotting into the world and work. It was very important to be as efficient with calories as possible. Outside of the luxury of the head nod, he spoke to no one and took no detours, not one extra step. Not like there was anyplace out of the way to go, no coffee shop to pick up a cup. The last cafes had closed fifty years before the Equilibrium was obtained, along with all restaurants they were deemed outdated wastes of time. By then everybody was already eating Spread with Corn Toast and taking the Energy Blaster pill in the comfort of their own spaces.

He moved through a maze of corridors. Each was just tall enough for a person of average height to stand in without slouching and wide enough for two people going in opposite directions to pass only slightly bumping shoulders. He walked the same walk seven times a week. Everybody who could afford to walk had their walk, and walked it every day. Bet made his way to the elevator along with fifty other people. Bet lived on the fourth floor of the long low building. He, unlike many, could afford a room with a window; a small window of block glass that let light in but offered no view. In the elevator, strangers Bet saw everyday pressed up against him and he them.

Bet stepped into the lobby, His palm tingled as the daily payments for use of the room, passage across the floor, the electric lighting above him, etc, were deducted from his account. Bet hardly noticed the rhythmic buzz in his palm as money was extracted. He stopped before the double doors leading out into the street. A number of other people were also stopped, lined up in front of the wall directly to the right or left of the doors. Each was holding their palm up to the wall as a beam of light from their phones projected an image onto the concrete wall. Bet did the same.

In the middle of the screen, next to weather and traffic feeds, was a search feature. He paid the fee and searched police.protection. It was the standard protection company, not as good as mercinaries.protection, they were armed to the teeth and never skimped on using bullets, but police.protection was a cut above bodyguards.protection. Those guys might give a robber a stern warning, but every thief knew it was a waste of words. A list of cops for hire appeared on the screen. Bet’s stomach tingled when he saw Joe was working and had not yet been booked for the day. Most of the cops made very little money, and because of this, paid for a very limited number of words per day. Some didn’t buy any words at all. If it ended up these cops did have to use their voices, it would cost a premium often making their day unproductive and blasphemous. Most people liked their protection quiet anyway, but Bet hated sitting next to a silent cop. He knew it was impious but Bet loved small talk, always had.

Joe was the cheapest person Bet knew in almost everything in the world, an extreme example of simple productive piety, except in the case of words. Joe spoke as little as he could, it was just he had been burned so many times for speaking without purchasing words that he decided to daily buy unlimited word usage from glossolalia.communication.

This allowed for a full rich conversation that could focus on topics as worthless and valueless as the weather. Bet tried his best to engage in small talk sparingly so as not to give away how much he enjoyed it and expose his fetish. Bet hit the order button next to Joe’s name. He would arrive within the hour. Bet waited in an area which had the appearance of safety though no place was in the city.

Since Liberation Day and the end of the dark ages of Communism, when things like police were shared in common among all Consumers, the world had vastly improved. The Equilibrium set Consumers free to do as they each pleased. Everyone benefited including those who chose to make their living as thieves, a noble and meaningful group. In the great Liberated City, the thieves were free of the tyranny of the Communist state with its massive army of publicly held police, they could operate openly taking from any person who could not afford protection. If you can’t afford protection, what rights do you have to your property or safety?

Bet stood as he waited, a better deal monetarily and calorically than using a bench. He had five appointments all in the south end of the City, an area known as the Red populated by the most disquieting sinners; people who spent their lazy days in their beds unable to afford the use of their legs. These were the victims, the unemployed, the delinquents. Bet was going to see the worst of these, people whose very names were uttered only in hushed tones. The bottom rung of humanity, the pointless and penniless, the defaulters, the scum of the earth. Daily, Bet looked into their stolen wretched faces and listened to their stolen miserable stories.

In fifty nine minutes, Joe arrived. Bet’s face lit up against his will. “Hey Joe, how are you today?” Joe looked quickly at Bet, his face spoke plainly: “Oh great, shut the hell up and let’s get going.” Joe turned around and walked back out the door with Bet in tow. As Bet stepped over the threshold, he waved his hand across the sky to purchase use of wind, sunlight, clouds, and space from the various companies that owned the rights.

Ch. 2

Bet was a climber; a go between. He worked for the great and beautiful firm, memory.existence, the sole provider and purveyor of memory to the masses. The Hand had moved slowly against the common, the barbaric hold of Communism on the world. Since the Liberation Day, the firms had boldly taken ownership over the essentials. It was in this action that sunlight, oxygen, space, and body parts were given the blessing of monetization. With this, the bums and moochers could no longer freely take what was not theirs. This was the true death blow to the old, and the first steps on the road to end all roads, the road that would end with the Equilibrium and the great society that it produced and currently consumes.

Bet was a collection agent for the firm repossessing stolen goods and services. He was able to buy himself into the position twenty eight years ago at the ripe age of eleven. Day in and day out he collected, descending daily into the depths of depravity. Today was a day like any other.

Despite reaching the apparent telos of existence in the Equilibrium and the ushering in of the great age of sole ownership, some of the smaller and more intangible things had evaded ownership. Among these were such slippery items as thoughts, perceptions, and of course memories. If someone were to miss a payment for the use of their hand, a trigger in that person’s phone would be set off cutting nerve connections to that hand until the bill was paid. The same was true for other body parts and functions, but ethereal things like memory were harder to bill.

Every so often a great firm like memory.existence would see fit to extend credit to someone who could not afford to make payments on memory. This credit usually only lasted a couple of days, a week or two at best, and if the payment was not made, memory.existence would simply cut off that section of the brain which makes and stores memories. The company would take as loss any memories made during the time between the last payment and default. Rarely something would get missed, or a person would slip through the cracks, continually being issued credit for memory they could not afford. This was usually reported out of moral responsibility, but some deadbeats will just keep their mouths shut and consume memories on memory.existence’s dime. Over the years, these delinquents could rack up major debt in unpaid memories. memory.existence could not simply turn off these peoples’ memory without making some attempt to recoup some of their losses. This is where Bet came in.

Bet’s first collection that morning was from a 16 year old consumer who had been storing up memories for some five years since the last payment was made. Her name was Nancy.

Joe and Bet walked in silence. Every so often, Bet opened his mouth to say something, but Joe’s stern demeanor stopped the words in his throat. The two took a mammoth escalator, which had long since broken and become stairs on the northwest corner of Canal and 34th down the block from Bet’s place. They both knew the walk by heart. Each walked thoughtfully in both the spacing of their steps and the pace of their gait. At the top of the escalator was the lot where Bet rented a spot for his car. It was the same as every other car on the road: a two door with a brownish tint and a backseat that nobody would ever ride in. Bet had two weeks left on his six week lease. Whenever a lease ran out, and six weeks was the longest least available, the motor company would retrieve the car and swap it out for another exactly the same. The fees and charges were astronomical.

The two men got in, roughly equal in build, Bet a few inches taller. He had always been a few inches taller than anyone else. Nobody commented on his height as nobody could waste the words, but it was observed. Outside of the height difference, the two looked about like every other male consumer, long beard, slim, pale, and about a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet with their clothes on. Bet started up the engine. It choked and coughed (the car was now well past a million miles), but on the third try it sputtered to life. Every car was on its last leg, but God help you if the car dies during your lease. That unlucky and impious soul would be responsible for the total cost of the vehicle, an almost guaranteed default.

Bet took surface streets that ran parallel to the Gault tollway. He looked over at it longingly. It stretched straight and wide as far as he could see: six lanes on either side of pure un-potholed concrete. The Gault was one of the last things built before the Equilibrium. Most of the city was built during this last gasp of competition. Since the Equilibrium all building except the most basic of repairs had stopped. The City was rotting from the inside, the cancers of cracked foundations and sinkholes in the streets, but no Consumer could afford to fix these structural problems. People would have to make do. Everything was wasting away, except for the Gault. It had been a hundred years since any Consumer could afford the tolls.

“Hey, Joe,” Bet said while keeping his eyes on the endless stream of carbon copy cars before him. He found that he was more comfortable talking to his cop if he didn’t actually see the annoyed looks. “What do you say we bust through the gate and take the Gault? Probably be faster.”

“Probably,” Joe said in monotone looking down at his lap.

There was no obvious difference between the City Center and the Red. All buildings looked the same. Each was tall and long, pushed to the weight bearing capacity of the concrete and rebar that held the massive architecture together. The view didn’t change between the City Center and the Red, the people did. To somebody from another time or place the difference would be small, but to those who dwelt in the City and moved in and among the Consumers, it was night and day. While the people in City Center moved with a strong and fast-paced gait, designed for both speed and efficiency, the Children of the Red moved slowly. Speed was a luxury beyond their reach. Many pulled themselves along by their arms, unable to afford walking. Others chose use of legs leaving their arms to dangle uselessly, and these were the elite of the Red. The Children of the Red were whisper thin, most only ate one meal of Corn Toast and Spread a day, some much less. The place stunk of poverty and weakness. Bet hated it. The Red made up ninety eight percent of the City. The City Center just a dot in the sea of filth and failure.

The Children of the Red were sinners one and all, unable to afford a full life and having to cut corners on the basics of existence. Some worked part-time. A few were out of work altogether, trying to get by on stealing what they could. The Children of the Red rarely could afford to run or drive and so made poor thieves. Each of them would eventually end up having their basic functions shut off remotely or find themselves on Bet or one of his coworker’s schedules. Ninety percent of the people in the Red worked in repossession. In fact, ninety percent of all people in the City worked in this fashion, but the Children of the Red worked in its lowest rungs: filing and billing. Office work was the basest of all existence. Few were ever able to leave their homes, working from consoles at their bed sides or just their phones.

Ch 3

Nancy lived in a windowless room on the eighteenth floor. When Bet and Joe entered the room Nancy was, as nearly all of Bet’s appointments were, in bed. At sixteen she looked to be ninety. She was small and shriveled; her skin clung to her bones like a wet sheet thrown over a wicker chair. Had they rolled her over they would see a back covered in tunneling sores. These were the source of the putrid smell that hung thick as stew in the room. Bet did not roll her over. As they walked in, her eyes darted to meet their gaze. Somewhere behind the milky lenses, Bet saw fear. Another stolen emotion. He sat on the only piece of furniture in the room outside of the bed: a three-legged stool, something that previous repomen had overlooked, or perhaps Nancy had been able to buy the stool outright at some point in her life. The second scenario was unlikely, as anybody who could afford to truly own something, anything, could also have afforded memories. Bet didn’t care.

Bet was tired. The cost of parking was decided by an algorithm which measured the distance of the parking spot form the intended destination; the further away from the place, the lower the cost. Bet, trying to cut corners, had parked two miles and change downhill from the house. Joe and Bet had a nice stroll before they arrived, the sweat from his back melting his shirt’s fibrous material. Nancy’s palm lay open on the bed projecting a hologram in the middle of the room. Nancy typed on her palm at lightning speed.

Letters and sentences had been phased out years ago. The poetic flourish and the well-crafted story were not necessary for communication and hindered productivity. So what carried the meaning in Nancy’s hologram were emoticons. “So you are from memory.existence are you?” The hologram read, actually it was a picture of a winking girl with an empty thought bubble and a question mark, but Bet got the gist.

“Yes I am, this is my cop Joe. Don’t mind him,” Bet replied opening his own palm. “We have been very patient with you Nancy, but the time has come to collect what is ours. Today you can make everything right and settle your debts. You have been a valued customer but our contract ends today.” A frowning face appeared in Nancy’s hologram. “Now there is no need to get upset. This is the way of things: all things have an owner, and everybody must pay. You have for five years now been enjoying memories that are not your own. This is freeloading. We have extended you credit after credit, and yet it appears that you are more willing to spend your money on luxuries like stools rather than paying your debt. Normally, your memories would just be shut off from the home office, but since you have over three years of unpaid memories, it is protocol to repossess the stolen product.” Bet loved this part, making the long speech, letting the person know exactly what he was going to do. The firm picked up the tab for words used in the course of duty. He loved the feel of his tongue forming words without any worry as to the cost. There was something right, something he would call “good” in the mass of syllables, liberation in the abundance. He shouldn’t have enjoyed it, but he did.

“Nancy,” Bet said looking into his own hologram projection and not at Nancy. “I am going to transfer to you a credit of unlimited words so that you can tell me your memories from the past six years. Please do not use any more words than you need.” This was the assigned speech, but in reality Bet loved to hear them speak as much as he loved to talk. “We know that you will not be able to pay us back for the words, but memory.existence is prepared to eat the cost in order to regain that which was stolen from us.”

Nancy began.

“On my tenth birthday my sister and I walked to work,” Bet felt disappointment. Most of the time people took a while to regain their use of the tongue. All of Bet’s appointments had not spoken in years; some never had, or at least had no memory of speaking. They usually fumbled around with atrophied muscles, struggling to turn sounds into meaning. Most unconsciously took advantage of the freedom to speak given. They told long rambling stories that Bet would continually reign in. Nancy was different. She spoke as though she spoke every day: clearly and crisply with proper annunciation and no stumbling over naive tongue and lip muscles. She spoke with such an economy of words that Bet felt righteous shame for his over use of words.

“On the day after my eleventh birthday, my sister and I walked to work. It was a good day as days go. Work was long and productive. We ate two meals. My sister and I returned home and went to bed. On the second day after my eleventh birthday, I got up and walked to work. It was a good day as days go. Work was long and productive. We ate two meals. I returned home from work and went to bed. On the third day after my eleventh birthday, my sister and I got up. Someone from memory.existence stopped by the apartment to talk with my sister. I went to work. It was a bad day. Work was long and productive. I ate two meals, returned home and went to bed. On the fourth day after my tenth birthday, I got up and walked to work. It was a good day. We ate two meals. I returned home and went to bed. On the fifth day…”

The story went on like that day after day, the Sisyphean struggle of life as it was known. Bet’s heart sunk into the monotony of it. Nancy spoke like a machine. She was exact and thoughtful. The story had changes but rarely. “On the twenty-fifth day after my thirteenth birthday, the company closed the office and all clerical work was to be done from home, so I stayed home from work that day and did my work on my phone.” Nancy, like most clerical workers, was one of the ninety percent of people in the Red who kept track of accounts paid and unpaid. Her days were spent endlessly staring at screens making sure nothing was used without pay. Nancy could read receipts like poetry. In the numbers, she saw entire life stories, nothing missed her gaze. After the move from the office to the bed, the story changed some.

“I woke up, began my work. It was a good and productive day. We had two meals, and I went to bed.” The story continued on like this until Nancy, after four hours of reciting the days’ events, reached the moment they were at. “I woke up. Began my work. It had been a good and productive day, then two men from memory.existence showed up.” After she had said this, Bet closed his hand shutting off his phone.

“Thank you very much. You have been a valued customer and your patronage will not be forgotten. I have what I came for. When I leave, your memory function will be shut off until you pay your bill and the reinstatement of service fee, at which point we will be happy to take you back into the memory.existence family.” With a yawn and a glance at the time on his phone, Bet turned to leave but Joe blocked the door. As a cop, Joe was not paid to investigate just to protect, but he had an inquisitive mind and observations were cheap. So cheap in fact that he never missed one. Joe said only one word: “we.” It was enough to snap Bet out of the haze which had taken his mind during the interview.

Bet thought to himself, “what we?” He knew asking Joe would only end in frustration and silence. “We had three meals, and I went to bed.” Outside of the first two days Nancy had described, she used the singular for everything except meals. Bet looked at his phone. On the display was a record of purchases that Nancy had made. Every day she had made the same purchases. Her needed internal and mental functions, vision, hearing, rent, board, furniture, phone, and legs, but never memory. This was an odd list as memory was one of the cheapest and the most ubiquitous purchases people made, ranking above food and senses on most peoples’ purchase list. Certainly memory would be of greater value than legs for Nancy who worked from bed and had little use for legs. Legs were a luxury for climbers and middle management, not for slobs in the Red working clerical jobs from the comfort of their beds. Yet Nancy had bought them every day except for the last three weeks. She also often bought words, something which explained why language had come so easily to Nancy. Bet heard an accusing voice from the bed.

“Yes, surprising purchases aren’t they? But I don’t suppose you are a twin sir. You don’t have any idea what it is to be bonded forever to another person.” Bet felt a sting in stomach as she spoke. He had no idea what it was to be bonded to another person for a day let alone forever, and there was in him nostalgia for a feeling he never had. “Well, I just couldn’t give up on her. It was my money to do with as I pleased.”

“Yes, but you chose to spend money on such frivolous things as legs and words while not paying for your memory. This is shameful and foolish.” Bet said with disgust dripping from his teeth.

“Say what you want sir. I have made my choice and if you will look at your phone you will notice that I have spent the last of my credits for my legs today, I think I will use them one last time.” She sat up exposing her back which was covered in red marks where the skin was thinning and a few sores, but far fewer than Bet had anticipated. Unsteadily but not unfamiliarly Nancy shuffled to the bathroom door. As she opened the door, stench wafted out to greet her. A pungent and putrid odor as bad as anything Bet had ever smelled. She crossed the threshold, the two men following sheepishly.

She waved her hand and the lights came on. “When is her money gonna run out?” Bet said half to Joe and half to himself, shocked that Nancy could afford the bathroom lights. She stood in the middle of the cramped room. Nancy looked toward the tub. Bet had no reference for this behavior, a person spending money on such luxuries, moving so impulsively for some unseen purpose. Bet, like every other Consumer, had learned his entire life not to waste, to prioritize. He understood what he could have and what he could not, what he was able to earn and what was beyond his reach. Living this way was not an option; there was no bucking the conventions. An empty account meant nothing less than death. Nancy’s behavior, her actions and expenditures, they simply could not be done. Consumers behaved rationally according to logic and reason. They responded to needs and not wants. They took care of basics before even thinking of luxuries. A Consumer paid for memory before feet. They paid for brain function before eyes. Life was ordered and life made sense. This woman was behaving outside of these rules, something that Bet had never seen before. He thought of the Gault’s smooth concrete.

Bet shook the thought from his mind and followed Nancy’s gaze. Both were directed toward the tub which appeared to have a lumpy material. Pale and non-descript, an unmoving flaccid mass. Bet looked closer and saw that the pale grey color of the object was not uniform, and that it was covered with strips of cloth. He saw other familiar objects: wisps of hair, teeth, and eyes. He took a deep breath of the filthy air and realized that he was looking at the corpse of Nancy’s sister, someone whose memory had been shut off five years earlier. Bet should have recoiled in horror, but instead became numb. He had no reference for this; things were too out of proportion and strange for such a concrete feeling as horror. Instead, there was a calm, or at least an aloofness to the situation. There are limits to the silliness a mind can take. At this moment, Bet had passed beyond his limits.

Bet had seen decay and death on most days of his life. He had seen bodies that had languished in homes, remains of people whose families could not afford for them to be picked up and disposed of. He had seen bodies of people he had gone to collect from who died before he could arrive. The translucent shade of death was a constant companion in Bet’s collection, its presence as normal and expected as Joe in the passenger seat. Bet had seen enough death to know that this body had not been dead six years, it had not been dead six months, it had not even been dead six weeks. This was the body of someone who had died within the last month. Bet was calmly confused and not a little fascinated by how this had happened.

They were back in the main room. The vague memory of other appointments hung non-descript in Bet’s mind, the lingering smell of the bathroom hung non-descript in the air. They had left the bathroom after nearly half an hour. The first fifteen minutes or so were spent staring at the body, the withering remains of Bertha, Nancy’s twin sister. Nobody said anything. Bet and Joe after the initial shock of seeing the body, had retreated together to the farthest corner of the room which was at most three feet from the remains. Not nearly far enough to escape the pollution of rotting flesh.

They stood on holy ground in high heels. They shouldn’t have been there and not in the capacity which they had arrived in. Nancy eventually approached the body. She walked as reverent as a priest at Mass, slowly and meaningfully, each step singing a sacred psalm of reverence and love. She approached the tub and bent at the edge. Normally, the boundary between the dirty and clean now a boundary between the earth and Sheol. A membrane in which the worlds of the quick and the dead touch. Sketches and flashes of etchings on cave walls, ancient long forgotten rituals, smells of incense and burning meat rose up in Joe and Bet’s collective senses. Impressions with hazy form B/C attempted phone call to house line. B/C intentied himself and was informed by Sue’s spouse that Sue was to work and that everyone one does doing fine. B/C provided contact information and offered support should it be requested. scents dirtier, older and more delicious than smell of the City,

“There is something I forgot to tell you. Every day before I would lay down to go to sleep and before I would go to work, I would come in here and feed my sister Corn Toast and Spread.” As Nancy said this, her legs buckled. She had run out of steps and fell into Bertha’s limp arms, her body half in and half out of the tub, the back of her head pressed on to Bertha’s breast. Nancy’s frame stretched across her sister’s corpse.

“But it must have been more than that, you must have paid for her organ function, her respirations, everything,” Bet spoke, his mouth trying to keep up with his mind. He calculated the cost of keeping another person alive and staggered at the thought of it.

“Some of it was overlooked. We clerks have been known to miss a thing or two especially if a person has had their memory shut off. I did pay for some. You see I held a few jobs before becoming a clerk, jobs that paid well. I was able to cover the cost for years. When I had to, I cut back. We found we could survive just fine on half a Corn Toast and Spread a day. Eventually the cost caught up with us. Three weeks ago I could no longer afford the use of my legs, I knew it was coming but it is amazing how well you can hide from the truth, even if you can’t leave your bed. For the last three weeks I have sat in the bed knowing that my sister was dying in here, and waiting for you to arrive. I saved what little money I could to come in here one last time to see her again.” Bet was still figuring in his head, Joe turned and walked into the other room.

“But with the cost of even walking in here and turning on the lights, you could have paid what was owed and bought your memory for at least another month, maybe more. I didn’t have to come. You could still be alive.” Bet for the first time in his life was pacing and oblivious to the fact that he was pacing, oblivious to how many words he was speaking. He wanted to understand why Nancy had done this, what was her goal, how did it benefit her to keep this person alive?

“Why would I want to live without her? You don’t have a sister, you don’t have anyone. It’s like trying to explain color to the blind. It’s like trying to explain walking to the poor. I needed her more than the memory, more than the food. Seeing her this last time is of greater worth than all that this life has to offer. You can have this memory back too, I don’t need it, I lived it. She’s my twin.”

As she finished speaking Joe bounded back into the bathroom. He grabbed Bet’s hand punching the same button he had seen Bet punch a million times before. Nancy’s memory was repossessed along with her ability to make new memories. The light in her eyes was out. She stared blankly up, eyes moving back and forth between the two men, but said nothing. Bet ripped his hand from Joe. “What did you do that for?” Joe looked back, his face was tight and pious. Joe held up his phone, the bluish glow of the digital display showed the time. They had been in the apartment nearly an hour longer than they should have. Bet knew what Joe was saying even if he didn’t speak. He walked back into the other room, gathered what he had brought and left.

As they exited the building, Bet rubbed his wrist shocked that the normally controlled cop had used so much force when grabbing his phone. That squeeze and the power put into it required great caloric expense, an act of luxury that was out of place for Joe. Bet wondered if there was meaning in that squeeze, he also knew that it would be a worthless luxury to ask. So they walked to the car side by side, eyes fixed on what was in front of them. The parking cost was astronomical, Bet would have to go without dinner, and they would have to move lightning fast to make up the time wasted.