After the fall, he woke in the hospital surrounded by screens and computers with robot assistants monitoring them. There was a tablet connected to a retractable arm like the kind they had on planes and he wondered dimly if he would ever fly again. Getting old is a slow narrowing of one’s circumference, a tightening of bands that ends in a hole.
He needed a new hip and that meant eight weeks of recovery time and he was bored, wanted to see the cafeteria, but he was told by the assistant he had to make his choice through the tablet, he had to log his reservation there, for liability reasons.
But once he got on the tablet he forgot why he was there and drifted around the menus, got disgusted, and turned it off.
When they came to replace his hip they had to saw off his leg and he wasn’t eligible for general anesthesia because he was too old, and for reasons that horrified him, he couldn’t comprehend, they explained they’d have to bend the leg upright so as to fit the sleeve in right, so in a perverse kind of yoga pose he watched the robot assistants raise his partially sawed-off leg over his head and rest the foot by his ear, where they then got out a drill and began burrowing a hole through his hip.
The robot assistants had almond-shaped heads, polished blue. He couldn’t feel the drill but the smell took him back to his childhood home, to the times their cats brushed against the coal stove, that smell of singed fur. He drifted outside that old house, he hung above the power lines, he looked over the rooftops but decided he couldn’t stay there forever and had to move on.
The procedure went well, the doctor said. He came in to monitor the robot assistants, for liability reasons.
And for eight weeks then he would lay there, a game of getting out. Those who came and went in the other beds in his room, rolling in and out, separated by curtains, groaning, the almond-headed robot assistants like phantoms sliding past: not many choices on the tablet for internet, “fixed browsing options.” They had to protect their patients from upsetting media sources, from unsavory content.
One of the patients was former IT and figured out a way around the firewall and conspired with a group of other patients to order a bunch of stuff from Amazon but they didn’t think it through entirely and when the order came the staff just rejected it and sent it back with the drones.
There was no one to see him but he fantasized about the people he used to know through the eyes of the other patients and their visitors.
He’d ask questions of the robot assistants, he tried to keep track of time, but he began to suspect they didn’t want him there any longer, that there was some hidden agenda, and he grew suspicious of how they talked, how the sound of their words clipped at the end, they just fell off.
In his dream they were near the Saturday market, he and his wife, they were OK to walk up the hill still and as they did he turned around and gestured, and she looked out over the water at the clouds and the ferries, and further, to where they’d bought their first house and raised their kids: and further still to the islands, where they’d always wanted to live someday, but there were only so many places in this world you could go.
And then he had the impression the dream was over but the scene went fixed, it froze. It hung there artificially on one of those old, fold-out screens for film projectors, the kind that stands on a tripod. And one of the almond-headed robot assistants appeared in the corner of his dream and made the screen disappear, and the last sound he heard was the pop of a lightbulb when you try to turn it on, but it’s gone out.