Dystopic recovery home for the aged and injured, 2040

By Ralf Roletschek

Sculpture by Ralf Roletschek, “Man Walking to the Sky,” Kassel, Germany

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.


Categories: Fiction

Tags: , , , , , ,

27 replies

  1. Love the loopy, dreamy narrator voice here – such an immersive feel to this piece, and such great descriptions. I’m caught up in this man’s feelings and thoughts, even though I’m not sure I know what’s actually happening, trying to observe a strange future world through unreliable eyes. Could be anything; so many interesting questions. Well done!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I like the way you have described getting old, William – ‘a slow narrowing of one’s circumference, a tightening of bands that ends in a hole….’ It is just so – and I should know since I am pretty much ancient now!


  3. Suddenly it seems frightfully possible …


  4. Like 80% dark chocolate, the good-for-you kind, delicious but still awfully bitter.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like this a lot. Have read it a few times already and still digesting and mulling it over. Will be back with something more substantial, maybe here maybe offline, but wanted to let you know I dig it. Glad you’re experimenting again, and not to say you weren’t before or stopped, but I’m reminded of the Paul Auster impression you did awhile back and how cool and good and different that was for you. Exciting stuff. The bit about the leg bent back was especially disturbing and the way the man’s thoughts drifted added a lot of weight in few words. I’ll be back with more, just wanted to let you know I’m still gnawing on this, or it’s gnawing on me, one of the two. More to come…


    • Okay, so if I may be so bold, I think the story starts with the paragraph beginning “When they came to replace his hip…”

      What comes before is setting the stage. I think the story should start faster, especially considering how few words you are using to tell it, there’s no time to set the stage. Or rather, the stage should be set simultaneously, as the story unfolds. I think the first paragraph could be cut, and if there are details in it that you don’t want to lose, they could be worked into the later paragraphs.

      Actually, you might even cut the first three paragraphs and start with “When they came to replace his hip…”

      The rest is pretty much gold. I really like it. It has weight, makes you think, elevates you out of the scene into something bigger, which is my favorite thing about you as a writer. You paint a scene, and you context it in ways that make it feel huge, like we’re missing the big picture. You elevate us.

      This is my favorite part: “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.” Such rebellion. Such a stamping out of said rebellion. Yay, Capitalism!

      Like another commenter above, I really like the pop of the lightbulb ending. Really nice imagery throughout.

      How did you feel writing this? Why did you write it? I’m all about the shoptalk! 🙂

      One more suggestion… the “robot assistants” are a valuable creative element that deserve a more creative name or phrase to describe them. In the future, the robot assistants will not be called “robot assistants.” I don’t know what they will be called, but it will be something else. Mech-assists? Doc-bots? Med-bots? Tweaking their name, I think, might throw the reader into the futuristic setting more quickly.

      Really enjoyed this, thanks for sharing it and striking out in new directions. Very cool. ~ Walt

      Liked by 1 person

      • I needed that, thank you. This was a cough syrup in the middle of the night idea I wanted to capture, inspired by your story (you know the one), the end of 1984, and visiting my grandma In hospital when she was dying this past winter. Love the suggestions and your enthusiasm, thank you for it. Wish I could do more than this now to express. My thanks. We just put on a steely fan record, the first one and the best. How’s that? Are you reeling in the years, you fuck?


      • I’ll write back on the shoptalk too, thanks for asking. That’s all good, incendiary! I’m excited! I’m exited! I’m cooking pasta!


  6. You’re so right about that ‘narrowing’ as we age, like a pool of light shrinking, sending distant locations into darkness, then towns, our own vilage, until all there is is our own home, one room and even that eventually shrinks until there’s nothing but the inside of our own heads to see and listen to.
    Very unsettling and sad, a feeling of solitude and loneliness about it. Lovely work as always


  7. Why don’t you write a book? 😛

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I really like this one, particularly the line about only so many places one can go (sad) and the robot showing up in the dream and the pop of a lightbulb (cool). I’d figured hospital stays would be phased out in the future but goes to show what I know about robots.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Goes to show what I know about robots too, like nil! Would rather know less about hospitals, glad I don’t. Ah, enjoy the season Kristen. No robots or hospital beds. Just elves and twinkly star things. Bill


  9. Nice piece of future shock here. And a lovely marriage of image and words. You’ve been working overtime.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Mark, yes I wanted to see if I could write Cowgirl in the Sand or Down by the River (like Neil did, in a fevered state), but all I got was this.


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