I had always assumed I had prepared myself for the death of my husband, and then the call came from his office: Paul was dead. The ten-week wait for his resurrection felt much longer. From the start, the paperwork had been a nightmare. The restoration company found every excuse to delay. They even refused to initiate resurrection until they received the death certificate in notarized triplicate. I understood the liabilities if they had accidentally duplicated a living person, but the company literally had Paul’s body laying face down in their facility. Every day they invented another round of bureaucracy. The adrenaline only lasted a day and suddenly I was a single mother raising two children under three.
I never thought I’d join one of those group grief therapies, but after two weeks, the waiting and the loneliness overwhelmed me. My mother-in-law promised to watch the children. I was reluctant. I never expected to be one of those people who needed therapy, and I imagined the whole experience as the thing dour individuals took up as a way of filling their schedule between television game shows. Besides, Paul was coming back. His death wasn’t a loss in the old sense of the word. Death had become a minor inconvenience, like a long business trip, but with less infidelity.
When I thought of group therapy, I imagined a box of stale donuts, burned coffee, and gloomy looking folks chain smoking electronic cigarettes. Instead, I found a lovely barista and handmade pastries. A neighborhood coffee shop hosted the group sessions. Roger, the man I had emailed about joining the group, sat at the head of the table. I recognized his face from the profile picture. He recognized in me the look of a frazzled widow.
“You must be Nancy,” he said assessing my appearance with a quick one over. He wore thick glasses like Paul, but they fit better on his face. “Please have a seat, we were just getting started.”
“I’m not really sure this is for me,” I said looking around the table at a mismatched assortment of men and women of varying ages. They all looked so normal I was certain I had made a mistake. The youngest could have been ten or eleven, and the oldest fifty or sixty. I doubted any of them could offer the surly misanthropy I felt certain would lift my spirits.
“You’ll feel better if you stay,” Roger said. His smile and gray hair reassured me.
I slid into a seat with a feeling of guilt. I sipped a coffee expecting the rush of caffeine my only solace. We went around the table telling stories of how death had impacted our lives. Hearing everyone else discuss coping without a wife or mother or father or brother or, in one case, next-door neighbor, actually helped. And then at the end of that first meeting, there was even more hope. Tina, a twenty-something who had lost her boyfriend to a motorcycle crash, announced that she was picking him up from the rehab center the following afternoon. She wouldn’t be joining us again, at least not for a long time. As everyone hugged her on the way out, I looked on, still an outsider. When Tina came to me, she said, “every day it gets better and then one day they come back as good as new. Better sometimes, even.”
The children had painted the banner with their fingers. They had also misspelled “Welcome Back Paul” so that it read “Wecome Back Paul.” I had baked a cake, but it didn’t rise so I threw it away and bought a sheet from the grocery store covered in bright pink frosted flowers. Paul once described store bought sheet cake at a birthday party as the surest way to know a parent didn’t love their child, but I didn’t have time to bake a second cake.
Peter sat on the couch playing his video games and Paul’s mother was feeding Maggie. She and I had never seen eye-to-eye. She wanted us to baptize the children as if any of that mattered anymore. Honestly though, she and I had disagreed long before any of that. Yet in the last few weeks, I found a new appreciation for her. Her presence had been essential to keeping our lives functioning without Paul.
I was folding the laundry when the doorbell rang.
“Daddy!” Peter yelled. He ran to the door before I could get there. I dallied, unsure of my expectations. Peter swung the door open revealing Paul. I could swear he looked thinner.
“Daddy!” Peter shouted again. Paul looked down at him and I could see from his look of confusion he didn’t recognize him.
“Peter, let Daddy inside,” I said, hoping to jog Paul’s memory with context clues.
“You’ve gotten so big,” Paul said picking Peter up and squeezing him tightly. He plopped him back on the couch and then turned to kiss me. I wasn’t sure how it would feel after so many weeks, but touching him reminded me of all our shared memories.
“Your mother is here,” I said to him. “She’s in the kitchen with Maggie.”
“You don’t remember?” The center had warned me his consciousness was out of date. He hadn’t been updating his memories to the cloud as often as he should have been, but I also wasn’t expecting him to have entirely missed our daughter, now two. His mother emerged from the kitchen holding Maggie in her arms.
“She’s beautiful,” Paul said.
I could tell he didn’t know her but he had always excelled at fitting in. Paul was a charmer. Pretending everything was normal was just the thing he needed to do.
“I wish you had let me pick you up,” I said. He had spent the past week in the rehabilitation center exercising his muscles and acclimating to the physical world.
“They don’t like it when family does that,” he said. Paul was a big believer in the resurrection process as a method. He had read all the books. “You know it can be confusing for family members.”
“Yes, but it would have given us time to catch up,” I said, but he already had Maggie in his arms.
“Daddeeeee!” Maggie said like he hadn’t been gone at all and I wished for a moment I could have my daughter’s optimism.
We ate dinner and I put Maggie to bed and Paul’s mother drove home and I served the sheet cake.
“I’m sorry it’s store bought but the one I made didn’t rise.”
“It’s alright, I like store cakes,” Paul said.
“I want a flower!” Peter said as I cut slices from the cake.
“I wanted to make you chocolate with raspberry filling,” I said.
“Yellow cake is better,” Paul said.
“I thought you hated yellow cake?” I said.
“No, I don’t,” he said. He ate two slices to prove his point.
“I want Dad to read a story,” Peter said as I was tucking him into his bed.
“Daddy is a little tired tonight, how about I read the story?” I said.
“I can read,” Paul said from the doorway.
“What do you want to read, Peter?” Paul asked as though there was any question. We had been reading the same Maurice Sendak book to Peter every night for the better part of the year. I didn’t want to tell Peter his father didn’t remember so I handed Paul the book from the nightstand hoping to cover up the lost memories. As far as Peter knew, his father had been reading the book as often as I had, at least up until his absence.
I picked up the clutter of toys on the floor while Paul read. His voice was soothing, but after a few pages, I slipped out of the room to finish the laundry I had abandoned that afternoon. Before I got to the end of the hall I heard Peter: “Read it with the voices, Dad.”
Paul made a funny voice, but I knew it wasn’t up to snuff. So did Peter: “Not like that. Do it the good way.”
I considered intervening, but Paul would have to find his own way back.
I sat on the bed wearing only the silky robe Paul had given me for Christmas the first year we were married. It was before Peter, so I knew he would remember it. The ten weeks without him had crawled by, and not just because his absence had temporarily made me a single mother. I missed his body.
“How was the book?” I said to him when he returned from Peter’s room.
“He’s a tough critic,” Paul said.
I let the robe fall open just a little bit as I placed the folded clothing into the dresser drawers. I wanted him to see my nakedness and to desire my body.
“You rearranged the bedroom,” he said, giving more attention to the furniture than to me.
“We did that to make room for Maggie’s crib and never set it back,” I said.
“Oh,” he said.
He took off his shirt and pants. He still wore the orange institutional underwear the hospital had given him.
“Nice pants,” I said.
“You would think that place would have better under garments.”
I gawked at him. His body was in better shape than I remembered it. He had tight muscles across his chest rather than the little blob of dad-pudge he had earned in the last year.
“You like what you see, don’t you? Daily physical therapy will do that,” he said, a crooked smile on his face.
I crossed the room and straddled him sliding his hand under the robe.
“I missed you,” I said.
“I missed you too,” he said.
“For us it’s been ten weeks.”
“For me it feels like more than three years.”
“You’ve only been awake for a week.”
“My last memory backup was out of date. I don’t even remember having a daughter.”
“I must look so old to you.”
“You look beautiful,”
“You should back up more often,” I scolded, but he was already working his hand between my legs and I forgot I was angry with him. Fucking him that night was particularly exciting, and not only because absence makes the heart grow fonder. We had sex at least a hundred times since his last memory backup, but he would never remember those times together. Now our intimacy was an unexpected adventure. His new body defied anticipation. He was more youthful, more powerful, less precise, less practiced. He ejaculated unexpectedly and even this surprise offered a kind of thrill after years of repeated exactness.
I remember the day Paul accepted the job at the processing facility. We had been married six months and had just bought our first apartment. Children seemed so far off then, like something real adults would do. The adult versions of us remained distant time travelers, children hardly on our mind.
He brought home a pizza that night so I knew something was wrong. “The company wants me to have regeneration insurance,” he admitted halfway through the first slice. “There are a lot of risks at the plant. It’s the only way they can keep their insurance premiums down.”
I was skeptical. Storing personal photos and financial records in the cloud was one thing, but backing up a person’s whole consciousness? The whole idea felt untested and risky, but I suppose more secure than the certainty of death. Paul’s father had passed just a few months earlier. We made an appointment at the regeneration facility.
We spent a weekend at the Phoenix Technologies facility where they downloaded our memories and sampled our genetic code. The digitization process was complimentary with a ten-year contract for resurrection. They induced artificial sleep during the procedure, so I have no memories of the actual process, but afterwards they served strawberries and I had a massage. It was like a spa weekend with the added bonus of eternal life.
When the weekend was over, we were each given a holographic disk drive of our consciousness and memories. These copies were mementoes really, since the whole service saved our profiles in the cloud. But holding something tangible reassured me.
“Now you’ll never forget me,” Paul joked on our way home. Later that night I told him I was pregnant with our first child.
Normalcy returned within a week after Paul returned home, or maybe we adjusted our expectations of normal. Paul returned to work. His mother stopped coming over every night. The children stopped fretting about him. My coworkers stopped looking at me with sympathy. I thought everything was going to be okay. And then I came home to Paul cooking meatloaf.
“What is that smell?” I asked.
“I’m cooking meatloaf,” he announced with prideful fervor.
“But you hate meatloaf.”
“Really? I guess maybe my tastes have changed. New body, new flavors. They say that can happen when you regenerate.”
I worried Maggie and Peter would dislike the meatloaf and I would end up cooking a whole second meal for them. Peter has always been a picky eater, like his father. But when the food is ready, the children eat it. The meatloaf is delicious, so naturally I’m concerned.
“I had no idea meatloaf could taste this good,” I tell him after we have eaten. I wash the dishes while Paul plays a game with Peter at the kitchen table.
“I’m glad you liked it.”
“Is it from a recipe?”
“I looked over a few preparations and picked the parts I liked best from each.”
“An impromptu recipe?” I ask. Paul never liked improvising anything. He liked schedules and lists. It was what I had loved about him: order to my chaos.
“Something like that.”
“Well, I hope you remember to back up to the cloud tonight. That was delicious and we wouldn’t want to forget how you made if you have another accident tomorrow.” I meant it as a joke, but the sarcasm was lost on him.
“Sure,” Paul says.
I go back to scrubbing the loaf pan. There are black bits of charred meat stuck to the sides.
Paul reads a story to Peter before bed and I think reading sounds like fun so I pick up the Franzen novel I keep meaning to finish. I am sitting in the bed trying to read through the first page when Paul enters the room.
“Is that a new Franzen novel?” he asks.
“You were the one who recommended it to me,” I say.
He stared at the cover. “In that case let me know when you are done with it, I’d probably like to read it.”
I close the book and hand it to him. “I’m never going to finish it, you should just read it. It’s your copy anyway.”
“I’m sorry I don’t remember.”
“Speaking of remembering, did you backup to the cloud tonight?” I ask.
“I haven’t had a chance to do it.”
I sigh. It is this kind of sloppiness that has him forgetting he doesn’t like meatloaf or that he has a daughter. “Please do it again now. The last thing I want is to lose that meatloaf recipe.”
He doesn’t laugh. Instead, he says, “I’m really tired.”
“It won’t take that long.”
“The backup always takes longer than I want it to.”
“Only because you don’t do it every night like you are supposed to. And you see where that leads us.”
“Can’t we wait until morning?” But he can tell that he isn’t getting out of it that easily. He climbs out of bed and logs onto the backup service. He’s sitting in the chair staring at me and I realize he hasn’t backed up in days. He’s going to be stuck sitting there for a while.
“Do you want the book?” I ask.
“How about a blow job?”
“Don’t push your luck,” I say reaching over with the Franzen novel. I climb back into bed and turn over away from the light to fall asleep.
I catch Roger in the parking lot behind the café. He was always the last to leave group sessions, and I didn’t really care much about seeing anyone else.
“Nancy, I didn’t expect to see you again so soon. You just missed the meeting, but we’ll be back on Wednesday as usual.”
“Paul’s alive again,” I blurt out. “I mean I’m not here for group.”
“If you need help acclimating to your resurrected spouse, you’ll have to join a resurrection group. I just do grief counseling.”
“I didn’t know that,” I said. He must have seen some kind of disappointment.
“We aren’t supposed to mix grieving and living counsel. It can be confusing, to talk about the death of a loved one, and then talk about how much trouble they are once they are alive again. But I can talk as a friend. My wife came back from the dead three times before she finally left me.”
“I didn’t know she left,” I said.
“They are supposed to be identical, same physical genetics, their consciousness imprinted, their memories preserved, at least as far as their most recent download. But each time they come back they are a little bit different. You might not notice at first. But the differences are there. For Cindy and I, we probably weren’t right for each other from the get go and each iteration warped her farther away from me. But I’ve known plenty of couples who’ve grown closer after resurrection.”
“Paul cooked meatloaf.”
“That’s hardly worth divorcing him over.”
“It feels strange to have him back after he was gone. He also didn’t backup his memories frequently enough. He has no memory of our daughter. His last backup was from when our oldest was still an infant. It’s like he was never a father.”
“He has some re-learning left to do, yet. Rehab programs can’t cover everything, especially personal matters. I would focus on getting him to back up his memories more frequently.”
“It has only been a few weeks for you. I’m sure things will get back to feeling normal soon.”
He placed his hand on my shoulder: “Give it a few more weeks.” Despite his father figure appearance, I found his words less comforting than I needed.
We decided Peter’s birthday party would double as a celebration of Paul’s return. Resurrection parties were common, apparently, and even considered an essential ritual, according to the books. I felt a simple status update on social media should be enough. Naturally, a five-year-old’s birthday offered an ideal compromise. We invited Paul’s coworkers and a few friends for beer and burgers and a magician.
Paul worked the grill while I poured cocktails. I had never realized how drunk all our parents had been, but a few high balls later, I understood how it took the edge off. We drank too much, but only I was hung over.
The months wore on. We played at being ordinary. The kids signed up for sports teams. We made plans with other couples for dinner parties. We cancelled our plans because of sore throats and unreliable babysitters. We spent a weekend at the lake like Paul had done as a child. Soon after, we celebrated Thanksgiving, and then decided on skipping my family’s Christmas for a trip to Orlando. I was promoted at work, Paul was promoted at work, Peter was promoted to the first grade. We thought about buying a new house, and spent a week at the ocean instead. Other than the meatloaf, everything came back to normal. Paul wrote out grocery lists and household chore lists and I slipped back into the chaos of washing laundry whenever the hell I felt like it.
The second time Paul died, I received the call while taking Maggie to karate class. Five years had passed since his last death. When the call came through from the hospital’s restoration services, I didn’t even recognize the number.
The automated voice clicked over when I answered. “Hello, No Name Specified. This is the Phoenix Technologies at Mount Colden Medical Center. We regret that—PAUL LEWIS—has passed away. To initiate regeneration procedures, please press one. If you are not the emergency contact for—PAUL LEWIS—please press two. If you would like to speak to a technician about bereavement counseling, please stay on the line.”
I hung up. “Fuck,” I thought. No matter how many times your spouse dies, you never quite get used to the feeling. We had pre-paid for Maggie’s karate class so I dropped her off before driving to the hospital.
I had been at Mount Colden Medical Center for more than an hour before I remembered Paul was supposed to pick up Peter from school that afternoon. He had written out a list of procedures to follow in the event of his death. I could picture it on the refrigerator: “In the event of my death: step one.” I called his mother hoping she could pick him up, but she didn’t answer.
“Do you have the death certificate, ma’am,” the girl behind the counter asked. The last time I had done this I had been a miss, not a ma’am. I resented the aging, but at least this time I had thought to ask the hospital for the death certificate before heading to the resurrection department. Mildred answered the phone just as I was about to show the woman the certificate.
“Could you pick up Peter at school today?” I asked.
“I’m going to have to ask you to get off the phone until the transaction is completed, ma’am,” the girl said. She pointed to the line of people behind me.
“Sorry, it’s my son, I forgot to pick him up.”
“Plenty of people behind you are waiting. We all have better places to be,” the girl said.
I hung up the phone hoping my mother-in-law could figure it out. I swiped over to the death certificate and transmitted it to the woman’s terminal.
“Thank you. Would you be paying by cash or credit card?” the woman asked.
“The insurance should cover it.”
“Your husband’s policy was changed two years ago, you now have a two thousand dollar deductible.”
“Those goddamn crooks,” I said fishing for sympathy. Didn’t this woman realize my husband had just died?
“I’ll need a card number to begin the procedure.”
I pulled out all the cards hoping there was enough credit between them.
The girl handed me the receipt. “You should be hearing from us in twelve weeks when your loved one is ready for rehabilitation.”
“Twelve weeks? Last time it was ten!”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but we have other priorities with the war on. Next customer on line, please step down.”
And just like that I was pushed out of the way.
The grief group had changed locations. The coffee shop had closed when coffee became impossible to cultivate, and so now they met in an abandoned mall food court. Roger was still leading the group.
“This is my second time attending,” I explained. “The first time was more than five years ago, when my husband was killed in an industrial accident. He died again last week.”
Everyone listened to my story, but nobody cried. The group lacked the potency of my first visit.
There was no hand painted sign for Paul’s second homecoming. Peter was at soccer practice and Maggie was playing in the virtual reality fantasy world that promised to boost children’s IQ with puzzle games. Their advertising seemed too good to be true, but it was a better babysitter than the television. I didn’t even buy a store bought cake.
“Sorry we didn’t make more of a big deal out of it,” I said to him when we sat down to dinner. I had made meatloaf.
He didn’t eat. “It tastes a little strange,” he said.
“It’s the same recipe you invented.”
He picked at the food, but didn’t finish eating it.
“Maybe we should take a vacation,” Paul suggested. We had returned to our pre-death routines, the daily grind of work, kids, sleep.
“We still have medical bills to pay off,” I said. The bills themselves weren’t all that bad, but while he was under, he only earned a disability check, a big cut from his usual salary.
“We could go someplace close. I could ask my mother to stay with the kids, maybe have a little romance.”
“The last time you said a little romance we ended up with Maggie.”
“Maybe we should have another kid,” he said.
“Paul, that seems—gratuitous.”
“You always said you wanted a big family.”
“That was before.”
“You know. Before. Before resurrection. Before, when people died, before we were filling the earth up with people who will never die.”
“People still die.”
“But then they come back.”
“My father died,” he said.
“I know, I know, but that was his choice.”
“It means we could bring another person into this world and not be taking up more than our share.”
“Paul, I don’t think we should have another kid.”
A year later we had another son.
Cosmetic death was suddenly very popular. Why bother eating right and exercising when a quick jump off a tall building and your whole body can be rebuilt? It was difficult for me not to notice the other moms dropping their kids off at daycare looking a decade younger than me. So many of them had been resurrected, regrown to the best possible versions of themselves. Even twice weekly spin class couldn’t keep me looking as young as a newly resurrected body.
Paul seemed to forget. His body might have been two years old, but mine was almost forty. I felt it every time I bent down to pick up Jacob, whenever I kneeled to tie Maggie’s shoelace, whenever Peter was up late working on a school project. Paul never felt any of that. His bones were new. His body was new. His muscles ripped through his skin while my tits sagged and joints ached.
All the magazines praised rebirth. Botox left a face stiff and twisted, but a body fresh from the regeneration pod was wrinkle free. I thought about it for a while wondering if I had it in me for elective death. I considered taking pills one night with a big bottle of wine and slipping into a warm tub. But then I realized I didn’t want to miss the twelve weeks of my kids growing up. Jacob’s first sentence, Peter’s eighth grade graduation, Maggie’s first karate tournament. There was always so much I would miss. Who had the time to die?
The third time Paul died was in the middle of Maggie’s school musical. She had the role of Frenchy in a middle-school adaptation of Grease that in retrospect could hardly have been appropriate for middle school age students. I got the text message while sitting in the auditorium with a hundred other parents gawking at their children prancing around like harlots from the last century.
My first thought was the school should have reminded the audience to turn off their cellular phones. My second thought was I was definitely going to check the vibrating brick in my purse. I looked at the message: “We regret to inform you PAUL LEWIS has passed. To activate regeneration, please follow the instructions sent to No Name Specified.”
I didn’t flinch. Death felt like second nature now. Also I considered I should probably update the form listing me by name as Paul’s next of kin unless he was somehow married to a person named No Name I wasn’t aware of. It was the sort of moment when you realize death is the new normal. I finished watching the show and took Maggie home to bed before I bothered contacting the regeneration facility.
I met Roger for a cocktail. The one benefit of the extinction of coffee had been the social acceptance of drinking stiff alcoholic beverages with breakfast. I arrived intentionally early and ordered a martini. I was halfway through the second when Roger appeared, though I nearly didn’t recognize him.
“Roger!” I said with the bombastic excitement of a drunk.
“Nancy, how are you!”
“Martini at noon! How are you?”
“I feel great.”
“You look great.”
“Thanks. I had elective death.”
“Yes, it really tightened everything up,” he said poking at his gut. “It brought back all my hair, and I’ve never been more—full of energy.”
“I had no idea.”
“It really is a whole new body. And how are you?”
“Paul is dead, again.”
“Again? All that man does is die.”
“And I’m the one stuck picking up after the kids getting older year after year.”
“You look great though, really,” he said. But I could tell by his withering commitment he was only half serious. I kept getting older while Paul woke up in a new body every couple of years. I almost regretted filing the paperwork to revive him, and I definitely regretted the third martini I drank that afternoon.
The kids were at school when the car dropped Paul off. I watched him from the front window as he stared at the house puzzled by its appearance. I waved to him and he recognized my face and started towards the front door.
I opened it just as he stepped up onto the landing. “You have some terrible luck,” I said, moving to kiss him, but then wrapped up in his hug before our lips touched.
“We have a really nice house,” he said.
“Yes, well, we had to move when Jacob was born.”
“That explains why I didn’t recognize it.”
“You didn’t stay current with your memory backups did you?”
“I’m sorry, hun. I guess I probably didn’t. I know we had a baby though.”
“Well at least that explains why I look so old to you.”
“I never said that,” he said.
“You didn’t have to. I could see it in your eyes.”
He tried not to smile, but I could tell I had been right. “Where are the kids? Maggie and Peter?”
“You don’t remember? They live on the moon.”
“No, silly, they’re in school. It’s a Tuesday.”
He chuckled. “You had me there for a second.”
Normalcy was slower to return each time Paul died. Peter and Maggie were old enough to understand what was happening now. They wanted to know why Paul kept dying, why it took so long for him to come back, why he didn’t remember part of their lives. I always avoided the details.
Peter figured out how to take advantage of his father’s missing memories. He constantly tried to trick Paul into doing things. For three months Paul paid him an allowance because Peter convinced him they had discussed it before Paul died. Peter had grown into that nasty age boys reach and stay until they are old men and dead forever.
“Let’s go to the Grand Canyon this summer,” Paul said one night over dinner. Peter groaned and Maggie rolled her eyes. Jacob clapped his hands together.
“Come on, it will be fun. We can have a whole road trip just like they used to do, the whole family packed into a recreational vehicle.”
“That sounds like hell, Dad,” Peter said.
“I used to do that stuff with grandma and my father all the time. Those are some of the best memories of my life,” Paul said.
“More like the only memories. You’ll probably forget to backup and the whole thing will be lost the next time a bulldozer runs you over. Three weeks of our lives wasted and you won’t even remember it.”
“That isn’t nice,” I said to Peter.
“But it’s true.”
“Don’t you want to see the Grand Canyon, one of the great natural wonders of the world?”
“I’d rather take summer classes,” Peter said.
“We could arrange it,” I snapped.
Paul possessed the sexual appetite of a man twenty years younger than me. It was satisfying in a way to have his fresh, toned body underneath me. He had a full head of hair, dark brown lacking the streaks of gray that had since infected my own head. He had no lines on his face, no crow’s feet, no wrinkles.
I lay across his chest after he had finished. His body was warm. “I’ve been thinking of doing a cosmetic death,” I said.
“Why would you do that to yourself?”
“Look at me. I’m so old compared to you.”
“You look great.”
“I look like a middle-aged mother. You look like an Adonis, like a Greek marble.”
“I’m not doing it on purpose. I’m not choosing to die. I work a dangerous job, and I’m fortunate to have technology to revive me, but I don’t think you should use it for vanity.”
“If you keep dying and they keep regenerating you, eventually I’m going to be too old for you to care about.”
“Maybe I won’t regenerate anymore.”
“Paul! I don’t want you to make me a widow.”
“I’ll get a transfer. There is more money in management anyway even if it is boring deskwork. I hope you’re okay with me getting fat sitting around all day.” He laughed but only served to make me feel uncomfortable.
“That’s not what I want you to do.”
“Keep your memories up to date in the cloud.”
“I’ll try. Now how about we take advantage of my new body again?” he said, his erection blossoming under my body.
“You can’t say you don’t appreciate the usefulness of my fresh from the box erection,” he said.
We stood at the north rim looking out over the canyon below. Even I had been impressed with the view. Peter threw a rock and we listened for the sound as it battered its way against the canyon walls.
“You shouldn’t do that, there could be people down there,” I said. Despite the scolding, I did like listening to the rock tumble down and the echo of the noise against the canyon.
We hiked through the park to other overlooks. The heat was intense. We returned to the RV, exhausted. The kids fell asleep on the couch as we cruised along the highway toward Lake Mead.
“I’m glad your mother was able to watch Jacob this week,” I said.
“He sleeps better and cries less than both of them combined,” Paul said.
“I’m surprised you remember any of it.”
“I had most of the children backed up,” he said.
“Speaking of the cloud: You better back up tonight. The kids will never let you live it down if you forget about this trip.”
“I can’t. I cancelled the account, deleted everything they have on file.”
“Jesus Christ, Paul. What the fuck did you do?”
“I transferred departments last week so you don’t have to worry about any more accidental deaths. When we get back, I’ll be a desk jockey with all the safety and security of your average middle-aged suburbanite.”
“Why would you do that?”
“You know I hated the backups. Besides, it always takes so long to acclimate to a new body. I still don’t feel totally back to normal yet and it’s been six months.”
“What are you going to do, leave me to raise three kids on a disability check?”
“Don’t you understand the burden I have? It’s unnatural. Now I know why my father didn’t come back, why he just let himself die.”
“Paul—the burden? What about me, what about the children? Peter will need college tuition soon. If you die, how am I going to raise them?”
“I’m not going to die again, not for a very long time. I have a very safe job working at a very safe office. And I took out a life insurance policy.”
“Money isn’t the only issue.”
“I can’t believe this. You have to tell them to reverse it. Tell them you changed your mind and have them undelete.”
“It’s already done.”
I stared out at the highway for a long time without saying anything, but I knew we couldn’t spend another five days on the road not speaking. “If it’s what you want,” I said at last.
“Well then I know I can’t stop you.”
We arrived home late on Sunday night. I had hoped we could keep Maggie asleep, but she had grown too big for Paul to carry. The universal truth about children is they always keep growing. Peter crept off to his room to play video games while Paul heated a pizza.
“How can you eat at this hour?” I said.
“I guess I just have a young metabolism.”
“You’re going to get fat,” I said jealous of his reconstructed body.
I took a hot shower washing off the dirt of the road. The vacation had tired me more than usual, and looking in the mirror, the circles under my eyes appeared darker. The inevitable process of aging was evident across my face. Cosmetic resurrection seemed like a pretty good idea just then.
Paul survived for another fifteen years. He had been right that the desk job was much safer, but accidents still happen. Resurrection technology had made it cheaper to regenerate people than follow basic safety guidelines. They told me he died quickly.
Peter had already graduated college by then, and Maggie was almost finished. I felt sorry for Jacob, still in high school. He was stuck now with just a widowed, single mother to raise him.
People died so rarely now, nobody knew how to react. Paul’s mother was livid and blamed me for her son’s perma-death. I wanted to host a service, but the nearest funeral home was three states over and would have cost a fortune. In the end, I ordered an urn and stuck him in the spare room closet.
I only had a few years too wait before Jacob graduated university. By then Peter and his new wife were living on an orbital mining colony. Maggie was still trying to find herself by traipsing through Europe. At last, satisfied my children were capable of looking after themselves, I knew it was time to die.
The decision to die had not come easily. I had decided to resurrect both Paul and myself from our original data recordings. We were still young when we had made those backups. Paul and I would have a chance at a new life together without all his past deaths coming between us.
I made an appointment at the rejuvenation center and confirmed our backups were still in good condition. The technicians would eliminate my existing body and then Paul and I would have new bodies grown concurrently. We would be two fit young people once again.
There was one side effect of the process that took longer to come to terms with. By restoring our original data from the first backup, all the memories of our children would disappear forever. We would never know Peter, Maggie, or Jacob, and for them, the parents they once knew would be dead. Even from my perspective, we would never have had children. The idea of never knowing them tormented me, but also I knew we could make things right with Paul and I. We could have our youth back. We could have a life untainted by his death.
I arrived at the Phoenix rejuvenation center prepared to forget. The woman behind the counter was young and beautiful, but somehow I suspected much older than her face let on.
“Good morning, Nancy Lewis. We’ve prepared your usual room,” she said, with a broad smile I’m sure she intended to feel reassuring but actually came across as pandering.
I changed into the uncomfortable orange medical gown. They had prepared my new body in a regeneration pod. Paul’s pod sat next to mine, both bodies waiting for their rebirth, for the lifetime of memories to download from the cloud. A few hours after my termination procedure, Paul and I would be standing in this very room. I took a strawberry from the bowl, biting off the tip of the fruit. The sweet tartness reminded me of the first time we had been here. I wondered how many more times we would have to go through all this before our lives finally worked out as they were supposed to.