We Remember Me

         By Simon Jimenez

 

 

 

When Eight arrived at the hospital, a painting caught his eye. It was a pastel scene of a family picnicking in a park. The mother and father were watching with amusement as their children chased a runaway balloon across the wide lawn.

“Do you think they’ll catch the balloon?”

“No,” Eight said before turning around to see who was speaking to him. A child, no more than six, was standing a few feet away, picking at fresh stitches on his forehead. Eight smiled gently. “What do you think?” he asked.

The boy shrugged. “I don’t know. When I lose a balloon, I jus’ let it fly away. Sometimes I jus’ let them go on purpose. I like watching them go up.”

“I agree,” Eight said. “Sometimes it’s fun to let it go. Then again, when I really like a balloon, I want to hold on to it for as long as possible.”

The boy ran back to the call of his mother and father, who were settling their accounts at the front desk. Eight continued to study the painting; the balloon caught in air, children frozen in time. He couldn’t decide if he liked it or not.

* tiny machine beside Seven’s bed beeped every few seconds like a singing night bug. The IV bag had a long tail-like tube that curled around its metallic stand, up onto the bed, and into the patient's hairless arm.

"Right on time," Seven whispered as Eight approached, his voice nothing more than the squeak of an old toy. "I’d get up to hug you, but...”

Eight winced at Seven’s emaciated and pock-marked face, a face both of them shared. “You’re looking well,” he said, doing his best to smile.

“Fuck you,” the sick man wheezed. “I’m thirty years old and I look and feel like eighty. I’m tired of shitting in diapers. When are you going to put me out of my misery?”

Eight took a seat on the chair beside the bed, and glanced out the window. A bird was perched on the silhouette of a tree branch, calling out in song for its brothers. “Hard to believe we’re the last ones,” he whispered, forcing himself to make eye contact with Seven’s splotched face.

This was when Seven began to laugh, which sounded more like a series of violent coughs to the untrained ear. “Hard to believe? There’s a reason Mother cloned eight of us. She messed up eight times, and ended up with a basket of defects. Then the selfish bitch died before she had to take any of the blame.”

Eight sighed. Not this again. “She was in grief. She only wanted her child back.”

“Tell that to One through Six. You saw what happened to them...what’s happening to me.”

“The doctors here are some of the best in the world, they might be able to—”

“Stop it,” Seven said. He wiped something wet from his bruised eye. “Just stop it. Stop your boundless optimism. In a hospital it’s simply tacky.”

The bird outside flew off its perch, the branch wobbling in its wake.

“Do you ever think about the Original?” Eight whispered after a long period of silence.

“Every day,” Seven said, lying very still.

Eight took off his glasses and folded them up. “I had a dream about him the other day. He was in my kitchen, cracking eggs into a hot pan. I asked him if he knew I was a vegan, and he said ‘Don’t worry, these eggs aren’t fertilized, they’re not real. The mother won’t miss them.’ Then he picked up the pan and slid all the eggs into his mouth, slurping them down as if it was his last meal. When I woke up I ran to the bathroom and threw up.”

“Sounds like my every day,” Seven croaked. He smiled grimly and shook his head. “The Original is always in my head. I can’t shake him away. All these memories that aren’t mine, they’re like parasites.”

Eight nodded in silence.

“I remember things from his childhood,” Seven continued, “Sounds... smells even. They are so vivid...it’s like they're mine. I remember so many things.”

Eight smiled. "Like the skateboard he got for his thirteenth birthday?"

"I hated that skateboard," Seven mumbled, his hands now pressed tightly against his face, as if trying to block reality from his eyes. "I mean, he hated that skateboard. He only asked for it because all his friends had one, the idiot."

Eight laughed. "He broke his arm the first time he tried to ride the thing.”

"Right here." Seven's hand involuntary moved to the spot on his arm where the fracture occurred. The spot tingled a little, even though it had never happened to him. "It happened right after his first kiss. Remember?"

"Next to the sixth grade physics room," Eight recalled, nodding enthusiastically. "Her name was Lucy."

Seven chuckled softly. "He called her Lucy Goosey."

"Her lips were so chapped, but so soft."

"He felt like he was going to melt into the floor."

"Johnny and the other boys laughed and howled."

"But she kept on kissing him anyway."

"He thought, nothing could be better than this."

"Not even heaven.”

For a while, the only sound in the hospital room was the persistent beep of the small machine and the soft hum of the air conditioner. The two men said nothing, for there was nothing that needed to be said.

"The Original was a lucky kid," Seven whispered.

Eight nodded solemnly. "Yes, he was."

"If he was lucky, what does that make us?"

Eight thought on that for a moment until his eyes brightened with an idea. "We’re keepers of the flame.” When Seven furrowed his brow, Eight elaborated. “It’s like when the main actor in a play gets sick or breaks his arm, the understudy goes in to finish the story. We’re here to help finish the Original’s play.”

"What if I’m not a fan of the script?” Seven asked after another bout of coughs.

“That’s when you take your leave.”

“Heh. Take my leave. What a euphemism.” The sick man sighed, every ounce of air leaving his body. “I think I’m ready to take my leave soon. Maybe I’ll see One through Six up there, or wherever good clones go.” He smiled at his brother, at himself, and yawned. “I hope it’s a good place.”

“I hope so too.”

Seven fell asleep soon after that. Eight kissed him on the forehead, whispered “goodbye” and left.

As he walked out of the hospital, Eight thought of all the things he wanted to do that day. A quiet time at the movies sounded nice. There was also a new exhibit in the modern art gallery. Maybe afterwards he could buy some mint chocolate ice cream and sit by the coast to watch the seagulls, just like he and all his brothers used to do.

But by the time Eight arrived in the city, the sun had begun to set behind the buildings, casting long shadows down the streets, the faint outline of the moon now visible in the darkening sky. He sighed. Already the day was over and there was so much left to do.