Once More, With Feeling
by Charles C Cole
BRITTA lies at home in bed, pale and weak. She’s exhaling: unendingly long, probably her death rattle. ROMAN rushes in, pauses, trying not to look like he’s rushing. He leans over her and encourages her to drink from a cup he’s carrying.
ROMAN: Here, Britta, drink this. (Stepping back to watch a hoped-for miracle.)
BRITTA: (Still at first, then twitching, grunting.) It tastes terrible! What was that?!
ROMAN: Sorry. If it’s any consolation, I paid top dollar.
BRITTA: You should get your money back. Next time don’t get the sugar-free kind; it’s not worth it.
ROMAN: Hi, honey, how do you feel?
BRITTA: Like a lump of withered moss clinging to life on the underside of a rock on the barren tundra. I’m here, but I don’t think I have any more pushups left in me.
ROMAN: But compared to the alternative, you’re—
BRITTA: Seriously? Uncomfortable. Unbearably cold, stiff. Probably what “newly dead” feels like. What was in that concoction?
ROMAN: A guaranteed black-market, dark-web cure-all.
BRITTA: If this is “eye of newt and toe of frog,” I’m ratting you out, buddy. I’m calling your mother and telling her what a horrible hospice-husband you’ve been.
ROMAN: It’s got a Portuguese name I can’t pronounce. It’s... reanimation juice. “From the exotic virgin banks of the Amazon!” I had to smuggle it into the country.
BRITTA: (Suddenly serious.) Roman, what have you done?
ROMAN: You’re not ready to go.
BRITTA: I’m as ready as I’ll ever be. I’ve made my peace with my shabby short life.
ROMAN: Don’t I have a say?
BRITTA: We’ve talked about this.
ROMAN: Hypothetically. We’ve talked about it hypothetically.
BRITTA: There’s an orange card in my wallet — and taped to the fridge — that says, “DNR.” I know you’ve seen it, next to the prayer card from your sister. No heroic measures.
ROMAN: Believe me, this isn’t heroic. This is entirely self-serving. I hate doing laundry. I hate cooking. I hate paying bills. Writing checks. Changing the litter box.
BRITTA: And dating. You hate the idea of dating again. After I’m gone.
ROMAN: And now I don’t have to.
BRITTA: Because, after one foul-tasting glass of puma pee, I’m miraculously cured?
ROMAN: Nothing was going to heal you. So I had to think of other options, other less-ambitious goals.
BRITTA: (Shocked.) Am I dead? Because I feel different. Heavier. Roman, am I dead?
BRITTA: Am I a zombie?
ROMAN: Real people don’t use that word. That’s for sci-fi and horror movies. Let’s just say you’re “preserved,” but your heart has stopped struggling.
BRITTA: But it’s called reanimation juice. As in “bringing back to life.”
ROMAN: I know. But in this case it means, you’re “animated” still. You can still move. You can still talk. You can still bat your pretty eyes at me.
BRITTA: So it’s an anti-rigor mortis potion? For the first-class traveler who wants to fold up the corpse of his trophy bride into his suitcase and take her on business trips.
ROMAN: (Pouting.) You love traveling!
BRITTA: But I’m dead.
ROMAN: Just barely. You don’t look any worse. And I bet you don’t ache anymore.
BRITTA: Honey, dead bodies smell terrible. I don’t want to smell terrible. Where’s the dignity in that?
ROMAN: That wouldn’t happen right away. And think: you never have to shave your legs again. Or sleep. You hated sleeping.
BRITTA: If you want me to roll with this, don’t talk about me in the past tense.
BRITTA: What do I eat, by the way? Human brains? Flesh? Or do you just keep pumping me with more preservative?
ROMAN: There are lots of pigeons in the park. Too many. Nobody would miss a few.
BRITTA: (Sarcastic.) You’ve thought of everything.
ROMAN: Just close your eyes and pretend you’re eating raw Chicken Normandy or French pheasant ballotine.
BRITTA: What if I change my mind? What if I want out? Is there another potion to help me go to sleep and not wake up?
ROMAN: You don’t want me to move on. You don’t want me to see other women, bring them back here to YOUR bed.
BRITTA: I am NOT making love to you in this condition! It’s gross! Is that why you did this? Because you’re horny?
ROMAN: No! Because I love you and I want to keep you around and I want things to go back to the way they were.
BRITTA: This me is NOT the old me. We’re not going out dancing. We’re not going out to dinner. What if my tongue falls out while you’re kissing me?
ROMAN: (Giving up.) What do I do?
BRITTA: Let me go.
ROMAN: I can’t.
BRITTA: (Gesturing to herself.) Is this permanent? Am I trapped in my dead body? Roman, talk to me.
ROMAN: I just gave you a little dose, to get you and me used to the idea. It shouldn’t last... unless I give you the whole thing, the whole treatment. Then things are pretty much irreversible; you’re not dead and you’re not undead. That’s what the shaman said.
BRITTA: (Gently.) Come here. Closer. Sit beside me.
ROMAN: (Sitting.) I was — we were — desperate.
BRITTA: I know. But we’re better than this. We’ve had a good run. And I’m grateful. You’re a terrific guy, intensely loyal. Maybe a little messed-up the head, but all heart.
ROMAN: I love you.
BRITTA: And that’s why you’re going to let me go. Because you don’t want me to become some clumsy B-movie horror monster knockoff of my former self: a decomposing body double. Okay?
BRITTA: So lie down beside me for a nap and make me feel appreciated. And if I don’t wake up, it won’t matter, because I’ll be dreaming of you and me in paradise, like on our honeymoon, only the fun and optimism never end.
ROMAN: I’m going to miss you.
BRITTA: I know. And after I’ve been gone for... five or ten years, you can start dating again. But only because I’m telling you to. And you don’t have to enjoy it.
ROMAN: Not for a moment.
BRITTA: Liar. Let’s not talk about the future. I’m tired. Shut up and kiss me goodbye before I start nibbling on your brain or my tongue falls out, you big lummox.
Copyright © 2017 by Charles C Cole