In a fiction writing class about seven years ago I had an assignment was to parody a classic short story. The choices were “The Nose” by Gogol, I think a “A Dream” by Kafka, and “Bartleby the Scrivener” by Herman Melville. By parody, they wanted a sentence by sentence imitation of the plot; so a science fiction version of an early 19th century short story feels pretty… odd. It’s pretty rough, but I’ve always been proud of this.
Evangeline the Cloner
It’s not easy being a small business owner and a single mother. Not only do you have a man’s concerns of bookkeeping, advertising, and dealing with big chain clinics, but you have menopause and teenage brats to deal with. And being in the walk-in clinic business? You’re always dealing with the new Big Chain Place that’s opening down the road. But they don’t last long. Everyone knows Tia’s Body Shop is the only place to go when bleeding from your carotid artery. Fast, friendly, and efficient service is our promise and we stick to it. There is also a bonus cup of hot cocoa with marshmallows for all walk-ins. Says so right on our door.
The only hard part about that job is dealing with cloners. It’s part of the job requirement, I think, to be completely wacko. You could probably write a detailed biography of any cloner and you’d have a page-turner worthy of the President Winfrey Memorial Book Club. You wouldn’t have to exaggerate, there’d be enough sordid details and eye-opening anecdotes in their lives to keep even the most jaded reader entertained. But Evangeline….
I don’t know enough about Evangeline’s life to write a whole book. I don’t know much about who she was or where she came from before she started working for me, or why she started working for me in the first place. But in the months after I knew her, I figured she deserved a story.
But before I start talking about her, something about me should be put down on paper. My memoirs could probably make the New York Times Bestseller list, at least above #5. In years, I’m closer to 60 than I feel I can easily admit, I have two teenage girls, more hot flashes than I can sanely deal with, and I rescued my drunk of an ex-husband’s walk-in clinic business from being washed down the drain with the rest of his life. It’s not a business you can ruin easily… especially in this neighborhood. You get stabbed in the kidney or shot in the liver in a fight over some floozy, we can replace it and repair any other kinds of damage, all at competitive prices.
I only know enough about the science of it to run the business, which is all I really need. I’m the manager, I handle the money and all the real work. I’m a natural at business, I’ve always been told so. My old jobs always resulted in fast, fast promotion. I went from waitress to manager to regional manager of Denny’s in a few short years. Stayed there until I won Rob’s business in the divorce settlement. And running your own place is better than taking orders from a corporate bigwig 200 miles away any day.
I really had to fight Rob for this place. We slugged it out for 3 years in court. Finally we reached the agreement of my taking the kids and the business. Tough deal, but I really wanted the body shop. So I signed the papers and changed the sign out front.
Right before I hired Evangeline, I had two cloners and a kid, a friend of my oldest, handling reception and errands. We’re open all night; right down the street from 6 bars, 3 pubs, and one brothel, so we get a lot of business during the twilight hours. But having to handle my employees sketchy work schedule nearly drove me wild.
Randall handled Damage Repair then and still does. Some people who come in don’t really need to have anything replaced, they just have a six inch gash on their face or a lead slug in their knee, so they have it sewn up by Randall good as new. Randall also takes the defunct organs out and hooks the new ones up to their owners. He’s good at it, gets done with it real fast. It’s something you have to finish quickly, otherwise they bleed to death on my floor. It’s a bitch to clean up, the next of kin are always really weepy, and there’s always a truckload of forms to fill out.
But Randall is an artist of efficiency. He can seam up your 12 gashes, repair your concussion, knit up your 9 broken bones, pop your shoulder into place, and install your brand-spanking new lung, stomach and spleen right there in my clinic in Guinness record-breaking time. I’ve seen him do that, in under an hour, after a motorcycle accident outside my door. It was beautiful and expensive. For the other guy, at least.
My only problem with Randall is that he is a hell of a sugar junkie. The drawers of his desk are filled with chocolate, Sprees, Ho-Hos, freeze-dried ice cream, 3 different kinds of pop, and so many Pixie Sticks I wonder why he hasn’t evolved into a being of pure energy. But if he hasn’t already, he’s close. Randall is a human hummingbird, he flits from place to place, talks at a speed faster than light, and he only gets worse as the work night goes on. We’re open from 9 PM to 5 AM, and in the evenings when he just comes in he’s calm, or at least calmer, but by five I’m amazed he isn’t vibrating through the walls. In the mornings I get worried he’ll seam an artery to a vein, or forget to reattach a nose. So my other cloner picks up the slack on nights when Randall is too close to achieving true enlightenment.
Nora handles nerve repair, and before Evangeline, she handled organ stamping. You need a special certification for nerve repair, and I don’t think Randall has ever sat still long enough to get one. So Nora reattaches the severed nerves that Randall can’t legally do. All the broken spinal columns and the more delicate parts of reattaching a limb. She also handles the organ stamping, the cloning of the client’s damaged, defunct organs that need to be replaced. Between her and Randall they have a real assembly line quality. Randall takes out the Defunct, gives it to Nora, and while Nora makes a copy, Randall fixes up the ancillary damage and then when the new organ is done, he installs the new one. Then while Nora fixes up the nerves, Randall bottles up the client’s painkillers. They have a beautiful system.
At least, when I can get Nora on her feet. I don’t know how or why, but Nora is constantly pregnant. I have had the business two years, and she’s on her third pregnancy. I don’t think she even gives herself a 3 month break between kids. I don’t think it’s for religious reasons, she never takes any of the major holidays off. I don’t even think she’s partnered. She only has pictures of her ever-growing number of kids on her desk. No husband or wife-looking person is there. I can’t even tell which kid is which, they all look so much alike. And they all look a lot like her, so I’ve been watching her to make sure she isn’t using the company equipment for personal use. She has to go down the road for that sort of thing.
So in the evenings when she gets in, she’s either “morning sick” or her legs are so sore in the later months its tough getting her to do anything. She’s always saying “I need a daytime job; working nights isn’t good for a woman in my condition.” I gently remind her that in this day and age with all the many wonderful modern forms of birth control and abortion, it is completely feasible not to be constantly in that condition.
We compromised. I got her a rolling desk chair. In the evenings she can roll around in the desk chair, from the organ stamping device to the patient bed for nerve repair. In the mornings she’s much more cheerful, and she’s on her feet to pick up Randall’s slack. I send him to the organ-stamper at least by 4 most nights. Those two are in their prime during 12-3; which seems to be the most popular time to get fried on Zap and throw yourself in front of a street cleaner.
With those two wackos in back, it felt good to have a decent kid like Straight in front with me. Straight works here while going to college in the day with my oldest. He checks in clients, mops up blood, vomit and other bodily fluids from the reception room floor, and giving clients their hot cocoa after they wake up from general anesthesia.
I love the kid– real good with math. He figured out that if we switched to bulk-brand hot-cocoa mix and put in no more than 3 marshmallows instead of throwing in handfuls willy-nilly we would maximize profits by 3.7%. He did the math and everything. Christ, I wish my good-for-nothing girls were that good at business.
We call him Straight because he always takes everything with a straight face. Well, almost everything, but it doesn’t interfere with his job much. There’s no flinching when a drunk comes in with third degree burns over his entire body. No wincing when a hooker walks in with a slashed face. And no screaming in terror when a biker walks in, casually carrying his own arm. He just smiles, takes the next-of-kin information, and preps them for general anesthesia.
He does have one fear, but like I said, it doesn’t interfere with his job much. Once in a while a girl his age walks in, and he’ll go pale, squeak in terror, and run in the back. Then I come in the front and take over.
It’s only a certain kind of girl– the cute, clean-cut co-eds who come down here only for concerts. The kind of girl he must be attracted to. He must not see many girls even when he’s not working. He’s a weedy, skinny kid, with thin blond hair and thick glasses. The bad with girls but good with math type. Perfect for this job, so I’m happy to step in when girl with too much enthusiasm for head banging comes in.
About 6 months ago, a tainted Zap ring was going wild in this neighborhood. Zap messes with your nerves enough, but this stuff was really shredding them. Nora said that the people who came in after taking it had nerves that looked like frayed twine. I wondered why they were twitching so badly. She was working constantly on repairing the zappers, and I had no one to run the organ-stamping machine.
I interviewed a few cloners, and Evangeline was the last I interviewed. I hired her, because at the time, she seemed the least quirky. She answered my questions with just the facts, and her certification checked out. Her list of previous employers was short, but organ stamping isn’t rocket science. You don’t need much experience. Besides, she seemed quiet. And lord knows, I needed the quiet; with Randall vibrating, Nora moaning and huffing, and Straight squeaking whenever a girl came in.
And she was quiet. She only spoke when spoken to, she handed Randall and Nora the organs and entire lengths of nerve without a “Here you go.” or a “That was a mangled one.” She just hung back to the side of the room, near the organ stamper, like a ghost. She looked like a ghost, pale, thin, eyes and hair of a color hard to describe if you haven’t seen her for a few minutes. Her scrubs weren’t the teddy-bear printed ones Nora wore, or the bright-colored ones worn by Randall. They were the bright, bleached white doctor’s coats used to be. Even now it’s hard to picture her in my mind.
She did real well in the first two hectic weeks. Very few of the organs came out wrong, with lobes in the wrong place and vessels poking out at random, and more than a few quirky organs happen to the best of them. She was an organ stamping machine herself.
But when organs did come out wrong, she didn’t put them in the barrels with the rest of the Defuncts like you’re supposed to. All Defuncts are supposed to be sealed up in barrels and sent to the dog food plant. At first, I didn’t notice. I wasn’t in the back much those two weeks. There was some kind of health insurance strike going on, and I was always shouting at some toady on the phone.
But then on a quiet morning, towards the end of the work-day, I went in back to check on how they were all doing. It was a bit too quiet there. First thing I saw was that the defunct organs were being lined up on the shelves above the Cloner. They had push-pins and office supplies stuck in them. I stared for a while realized they were meant to be faces and figures. Like a real creepifying Mr. Potato Head.
“Evangeline,” I said, not taking my eyes from what was supposed to be a kidney with a tangle of malformed nerves for hair and an eraser nose. I think it was supposed to be Albert Einstein. “you need to get those off the shelf. When we get an inspection, Ralph is not going to be happy. A bribe won’t take care of this.”
She was quietly calibrating the machine. She looked up blinked slowly, almost like a cow, and said, “It needs to be there.”
That was it. No excuses. No explanations. Just “It needs to be there.” I wasn’t sure what to say. I was speechless, and that isn’t easy for a woman like me. I stood with my mouth gaping, like a guy on his first trip to skid row to pick up a hooker. I finally found my voice.
“Wha… Why?” I sounded hoarse to my own ears.
“It needs to be there.”
Anyone else said that to me, I’d shove their pink slip up their ass. But Evangeline made me step back. She was disarming, to say the least. Quiet, pale, Evangeline doesn’t seem the type to begin a working revolt. In fact she seemed like the perfect employee, and that was what made me like her. I began doing something I’d never done with an employee, and never done since. I began negotiating.
“Look, Evangeline, those defuncts could start spreading disease. They’ll rot on that shelf. They need to go to the dog food plant, like all the rest. We get paid a lot for defuncts. They’re good for dogs.”
“They need to be there.” She said this like she was asking for two lumps of sugar in her coffee. Slightly wistful, but that was how it had to be. Two lumps or nothing.
“Look, am I not being clear here?”
She just blinked at me, slowly, like a cow again. I turned to Nora and the others.
“What is going on here?” I felt as confused as I sounded.
“An avant-guarde means of expressing herself? Maybe if you let her leave one of them up at a time it would be easier for her to throw the others away.” Her voice was motherly. At her best, everyone was one of Nora’s babies.
I turned to Randall, feeling almost helpless. Nora’s mothering wouldn’t work. Mothers aren’t businessmen. “Randall, help me out here?”
“YOUKNOWWHATITHINK?I’LLTELLYOUWHATITHINK!THOSEDEFUNCTS COULDBEGROWINGBOTULISM,INFLUENZA,ESCHERICHIA-COLI, ANDGODKNOWSWHATELSE!”
Randall had already consumed three times his weight in glucose. I wasn’t going to get much help out of him.
“I think she’s nucking futs.” Said Straight. He’d walked up from the front, and was grinning through the power bar he was chewing. He apparently found the whole thing amusing.
The argument wasn’t resolved that day. The bell on the front door clinked, we had customers, and we had a lot more for the next four days. When we had another quiet lull for a few hours on the next Thursday, I went in back and saw Einstein the Kidney had been joined by his buddies Lincoln the Liver and Martin Luther King, Jr. the Heart. I caught Evangeline in the middle of giving Winston Churchill the Stomach a pair of carefully carved eraser lips.
“Evangeline!” I tried raising my voice, really I did, but I had a deep-seated fear she would shatter from the sonic vibrations if I yelled at her.
She continued adjusting the eraser lips with minute, precise, adjustments.
“Evangeline!” I tried raising my voice a bit more, but when her hair blew away from her neck from my voice, I tried whispering. “Evangeline?” I didn’t mean for it to come out like a question.
She turned to me slowly, blinked even slower, and raised an eyebrow very, very slowly in acknowledgment.
“Those defuncts need to go. The health inspector is due any week now. He could shut us down. This isn’t the corner diner, one infraction will shut a clinic down. You, me, Nora, we’re all out of job. And after two weeks without one we’re Vagrants. You know what they do with Vagrants, don’t you?” I let the threat hanging in the air. Vagrancy is my constant fear, the constant fear of everyone. Vagrancy is a one-way ticket to state-assigned labor. Government work with low pay, no benefits, and no way out. I can still remember the informational videos from middle school. You’re lucky to be working in a landfill, and not in Hazmat cleanup.
“They need to be there.” She said. She never gave anymore explanation than that. An alarm buzzed before I had gathered up the courage to run for the pink slip book.
“Snack Break!” Shouted Randall, gleefully. Randall sets alarms on the hour for a sugar fix. I think he would die if his blood sugar level dropped below maple syrup consistency. He dashed the three feet to his desk and yanked open his drawers, and started passing out snacks. Randall was always willing to share, and he’d toss out candy to everybody. Nora grabbed a Snickers from mid-air, and I grudgingly took a Twix. Evangeline quietly accepted a 7-Up.
As she popped the tab and took a quiet sip, I realized I’d never seen her eat. I assumed she just took her breaks when I was in front. I mean, I’m normally in front most of the time. But the only food I’ve ever seen her eat was the occasional trifle from Randall’s snack drawer. I’d never seen her leave the back room from open to close, not to step out to get coffee or or get away from the antiseptic fumes.
Evangeline’s attempts at civil disobedience were getting to me. I was the boss. I say jump, the employees should say “Off which building?”
I needed to tick her off. I needed her angry. I needed to inspire some ire. I needed some kind of reaction besides some goddamn blinking!
I finished my Twix and turned to her. I stood up straight and stared her down with my best “I sign your paychecks” stare.
“Evangeline, I’m serious. Those Defuncts need to go.”
“They need to be there.” I wanted to scream. I turned to my angry, pregnant employee. “Nora, back me up here.”
“Young lady, you need to get your act together!” [This was evening, in the beginning of her second trimester. Nora was just recovering from evening sickness.]”I have six girls! I run them to night-care, I grab what breakfast I can, and I get my ass to a job that’s horrible for a woman in my condition, and I do it right!”
“Maybe you should find another hobby, Evangeline.” Said Randall between bites of his Laffy Taffy. “Something separate from work. For instance, I have a side business in making gourmet caramels! Maybe you should try potato sculpting, or yoga!”
Evangeline slowly blinked again, a movement that never failed to humble us. We all went silent. Nora and Randall went back to work, somehow cowed by Evangeline’s mysterious, magical blinking.
I managed to remain unmoved. I remembered Evangeline never seemed to leave.
“Evangeline, Straight’s at the bank, could you run to the Post Office and check our PO box?”
“I need to be here.”
She turned back to her work. I swear on whatever is holy, that woman had Gandhi beat on Civil Disobedience. I stomped over to the front desk and banged my head against the wall a few times. I was flummoxed. I had no idea how to deal with her. I was finding more gray in my roots every day. A few more weeks of Evangeline, and I wouldn’t need to dye my hair any more.
The situation gained such momentum within the next week it sent me spinning.The very next day I came in at three in the afternoon, an hour and a half earlier than I normally do. Now, there are three keys to the shop. I carry one, Randall has the second because he’s always 15 minutes early and he was trustworthy enough to let folks in if I was running late, and the third was supposedly taped underneath the front desk.
I had barely slept that day. My girls were shocked I was up at one in the afternoon, they thought I was sick or something. It was touching, really; they kept offering to make me some tea and run to a pharmacy for me. I shouted at them to quit nagging me and they quieted down. My shouting seemed to convince them I was alright. Sally, my youngest, said I’d been so quiet the last couple days it had been unnerving. But my point is I’d decided to use my extra energy to go in early and toss those defuncts in the barrels.
I walked up to the front door and just before I slipped the key in the lock I realized there was a light on. It looked like it was on in the back, and I realized I must have left the light on back there last night. I cursed myself in the name of the next light bill, and I turned the key, but the door was chained.
“Just a minute!” Evangeline’s quiet, patient voice came from the back. I heard quiet slippered feet walk up. She peeked past the door, and seemed to be deciding whether or not to let me in to my own damn clinic. I realized in horror her hair was wrapped in a towel and her face looked damp, like she’d just stepped out of the shower.
I took a deep breath, and reminded myself we had a shower in the back. I thought to myself maybe something was wrong with the water in her place, and she just came in early to wash up. That’s why she swiped the key, she was too embarrassed to ask. I mean, I can’t fault a cloner for wanting to be clean for her job!
“Let me in, Evangeline.”
She had the nerve to blink, like I’d just said something incredibly rude. But she closed the door and slipped open the chain. She then padded silently into the back in her ratty blue slippers. She was wearing a robe that matched. I saw her walk into the recovery room. I followed her.
The recovery room is a separate room for patients to wake up in the quiet and the dark while the anesthesia wears off. One of the three beds was rumpled and had the faint imprint of a recent body. I watched as Evangeline carefully made the bed, smoothing out any sign of anyone having slept there. She walked over to the cabinets on the side of the room where we keep extra supplies and pulled out a pair of those bright white scrubs. She then silently breezed past me out the door, towards the bathroom.
With growing dread I walked towards the cabinet and opened it. Inside were two other pairs of bright white scrubs, a pair of faded blue pajamas, some underwear and socks, all neatly folded in a short pile, a small toilet bag, the certifications she’d shown me at her interview, and a neat stack of pay stubs. There was cash envelope there, and inside was every cent of her pay. She’d cashed them, knowing I was so meticulous about the books I’d know if she hadn’t and hadn’t spent a dime. She could have done that right from the ATM in my lobby.
She came back and didn’t even seem worried I was going through her things. She just touched my shoulder to move me aside and placed her neatly folded robe and the slippers with the rest of her things. She was already dried off and in her scrubs, looking the same way she looked every day.
“Evangeline… did you get evicted or something?”
She turned to me and blinked. I’d somehow become fluent in the language of blinking, and I knew it meant no. She’d been living in the clinic since the day she started working there.
“Evangeline, do you have a religious disagreement with health codes? This isn’t as bad as lining up Defuncts on my shelf, but you can’t be living here! You can’t cook food in clinic…” But I knew that argument wouldn’t work. She was living on nothing but Randall’s ever-stocked snack drawer. I lost the words. I just waved towards the operating room.
“Would you calibrate the cloner?”
She silently moved to do my bidding, and I went into the front, served myself some cocoa with 10 marshmallows and plopped down in a chair. I normally barred employees from drinking the cocoa, that would cut into profits; but I had a cloner who was clearly a few dice short of a Yahtzee, and was not only expressing herself through discarded and deformed organs but living in my clinic and subsisting off the occasional 7-up. I had never dealt with this at Denny’s.
I closed my eyes and didn’t even open them when I heard Randall’s cheerful whistle, Nora’s groans and grumblings, and Straight’s tuneless hum. I sat in the front room in a catatonic state, unmoved by offers of coffee and offers of an MRI. My eyes didn’t open until I heard “Hey, Tia! Guess what, it’s a new quarter!”
Ralph. Just what I needed. My eyes snapped open and the first words out of my mouth were, “Problem, Ralph!”
Ralph and I have a history. A good one. He was a health inspector who came to my clinic when he had a problem, accepted a bribe when he knew I just needed some time to fix something, and I was also his only source of regular sex. Good old reliable Ralph would understand. The whole story just poured out of me, and in the end he stood there with wide eyes.
“Good God, Tia, why didn’t you call me? You look like shit! Sit down, I’ll call the police. Cripes, every week; I’ve got a cloner whose gone off the deep end.”
Ralph was masterful. He made me another hot cocoa, punched the speed dial on his cell phone, and in a few minutes he had a black and white cop car and a pair of uniforms there taking Randall’s, Nora’s, and Straight’s statement. And then they were leading her off in handcuffs. It all happened so fast I barely had a chance to croak out “Where will you take her?”
The senior uniform turned to me. “City Mental. They’ll evaluate her. She’ll probably be declared ADUW.”
Adult Dependent Unfit for Work. 10 times worse than being declared Vagrant. They would need to track down family or friend to care for her, or she’d be declared a Burden of the State and euthanized.
Next thing I knew I had woken up in my own bed at eight in the morning. I vaguely remembered Ralph putting me in a cab and being talked into letting Straight hold down the fort for a few days. Randall had given me a bag of sedatives.
I just lay in bed for at least a half an hour. I kept running the past couple weeks through my brain, wondering what I could have done differently. I thought about where Evangeline was right now, in a nice, bouncy room talking to a psychiatrist who was not concerned with fixing the poor girl, just evaluating whether or not she was worth the funds to support until she could reenter the workforce.
By the time you, whoever you are, is reading this, things may have changed. In my world, if you don’t work, you are given work. If you can’t work, the state won’t waste money on you if they can’t fix you. You are released to someone who cares enough to support you for the rest of your life, or if theres no one, you get a lethal injection. The only people who are declared so completely unsalvageable generally aren’t in a position to care when they’re put down.
Other countries rant and rave, but it’s worked. I haven’t seen a bum on these streets since I wore pigtails. I haven’t seen anyone homeless, starving, or unable to put some clothes on their kids. The Compulsory Work laws eliminated poverty, so I’ve never voted them down and I never will.
But Evangeline didn’t have family. I’d never been told as much, but I knew this instinctually. She wouldn’t have anyone to take her in. And for the first time in my life I couldn’t take the thought of someone shooting death up an ADUW’s arm.
I grabbed the number I’d begged off those uniforms and dialed from the phone next to my bed. I forced myself to breathe, be calm, and to sound both professional and annoyed.
“Oh, her?” The orderly replied, “Yes, ADUW, it didn’t take long with her. I’m searching for family now.”
My throat went dry. “Put me down as an unrelated, concerned party please.”
“You’ll take her? You’ll need to call up your lawyer to draw up Power of Attorney papers and finalize custody. I’ll give you to legal and they can set up a court date.”
I spent the entire day calling my lawyer, receiving calls from lawyers, and convincing the psychiatrist that I wasn’t some sicko who wanted complete legal control over a nearly catatonic young woman. By the time I was done it was time for me to head to clinic. I wasn’t tired, I was energized. No wonder Gandhi managed to live through that hunger strike, fighting the man gives you an adrenaline rush!
The clinic was Defunct-free by the time I got here, and Straight hadn’t blown the place up. In fact, with the exception of the paper bag with Evangeline’s things inside on my desk, it was like nothing had ever happened. The zap ring had been busted with much media fanfare, and Randall and Nora were back on their own rhythm again.
At the end of the night I caught a cab to City Mental. I took the bag of Evangeline’s things to her room. She stood, staring out her barred window in bright white pajamas and I saw they used old fashioned hospital ID bracelets here.
“Evangeline… I’m setting things up. They’re going to be releasing you to me in a few days. I’m going to leave your robe and slippers here, and take the rest of your things to my guest room.”
Evangeline blinked her acknowledgment.
“You know, I was going to upgrade that cloning machine. It’s not up to standard, you see, but you know after I replace it I could always sneak it home, and you could make your little figures all you want! I’ll put up some anti-microbial shelves in the guest room and get you some paper clips and push pins…” I babbled like that for God knows how long and left with the illusion that Evangeline loved the idea of being her old boss’s pet shut-in. I was even wondering if she would like me to put up bright white curtains.
The morning before our court date I picked up a blue suit, a pair of white shoes I spent three hours picking out, and some lipstick for Evangeline and drove over there. On the way I was wondering if Evangeline would look better with her hair up. An orderly saw me at the desk and gulped, and then he said he’d fetch the psychiatrist. I asked him why I needed to see the psychiatrist to give Evangeline her suit. He said, “I can’t say. He was going to call you in a few minutes anyway.”
I was led to his office, some guy named Dr. March, and he had the most serious face I’d ever seen a psychiatrist wear. Normally they’re a real smiley bunch.
“Ma’am… we’d like to apologize. We know how much you cared for Evangeline. We had no idea her anorexia was so serious…”
“One of her symptoms, I’m afraid. We were under the impression she was eating quite well under our care. But I suspect she had been purposefully starving herself since she was admitted. We found her dead this morning. I’m sorry.”
I walked out of there, completely numb. I remained numb for the weeks following. My life was almost the same again. I yelled at my daughters. They yelled back. But then I started staying up later just so I could eat breakfast with them. I needed extra yelling time with them all of a sudden. I promoted Straight, and gave myself a day off. He had one too. I hired a third cloner, even though I didn’t need one anymore, and worked it out so no one works more than 6 days. I’m not required to give a day of rest by law anymore, but I would feel guilty taking off that Tuesday when everyone else had the full seven. But I was using that day to find out who the hell Evangeline was.
I finally followed her certification to her permanent record at her college. Evangeline was the daughter of a doctor, and she had wanted to be a doctor. But by the time she was enrolling for school, no one in this country taught medicine anymore. She entered cloning certification courses. But that doctor dad of hers had died years earlier of something related to chronic pain and alcohol and she paid for school by working at the morgue, composting the dead.
No one goes for elaborate burials anymore. No one roasts themselves over an open fire and has their relatives spread themselves over baseball fields. It’s accepted by the American public that after you die, you are a lifeless hunk of meat that is quite good fertilizer after being broken down to its basic molecular parts. So Evangeline composted the dead while she learned not to make Defuncts during the day.
I can almost picture Evangeline alone at night with all the Defuncts that had faces, and then after she was robbed of her dream by the march of progress she just started considering her own self a Defunct.