What if your grief was projected onto your body for all to see? This short story imagines a future where this is as commonplace as going to get a physical. This is the third of four excerpts from our book, AFTERMATH: Explorations of Loss & Grief, coming in April 2018.
THE WOUNDS WE WEAR
by Joy Kennedy-O’Neill
The new intern smiles at me, and waves. Her wrist has a black hole, a gash so deep there’s nothing else to see. No bone. No flesh. It’s like her hand is floating above her arm. I know the hole is just a projection from her temple’s implant, but god, it seems so real. Past suicide attempt? Or maybe she’s a cutter?
My boss wears a hole from his heart down to his gut. Daughter died. Messy divorce. The guy pushing the coffee cart has a black gash at his throat. Maybe he said something he regrets. He doesn’t talk much.
The new intern takes a coffee from the cart and looks at me again. She motions to a second cup, smiling. An invitation. All I can do is stare at the hole in her wrist—blacker than the dark roast java.
Everywhere I look, I see people’s pain. Their neural implants throw it, like magic lantern patterns, all over their bodies. Does it make them proud?
It’s been nearly a year since cancer took my Alice. I still sleep on my side of the bed. The gauzy winter sky looks flat and pulled tight, like a cold sheet.
After work, my sister Janice comes over and I tell her that the intern might be hitting on me.
“It’s too soon,” I say, fiddling with my coffee spoon.
“Well, how would she know? You don’t wear an e-Pat,” she says, pointing to the empathy pathos dermal on her temple. It’s metal. Small as a B-B, glowing soft blue.
“I don’t want to wear one.”
“But you expect everyone to know what you’re feeling, yet don’t show it. You don’t project it.”
This from a woman who squirreled four diaries under her mattress when we were kids and threatened to kill me if I ever read them.
I shake my head. “I just don’t want one.”
“Why not? You have the latest phone. You wear holo-glasses, buy the latest gadgets.”
“It’s not the tech,” I shrug. “It’s just…”
“Remember when everyone thought no one understood them? That no one knew what they were going through?”
I wonder if she remembers the day when I read her diaries. The day when I realized all her black eye-liner and one-note “fines” and sarcastic eye rolls meant that she was just as unmoored as I was from our parents’ divorce. I wonder if she remembers our big fight, when we broke two lamps throwing books at each other. How we sobbed and hugged in the corner afterwards like two boxers worn out in the ring.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joy Kennedy-O’Neill holds a PhD in literature and teaches English at a small college on the Texas Gulf Coast. She’s been published in Strange Horizons, Nature, Flash Fiction Online, Daily Science Fiction, and New Orleans Review. More stories are forthcoming in Galaxy’s Edge and The Cimarron Review. Find her at http://JoyKennedyOneill.com.
If you enjoyed this excerpt, we hope you will purchase the book to read the story in its entirety. And check back next month for another excerpt!