In which the curse of future instinct comes home to roost!
The next few weeks passed peaceably enough. Oso was busy at work during the day, but would come home to find Bernadette and Agnes cooking together. Agnes had found a new life passion in cooking. The food was of the variety that would make Oso fat if eaten regularly: casseroles, mostly, made with cream sauces and potatoes and pastas. Agnes had a story for each casserole, too, because they reminded her of her mother and grandmother. He forced himself to eat them, for her sake, and worked out harder at the gym.
Things were peaceable—except at night when Agnes couldn’t sleep. Insomnia wasn’t part of her usual pattern. She had a history of sleeping like the dead and then taking naps as needed throughout the day. Now, as she put it, she couldn’t shut off her mind. She couldn’t stop the endless loop of thoughts in her mind—thoughts of the past, and thoughts of the future.
The neurologist she was seeing for follow-up appointments prescribed sleeping pills after consulting Oso and the neurosurgeon who had overseen the procedure. They were way out west with the surgery, however, and nobody knew how ordinary prescription medications would affect Agnes’s brain.
The first few weeks, the pills seemed to do Agnes good. So they breathed a little easier and allowed her to continue taking them.
And then she started going out with Bernadette and Adam when Adam was out of school. They shopped together, had their hair done, and to appease the child, went out for ice cream or to the skate park. Adam had decided he wanted to be a skateboarder, and Oso had dutifully bought him a skateboard.
At some point, she’d began asking nonstop philosophical questions. Bernadette wrote them down and passed them along to Oso, as important scientific research. Agnes, as already stated, had an above average IQ, but she’d been so lost in a land of disoriented present tense that grappling with deeper, less tangible questions wasn’t easy for her. Additionally, she’d been fairly isolated for years, with no idea of how the world had progressed.
What do you believe love is? Do you think I could still get married at my age? Do you think Minäs love? Do they have souls? If so, do they have carbon copy souls? Why are the young people today so disrespectful? Can I trust you? Can I trust Oso? Can I trust any human being?
The questions were endless, and Bernadette indicated that listening to the litany was tiresome—like spending all her time with one of her patients, instead of cutting the patient off after an hour. Agnes rarely spent time in seclusion, as Samson was there, as well as a duty nurse who visited once a day when both Bernadette and Oso were at work. When Bernadette wasn’t around, Agnes went through her litany of questions with Samson and the duty nurse.
Then the sleeping pills stopped working, and Agnes paced the hallways at night, speaking out loud—praying, from the sound of it. Oso would often wake up at the commotion and redirect her to her bedroom. He had her prescription changed, and the doctor added an anti-anxiety medication to go along with it.
The sleeplessness and questions stopped for a few days.
And then finally there came a day when the duty nurse didn’t show up at the regular scheduled time, when Samson had begun a time of intellectual exploration and had slipped off to the library to read poetry, when Adam went to a friend’s house after school, when Bernadette and Oso stayed late at work.
Oso was just packing his briefcase when his phone lit up. It was Bernadette. He answered, ready to tell her he’d talk to her in a few minutes when he was home. She rarely lived at her own apartment these days. Not that she’d conceded to a physical relationship with him. But he could see the opportunity was going to be there—soon.
“You have to come home. Now,” she said.
“What’s going on?”
“She swallowed the whole bottle of sleeping pills, plus who knows how much of what else. There are bottles all over the place. God, Oso, how many drugs was she taking?”
“Did you call 911?”
“Of course, I’m not stupid.”
“At this point, I’m so far away, I’ll have to meet you at the hospital. Keep me posted.”
Unfortunately, he got stuck in an accident-induced traffic jam on the I40 and before he arrived at Lovelace ER, his phone rang again.
“She’s dead, just come home,” Bernadette said. “The police want to talk to you.”
“Oh.” That was all he could manage.
“Oso, did you hear me?”
“Yes, I heard you. I don’t know what else to say, except thank God Adam’s at a friend’s house.”
“It’s possible if somebody were there, she might still be alive. She needed to be around people, talking constantly. We failed her.”
“Where was Samson?”
“I have no idea. He wasn’t here, though. I mean, he’s here now. The police are talking to him. They find the whole situation at this house peculiar. As they should.”
Oso grunted and hung up on her. Somewhere inside him, that small boy of twelve told him he was a worthless piece of shit. He was defective. He had to be defective. Normal human beings didn’t conduct experiments on hapless old women. Normal humans didn’t burn down people’s houses. Normal humans rescued others.
When he arrived, he took a deep breath, composed himself, and then entered what had once been his peaceful abode. Two officers instantly accosted him and assailed him with questions about Agnes, Tomi Corp, and the strange AI with enormous ears he had living with him. All of this information had been in the media: local, national, and international. The whole world knew Tomi Corp was in the on-going process of producing breathing biological androids. Likewise, Agnes’ story had, perhaps, become and even tastier morsel for journalists. Everybody knew about Tomi Corp’s advancements, except, apparently, these detectives.
Finally, they appeared to be satisfied—for the moment, pending the coroner’s investigation.
“I need to get out of here. I need to get a drink,” he told Bernadette.
“A drink? Right now? I don’t think that would be such a good idea.”
“What would you recommend? A therapy session?” his voice sounded nasty, even to himself.
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I’d suggest you need all the love and support you can get.”
“Right, who am I going to get that from? You despise me.” He stared directly into her big brown eyes, which were at this point puffy and red from crying, until she looked away. “Just say it. You despise me. No, don’t bother. I’ll take the drink instead.”
She shook her head. “And I was going to invite you and Samson to stay at my house tonight. After all the years I’ve put up with your shit. All the years I’ve been there for you. No, I won’t bother. But here, take this.” She slipped him a folded piece of paper. “She left a note. It’s addressed to you. The police probably want to see it, but I wanted you to have it first.”
“A suicide note? You can’t hide that from the cops, Berna. This is not like the last time, when we were kids in Socorro.”
“Just read it, okay? And then give it to the cops if you want.”
He unfolded the paper and read the note. It wasn’t long:
I’m sorry, Mr. Beñat. You’re a great man. This isn’t your fault. You were right when you said you could help me imagine the future. The problem is I don’t like the future I’ve imagined. I want to be with God instead. And my mama and papa. My real papa. Please forgive me, Agnes Walters.
Stephanie blew her nose on a napkin. Her granddad was right. The Agnes story was not pleasant. And yet, she seemed to remember a news article discussing the Tomi Corp scandal that had effectively stalled research in the area of human regrowth potential, whether it was of limbs or brain.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “That’s not the end of the story.”
“It’s not? Oh, because you married Grandma Berna, right?”
“That, too. There’s a final segment to the Agnes saga, but it will have to wait for another time.”
“Why were you so mean to Grandma?”
“Why was I mean to Grandma? It’s become easier for me to admit now that I was afraid she would hurt me again.”
“You were afraid of being vulnerable?”
“Yes, that’s an accurate assessment.”
“I’m glad you got over it or, you know, I might not be here.”
“At least you’re honest about what you consider important. Let it be a lesson to you.”
“What kind of lesson? Of my own selfishness?”
“No,” he snorted out a laugh. “Of the importance of producing a line of descendants. Children, grandchildren. Great grandchildren.”