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Author Topic: EP516: Married  (Read 1644 times)
eytanz
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« on: January 08, 2016, 08:25:15 AM »

EP516: Married

By Helena Bell

read by Khaalidah Muhammad-Ali

---

The last part of himself my husband will lose to his ghost will be his teeth. There will be a graying out, a glint of silver as the calcium is absorbed, repurposed. A few may be pushed out to fall onto his pillow like pale, rotten splinters. The process will take days or only hours depending on the molecular compatibility between the human and Sentin. My husband has excellent compatibility, they tell me. We are so lucky.

When my husband and his ghost sleep, I lift the corners of his mouth and peer inside him with a dim flashlight. Incisor, cuspid, molar. I count the line of them and wonder at what age each came in. I think of his older brothers tying one end of a string around one of his baby teeth, the other to a brick to be thrown from a second floor balcony. I think of the first apple he ever tried to eat, of pulling back to find a tiny bump of white against the red skin. Sometimes I count his teeth twice, itching to run my finger along his gums to feel for the metal threads racing through his body. The doctors tell me we have decades left, but they have been wrong before.

My husband’s ghost began as a silver fist clenched at the center of his spleen. A team of technicians placed it there, a tangle of wires and other bits which they claimed would absorb and reconstitute his damaged tissue. Sentin is not self-aware, they said; it is not alive in the usual sense. It can neither feel nor understand, merely mimic the thing which came before. When it senses potential failure, it stretches its roots like a weed, eliminating the weak and buttressing the strong.

We each held the ball of putty in our hands, pulling and stretching it to see if we could break it. We marveled at how it snapped back to its original, perfect shape each time.

“It is not yet FDA approved,” the surgeon warned. “But we’ve had remarkable success thus far.”

Lungs, heart, liver: these are still my husband’s. The saphenous vein in his left leg, his kidneys, arteries, left hand, and his lips: these things are the ghost’s. There is nothing in the body which does not eventually fail, and thus the Sentin reaches out, settles in the crevices of age, and seeks to change it.

In the morning, my husband’s ghost showers and dresses. He cooks four eggs: sometimes scrambled, sometimes fried. He undersalts. He reads the paper on his computer while I scrub the dishes in the sink. We compare schedules. He has meetings all day but should be home in time for dinner. I have three operations scheduled: all wisdom teeth extractions. I should be home in time to cook dinner.

“Good,” he says. “I’ll see you then.”

He kisses me with his ghost mouth. I let him.

In the evening, my husband’s ghost looks at me through my husband’s eyes, and speaks to me with my husband’s tongue. When I close my eyes, they are resolved into a singular wave function. He doesn’t like it when I listen to him with my head down, or turned to the side. He wants me to watch him, to see his ghost lips move while he tells me about a timing error regarding the statute of limitations.

“The client is fucked,” he says.

“SOL!”

“What?”

“Shit out of luck. Statue of Limitations. They have the same acronym. I thought it was amusing.”

“Oh,” he says.

My husband never found me funny. Neither has the ghost. Something they have in common.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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Chairman Goodchild
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« Reply #1 on: January 09, 2016, 06:56:59 AM »

This one really threw me off.  I thought, frankly, the protagonist was mentally ill, and the way she viewed her husband was incredibly creepy.  There was no attempt at all to communicate with her husband and talk about the changes he was going thru with him, instead she considers him a dead manikin impostor of her real husband, and counts his teeth at night after he falls asleep as a way of measuring his humanity.  There's no sense of any connection between the two.  And there's no reason any of this was her husband's fault; he was dying, and now that he's received life-saving surgery that's transformed his body, the narrator finds her husband unbearable but doesn't leave him.  Instead, she has a child with him, and doesn't seem to be the least bit grateful that medical technology has allowed this to happen.  At one point, she implicitly fantasizes about pushing him overboard into the middle of the ocean in front of their daughter to get rid of him, neverminding the torture he would suffer at the bottom of the sea.  

There's no sense of bittersweet here, that altho she's losing her husband's original body, he still is alive and they're able to have kids together.  Instead, she views him as an imitation monster.  I think the audience was supposed to sympathize with the protagonist, but I'm not sure.   I definitely did not.  And that's fine, I've enjoyed many stories with unlikable protagonists before, but there was always something else to draw me into the story.  I wasn't sure what I was supposed to latch onto here to keep me from being alienated by this woman's completely self-centered worldview.  
« Last Edit: January 09, 2016, 07:04:53 AM by Chairman Goodchild » Logged
Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #2 on: January 10, 2016, 07:22:09 PM »

I felt like maybe we were getting a really deep insight beyond what even the protagonist realized was going through her mind. The way the story moved us towards the place where she could admit that how she felt about the technology.

It struck me that this is exactly how many of us feel about new technologies; for most people, there isn't really a deep understanding of the ramifications until they're already stuck with it. Think about how many people complain about the supposed effects of phones and social media on millenials.

Think about how profoundly self-driving cars will impact our freedom of movement and our economy.

It's a subtle thing.

But you're right about the protagonist not dealing with it very well!
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2016, 04:15:48 PM »

I agree with the Chairman.  I don't think that we are supposed to like the narrator at all.  And, if we are supposed to like her, I certainly didn't.
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ancawonka
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« Reply #4 on: January 12, 2016, 08:30:44 PM »

I liked this one, more so because of the effective narration. Khalida's voice is so ... reasonable. And yet the story was so chilling.

As the other comments have already said, the narrator was not very likeable (Why can't you just talk to your husband!  Augh!), but this is not what happens in stories about people growing apart. The main character is slowly growing old, and the world around her is changing into something she can't recognize. Her husband's physical body is changing into a machine before her eyes, and she can't really trust it (or him), but she doesn't trust herself, either, so she doesn't tell him.

I enjoyed the little touches that hint at what she does for a living (Dentist!) that frame the story in a particular way.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #5 on: January 22, 2016, 10:34:10 AM »

I thought the speculative element here was really neat. 

I don't think we're supposed to like the protagonist.  I think Tango Alpha Delta is right about this being a story moving us toward a place where she can admit how she feels about the technology. 

I don't think that it's even that she's a bad person or anything, but the changes to her husband have shifted him into the "Uncanny Valley" in her perception where he's very very humanish but just enough is off to make a profound revulsion reaction in her.  While this is not fair to him, either the person he was or the person he is becoming, I'm also not sure that anyone can reasonably cast the first stone for her reaction, because I think the Uncanny Valley is pretty universal--what exactly triggers it might vary a bit from person to person but I think everyone experiences it, and how much worse could it be if it was your spouse?
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Zelda
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« Reply #6 on: January 24, 2016, 02:07:25 AM »

My feelings about this story are very similar to Chairman Goodchild's.

I think the protagonist (who I didn't like) stopped loving her husband long before he had the operation that she claims turned him into a ghost. In fact, I'm baffled why these two stayed together. Even with a child I don't understand why one of the spouses didn't insist on a divorce. The protagonist's detachment from and conempt for her husband are so strong that I can't believe he and the daughter weren't aware of them. The behavior of both husband and wife is inexplicable to me.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2016, 10:53:50 AM »

I think the protagonist (who I didn't like) stopped loving her husband long before he had the operation that she claims turned him into a ghost. In fact, I'm baffled why these two stayed together. Even with a child I don't understand why one of the spouses didn't insist on a divorce. The protagonist's detachment from and conempt for her husband are so strong that I can't believe he and the daughter weren't aware of them. The behavior of both husband and wife is inexplicable to me.

I have said that about real-life marriages more than once.  I don't find "why the hell are they still together" questions to make a marriage implausible in fiction, as a result.  :/
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Zelda
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« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2016, 03:19:47 AM »

I didn't say I found the behavior implausible. I said I found it inexplicable. The absence of any mention of a reason why the wife stayed with her husband felt like an omission because she seemed to be telling us about her most intimate feelings about her marriage.
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jimscreechy
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« Reply #9 on: January 28, 2016, 07:02:54 AM »

Couldn't get past the narration, totally unsuited to this story ZZZZZzzzz.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #10 on: January 28, 2016, 09:21:03 AM »

Couldn't get past the narration, totally unsuited to this story ZZZZZzzzz.

I thought the narration was fine. How was it unsuited to this story? 
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #11 on: January 29, 2016, 05:17:08 PM »

Well, it certainly made cleaning the kitchen grout more interesting! I empathized with the main character and her delusions/obsession. There are people with specific brain lesions that think their friends/family have been replaced by aliens and there are those with excessive paranoia and there are those with obsessive worries about losing a partner. I found that the speculative element nested neatly inside the psychological issues that the MC displayed.

Did I miss-hear or did she too have the silver stuff inside her? I had a niggling suspicion that she was also in denial about her own state? But perhaps I projected that onto the piece.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting psychological study.
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“My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world and exiles me from it.”
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zoanon
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« Reply #12 on: January 31, 2016, 03:43:17 PM »

Did I miss-hear or did she too have the silver stuff inside her? I had a niggling suspicion that she was also in denial about her own state?

I'm pretty sure I heard that too, she seems deep in denial to me.
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Dwango
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« Reply #13 on: February 03, 2016, 09:26:17 AM »

The irrational fear she has is that kind of fear you see in a lot of 50s movies, like the Thing or Invasion of the Body Snatchers.  She has this obsession with the changes in her husband and how he is no longer the man she loved, tied to the technology.  He is the same, but he is not the same.  It's a look into the fear people have over new technologies and it exemplifies the irrationality that can be attached to it.  Her husband was saved, but she can't get past the differences as new horrors for her.

When I was a kindergartner, I had a friend who was a girl, and we would play with dirt and push each other on the swing.  Then one day she came in with a unitard for the dancing class.  It changed my whole perspective on her and she suddenly became alien to me.  I didn't want to play with her anymore because I thought the girl dancers were weird.  It was an irrational distaste for the whole tutu dress the dancers wear, and I avoided her after that.  It's similar to that kind of weirdness the protagonist is handling, only with someone so close as her husband.

As for her not leaving her husband, there are quite a few people who believe that marriage is for life, no matter what.  Just saying. Smiley
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Tango Alpha Delta
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« Reply #14 on: February 05, 2016, 11:38:49 PM »


As for her not leaving her husband, there are quite a few people who believe that marriage is for life, no matter what.  Just saying. Smiley

...and at least part of the tension was driven by her doubt that he was still alive. "No matter what" only goes so far, at least that's the idea she is grappling with.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #15 on: February 28, 2016, 11:01:32 AM »

I appreciate the comments here because I hadn't thought to expand the metaphor to how we adapt (or not) to any pervasive new technology. I kept wishing we could get some clues as to how the husband was feeling. Did he feel like a ghost? We are so deeply into the wife's head that we can't even read whether he's having an emotional response to her utter rejection.

Yesterday while I was volunteering with a group of students who are 13-17, we were missing one girl who is 14. I asked if someone could text her, but the students universally agreed that we would get a faster response if someone snapchatted her. I thought this was hilarious and suggested the picture be one of the whole group with her spot empty. Naturally, we got a response back within 3 minutes (she couldn't come). All that to say, I'm only 31 and was pretty floored that texting was no longer the preferred communication method (their second choice would have been to DM her on twitter).
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #16 on: November 10, 2017, 11:21:24 PM »

I loved the narrator's voice and thought it suited the story very well. Her calm voice added to the subtle horror quite effectively.

I am a bit ambivalent about the story. It was odd and creepy on so many levels. I completely agree with the main character; this "sentin" technology really creeps me out and I would not want it in me. So in that respect I did relate to the MC. I also appreciated this glimpse into what is clearly a disturbed mind, because of the way the MC herself reacts very creepily to the sentin in her husband. I could not relate to the MC on this, but I did appreciate hearing this perspective. Mostly, though, I found the story slow moving and I couldn't really get into it.
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