By Antony Buonomo
When they are out, it is unnerving to people that mother and son should sit so closely together. She puts food in his mouth and strokes his cheek and he likes to put his head on her shoulder.
But they are not mother and son, and when they kiss, long and passionate, they feel the abrupt change in the people around them. It is like a needle jumping on an old record. They enjoy it, judging the moment for maximum impact.
They stand and she touches her black bracelet to the small cube in the middle of the table. There is small hum and vibration, and they begin to leave wordlessly.
They didn’t need to speak, in fact they rarely spoke now.
They walked out hand-in-hand, fingers tapping and caressing, sending messages to each other through their private code of squeezes and strokes. She laughs out loud when he makes a joke about a short fat man sitting next to a beautiful tall woman and the whole restaurant turns and looks.
They get into a cab, punch out their destination on the display and pay. The car, no driver, whirrs into motion. They sit in the wide front seat, open the windows to the warm air and watch the exuberant midnight chaos of Naples slip by.
A young couple ride by on a scooter, facing each other, hugging and kissing, the scooter effortlessly gliding through the traffic.
In the cab, the young man looks out at the couple. He watches them until they disappear. The woman notices him watching, and she pulls him closer.
Soon, the busy streets get narrower, then wider but emptier, and then they leave the carnival behind. When there is no city and no lights, he lies down on the seat and puts his head on her lap and she strokes his hair. They see how big the sky is and their place in the stars.
Later, in bed, he is awake and she is half asleep, her hand between his legs gently stroking.
“Give me twenty.” He says.
“That’s too much.” She whispered. “I can’t.”
“I want to. I really want to.”
He turns and looks at her in the half light. He leans over and kisses her forehead, her lips, her neck and her breast.
“Please. I can take twenty. Twenty would be perfect for us.” He says.
At that moment, in the darkness, feeling the solidity of the young body next to her, she is aware of the weight of her years, those that had already passed and those infinitely heavier that were yet to come.
Eventually, she just says, “I have the money. I have the money for twenty.”
He gently lifts her arm and kisses and licks the sweat from the grey hair he finds.
“I know someone who can do it,” he says.
She traces a line with a fingertip down from his shoulder, across his rib cage and down his thigh. She makes some taps and swirls on his leg. The movements say; “no, I can’t do that to you, you are too beautiful and the price is too high.”
More caresses and taps; “and it’s dangerous.”
He gently touches and strokes her lips and cheek and this said “what are we if I can’t do this for you? I don’t care how many years I have if I can’t have them with you. I don’t care about the danger.”
She caresses his taut belly and then moves downwards. “You will be old” she is saying.
He takes a nipple in his mouth and gently kisses it. “And you will be young” this is saying.
In the morning she wakes and sees the glow of a screen from another room and hears his voice speaking.
He finishes, comes in, gets under the sheet, wraps himself around her and squeezes. He tells her it will be painful. He tells her that it will be more pain than can be imagined.
Her hand on his upper arm just says “when?”
He shuffles his head down her body, under the sheet, until he can feel hair under his cheek and his nose is full of her scent.
His fingertips move along her hip and this means that they must go now.
One hour later they are waiting, parked, at the side of a deserted country road. The meter of the cab ticking over.
They are leaning on each other, windows open, listening to the sun warming the earth.
In the distance they see another vehicle approaching. They see the dust long before they hear the hum of the motor.
They watch as it gets nearer, then slows down and when it stops next to them they clasp hands but never take their eyes off the other car. It is completely black with darkened glass. The woman is sitting nearest and when the dark window lowers, she is an arm’s length from the figure in the other car.
It is a young girl, no more than nine, probably sitting on a cushion. The girl reaches out. A slim pale arm with a dark metallic bracelet at the wrist.
He squeezes the woman’s hand; don’t do it. Now I don’t want you to do it. I’m scared. I just want you the way you are, I don’t care how for long.
I have to, she squeezes back. I’m too scared not to do it now. And then the woman reaches with her own arm out towards the young girl and touches the girl’s bracelet with her own. There is a tiny chime and then the woman feels her bracelet tap her skin as confirmation that the money has been transferred.
“It’s all gone. We have nothing now,” she says to him.
“But soon we will have everything.” He says.
She touches his cheek and says, using her mouth and words, “we already have everything, but we are greedy.” And then she smiles.
“You’ve got to come with me now.” The little girl speaks, and they both turn. “He says you have to come now.”
They nod and get out of the car. The morning sun is already hot and the woman closes her eyelids and turns her face to the sky. Then she opens her eyes and looks down at the back of her veined hand. Some parts look like paper. He sees what she is thinking and he takes her hand and kisses it.
The back door of the black car opens and they climb in.
The little girl turns and looks at them. “Get closer together.” They hesitate for a second, then shuffle closer and put an arm around each other.
The little girl is on her knees now, facing them. She brings up a small silver canister. She grips it in two hands, aims it at them and then uses both thumbs to press the top. The cloud of gas hits them and within a few seconds they are sleeping, slumped on each other. The girl turns to the front again. The car starts to move away.
After the blackness, they wake.
They have stopped in the courtyard of a large house. They are in the shade but the heat of the air tells them they have travelled into the early afternoon. The car door slides open and the little girl is walking towards them, emerging from the house. She is walking carefully, small arms trying to control a large metal tray holding two cups of water. Little white teeth biting her bottom lip in concentration.
“You should drink this,” she says as she stops near the car, arms trembling slightly with the effort.
Stumbling, they step out of the car, stretching and supporting each other. Then he takes the cups from the tray and hands one to the woman. They drink deeply and then put the cups back on the tray.
The little girl says, “you should go in now, he wants you to hurry up.”
A few minutes later they are each sitting in a plush leather armchair in a wood-panelled office.
An old man sits across from them, he looks at them for a long time before he speaks.
“I believe you have asked for a transfer of twenty years, is that correct?”
“You understand you have made your decision? There is no return now. You already know how much pain there will be. There is no way to avoid that.” His voice is gentle.
The woman reaches out and takes the hand of the young man. Silently they devote their lives to each other, surging memories of happiness and gratitude, bright as the sun. In split seconds the shared memories tumble over each other, soar and make a tear in each of their eyes. They smile.
Then their expressions change at the same time; confusion, then alarm and panic. They look at the old man in fear.
“The process has begun. We have found everything is smoother if the subjects are relaxed for as long as possible.”
The old man stands and comes around to them. He lays a soothing hand on each of them.
“The two cups of water you drank contained two sets of paired of nano-particles. Billions of pairs. Exchanging information from your base cellular level, preparing to restructure bone, flesh and muscle. Taking from one,” he looks at the woman, then he turns to the young man, “sending to the other. Transmitting information that will enable the physical changes; the transfer of mass and matter. Very soon, the pain will be immense. I am sorry.”
The young man is sobbing and the woman has a tear running down her face. They clench each other’s hand and inside they are screaming don’t go, don’t leave me.
The old man moves back. At the same moment, the leather chairs seating the woman and the young man, start to recline. The appearance of leather shimmers, then disappears, the surface becoming metallic. The shape changes from chair to shallow basin which then levitates gently from the ground.
The old man turns to face one of the book-lined walls. The wall flickers, and the illusion of wood makes way for glass doors which glide open soundlessly. The woman and the young man, still holding hands, drift through the opening. The old man follows.
The room they enter is dark, with a pool of soft light over a monolithic metallic box at the far end, and as the pair continue towards the box the little girl comes to stand next to the old man.
They watch as the metal beds carrying the couple, writhing in pain now, stop and then seem to dock with the giant box.
The little girl walks towards the groaning man and woman. In the midst of searing pain the couple scream their love for each other through their fingertips. With surprising strength the little girl prises apart the lover’s hands just as the shallow edges of the metal tables start to grow upwards to form a capsule.
The woman and the young man’s wide eyes lock on each other; panic, love and fear twist their faces as they suddenly realise this is the last time they will ever see each other as they are now. The last time they will see the person they fell in love with.
Warm liquid begins to fill the capsules as the sides continue to grow and curve inwards to create two dark cylinders, each enclosing one of the couple. They cry out loud their love, each having the same thought; I want the last sound I hear to be your voice.
The crying and pounding becomes muffled, then stops.
The little girl turns and walks back to the old man. He looks lovingly down towards her, tenderly stroking her hair and then taking her hand when she offers it. They both smile a little sadly. Her small fingers tapping and squeezing on his rough skin, saying, “do you remember? Do you remember when that was us?”
He nods his head, tears filling his eyes. “I still miss you every day,” his fingers tell her.
“Will it go wrong for them too?” She asks.
“I don’t know.”