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I Decline

According to my records, this is my 17th appearance in DSF. Here's to rounding that number out even more in 2020, because I keep playing writing games, and flash stories keep appearing as a result. ;)
I Decline.
With all due respect, sirs and madams and others, I am declining the technology awarded to me by the US Department of Geriatric Care. I know it is a small and inconsequential thing to you. Look at how simply you have engineered it, this memory keeper. Only a metal ball, the size of my fist, and that an older model now. I am sure you get them at a good rate, given how many you give out.
But it lets you do too much.
I use it faithfully when it arrived. How could I not? All the grandchildren and great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren pooled their money to buy a fancy UI for it, make it something that would remind me to download every day. They said--and here is something that will bring tears to a man's eyes, hearing his descendants say it, "We don't want you to die, Baba."
When I was young, I would have said the same. Dying was unimaginable, lying down and never getting up. But nowadays sometimes I think about it. I imagine lying in the woods under trees. It is cold, but I'm wrapped in a fluffy comforter and perfectly dry, lying there, listening to the rain that cannot touch me. Going to sleep.
I do want to live, to see their children, their children's children. I know that may not happen--already they're talking about licensing childbirth. Because there are so many and if no one dies--well you see the problem as well as I do.
I understand what this thing is meant to do. Every morning I have pressed the bubble on it to my forehead, let it store everything that's in my head. That way if I die during the day, they can download the memories into a shell body.
They say the rich get real bodies, grown for them, not metal and plastic shells. I believe it. The rich get things the poor do not and that is the way of life. We do get some things they don't, but none of them are things anyone would want: starvation, illness, ignorance. Despair.
That sounds more bitter than I mean it to be. I don't want you to think of me as a sour old man, shaking his fist at strange new technology. That's not it at all. That is not what I object to.
No. It would be a different beast if it were that simple. It's the review and revise function.
How can you think placing this in a person's hands will not destroy them as it has me? Because this machine doesn't replicate me sometime in the future. It holds a mirror up, shows me as I am now.
I am speaking, you must realize, of the self-editing toolkit. Yes, this is an advanced feature, one that I should not have access to without a trained technician to assist me. Guide me. Tell me what I should do. But my youngest great grandchild, the one being raised underwater so I don't see so much of them, they can hack anything.
So I called them and they showed me how to access it.
And how to use it to see all the pieces that make me up.
The pieces that made me strike a dog once. Or let my children go hungry. They never complained and at the time I thought, well, I'm the breadwinner, I need the food so I can keep on doing that. But then I think of Luka, and how small she is, and I know it is because of what I did, what I talked myself into doing, and my heart shrinks and shrivels, like a piece of paper gone wet and then dried again.
I can edit those parts out now, the ones I couldn't see before. Make myself into someone incapable of doing that. But the truth is, I did it. I lived it. And the one thing I won't let myself edit away? Memories.
I know, I know. That's s a different machine, even more expensive than this one. I hear it can even create memories you never had, doing things you always wanted to do.
You don't do them, of course. But you have the ability.
Sometimes people take them away with a kit like this. That girl last week who erased herself, removing every memory she had.
No one found out what it was she was escaping. They never will.
Maybe, like me, she wanted to escape herself and what she was. What life had made of her--or the other way around, aren't they the same, when you get down to it.
And so, anyhow, my great grandchild pulled up the menu for me, the one with all the warnings about self-access, the one you thought no one could get to, maybe. Who knows why you've done any of this?
I don't know. I'm getting carried away. That's something old age does when it's not regulated. Somedays the smallest thing can make me weep, or fly into a rage. You--and who is you? The makers of this machine, those who live the sort of life this machine makes possible. You've edited yourselves, mind and body, and I can tell it from the way you move, the way your skin glows from within, as though you carried a light in your belly, that fire fueling every movement.
When I opened up the editing screen, I didn't know what to do. What anything was.
But I can figure things out, so I did. I tapped and clicked inside my head, and I became acquainted with myself.
No one should get to know themself that well. The lens is too clear. There is no softening of the cruel things, the errors, the inadvertent unkindnesses, the selfish things disguised as something else. I had always thought myself not the best person, but kind at least, when I could afford to be. I'd covered over all the examples saying otherwise, and now here they were, all pretense stripped away and the horror of that will never leave me.
Are humans good or evil? The answer is this: we want to be good, but it's a fight. Not against evil, but selfishness, that singleminded ME that ignores everyone else. You can hate that urge, but it's also what holds your ego together, keeps you from being drowned in other people's needs. And yet it's all those selfish urges warring in your soul. Back and forth. Back and forth. It never stops.
I'm tired of that battle, and seeing it in your device only makes it more agonizing.
I've rambled long enough, and almost filled this paper. I enclose the machine in the original packaging and thank you, but no. I have erased all that it holds. There is just me, and I have been shattered and autumn is coming.
I will go to the woods and lie down. I will lie down and everything that is me will pass away.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, November 6th, 2020


This flash piece started, as so many do, with a writing game, where the prompt was to write a complaint letter about an abstract concept. That turned into my narrator, who finds the world has moved past him a little too quickly, and his letter regretfully conveying his reaction to the present from his family.

- Cat Rambo
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