Cheeseburger Brown CHEESEBURGER BROWN: Novelist & Story-wallah
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Simon of Space
A novel from Chester Burton 'Cheeseburger' Brown
Simon of Space, an original novel by Cheeseburger Brown, photo-illustration by Matthew Hemming


When I feel a little lost I like to sink into bed and let myself be hypnotized by hospital routine. It takes me back to my early childhood a few weeks ago when the only place my bewildered mind could find comfort was in the clockstep march of the nurses' schedule.

And so this morning I didn't get up. I sat in bed and watched the world unfold.

Weeks ago when my words still failed me I witnessed these events like a pet -- reading posture, smelling sweat. We were watered and fed, tended and turned by a regular cycle of familiar faces, young women and men and robots with warm hands and soothing voices. Their every exchange was a wonder to me, and I struggled to lend meaning to it all using the only cues I could: micro-movements, shifts in weight, twitches in the face, flicks of the eyes, catches in the breath...

With language's return ward life gained a certain amount of chewable context.

By careful attention I learned that Nurse Hiwai had a new lover even before she told Nurse Wennel, and then Nurse Wennel told everybody else. I knew Nurse Randa alternately loved and hated Dr. Pent, and I felt the bloom of bad news waft down the hall a full quarter hour before they came to tell poor Omefrey his wife hadn't survived the crash.

After breakfast they fluff our pillows, up one row of beds and then down the other.

I confess that I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be doing. Is there some better way to come to terms with what lies before me than mulling over the infinitude of that which I don't know? I'm not sure keeping this journal helps at all. And if Dr. Pent is right, there are people back home waiting for me, worried sick over me. How can I justify leaving them at the mercy of their anxieties?

And yet as I look around the busy ward I cannot ever imagine leaving this home.

Dr. Pent came by and asked if he could read my journal. I said I didn't mind. He thumbed through my two entries quickly, his expression unreadable. "These are perfectly normal feelings you're having," he told me. "I'll check in with you tomorrow."

"I'll be sure to make a note of that in my journal."

If he detected my sarcasm he failed to show it.

A couple of hours after supper I got itchy feet. Irritable, restless and heavy minded I flopped out of bed and took a stroll through the quiet dimness of the evening ward. Most of my fellow patients were already asleep, and the rest were plugged into one kind of media or another. The only voices came from the intermittent, echoing murmurs of the nurses' intercoms.

Somewhere somebody's life-lending machine was beeping in a slow rhythm. I tried to find the source of the sound for a while, but ended up getting turned around in one of the dark corridors. That's how I came to be standing outside of Crushed Head Faeda's room.

"Is that you, Mr. Fell?" she called, startling me.

I looked at the number on the door. "Faeda?"

"Come in and talk a while, won't you?" she asked. After a moment's consideration she added, "You're a dung-sucking sweat flea. I'll peel your throat."

I stepped inside. Faeda has a private room full of flowers and prayer grasses. The light was low and amber save for the blue glow cast from a small reading plate Faeda was cradling in the lap of her hospital chemise. "I haven't seen you around much lately," I said conversationally, sitting on a chair by the bureau. "Have you been cooping yourself up to read?"

"They've made me a prisoner in my own room because I won't stop biting people," she explained, picking up the plate. "I'm reading poetry. Do you care for poetry, Mr. Fell?"

"I have no idea," I said.

"She never used to," said Crushed Head Faeda, caressing the edge of the reading plate for a moment before thumbing it off. "But I do."

"She who?"

"Before-the-accident-Faeda," she replied. "She never found a way to let poetry in. It bored her. But I can't get enough of it, you festering cockworm."

"It's good to be open minded," I smiled.

Crushed Head Faeda smiled back, which was somewhat ghastly. Faeda had obviously been an achingly beautiful girl before the accident, and in profile she still was. But when she turned her face you forgot the black-lashed intensity of her almond-shaped left eye and found yourself buried in the calamity of the other: squinting, flickering, dilated, mad. The right side of her forehead was a wet-looking field of bruise and gauze, her head half-shaven, crisscrossed by angry white lines of fuse. When she spoke the left side of her mouth hung slack, mimicking the motions of the right side in a series of irregular tics after a few seconds delay. She drooled, and coughed behind a hand twisted into a bird-like claw.

Faeda's cognitive abilities and her personality had been fundamentally deformed by trauma to her brain. She cannot control her inhibitions, and is prone to sudden bouts of rage and lust and fear. I like her anyway, though. We're friends.

"I'm going away tomorrow," she said, throwing an empty cup at my head.

I dodged it. "Oh?"

Faeda came to the hospital just a few days after I had. I never did understand the specifics of her mishap, but I gathered she had fallen from a severe height and absorbed most of the shock of impact with her skull. The resulting damage was very serious, but it was explained to me that because Faeda was very wealthy she had periodically had her mind inscribed into a kind of crystal as a precaution against just the sort of the thing that had befallen her. Faeda was not in therapy: she was simply passing the time until the back-up copy of her mind arrived by courier, so that the doctors could rebuild her brain and she could resume her life where she had left off as a healthy person.

"My mind has come. They told me after supper. They say the operation is tomorrow." She ran her fingers over the seams on her pate, a funny twitch running through the right side of her face. A tear ran down her cheek, and then another.

"That's good news, isn't it?" I prompted.

"For her it is, the mung-booted bitchwipe," spat Faeda, turning away. "How much of me will survive in her, if any?" She picked up the reading plate and hurled it at the wall, smashing it. "Will she let me read poetry, do you think?"

"Maybe you'll make her a fuller person," I suggested.

"Maybe I'll die," she replied icily. "Inside of her."

There was a bit of a lull in the conversation then, which Crushed Head Faeda broke by launching a spoon at me. It caught me squarely in the brow, causing me to flail sideways and lose my seat. She only throws silverware at people she really likes, so I took this to mean the moment we were sharing together was one of special intimacy. I stood up and rubbed my forehead, wincing. "Well, I don't want to keep you from your reading..."

"What about you, my sweet Simon? What's happening with you?" she asked, taking my forearm softly and fixing me with her stable eye.

"They want me to go home. To"

"To become him."

"Him who?"

"He that was before you. Before-the-accident-Simon. And then you, Simon -- this Simon -- will die." Tears streamed down her cheeks. She squeezed my hand warmly, and sighed with a serene compassion. Her good eye sparkled. "I will piss on your face," she promised.

Food for thought.

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