Bellevue, Washington, USA. February, 2106.
Sarah’s tablet dinged a notification. It was Tommy, texting her from the bathroom. She hadn’t noticed that he’d gotten up from the table. She’d been looking past his empty tea mug, past the smattering of English muffin crumbs on and around his empty plate, at the trees outside. The evergreens, boughs laden, white with snow, rose from the white ground to the white sky — a bas relief in white. A generation ago, lowland snows west of the cascades were so rare that cities like Bellevue and Seattle hadn’t even kept snowplows to clear the roads. She laughed at the thought of a few inches of snow paralyzing an entire city.
She lifted her tablet.
Tomasz: I think this would be good for you.
He’d sent a link with a picture of that arch in the park in Greenwich Village: The Arthur Carter Journalism Institute — Certificate in Data Journalism, it said.
Sarah: New York? Really?
Tomasz: Not necessarily. There’s a remote learning option. Web courses, and video meetings with an advisor. It looks like there’s an optional capstone project with grant funding for travel.
Tomasz: It’s perfect for you. You’re already a news junkie, and you code like a monster.
The toilet flushed and she heard the water run in the sink, then the bathroom door opened.
“Think about it,” Tommy said, emerging. “What do you want to do with the next fifty years?”
She didn’t know how to answer that. Right now, looking at the trees in the snow seemed like a perfectly reasonable answer, but Tommy wouldn’t understand that.
“I have to go. I still have a job,” Tommy said, then added “For now,” with a smile.
He pecked her on the cheek, swept the loose crumbs from the kitchen table onto his empty plate with his hand, dumped the crumbs in the compost bin, and deposited his plate and tea mug in the dishwasher.
Outside the window the sky was uniformly white and steam went straight up from the chimneys of the houses out across the back yard. Without the sun or shadows, it was hard to know how much time had passed, but some time after he’d gone a thought occurred to Sarah and she picked up her tablet and looked at the text again.
How long had she had Tommy in her contacts as Tomasz?
She thought back. She had put his name into her phone as Tomasz before their first date — it had been the name on his Tinder profile, and that’s how it had stayed in her contacts, for thirty-three years, until she didn’t even see it anymore. Sarah had gone into that first date calling him Tomasz and come out calling him Tommy, and Tommy he had remained. She had dated Tommy, accepted Tommy’s proposal, and married him. Tommy had fathered their son. With Tommy she had bought and renovated the old twentieth-century split-level, and together they had raised the kid there. Tommy had taken the boy to piano lessons and baseball practice. Sarah had been in the bleachers with Tommy as they watched and understood that the boy’s future was in piano and not baseball. She and Tommy had bought the expensive acoustic piano and hired the best teachers and sent him to the conservatory and then sent him out into the world.
And now he was reverting back to Tomasz in her mind.
Back when they’d gone on that first date, only the rich could afford rejuvenation, but as she and Tommy passed their years together, they watched the price of treatment fall. Until one day their retirement fund became a rejuvenation fund.
The day after their twenty-eighth wedding anniversary, Sarah and Tommy had gone together for their first treatments, and for the past year she had looked at Tommy over her cereal bowl and over his tea mug at the breakfast table each morning. His hair and beard darkened and his skin tightened up and his muscle tone improved — not to the point of being young again — that was still out of reach of medical science — but at least no longer old. And Tommy had watched her and seen the same thing. Together they, like everyone, had seen first-hand the limits of rejuvenation. Another fifty or sixty years of middle-age was less than they wished for. But it was all they had, and so much better than the alternative. As that first year of rejuvenation came to a close, Sarah had looked at Tommy across the breakfast table, and found that she had stopped looking back at the past. Now fifty years stretched in front of her, and for the first time in a long time the world felt like it was getting bigger instead of smaller.
Sometime during that year, she looked over her cereal at Tommy, and began to wonder how he fit into those fifty years. Before rejuvenation, she had envisioned the two of them supporting each other, white-haired and frail, to some invisible inflection point, like where the snowy ground meets the white sky. That vision felt dated now. Now they looked out with hope on an entire second life, fifty more years, punctuated by a rapid and predictable end.
At first it seemed like a personal heresy, the thought that maybe she wouldn’t want to spend the next half century with Tommy. But as the real meaning of fifty more years of relative good health settled on her, so too did the thought that couples weren’t really meant to be together for seventy or eighty years. Tommy’s quirks and habits that she hadn’t noticed for fifteen or twenty years began to annoy her again. He texted her while he was taking a shit, which to her wasn’t so different from shouting from the bathroom, and only reminded her what he was doing in there. Then there was the way he managed to get crumbs from his English muffin all over the table, despite using a plate, or the way that he somehow always managed to leave one thing in the sink when he did the dishes. It even bothered her to see him putting orange marmalade on top of peanut butter on his English muffin, a combination that he adored and she found repulsive. She had long since come to accept these things as the cost of staying together. Before rejuvenation she’d seen that things would only get worse as they got older. They’d need each other. Tommy might end up having to wipe her ass one day, and for that she would tolerate a lot. But now it seemed obvious that neither would be wiping the other’s ass. Barring some catastrophe, their health would crash, fifty or fifty-five years from now. They’d go into hospice for a year or two, like everyone, and that would be that.
Worse though than those day-to-day annoyances, it had become plain to her that Tommy didn’t see her anymore. Sure, for a while there’d been a kind of renaissance in their lovemaking as their skin tightened and their bodies firmed up and their hair darkened. But in the ened, Tommy was, inside, the same person he had always been, and so was she. There were no surprises. She saw Tommy not as he was at that moment, but rather as a composite of all the ways that she’d known him. He saw her the same way, and he was incapable of seeing her as she was now, in this moment. And so they were, in some important way, invisible to each other.
Tommy had been the first start talking about choosing second careers.
“You should go all-in,” she’d said to him one morning, when he floated the idea of law school at UW or Seattle U. “Don’t limit yourself locally. Shoot for the best school that will take you.”
And that’s what he was doing: Stanford, Yale, Harvard, NYU.
When she turned her head at the right angle, crystals of frost showed on the outside of the window, geometric outlines against the shadows on the trees trees, invisible against the snow and sky. She thought she’d bundle up and take a walk in the snow later. First, though, she tapped the link that Tomasz had sent her and read the program description, looking for the application requirements.
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