Alain Was Here
by Phyllis Rudin
Allow me to introduce myself. Permettez-moi de me présenter. My name is Alain. I’m the crip who’s hitchhiking in Antonia’s brain.
How did I come to be here? Well, it all started when I fell out of a third-floor window if you can believe it. It was a case of over-exuberant dancing. Pathetic, huh? I mean who ends up a quad from a dancing accident, but overpartying was my besetting sin back then.
Next thing I know I’m strapped in a wheelchair at the Montreal General. Life sentence. Can’t move my arms or legs. Can’t talk either. At least not in the normal, verbal way. I have to tap out my thoughts and desires with a mouth stick, like a chicken pecking in the dirt. I can’t even breathe without a machine taking charge of my inhales and exhales. I wanted to commit suicide, but hel-lo?
So there I am, marking time, waiting around till pneumonia or C difficile comes along to do what I can’t when one of my doctors shows up on the ward to chat, an unusual occurrence since now that it’s been established I’m a hopeless case, the MDs don’t give me much face time. Anyway, he’s got a proposition, the guy says, settling in on my bed all buddy-buddy, arranging his lab coat so it doesn’t crease. Did I want to be involved in an experimental project, very cutting edge? One that could greatly improve my quality of life?
“Tell me more,” I tap out.
“How would you like to be able to experience life outside that chair?” Dr. Ségolin asks me, gesturing dismissively at all the electronic doodads on the chair that maintain me in the sub-par manner to which I’ve become accustomed. “How would you like to be back out in the world?” The good doctor doesn’t wait for me to reply. The answers go without saying. “Dancing, drinking, holding down a job, travelling, sex, saving the rainforest, whatever, it would all be there for you. The world would be your oyster again, like it used to be before,” he says, cupping his hands mollusc-wise.
I would have kissed him if only I could pucker. I was ready to tap out “where do I sign?” when he went on, “but the circumstances to arrive at those goals are a bit unusual. Bear with me, now. You have to keep an open mind.”
Uh oh. Here’s where it would all fall to shit. But what did I have better to do than listen, so I let him finish his spiel. At least it would pass the time. Now, what he and his team proposed doing, Dr. Ségolin explained, zooming right in on the nitty gritty, was to suction out the parts of my brain that do the thinking and all the sensory stuff, and implant them into the brain of a fully functioning healthy person. And from that perch in the other person’s brain, I could see all they see and hear all they hear. I’d be a permanent observer in that person’s life. A silent partner, kind of. I wouldn’t be living my life, I’d be living someone else’s. Not to worry though, he assured me, he and his team would beat the bushes to find compatible volunteers and I could make the final choice as to which one’s brain I wanted to be plunked into. That was the plan.
You’d think that a proposal like that, so science fictiony, so out of the blue would require some serious reflection on my part, but it didn’t. It beat the hell out of being a vegetable, so I tapped “I’m in” right then and there. I suppose I should have asked some questions first, stuff like, would it hurt (I’m a serious wuss), had they done it before, could I die in the process, was there an escape clause if I didn’t find it congenial in there, but it would have taken so long for me to tap all those questions out, it wore me out in advance and I decided to just go with the flow. This wouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone who knew me before. I was never much for advance thinking.
Things moved at warp speed after that. I’m guessing they were afraid I’d back out. My life became a flurry of questionnaires and tests and within just a few weeks they had me laid out on the table, ready to go under the knife. As for the actual procedure, I don’t remember any of that, thankfully. They had me doped up good. All I know is that when I came to, it was a new world.
What was it like, you ask, reawakening inside my vessel? Well, at first it was wild. And not in a good way. It felt like I was living in a pup tent in the middle of a hailstorm. Sounds were bombarding me from every direction, clunking and whooshing. I had a constant pounding headache, which seems strange. How could I have a headache without my own head? But that’s for later mulling. I couldn’t make out a single thing my vessel was saying or what was being said back to her. The words were like monkey chatter in the jungle. And my vision? All auras and fireworks. I was scared plenty, I can tell you, that all I’d done was exchange one hell for another, but then, gradually, things started to calm down, like the doctors promised. Right now it’s kind of echoey and blurry in here. Hangoverish is how I’d describe my present state, and if anyone would know, I would. For all that, it’s still better than being stuck in that chair with those cute orderlies Glenn and Rafik fluttering intimately around my person, and me unable to rise to the occasion.
I guess you’re dying to know why I picked Antonia, someone so polarly opposite of me to be my vessel. Well, news flash, I didn’t. The doctors lied, those scamps. To me and to her. When it came time to actually perform the procedure, turned out they didn’t have a pool of volunteers at all. They only had one. Her. It was take it or leave it. By then they had me so hyped I would have agreed to be implanted into the brain of a donkey. Which is how I came to be living inside the head of this woman.
So. First impressions. Antonia. You wouldn’t think that someone with a name like that, a name with such a lot of mouthfeel, would be so mousy. And such a doormat. She has to be one of the most unliberated women on the planet. She deserves a name like Mabel or Dot. Under the thumb of husband Nicholas. He is kind of hunky, I’ll give him that, but not my type. There’s something about him I can’t put my finger on. Details to follow. Now, how she landed him, a guy who had to be a hot ticket, isn’t clear to me, considering she’s, well, super-sized. And she’s such a homebody. If she’s not at her dinky part-time job, then she’s in their apartment sorting the darks from the lights. This is a woman who flosses and wears an apron and takes multi-vitamins. Hardly my kindred spirit. But I’m taking a wait-and-see attitude. It’s not like I have a choice.
For now let’s just say I’m settling in. To give you a sense of what I’m experiencing in here, I’d say it’s kind of like binge-watching on Netflix. All I’m missing is the popcorn. And the ability to turn the series off, of course. But so far, while it’s all so new to me, I actually don’t mind watching the Antonia show 24/7. What can I say? It’s a voyage of discovery.