I had another bad day at work today. As a senior, and by senior I mean my expiration is past 65 years old, I'm required to contribute three decades of civil service before I retire. This year they have me in the county hospital as a counselor. It's much easier on my body than my last assignment in railway construction, but curiously, just as tiring on my mind. At only 32 I often feel unqualified to give advice to those in pain, but at the same time I feel that I'm starting to merge with my timer. I've always been told I have an old soul.
My first patient this morning was a healthy young woman, Liz, whose timer had but 2 years left. I've always envied the lives of the platinum class. Platinum being timers shorter than 35 years. The platinum people were always in the spotlight- actors, singers, athletes. People who peaked in the prime of their youth before expiring. Being able to dedicate their lives to fame, greatness. It was something I thought about a lot as a child.
Liz is a violinist for the local symphony. She came to me this morning to discuss her frustration with her lack of production in the symphony. She slumped in her seat and after a few minutes she was ready to share.
"I always thought I would sell out symphony halls on my own. That I'd have my own albums, televised concerts, everything."
"Do you still enjoy performing?" I asked.
"Of course I do," she snapped. "It's what I do. It's what I've always done."
"Being a part of a symphony is about unison, cohesion." I said. "Why do you feel the need to stand out?"
She glared at me for a moment and looked at my timer. Just below the jawbone on the right side of my head, like an old deli ticket. It read that I still had 38 years.
"You wouldn't understand." Liz whined. "You're not even at midlife yet. You have all the time in the world to leave your mark. I'm only 24. My last year will probably be spent in bed too sick to get up. My hair will fall out and my skin will dry and wrinkle. I'm out of time to make my mark."
Liz poked at her neck. It was a trait I've seen a lot of lately. Those without much time left like to fiddle with their timers, maybe hoping to wind them like an antique wristwatch.
"You're a platinum, Liz. Your star shines brighter than most. You've been given the gift of a luxurious specialty. You've performed in front of thousands across the world. I myself saw you perform last spring. It was beautiful."
She shrugged. "That's what you all say. That we're special, that we're lucky. I didn't choose to be a platinum just as you didn't choose to be an old man. You don't know how much work it was! What good is a couple years of greatness when you spend your entire childhood training for it? Practicing every day and night. You thought it was beautiful? To me it was notes. Work. C-sharp, e-flat, scales and scales."
"You said you enjoyed it, though. What do you really want from this?"
She stood up and opened the door. She began to walk out before pausing. I thought I had pushed her too far. Maybe I had. When a patient doesn't have much time left you really can't afford to take it slow and hope for a breakthrough. Liz turned around and slammed the door.
"I want to be loved!" She cried. "I don't want to work anymore. I want to be around people who love me and care about me when I'm not playing music." She sat back down in front of me and began sobbing. I handed her a box of tissues like the cliché that I am. When she was calm I stood up and walked to the door.
"Come with me, Liz."
We walked through the halls of the County Hospital not speaking. We passed the doctors and nurses, Gold-Tier Humans. People with an expiration between 50 and 60 years old. Perfect candidates for careers in science and research. People who I would one day counsel in their final days.
"Where are we going?" Liz asked me.
"We're here." I told her.
At the rear of the hospital, just past the ICU and morgue (I never felt it was appropriate to place the two side by side) we came to a solid red door.
"Are you ready?" I asked.
She said nothing and we entered. Inside the walls were bright sky blue, with murals from floor to ceiling. Skylights allowed the sun to shine in and illuminate the many shiny toys, trains, and dolls sprawled out across the floor. Children's laughter flooded our ears as we watched them play tag and hide and seek and paint on the walls.
"What is this?" She asked me.
Daisy, one of my favorite kids, ran up to us with a toy train in her hand.
"You're back!" She shouted. "Wanna play with us?"
By then a crowd of children had mobbed us. They were laughing and tugging at Liz's dress, trying to involve her in one of their games. She covered her mouth as she looked at their necks. Timers with less than 2 years left to live.
I put my hand on her shoulder. "Some parents like to start over when they find out." I told her. "They think they can forget when they try again and have a child with more time. But they can't be forgotten. We can't let that happen."
Liz turned away and tried to hide her face.
"You want to be loved?" I asked her. "All you have to do is show up. There are plenty of people who want to love you."
She turned back and let the children pull her into the center of the room. She sat down and they showed her their drawings and puzzles and they laughed and played for hours.