Volume 21, Number 4

Bitty in the Machine

Scott Gordon

Mort tried to dissuade his wife, Bitty, from getting the metamorphosis. “You kvetched every day of your life, now you want to live another century?” A few of the women at temple had undergone the transplant—which wasn’t quite a massive-enough word for shedding your biological body for one of robotics—and looked and felt fabulous, causing Bitty to become obsessed with the procedure. Mort wanted no part of living another hundred years. No thank you. The luckiest people are the ones who were never born at all was Mort’s philosophy. And who has that kind of luck? Mort couldn’t think of anyone.

The I Am That Corp. had a well-appointed waiting room with two plush leather club chairs and a couch whose comfort would have induced instant sleep for Mort in any other circumstance besides the present one. He gazed at Bitty’s walker with the two faded tennis balls fitted on the back legs for easy sliding. On the glass table by his old, knobby knees, sat copies of Perennial Youth, Transfig, Alzheimer and Dementia, and Go Ahead and Touch Them magazine. Researchers had not yet cured certain types of Alzheimer disease. This left gorgeous, perplexed robots muttering at shops, bus stops, and occasionally shouting, “Bingo,” in movie theaters, museums and at startled pigeons everywhere.

Looking up from the magazines, Mort noticed a striking blonde with toned, well-muscled legs. She had to be a patient—there was something off about her, something unnatural Mort couldn’t pinpoint. The woman, her robot body built to look like a svelte twenty-eight-year-old, noticed that Mort’s eyes had happened upon her thighs, causing her to hike her skirt to reveal more of her investment.

Mort, embarrassed, pursed his lips, drummed his fingers on his knees, and took a quick breath. That was nice of her, he thought, real sociable. One thing for sure, most women who underwent the metamorphosis were eager to show off their new mechanical parts, which, through means Mort couldn’t comprehend, looked and felt like the real McCoy.

There were a myriad of choices when it came to choosing your body: there were two Marilyn Monroes at temple. When Mort was a young man he spent a substantial amount of time dreaming of two buxom blondes tearing off each other's clothes; but when, at the age of seventy-eight, it actually happened, the scene was tainted—not only because these two blondes were fighting over a seat at temple, but also because Rachel Finkelstein had lost an arm. Although the clear winner, Rachel Finkelstein ruined the Rabbi’s sermon on forgiveness by employing the liberated limb to knock Betty Comstock’s wide-brim sun hat from her head, which had obstructed Rachel’s view of stage right, the Rabbi’s favorite place for extolling certain biblical wraths.

Dr. Chin (who, one had to keep in mind, was one-hundred-and-twenty-one years young and only appeared to be a sixteen-year-old Olympic gymnast) led Mort into the recovery room. “I present to you the new and improved Bitty Figelman.”

“Well? Mortie? Have I eradicated sixty years? Am I twenty years old again?”

Mort, astounded, eyes wide, gazed at his naked wife, taking a step back in time—she looked exactly as she had the day they were married. His lovely bride! Her thick brown hair fell about her smooth, creamy shoulders. Her breasts were youthful and vivacious and quite a bit larger than God originally had in mind for them. Her skin was radiant and her ass, as Marlowe would’ve put it, seeing things from a different angle, could’ve launched a thousand vessels. His seventy-two-year-old wife!

“Mort, close your mouth,” said Bitty. “We don’t want doctor-office germs incubating in there.”

Try as he might, Mort couldn’t summon a reaction more interesting than gaping.

“I see—you’d rather I’d gotten some shiksa body with stripper boobs,” said Bitty, somehow misinterpreting her husband’s slack jaw. “You want to be married to a Marlene Dietrich, or you’d rather I joined the ranks of Marilyn Monroes.”

“You’re the cat’s pajamas, honey,” said Mort, and she was, at that. Only there was something about her eyes that troubled him, the way she looked at once at him and through him, which gave Mort a feeling of distance, a coldness he had never experienced from his wife. It must’ve been because she was drained from the operation, Mort reasoned. After all, Bitty’s eyes were all her own. Her face was robotic but her eyes, the doctor said, were the originals.

On the way out of the office, Bitty noticed the blonde woman still sitting on the club chair: “Honey, pull down your dress. Nobody wants to see your pupic.” It was still his wife in that youthful body, that was for sure.

* * *

In the car Bitty couldn’t peel her eyes from her reflection in the rearview mirror. “How peculiar,” she said.

“Peculiar how?” Mort wanted to know.

“How is this me? I mean, I look like I used to, but I don’t know. It’s a foreign sort of feeling.”

Instinctively, Mort asked if Bitty’s sciatica or arthritis was flaring up or if her foot had begun to swell.

Bitty considered his words. “I’m not sure I have a sciatic nerve anymore. Mort, what do I have instead of a sciatic nerve?” Her voice rose with panic.

“You have a sciatic nerve,” assured Mort. “It’s just a new one.”

“A shiny robotic one. Mort, you’re married to R2-D2.” Bitty puckered her lips and made beeping, robotic noises she imagined sounded like the original R2. They didn’t.

“Bitty, how do you feel?”

Bitty began to hyperventilate, tears forming at the corner of her eyes. “How is this body mine? It’s not me—what happened to me? My body, me, is in an incinerator by now.”

“Bitty,” Mort said, getting his wife’s attention. “One is not their body.”

Bitty beeped like R2, only this time with remorse.

“I’m asking you how you feel?” urged Mort.

Bitty shrugged.

“I want to know.”


“Just OK?” said Mort.

“Good. I feel young and healthy. In fact,” said Bitty, rolling back her shoulders and stretching her neck, “nothing hurts.”

“Nothing?” Mort questioned. “Your whole life, you’ve never uttered such words.”

“Mortie,” exclaimed his wife. “I feel … healthy.”

On their honeymoon, fifty years ago, Bitty had come down with a bout of gout. Healthy was something Bitty was not. Bitty extracted a handful of pill bottles from her purse. “No more meds! I am free.” She threw the pills against the closed window. “Mortie, why did you close the window?”

“It was cold,” said Mort.

“Well, if you got the operation you wouldn’t have to complain about arctic chills.”

“I’m not complaining.”

“You have to do it, Mortie. You haven’t ever felt this good. Nobody’s ever felt this good.”

Mort leaned over and kissed her soft, smooth lips. “I’ve had a long life, honey.”

Oi—you say it like your whole life was a struggle. Well, even if it was, it will be different after the metamorphosis,” Bitty said, striving to convince herself. “It’s a rebirth, a second chance to do it all again, only better,” she said, repeating the slogan of Regeneration Inc.

Mort had had more than his fair share of suffering: Mort and Bitty’s only daughter, Claire, died in a car crash when she was twenty-eight—hit-and-run. He’d dreamed of being a writer only to discover he’d had no talent. He’d had three heart attacks and twice lost all of their savings on a sure thing, an absolutely sure thing, at the horse track. OK, the operation would alleviate his high blood pressure and daily pains, but not the heartache that clenched his life like an overzealous fist. “I love my time with you, Bitty, but my soul can’t manage another century.”

“Such selfishness,” Bitty cried. “What will I do without you? Sixty years I look over my shoulder, and you’re there. Who will be over my shoulder? Nobody. There won’t be anyone there at all. I can’t go on without you. You are my life.”

They’d been over this before. He’d been against the operation for this reason more than any of the others. What would she do when he died? Bitty had an appetite for life, sure, but she became lonely when Mort spent too much away from her, like when he went to the bathroom.

He didn’t want her to suffer through a second life on her own. Bernie Goldberg, who went through his first seventy years as a nebbish with a skinny neck and big ears was now the spitting image of a young Charlton Heston—Moses! Bernie, who now sat up a bit taller when the rabbi read from Exodus, was in the market for a wife. Bitty hadn’t ever cared for Bernie, but then again she had insisted on watching The Ten Commandments last Passover. Mort filed this interesting fact away.

“So—what’s the first thing you want to do, young lady?”

“I don’t know,” pouted Bitty. “I thought you’d take one look at the new me and declare to the world that you’d do anything to spend another century with the love of your life. I guess I was wrong.”

“I told you before the operation, I just can’t.”

Bitty stared out of the car at the passing traffic, muttering under her breath.

Mort asked if she was hungry.

“I don’t eat food anymore. I just take these brown pills the doctor gave me.”

“To live another century without strudel could not have been what God intended,” joked Mort, hoping to lighten the mood.

Bitty grew more anxious, or was perhaps developing gas.

Wait, did robot bodies get bloated? Maybe some version of it, reasoned Mort. “How about we go to temple?” Mort knew to get Bitty to a sea of compliments.

* * *

Bitty was the belle of the temple. The congregation, both the elderly and the robotic, were hypnotized by her jejune elegance.

Her best friend, Ida, hugged her. “Such confidence—to choose your own likeness is so audacious.” Ida had cancer but could not afford the operation. You had to have twenty percent down and Ida’s husband had died eighteen years earlier, leaving her broke. “Mort, you are a lucky man. To have such a stunning wife! Have you two schtupped yet? I hear it’s … atypical.”

“Atypical how?” asked Mort.

“How should I know?” barked Ida. “Why would you ask a woman who can’t afford the operation such a question? Such callous behavior.”

“He’s sorry, Ida,” said Bitty. “This is all so new to us.”

Bitty had lost the desire to know her husband in the biblical sense over the last few years, blaming her broken-down body, and Mort looked forward to connecting with her on this front again—the only plus he could see from this procedure. But this atypical stuff—he didn’t want atypical. He wanted to make love to his wife like they had so many times before.

Bitty found a group of women and men, post-ops, huddled in a dark corner of the Temple lobby near a sign for Wednesday night bingo. This Hollywood-who's-who curled in around her in a whisper. Bitty hadn’t been welcome in this crowd, but now it appeared she was one of them.

James Dean (Saul Applestein) and Joe DiMaggio (Adam Hinkelschmidt) looked up at Mort like they’d been talking about him, shook their heads, and then went back to kibitzing.

Rabbi Moskovitz, the senior rabbi, who, with his white beard and sloped shoulders and black mole equipped with a gray hair, looked every bit of eighty-two, hurried toward Mort. “No. No. No. I specifically forbade Bitty to get the operation. It is against God! It is against His divine plan,” shouted the rabbi to the room in general.

God’s plan, in Mort’s opinion, seemed unfocused. Perhaps God could have used a guidance counselor (Mort’s profession at the local high school for forty years) when it came to some of the big decisions like, say, creating people.

“They all huddle together like that,” the rabbi went on pointing at the cluster of post-ops. “They become different, not at first, but in the end they are hardly recognizable. I don’t know why they even attend temple. All they do is whisper amongst themselves—they don’t pay attention to me up on the pulpit!”

“Bitty doesn’t particularly care for that group.”

“And their spouses—most are dead. Of course, eighty- and ninety-year-olds cannot keep up with….” The rabbi paused, searching for just the right word. “Whatever they are. It isn’t natural.”

“Bitty will be OK,” said Mort, unconvinced.

“I warned her not to get the operation. Did she tell you? I warned her.”

“She told me,” lied Mort. “But how do you tell someone who's afraid of death and in love with life not to enjoy another century?”

The rabbi regarded Mort with a curious eye. “Have you two schtupped yet?”

* * *

Another seven positions would have been added to the Kama Sutra if Nandi, the bull who should be ashamed of himself for eavesdropping at the door of certain Gods and their wives making whoopee, had been harkening at Mort and Bitty’s door. But even with his wife’s newfound dexterity, the sex did not live up to Mort’s hopes, to their previous intimacy. It brought him no closer to his wife. It only served to wrench his occipital bone, causing him to nearly black out.

Over the next few weeks Mort tried to rekindle sexual intimacy, but all Bitty desired to do, even when making love, was to insist Mort get the metamorphosis. Then about a week later her nagging stopped. They had sex only two more times after that, which only served to give Mort a nasty charley horse and a black eye caused by a misplaced limb—his own.

At first Bitty, and even Mort, laughed at the ogling, panting men who followed Bitty around the supermarket where they shopped for Mort’s food. But all of the "grandfather" comments grew annoying to Mort, who began to make these trips on his own. Mort and Bitty were now spending less and less time together. Even when they were both in the house, they didn’t speak much.

Their home had never been a silent one. There had always been laughter or screaming or any variation of the two, but never silence. Bitty grew as quiet and pondering as a stone. As his previously loquacious wife turned into the silent type, Mort held full conversations in his head: Mort, playing the parts of both himself and Bitty, reasoned, discussed and fought about her reticence to speak. For her part, Bitty sat in a chair gazing out the sliding glass door into the backyard. These long silences were punctuated by a fish mounted on the wall that sang “Rolling on the River” on the hour.

Mort looked at Bitty sitting in a chair, once again staring at the backyard through the sliding glass doors. “Are there ducks in the pool or something?” he asked, breaking the silence.

Bitty shook her head and continued staring at nothing, at blades of grass sunning themselves.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” asked Mort.

“I ran ten miles this morning, straight up the canyon.”

Before the operation, a remark like, "Do you want to go for a walk?" was met with something like, "Should I get my collar and a poop bag?"

They had liked the same foods, but his wife no longer ate, so visiting their favorite restaurants resulted in Bitty staring out some window while Mort self-consciously chewed. They used to converse about doctors, ailments and the deaths of their friends, but Bitty was no longer interested in talking about the deceased. She wasn’t that interested in making any sounds, it seemed. Mort would have been happy with a few R2-D2 beeps.

* * *

Then Bitty began spending more and more time with the post-ops, first at temple—and then she would attend special meetings where Mort wasn’t welcome.

“What do you do at these powwows?” asked Mort.

“We talk.”

“So that’s where you use up all your words.” He was at his wit’s end.

“We speak about what it’s like to go through the metamorphosis.”

“So what did you learn?”

“That it, the metamorphosis, continues even after the transplant.”

“What do you mean?”

“We continue to change.” Bitty wasn’t sure exactly what changed. She only knew that she felt different, less and less like herself. “Bernie believes we change because we are literally shedding our old life like a skin.”

“How is the old snake, Bernie?” asked Mort. He wanted his wife to find another man for her second life, but just not while he was still alive.

“He has been trying to help me with the change.”

“Why can’t you speak to me about this change? We talk about everything. We used to.”

“Don’t become excited, Mort. Why don’t we play chess?”

“Chess! We haven’t played chess in thirty years.”

“I had a dream about chess last night. I don’t know why, I guess I got a hankering to play.”

“Hankering? You don’t get hankerings. I’ve never heard you use the word hankering. Who uses such words?”

“Bernie uses that word, I suppose.”

* * *

Mort extracted the board and chess pieces from under a pile of photo albums in the garage. He placed a photo album in front of Bitty at the dining-room table and opened it to a photo of himself, Bitty, and their daughter Claire at thirteen years old; they were all dressed up standing in front of a beautiful sky. Bitty regarded the photo, touching Claire’s face with her hand.

“Remember that day?” asked Mort, trying to start a conversation about one of their favorite memories: Claire’s bat mitzvah.

“It was really sunny,” said Bitty.

“It was,” said Mort. “Do you remember what that day was?” He needed to connect with her on this memory; listening to his wife gush about their daughter would alleviate Mort’s feeling that something terrible was happening to Bitty.

“Of course I remember that day. I thought we were going to play chess.”

“What do you remember?”

Bitty examined the photo. “It was her birthday.”

“No. It was Claire’s bat mitzvah. How could you not remember?”

“I got confused.”

“It was your favorite memory.”

But his wife wasn’t interested in talking about Claire’s bat mitzvah. Instead, she set up the board and let Mort move first. She then proceeded to beat him in twenty moves. Next eleven moves. Then she finally beat him in three.

“You’ve never beaten me in chess and now you beat me in three moves? Is that what you do at these post-op meetings? Chess?”

“The last time I played was with you.”

“You’re lying!” shouted Mort. “You’ve never lied to me, and now you’re lying.”

“I am telling you the truth,” said Bitty calmly. “I don’t remember being that good. Maybe it’s all the thinking I’ve been doing.”

“You’ve been thinking about chess?”

“No; just kind of meditating, I guess.”

“Meditating! You could never sit still. Now sometimes I am forced to lob cashews at your head just to make sure you’re alive.”

“I thought those sharp pains were my brain settling into my new skull.”

“And your daughter’s bat mitzvah—how can you forget our little girl winking at us as she read from the Torah? You really don’t recall the winking?”

But Bitty just cleaned up the chessboard and walked out of the room.

* * *

Mort and Bitty grew more apart in the coming weeks and, through Bernie’s counsel, joined a support group, which consisted of three other mixed couples in the same predicament: Rachel Finkelstein (Marilyn Monroe), whose arm Dr. Schin had secured back in its socket, her husband Michael, whose primary talking point was bowel movements; Rachel Snyder (post-op, Olivia Newton-John), who in her second life had gone back to school to become a dog groomer, and who presently had a Shih Tzu on her lap, her husband Eddie, who was allergic to animals of any kind; Saul Applestein (post-op, James Dean), who ten years later was still not tired of screaming, “You’re tearing me apart,” every chance he got, his lovely wife, Helen, who had the beginnings of Alzheimer’s and who, not that she was complaining, was not convinced heaven was cavorting with the twenty-five year-old Rebel Without a Cause actor.

Bernie, a lifetime bachelor, led the group by asking simple questions like, “How does the group feel?” and “Rachel, can you please stop kicking Eddie?” Dr. Chin, who attended these groups once a month, sat beside Mort.

Mort observed his stolid wife, who sat next to him in the circle of chairs, as she watched the group converse as if they were actors on the stage. He envisioned Bitty at twenty-seven, helping their six-year-old daughter tie a Wonder Woman cape around her shoulders. Claire had taken to wearing the cape every day for a solid year. When the kindergarten teacher called to protest, Bitty informed her that Claire was indeed a member of the Justice League and had actually borrowed the cape from Uncle Superman, who had instructed her to wear it at all times.

All of the post-ops sat erect, attentive—almost too much so—as if they were faking interest. The others sat slouched in their old, loose skin.

“OK, said Bernie. “Who wants to start?”

Mort cleared his throat. “Bitty was a putterer. She was always cleaning, telling me what to do, straightening; she lived in perpetual movement. Now still-life paintings of gardenias envy her stillness. And sometimes when we speak of the past—which isn’t very often, I can tell you—she either doesn’t remember or it seems as if she’s going through the motions, like reading a teleprompter on some soap opera.”

“I like General Hospital, but I hate that fucking Guiding Light,” chimed in Helen.

Mort, thrown for an instant by Helen’s vehement outburst, continued: “She remembers the incident but doesn’t recall the emotion, the laughter or tears that accompanied it. And the nagging—she no longer nags me about anything! I miss the kvetching. Dr. Chin, you promised me it was still going to be Bitty, my wife, in there.”

“It is still your wife,” said Dr. Chin. “But that does happen on occasion: there is a divergence your wife’s brain has with her new body. It takes time but eventually they unite, become one.”

“You’re tearing me apart,” anguished Saul Applestein.

“Which reminds me,” said Michael, “why must I always be the one to bring up the very sensitive issue of bowel movements? It has been a week since I’d had a good one, one worth bringing up anyway. But now that the subject has been introduced: yesterday, wow!”

“OK,” said Bernie, interrupting what was no doubt going to be a nuanced remembrance. “Does anyone have words that could crystallize Mort’s understanding of the metamorphosis?”

“Yeah,” I do, said Eddie, before sneezing. “Evolutionary Divergence—ever hear of it? They,” he gestured, “are no longer the same species as us. They are half machine. And the machine takes them over, alters their minds, their thoughts, creates in them the desire to begin cutting animal’s hair, grooming them, making dogs smell like dirty strumpets.”

Helen pointed out that she liked RingDings better than Strumpets, even though they both consisted of chocolate.

“Strumpets—hookers!” shouted Eddie. “Tying those damn purple ribbons in poodles' hair—what do dogs need ribbons for?”

Puffy, the Shih Tzu, whined and then, realizing the whine hadn’t imparted the right sentiment, barked.

“I’m telling you it’s going to come down to a war—us versus the robots,” said Eddie. “I don’t know why someone didn’t see this coming. Hasn’t anybody read science fiction before? It’s all right there. The doctors have begun a war between men and robots,” shrilled Eddie. “At least, in my house they have.”

“To look appealing,” barked Rachel. “That’s why they wear ribbons. Sometimes a dog wants to look pretty, too.”

“No, they don’t,” said Eddie. “They really don’t.”

“Well, you ought to know,” said Rachel, “since you are such an animal.”

“And you are such a machine,” snapped Eddie.

Mort kept hoping for something to stir his wife, but even as the conversation grew more heated, Bitty only watched on in detached silence, even as Saul Applestein wailed, “You’re tearing me apart!”

* * *

Bitty spent most of the next week sitting in their living room staring out the window into the distance outside. Mort tried to start a conversation with her on a few occasions, but because of the fruitlessness of the endeavor, decided to leave her be. Perhaps it was due to stress, or sorrow, or loneliness, or just a broken heart, but Mort stopped taking care of himself and eventually fell ill.

First the pain developed in his chest and then, like poisonous tentacles, spread throughout his body. Three days went by and he grew more and more ill, sometimes unable to stop coughing, while his wife sat in a chair staring at the backyard.

This was the first time in his adult life Mort didn’t have his wife catering to him while he was sick, and this made him miss her so much more. He coughed and he watched television, and he grew sicker. As he watched Deal or No Deal, hacking, Bitty finally turned around.

“Are you OK, Mortie?” she asked.

Mort looked up and cocked his head like a curious Schnauzer. It was the tone in his wife’s voice. It was caring, sympathetic; it was Bitty. “I’m a little sick,” he said, coughing up phlegm while trying to smile.

“You think?” she joked.

“Bitty,” he began but couldn’t put any words after it. His wife, the woman he married, seemed to be back as if some kind of magic trick had taken place.

“Why don’t we get you a little matzo-ball soup.” Bitty ran her hand through her husband’s damp hair and put her lips to his forehead. “You’re warm. Off with those clothes; you stink like some farm animal.”

Mort, almost too weak to stand, followed his wife into the kitchen, where she extracted a large pot in which to boil the chicken. He etched her every flourish into his memory as she made one of her specialties: the disgusted face she made while removing the bird’s innards, how she pushed strands of misbehaving hair from her eyes with her elbow and how she did it all with such fluidity. This familiar scene thrilled him and he could hardly suppress a smile that felt three sizes too big for his face. “How are you feeling?” asked Mort, coughing.

“Better than you,” she said. “You’re so pale. You should lie down. Please, Mort, go to the bedroom and take a nap. And that smile—put it away, you’ll scare the neighbor children.”

“No. Please. I want to watch you.”

“You can hardly keep your eyes open.”

“Please, I just want to watch you make the soup.”

“Always with your own ideas of things, never listening to me—OK, fine. Do what you want. You always think you know best.”

Kvetching, thought Mort. It was Mozart to his ears. And his smile: he just let it be, as his wife, his young, beautiful wife, stirred the soup to the sounds of a fish singing “Rolling on the River.“

Mort woke up in bed what must’ve been hours later. How did he get here? Did he walk? Did his wife carry him? After all, she could run up mountains. He touched his forehead and knew he had a high fever. Everything hurt. He could feel the white blood cells in his bone marrow like needles, and his blood seemed lazy, like Jell-O.

He tried to sit up but felt too frail. A cold breeze, the kind usually reserved for dreams, moved through the room, and Mort pulled the covers to his neck. The water ran in the bathroom and he wondered how long she’d been in there. He yearned to see her, to make sure she was still the old Bitty and had not reverted back to the new version.

When she entered the bedroom with a damp washcloth, he recognized his old wife. It was the woman he had fallen in love with, the woman with the flared sciatic nerve (so to speak), the woman who was forever afraid some pedestrian would step on her swollen foot, the woman who together with Mort cradled their daughter as she lay dying in the street that fateful day.

Mort tried once more in vain to sit up.

“Lie back,” said Bitty, leaning down and kissing his forehead. “You’re burning up.” She sat beside him and gently wiped his brow with the cool washcloth.

After that she picked up a bowl of the chicken soup from the nightstand and fed him, while she assured him everything was going to be OK.

When Bitty took Mort’s hand in her own, he smiled.

“I was just thinking about Claire’s second birthday when we took her to the orchard to pick apples. She only wanted the apples highest in the trees. You, with all of your might, shook the dickens out of the branches until she had her little basked filled. And she wouldn’t let us carry them. I remember laughing, tears burning my eyes, as she lumbered under the basket’s weight. We had apple pie, sauce, candy apples for the next week. I really miss her sometimes.”

Mort withdrew his hand from his wife’s and wondered where she had gotten this memory. Claire was allergic to apples, which they had learned in the emergency room one traumatic night when she was seven.

He wanted to scream, to run out of the house, but he couldn’t move. The last of his life had been drained from him, all hope gone.

He searched his wife’s eyes, studied them for something familiar, but she wasn’t there. Her gaze was aloof, still looking through him but not seeing him.

Weakness like a chill moved through his body until he couldn’t move. Mort felt himself try to speak but he couldn’t, and then everything went silent and black.

* * *

Bitty sat back and looked at her husband’s lifeless body lying on the bed. She examined his opened eyes, their blankness, as if looking to understand something, something that in the end she could not. Picking herself up and off the bed, she made her way to the kitchen. After cleaning the oven top, the dishes and finally the counter, Bitty sat down in the chair by the sliding glass door and looked outside at a scurrying squirrel, then through the squirrel—at nothing.