THE TEMPLE OF MAGGIE STONE
Chapter 6: Adjustments
Seven Months Later
Ray and Maggie sat at the table across from each other, Ray reading his newspaper, Maggie fiddling with her brand-new smart phone. Every once in a while, Ray would look up from his newspaper and laugh as Maggie looked down on the new contraption, veins pounding on her forehead. There was just so much. She’d tried to memorize every icon on the screen, but she simply couldn’t. It seemed like each icon just led to more icons. She had no idea if she’d ever be able to work the trashy thing. These devices were supposed to make life more convenient, but Maggie felt they just made the world...more.
While she could use Facebook, she didn’t really understand the point of it. It should’ve been a gold mine for gossipers like herself, but nobody posted anything interesting. Apparently, everyone’s lives were just great! It was absolutely boring. Then there were the ads. Most were disguised as news. She would click on a post and think she was reading about some actor who was caught using a drug, and the article would turn into an advertisement for a steroid, of all the stupid things!
When they opened the new Facebook account, they had used the fake information provided by Dr. Lane. Maggie was now Abigail Martin, a completely brand-new person who had never met a soul, yet somehow, the second she’d finished her account, she instantly had two friend requests. When she’d asked Ashley about this, her daughter had told her that both requests were from girls who did pornography. How could a porn girl get her information so fast? The world was just too big and confusing now. Still, she tried. She had to.
They also had to buy a computer. Most of her old friends had bought them back in the nineties when it finally looked like the darn things were going to stick around, but Ray and Maggie never did. They didn’t have a reason to. Nevertheless, Ashley insisted they at least purchase a laptop, so they complied with their daughter’s wishes, finding the nearest computer shop, and spending almost a grand. From there, Ashley began giving her mother typing lessons. She could type sixty words per minute in only a couple months. Ashley assured her it was a skill worth having, and if Maggie could work up to typing ninety words a minute, then she could get her a job as a secretary.
The idea of working again seemed nice. Retirement had not been all it was cracked up to be. It was a lot of sitting, a few vacations and talking, far too much talking. To make matters worse, Ashley and Robert had never married, and with each passing year, the odds of either of them finding anybody grew slim, so grandchildren had never entered the scene.
After trying her best to understand the digital world, there came the tedious process of learning the newest fashions. This was where her ample savings came in handy. Maggie set up an account under the name Abigail Martin but didn’t dare shop online. There was no way she’d trust a mailman with vital items such as clothing, so Ashley took her to the few malls which remained in the area. During these adventures, Maggie realized she looked half her daughter’s age. In fact, people assumed Maggie was Ashley’s daughter, and men were looking at her constantly. She’d been flattered during her first hours in the lab, and she was flattered during her first few hours at the mall, but as time went on, it became tedious and even a little rude.
And no matter where they looked, Maggie found that the skirts were short, the tops were revealing, and everything was designed to be tight rather than comfortable. She came from a time when a dress above the ankles was risqué and shoulder pads were worn to make the women look more masculine in the business world. She’d complained about the modern woman’s lack of modesty with her friends over the years but having to wear the awful stuff was another matter.
Ironically, the easiest part of her new life was developing a convincing story. Maggie and Ashley settled on the idea that Abigail Martin was a live-in nurse. Ashley hired her to look after her father. This story seemed to satisfy the neighbors, and Maggie was able to come and go as she pleased. However, Ray would never confirm the story. Since he was Christian, he felt uncomfortable lying, so whenever neighbors asked about Abigail, Ray would only shrug and say, “She’s a great comfort to me.”
Robert eventually started visiting the house again. He was polite enough, but he said as little to Maggie as possible without outright ignoring her. Ray insisted that it was only a matter of time before he came around, but she wasn’t so sure.
However, Ray’s advice, as usual, proved to be right. One afternoon, Robert pulled Maggie to the side. She couldn’t help but smile at how sheepish he looked, like a ten-year-old boy caught breaking something.
“Listen,” he began. “And I don’t want you telling Dad about this, but the next time the lab asks you to stop by…I…I want to be there.”
“We don’t hear much from them,” Maggie said. “And we haven’t been invited back since I had the operation.”
“If you’re telling the truth, sooner or later, they will, and I want to be there,” Robert said.
Maggie nodded. What choice did she have?
That had been yesterday, and she hadn’t told Ray. Now that breakfast was finished and the two were sitting at the table avoiding the inevitable clean up, Maggie felt she should discuss the matter. So, with a breath, she closed her Facebook app and looked across the table. Ray turned the page of the newspaper and cleared his throat.
“Robert spoke with me yesterday,” Maggie began. Ray looked up.
“Yes. I was surprised myself,” Maggie said. “He wants to go to the lab next time they ask for us.”
Ray lowered the paper. “I’m not sure they’d allow that.”
“I’m not going to ask for permission.”
“He’ll believe when he wants,” Ray said. He sighed and rubbed the stubble on his chin. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. Ashley and Robert have proven they can keep things quiet. But his objections aren’t a matter of evidence. I wouldn’t get your hopes up.”
Maggie nodded. Then she took a breath and added. “And what about you? What about the next time we go to the lab?”
“What about it?” Ray asked.
“You know what I’m asking.”
Ray raised the newspaper but not all the way. He looked down. “I’ve been tempted.”
“But you still don’t plan to go through with it,” Maggie said, feeling the anger and dismay flush her cheeks as it mixed with the energy of youth. “Why are you being so stubborn about this? What are you afraid of?”
Ray sighed, lowering his paper and bracing himself for the impending fight. “Maggie, there is nothing I can say that is going to make my choice any easier. Please, don’t make me explain myself.”
“I have to,” Maggie said. “I didn’t just do this for me. I did it for us. I did it so we could have more time together.”
“We’ve had more time, and I’m very grateful for it.”
“I know you are. That’s not the issue. Tell me what’s bothering you.”
Ray sighed, and speaking barely above a whisper, he muttered, “It’s wrong.”
Maggie suspected this was the issue, but her suspicion did nothing to stop the swell of anger within her. Still, she swallowed hard and gave her husband a level stare, like a teacher demanding an explanation of a student. Master of composure. That’s me, Maggie thought wryly. “Why?”
“Because we had our time. It’s appointed once for a man to die. This whole thing is an attempt to avoid that, but there’s a reason for death. That doesn’t make it a good or easy thing, but it serves a purpose.”
“You think I sinned by taking this body!” Maggie snapped.
“No,” Ray said. “But you have a hard road ahead of you, harder than it needs to be. I’m grateful that you did it for me, but I don’t think you’re aware of what you’ve done.”
You cheated. The reaper whispered in her mind.
Maggie kept her eyes on Ray and ignored the icy hand that seemed to touch her shoulder. “I think without you in my life, I am going to be very lonely. If you go through the surgery, then whatever road is ahead, we can face it together.”
“Maggie, look at your body,” he pointed to her chest as if it were a foreign object. That hurt Maggie more than anything he’d said so far. His finger felt like a knife in her skin. “That body was made for one purpose. To avoid death. Maggie, I’m not a scientist, but I suspect you’re never going to age. If anything, you are going to break like a robot. On top of that, you’re going to watch your children age and die. I think you’ll die eventually, but who can say when, and the things you’re going to go through, I can’t even imagine.”
Tears ran down Maggie’s cheeks. “That’s why I need you with me,” she managed to say. “I’ve thought of all of that, too. Please, don’t leave me alone, Ray.”
This struck a nerve. Tears welled up in the old man’s eyes as well. He was considering it. Maggie had never been able to persuade the stubborn old geezer about anything, but by all things good and mighty, he was really considering it!
He shook his head for a moment. He suddenly looked tired and pale. “If I do this,” he began slowly. “It’s going to hurt. We would go through things that might destroy us, but…” Tears ran down his eyes. “But I’ll do it. I’ll risk it for you. I can’t bear the idea of leaving you alone for so long.”
Maggie cried for several minutes. At last, she managed to say, “Thank you.” The words came breathlessly from her lips. He looked so pale and so sick, but he gave her a weak smile. Ray stood up and made as if to hug her, but as he took his first step, he fell, landing face-first. Something inside Maggie knew instantly what was happening. “No! Ray!” she wailed. She rolled the old man over. He was clutching his chest. Beads of sweat, which seemed to come from nowhere ran down his forehead, and the wrinkles across his forehead and around his eyes twitched and pulsated, transforming into living lines of pain, contorting her husband’s face into a tight, teeth-grinding sneer. But at the same time, Ray was laughing. “It figures. I was really going to do it!”
“You’re still going to do it,” Maggie said. “We’ll get you through this!” She reached for her phone and began trying to unlock the screen. The phone wouldn’t turn on for some reason. Everything Ashley had shown her was forgotten. She felt Ray tense and writhe under her. He groaned. “Maggie.”
“No, rest!” she wailed, moving her thumb faster across the screen.
“Maggie,” He lifted his hand and put it over her phone. “Maggie, it’s time. Please, let me look at you. I don’t want to go while watching you try to work that thing.”
“Ray, I don’t want to lose you forever!”
“You won’t” Ray said, smiling. His lips were turning blue. “I prayed every day that you would come around. I prayed that you’d accept Jesus, that you would have faith. God never answered those prayers. But then, I prayed that he would give you more time, and here you are, young and beautiful and strong. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
“What if this is all we have, Ray? What if you’re wrong? Then I really will lose you.”
“Somewhere inside, you know that’s not true. I know you. You’re like your son that way. Even when you know something, it takes time for you to accept it.”
“Ray, please try to hang on. I want you here with me!” She couldn’t say anymore. She broke down sobbing.
“You’re going to feel alone, but you’re not. Please, remember that.” Ray tried to lift himself, and Maggie understood that he meant to kiss her. She leaned down and kissed her husband. She kept kissing him until she felt his last breath on her lips. Ray was gone.
Maggie wrapped her arms around her husband’s body and wept. When she lifted herself from his chest, she looked down at the cell phone lying on the linoleum floor. She picked it up and swiped her thumb across the lock screen. Of course, the phone worked just fine.