I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee
Harry had found the source of fairy tales. The road from the Berkshires was laced with the glitter of branches, grass and stubs, all enveloped in sheaths of ice. He turned off, down a small dirt road, stopped the car and caressed a bush. As the branches touched one another they gave out music. Some ice broke and more music echoed around. The spring sun was intense, less low than in winter, yet its light was cutting enough to make one feel small in the immensity of the universe.
He was returning from visiting his father’s body. It was kept on the shelves of the organ donors’ depot. A biologist cousin who worked there had allowed Harry to sneak in every month to pay his respects. Such visits were highly forbidden, but the director closed an eye, knowing that no trouble would come from Harry’s visits. The director knew that all he wanted was to meditate next to his genitor for a few minutes.
At the café in Egremont he had spotted a redheaded lady and exchanged addresses, one never knows. Like Erich Fromm and Martin Luther King, Harry knew how much more he would have done in his life, had it not been for his serial falling in love with women. He liked their turn of mind, he liked being opened by them and opening them up. When the inevitable trouble came, “You don’t care about me, You are a chauvinist pig, I must stop seeing you because you don’t deserve a bitch like me,” etcetera, he would account for it as a natural development, a preparation to the next phase, which was never the same—experience never helped.
His life was not bad. Wife and kids well protected in the large house with garden. Good schools, good doctors, the city very near. Molly had a job three days a week downtown. They went to the theater or concerts every Tuesday, when there were no crowds, drove back together, kissed the children asleep, had peace into the night. Molly, the soft the strong the patient wife. Harry loved her. The thought of her stirred his body and mind.
Then there was Indra, his lover. An independent woman. She had chosen to live alone. Her violin was more important. Concerts and conferences kept her traveling the world. Harry believed her when she swore that there were no outside flirtations. He liked the idea of open relationships, but if Indra should one day cheat on him, he would be hurt. He might possibly leave her forever.
Indra’s scent contained the history of beauty. Instead of getting angry at him, Indra teased him when he became sidetracked into theory. She liked his awkwardness and never asked questions about his private life. One day she said she must warn him. After a concert in Hiroshima she had an encounter with a young man from Bombay, first flute in the orchestra there. Yes she had liked the two nights with him, she knew this would hurt Harry, she hated paining him so, she loved him, she would not have told him if it weren’t for the problem that Ashok was now coming to New York with the intent of killing her and Harry because she had left Japan in a rush and abandoned him. Explaining how her embraces had been a mere passing tenderness was not acceptable talk for a traditional man like Ashok, raised in a puritanical school in Sussex. Instead, it had enhanced his vengefulness.
Ashok had haunted them for a while, but then disappeared from their life without explanation. A letter from his brother was delivered by hand to Indra’s doorman. Dear Ms. Indra, my brother has returned to Asia. He asked me to let you know that he will no longer pursue you. He has left the field of music and is starting a microchip factory in Punjab. He would like you to forget about him, to eliminate him from your mind, to erase his voice and eyes from your memory. Sincerely, Al Ruddy.
Harry also visited Myrna, a real estate agent who made some cash on the side with men who didn’t want to commit themselves to a relationship. She complained that she was lonely. One day she told him that many ladies like her end up marrying clients. Harry kept going back, whenever there was time and money. Myrna told him how stupid she felt for having been jealous with her former millionaire lover from Denver. He had sent her packing. She had insulted him because she had discovered that he was meeting call girls. “Now I have to sell my body to send money home.” One day she said, “Harry, you are a decorator, why don’t you make me a picture to hang on my living room wall?”
Molly and Harry had an old friend. It was Bob’s habit to introduce them to his new mates. The women were always dark-haired. His romances never lasted too long and Bob would drop by for dinner and beg them to find him a new woman. There was only one condition: she had to be hairy. “I like only hairy women, the others have no appeal.” The rule was that they should be unshaven, legs and underarms and all.
Harry won the most important contract of his career. When he returned from Aruba he went to the doctor for a general checkup. He was afraid of having contracted some kind of mild tropical bug and did not want to be weak before starting the immense amount of work that awaited him.
After a first examination, Dr. Safer told him that nothing appeared to be radically wrong, yet he was uncertain about what could be causing the tiresome unease he was suffering. Just to make sure, he was going to send him for blood tests, X-rays, a CAT scan and a couple of inner probes. Harry smiled and said, “I guess there is a first time for everything.” That night he dreamed of his dead son, the baby who had lived only a few weeks so many years ago, and then he dreamed of sitting in the gastroenterologist’s waiting room with a dozen other people of all ages. He knew they were all wondering who was marked and who wasn’t, all of them contemplating mortality and feeling eternal. “Not me, the epitome of eternal youth.”
A month went by. The big project was advancing well. Harry’s week unrolled always in the same order: on Tuesdays in town with Molly, every evening the famous sunsets outside his windows overlooking the river, Indra, Myrna. He saw his mother every Friday for dinner before commuting back home.
Mother didn’t always remember who he was at first, but after a few minutes would call him darling. He discovered that she alternately thought he was her father, one of her late husbands, and occasionally her son. She had always smothered him in love and protection, and at the same time she had also been a bit envious of his talent. The new contract his firm had won made her happy, but you could also read on her face a shadow of resentment because she had never been given a chance to show her worthiness, raised as she had been to be a grand lady and the wife of an important entrepreneur.
Harry called the doctor. He was told to drop by to get his yearly shot to bolster his immune system, and to receive the test reports. Dr. Safer was serious. He told Harry that in his profession there were joys and sorrows. Harry took it all in with astonishing calm: “So, suddenly all is changed.” The doctor continued, “There is unprecedented simultaneous disease of four vital organs. All suffer progressive deterioration from unrelated causes. Your liver is ill, your heart is about to collapse, both your kidneys are malfunctioning. Even your eyes are going to be blind within a few years. I don’t understand. You have been healthy ever since I have known you. The illnesses that are attacking you are all so rare that we never screen a patient for them unless there are serious symptoms, so I couldn’t have detected them before. And it is unheard of that they should strike one person all at once.”
Harry asked how much time was left for him to settle his affairs. Two years, more or less. “There are medicines to slow down each disease, but I don’t know how they may affect your body and mind when used in combination.”
There was silence. Then the doctor added, “I have been skeptical of the research conducted by my colleague Dr. Andrew Collins, but if you want I could give you his phone number. You are such an extreme case that perhaps extreme experiments might be called for. He is doing some biogenetic stuff; who knows, maybe he’ll take you on.”
Collins’s lab was two hours from the city. Predictably, the façade was made of glass and aluminum. The buildings entrance faced a perfect lawn. To get in, one walked along a winding path covered with pink granite gravel from Maine. Dr. Collins was amiable. He suffered a nasty tic: he couldn’t start talking until he turned his head in a spasm to the left, and then returned to face his interlocutor. Meanwhile, his physiognomy engaged in the most contorted facial acrobatics Harry had ever witnessed.
After recovering from the tic, Collins said, “We make human clones. The fee is very high. It will cost you five million dollars. In a case like yours we have no time to raise the clone properly for a few years, as we normally do to match body and character exactly to the patient to whom the organs will be given. We’ll have to gamble and make one that’s already a mature man, let’s see”—he pulled out a calculator—”yeah, you are 56 so he will have to be 20 years old.” Harry thought he would secretly mortgage his house, sell half of his stocks. The rest of his holdings would be enough to carry his kids through college and buy insurance in case he didn’t make it through. He thought the five million a good investment. Should he survive, his new life would more than make up for the heavy expense and make a gift of himself to his family plus the rewards of his successful career. And no more love affairs and all that. Closed cycle. God knows why he suddenly thought of the taste of Molly on summer nights, when the tree frogs sing, her perfume, “Mollu” Malone, the softness of her skin there where the world is sown.
Collins continued, “There is an absolute rule in this house. You prepay your fee in full and we will not—we shall definitely, certainly, unequivocally not see you or hear from you until we call. If our security finds you even lingering around the premises, the contract is voided. Sign here to agree. Further, this is a legal but secret enterprise. We are taking enormous risks. It is forbidden that you should mention what you have engaged in to anybody, even your most intimate partners, say, your wife or lovers.” Noticing Harry’s attempted gesture of denial, the doctor continued, “Before letting you in here we have conducted thorough inquiries and we know everything about you and your life. Don’t look surprised, you know very well that nowadays privacy is a thing of the past. Sign here to agree. And by the way, Miss Halpert and Mr. Norris, please show yourselves. As you can see, Harry, our conversation and your signing the documents were witnessed from behind that glass partition. Both these partners of mine are sworn notaries. Kindly seal the document, now.”
The days went by normally. Harry gently dismissed his two extramarital companions and Molly was flattered by his ever so slightly increased attentions. He also had more time to play with the little ones. He continued visiting his mother and father, following the same routine. The medicines were having a beneficial effect, even though the manufacturers had warned the doctor that in such an exceptional case one could expect what they called a chemical backlash. His aches were minor. He didn’t feel nor look like a terminally ill man.
Day in day out the gym, the golf club, the cocktails, the museum board meetings, the vacations, his incredibly creative job—nothing had changed. Harry was wondering why he did not better appreciate the luck of these which could easily be his last days of calm. He felt bored, somehow. Of course he adored Molly and the kids, but the extremity of life was being concealed by his living habits. What was happening? A thought he had been suppressing kept gnawing at his mind.
Harry remembered having met Adam the thief years ago. When his partners in a defense contract bid needed some documents from an office in the Pentagon, they had hired Adam, a tall blond man who modeled for Malefashion Zine as a cover for his secret and far more lucrative activities. The burglary had been carried out seamlessly.
It took long nights—lying to Molly that there was too much to do in the office, that there were meetings with Japanese clients at the Hilton, that an ultrasecret project for the government required nightly conferences—for Harry to comb the underground and slowly be led to Adam. Adam was a genius in his field. He lived in the open, very publicly, and yet no one knew how to approach him. He was famous for the depressions he suffered from an early age. They caused him to seclude himself in a clinic for weeks. Those were the times when he carried out his robberies.
Adam accepted Harry’s offer because he felt captivated by the old man’s romantic quest for his own self at the edge of nothingness and by the challenge of such a difficult adventure, possibly the most difficult he had ever engaged in. There was little time left. Sixteen months had gone by since the signing of the contract. Harry knew that by now his clone was made. He had to see him at least once, maybe talk to him, sense himself in youth, even only for a split second.
“You are asking me to do something I have never done: to smuggle a person inside a highly guarded compound and then to find another person who is not expecting visits and who probably doesn’t even know there is a world outside his living quarters, and then you want me to smuggle you out again,” said Adam, “but we’ll make it. I shall do field trips for a month and in 30 days, when the moon is new, I will deliver you to your copy.”
“Once inside, you must also leave us alone,” added Harry. Adam kept his word. On the 31st day, Harry was ushered into the apartment of his double.
Everything was clean but not sterile. Obviously the living conditions of the clones had to be similar to those of the patients, including some dirt and microbes and bacteria. The apartment was decorated exactly like Harry’s had been during his college studies. “Dr. Collins doesn’t leave anything to chance,” thought Harry. “The clone is conditioned to be like me even in his perceptions.”
He saw the clone. What a beautiful man Harry had been! He had the same modesty, not being aware of his attractiveness. He was reading on a couch, and he started when he heard Harry’s steps. Harry had an excuse ready because lynx-eyed Adam had studied the joint so that he could invent a credible role for Harry to introduce himself by.
The two talked and talked. Adam tapped on the window when the time was up. The clone begged him to return because the nurses curing him in this clinic where he had to stay for a while longer were nice, he said, but he had never experienced such a conversation, he had read about friendship but never knew there could be so much to share with another person. Harry asked him if they could hug. They held each other for a long second. Harry left with the smell of the other’s skin in his mind. Time swirled and collapsed and once outside the years between them were there but had also disappeared.
Back in the car Harry told Adam that he was going in again and every other day from now on. “It will cost you a fortune, it will ruin you, because I am expensive,” Adam replied, “and I don’t know if it will do you any good. I think you are asking for disaster and you are risking my life as well. Do you think those guards have any qualms about killing intruders? Besides, they can get some free DNA that way.”
But Adam brought Harry back again and again. Harry was in love with his young one. He told Molly that he couldn’t sleep with her for a while because they had found the beginning of tuberculosis in his lungs. He moved to a hotel. He went to the clinic every night now. They played the music of his youth. They read the books Harry had read during those years. The clone had not recognized how much he looked like Harry. Harry caressed his hands. The youth kissed him under the left ear. Harry stroked his back. The other put his hand on his knee. Their bodies were one inside the other for many moons. Harry had never felt so happy. He asked himself where had he been all the years of his life.
Dr. Safer was surprised that he did not have to increase the dosage of his medication. He added that it was wonderful to see Harry in such good form, and he pointed at Harry as an example of how the spirit can cure the body.
In the 22nd month after he had signed the contract with Collins, Harry received a letter at his secret post office box, the number and address of which he had never given out to anyone but his lovers. “They really know everything, the bastards! But they don’t know that I have seen little Harry every night!” muttered Harry. The letter was a reminder that he should undergo all his tests again and prepare to receive his commissioned organ transplants. “The case is ready,” it stated. “The operations are go.”
Harry took the tests hoping that perhaps his happiness had cured him. He thought, My illnesses were caused by my having been untrue to myself all my life. I am well now because I have found myself. He giggled for a moment at the thought of how literally true that sentence was and dove into the CAT scan machine. The results were dismal. He had very few months left to live.
He returned to Molly’s bed and in the morning told her that he was terminally ill but that there was a shard of hope in a high risk transplant operation that he had been offered at a secret army hospital. He would have to disappear for awhile. Molly replied that he had been home so little already these past months. Harry told her he had settled all affairs in case he should die. He had earned loads of money and was leaving it all to his family. Molly cried and said good luck.
Only when he saw Adam waiting for him at the usual place did it dawn on Harry that soon his clone would have to die for him. While they were driving he shouted “No!” so loudly that Adam almost veered off the road. Adam stopped the car. “Are you nuts?”
Harry was crying. He was howling. He got out of the car and screamed at the magnificent moonless summer stars. His voice hushed the crickets and the frogs. Foxes and deer crouched in awe. The whole forest they had been driving through fell silent.
Harry told the clone that they would not see each other for a while. They both held their tears back. Somehow the clone seemed to know that their bliss was ending.
The following day Harry forced Dr. Collins to receive him. Collins told him he was breaking the rules but he nonetheless congratulated him, stating that all was proceeding extremely well. Harry asked how much it would cost to buy the clone from him. “It is not for sale.”
“But if I want to die and let him live, how much can I buy him for?” “You can’t and that’s final. And what would you want the poor fellow to do? He cannot live with your family as you, he cannot live anywhere as you after you are dead. Understand? Now leave me alone and come when you are summoned by us.”
Harry and Adam sneaked into the compound that night. The clone was elated to see Harry again and started to undress, but Harry said no. He had him wear the dark overalls he had brought with him and smuggled him out of the clinic. Adam had found friends who knew how to make people disappear. The clone was sent to a family on a Caribbean island and a couple of months later Harry died, with a smile of longing on his lips.
Lucio Pozzi is an artist living in New York. He was born in 1935 in Milan and became a US citizen in 1972. This story is part of his Word Works group, some of which have been published over the past three decades. Besides his continued involvement in painting, performance, and installation, he is currently creating the performance-oratorio Machimas with the composer Frank Oteri.
I believe that each of us is given one sentence at birth, and we spend the rest of our life trying to read that sentence and make sense of it.
Li Young Lee