Jane's Head

By Vincent L. Scarsella

Dearest Jane,

I have your head.

It's frozen, of course, preserved the past three years in a stainless steal box filled with liquid nitrogen, 480 or something degrees below zero. Not a molecule has moved in your brain in all that time.

From time to time, I thought of joining you. Killing myself by taking an overdose of pills or suffocating myself on car fumes in the garage. These methods of suicide, as you know, will inflict the least amount of damage. But I simply haven't found the nerve despite our solemn vow that if one of us died first, the other would not be long in following so that we could awaken together in some future golden age.

I have kept the insurance policy in effect, covering the cost of preserving my head immediately upon my death. But I am growing increasingly worried about the rising cost of the process. Freezing your head cost only $40,000. But that was three years ago and the price has already risen to 60k.

At a meeting of our cryogenics group (recently renamed, Everlife Inc., from Forever Always, Inc., after its corporate structure was reorganized or something), in New York City last month, we were told by Dr. Franz - your remember, our dour group leader, a professor of literature at Columbia, who always wore those moldy tweeds - that the insurance premium would be going up at least twofold to cover these increases.

From the beginning, as you suspected, mother bitterly opposed my keeping your head.

"You still have that head of hers? What if you find someone new? Fall in love again?" she constantly nags during every long distance call from her condo in Venice, Florida. (She moved there six months or so after you died). "What will you do with that head?"

"You're too young to give up the rest of your life," she scolds.

But how could I have sent your head to Everlife storage facility in Phoenix, thousands of miles away? After all, you died because of my unmitigated stupidity. I was driving the car. I fell asleep...

Of course, as you also predicted, Mother was horrified when I told her that there was not going to be a conventional funeral. She knew we were agnostics, almost accepted it, that, although we didn't go to church, we believed in God.

But after you died, she fully expected that I'd arrange a three-day wake with all the ghoulish trappings during which she could parade her bitty friends' available daughters before me.

But I wouldn’t give into her and you would have been proud of me. I stuck to my guns over that one. I arranged a brief memorial service in our living room after your head, in a special stainless steel box, was delivered straight from the airport to our front door by two solemn cryogenics technicians. They even wore the official dark blue Everlife uniforms.

After some of our friends and your sisters, of course, presented sad eulogies in remembrance of your wonderful life, we drank punch around the steel box containing your head and spoke in quiet whispers. Finally, the glum Everlife technicians carefully carried the box downstairs and hooked it up to a 220 line and a series of tubes on a special metal table I had to purchase for the thing.

After mother's priest, Father Murphy, offered a final prayer, I added my two cents. And what I said would have made you proud. Everyone should keep their spirits up, I said. They should not cry or grieve for you - that you would not have wanted them to mourn. That you - we - really did expect to live again in a future world where there would be no pain, no suffering, no death.

Still, everyone cried, especially your sisters. And, forgive me Jane, but I cried, too.

Then everyone shuffled upstairs and, after some final tearful good-byes, they left me all alone in the house with the stainless steal box containing your frozen head.

That night, I experienced the first of many haunting nightmares and sleepless nights.

Afterwards, as you might expect, our friends and family stopped by the house less and less to see how I was doing and, of course, your head. Only your sisters kept up the vigil, stopping by at least once a week.

Whenever either Sarah or Debbie came by, we bravely marched downstairs to the corner of the basement where the table with your head on it had been placed. The 220 line running from a box of special circuit breakers hummed electricity to the refrigeration unit on the back of the steel box. A gasoline generator rested beside it, ready to activate should the power go off. (In three years, it has activated only twice, giving me a real scare. But each time, the generator kicked on flawlessly, and your head was saved, remaining in frozen stasis in its vat of liquid nitrogen.)

Your sisters wept as soon as they see the metal box containing your head during each of their visits. After a solid cry, they stare glumly at the box, mumbling to themselves, as if actually talking to you, telling you how much they miss you. Having seen them like this, I realize that you were wrong to doubt their love, especially Debbie.

During her weekly visits, Sarah invariably asked: "Do you really think she'll ever be brought back to life?"

That's what you believed, I answered each time.

With that, Sarah always seemed to wrinkle up her cute, surgically fixed nose in that way you and I used to secretly laugh about, and let go of a long, patented snort.

Not surprisingly, Debbie has had much less to say. I am certain that she will always blame me for your death. I suppose that she will never forgive my negligence. Not that I can blame her. One visit early on, she turned to me with an icy stare and said:

"I suppose it is better to have her like this than rotting in the grave."

Funny, but no one ever seemed to care, or dared to ask anyway, what happened to the rest of your body - your headless torso. Debbie even let slip a joke that maybe you were better off without it, which I felt somewhat crass since she knew how hard you had always battled to keep your weight down. All I know is that, after the organs were taken out for transplants, what was left of your body was delivered, per our contract with Everlife, to some medical school for vivisection by students in the course of their study.

And now, finally, to the reason for this letter:

After three long years of being faithful to our plan, I - quite by accident, you must believe – must abandon it. You see, my dearest Jane, as mother predicted, I have found another lover.

It is funny, too, ironic, I guess you would say, how I met her. It happened three weeks ago while I was attending the annual conference at Everlife's headquarters in Phoenix. She was there, too. You see, only last year, the entire body of her husband, Edward, had been frozen. (At a cost of $120,000!).

Her name is Susan Wayne, and I swear it was love at first sight. The dumbest kind, as you always said, the kind that doesn't last. Ours was better, stronger, enduring because it was cultivated over many months.

But Susan and I fell for each other after a random glance, as the new president of Everlife began his long and rambling welcoming address.

Neither one of us would remember a word he said after that.

Susan insists, not surprisingly, that I send your head away. She will simply not live in the same house, under the same roof, with the head of my former wife in the basement.

You can't really blame her for feeling that way, can you?.

So I called Everlife and made arrangements for them to come and get your head for permanent storage at the main facility in Phoenix. Mother has even promised to pitch in and help pay for the long-range maintenance and storage fees as a kind of perverse wedding present, I guess, for Susan and me.

A transport crew from Everlife is arriving this very afternoon.

So I am writing this letter to explain what has happened and why. What a creep, I am, I know, unable to keep our vow that our marriage and our love would last beyond the grave, forever.

This letter, I was assured by Everlife, will be inserted into a hermetically sealed, titanium cylinder, with some of your other belongings. They will be given to you once you are brought back to life.

I was also informed by Everlife that visiting hours for family members and friends are very generous, that I can visit your head whenever I am in the area, with little, if any, advance notice. Though Susan may not allow it.

I have not yet figured out a decent and kind way to tell your sisters. I know it will be impossible for them to continue their regular visits. That will be hard on them since I think it serves as a kind of therapy. It will surely not make them feel any better about me.

When you are brought back to life and are reading this letter, I will have long ago died and turned to dust in some long forgotten grave. I trust you will not be feeling very good about me right away. Perhaps you will think that I have been a disloyal, faithless scoundrel. That I terribly betrayed you.

But, you must believe that I waited faithfully for over three years and I kept your head honorably all that time. Except for the occasional prostitute, I did not even look at another woman. As I explained, the thing with Susan Wayne was wholly accidental. An act of Fate, unexpected and unkind, like the day I fell asleep behind the wheel and changed our lives forever.

Perhaps, in the enlightened age in which you shall awaken, none of this will even matter. What are the petty concerns of lovers in the face of immortal life and colonizing the universe?

I hope so, I truly hope so.

I have cried my last tear for you.

The doorbell is ringing. I think the technicians from Everlife have finally, coming to take you away.

My eternal regards,


* * *

Jane put the letter to her lap and sighed. Reading it over and over again had made her feel desperate and alone. And sad, knowing that she had awakened into a world without Henry. Alone, terribly. She would be immortal, or something close to it, but Henry was dust. She would never even find his grave at which to weep.

Her counselor, a slender ageless man with bright boyish deep blue eyes, flowed into the room in his long, white robe. He was there to guide her through her resurrection.

Approaching, he brushed a wave of his long, blonde hair away from his tense eyebrows. How handsome and confident he seemed, Jane marveled, with the strength and presence of a lion.

"You are forlorn," he said, his accent thick, European. He nodded to the note on her lap. "It is a letter. From the lover in your past."

Staring off, Jane lifted Henry’s letter and shrugged.

"He decided to stay behind," she said. After a moment she looked up at the beautiful counselor. "He found another. So, now, -" and sighed "– I am free."

The counselor nodded, smiled. The beginning, she wondered, of a warm friendship. Or a relationship perhaps? Her heart fluttered momentarily, and then, she thought about poor Henry.

How easily she had forgotten him.

How little, she thought, had changed in five thousand years.

The End

Copyright © 2003 by Vincent L. Scarsella

Bio: Vincent is married and has three children. When he is not writing speculative fiction, he works as an attorney in Buffalo, New York.

E-mail: vscarsella@adelphia.net


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