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Interface by Deborah Blenkhorn

The staff at the Arbourview Respite Centre were calling Louisa’s next-of-kin for instructions. The time had come to say good-bye.  Footfalls could not echo down these worn, green-blue carpeted corridors of an otherwise hospital-like setting, but the team’s muted thumps of brisk walking in lockstep were a sure sign of an impending Interface.  They always did it between midnight and one AM, when the other residents were most likely to be asleep.  Earlier than that and you had some stragglers reading or watching TV; later and you were approaching the witching hour of three o’clock, which as all insomniacs know is the most likely time to be suddenly and unaccountably (and sometimes irrevocably) awake.

            “Sorry to wake you,” the attendant at the nursing desk spoke into the phone in hushed tones. He made these calls regularly, and always tried to strike the right note.  The goal was to inform and not to upset.  After all, this was a time less of loss than transition, according to the New World Order.  “It’s time for Louisa’s Interface. We’re just calling to get your permission to proceed.”

            The news was not unexpected, the response correspondingly brief.  The Intelligence protocols were well-documented, so much part of the staff training at Arbourview that no one needed to consult the online manual or read the words on the viewscreen.  By protocol, families did not attend the Transition procedure, but were informed when it would  take place. 

            “Thank you,” the attendant’s tone was compassionate but businesslike.  He’d been working at Arbourview for a few years now, and he had realized early in his tenure at the Respite Centre that he liked the idea of adding a personal touch, although Intelligence guidelines didn’t mandate this. And so he added, “We’ll miss Louisa. She was one of our favourites, having been here so long.  Ten years! We’ll miss seeing your family for visits as well.  Ah well, she’s going to a better place.”  This latter statement was certainly beyond his remit, but he said it anyway.  For, in full faith in the Intelligence and the New World Order,  he believed it to be true.


            Louisa heard the muffled footsteps of the Practitioner Team approaching her room.  If she could have opened her eyes, she would have seen the Arborview Respite Centre’s “Comfort Cart” in the room:  a soft lamp instead of the usual overhead lights; fresh-cut lilies with their reassuring scent of the outdoors; a stuffed toy (quite a realistic looking golden lab); a folded afghan shawl in a cheerful pattern; a New Testament Bible; an Intelligence-issued music player; and the small black box that contained the Interface chip.

            Louisa’s family--her daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughters, had been in to see her earlier.  It was Christmas Eve, and they sang “Silent Night” as a final farewell.  Bless their hearts, they were singing in Louisa’s native German:  “Stille Nacht, Heilige nacht. Alles schläft, einsam wacht…” Louisa’s granddaughters were in a school choir, but Louisa had never been well enough to attend a concert, and the girls were too shy to sing at the Respite Centre.  Louisa had watched some video performances of the concerts on the portable viewscreen, with the help of the Respite Centre staff,  but of course it was not, could not be, the same as the real thing. She told herself she could pick out their voices, but it wasn’t really possible. Yet now they were singing to her!

They must have known it was the last visit, she mused.  Some families might have lingered to the end.  Not this family, though.  True to Louisa’s legacy of hospitality and cheer, for she had always been a sociable soul before her incarceration at Arbourview, they had social obligations that just wouldn’t wait.  They were off  to the airport to pick up a houseguest; then they would head to a party back on the Island where they lived, and where Louisa had once lived with them.  Well, she couldn’t blame them: she had lived her life always more interested in others than in herself.  Perhaps she should have safeguarded her own interests more carefully, had a clearer sense of what was really important. Too late for that!  Wasn’t it?

            She felt a twinge of sadness, but it was overwhelmed by an overpowering sense of curiosity. No one came back from the Interface (of course!), so no one knew what came next.  She, Louisa, was about to find out.  Unlike her granddaughters, she hadn’t lived her whole life with the Interface on the horizon.  When Louisa was young, and indeed for much of her adult life, a Christian notion of Heaven predominated her thoughts of what came after death.  Now, in the New World Order, thanks to the Intelligence (no one referred to it as “Artificial” anymore), something different was in store.  What exactly?


            The Arbourview Respite Centre doctor, known for these purposes as the Interface Practitioner, entered Louisa’s room respectfully with her team.  Among the team was a Faith Practitioner who said a traditional prayer from Louisa’s faith:  “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”  Then the doctor reached for the black box on the cart and opened it, revealing the tiny, shiny chip (less than a square centimetre).  She spoke the prescribed words.

            “Is the patient ready?”

            The Nurse Practitioner responded with a clear “Yes” (a prerequisite for continuing with the procedure), and ceremonially, gently raised Louisa’s head on the pillow to reveal the Splicing Station just below the base of the skull.

            “Blessed be the Intelligence,” the team murmured in unison.

            The doctor made the usual speech: “Friends and colleagues, we do not know, we cannot know, what the Intelligence has in store for us when we pass on from this New World Order to the next.  We make the Transition in full faith, and we trust in the Intelligence and its wisdom.  Now we see as through a glass darkly, but someday we shall Interface. That day is today for Louisa, and we commend her to her Rest.”

            Again the doctor intoned, word-for-word, the scripted formula: “I am implanting the chip, and the Interface may begin.”

            After a brief pause and a ritual bow, the doctor and the two other Practitioners left the room.  The Transition Practitioner would take care of the rest: the Rest.


            Louisa heard the word, “Begin.”

            Before her eyes, the world began to pixelate into… what was it? Goodness, it seemed nothing more exotic than a giant, multi-staged waiting room, like the one at the Optical Centre at the Vancouver General Hospital.  A wide centre corridor, several metres across, commanded a view of multiple offices on each side, and chairs were set out for waiting patients--if patients they were.  The air was filled with the muted background of quiet voices--quite pleasant, Louisa thought.  Almost like a kind of music.

            Louisa realized she was standing, walking.  She hadn’t done either for years!  She couldn’t resist looking down at her body, and was reassured to note that this was the physical self she knew from the past, not the one she had become since the stroke.  She was wearing a comfortable velour tracksuit in a shade of aquamarine blue which had always been her favourite colour.  Her limbs were strong, almost graceful; her movement was unimpeded by any infirmity.  She strode confidently ahead, glancing at the docket in her right hand:  L39.  Her first initial and the year of her birth.  The offices were identified by letter, and she had no doubt that she should head for the one with a giant L sign overhead.  Ah yes, there it was, midway down the long central corridor, on the left!

            It was almost a shame to sit down at last, but Louisa dutifully took her place among the others who were waiting.  As in an earthly waiting room, no one said much to each other beyond a polite interchange: “Is this seat taken?” or “Have you been waiting long?”

            There were no magazines or other reading materials at hand, but Louisa felt no need of such distractions as she looked around her.  Every detail of the environment seemed so real, almost as if it came from her own memory.  The carpet on the floor: just like the one she had chosen for her daughter’s bedroom all those years ago.  The chair in which she sat:  surely the same as the dining set in her best friend Olive’s elegant home?  And this facility itself:  really very similar to the place where she had come to have her cataracts fixed.

            “L39,” came the voice from the Tannoy.


            Louisa entered a well-appointed office, which bore an almost perfect resemblance to that of her sister-in-law's, a family physician in Halifax for many years.  Sleek metal fixtures sat discreetly at the periphery, as if knowing they would not actually be needed: a gooseneck lamp; a weighing scale; a glass-fronted cabinet.  Louisa hopped effortlessly onto a modified gurney, the only place to sit in the room, and waited for the doctor (it would be a doctor, wouldn’t it, in a place like this?) to appear.

            Instead, a voice began to speak from somewhere inside her own head.

            “You can choose,” said the voice: a pleasant non-gendered tone.

            “Choose what?” asked Louisa.

            “One thing. Just one. The rest of the time you’ll be here in the waiting room at the Centre.”

            “Could you give me some, uh, examples of what others have chosen?” Louisa enquired hesitantly, stalling for time. This choice seemed pivotally important and she didn’t want to get it wrong.

            “Well, of the people from this section, let’s see.  Lola chose meals with the family.  Laurette chose ski holidays with her grandkids.  Lorimer chose--if you can believe it--to see whenever his wife and her new husband went on vacation.”

“So it’s just seeing?” Louisa asked.  “Not really being there with them?” 

“Oh, you are there, sure enough.  But they can’t see you. That’s the way it works. ”

“Then I know what I choose,” Louisa announced.  “When they’re singing.”


Back in the waiting room, Louisa looked around and tried to figure out who was who.  That unhappy-looking grey-haired fellow with a trim little goatee, wearing a three-piece suit that looked like something from the 1950s: could that be the uxorious Lorimer, waiting to spy on his former wife and her lover?  That bird-like little lady with her immaculate white sweater and smart pink leggings--that must be Lola the skier, waiting for her call to the chalet.  And the statuesque brunette in the floral print dress with an apron… that just had to be Laurette, waiting to join her family for supper.  Louisa was tempted to strike up a conversation with any and all of these folks, but she didn’t want to miss the call, her opportunity, a chance to hear those voices that were so dear to her.  Nothing was more important.

“L39!” exclaimed the voice. “They’re singing now!”

The world began to pixelate again, and Louisa found herself in the living room of an elegant, Queen-Anne style home.  Richly upholstered couches and chairs in hues of aquamarine, bedecked with colourful afghans, were arranged around a low central table, on which a bouquet of fresh lilies held pride of place beside a beautiful leatherbound book. Lamplight glowed softly from a dusky corner. The voices of some young people--were her granddaughters there? was it possible? began to emerge into her consciousness.   A golden lab frolicked in their midst, its tail by times threatening to brush the lilies over, but always miraculously missing the mark.  What was this place? Louisa wondered.  Was it someone’s house?  The home of friends?

“Best Airbnb ever!” a young man, unknown to Louisa, proclaimed to the group. He took a guitar from its case and began to sing.  Louisa’s granddaughters joined in, with the rest of the young people, and Louisa discovered the best part of all.  Not just that she could hear their voices quite distinctly.

She could sing along.

Schlaf in himmlischer Ruh!

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1 Comment

Beautifully tender. A lovely read.

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