by J. Deery Wray
When I first saw Mr. Evans, he didn't look any different from my regular patients.
If it weren't for the restraints at his wrists and ankles, I would have questioned
Nurse Eileen's insistence on personally walking me through his medical chart. But
cymbies don't need restraints.
"He's not a cymbie, Nurse Sophia," Eileen said. "He'll wake soon. You'll see it
then. He still remembers how to use his tongue. Only knows about ten words, but
he does love to say them. He'll fight you every chance he gets. I've had to spoon
feed him for the last ten years because they won't let me put him on an IV feed.
But that's your problem now."
And it was.
"Forty, clover, key," Mr. Evans shouted.
I wiped the spittle from his chin. He jerked away from my touch which still
surprised me, but in a good way. A patient responding to stimuli shouldn't seem
strange, but I'd worked with nothing but cymbie patients for so long; six weeks
wasn't enough time for the novelty to wear off.
"Happy harmonica," I replied.
The words were an even greater novelty. He'd say "glass" next, then "tar," "box,"
"house,","weapon," "orange," "barrier," and "forgive." Nurse Eileen had been
wrong. He knew thirteen words. They'd become a litany I repeated to myself as I
tended to my cymbies.
I couldn't help but smile. Tending to Mr. Evans had become the highlight of my
day. Sure, he wasn't getting any better, but he also wasn't getting any worse. And I
could accept that. It was harder to accept that cymbies just get worse.
Like everyone else I knew, I followed the cymbid research, or rather the lack of it.
In the early days, I'd been too young to understand the pull of it. I just saw my
father smile more when the newscasts spoke of a bright new line of inquiry, less
when the studies failed to pan out, then more again at the appearance of a new
possibility. But as I grew older, as all the treatments and herbicides proved futile, I
came to dread those newscasts. I watched them because I had to hope, but what I
felt when I watched them was fear.
"Weapon, orange, barrier," Mr. Evans spat out.
No matter how much we struggled to find answers, the cymbies never struggled.
The end came sooner for them, and the rest of us . . . How long before we're all
infected? But no, it was no more useful to think of the end of humanity than it was
to think of the research lost back on C-day. If there'd ever been any research.
An unending beep sounded as Mr. Evans' heart stopped.