Charlene had been waiting a long time. She considered patience to be one of her best qualities, however, and she did not like to complain. She was drinking the last of the good brandy in a purple flower-patterned teacup. It was a fine day for celebration, she thought.
The brandy settled thick on her tongue; it was difficult to swallow. Everything was difficult these days. She felt pain in her elbow just lifting the cup. Damn arthritis rotting her joints. Damn old age.
She looked at the picture on the wall, the one he’d used for the experiment. It was the best picture of her; the only large, full-body one, from nearly fifty years ago. In it, Charlene was wearing a short blue number with a shimmering flared skirt. Her legs were slim, her waist small, her arms lightly muscled. It used to make her sad to look at it. But now… now things were different. The boy was down in the basement now, just finishing up, he’d said. And then…
She quivered with excitement. Soon, she thought. So very soon.
She’d met the boy just three weeks ago, on her front lawn. There was a hole in the lawn, a big burned hole. The grass still smoked.
“I’m so sorry,” the boy said. He looked as though he might cry.
“What were you thinking?” Charlene demanded. “How dangerous. I could’ve been hit.”
“I know.” He looked at the pieces of the small rocket.
“Well, never mind. Won’t you come in for some tea?” It had been a long time since she’d had any company over. And the boy seemed nice enough.
He told her he was a scientist—or that was what he wanted to be, anyway. She told him she’d been a showgirl. He didn’t know what that was, so she got out some reels and showed him the pictures.
“That’s you?” he asked, awed.
“Sure is.” She had smiled, proud of her graceful moves and lovely youthful face.
The boy’s cheeks grew pink as he watched her legs kick up in the air.
Charlene smiled and sipped her tea. The boy kept watching, and she told him all about the other girls in the movies, about the actors she’d met, the parties she’d been to. It seemed as though no time had passed at all.
As he was leaving, she said, “Will you come back tomorrow? I’ll find some more pictures to show you.”
He nodded, still pink. I must look so old to him now, Charlene thought. What a dreadful thing.
He continued to come over to her house. They drank tea and watched the pictures Charlene projected on the wall. Charlene ached to be young again.
When the boy left, she smeared on lychee white powder and red lipstick. She danced in her living room. She tried to kick her leg, but her hip gave and she fell.
One day he told her about a new experiment he wanted to try.
“You’ve heard of these 3-D printers, right?” he said excitedly. “Well—hypothetically—and mind you, this is all just hypothetical, it would be really impossible to test, I mean—but imagine this: if you load the printer with organic matter—say, human cells—then what’s to stop you from printing out a human being?”
Charlene was sure this was all nonsense; she was sure of it. But she felt a little flutter in her chest. “So, you could print out an image of somebody? And it would look just like a real person?”
“Yeah—that’s the idea. Obviously it would take a lot of work to key-frame the 3-D image so it would print accurately… and then there’s the issue of where to get the material… everything would have to be printed separately, and then carefully pieced together.”
“But you know how to do all that, don’t you?”
He looked at her hand, which she now realized was clutching his arm quite hard. Her fingernails had turned white.
“I suppose I do,” the boy said.
“These printers,” she said breathily. “Are they very expensive?”
“I dunno what you’d call expensive. They run about $20,000. For the one I’d need, anyhow.”
Twenty-thousand. If he was right, and this really could be done, then it was well worth it.
“Tell you what,” she said. “You go ahead and get this printer and everything you’d need. I’ll give you the money. All I ask is that you do me the gracious favor of restoring my body to its original glory. You’ll do that for me, won’t you?”
A long moment passed before the boy nodded.
There was plenty to be done. Charlene gave the boy her credit card so he could order the printer and it arrived at her house the next day. Two thin men in black suits delivered it to her doorstep, holding the box as though it was a coffin. She directed them to bring it down to the basement.
“I need materials,” the boy said.
“Of course. Just tell me what I need to get.”
“I’ll need some preserving chemicals. I’ll need a giant freezer. I’ll need a worktable.” The boy sounded much older than he was. His face was grave.
Charlene made sure he got it all.
A few days later she went down to see how things were progressing. Everything smelled of bleach. The printer sat on the worktable, still in its coffin.
The boy was heaving something into the freezer. He wore a mask and his hands shook.
Charlene looked at the thing he was heaving into the freezer and gave a little scream. “What have you done?” she asked.
The boy finally got the body inside. He was sweating.
“I need her for material. I’m feeding her skin through the printer to re-mold itself into your skin. I’m feeding her fingernails to mold into yours. Then her hair, which we’ll have to dye, to match your color.”
Charlene stared at him. “Who is she?”
“She’s nobody,” the boy responded.
The newspaper published a picture of the girl. She was missing. Next to it was a picture of the girl’s parents, crying and hugging. Charlene couldn’t look at it; she stuffed the paper into the trash.
She was afraid of the boy.
That night they watched Charlene’s favorite picture, the one with Fred Astair. The boy reached for Charlene’s hand and he gave her smile. Charlene felt light. Things would be different, soon.
She had been patient for a very, very long time. Finally the boy tapped the ceiling, the linoleum slab right under Charlene’s foot. He was ready.
Charlene went downstairs, carefully holding the banister. She was afraid she’d tumble in her excitement.
The body of the lifeless showgirl was hers; it was hers exactly. The soft face, the plump cheeks, the perky breasts. Slim, young, agile. Charlene reached out and caressed the pale wrist.
“So now what happens?” Charlene asked. “How do I—er—get myself into that body?”
“It doesn’t work like that. This isn’t magic or voodoo. It’s science.”
The showgirl’s eyes were glassy and they stared straight up through Charlene’s head.
The boy regarded Charlene. “She still needs something.”
“Well for heaven’s sake! What have you been doing all this time? Finish her!”
He looked uncomfortable. “The thing she needs—it’s complicated to get it.”
“What on earth is it, boy? I’ll get it for you! Is it expensive?”
Charlene’s lovely patience was finally wearing down. “Tell me!” she screeched.
He took a deep breath. “It’s your brain. She needs your brain.”
Charlene stepped back and her fingers brushed the showgirl’s. “My brain?” she echoed. “But—can’t you just print out a brain?”
He shook his head. “I’ve tried, using other materials, even the brain of the girl…” he stopped. “No. It has to be yours, if you want her to truly be you. It’s all ready for it.”
He turned the girl’s head to the side. A section of her scalp was missing, the cavity of her head hollow. A network of nerves, veins, and arteries sprouted from the spinal column, frozen, waiting for the organ that would complete the masterpiece.
She regarded him. “Is it the only way?”
His eyes were on the showgirl. “Yes.”
“What will happen to me?”
“There are two ways to look at that, really. The first way, the way most people would see it, I suppose, is that you will die.” He kept opening and closing his hands. His fingers were red and swollen from feeding the printer. “The other way—the way I would look at it, the way you should look at it should you choose to go through with this—is to see that you will continue to live, in a much more full way. This copy of you will remain on earth, behaving as you did, with your thoughts and feelings—but in a younger body.”
“And what if you fail? I mean, what if she doesn’t wake up?”
She expected him to reassure her at once, but he didn’t speak for a few moments. Then he said, “That’s a risk I suppose we’ll be taking, Charlene.”
Charlene felt the brandy gurgle in her stomach.
This was what she wanted.
“All right,” she whispered at last.
And the boy stuck the syringe in her arm.
Samantha Eliot Stier’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Faircloth Review, Black Heart Magazine, Extract(s), Citizen Brooklyn, Infective Ink Magazine, Spry Literary Journal, Blank Fiction Literary Magazine, and Gemini Magazine, and will be featured in LA’s New Short Fiction Series in 2014. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and lives in sunny Venice Beach, California. Visit her at http://samanthastier.com/