page contents

Basic Cable by Dave Henry

“You don’t really have a choice,” the nurse explained.

The timbre of her tapping foot echoed within the confined walls of the hospital’s modest room. I noticed a very large scar stretching across her left knuckles.

“You mean I have to sign it?”

“Well, no you don’t have to sign anything, but …” she hesitated. “Since you don’t have much time, sir, you would give hope to the future. If you sign your body over for these few tests we could find a cure, and help further generations.”

In the midst of conversation, I caught my reflection in the concave mirror. The image seemed foreign with tufts of white hair matted near rose-colored liver spots. Names and faces blurred in an impressionistic void. My one pallid eye sunk beneath the seal of my sinking lid. As the nurse snatched the document from my trembling hands, I heard the humming of the machine. Behind my cot I saw the massive life support machine thrusting tangled wires through the shallow surface of my sordid skin. The device pumped fluids and gases into my veins. I toyed with the ebony colored wires as he drones of the machine were drowned by the sounds of the mounted television.

“We are only a collection of memories,” pushed through the distorted speakers.

I awoke the next morning to a soft-spoken nurse arousing me from sleep by placing electrodes on my temple, neck, and spine. The adhesive felt like a second skin.

“Don’t worry,” she said.

She placed her hand on my life support machine as she threw the switch. Electrodes stimulated synaptic dissonance as static frequencies bounced through the threshold of my senses. My surroundings dissolved into a vacuous foreground of formless static.

I rose from my sleep feeling as if my head split like a fault line. The florescent lights and the massive life support machine droned in the background as other patients could be heard sobbing in their own Stalinistic incarcerates.The sounds of my television rang above the aria of the merciless hospital.

“Don’t you want to be in control?” a boisterous narrator shouted. “Don’t you want to live as a legacy? Don’t you want to regain your independence? Don’t you want to die with pride?”

I changed the channel to a child imprisoned in a mental asylum asking, “What is a man without choice? Man is a puppet performing the comedy and tragedy of a sadistic madman, waiting in a life full of stories for death to come.”

A ringing resonated within the canals of my cochleae, a singular deaf tone crescendo climbing in the mainframe of my hemispheres. The television’s pixilated omniscience extended to my every thought and action, as if some static telepathy crawled like a worm beyond the surface of my mired grey matter. I vaulted, my ears screaming to muffle the barrage of basic cable. I heard a voice whisper.

“… and all this could be yours …”

In terror I opened my eyes to see a clown sitting at a round cedar table, a hoard of mannequins posed in laughter stood across from him. The clown stared directly in my eyes as he pulled out a crushed cigarette.

“Walter,” the clown mumbled, lighting the cigarette with a graphite match.

That name brought brightness to the chamber of my chest, the cadence so familiar.

“Walter, you’re losing it all,” he said, stretching his jowls as if trying to peel off his layers of makeup.

“You’ve abandoned choice. You signed that paper and lost the only thing that proves your sentience.” He inhaled the charcoal smoke of the cigarette.

“But a cure! There could be a cure!” I screamed, tearing my vocal chords.

“Death is no cure,” the clown noted facetiously. “Whether you live or die, Walter, your life is not your own. You are their puppet for medical experiments. A living blank slate ripe for possibilities.”

“Life will no longer be constant pain!”

“Walter, without choices and memories you are an illusion. Lost in the throes of predetermination. You’re like me, a ‘character bound to the desires of something larger’. Don’t you see every action and emotion is scripted as a means to an end?”

The clown ashed his cigarette and pointed at the massive machine seeming to breathe behind my shoulders. Wires stretched from my bruised veins toward the grand technological provider.

“Don’t be a slave to destiny, Walter,” the clown warned, “take your life into your own hands and pull the plug!”

The florescent lighting reflected from the stainless steel of the machine as I held the series of wires in my hands, contemplating the meaning of choice. I closed my eyes and imagined songs sung by distant stars.

“Pull the plug!” I heard.

“Pull the plug!”

Story © Dave Henry 2014

Dave Henry is an avid jazz musician, and writer searching for the administration building for Jack Kerouac's School of Disembodied Poets.