Chapter 3

Chapter 3

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The tears came a while later, after I put Timothy’s body in the incinerator. He burned everything in the incinerator: paperwork, food waste, other waste. And now, I was going to burn him.

Sometimes, he’d spent hours in the incinerating room, doing God knows what, probably chopping up the waste into smaller bits so it would burn off with less energy. I appreciated him doing it without asking me to take turns. Mostly I cooperated by eating everything on my plate.

Incineration was the only way to avoid culturing harmful bacteria within the domes. Also, imagine the reek, if we’d kept everything inside. Bad. That was why I didn’t wait for a day or three days or however long it took for a person to ascertain that another person was really dead. That, and how spooky it would be if I had to live with a corpse for that long.

I waited for exactly three hours, leaving him collapsed by the swivel chair, because to drag him up and take him elsewhere would only verify his death sooner.

Timothy didn’t budge. He had to go. I knew it, so I did it. Nora Haynes. The woman who did what she had to do. Super.

In the first few moments of putting him in the incinerator, the situation felt so surreal and distant, I morbidly wondered about the sound of burning bones. Did it sound any different from paper burning? Probably. Absolutely.

I examined the buttons. There weren’t many. One said “Empty.” The other said “Begin.” Surprisingly simple.

“Empty” sounded too ominous, as if the machine were asking me if I wanted to rid Timothy from this world, completely. (Which, I guess, was exactly what I wanted to do, but hey.)

“Begin” sounded more hopeful. So I pressed that.

The door locked from the inside with a click. But no other sound came. Timothy’s incinerator had thick walls, just like the outer dome and home dome. What happened inside stayed inside. No need to be tortured by the happenings from the other side, unless you had a masochistic tendency, like me when I went to water the little yellow flower and give the madpeople a chance to hate me.

I couldn’t even see his flesh burn, because there was no window on the silver front. And because the incinerator performed its job as perfectly as all the other inventions that Timothy had left behind, I felt no extra heat while staying in that barren white room. Still in my tank top and shorts, I cried and cried. My tears were probably the hottest substance affecting the temperature inside the domes. They trickled into my mouth. Salty. Gotta drink water. Dehydration was the most dangerously lethal thing I could do to myself right now.

It seemed the incineration of Timothy was going to take a while. So, I left the room. In the spotlessly clean kitchen, I drank a cup of water, which came from the faucet like at any normal place before Eternal Summer, where and when even toilet water had been more or less drinkable. In fact, this was toilet water. That plus some filtered waste, like urine. A pee purifier. See, Timothy had prepared for everything.

He’d even hoarded plastic bottles, in addition to installing the purifier. That made sense. It was always handy to have bottles, even when you planned to stay in one place. Just look how I came to need an urn. You never knew what kind of containers you might need in the future. And because Timothy was Timothy, the bottles weren’t just any bottles you saw with store-brand water. Unlike those branded bottles, Timothy’s had no big ugly stickers around their bodies. They were slim, elegant, and modest in their transparency, as if meant to be gifted, rather than sold.

They’re lightweight, he’d said, during one of the few occasions when he’d explained something to me. Very thin, sturdy plastic. Don’t melt under the sun.

I’d frowned, amused yet puzzled. (It’d been in the early days of Eternal Summer. My ability to feel amusedly puzzled hadn’t dried out yet.)

Timothy had answered my unspoken question. If they did melt, it’d be unhealthy to drink water from them after leaving them out in the sun for too long.

As if he ever had to worry about that inside the domes.

Now hydrated and therefore confident in my safety, I looked for an urn substitute. Timothy-the-menstrual-cup-preparer, who was also Timothy-the-condom-hoarder, had not thought of stocking up on urns. I wished we’d taken the time to talk about these important things. Did he prefer a plastic container that used to be the home of cereals as his eternal resting place? Or did he want his remains divided into many smaller chunks, in little salt-and-pepper shakers?

Maybe the water bottles?

I opened the bottom cabinets. They were filled with those bottles.

Too common, I decided. Not special enough. If he’d lived to stay alive ten, twenty more years, maybe I would’ve fallen in love with him. I needed a more meaningful urn.

Something vroomed on the counter. I glanced up. The forearm-length cleaningbot, which held a clean white cloth in its pincer-arm, wiped the counter around the coffee bean canister that Timothy had taken out of the pantry this morning. That’s what he called it: a canister, not just any container. It was airtight, built out of rust-resistant stainless steel, and came with a silicon base. It was supposed to make coffee last fresh forever.

Once the cleaningbot vroomed out of the way, I picked up the canister. From the front, it was smaller than a tablet, larger than a smartphone. From the top, it was round and slightly larger than my palm. Was this sufficiently roomy for the remains of a man who’d prophesied the grand doom?

It was certainly symbolic enough. And since I wasn’t going to give him a proper funeral, I wanted to make up for that with an additional touch. Something even more symbolic. Like water. Just a little bit, of course. I didn’t want to make goo by mixing his remains with water. What I wanted was simply that in his death, as had been the case in his life, he’d never go thirsty. In this world that was burning away, I wanted that for him.

From the faucet, I filled the canister just a little bit. When I closed it, the water ring-ring-ringed metallically against the interior. It sounded like avant-garde music—so clearly water, that sexiest, most provocative instrument on earth.

I returned to the incinerating room. I couldn’t tell if the machine was done. I pressed an ear against its silver surface. No sound. I pulled on the door, assuming that, if the cycle wasn’t done, it wouldn’t unlock.

But it did unlock.

I stared in.

Squinted.

There was nothing there, lying on the smooth silver surface. Timothy was gone.

Was the incinerator that effective? That it could simply… dry up everything that used to be Timothy? But surely that was impossible. Timothy used to be bone and flesh. Bone and flesh didn’t turn into water, which could evaporate away so cleanly. Timothy was no alchemist. And there was no weird smell that indicated he’d been dissolved with chemicals.

Hugging the coffee canister as if its stainless-steeliness could shield me from harmful sorcery, I climbed into the incinerator. The inside was dark. I touched the silver bottom. It was cool, as if it had never been hot before. Besides, I could smell something alarmingly moist and organic. Moss. Or fungi. Or both. Slowly, I crawled further in with my canister.

Deeper.

Into the dark.

The bottom let go.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
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