Tuesday, October 22, 2013

short story Advance Directive

Advance Directive

My name is John Price AD, and I have to decide if someone lives or dies. That's my only job, that's why I'm here, that's my goddamned raison d'etre, pardon my French.

     If this particular person hadn't popped a clot out of his heart and got it lodged in his brain, subsequently wound up on the stroke ward of the local District General with no movement in his right side and not much in the way of consciousness either, I wouldn't be here. Literally.

     I can't go and touch this poor bastard, can't hold his hand or shake his shoulder myself, can't try and reach him physically. But I've got a whole shed load of different camera views from my little room, and I can see it's pretty much a hopeless case. He hasn't really woken up, not since he's been brought in. Sometimes his eyes flicker open and stare blankly at the camera on the left – not to the right, I'm not even certain he's really aware of what right means anymore – sometimes he moans or cries. But there isn't much light behind those eyes, that's for sure. They're feeding him by a tube that goes down his nose into his belly, because the muscles in his throat don't work properly anymore, and if he ate anything, half of it would probably wind up in his lungs.

     All in all, the guy's in a pretty shitty state, as I say.

     But it's a tough call to make, tough as hell.

     That's what I'm here for. That's what he wanted, what I wanted I should say.

     That's why I was constructed, from his brain twenty years back, when it was young and optimistic, and didn't have a big gaping chunk of necrotic white matter rotting away on one side like a worm in an apple.

     It's tough waking up one day and realising you're not real.

     It's even tougher seeing what you've become, and then having to decide whether to pull the plug.

<  2  >
Karen's not really supposed to talk to me – that's one of the rules – but I can watch her, and she knows I'm here. She was the one who persuaded John Price – the real John Price, that is; not John Price AD, i.e., me – she was the one who persuaded him to have the advance directive made.

     I can remember it clear as glass, of course I can, just as clear as I can remember every other significant event of my simulated life. It was around the time her father was dying. He didn't have a stroke, he had dementia, but hell, same difference at the end, really. We went to see him most days for what seemed like forever, but it was probably only a couple of months. Most of the time he didn't even recognise her, didn't even register her presence. Sometimes he cried out and talked to people who weren't there. Most of the time he just blinked, looking confused and kind of hurt, then got on with the business of pissing and shitting himself.

     Karen wanted them to pull the plug, but they couldn't, of course. They could withdraw some treatment, they told us, but it was another thing entirely to stop feeding him, stop giving him fluids.

     It wasn't their decision to make, they told us, and it wasn't Karen's, either.

     "Bullshit," said Karen, "I was his little girl, for Christ's sake, he raised me and changed me, I was closer to him than anyone, you think I don't know he would have hated this?"

     But it wasn't in their hands or ours, and it took several long weeks for him to die. When he started coughing up green phlegm and struggling to breath, Karen was so happy.

     Right about that time, the whole advance directive thing was getting fashionable, at least if you could afford it, and we weren't doing so bad.

     So we got scanned, we both did.

     And that's how come I'm here, watching myself live like a vegetable, live through the thousand and one electronic windows of my digital cage.

<  3  >
     I wouldn't want to go on, if that was me, I keep catching myself thinking. And then I realise, shit, that is me!

     This whole damn situation is just too fucking weird.

Karen brings the children, and that's weird as hell, too.

     Tommy was only four when John Price was scanned, and Grace was just a faint swelling around my (his) wife's belly. Now my kids are young adults; I missed their whole lives. I can kind of recognise Tommy, the tilt of his chin or something. And I can see myself in Grace, too; our eyes are the same.

     I try and imagine what it must have been like, watching them blossom and grow. I have access to a whole library of videos and photographs, birthdays and holidays and so on, but it's not the same, of course it isn't. I review these archives, try to feel some connection to these children, but it's like grasping mist; and I feel like I'm spying on them, too. Are they really mine? Sort of. Yes. No. I'm not sure.

     Tommy holds John's left hand – they keep the right one under the blankets because it's horribly swollen and stiff, don't ask me why – and gets excited when the hand twitches back. It doesn't mean shit. I can see it doesn't mean shit. This poor bastard might as well be dog food, might as well be a fucking jellyfish for all the awareness of his surroundings he has. But all Tommy can see is that his Dad squeezed his hand, and suddenly there's a treacherous glimmer of hope in his face.

     Karen strokes her/our son's head, and looks straight at me through one of my cameras. Her eyes are hard. What is that there? Defiance? Resentment? Hate?

I take my time to come to my decision – shit, I'm not gonna rush into killing myself, am I? – but there's only one way I can jump, really.

     I wouldn't want this, and I'm based on him.

<  4  >
     Ergo, John Price would want the plug pulled. Case closed.

     I log into the system, and enter my choice.

     Except, it turns out the case isn't closed at all.

     Karen knew which decision I'd come to – she had lived with me for close on twenty years; even after the divorce there was some contact, or at least, that's what the records give me to understand. The point is, she knows how I think (or maybe that should be thought?), and she had an objection order in place just waiting for me.

     Which means, this is not going to be a clear cut case of me saying my future self would want to pop his clogs, and then vanishing myself in a puff of evaporating electrons.

     If I want me dead, I'm going to have to fight for it.

I can't get over how real this all feels. Just like real life. My lungs move, fill with air. I can hear sounds, taste and smell and touch things. And the so-called 'real' world can see me, too. We're just separated by an endless sequence of thin glass sheets, that's all. I'm trapped in a cage made up of all the computer screens in the world.

     Karen is in front of me, standing behind what looks like a thin glass window. Up till now we haven't been able to talk to one another. Now that the case is going to the courts, the rules are different.

     I don't have to justify my decision to kill John Price. Of course I don't. That's not the moot point. As his walking, talking advance directive, I have complete powers of advocacy over his life. I had them from the moment it became doubtful if he would ever regain a significant degree of consciousness, at which point my files were dusted off and my simulated self was switched on.

     No, Karen couldn't make a case around whether I'm making the right decision or not. That wouldn't wash at all.

<  5  >
     What she can do – has done – is to attack my right to existence at all.

     "People change," she tells the jury, "When you leave this hearing today, you won't be the same people you were when you arrived this morning. Every experience changes you. Everything you learn, everything you see and hear, every event in your life, however marginal, all build up in you, changing you. We are, all of us, in a constant state of becoming."

     It's obvious where she's going with this. Other people have tried similar things in similar cases. Sometimes it has worked, sometimes it hasn't.

     "That simulation of my ex-husband that you can see standing just behind the TV screen is not my ex-husband," she goes on, "It's a simulation of the man John was twenty years ago. The fact that as of this moment no law exists that automatically nullifies advance directives after a given amount of time has elapsed – and one could argue that even five years would be too long a time – the fact that no such law exists is just one example of how poorly thought out and bound in law the whole science of simulated advance directives has been, and continues to be."

     Karen was always good at talking. She's better than she was when I knew her, much better. I wonder what the woman I love has been doing with herself these past twenty years to get so much more confident, so much smoother.

     That's something else that complicates the situation, by the by.

     I love her.

     I can't help it. John loved her when he was scanned, so I love her now. The fact that she's put on some weight and has more grey in her hair than brown doesn't change a thing.

     I love her. I love her, and she hates me.

     It's my turn to talk now.

<  6  >
     I address the jury, not Karen. Matter of fact, I can't even look at Karen. I can't stand to see the contempt in her eyes.

     "Karen Price is trying to convince you not only that I'm not really real, but also that I am an inaccurate simulation of the man I was based on," I begin. I am struggling to keep my voice steady, struggling not to notice the way Karen is looking at me.

     "I can't attempt to argue the first charge – though I can tell you it feels pretty Goddamn real – but I'll give the second my best shot. Yes, everyone changes as they go through life, of course they do," I carry on, "But that doesn't mean that we become different people, not literally. Elements within us change, but the core of us does not. I'm here because John Price didn't want to go on living if he ended up as a vegetable. That wasn't something John changed his mind about. If he had done, he could have logged into his account and deleted me with the click of a button. The fact that he didn't means that, despite twenty years of life experience existing between him and me, we are still essentially the same person."

     Karen says some more after that, then I go again, but the thrusts of our arguments have already been laid out, and it's basically a matter of recapitulation, of trying to win the jury over with different ways of saying the same thing.

     After a while, a bell goes off, and we have a recess.

Karen asks to see me privately during the break, and I hesitate for the whole of about a second before clicking the button and accepting the request. Big mistake.

     She asks me directly to drop my decision, to resign my position as advocate, to let John Price live.

     "Karen, can't you see that he doesn't want to live?" I ask her, "I wouldn't want to, and I am him, for Christ's sake!"

<  7  >
     "You arrogant prick," says Karen, "Don't talk as if you're really him. You're not him. You're nothing but lines of code churning away in a motherboard somewhere. When this farce is over someone will press a button, and that's that, you'll be gone, no ashes, no funeral, because you're not real. And I'll tell you something else, I hope to hell the person who gets to press that button is me."

     "Shit Karen, when did you get so fucking bitter?" I say, because something is breaking in me, "You were never like this before. Never nasty like that, never so fucking nasty."

     I realise my voice is breaking, too, and the tears running down my face are obscuring the video screens. They even simulated the damn tears right.

     When I look up again, something has changed in Karen's face. I think maybe she's crying, too.

     "Jesus, John, don't you think this is hard for me, too?" she whispers, "To see you again, to see how you were, before things went wrong…"

     She trails off, then starts up again.

     "You look exactly like he did," she says, "You look like him, sound like him. The way you talk…It's like meeting a ghost. It's just like meeting a ghost."

     Then she puts one hand out and touches the screen. I reach out to her, but all I can feel is cold glass.

     "The kids…Tommy…he can't bear to see his father go like this." Karen is not quite looking at me as she speaks, "There was a lot of bad stuff between them, at the end. After the divorce, things got pretty messy. If he was to go now…look, maybe John won't wake up. Maybe he won't. But if he just hangs on a little longer, maybe that'll give Tommy the chance to…I don't know. To say some things, even if there's no one listening. To make peace with himself, or…or something."

     I can feel my resolve caving in. I love her. How can I say no to her? She wants me to hold off on my decision on account of her/my son.

<  8  >
     I run a hand through my hair.

     "Look," I say, "Look, OK, I'll hold off. For the moment. If Tommy needs some time, then OK, we'll give him some time."

     Also, it'll give me some time, too. I suddenly realise that maybe I'll have a chance, not only to get to know the woman Karen has become, but also to get to know my kids. To get to know Tommy.

     "Thanks, John," she says. She half-smiles at me. I nod, and kill the connection on the computer screen.

     Her face flashes and is gone, replaced by a familiar view of John's hospital room. I watch his chest rise and fall, slow, laboured. A doctor comes and stabs his good arm with a little needle so they can put another bag of fluid up, to keep him from dehydrating and dying while I refuse to make the decision that he would want, but that the woman I love does not. His hand jerks a few times, and the doctor calls a healthcare assistant to pin the arm down while he gets the needle in position.

     His eyelids flutter briefly, then still.

I'm not scared of dying. I know that sooner or later I'm going to be pulling the plug on John, and when I do that I'll basically be pulling the plug on myself too. Us advance directives do not enjoy the right to live beyond the souls who made us.

     There's a catch, though, to stop ADs from choosing to keep their "real" counterparts alive as long as possible, just so that they can go on "living" (in this weird, digital sense) themselves as long as possible.

     You get a couple of weeks to make your choice, then either way, that's that buddy, time's up for you.

     Say I decided to say, OK, John Price would want to go on living, don't pull the plug. I'd make my choice, throw my two cents in the ring, then I'd be switched off, just the same as if I'd decided to pull the plug. Goodbye John Price AD. The only difference is, if I decided to keep him alive, I could be re-awoken again if there were any change in his condition. If he deteriorated, for example, say he had a second stroke or something, then I'd be brought back to reassess, to see if I felt the situation had changed significantly.

<  9  >
     But am I afraid of dying? Why the hell should I be? I don't even really exist, as people are so fond of pointing out. Truth is, I am a ghost. The real person is either dead or dying, depending on your point of view. Fuck it, if I think about these things too long, my head starts to hurt. And that pain feels pretty Goddamn real, thank you very much.

     There are other things I'd rather spend these precious remaining ghost-moments on than a killer of a headache. Like watching my son, for example.

     He comes to see John most days, more often than Karen does.

     He mostly just sits by the bedside and doesn't say much. Sometimes he holds John's good hand. Once or twice he tried reading to him, but I think he felt self conscious about it, and he didn't do it for long. The book he tried reading him was "Flowers For Algernon", a science fiction book from a couple of hundred years ago. I remember that book, I used to love it when I was Tommy's age. It's about a guy called Charlie who has learning difficulties. He has an operation to make him smart. It works – in fact, he gets super-smart – but then after a while it begins to wear off, and he ends up being even dumber than he was to start with. It's funny, I used to run myself round in circles thinking about who the real Charlie was – was he the idiot or the genius, or who? Which version would he be when he died and went to heaven?

     Now that the court case has been resolved, I'm not supposed to talk to Karen or the others again. But it's not an actual law – as Karen said, the law surrounding the use of simulated advance directives is ridiculously lax – and I can't help myself in the end.

     "What are you thinking about, Tommy?" I say through a speaker one day, when I can't stand his endless sad silence a moment longer.

<  10  >
     He doesn't jump, doesn't even start. It's as if he knew I was there all along – of course he knew I was there, where the hell else would I be? – and was just waiting for me to say something.

     He doesn't reply for a long time, and I begin to worry that maybe he won't say anything, that he has decided to follow the rules and not interact with me at all.

     "I'm thinking…how did things change to end up like this?" he says eventually, "When I was a little kid, we were so close. I used to have nightmares about what it would be like when you…when he died. I used to get really worked up about it. Then I used to run and hug…him…I used to hold him so tight. And now, this. Sitting in a hospital room, and not being able to say anything…I'm not even sure the last time I hugged him. We…fought a lot, since the divorce. Since before the divorce, really. So I guess I'm thinking about how point A gets to point B, when there isn't even really a single moment I can point to and say, that's it, that's when things changed."

     The silence stretches on.

     "Was I a good father?" I ask eventually. I have to.

     "Yes. You were." I can see the tears starting to form in the corners of his eyes. "You were a great father. I loved you so much. Whatever happened afterwards, you were a great father."

     He gets up suddenly, leans forwards and kisses John on the forehead. Then he turns around without another word and walks away.

Karen comes to the hospital the next day, but she doesn't come to see John, she comes to see me.

     "Tommy says he spoke to you," she tells me, "I think it did him good. I don't think he's going to visit again."

     There is a long pause. I know what that means. I know why she's here.

<  11  >
     I wonder if I should ask the question I am dying to ask. Is it fair? But then, I'm going to be gone soon, probably in a few hours at the most. Why the hell shouldn't I ask her?

     "Could it have been different, Karen?" I say, "I guess…thing's looked so rosy. Did it have to end up this way?"

     "You shouldn't forget, we had good times too. A lot of them." She wipes the corner of her eye. "Things run down in the end, one way or another. Things end."

     "I wouldn't have fucking let things get this bad!" The words jump out, before I can call them back. I should stop, it isn't fair to talk to her like this, but I can't rein myself in.

     "How could he have hurt you all like this, ruined everything, fucked everything up so royally? I want to kill him. I want to kill him, Karen. I want to switch us both off."

     She smiles so sadly. She kisses my screen. Now there's a smear of lipstick on the glass, and the world is blurred.

     "It's time to go, John," she says, "But please, don't do it in hate. Do it, but not in hate. There were good times, I promise you. You did good things."

     She leans over the body in the bed, and kisses him on the forehead, too.

     Then she stands up, shakily, and walks out of the room.

     She is right. If she can forgive him, why shouldn't I?

     I type the code in, and this time there is no counter-instruction waiting there from Karen.

     John is about to die.

     I wonder if computer simulations go to heaven.

     After all, does God really give half a damn about the difference between a neurone and a diode?

<  12  >
     Maybe there's every version of every possible person in heaven. All the people we could have been if we went left instead of right, or had one less beer before driving home, if we had seen things through rather than giving up on them.

     Something flickers, and all the screens go dark.

short story Chinese on the Beach

Chinese on the Beach

The next morning the sky was clear.

     We had been waiting for a clear sky since leaving Beijing two days ago. On a whim we had come out to this seaside town, after talking vaguely about "getting out" - out of Beijing's colossal, traffic-jammed arteries, that is, where a grey slosh plugged the sky shut. Someone needs to drain this place, Noel said, and that was when we first thought of Minglao and the possibility of catching a glimpse of blue sky out here by the shore. It seemed sensible enough, and we booked tickets for the ten-hour train ride that same evening.

     What are you going to do in Minglao? Lian Li inquired, when I dropped by his basement apartment in a tiny alley behind Beijing's Nr. 6 Hospital. He declared it was a ridiculous idea. He couldn't understand why I wanted to leave the capital to spend New Year's Eve in a second-rate resort town. We were looking for the sky, I explained. He shook his head. Ten hours each way? To look for the sky? He said he would call me there, so that I could talk to someone civilized. We're just looking for a breath of fresh air, I said, and he nodded and then walked me back to the hospital, so I wouldn't get lost in the maze of lanes.

But we didn't find much clarity out at the seaside, Noel and I, on the contrary. Everything grew hazier, cloudier. It started already in the taxi, the smell of it so bestial that we sat hunched in the backseat, thick scarves pressed to our faces. Noel's girlfriend rang and he talked intently for several minutes, contorting his long upper body this way and that to keep the reception from dropping. They chatted about the trip, as if there was nothing strange about leaving Beijing to celebrate New Year's Eve with another woman, but he made it sound innocuous and perfectly sensible, like a school outing.

     After he finished we sat in silence, knocked about the back seat as the taxi swerved into the concrete square of the train station, nearly crashing into a van. The giant station buzzed and throbbed, despite the late hour, and Noel went hunting for a seat in the people-littered waiting hall. He snatched two spots at the far end of a packed row, opposite the electronic information panel, its black canvas bleeding red and yellow characters. I stared at it, huddled beneath my bags for warmth, trying to extract meaning, but the characters slid off my unreceptive brain. I drifted into unpleasant sleep when a gnarled Ayi beside me erupted into burps. Noel, on my left, sat awake and aloof, surveying the stacks of bandaged luggage scattered about the floor like shards of glass. I could feel his finely honed sense of order recoil instinctively, and a sudden bolt of insight made me understand that, perhaps, that was the quality I most coveted about Noel - his capacity for order.

<  2  >
     A low rumble rolled through the station and the crowd heaved into motion. A current of bodies pulled us off our seats toward the gates. Behind a narrow checkpoint two surly guards barked through megaphones, spitting anger at anyone stalling the flow, people trying to shove fridge-sized bags through the turnstiles. All around us travelers scurried through the dank unlit tunnel, eager to reach the bright warmth of the train. Noel sprinted ahead of everyone, up the inky stairs into the open wet night. He homed in on our compartment, then rushed back to pull me from the mass of people spilling out of the tunnel's mouth. I experienced something like a pang of relief at his show of solicitude, a rare blip of empathy in an overpopulated country busy with its own destiny. The train revealed itself a surprise: I marveled at the neat berths, spotless windows and the neutral odor of plastic. I can't believe this train, I exclaimed, but Noel had already climbed up and was crouching on the top berth, dangling his legs down one side, as he organized and compartmentalized his travel inventory. Trains used to be dumps, I continued, peeling an orange and pausing to inhale its pungent aroma. Worse than the public toilets in Beihai Park Old. Always crammed with people. The trains, I mean.

     Noel rappelled down the narrow ladder and settled opposite me. He whipped out a pocket knife and proceeded to carve up an apple with disturbing precision. A few passengers assembled to collectively gaze at this display of skill with keen interest, then scrutinized Noel as he ate his apple – the lines of his face, so straight his expression always verged on insolence, the slim surgeon fingers, the fit lean body. They studied his Northface backpack and Timberland-clad feet, searching for clues to his efficiency. What are they looking at, Noel grumbled. He didn't like making a spectacle of himself. He hated mistakes in general, and hated making them in particular, especially in public, and the care that he lavished on preventing them sharply contrasted with my ability to shrug off mine. I wondered, as another flash of insight seared through me, if I was a potentially huge mistake he was determined not to make?

<  3  >
     Meanwhile Noel fidgeted in his fold-down seat, trying to pry the watching eyes loose, but by now he was curiosity fodder for the entire car, until to everyone's disappointment he fled back up the ladder to cower in the protective dark. I yawned, unfazed by the brazen stares around me, and pressed my face against the galloping night. So where's the sky, Noel? I called up sheepishly, but he stayed silent. Bored, I followed him up, negotiating the cramped space with difficulty, even though I was a good bit shorter and more flexible than Noel. I fumbled in the dark, yanking and pulling at the sleeping bag, two white sheets sown together, and promptly ripped the seam. Noel laughed, his head briefly turned my way, then the mood altered again, and we lay in a darkness rhythmically pierced by shafts of light, spending our first night together on separate beds.

The second time things got muddled was the next morning at the hotel. We stumbled out of the train into a shabby daybreak. The air brushing my face had the quality of damp cobwebs and I threw Noel an accusing look. He ignored me, zigzagging through the crush of locals on the platform, his nose buried in a map that flapped in the cold wind. Noel's Mandarin was rudimentary and since he hated appearing even remotely incompetent, I ended up negotiating our way to the hotel and juggling the delicate issue of our "rooms". Unlike us, the hotel clerk didn't have his perception trapped in a cognitive fog, and when faced with a couple asking for a room, immediately exhibited unshakable common sense: a man, a woman, two big noses, they must be together, ran his conclusion, and grinning widely he pitched a "happy suite for couple". What about the beds? I ventured hesitantly. The beds? The clerk's eyes bulged. Small fault lines of anxiety cracked through his equanimity. The beds? he shouted. Yes, I lowered my voice, How many...beds are in one room? The clerk nodded. One? An embarrassed smile. Two? The clerk's face went blank. At a loss I turned to Noel, but he was leaning against the reception desk, engrossed in the swirl of veins bleeding across the fake marble top. Ah, ah, ah, the clerk croaked suddenly, erupting into eager nods. Two beds! he shouted, separate! Yes! Very separate! Yes! No problems! I turned to Noel and asked, What do you think of that? but he brushed off the question, replying hurriedly, Yes, fine.

<  4  >
The jealous ring of the phone continued to throw static between us. It rang during breakfast, as we chewed on a selection of gooey pastry, it rang during an absorbed stroll through one of the colonial villas, which, along with a profitable beer industry, the Germans had imported and then abandoned. And it rang again in the afternoon, in the middle of a discussion about cultural assimilation as sharp as the spiced meat we were gorging on. It seemed Noel spoke to her all the time then, but he rarely spoke of her, because even though she now accompanied us on our quest for meteorological clarity, it felt more and more hazardous to speak her name. By the third call, Noel had grown glum and moody, grumbling about the absent sun and the scarcity of options for celebrating the looming New Year. He pointed at the sea, visible from the villa-speckled hilltop, and suggested we descend to the park, a green expanse that stretched out below, square and nondescript, cut through by lonely paths. I shrugged, wary of his prickly mood, and then grew irritated myself, annoyed that I should obligingly tiptoe around him and his girlfriend-induced churlishness. In the taxi I parodied the driver, wringing an appreciative laugh from Noel, a laugh that briefly loosened the tight lines of his face, undocking the sharp triangle of his nose from the thin parallel of his lips. We were deposited at the edge of the water, a stew of flat grays and blues, without a ripple. Behind us, on a vast ring of concrete a few disoriented figures strolled in listless loops. Do you like them? I asked Noel, not really interested in an answer, but itching to shatter the accumulated monotony of park, weather and water. He, of course, took it seriously. Who? he asked, the Chinese? I nodded at the two human specks, making their way along the promenade. Noel considered, his green eyes boring into the concrete. Yes, I like them, he said. Why? I asked. I think they're interesting. What makes them interesting? I insisted. He rolled his eyes, but I knew a part of him liked to be challenged, liked to have the neatly labeled categories of his worldview re-examined, even rearranged, and that he should get that challenge from me was by now already routine. The way they cope with history, he said, now that everything is changing... And you? I kicked a pebble, doggedly silent, but he asked again, louder, And you? I gazed out at the sea. I think not speaking the language is very convenient, I said. What do you mean? He sounded puzzled. I told him about a recent experience, one that had vaguely bothered me: A few weeks ago I went to a sort of fancy restaurant with some Chinese colleagues and we were waiting for the food to be served. Usual crowd, mostly corporate types, a few expats. My colleagues were talking, I don't remember about what, and then suddenly this clicking noise fills the room. And one of my colleagues snickers and tells the others, there goes another stupid European dropping a chopstick. I shrugged and Noel pensively scraped invisible characters on the concrete with a stick he had picked up somewhere. We set out to wander about the park, one of many new parks engineered as a benchmark of the country's success. At the end of it, where the clipped lawn hit the surviving bunkers of communist housing, I stopped, chilled and tired, and looked round for Noel behind me, but he surfaced suddenly on the path in front. His eyes locked mine in place as he drifted closer, gaining speed, until he hurtled toward me on a straight line of collision. He is going to kiss me: the realization careened into my brain fully formed, hung there in suspense, as Noel came shooting down the asphalt, arms twitching at his sides, as if ready to be flung out, and just when I told myself, almost dizzy, he is really going to do it, he came to a sudden sharp stop, just inches from my face. Let's eat? he said, breathing rapidly, but without missing a beat, his thoughts shut airtight behind blank eyes.

<  5  >
When we left the hotel at dinner time, the clerk waved and bowed, and hollered Beds good, yes? across the lobby, sending Noel scooting into the street. And that's when things got knotty for the third time, on the evening of New Year's Eve, when the attractive owner of the "Tasty Sea Paradise of Minglao" set her sights and the full battalion of her charms on Noel. At first we didn't notice her, absorbed as we were by the sight of our dinner wriggling and crawling around us. A battery of locals had - after much head scratching, conferring and smiles of embarrassment - agreed that among Minglao's foreigner-proof attractions the "sea paradise" was tebie hao – especially good - but also hen tebie: very special. And tebie it was. The "Paradise" was full of sluggish crustaceans packed in brightly lit water tanks, lining the floors and stacked high up the walls. What's wrong? I asked when Noel snapped to a surprised stop in the entrance. Then I caught sight of the piles of seafood stirring in the tanks, shells and claws and jutting hairs dragging lazily across the flimsy sand bottoms. Are you sure this is a restaurant? I whispered to Noel, and that was when I first set eyes on her, hovering still and alert at the fringe of the room, lips a severe red, a sleek ebony bun nestled in the nape of her neck. A waiter shuffled cheerfully into our line of sight, pulling his shoes like a pair of recalcitrant hostages, bellowing This way! This way! Brimming with excitement he welcomed us to "the fastest-growing country in the world" and led us with great ceremony past endless rows of crustaceans into the crowded dining hall. We're the evening attraction, Noel hissed, cheeks aflame. Eyes and voices surged to snatch a glimpse of the white couple being escorted to the epicenter of the room. We sat down, waiting for the clatter of curiosity to subside, when a sudden blast of music left us momentarily deaf. They have a band, Noel yelled, pointing past my shoulder to the scraggly quartet wailing the lachrymose chords of a pop song, eyes closed, shoulder-length hair brushing four sets of bony shoulders. On the table between us, Noel's phone gleamed silent with menace. It had rung twice in three hours, and both of us braced for a third intrusion. Still, we kept going, bantering weakly over piles of maimed, half-eaten remains of shellfish, but our efforts fooled no one, certainly not the astute owner of the "Sea Paradise" who set out to peel back the layers off our seashore charade with the accurate if crude intuition of the casual observer. Her entry into our dinner was as regimented as a government-run television extravaganza. She delayed it for an hour, and when she finally sashayed toward us, her silk robe billowing out dramatically behind her, she opened fire immediately.

<  6  >
     So very nice boyfriend you have, she remarked suavely, and with a single, precise flap of her robe, she induced Noel to offer her a chair. She kept her eyes fixed on Noel, her back to me, while she chatted lightly, head expertly tilted sideways. I was left to stare at her lacquered bun curving down the milky nape, when she spun around abruptly, the sugary smile on her lips dissolving into blunt hostility. We are just friends, I stammered, confidence waning under the siege of her contempt. Is this all you are capable of, the mocking curve of her eyebrows asked, and seeing that I posed no threat, she proceeded to breezily dispose of Noel's faraway girlfriend. She deplored so much distance put between love, and so much faith put in silly technology, declaring email and mobile phones heartless substitutes that conveyed nothing and covered up everything. It's not good to trust in machines, she assured emphatically, patting the arm of a vacuously grinning Noel. They cannot help the loneliness, she sighed and then flatly pointed out that he was, after all, traveling with another woman. This ...friend... is very sad looking, yes? she remarked in dulcet tones, nodding gently in my direction, while her eyes eviscerated the word "friend". Noel predictably stayed silent, looking in consternation at his phone, which now refused to ring, and I stared angrily at a chipped nail on my finger and gritted my teeth. She was like a battering ram, pounding away, her curious absence of self-consciousness defusing every obstacle, her stilted English, her ransacked teeth, her provincialism. After titillating Noel with tales of her prowess as a cutthroat business woman, she followed up with flirtatious belligerence. You have most beautiful eye, she cooed, so green, so - how I say – so fresh! Like wet fish! She saw my smirk and quickly corrected herself, like water of the sea! Like crystal water of sea, yes? I rolled my eyes and drummed with frozen fingers on my glass, as she regaled Noel with endless little anecdotes about herself, until, fed up, I rose and excused myself. In the frigid restroom my fighting instincts revived somewhat, and I raged at the empty paper roll and managed to crack the plastic toilet lid by smashing it shut repeatedly. By the time I got back, a dab of gloss on my blue-tinged lips, the frizzy hair finger-brushed, the bun's hand, like that of a greedy empress, lay plastered across Noel's thigh, and her lips were pegged to his ear. I'm sorry, I interrupted, flashing a smile that showed off my intact teeth, I think we have to leave. I'm afraid I am feeling sick. The bun raised her severely plucked eyebrows. Noel sputtered and coughed and checked his watch. Already? he asked, more confused than upset, but for once I experienced a spell of radiant clarity. I rubbed my forehead and looked faint, and Noel finally stirred, a veil of worry in his eyes. The bun grudgingly unglued her hand from his thigh. I hope it's not food poisoning, I sighed, snapping my purse shut and waving for the bill. You not eat anything, maybe that is why you feel sick, she replied sweetly, her smile barbed with animosity. But this time I held her gaze and after a moment she sneered through dilapidated teeth, before crossing her arms in a sulky concession of defeat. Noel looked docile, as if he'd just woken up, and quietly followed me out. At the door she overtook us, shimmying ahead of me, expertly flicking her robe like so many slaps to my face. Next time, she flashed her eyes at Noel, you come visit with wonderful girlfriend yes?

<  7  >
We slipped out into the night, our footsteps resonating through the hollow town. She was something else, Noel mused, and I acknowledged, now that he was safely out her grasp, that she was quite something. Ambitious, I said, like all of them. What is it with this us versus them you have going on? Noel quipped, then suddenly gripped my arm. What now? I protested, and he pointed at his watch. It's late, it's almost midnight, I want to go somewhere and celebrate! But Minglao was drained of life, all it served up was a couple of hotel bars with one or two potbellied men drinking to another year of unpredictability. At five minutes to midnight we stumbled into what looked like a disco. A scrawny deejay rallied half a dozen teenagers to a last dance. Midnight arrived without a countdown, and Noel and I kissed chastely on the cheeks. His arm briefly lingered around my shoulder, I felt its weight, his fingers brushed my cheek, my hair, then withdrew to embrace the cold metal of his urgently blinking mobile phone. He went outside to talk to her in the freezing night and I lit a left-over cigarette in cranky disregard for the newborn year. Then my phone beeped and blinked in its turn, it was Lian Li on the line, but the music roared and I couldn't hear a word he said. I went outside to talk to him and there we stood Noel and I, together on New Year's Eve, celebrating on separate phones.

Let's go back, he mouthed over a pop song, the green of his eyes dull with fatigue. The cold was sobering. We hurried back to the plush silence of our hotel room and watched the rest of the world drink and dance on CNN. The rest of the world looked exciting and fresh, and waved to us in a rainbow of colors. It doesn't feel like we're in the fastest-growing country in the world, Noel remarked, and I knew he was matching the rich hues on the screen against the colorless reality beyond our hotel window. It's television, I said sleepily, and he replied, It's damned good television then, and I said nothing, too spent to examine why life should look more colorful in countries with minimal growth. I fell asleep on my bed, fully clothed, and after a long time, hours it seemed, I heard other words, I heard Noel call my name, Frederique, in a low voice. Through the jitter of my lashes the hovering figure of Noel assembled, his body poised in the gap between our two beds, behind him the flickering screen of the television. Someone was dropping the ball on New York. Frederique, he called again, tentatively, or I thought he did, because then the ball dropped and the crowd burst into cheers, and I wasn't sure who had said what, and being in doubt I held my breath and lay motionless. The crowds went on cheering. And then with a fizz everything went quiet. A gulp of black swallowed the bucket of colors that had poured from the screen onto my closed eyelids, glowing there in a patchy carousel. In the absence of noise that filled the room, I could hear Noel's steps brush softly away, retreating to the safety of our status quo.

<  8  >
The next day the sky was clear.

     Let's go to the beach, Noel suggested. We were lolling around on the teal armchairs, letting the streaming sunlight inject heat into our limbs, grease our stagnated blood flow. He pointed at the stretch of sand that snaked its way along the shore and vanished in the bulge of our hotel curtain. A smattering of voices blew in through the open window. We flitted off our spots into the first day of the New Year. There were a million Chinese on the beach. Noel planted himself at the edge of the water, tall as a lighthouse, and immediately a clot of beach goers gathered on either side of him, and the scene had something laughable. I watched them point up at him in amazement, elbowing each other, but soon I got restless and turned to the spectacle of the teeming winter beach. A circle of elderly men played volleyball in striking, orderly fashion, positioned at equidistance from each other, volleying the ball with delicate restraint. You know, I've never seen a Chinese on the beach before, Noel told me after I withdrew from the game I had unsettled with my overly aggressive serve. I didn't know they liked going to the beach? He looked at me quizzically. A mother and her two ribbon-festooned girls walked by. Both girls held dainty pink umbrellas over their heads, already schooled to protect a skin tone that would ease their path to success. They hopped past us, ribbons fluttering, and I admired their eyes, shining with promise, everything about them polished to perfection, competing with the crisp, unadorned blue of the sky. Noel, who had been sitting next to me in the sand, playing with the leather tassels of my handbag, jumped to his feet. The sun glared behind him and I couldn't make out his face, but I heard him ask, Were you awake? and I replied with a startled What? squinting up at the black outline of his body. I waited for him to repeat the words, not sure of what he had said, and when he asked something utterly different, asked, Where are we going? my paralysis finally snapped and I dived head-first into the cool, translucent shock of clarity. There was going to be no mistake. There was going to be no disorder.

<  9  >
     You know, I said to Noel, standing up as well and brushing the sand off my legs, you know, I repeated and crossed my arms, the reason why it's us versus them is because we don't stand a chance. I pointed at the mother fussing with her daughter's dress. They will just take what they want. Noel flushed. I bent down to reach for my bag and noticed one of the girls watching attentively from beneath her glittering umbrella, which she quickly lowered, but not quickly enough to hide the little, sharp eyes. They stung my face or perhaps it was just the glare of the sun stinging my skin after the long absence of light.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Depression .. And its impact on the child

Depression .. And its impact on the child

Although it is difficult to imagine a small child suffering from depression, this is a common and dealt with many of the studies psychiatry. But the ages of 4 to 6 years (preschool) has not received adequate studies, it may be difficult to detect depression in this at such an early age. A recent study conducted by researchers from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Washington, United States, Washington university school of medicine, that part is responsible for the organization of emotions in the brain for children in pre-school, who suffer from depression, different from their peers from healthy children.

* Different brain functions * The study technique was used MRI to detect differences in the brain for young children, revealed the existence of a difference in brain function and an increase in activity for the gathering neurotransmitter in the brain is similar in composition fruit almond amygdale important part in the organization of emotions in the brain, for children in pre-school who suffer from depression, which sets off alarm bells need to pay attention to the problems of early children's psychological and try to remedy them. The system studies fMRI fMRI have been conducted on adults and adolescents, but there were not enough studies for pre-school children in this age group, especially that any small movement can lead to erroneous results. Therefore, the researchers, similar to 'dress rehearsal' first; where there was what looked like an X, was to tell the children not to move, and ensure the safety of the procedure.

The researchers conducted the study on 54 children aged between 4 and 6 years, and 23 of them had been diagnosed earlier that they are infected with depression, and the rest (31) of normal children.

It is noteworthy that children depressed patients were not taking any anti-depressants Antidepressants. During the study X-functional children has given the picture and object reflects several feelings, such as joy, anger, fear, and regular expressions. The surprise was that children who suffer from depression appeared to have increased activity in the region responsible for emotions when they see all the pictures faces regardless of the nature of expression either joy or anger or sadness, compared to their peers than healthy children, which clearly indicates that depression alters and functional neural activity of the brain, which can cause psychological problems later in adolescence or adulthood, especially a child who suffers from depression, mostly suffering from depression in adulthood as well.

Sleep deprivation drives you to eat more junk food

Sleep deprivation drives you to eat more junk food

According to a recent scientific study led by researchers from the University of California for a new and dangerous information on sleep deprivation and do not get enough of it, and its impact on the human food diet.

The researchers pointed out that sleep deprivation and get a few hours of rest during the night pay rights to practice eating habits harmful and unhealthy and accepts to eat pizza and prepared foods noodles and unhealthy foods, while limiting at the same time the intake of green leafy vegetables and whole grains. And extensive studies have been conducted on 23 people around the brain regions responsible for the selection of different foods, and the results confirmed the existence of a close relationship between lack of sleep and the incidence of obesity.

The researchers followed that people who get a few hours of sleep often accept significantly eat high-calorie, arguing that all changed the activity of the brain and change selections person for foods covered by and associated with lack of sleep may explain the injury of persons who practice those healthy habits wrong obese or overweight. The researchers added that getting enough sleep time is a very important factor to enhance the chances of weight control by modifying and adjusting the brain mechanisms that control the human decisions to choose foods. The findings in a recent study published in the journal "Nature Communications", and that the printed version of the Journal of the sixth of August.

Mug of hot cocoa improves strength and brain function in the elderly

Mug of hot cocoa improves strength and brain function in the elderly

A medical study revealed that eating Kbaralsn for a mug of hot cocoa significantly helps in strengthening the functions of the brain. The new study has linked between eating two cups of hot cocoa daily and improve the skills of memory and cognition among the elderly especially those who suffer from low levels of blood flow to the brain cells. 

This comes at a time which sees a number of researchers believe that the results obtained are very limited to validate the effectiveness of cocoa in promoting mental capacity directly and protection of the decline and ensure the normal flow of blood to brain cells in addition to careful eating cocoa local cause long-term increase the problem of obesity, which is indirectly linked to the low level of brain function. 

He stressed Dr. "Farzana Sorod" assistant professor in neuroscience at the University, "Harvard" America the need for moderation in eating cocoa Local private until they are standing on the impact of sugars on the patient's health and fat that comes from eating cocoa. 

 A previous study of cocoa have linked many health benefits, paid to rights as a result of regularity in the eating and the improvement of some brain function and mental abilities. 

Researchers have conducted their research on 60 people with an average age of 73 years, where he was tracked for more than thirty days and given drinks rich in antioxidants and "Alflavonid" located in Cocoa associated with improved blood flow. 

 The follow-up indicated that eighteen people with disabilities, including increased rates of blood flow to the brain cells and by 80% compared to the elderly who did not organize these beverages. 

Infants die; hospital stopped heart surgery

Infants die; hospital stopped heart surgery

Tabitha and Lucas Rainey were beginning to get suspicious.
The staff at Kentucky Children's Hospital kept telling them their infant son, Waylon, was recovering well from surgery. There had been a few bumps in the road, to be sure, but they said that was normal for a baby born with a severe heart defect.
Months passed. Waylon remained in the intensive care unit. More complications arose.
"Is everything OK?" the Raineys would ask.
Yes, the doctors and nurses assured them. Everything was fine.
Then one day, Tabitha Rainey says a cardiologist took her aside.
"She said, 'If I were you, I would move him,' " Rainey remembers. "She told me we should take him somewhere else.'"
A few days later, the Raineys arranged to have Waylon sent by helicopter to the University of Michigan. By then their son, not quite 3 months old, was in heart failure.
Secret data
If Waylon Rainey had been born 30 years ago, he almost surely would have died a few days or weeks after birth. He has a condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which means the left side of his heart is so malformed it can't pump blood.
Today, surgeons perform a series of three operations on babies like Waylon. They're high-stakes surgeries -- cutting into an organ the size of a newborn baby's fist is tricky, to say the least. The blood vessels can be thinner than a piece of angel hair pasta, and one wrong move, one nick, one collapsed artery or vein can be deadly.
These children are medically very fragile, and even the best surgeons lose patients. Surgeons track their deaths and complications and take great pride in the number of babies they save. Some are so proud they publish their success rates right on their hospital websites.
Kentucky Children's Hospital is not one of these hospitals.
10 ways to get your child the best heart surgeon
Instead, Kentucky Children's Hospital has gone to great lengths to keep their pediatric heart surgery mortality rates a secret, citing patient privacy. Reporters and the Kentucky attorney general have asked for the mortality data, and the hospital has declined to give it to them. In April, the hospital went to court to keep the mortality rate private.
Parents of babies treated at Kentucky Children's say the hospital's effort to keep the data a secret, coupled with troubling events over an eight-week period last year, makes them suspicious something at the hospital has gone terribly wrong.
Four innocent lives
On August 30, Connor Wilson died after having surgery at Kentucky Children's Hospital for hypoplastic left heart syndrome. He was 6 months old.

Three weeks later, Waylon Rainey had his surgery and later went into heart failure.
Eleven days after that, newborn Jaxon Russell had a "botched" heart surgery at Kentucky Children's, according to his father.
Waylon and Jaxon both survived after undergoing additional surgeries elsewhere.
Less than three weeks later, on October 16, 6-month-old Rayshawn Lewis-Smith died after having heart surgeries at Kentucky Children's Hospital.
That same month, Dr. Mark Plunkett, the hospital's chief heart surgeon -- and the only surgeon performing open-heart surgeries at the hospital -- went on paid leave, according to hospital spokesman Jay Blanton, and the hospital stopped doing heart surgeries.
The parents say they didn't receive any explanation for why the surgeries stopped or why Plunkett left. A hospital spokeswoman said Plunkett was not available for comment.
Parents react to story
CNN met with Connor, Waylon, and Jaxon's parents in Lexington, Kentucky.
"I think they're hiding something," says Nikki Crew, Connor's mother.
Shannon Russell, Jaxon's father, said when his son had the second surgery at a different hospital it lasted four hours longer than expected because of infection and scar tissue left behind from the first surgery at Kentucky Children's. He said the second surgeon also found a hole in Jaxon's heart that the first surgeon missed, and corrected it.
"Our question is, how many other babies did this happen to?" said Russell, who, with his wife Miranda, started Lil' Heart Sluggers to help other patients of children with congenital heart defects.

'OK isn't good enough for me'
Dr. Michael Karpf is the first to admit his hospital's heart surgery program was not the best.
Karpf is executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky's health care system, which includes Kentucky Children's Hospital. He said he put the pediatric heart surgery program on hold because the mortality rates weren't what he wanted them to be.
"They were OK, and OK isn't good enough for me," he said. "It's got to be better. It's got to be good."
In December, a local reporter asked for more details. Brenna Angel, who worked for the university-owned radio station, asked the university for the mortality rate for all pediatric cardiothoracic surgeries performed over the past three years. She also asked for the number of surgeries performed by Plunkett, the date of his last surgery, and payments received for his surgeries.
The university answered some of her questions: Plunkett operated on 110 children in 2010, 81 children in 2011 and 62 in 2012, often performing multiple surgeries on one child. In 2010, UK HealthCare received $288,522 in payments for his surgeries; in 2011, it was $255,380.
But the university refused to release the date of Plunkett's last surgery or the mortality rate, citing the federal patient privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. The university's lawyer said even though Angel was only asking for numbers, those numbers could eventually be linked to patients' names.
"Because Dr. Plunkett performs relatively few surgeries and because all of his surgeries are highly complex surgeries, it is relatively easy to deduce the identity of his patients," wrote William Thro, the university's general counsel.
Angel filed an appeal with Attorney General Jack Conway, citing the state's Open Records Act, which requires that public agencies, such as public universities, open most of their records to the public.
The attorney general asked the university to let him look at the data privately. The university said no, again citing patient privacy laws. The attorney general disagreed with the university and found it in violation of the open records law.
In April, the university appealed the attorney general's decision to state circuit court.
Hospital plans to do heart surgeries again
While the legal battle continues, the University of Kentucky has been doing its own internal review of the events last year.
Plunkett returned from his month's leave of absence and then later resigned from the University of Kentucky to take a position with the University of Florida.
Dr. Timothy Flynn, senior associate dean for clinical affairs at the University of Florida College of Medicine, said he spoke to surgeons who worked with Plunkett in Kentucky.
"They thought Dr. Plunkett performed very, very well," he said. "We did the due diligence on his skills, and we think he'll do excellent in our environment."
The Kentucky hospital plans on hiring a new surgeon and opening the program back up again at some point. Karpf, the UK HealthCare executive, said parents don't need to worry -- when it reopens, the program will be first class.
"I won't be satisfied until our program is as good as anybody's program," he said.
But Connor, Jaxon, and Waylon's parents aren't so sure.

They say it's troubling that doctors and nurses gave them vague answers when they asked specific questions. For example, their sons had very complex surgeries, and they wanted to know how many times Plunkett had done their specific procedures and what his success rate had been.
"I want to know statistics, I want to know hard facts," said Lucas Rainey, Waylon's father. "But they just said, 'We see this all the time. It'll be fine.' "
Karpf said he's not sure parents would understand statistics and rates.
Karpf says he worries that most people would "have a hard time understanding data."
"Data is a complex issue," he said
Rainey said he and his wife understand data just fine -- they analyzed other hospitals' mortality rates when deciding where to send Waylon after the cardiologist suggested he be moved out of Kentucky Children's.
Jaxon and Waylon are both at home now, and their parents are very pleased with the outpatient care from cardiologists at the University of Kentucky. But they said they'll continue to fight to have all safety data released to the public.
"We've not lost our child, and I thank God for that, but I'm standing up for the ones that have lost their kids -- the moms that I've had to stand in the hallway with and try to console because they've lost their children," Tabitha Rainey said. "And they don't know what's happened and there are still no answers given to them."

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

short story for kids The Hungry Mouse

The Hungry Mouse

A mouse was having a very bad time. She could find no food at all. She looked here and there, but there was no food, and she grew very thin.
At last the mouse found a basket, full of corn. There was a small hole in the basket, and she crept in. She could just get through the hole.
Then she began to eat the corn. Being very hungry, she ate a great deal, and went on eating and eating. She had grown very fat before she felt that she had had enough.
When the mouse tried to climb out of the basket, she could not. She was too fat to pass through the hole.
" How shall I climb out?" said the mouse. "oh, how shall I climb out?"
Just then a rat came along, and he heard the mouse.
"Mouse," said the rat, "if you want to climb out of the basket, you must wait till you have grown as thin as you were when you went in."