[S2-E2] “Blessed Home” by Mary Sheehan

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“Blessed Home” by Mary Sheehan

I am spinning slowly in my tank, suspended in doped-up air, buoyant, bobbing. Piano music (Beethoven?) plays softly in the background. My eyes are closed, but if I opened them, I would see only pale yellow light enclosing me in a warm glow.

I like the piano music. It makes me feel calm. That, alongside the sedation. The Facility keeps mine light, because I prefer it that way, and because I am well-behaved. The Facility knows my ways, knows I don’t misbehave. I have been here for a long time now. It must be years, though there is no sense of time. No calendar, no clock. Only the pale light washing over me, keeping me warm. 

This morning, the Facility reminded me that my son will visit me today. He comes every week, at the same time. While the staff prepare me for his visit, they tell me he is good to me, compared to most of the others in here, at the Blessed Home facility, whose families have forgotten them. I nod and smile gently, murmuring the right response. They think my mind is feeble, like so many in here. I cannot see outside my tank, but the Facility can see inside, so I stay locked inside my mind. They cannot see inside my mind. In my mind, I am not suspended in a tank of gas and air. I go away, far from here.

Where do I go? I go home, to my sprawling house in the countryside, with a red-tiled roof and ivy-covered archway, the mishmash of furniture and ornaments, collected over a lifetime, heavy with memories. For sixty years, my wife and I lived there, raised our child and grew old. We had a black cat with a white tummy called Cat Stevens. But then my wife died and my only son accused me of going senile.

The bell that signals that my sedation has stopped chimes. Soon, they will come to collect me. I stop spinning as the air thins and I float to the bottom of the tank. I wait.

A pop of glass opening, bright light seeps inside. A gentle hand the length of my body picks me up from under my arms and seats me in a dollhouse armchair. I watch as the giant girl in the Facility's uniform scrubs her hands in a sink as large as a swimming pool. She is a kind of nurse, I think. My wife was a nurse, though in our day, the Facility didn’t exist. I am handed a pair of sunglasses while my eyes adjust to the natural light. 

“How are you feeling today, Mr Donnelly?” her voice booms.

I mumble something as she dresses me. When I first arrived, I was embarrassed by foreign hands touching my body, stripping me bare, clothing me in strange scratchy Facility clothes. But now, I am apathetic. Maybe it’s the drugs. 

When I am presentable, she brings me to the visiting area. I sit in an armchair, more comfortable than the last, watching vast visitors speak to their doll-sized relatives. I once heard a story about a family who brought home their shrunken grandma from the Facility, only to have her chewed up by her once beloved dog.

My son comes into view, striding towards me with confident steps. I used to walk like that too, before I came to the Facility. He plants himself squarely in the visitor’s chair, launching into a nervous segment on his drive here, and the audacity of other drivers, and how isn’t it ridiculous that with all the technological advancements in the world, we still don’t have cars that drive the middle class from A to B?

While he talks, I let my mind drift. I used to be angry at him for forcing me to come here. Of course, he needed consent, but the pressure, financial and emotional, forced my hand. He threw all kinds of arguments at me; overpopulation, nursing homes. I used to wonder if he wanted to punish me, if I was a bad father, if I shouted too much, if I pushed him too far, if he resented me. 

I don’t wonder anymore. I don’t do anything much. The end is coming soon; I can tell by the way my body submit to sedation. I asked them to lighten it, because I know I will sleep for a long time, soon. I want to comb over my memories of home, before I go on to whatever lies beyond. I wish I was going home. But I’ll never go home again. 

The thirty-minute drive to my father’s facility is the most inconvenient part of my week. I swear as I swerve around incompetent idiots, blaring the horn and flipping off scandalised old ladies who surely shouldn't have licenses anyway. It’s amazing with all the advancements in technology, I still have to drive myself to get where I need to go. I take my anger out on the road, so that by the time I get to Blessed Home, I am wrung dry of emotion.

I first heard about it when my father was getting too senile to live at home, and we were looking at nursing homes for him. But the demand is competitive, the prices obscene, the facilities bad. I didn’t want him to be abused and neglected, and he flat out refused to go to a nursing home. Pulled the “what would your mother think?” line too. 

Someone told me about this facility. They had seen it on the dark web. I brought my father here for a consultation. They welcomed us warmly, offered us coffee, spewed us with medical jargon. We toured the premises as they explained the basics of the technology, how it was possible to reduce the size of a person using extreme heat pressure to the size of a ragdoll, while preserving their body and mind. They showed us to a vault, where little old people bobbing in silver containers lined the walls, sleeping. They described the benefits - fewer drugs needed, less food, less waste, easier to manage large numbers of people, easy storage. They were sedated the majority of the time, woken at various intervals to eat, to exercise, to excrete.

He wasn’t convinced. But because the nursing home was a no-go, it was easier to convince him to try. That was all we needed. Left with no other option, he signed his life away. I promised to visit him every week. I have never broken that promise. 

The facility is spotlessly white. The receptionist flashes me an expensive smile.

“Welcome to Blessed Home, Mr Donnelly. Go right ahead.”

They always have him ready to see me as soon as I arrive. During his former life, he was a big man, looming, powerful. A blue-collar labourer who wanted a better life for his son. His presence, hell, his shadow, used to scare me. Now, as I walk towards him, he is miniscule, deflated. He looks tired. He always looks tired.

I tell him about my week. He listens, or doesn’t. I can’t tell, because he nods and murmurs at the right times, but never asks me questions. I never ask him how he is doing. I know he does nothing. He goes back into the vat of drugged up air and bobs around for hours, days, left with nothing but his own fading memories and medicated slumber. 

Do I feel ashamed? I don’t dwell on it for long enough to feel anything but relief. I don’t have to sacrifice my life to look after him, or remortgage my house to fund his last years. I don’t feel guilty, because I’m not alone. Thousands of families send their elderly, dying relatives to these facilities, which have sprung up all over the country. It’s normalised now. So it must be OK.

At the end of our hour together, I always turn away, so I won’t have to look at him being lifted like a baby back into the vault. I wonder if he ever misses his home, the old house with the rusty roof and overgrown garden, sold to pay the price to live in a tank. After drinking alone one evening, filled with morbid curiosity, I drove by. Bleary eyed, I noted a strange car in the driveway. The lawn was mowed, the roof replaced, the door painted a happy yellow. I wanted to stop and knock on the door. But I didn't. I looked away, eyes on the road, and kept driving. 

He must know that he will never see it again. He will die in this godforsaken place I put him in. The irony of naming this little piece of hell "Blessed Home" makes me shiver. I wonder if his mind is past the point of knowing, or if he knows more than he lets on. I could ruminate on whether I did the right thing, but what good would it do?

The Blessed Home facility grows smaller as I drive away, and I forget, for another week at least.
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