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Friday, January 31, 2014

Sightseeing. By John von Daler

                    The #pensioners followed the colored lines on the floor. None of them could see very well so they followed them with their heads bent down, their gaits hesitant. They looked a lot like ostriches hunting for food, what with their white feathery hair and their backs all bent.

                When they found the waiting room they were met by nurses from the national health service who introduced themselves and filled out forms and finally gave each elderly patient a turquoise showercap and plastic shoe bags to match. Then they dripped the old, worn eyes with various kinds of fluid and left them to wait in a waiting room without magazines or newspapers. The pensioners sat watching each other sheepishly. A few had family members with them and they talked together quietly.
                One nurse came back every twenty minutes and called out three names and then a little troika of plastic-covered people followed her to the operating rooms where they were seated one by one, each in their own room with their own doctor. We do five thousand a year, one nurse had said.
                The composer followed his nurse into a room filled with machines like mechanical octopuses, all metal arms with dials for eyes and electrical cords like seaweed winding around everything. In the middle of the octopuses was a turquoise chair he sat down on. Then they covered him with instruments and bags and firm hands.
                Two faces peered down at him through the tangle. One, a pretty nurse from some warm country, her face so symmetrical that her perfect beauty dwindled and dissolved  within seconds, smiled at him, baring her perfect teeth and assuring him that this would all be pleasant.  The doctor beside her peered down and spoke rapidly as he commandeered the composer's left eye into place in a plastic trap. The composer was to watch the bright light, not the pretty nurse, follow it through thick and thin.
                Thick it was, too, his journey. As the machinery hummed into a bleating, croaking avantgard symphony the  phosphorescent light darted around in a brilliant red sky framed by a menacing, dark, blood-red border. While his left eye followed the light, his right was trying to catch a glimpse of the nurse, but this maneuver quickly caused the doctor to bark out a command to focus on the light. Finally he settled into a heavy, wild show of lights and sounds and words better than anything he yet had seen in a concert hall.
                The music softened after a while and the doctor leaned down and spoke in his left ear.
                "You have the choice now of having a so-called wi-fi implant," he said, in voice low, heavy, secretive as if the nurses were not supposed to hear. "At absolutely no cost to you I can give you a tiny, tiny chip in your retina that will enable you to receive four thousand channels of your own choice. You just have to say the word and I can do this right now."
                The composer was silent. He was still thinking about the way the nurse's dark, thin eyebrows pointed exactly at each other above her perfect, brown, doe eyes.
                "Do you want it or not? Now or never." The doctor moved around in his seat.
                "No, thanks," answered the composer.
                "O.K." said the doctor, "but don't say you didn't get the chance." Then the concert started again and the white light danced once more in the dark-red sky.
                In a few minutes he was finished. A plastic, see-through patch had been placed on the eye that now saw as well as when he had been five years old. The composer declined the help of the nurse and walked by himself into the recuperation waiting room where he was to sit for a few minutes. Other old people were sitting there already.
                He looked around the room at these representatives of his own generation. Some heads were bobbing in a kind of rhythmic way, others were extremely quiet with a kind of mysterious focus as if directed towards some distant object. Still others smiled and others laughed out loud.
                "Old people," he thought. "This is the way old people look. Bobbing, shaking, spaced out, weird. They got the implant, all of them."
                Then he saw them all in a kind of composite picture, seated inside their own heads, reclining on inner sofas, laid back, out of reach, watching their inner televisions.
                The male nurse approached him to make sure that he was in balance and ready to leave.
                "Everything all right?"
                "Yeah" said the composer. "Out of this world." And he left.

My book, Pieces: A Life in Eight Movements and a Prelude (WiDo Publishing) is now available. Order through, the publisher or your local bookstore. Click to buy Pieces at the top of the blog. Please feel free to write a short review of the book in your own language at or GoodReads. Thanks for your support!


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