The baby. The boy. The girl. Crying. Crying. Crying. The baby wouldn’t stop. He scooped it from the cradle, a wide-eyed smile revealed on his lips, he cradled it in the crook of his elbow. Smile. Laugh. Wag. Bark. Meow. All of them faces. All of them masks. All of them different. The boy and girl stared at him. He didn’t know them. They didn’t know him. They were a family. The wife was behind, near the kitchen counter. She poured herself a cup of coffee. He heard her sip. Her fragrance was sweet, like honey. The baby’s voice made her tremble. Her cup shivered, her skin scalding when the coffee spilled. She screamed from the burns. The baby screamed. The children screamed. The man didn’t move.
“Are you sure you want to proceed, Mr and Mrs Gertrude?” said Dr Heim. Adam Gertrude nodded; he had his hand intertwined with his wife’s. It was necessary, the hand-holding. The love classes said it helped people to bond beyond the Eraser. Through different lives. Adam felt her hand to be slimy, thick and slow, like her voice. Her name was Amy. They had met a month ago. And before that, three months, and before that, a year and on and on, each beginning a diminishing state. They were different people each time, same skin. “And this will mark your…” Dr Heim pursed through the wooden pad at his desk, he had a familiar rhythm to his movements, brushing past people’s lives and only looking at the conclusion. The few pen marks that gave away the end. “…your seventh divorce,” he said.
“No need to worry, I have treated couples that have managed to find true love only after nineteen or sometimes even thirty divorces” Dr Heim smiled. Adam was afraid. The doctor looked spotless, clean right down to skin unblemished by sweat. His skull was radiating. He was right. They would find…the word was grotesque. “After all, love is just permutation and combination, we just need to find the right combination for the both of you.” Dr Heim laughed. Adam laughed too, a nervous surreptitious titter. Amy didn’t. He was fine with that. Her laughter was irritating. Just like her silence. Just like her voice. But’s that why they were going to divorce. And then stay together.
Dr Heim took them to the Eraser. The equipment was round, sleek like bones with a flatbed, cushioned to support the back. Its helmet looked inviting, like the pits of a child’s fingers pressed together. Until they would spread out like tree branches, dig inside his skull, and kill him. Amy strapped in first, the belt curved around her bosom. Adam had felt her body once, a lone night when they both felt the need to do it. Not the desire. The need. An experimentation to see if the pleasure of the body could deceive the mind. They moved in disharmony, her breath tasted bitter, like alcohol and masticated food. He tried to imagine anyway, tried to sway, tried to think about the next Amy, the one who would come after her. The one who would be a perfect fit for him. The one born after the Eraser, and at first touch, he could see himself reflected inside her. The missing piece at the centre of a pieceless puzzle. He lay at one corner of the bed, Amy at the other, a chasm at the centre. He heard Amy sob. He went to sleep.
The device buzzed, humming with the strength of electric current. Amy was parked half a metre from him. Their hands still held. Amy looked away. Adam felt the ends of it slowly creep inside him. Crunching through the scalp, and compressing the hair follicles, finally pushing through and touching a piece of him. And then all of him. Something hot. Something cold. The dice rolled. Adam died. Adam was born. Their hands still touched. Adam wondered who he was now? He couldn’t remember the Adam of before. The Eraser was their funeral and birth. The end of one and the start of the same. He looked over, Amy was smiling at him. Adam looked away.
“What do you like?” Amy asked him on the drive home. “I don’t know,” Adam said, thinking about the Adam from before, what did he like? The rain, the snow, the air? He was a mystery. A puzzle transferred from memory to memory. “We should like the same things,” Amy said. She smiled coyly. Her hands touched his, then closer, toward the crotch. Adam resisted the urge to flinch. They passed through the highway, the billboard for the True Love institution lit up the gloomy night. ‘Build a love that lasts an eternity,’ they sold the world on that caption. If you weren’t compatible, you could be made compatible. You could be made to love. After all, humans were just code. Randomise the wiring long enough, and the pins just click. The world becomes brighter when two people are numb together.
The house was alien. Built to the taste of an ancient man, the one who died for love, but could not live for it. Amy entered first, her hair thrown behind, hips swaying, inviting him. The house was old and new, each iteration of them not lasting long enough to make it their own. A place of abandoned things. Behind the curtain, there were three other things unowned. Eyes of indigo rain watched them. A boy aged to a thin, sad state, clutched his sister protectively, a baby boy folded between them, hiding behind the cotton butterflies of their pyjamas.
Amy shrivelled, her face desiccating with a sudden disgust. Adam wondered whether she knew they had kids? He didn’t know himself. The children knew though, their eyes pregnant with recognition. Each iteration lingering in their questioning stares. Adam wondered if they were monsters to them. Creatures whose natures fell apart the moment they walked through the door. Their lives caged in a constant tempest of introduction and departure. The youngest one was still naïve, his mind unadjusted to the cycle. Amy’s presence made him blubber, his blue eyes crinkled, like crushed paper. He cried out “Mama…” and ran toward her, struggling away from his brother’s iron grip. His nose pressed into her knees, “Mama, mama…” Her blue jeans came away wet with snot. Amy turned to stone.
Adam drove back to the clinic. Amy wanted a divorce, this would be their eighth. She had her eyes tuned out the window, at the blue skies. The Adam of the now, decided he liked blue skies, though the Adam of the next, might not. An immeasurable amount of Adams all fighting for existence, for a moment, and then passing onto the next. The Adam of the now wondered why the ancient Adam had started the cycle? What did he hope to gain? Why hadn’t he just run away? Maybe he saw a vision of perfection, of gambling for just the right combination? And in that perfected combination of tinkling machinery, growing children, a happy wife, a brighter life. Or did he want this madness? An unending cycle of randomness where the consequences flowed from Adam to Adam. The only visible traces in the vacant living rooms, in voiced silence, and the cries of the smallest child. In the clinic, Dr Heim had prepped the Eraser. He gripped Amy’s hands, neither looked away this time, remembering every freckle and flaw. Something hot. Something cold. The dice rolled. Adam died. Adam was born.
K. Raghasudhan is currently pursuing an engineering degree in India.