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Body and Soul

By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communication officer at Linkoping University, where he also teaches communication and presentation skills at a post-graduate level.

But by night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, which have found lairs in places such as Analog, IGMS, Grimdark, Daily SF, and Nature Futures.

Filip roams the Swedish highlands, kept in check by his wife and kids. He can be found at wiltgren.com.

Gail chose body. I never expected her to, we'd been so adamant about our minds, how the soul is worth more than the flesh.
And yet she chose body.
The treatment took her back to her early twenties, physically. Her hair, that she'd started coloring before her fifty-ninth birthday, reverted back to the glimmering strawberry blonde it had been when we first met. Her figure followed, muscles regaining their tone, chin firming up, breasts lifting. She laughed a lot.
"Come on, Mark," she said. "Admit that you've always wanted to bed a twenty-something."
I humored her, and she laughed more, throwing off her jeans and twirling before me, her open shirt billowing like a black cape. She grasped my coarse face and pressed her lips to mine.
"When you make up your mind, we can be gorgeous together," Gail said. "I'll dance and you'll play the violin. It will be like old times."
I didn't reply, merely looked at my rheumy hands, twisted with age and disease. I'd never play the violin again. Because I'd made up my mind already.
I'd chosen soul.
The treatment was easy, a series of injections over three weeks, some migraines, not very bad ones. I felt the world taking on focus, becoming clear. The Times cross-word puzzles became ridiculously simple.
"Come on, Mark," Gail said. "Just choose."
I tried to make myself smile. I failed.
"Oh, honey," she said, "it's better than the hype. Look."
She stood on her toes, without her ballerina shoes, assumed first position, then lifted her leg up, flowing into an arabesque. Her smile was radiant.
"No pain," she said. "Not even a bit."
She took my hands in hers, her smooth, straight, pink fingers running over my twisted, arthritic ones.
"Don't you want to play again?" she said.
I nodded. But I didn't say that I'd chosen.
My seventy-third birthday came and went. Gail celebrated with a huge chocolate cake, a thick coating of cherry-laced mascarpone covering the top. She ate most of it herself. No need to worry about cholesterol or fat--the treatment took care of all that.
"Mark," she said. "You're going into the prime. Seventy-two is the optimal age for the injections. You've got to choose now."
Her voice was so honest, so full of life and vigor.
"Gail," I said. "I'm seventy-three."
She paused, fork overflowing with pink frosting halfway to her mouth.
"Huh," she said. "Imagine that. You'd better choose fast, then."
"I have," I said. We had a huge fight after that.
I caught her looking.
You could always tell the new young from the truly young. The new young moved like they were afraid, like life had broken them, and they weren't able to believe they'd been spared. Even Gail had that, for all her joy. When she wasn't bouncing she'd sag, her shoulders hunching, her head bobbing forward, her gaze fixated a yard or two in front of her feet.
She was fascinated with youth, and new youth especially. The new young were never fat, never pimply, never questioning. They moved like broken gods, muscular, strong, healthy, but slow and careful. They walked as if expecting to fall down at any moment. Sometimes they'd just sit, filling up the park benches and staring emptily ahead.
Sometimes you'd see a true young with a new young. Sometimes a pair of new young or two young of mind. There were couples like us, one new young, one young of mind. They seldom looked happy. Gail kept looking, following the young and the new young with her gaze. I didn't begrudge her. I knew what I looked like. But it still hurt.
"It's not like I'm doing anything," she said, but the distance between us kept increasing. One day she packed a pair of suitcases and moved out. We agreed it was nobody's fault.
I got postcards, real, physical ones. France, Mexico, China. I got emails with short clips. Gail walking in Zambia, climbing the Matterhorn, drinking an iced latte on a Canary Island beach. She looked beautiful in them, beautiful and bewildered.
My body hurt, but my mind was sharp. I started teaching again, using a pre-programmed keyboard when I couldn't play. I wrote poetry and stayed up at night watching the clouds. I won the state Bridge championship, and placed eightieth in the non-AI national Go tournament. Gail sent me a selfie giving me the thumbs up.
After a while the postcards stopped coming. The emails came less often. Sometimes they came from other accounts. Sometimes Gail sent a selfie with some new young, groups of handsome men and women. Sometimes she was hugging a man, or being hugged. That hurt.
I watched the new young in the park. You could tell how old they were by how empty their faces were. Sometimes they'd jerk, as if surprised at finding themselves in such surroundings. The young of mind never did. We knew, knew where we were, how we'd gotten there and why. One day I watched a new young drooling for two hours before the emergency services took her away.
Walking became painful. My health plan paid for a set of muscle pants, their cotton doped with electropolymers that reinforced my motions. I was trying them out when the hospital called.
Gail had a bruise discoloring her left cheek. She was staring out the window, where gray clouds tried to cover the building with drizzle.
"Walked into the street," the nurse said. "Got hit by a transport drone. Medical records list you as next of kin."
"My wife," I explained. A brief look of sadness passed over the nurse's bearded face.
"My father was like that," he said.
Gail jerked.
"Mark," she said. Then she went back to staring out the window. The nurse pursed his lips.
"My father," he said, "didn't last long beyond that."
I nodded, taking Gail's smooth hands in my knobbly, hurting ones.
"Dad," she said. "I thought you'd left."
"No," I said. "I'll always be here for you."
The End
This story was first published on Friday, July 19th, 2019

Author Comments

I'm a pantser, my stories flow out without rhyme or reason, often surprising myself. What faulty synapse in my head generated this one, I have no idea. All I remember is sitting on a bus, heading for Santa Cruz de Tenerife, my eldest child in the seat beside me, all that desert landscape whizzing by, and the phrase "Gail chose body" suddenly popping up in my mind. It wouldn't go away, so I wrote it down, and kept writing.

Sometimes, just letting things flow is the best way.

- Filip Wiltgren
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