by Doug Hoffman

Editors note: If you haven’t already, read the premise here first!

You would think one good night’s sleep would be enough to deal with the disorientation, especially after all this time, yet here I am staring in the fridge, looking for cream.

The cream has been there every other time I’ve looked, but not this time. Maybe it was Stu. Before he leaves, he always packs himself a sack lunch – a few slices of bread and American cheese, a box of raisins, two cookies, the sorts of things his mother would have given him – so maybe this time, he decided to take a pint of cream. I hope so. Last time, the cops found him dead from dehydration just outside of Temecula. He hadn’t touched the 24-pack of bottled water I placed in the back seat of his Plymouth. Men.

If he took along a pint of cream, that means he’s going to drink it, and that means maybe he’ll last a few more days. Maybe he’ll find what he’s looking for. Anything is possible.

“Hope you don’t mind milk,” I tell Rosa. Day after Reboot, we always meet for coffee and croissants on my patio. This time, she shows up in a floral matron’s frock, wearing a white scarf on her head and a fat silver cross around her neck. Her fingers won’t leave the cross.

“Stu took the cream,” I start to say, but she’s already pouring cream into her coffee. “Rosa Nelson, what kind of mind-fuck are you trying to play?”

“Language, dear,” she says, stirring. “You brought it out with the coffee. Where are the preserves? Or at least some marmalade.”

Preserves. She’s talking about the lemon curd, which I forgot to make – no, there it is in the fridge. I made some on July 13, 2006, the day before Reboot, and I reckon it’s still good, two-days-old good, even if it is sixty, seventy years old.

(Who knows, really. Nothing physical lasts after the ‘08 Reboot, nothing but our minds, and there’s no way to put a notch on the surface of your brain, now, is there? Folks argue about the number of cycles we’ve been through. Some say thirty, some say forty. I can’t be bothered anymore.)

Rosa’s hands leave the cross long enough to spread lemon curd on her croissant. The croissants, like the curd, are two-days-old, or maybe they’re a few generations old, but they still taste good after I zap ‘em in the microwave. She likes to gesture with the croissant. She always has. Pastry flakes dot my tablecloth.

“It’s so nice,” she says, just as she always does, “getting rid of that old, arthritic body.” She tips her head side to side and her purple-gray wig threatens to topple. “I can tell the difference. How about you?”

“Nice not having to give myself shots.” In seven months, twelve days, my diabetes pills will stop working, and Dr. Rexford will prescribe insulin. “Other than that, same old worn-out body.”

“And Stu left again.”

“Within hours. Takes one look at me, screams, says he’s gonna go find his girlfriend Sue.”

“Try showing him your wedding album and all the other pictures in between. Maybe that’ll convince him.”

She makes the same suggestion every time. I wonder why I bother? But some habits are hard to break. Rosa always shows up the morning after, expecting croissants and coffee. What would happen to her world if I turned her away? And besides, this old brain isn’t what it used to be. Seems it takes me more than one good night’s sleep to get my bearings. The cream is evidence. And so this routine, annoying as it is, serves some purpose; it delays the inevitable question, What will I do this time?

“All he ever does is call me a thief and a decrepit old pervert and a half dozen other names besides,” I say. “I don’t need that kind of abuse. Guess I should be flattered; it’s me he’s looking for, after all, not some other old girlfriend. Anyway, I’m grateful.”

“Grateful?”

“That he’s still well enough to drive off and die. He never lasts more than a week or two, never manages to find food or water or someone soft-headed enough to take care of him. This way, his brain only ages a handful of days each time. Can you imagine how bad he would get if I kept him home and tended to him for the whole two years?”

“Susie, that’s so uncharitable.” Croissant dispatched, her fingers are back on her crucifix. I dread what will surely follow. She found God how many Reboots ago? You’d think she would have lost Him again by now.

And it begins. “I remember, this time,” Rosa says. “Oh, so clearly. A light, a bright light. And warmth. Not too hot, not too cold. I can’t hardly wait to see Him again.”

“You saw Jesus?”

“I felt His presence.”

“Seems you could save yourself a lot of bother by swallowing that bottle of digitalis.”

“Suicide is a sin. I’ll wait the twenty months, eleven days . . . ” She checks her watch. “And three hours, like a good Christian should.”

“Tell me about Heaven.”

Her face darkens. I’ve pushed a little too hard, it seems.

“I came over here with a purpose,” she says, opens her purse, and gives me her dog-eared pocket New Testament. “I marked the good bits for you.”

“I thought it was all good news.”

“Don’t mock me, Susie. I’m serious. I’m as serious as I’ve ever been with you. Yesterday morning, when the Lord resurrected me –”

“And everyone else on Earth.”

“When the Lord resurrected me, I realized my purpose. He wants me to bring others to Him. If we all believe, the cycle stops. No more Reboots. We’ll all be one with God.”

She’s starting earlier this time. No preamble, no, So what did you do with yourself these last two years? No chit chat. While I talk, I urge her out of her chair and shoo her to the door. My patience died many Reboots ago.

“Rosa, I’d love for you to stay and talk, but you know what? I decided to do something really different this time. I’m emptying out the bank account and I’m taking a flight to Africa. Africa, can you imagine! I had in mind a photo safari, or maybe I’ll try to climb Kilimanjaro. Not the whole mountain, mind, I mean I’m not as young as I used to be. I’ll have a good old time for as long as the money lasts, then I’ll swallow a bottle of pills, just like you should do. Next time, I’ll tell you all about it, and then I’ll pick a different travel spot. Home is overrated, don’t you think? I’ve decided this is the purpose of Reboot. God wants us to see His Creation. Maybe you’d like to come with me?”

But she never does.

When she leaves, waddling down the street to her home five doors down, I heave a sigh. This is becoming a sad ritual, and not just because Rosa found God and can’t shut up about Him. I miss my old friend. Twenty or twenty-five Reboots ago, we would hang around with each other for days, binging on food and booze while we brought ourselves up to date on the last Reboot’s escapades. Somewhere along the way, we got old. Yes, yes, we’ve always been old. Rosa is seventy-one. I’m sixty-eight, seventy by the next Reboot, but in the old days, my mind told me I was eighteen. I’m not sure when my mind quit thinking pleasant things like that.

And that’s what’s really sad. I’m forgetting the cream. Rosa forgets all the times she tried to make me see the light. At least five times now, I’ve used the same dumb excuse to get her out of my house, yet she shows no recollection of the last time. She’s left me. Stu left me a long time ago. And now I’m leaving myself.

Give it time and it’ll happen to the young ones, too. We will all be senile, drooling in our beds, dying from neglect or lingering until the next Reboot. When I see some of the young ones around me, the odd looks in their eyes, the errors they make when they figure my bill at a restaurant or fill up my gas at the station, I wonder if it’s not already happening.

You know something? Fuck it. I am going to empty out my bank account. Maybe not Africa; maybe Paris. I imagine Paris would be nice this time of year.

I feel good about the decision. Best I’ve felt in a long time.

I’m going to keep feeling good. I’m going to ignore those glimmering images of me posing by the Arc de Triomphe, the Eiffel Tower, the Left Bank. And wasn’t I in the Louvre that time a psycho tried to deface the Mona Lisa? It happens every time, they say, sometimes several times. No matter. I enjoyed myself then, I’ll enjoy myself now. It’s a blessing, like forgetting good books so you can find pleasure in them again and again.

If I were religious, I would thank God for Reboot. This is the only way to live.

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