They tried to turn me into a mouth
By Dean Zach
Have I ever told you the story of how they tried to turn me into a mouth? Well, they did. They tried to turn me into a mouth. Yes, really. No, I’m not joking, I’m serious—a mouth. Well, I remember it well enough. It was a crisp November day some years ago, quite possibly the year your grandmother died. You must’ve been only five or six. Great weather that day—a brilliant blue sky, no wind—well, a slight breeze, maybe—and mid-sixties temperature-wise, the type of morning we often don’t get till Christmas nowadays. Not that I get to go outside anymore. Why don’t you take me outside more? Oh, alright, you and your little excuses.
Anyway, it was the weekend, so I arose quite late, perhaps around nine o’clock, then went to the toilet again, then made breakfast, which of course I had to make by myself—Did I tell you Milo in Room 36 has throat cancer? I hear him moaning about it day and night. Walls are too thin here. They don’t make ‘em like they used to—oh, sorry.
Well, I remember the breakfast pretty clearly. It was a toast with strawberry jam, and then a scrambled egg, and some cereal… the, uh, whatchamacallits, the one with the, uh, sportsters on the box—Wheaties, yes, Wheaties—with two percent milk. I had a few tasks around the house to complete, but I didn’t really take them all that seriously; I suppose I watched television. Jeopardy is on at four-thirty now: can you believe it? Right around suppertime—such an inconvenience. I much preferred it when it came on at the top of the seven hour, right after the local news. God, did you happen to see that segment on—what? Three years ago? Well, I don’t know about that.
Anyway—and then, I think sometime in the afternoon, I was sitting on my bed, staring out the window, when they came into the room and took me away, and that was the beginning of it. I didn’t struggle or resist; there were four of them, all bald Indian men in suits. Now, I don’t remember if it was the American Indian or the South Asian Indian, so you’ll have to fill in the blanks here. But anyway, they took me away; they bound my hands with twine, walked me out of my room, into the foyer, and out of the house, into the driveway, where they had parked a gray Ford Transit. There were no neighbors or cars outside, no other people in sight; everything was still, except for maybe trees swaying in the slight breeze. There was a brief lull, a slight hesitation among the men, but then they stuffed me in the back of the van; they piled into the front rows, and soon we were off. And they didn’t even allow me my cane. Can you believe it?
Well, after we left the neighborhood, we took a left on Gainsbourg and waited for a while, on account of the fact that this was just after they installed the light, and the light operators still didn’t have the timing down—what? How did I know? Well, the men left me with my glasses, fortunately, and my vision back then was still good enough to see—oh. The van had windows, you see. I believe they were tinted—Sam Glass on Jeopardy, now there was a great champion. And he was always respectful; he never bounced around the board.
Well, we turned onto Burnham, which turned into Sycamore, then left on Shillingsburg Drive, another left on Mortenson, then right on Shillingsburg Avenue before it turns into Shaker Avenue, and from there, I can’t seem to remember; it’s all so blurry. Eventually, we reached a highway which I didn’t recognize; we took that into the city. We passed downtown and the arts district and some industrial parks in the heights; there was no traffic. It was almost sunset. I believe it went on like this for a while, but the rest was pretty blurry, and so, eventually, my thoughts wandered, and then I drifted off to sleep. Are you still playing soccer? Oh, why not? Ah, I see.
Well, anyway, I remember waking up when the van was stopped, I think, or maybe they roused me, but I remember it was night, we were in a parking lot, with a bunch of harsh fluorescent street lights shining down. The men got out and opened the back of the van; I was still pretty groggy— what? Means still sleepy or … eh, not completely awake yet. I was under the impression it was a fairly common word? Oh well, times change, I guess. They don’t make ‘em like they used to.
What was I saying? Oh, they motioned for me to get out; I didn’t resist, and they led me across the parking lot, which was flat and endless and deserted; not a car in sight. What? Well, fine, maybe a few. I’m not really sure. As I hobbled across the parking lot, and they helped me hobble across the parking lot, there was total silence—come to think of it, I didn’t say a word during the drive; I definitely think I had questions or concerns, but I didn’t think of voicing them—what? I suppose the guys spoke at least a few times at various points. I think in the driveway, maybe during the commute, but not in the parking lot, I don’t believe. Stop pestering me with your little questions; just let me tell you.
Well, anyway, soon we were at a business park, the kind that rents out spaces to different businesses, the type we passed on the highway—buildings with white, blank walls lined with mid-size hedges, no windows, flat roofs, and dark and gloomy and imposing. One of the men stepped up, swiped a little card, and held the door for us on the way in. The interior was dark and cooler than it had been outside—I suppose the AC was on, even though it was autumn. It was quiet and still, no sign of anything. Then, I suppose one of the men found the light switch, since the lights turned on.
Do you remember what deuh meel sez in French means? I believe I’m pronouncing it right; I’m not especially sure. Oh alright, thanks anyway. And so, the lights turned on, and we were in a lobby, there was a reception desk in the back, and behind the desk there was an office chair and a green fern, which was in the corner, and on the right side, near the door, there were a couple chairs, I suppose placed there as a sort of waiting area, and beyond that, here was a hallway that came into the lobby from the left and came out of the lobby to the right. Yes, a fairly normal lobby, I suppose. And, so they waited for a bit—I don’t remember how long, maybe five minutes, ten minutes—and then they led me down the hallway to the right. To the left, or maybe behind me, there was darkness shaded red, probably by the glow of one of those neon red EXIT signs somewhere further along. What? Yes, we had those back then. How old do you think I am? Oh.
To the right, or perhaps in front of me, there lay a white door. One of the men opened it, held it open for me, and I hobbled through it and then they followed me inside. How’s your dad doing? Good, that’s good. I have so much to tell him, I just wish he would call someday. No one calls anymore? Well, that’s a shame. I used to work for one of those companies out in the Bay Area—one of those calling companies—and they had a very nice calling center, quite large but also inviting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t involved in the design process for it, but I knew a fellow who was on the design team, and he would always wear the same bowtie, and they also had a very nice logo that won a bunch of awards. I forget what color it was, but it was very … trendy, no … buzzy, no … electric, yes, that’s the word, electric, and their slogan—what? Oh, fine.
Inside, there was another room. I believe this one was also white; it’s pretty fuzzy though. Yes, I’m quite sure it was white, but what’s it to you? So, we’re in this room. This one is smaller than the lobby to some extent, and with a high ceiling of fluorescent light fixtures, plaster tiles, smooth walls, shiny, white linoleum floors, and then the one wall which was just a curtain. And so, in the middle of the room there was a white, plastic fold-out table surrounded by four chairs, and at three of the chairs sat more men, all of whom had hair whiter than I, lab coats, drab neutral color sweaters, khakis, loafers. Two of the men were bespectacled; the other was raw-eyed. The other chair was empty, and so the four bald men led me to the empty chair, directed me to sit, helped me into the chair, and then filed out of the room, one by one, closing the door behind them. Soon, the raw-eyed man began to speak.
“We will now proceed to turn you into a mouth.”
Obviously, I started to laugh, which, at the time, I thought was completely understandable given what the man had just said. But the expression on his face was completely serious, and so were the expressions on the faces of all the others. I remember it vi … vivi … vivicaciously, like it was yesterday.
Then he said, “Sir, we are at the forefront of integrated neurotechnology, and we have deemed it necessary that you become a mouth,” and he pulled back the curtain to reveal, on a large white pedestal, a mouth—like a set of dentures, but the size of a human-sized rabbit, and they had slightly redder gums, which appeared to have highly advanced circuitry buried deep within them.
And then he continued, “For some time, we have been exploring the possibility of integrating a human consciousness with a digital interface, and you have been selected as the first test subject. We will upload the contents of your brain on this drive”—he held up a small flash drive, no bigger than a few inches—“and we will install the drive in the mouth by inserting it into the mouth’s uvula port. It should take no more than a few days for this transaction to occur, and, before long, you shall be a mouth. We would like you to sign these waivers, please. It’s okay, you can take some time to read and decide; they’re long, multifaceted documents. Take all the time you need.”
I took some time, reviewed each waiver’s contents; there were a few confusing clauses, but I came out of it well enough. I think I took around fifteen minutes to decide; ultimately, I reviewed the pros and cons, and decided to become a mouth.
So, I signed the documents, and that was that. So, the next day they put me under, apparently for about three days; unfortunately I don’t remember anything from then. And then I woke up, and I was here … oh, grandson, leaving already? Oh, dentist’s appointment. I understand. Oh, right, you already told me that on your way in here. Well, can you at least brush my teeth? The nurses here are so rough—wait, if not, can you at least tell them to send over Lucia, the one with the pretty voice—okay, can you please at least just tell your father—well, okay, alright, at least shut the door on your way out.