Coming Back

by Chrissie Loveday

Lisa slowly opened her eyes. The light was so bright, it hurt. As consciousness gradually replaced hazy dreams, she tried to remember where she was. It was connected with something unpleasant but the dull ache in her head prevented lucid thought. She tried opening her eyes again and began to take in the unfamiliar surroundings. She turned her head, just a fraction, to look for her doll collection. There were only blank, white walls. There were no dolls.

Her doll collection was very precious. Her parents had bought a new one at each major event in her life: every hospital stay; moving to different homes; each new hope offered. The dolls represented some compensation to the child who never played as other children did. When the hopes failed to materialise, a new doll had helped just a little. Where were they?

Still trying to work out where she was, she tried to remember what had happened before she went to sleep. Amidst the persistent throbbing, she had vague memories of her parents standing round the bed, trying to look brave and stifling tears.

"We'll be here when you wake up, Darling," her Mother had said, yesterday. But where was she? Where was her Father?

The operation... it all came back. Lisa's life had been one long string of operations for twenty years. She had been born with multiple disabilities and many times, surgeons had tried to make her more comfortable; to give her some degree of independence. This operation was crucial ... make or break. It must have worked. She wasn't dead ... or was she? Could this be the reason for the intense brilliance? She realised that she had turned her head right round to look at the room. It was a freedom of movement quite new to her. A sense of anticipation began to suffuse her body.

"Oh, you're awake at last," said a strange voice.

She looked at the owner of the voice, expecting to see the doctor who had given her the pre-med, yesterday. The face was unfamiliar. She drew breath, ready for the struggle to communicate. Her mouth felt full of cotton-wool. The anaesthetic, she supposed.

"Don't try to talk. Blink your eyes once for yes and twice for no. Do you feel any pain?" he asked.

Lisa blinked once. It was easy. Her head ached, but it was hardly pain, not as she knew it.

"Would you like a drink?" She blinked again, wondering if this strange doctor would know about her special cup. Otherwise, she was likely to spill the drink all over herself and anyone else in range.

"The nurse will bring you something. I'll see you later." The doctor smiled and touched her head as he left. "We'll soon have you up and about."

That's what he thinks, she thought ruefully. My body doesn't let me get up, let alone get about. Where could her parents be?

"I hear you'd like a drink," said a new voice. "Let's prop you up, so you don't choke." The competent nurse soon had the pillows re-arranged and helped Lisa to sit up. "There you are... not too much at first... little sips are best." She held the cup out to the girl, waiting for her to take it.

"I ..." she began, but her throat was like dry boards and no more than a squeak came out. The nurse put the cup to her lips and she drank a few sips of the delicious liquid. It was almost orange juice, but subtly different. She smiled her approval and the nurse put the cup on the locker beside her.

"Help yourself, when you feel like it."

How she was supposed to manage alone? Obviously, the staff were unaware of the total of care she needed. Lisa hoped that all these strangers would understand her halting speech. She wanted more of the drink.

Cautiously, she extended a hand to the cup and found she could reach it easily. Could she then lift it and actually drink from it, unaided? Her heart beat faster as she finally brought the cup to her lips. She had never before managed so much unaided. Whatever the operation had been, it had accomplished one of her all time ambitions: to feed herself. Never again, the indignity of having food shovelled into her mouth, ready or not. Her mind raced ... what else could she do? The blockage between her brain and her body had been mended. Experimentally, she tried to move other parts of her body. Both hands and arms seemed mobile and she could see the mounds of her toes shifting. She closed her eyes.

"Good, you've finished your drink. You will soon be able to have a meal and then we shall get you up and moving," said the nurse.

She waited for her oversized to tongue to loll out of her mouth, getting in the way of speech.

"I drank it myself," Lisa said, with an air of disbelief. The words were clear.

"So I see," the nurse replied, unimpressed.

"You don't understand. That's the first time I ever did it alone."

The nurse stared but made no comment.

"When are my Mum and Dad coming in?" Lisa asked. "They said they'd be here when I woke up."

The nurse looked uncomfortable, as she replied,

"Don't you go worrying about that. The doctor will be here soon. Concentrate on getting your strength back."

The girl lay staring at her hands. Surely they were straighter, less twisted than they had been? She could move her head about too, much more than ever before. Her legs went where she pushed them. A miracle had taken place.

A chilling thought struck her. Perhaps she was dead and this was either Heaven or Hell. What happened next would determine which. If it was Heaven, she would be able to move properly, like normal people; if it was Hell, her wretched wheel-chair would be waiting. Whatever had been done, also affected her sight. She didn't need her usual thick glasses. She was impatient for the doctor to return. She had never been left alone like this. The door opened.

"My name is Dennis," said the man. "I am a psychiatrist and I shall be working with you for a while. How are you feeling?"

"Mixed up," Lisa replied. "I can do things I couldn't do yesterday. What's happened? And where are Mum and Dad?"

"One thing at a time. You had an operation. It didn't go as planned and so something else happened. We will discuss it when you're stronger. You have received treatment, which has cured many of your problems. Speech for one thing. It is easier now, isn't it?"

"Yes. I could never make anyone understand me. Now my voice does what I want it to. And I can see better. How could one operation do all this?"

The doctor stared at her, estimating how much information she could cope with.

"We have new techniques. We know more about the brain and how it works and we can release the bits that didn't work properly before. Soon, you will be able do everything you always wanted. That's enough for now. Nurse will bring you something to eat and then you must sleep. Tomorrow, we begin work properly. Well done, Lisa. You've made an excellent start."

"Thank you doctor." She laid back, trying to come to terms with the changes in her body.

"But what about my parents?" she asked, but the Doctor had left.

She dozed for awhile and when she opened her eyes, the nurse was standing by her.

"My name is Pat," she said. We shall be seeing a lot of each other. I hope we'll be friends. What would you like to eat? You can choose your very favourite things."

"Anything I like?" Lisa. "Suppose the cook doesn't have the ingredients?"

"Food is organised differently, here. You can have anything at all." Pat seemed amused.

"Shepherd's Pie and carrots," Lisa said firmly. She was determined to feed herself and this meal she could manage.

"Honest?" Pat asked, somewhat incredulously. "That's all you want?"

"Yes please. Ice-cream for afters?"

"No problem. Be back in a minute."

Lisa knew all about minutes. It would be much longer. It always was. She tried to look out of the window, but could only see treetops. She had no idea where she was but hoped it was not too far from her parents.

Pat came back, carrying a loaded tray.

"See what you think of that. I've put a few extras on the tray, so tuck in." She pulled a shelf out of the locker and swung it round in front of her patient. "There you go."

Evidently, she didn't realise Lisa was used to being fed. Carefully, Lisa picked up the fork.

"This is lovely," she said after the first mouthful. "I feel as though I haven't eaten for months ... I'm starving."

"Enjoy it, dear. I'll be back."

For Lisa, this was truly a celebration. The first time in her life she had fed herself and sadly, there was no-one to share her achievement.

Within two days, Lisa could get out of bed unaided, dress, go to the toilet and walk around. How could one operation have worked so many miracles? She hoped her friends from the Home would be able to have the same treatment. Just imagine the future, if Sarah and Steve and Alan had the same operation. They could even have a home of their own instead of the charity Home. What a prospect!

She asked daily about her parents but was always fobbed off. There was no television. She would never catch up with all her soaps, if she had to wait much longer. She tried to content herself with the novelty of simple things like taking a shower alone, walking in the garden. But this was not enough. Apart from Dennis, the psychiatrist and Pat, her nurse, she had seen no-one. She felt lonely.

"I'll show you the food machine," Pat suggested one morning. "Then you can sort out your own meals, whenever you want something."

Lisa was confused. Food was prepared by cooks in the kitchen. You didn't get a choice. They went along the corridor and Pat stopped by a sort of computer set in the wall. She indicated the panel.

"Press the keys to spell out what you want and open the door when it pings." Lisa stared.

"I can't read," she said flatly, feeling ashamed for the first time in her life.

"Didn't think of that," Pat smiled, hoping she wasn't showing the disbelief in her voice. "Tell me what you want and I'll show you how it works."

She watched Pat, deftly pressing keys. She chose chocolate whip. Her Mother would be furious if she knew Lisa was eating chocolate, at ten o'clock in the morning.

"It will ruin your teeth and spoil your appetite for lunch," she would have said.

Quite unexpectedly, Lisa found tears streaming down her face.

"What is it, love?" asked Pat.

"I really want to see my Mum. I want her to see all the things I can do now. I'd love her to scold me for eating chocolate whip, at this time of day."

"Come on, back to your room. Dennis will see you soon."

Back in the safety of her room, Lisa sat in the chair by the window. Pat glanced towards the light fitting and spoke aloud.

"Dennis. If you're around, we could do with you in here. I think it's time."

"How can he hear you?" Lisa asked. "Is there an intercom, like at the Home?"

"There's a camera in the light, so we can see if you need anything. We can look after many people at the same time."

"I have never seen or heard anyone else. Are there other people here? All having operations, like me? Are some of my friends from the Home here?" Lisa's questions poured out in a torrent.

"All in good time," laughed Pat. "Dennis has all the answers."

Dennis smelled of a spicy after-shave and clean soap and wore a pale blue jump suit. It made his eyes look very blue and looked good with his black curly hair. For the first time in her life, Lisa felt something stirring, deep inside. It was a feeling she couldn't explain but it was directly connected with Dennis's arrival. She hoped he didn't guess her thoughts. She had been told so many times that she must have nothing to do with men. Maybe her present feelings were somehow connected with this. Why did she want to put her arms round him and feel his body against hers? She had never experienced anything like this before. It was a curious mixture of pleasure, longing, even if it was wrong. As he reached out to touch her hand in greeting, she felt a thrill, like an electric shock, shoot through her body. It ended deep at the base of her stomach. She felt oddly bereft, when he removed his hand.

"I guess it's time to talk," he began.

"I've got loads of questions," Lisa blurted out. "When can I see my parents? They will never believe how much I can do. That operation was a miracle. I could never speak properly before. I knew what I wanted to say and just had to listen. I could never join in. Can you imagine how that felt? But now, now everything is wonderful. I want them to see me, to talk to me and to know I am well." She slumped back, drained by emotion.

"How old are you, Lisa?" Dennis asked.


"Do you know the year you were born?"

"Don't patronise me."

"I have a reason for asking."

"Sorry, but I have always hated people treating me as if I was child, just because I couldn't do things." Lisa's feelings were deeply ingrained.

"So, do I get an answer? What year were you born?"

"It's obvious. If I'm twenty, it's 1998 now, so I must have been born in 1978."

Dennis looked thoughtful. Lisa stared at him, still curiously excited by his physical presence. She still felt a desire to hold him close to her but it would not be right and proper.

"This is going to sound like a fairy tale. Some things will upset you and cause you pain. There is no way to avoid it. I hope that what you have achieved will help to make up."

Lisa stared at the man. She had a sense of foreboding. He had bad news and had been waiting until she was stronger. The one thing that would cause her grief ... the death of one of her parents.

"Is it Mum, or Dad?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, but both your parents have died. There was a car crash. Neither survived." His clear gaze left no room for doubt. Lisa felt her world crumbling. She could do many things for herself now, but if there was no-one to share it, what did any of it matter any more?

"When did it happen?"

"Quite a time ago. Absorb that first ... try to come to terms with it. Tell me your good memories about your parents. " Dennis encouraged her anecdotes. She talked of the many operations throughout her life; the loving support her parents gave. She remembered their distress when were unable to keep her at home. The demands of full-time care became too much. She never resented the move, realising the strain on her parents as she grew older and heavier. They had always been there for her. Life without them, was beyond her comprehension.

"Have I missed the funeral?" she asked at last.

"I'm afraid so," Dennis answered briefly.

"What happened to my doll collection?"

"We have it in storage for you, ready for when you leave. They are important to you?"

"I know when each one was given to me. It was never birthdays or Christmas. They represent one of my milestones ... even if some became reverse milestones."

Dennis was constantly surprised by the girl's perception. She had such a good brain. How she must have suffered all her life. People assumed she was mentally disabled, because she could not articulate. He had heard the complaint from others ... people see only the wheelchair and talk only to the person pushing.

"You implied there was more to discuss?" she said suddenly.

"If you are ready."

"My operation was some time ago, wasn't it? I thought, when I came round, that the op. Had been the day before. If my parents died a long time ago, I've been out of things longer than I thought."

"Yes," said Dennis, looking marginally apprehensive. "I asked about your age earlier."


"You said that it is now1998. I have to tell you, it is in fact, the year 2084."

Lisa's face was impassive. She clearly did not believe him. He continued,

"Have you heard of cryonic suspension?"

"I vaguely remember my parents talking about it. They attended some conference recently." She was silent for a moment, and then continued, "I suppose I mean some years ago."

"Tell me what you know," Dennis suggested.

"Something about being frozen in liquid nitrogen and stored. Future technology could be used to restore the body.' She blanched. 'Are you suggesting that is what happened to me?"

"Yes. We are now able to re-animate people. At first there were mistakes but we have perfected it. You are living proof of what can be achieved. We know so much now, about repairing tissues and correcting faults, even congenital disabilities. Your parents gave you this chance. When the operation failed, you were suspended. We use nanotechnology, a complex method, to cure your body.' He watched carefully for her reactions. She was silent, almost to the point of catalepsy. 'Do you want to ask anything?'

She shook her head.

'Do you want to be on your own?'

'Stay with me.'

Dennis sat back in his chair, relieved that she had not dismissed him. There would be many questions, once the initial shock had worn off. He watched her intelligent face and the stream of emotions passing over it. The prospect of a new world may be more than she could cope with. She may need hours of counselling. He hoped she would be so excited by the future that she would realise her life was just beginning.

It grew dark and the two people sat motionless in the room. Dennis's capacity for understanding was immense. He was content to watch and wait in silence, until the girl could come to terms with her new self and could see her future. At last she spoke.

'What has been accomplished with my poor body, does it make you feel good?'

'Only for your sake. It opens up your entire world.'

'So you have no personal gratification?'

'Not at all. My role is to assist with your rehabilitation.'

Lisa remained silent, her thoughts churning. She spoke again.

'If I needed so much repairing, why bother? Why spend so much time on me? No-one had to, did they?'

'What are you driving at Lisa? Tell me what's bothering you.'

'What motives lay behind my, what did you call it? Re-animation? And this nanotechnology, you called it, for whom was it done? Me, or the medical team?'

'I see. You think you are some experiment for a scientist's personal glory.' His voice was soft and gentle.

'Maybe. The problem is linked to the state of my body, as it was before suspension.'

'Go on,' Dennis encouraged.

'I know it was a poor specimen, but it was me. I lived inside, frustrations and all, but it was the extent of what I was. Someone's decision to make me whole has produced someone else. Who, or what is the person I have become, if not an object of curiosity?'

'You remain the same in essence. Now, you are now can express yourself, achieve whatever you want. Essentially, you are still Lisa.'

Her expression suggested that she was not convinced.

'The old Lisa needed help to do everything. People were nice to her. Whatever the disadvantages, she knew people were kind because of what she ... what I was. I knew it was mostly pity, but I was used to it. Why should anyone be nice to me now? Once they get over staring at the freak.'

'Surely that is up to you? What you become is within your own control.'

'Could I have babies?' she asked suddenly. His composure was magnificent, not a flicker crossed his face.

'There's no reason why you couldn't. We have defeated most problems with child birth. You have as good a chance as anyone.'

'Would you have a baby with me?' she asked.

'We don't do things that way. If I loved you, perhaps. But you are my patient. It would be un-ethical. Things haven't changed that much, in nearly a century.'

'Do people still get frozen?' she wanted to know.

'There is no need. We have fought and almost conquered the ageing process. People still have accidents, but most damage can be put right. This way, we need less children. We organise our lives differently.'

There were to be many days, before Lisa could begin to accept the startling truth about herself and all that was now possible. Nearly a whole century had passed while she remained suspended, unknowing, unthinking. Now a new world awaited her. She had already begun to experience this world It was not so different from the one she knew. She got used to seeing people's faces, instead of their middles. She expected them to stare, seeing the freak she believed herself to be. When it didn't happen, she gained confidence. She discovered the joys of shopping, using the credits she had been given. She recognised different types of housing; food and the nutritional supplements everyone used; she learned to read, though this was less necessary with the voice operated technology everywhere.

The hours spent with Dennis were Lisa's happiest times. He patiently answered all her questions, or made her think of satisfactory answers for herself. She still harboured what she now recognised as sexual attraction. She tried to voice her feelings on a number of occasions, but he always sensed it turning the subject around, to focus on other topics. He did not want her to feel rejection, but the ethics were all wrong. Besides, he was too old for her, even though they were biologically compatible.

'I have someone for you to meet,' Dennis announced one morning. Lisa's curiosity was aroused.

'A new person, you mean?'

'Wait and see. Shall I fetch him?'

'Is he another patient of yours?'

'See if you recognise him.' Dennis left the room and returned only moments later accompanied by a youngish man.

'Lisa, I'd like you to meet Alan. Alan, this is Lisa.'

The couple eyed each other suspiciously. They each looked familiar to the other, yet there was something not quite the same. He was taller than she was. She had never realised before. They had known each other only in wheel-chairs, in their former life.

'So you made it, too,' he said at last.

'Why didn't you tell me there was someone else, from my old days?' she challenged Dennis.

'You needed to come to terms with your own selves. You questioned anyone's rights to improve your body condition.' The girl smiled at the memory.

The two survivors from another age began to talk, more and more rapidly, making up for lost time. Dennis smiled, as he left. They had a future together, bound as they were, by their past. Their dependance on others was over. They shared the technology of a new age and the foresight of devoted parents. They would come to know this wonderful new world of promise. He spoke aloud, though there was no-one to hear.

'Where would anyone be, if there hadn't been a few cranks around, all those years ago?'