“This is terribly vain of me,” said the judge, “but I’m really curious as to how I’m supposed to—well, you know, die.” The judge used air quotes around the word die.
“Everyone wants to know,” said Jane. “You’d have been the first if you hadn’t asked. But the company has found, over so many decades of doing this, that the less the client knows the better. And here’s why: Once you, as the client, cross the Rubicon you are, in fact, a completely different person. The person you used to be does die—all of her history, all of her interests, and all of her memories of family and loved ones die with her. Just for example: Do you know the name, John Singer Sargent?”
“Yes, of course. He’s the famous painter, isn’t he?”
“Yes. The very famous American portrait artist. But let me ask: Do you know how he died?”
The judge rolled her eyes. “No, but who would?” she said.
“Exactly!” said Jane. “No, you wouldn’t know because he was a person of another era whom you did not know personally and never met. And that’s why you don’t know that he died in England on April 14th, 1925 of heart disease. As the new you, you will not personally know the person I’m speaking to right now. So the less you know about the old you the easier it will be to become the new you; and that’s what the transition course is all about. But we have other fish to fry, as they say, before all of that.”
Jane hesitated for a moment then added:
“But I can give you this much about your death, if you really must know.”
“Yes, I would like to know anything you can tell me.”
“You will die of sepsis from a sudden virulent infection, contracted during a routine removal of a precancerous lump under your arm. It happens all the time. But that’s all I can say for now. Later, of course, you can read your own obituary if you feel that’s something you must do but I recommend against it.”
“No hit men or anything like that? Or suicide?”
“No. You’ll go peacefully in your sleep. All very low key.”
“Oh thank god!” exclaimed the judge. “I feel better already.”
Jane glanced at her wristwatch.
“But what about my—my husband and children? How are you going to deal with them while I’m supposed to be dying?”
“We have that covered,” said Jane. “But your death will happen suddenly and unexpectedly so it will be a shock to everyone. But since you’ve brought it up, let me ask: how open have you been with your husband and children about your last wishes, those in your 1990 will? Are all of your family aware that you plan to have your body cremated and that you want no public memorial services?”
“Oh yes, they’re all well aware of my wishes.”
“Good. Then there should be no difficulty at all. But we’ll handle all of those details. You don’t need to worry.”
“So . . . “ said Jane as she exhaled. “We need to discuss name.”
Jane began searching her leather attaché then pulled out a yellow legal pad full of hand written notes.
“And on that front, I have some very good news and a little bit of not-so-great news. But let me just lay it out for you.
“First the good news. We’ve done extensive research and have found one really good choice for a surname. It’s a name from here in Jeap’s Holler which goes way back. It’s literally as old as these hills. The really great thing about it is that there are almost no direct descendants still living and those that are alive are quite elderly and not likely to even hear about their long lost cousin. And the closest one, geographically, is an eighty-seven year old woman who lives in a care facility three hours from here. That makes things much easier for you. No one popping over for tea or needing a loan or any of that sort of thing.”
“So what’s the name?” asked the judge.
“The bit of not-so-great news is that we couldn’t find any other viable choices for here, for Jeap’s Holler, I mean. There’s really only one option, if you want roots. There are a million choices if roots don’t matter but in your case roots do matter; you want to enter this tight-knit community without too much prying by your new neighbors. And that was the platform we were given.”
The judge decided to cut short the lengthy disclaimer.
“Look, obviously it’s not a name you think I’ll like. But I’m a big girl so why don’t you just tell me the name and we’ll get on with it? Besides, how bad can it be, really?”
“The name is Hickey,” said Jane.
“Oh my fucking god! You’ve got to be kidding me!” said the judge.
“I’m afraid not, Your Honor. Is this a deal-breaker? I mean, it will change things if it is. We’ll have to pretty much start from scratch, at least as far as the biometrics are concerned and, as you know, that’s a big deal. It takes time.”
It was the first time during the meeting Jane showed any sign of stress: she pursed her lips and wrinkled her forehead after asking the “deal-breaker” question.
“So you’re telling me that if it’s not Hickey then we have to start over?”
“Yes, Your Honor, that’s what I’m telling you.”
“There aren’t any other choices? None?”
“No, Your Honor. I don’t know if this helps you with your decision or not, but there is an entire unit on name attachment during the transition training course. The unit is extensive and, according to our client surveys, one of the most useful in the entire course.”
Jane glanced at her wristwatch again.
“I’m afraid, Your Honor, we’re going to have to decide whether or not this goes forward. You have to decide right now. The flight for Zurich is scheduled for Thursday evening. Everything in Zurich is in place—your elective surgeries and so forth. But it’s better for everyone, including me, to turn off the machine right now and let it cool, than to move forward if there’s any uncertainly whatsoever.”
Jane waited for the judge who was again peering out the side window. But the judge did not linger long.
“No. No,” she said forcefully. “I will not let this hold me back. Do not turn off the machine. I want to go forward. But, please, just assure me of one thing, will you?”
“And what is that?”
“That my first name does not have to be Martha!”
Jane began flipping the pages of her notepad, pretending to scan her notes.
“Ah. . . well . . . let me see. . . .”
The judge physically recoiled in her seat.
“I’m just kidding,” said Jane as she closed her notepad and smiled. “There are many more choices for first names, and Martha doesn’t have to be one of them.”
Both women broke into laughter. The judge laughed until tears dampened the corners of her eyes.