Read by Louisa Gummer
You're two days dead when they come and see me. They say they have to visit that early because if they're going to perform a Raising, they need to freeze the deceased as soon as possible. But it's not a coincidence that they're also visiting when the grief is still raw. It means they're more likely to get a signature, because at that point you’d agree to anything to bring the person back into your life.
They didn't have to apply that tactic to me, because I decided to sign as soon as you flat-lined. As soon as the hospital rang me and told me about your moment of inattention and that speeding car.
They turn up at my door, two nondescript men in grey suits, and one goes through the forms with me while the other one echoes everything he says.
“You're aware of course that we can make no promises,” says the first man repeatedly, and the other one echoes, “No promises.”
“Raising can affect the mind and body in all kinds of ways, and we cannot guarantee that the person you'll get back is the same person who passed away…”
“Passed away,” echoes the second man.
“And you understand that you will need to pay us the £50,000 tax within seven days of signing…”
“Or we cannot go through with the Raising and you will still be in arrears to us.”
“I understand,” I say and I sign.
I think about it after they've gone, properly for the first time. I wasn't surprised you'd applied to be Raised; you had a zest for life that I'd never seen in anyone else. It was what had attracted me to you. I'd been dangerously ill as a child, and the fear of death haunted me as a result. But you – you took that oh so human fear and you twisted it into opportunity. You knew you could die at any time, so you lived every second with enthusiasm, saying yes to everything, doing everything, trying everything. Of course you'd want to be Raised. Of course you'd jump at that second chance.
I was always going to sign, because you wanted it. Now I just had to raise the money.
I'm not rich, and neither are my family, but yours are. I go, without much hope, to see your parents. They are grief-stricken, wearing unwashed clothes, and offer me a cup of lukewarm tea which I sip politely in their cold living room. I’d forgotten how religious they were, and different kinds of crucifixes hang on every wall. It's difficult to escape looking at one. I rehearsed my speech in the car, but of course when I actually have to speak it all comes out wrong. They stare at me pityingly until I stumble to a finish.
“Jill,” your dad says, looking at some point over my shoulder instead of into my face, “You know there's a reason why he listed you as next of kin and not us.”
“Because you would never sign,” I realise.
Your mother, her face lined with pain, lets out a long sigh. “He's with the Lord now. Why would we want to take him from Heaven?”
Your father nods as if he agrees, but his eyes say something different. He doesn't say anything further though, and as soon as I've choked down my tea, I leave.
Your best friend, Melanie, is next on my list. You had a lot of female friends, you always said you got on better with women than with men. You and Melanie seemed to fight a lot though, but maybe it was all banter. You never stopped texting her, even when you and I were on dates.
Melanie and I meet in a cafe where I have a better cup of tea and she chain smokes out of a window. She's almost as rich as your parents and not religious, so I'm optimistic, but that optimism is quickly shattered. She lets out a sigh just like your mother's.
“Jill, listen,” she says. “It's not that I don't want him back ... it's just ... ”
I put my teacup a little too forcefully back in its saucer. “Just what?”
Melanie sounds jittery. “Well you've heard the stories. It's always on the news. The Raisings that have gone wrong. People coming back lobotomised, or in terrible pain, or vegetables trapped in their own bodies and only able to blink and the like. Or people who are total blank slates and have to relearn everything. Or the ones whose minds change and they become criminals and psychopaths and end up killing other people!”
I smile, trying to keep things light. “Sounds like you've been reading too many tabloids.”
Melanie doesn't smile back. “Face it, Jill. When the government first introduced the Raising, we were all overjoyed, we thought we'd never have to lose someone again. But then they kept upping the tax, and there were all those accidents ... Now hardly anyone does it, you know?” She lights up another cigarette. “Without being harsh Jill... it's just not worth the money any more. I'm sorry.” She breathes out a nervous plume of smoke. “It's because I loved him that I can't help.”
Which is bullshit, of course.
I go to the bank but they don't offer loans on Raisings any more. People were so desperate for the money that they'd say any lie and get arrested for their pains, and then there was that spate of people trying to renege on their loans when the person who was Raised didn't come back quite right. I attempt to wheedle my way into a regular loan, lying about its purpose, but apparently I'm just not a wise enough investment. So I go to the company I work for, in the hope they might show mercy, but I'm just a low-paid worker and they have no interest in publicly funding a Raising. It's not a popular cause these days. And there's barely any charities left that will help.
I'm starting to run out of options.
After two days of going through every idea I can, I eventually ring Carla, my best friend. We've both known Carla for a long time; we used to call her 'the fixer' because she always had the answer to everything. Plus she doesn't judge.
I lay it all out for her over a large glass of wine. I'm sick of tea.
“So,” she says, when I've finished. “You've exhausted all the options. All the legal ones anyway.”
I stare at her. “What do you mean?”
Carla looks at me, a very direct look that I only ever really saw on your face. “Tell me Jill – what would you do to get him back?”
“Anything,” I say immediately, and I mean it. I meant it as soon as I signed the forms.
“OK,” she says, so softly I almost miss it. “Let me see what I can do.”
“I don't have much time,” I remind her.
“I can work quickly,” she says, “For him.”
Carla isn't kidding: halfway through the next day she calls me and gives me an address to meet her at. It's a nondescript brick building, and she opens the door with her own key.
“This place belongs to a friend of ours,” she says, and I realise 'ours' means her and you. I didn't know you had any shared friends.
In the building waits a man in a suit, bland and boring, just like the men who came to visit me with the forms. He introduces himself as Terry, which I can tell is not his actual name.
'Terry' does not waste time and cuts to the chase. “Have you heard much about black market organ donation?”
“What?” I ask, almost laughing, because this has to be a wind up, right?
But 'Terry' doesn't look like he's joking. He inspects me with interest. “We're looking for a kidney for someone with your blood type. It's quite a rare type, isn't it?”
All amusement drains instantly out of the situation. “How do you know that?” I ask.
“Carla told me,” 'Terry' says, but doesn’t say how Carla knew. “Look, there's barely any risk these days. We can get top medical staff involved. And I can get you 50k out of it. By your deadline. You are healthy, aren't you?”
I am, right? I mean, I was pretty ill when I was young, but now? “Of course,” I say.
“Great,” says 'Terry'. “We'll rush all the tests tomorrow and do the operation the next day.”
He doesn't ask if that's okay with me. He knows a desperate woman when he sees one.
I go through the tests next day like someone in a dream and am told they are all good enough, although I get the feeling 'Terry' would want to go through with the operation even if they weren't. I wonder who the kidney is for, but I don't ask. There would be no point.
The day after, I have the operation. As soon as I wake, I can tell something has gone terribly wrong. My body barely feels like my own.
“What happened?” I ask Carla, who is by my bedside.
“We got the kidney out fine,” says Carla. “It was transplanted successfully. Here's your 50k.” She dumps wads of cash next to me on the blanket.
“But?” I say.
“There were... complications,” Carla says. “You weren't as well as we thought.”
I knew this of course. Deep in my heart, I knew, and I still went through with it. “How long have I got?” I ask.
“Weeks,” Carla says. “But weeks of agony.”
I focus on the money on the table. “Worth it,” I say.
“Yes,” says Carla.
I pay the Raising Tax with one day to spare. If there's anything odd about paying in bundles of used notes, the men in suits say nothing about it. You are removed from the freezer and the Raising process begins.
They call us when you've been Raised and we go to the hospital to pick you up. Oddly, when it comes down to it, I can't go into the room first. Carla goes instead. I sit in the waiting area, hand pressed to the fire in my side. The clock is ticking for me, but at least I'll be able to see your face before I go. I haven't applied for Raising myself – there's no way you'll be able to pay for it.
Carla comes out after a few minutes.
“He's all right,” she says, and there's tears in her eyes. “Everything's working, he's walking and talking and everything. He said –” And then this look passes across her face – such a look that can only mean one thing, and suddenly I think about what a great friend she’s been to you; she was meant to be my best friend but the two of you were always so close, weren't you? Always very close. “He said 'Hi Carls!” she tells me, and bursts out laughing, hysterical.
I breathe a sigh of relief, and suddenly it's okay, I can see you. I have to see you.
I stand up with effort, and push open the door.
And there you are, sitting on the hospital bed in a hospital gown, still wired up to things. You're very pale, but it's you, it's your messy blonde hair and your blue eyes. It's you, and you're alive, you're alive.
You turn your head to the door when I walk in. You blink your blue eyes. I smile, overjoyed. “Hello darling,” I say.
And then I watch your brow slowly furrow into a frown.
“Sorry,” you say, “Who are you?”
(c) Jennifer Rickard, 2017
Jennifer Rickard, once a Londoner, now a Brummie, works two jobs, writes and occasionally sleeps. Her first novel was written aged six and was a tale of epic adventure starring her guinea-pigs. She still writes epic adventures but with less guinea-pig.
Louisa Gummer is a highly experienced actor & voiceover. Recent work includes several roles in new Audible comedy series Slaving Away, & the audio guide for the Rotterdam Maritime Museum. Audiobooks include A Jane Austen Daydream. She can be heard saying ‘Pig Museum’ on the Stuttgart City Open Top Bus Tour.