Josephine Cheng: The Best Day

Nothing wakes the woman this morning. Perhaps a dream, but she doesn’t remember. She  opens her eyes, her back spread flat against the bed and her covers stopping right at the nose. Sun  slants in between window shades. From where she lays, the woman sees dust motes twinkling.  For a while, she lays there, her gaze unfocused, her mind blank. Content.  

She thinks, Snow. The door to her room eases open, and a cat slips in. It leaps onto the  bed, curling up against the woman. She pulls her hand out from under the bedcovers, resting it on  the creature’s head, her pale fingers teasing its ink black fur. The cat purrs, its crystalline blue  eyes squinting into slits.  

Good morning, Jamie, the cat thinks in response. It is now 10:19 AM. The day is Friday,  October 15th, 3019. It is currently 25 Celsius outside, with a high of 27 and a low of 21. There is  a forecast of sunny skies all morning followed by a brief rainstorm around 4 in the afternoon. It  will be clear tonight. The cat pauses, closes its eyes. Costa Rica or Ethiopian? Hot or iced?  

Jamie toys with one of its ears. Snow lets her. No need, she thinks, I’ll make it myself  today.  

Alright. Snow nudges her head against Jamie’s palm, curling into an even tighter ball. Its  tail flicks once, revealing a dab of white at the very end. 

Jamie closes her eyes, dozing off once more, her hand still petting the cat’s head. —— 

By the time Jamie wakes up again, the sun no longer shines in, and the cat is gone. The  house is silent. She sits up, slides out of bed, and pads down the wood paneled hall in her pajamas.  As she walks, she runs a hand along the walls, as the elderly do to keep steady, though she looks  to be no more than thirty. Her fingers graze past framed pictures, mounted memorabilia, looping 

holographs. Jamie in a suit presenting to a crowd of hundreds in an auditorium. A custom-made,  now antique, bamboo flute sealed in a glass case. A silver medal sitting among a display of ten  gold ones. Jamie in a high-necked crimson dress with slits up the thighs, laughing in the arms of a  man. Two children, each wrapped around one of Jamie’s legs as they stare at the viewer in disdain.  Jamie grinning as she poses with a glass trophy in one hand, her eyes flashing.  

Jamie pays them no heed. Instead, she finds herself wondering, is today going to be the  best day? It is the same line of thought which she has wandered down for the past decade. Decade?  No, Jamie corrects herself, maybe only over the past five years.  

Before that, the thought had never crossed her mind.  

Snow sits at the end of the hallway, its pink tongue flicking in and out as it cleans a paw.  The cat doesn’t look up, though Jamie hears its words in her head. It’s a little past noon. 12:13  PM. You have no events or deadlines for today.  

Of course, Jamie remarks as she steps past Snow and strides into the kitchen, I haven’t  made plans for anything since last year.  

Snow sets down its right front paw, moving on to its left. And who’s fault is that?  Jamie stops in front of the kitchen counter, its surface a spotless piece of stainless steel  marred only by a few shallow divots in one corner. Over one divot floats a glass kettle, its spout  arched and slender.  

Hot water, she thinks. Almost immediately, there is the sound of bubbling liquid. Steam  wisps out from the spout’s tip. The kettle bobs in place.  

Jamie taps her fingers across the countertop, pressing on projected keys that light-up with  her every touch. At one end, a panel splits open, making way for a tray set with a porcelain mug, 

utensils, glass brewing equipment, paper filters, and a bowl of coffee beans, roasted and ground  into rough grains.  

Music, she thinks. In the kitchen, slow strings start to play. Next. The melody quickens,  flowing into the livelier sound of woodwinds, its tune punctuated by light drumbeats. Jamie nods  once, sets up the wide-mouthed glass funnels, the paper filters, pours in the ground beans. Pale  lights morph into numbers on the countertop as it weighs her coffee. Another number appears  beneath, showing the amount of hot water to be added.  

Jamie picks up the kettle, meticulously watering the coffee’s soil-like grains in slow  concentric rings. A rich earthy scent suffuses the kitchen and Jamie breathes it in deep, letting it  settle in her lungs. Ice cubes clatter in her mug, then crack as Jamie drowns them in steaming  liquid.  

On the floor, Snow finishes grooming its front and moves on to its hind limbs. Jamie, would  you like lunch? 

Yes. Jamie stares at the mug of translucent brown liquid cupped in her hands. A thin film  of oil glistens across its surface. She takes a sip, presses her lips together to savor their aftertaste.  The usual? There’s— 

Noodles, Jamie thinks. She walks towards a glass sliding door at the back of the kitchen  with her coffee in hand. Cold sesame noodles. Thick cut, with chili oil.  

As she approaches, the door slides into the wall, and Jamie steps out onto the back porch.  The music follows her out. Behind her, the cat pauses in its grooming, its pink tongue still  outstretched over its fur. Snow blinks, gets up, and pads after its owner.  

Yes. In nine and a half.

The porch is wood planked, its edge overlooking a rock garden webbed with streams and  ponds and walled in by leaning bamboo. Jamie sits down in the lone rocking chair. Beside her, a  panel of the floor rises up to form a small table, just in time for Jamie to set her coffee on it. A  moment later, the surface of the table splits open, serving up a tray set with chopsticks and a bowl  of noodles.  

Jamie takes another, longer sip of her coffee, then picks up the bowl. As always, the noodles  are made just right, cooked until springy to the bite, coated in a creamy paste of roasted white  sesame. Chili oil heats the back of her tongue.  

Normally, she slurps her food as if starved. Today, she stops between each bite, her gaze  alternating between the red koi swimming in the pond at her feet and the bamboo’s swishing  canopy. Slivers of green rain on white pebbles while Jamie eats. Snow naps.  

By the time Jamie is done, all the ice in her coffee has melted. She returns her bowl and  sits back, considers pulling up a book to read, then thinking better of it, calls for her journal. When  the tray surfaces again, a notebook rests at its center, its corners worn, its thread bound spine  replete with cracks. The journal is thick, though its pages are only half-filled. 

Jamie rests her fingertips across its cover, admires how her nails, when she presses down  hard enough, creases the notebook’s leather cover. She picks it up with both hands, eases it open,  then leans forward to inhale the smell of its pages.  

It is the first notebook she has touched in over a decade. The entry that she opened up on  is from the year 2991. Her latest entry. Jamie scans its text, reads through a past that she no longer  recalls. Not because she has forgotten, but because she can’t care to remember. Someone’s  birthday, someone’s anniversary, a new book sequel she had gotten published, some prize for a  flute competition she had won, a party she had thrown. A close friend who had passed away upon — the words say — finally having lived his best day. His last. Lately, I have been wondering when  I might do the same.  

Jamie pauses at that, closes her eyes for a moment, before flipping back, towards the very  beginning of the journal. The year is 2300.  

She reads from there, her toes nudging the porch floor so that her chair sways ever so  slightly. The sound of paper flipping is foreign to her ears, its matte texture luxurious. Her pointer  finger runs along the lines of text as she reads, not so she can follow her own words any better, but  so she can feel them, savor their touch. 

We’ve finally found it, her twenty-eight-year-old self writes, a device that can extend the  human life span to be near indefinite, while still keeping the individual in their original metabolic  state. Her discovery was the culmination of years of collaborative research paired with a  remarkable stroke of good luck, one that turned what would have been a failed experiment into a  brand-new invention — serendipity at its best. Even after all this time, her triumph is still palpable  enough to be felt through the journal’s pages. Mark my words, the paragraph continues, we have  found the cure to old age. For better or for worse.  

She skips the next few entries, their lines long and over-wrought with the many fine grained details — patents, legal technicalities, ethical controversies clashing with personal  ambitions, the inevitable tug of war between those of wealth and political power — all of them  minute and near insignificant now, though they had seemed so important back then, as if their  outcomes could make or break the world as they knew it. Jamie lets out a dry chuckle, stopping  on an entry from a few years later, when she is on the brink of turning thirty.  

The public has many names for it, the journal reads, but for me, the device will always be  known as “the cure.” It is a system embedded along the human spine through surgical operation when an individual has reached at least twenty-five years of age. Once installed, the person stops  aging. It is my life’s work. With it, we can live forever. Here, the writing breaks off and a few  words are crossed out. As I write this, I am in a hospital gown, sitting in bed. My operation to  receive the cure is tomorrow, at dawn. My husband is concerned for me, as are the rest of my  family, because of how invasive the procedure is. There is nothing to be worried about, of course.  There are countless people who have already gone through the surgery before me…  

As Jamie reads, her children, one son and one daughter, grow up before her very eyes, their  features losing their baby fat, their edges sanded into shape with the passing of each line. They too,  take the cure, as do their own children once they have become of age. Her husband, however, does  not. His features are chipped away, cracked apart by the years.  

Above her, clouds gather. The air smells of rain. The sky darkens, before giving way to a  downpour, its shower pattering on leaves and dappling the top of the koi pond. A breeze picks up,  making the journal’s pages flap.  

Jamie is now on the year 2500. She skims, skipping decades at a time.  

I did not mention this before, she writes one day, but while designing the cure, I had put in  a fail-safe, a self-destruct button, if you will, one that should only be used under extreme  extenuating circumstances to shut down the system. Its effects are irreversible. Once shut down,  the individual will pass near immediately and painlessly. I didn’t want to write anything about this  before, because to put it down on paper is to make it true. Here, the script grows scribbled, hectic  even, and a few phrases are scratched out. Clearly, she hasn’t handwritten anything in a while at  this point, and Jamie struggles to read her own words. I have come to realize, however, that  sometimes it is death, and not everlasting life, that we need. 

In the distance, there is a flash of lightning. Thunder grumbles, drowning out the sound of  violins playing from the porch walls. Snow wakes up from its nap, stretches, its spine elongating  into an arc. The creature pads over, rubs itself against Jamie’s leg, then jumps onto her lap. It curls  there, dozing off once more.  

Jamie removes a hand from her book, caressing the spot right behind the cat’s ears, where  Snow likes it best.  

2670. 2735. 2764. 2871. 2878… Jamie reads to the sound of falling water. Her chair  creaks, her mug clinks as she drains her coffee and returns it to the glass tabletop.  In the depths of her journal, people are born. Her family grows so large that she can no longer remember them all, doesn’t bother to, as do her expanding crowd of friends and  acquaintances. Even as someone lauded as one of the greatest inventors in human history, science  and technology pushes further than she could have ever imagined, bringing with it climate domes,  life-like droids, self-growing crops, space colonies, metropolises on the ocean floor — all the  fictional and fairytale rendered into fact.  

People die too, but only rarely. And when they do, it is always a topic treated with caution,  pity, and oddly enough, grudging respect, for in a world where everyone is given the cure, death  is no long a matter of life, but a matter of choice.  

When Jamie is finally back where she started, the storm has broken and the clouds have  parted, baring the sky’s magenta underbelly. It is 2991 once more, and one of her closest friends  has just passed. He went willingly and without warning, his last words a singular line scrawled  onto a notepad. Between dying on the best or worst day of my life, he had written, I’d much rather  die on my best. Her memory of the event is vague, but Jamie recalls that she had laughed. Laughed,  then cried at the absurdity of it all. 

I will never know just what kind of day my dear friend had lived, her grieving self writes,  but I can only trust that it was indeed his best. It is the last line in her latest entry.  Jamie flips onto a blank page, smoothing it out with both hands, leaving it open as she rests  the book on the table. Stop, she thinks, and the music fades. The quiet is all encompassing, a cocoon. She listens to the gurgling stream, watches the sun sink, its orange gold leaking out from  between bamboo stalks, kissing the water, the rocks, her toes. Listen, she thinks. Beneath her hand,  Snow cracks its eyes open, its irises now electric blue against the encroaching evening.  “October 15th, 3019,” Jamie says, her voice rough with disuse. To her side, those exact  words surface across the journal’s pages, their letters writing themselves as if penciled in by some  invisible hand.  

“I have finally found it,” she continues, “Today is the best day. My best day.” The paper  fills with her words.  

Snow’s eyes widen, its ears pricking up in alarm.  

Jamie opens her mouth slightly, as if to say something more, then stops. 

But, the cat thinks, nothing happened today.  

Jamie smiles. It is barely noticeable, except for the spark in her eyes. Exactly. Nothing at  all. She closes the notebook, then sets a hand on Snow’s back, silently instructing it on what to do. The cat drops its head back between its paws.  

Yes, Jamie, Snow replies. Its tail twitches in agitation. We will miss you.  

Jamie nods, rests the fingers of her right hand against the base of her throat for a moment.  Where her fingertips had touched, the round of skin purples, blackens, though there is no pain. She  goes back to staring at the garden. 

Night comes. The sky is cloudless, stars shine, and Jamie is still. Her head drops back  against the top of the rocking chair. In the distance, there is the sound of sirens, an emergency  vehicle drawing near to pick up the body of the most recently deceased. 

FROM CHENG: “I am Josephine Cheng, a current college student studying Communications and minoring in Creative Writing at the University of Pennsylvania. In my free time, I like to read Chinese fantasy or historical fiction (traditional Chinese please!), bake, watch anime, and sketch. Despite being born in the United States, my family is Taiwanese and I grew up in Taipei for much of my life — from attending the local middle school and studying for the national high school entrance exams (會考), to strolling through night markets and exploring cafes in the city. No matter where I am in the future, Taiwan will always be my home.”

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