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The Bionic Woman

I’ve been away from blogging recently, mostly because I was workshopping, editing, and submitting a story that had been devouring my soul for quite some time (I was in tears as I finished it, no joke). Aside from fictional efforts already submitted elsewhere, I had little of any value to share. The most important news is what’s coming out of Iran, and the most interesting developments are in the sudden surge of networked citizenship in the aftermath of that news — the crystallization of a notion most people who spend the majority of their time online have already internalized, namely that borders are fictional. The important things, the ways in which we truly define ourselves, have less to do with location than the people that we love and what we’re willing to do for them.

Case in point, the Bionic Woman. Or, more appropriately, Aeneas.

I was sitting in a waiting area at one of Toronto’s hospitals when I saw a woman in her fifties or sixties supporting an elderly woman who had already disrobed for her exam. She looked like a female Aeneas, carrying her whole heritage on her back as she stepped into a difficult future. I watched her walk into the exam room and heard her start a litany for the accompanying technician: “I’ve checked her batteries,” she said. “They were full this morning, but who knows.”

I had a sudden and wonderful thought that this elderly woman was not organic at all, that her curved spine was really the product of design, that her pained shuffle was programmed in.

Then Aeneas re-entered the waiting area with moist eyes, and the dream faded. She took a seat across from me and pretended to look at a magazine. But then, as though we had already been properly introduced (for, as the video from Iran has taught us, there is little more intimate than a glimpse of tragedy), she looked up at me and said: “She’s ninety. She has two hearing aids, and an ocular implant so she can see.” She took a deep breath. “She’s the bionic woman.”

“She’s gone full cyborg,” I said. It was easy to say, though. There were other, more difficult things I should have said instead, like: You’re being very strong or You’re a better daughter than I am. But instead I just sat there with my words, and both of us watched each other choosing not to weep.

When Aeneas’ mother returned, she walked out of the exam room and refused to sit down at first. “Mom,” Aeneas said, looking at her open gown and guiding her to a chair, “Mom, you’re getting a little bit sexy there.”

“Pfft,” her mother said, waving one gnarled hand.

“Hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it,” I said.

Aeneas laughed. It was a nervous thing that fizzed out of her like the first hiss from a slowly-opening bottle. “Right,” she said. “Got it, flaunt it.”

Fate appeared to take me at my word later this afternoon when, as I was purchasing absurdly over-priced lemonade outdoors, the wind saw fit to play Friday Flip-Up Day with my skirt. (The wind, as we all know, is a first-grade boy.) I knew I should have bought those Batman briefs at H+M.

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  1. bec_87rb

     /  July 8, 2009

    Oh dear. The ancient relatives, slowly grinding to a halt infront of your eyes.

    I don’t know which is worse – losing someone suddenly before they get frail and papery or holding their elbow during the gradual withering and dessication.

  • Madeline Ashby… a science fiction writer, futurist, speaker, and immigrant living in Toronto. She writes a column for the Ottawa Citizen. She is represented by Anne McDermid & Associates, and Jason Richman at UTA. You can buy her books here.

    She has worked with Intel Labs, the Institute for the Future, SciFutures, Nesta, Data & Society, The Atlantic Council, the ASU Center for Science and the Imagination, and others. Her short fiction has appeared in Nature, FLURB, Tesseracts, Imaginarium, and Escape Pod. Her other essays and criticism have appeared at BoingBoing, io9, WorldChanging, Creators Project, Arcfinity,, MISC Magazine, FutureNow, and elsewhere.

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