Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,

[Rec] "Standard Loneliness Package" - Charles Yu

One of my resolutions for 2021 was to read at least one thing each week that was not directly related to teaching or some other ongoing project. Last week I read an AAWW review of Sianne Ngai's new book on the gimmick; this week, Charles Yu's 2010 short story, "Standard Loneliness Package," which is about a future where people have figured out how to outsource pain, and there are cubicle workers who feel it professionally. (Pain ranging from death of a loved one to attendance at a funeral to being shot to a root canal to telling your boss you're quitting to a child's recital to "vague discomfort.")

My first ticket of the day is a death bed. Death beds are not so common. They are hard to schedule—we require at least twenty-four hours advance booking, and usually clients don’t know far enough in advance when the ailing beloved one is going to go—so we don’t see these too often. But this isn’t regular death bed. It’s pull-the-plug.

They are pulling the plug on grandpa this morning.

I open the ticket.

I am holding grandpa’s hand.

I cry.

He squeezes my hand, one last burst of strength. It hurts. Then his hand goes limp and his arm falls away.

I cry, and also, I really cry. Meaning, not just as my client, but I start crying, too. Sometimes it happens. I don’t know why, exactly. Maybe because he was somebody’s grandpa. And he looked like a nice one, a nice man. Maybe something about the way his arm fell against the guard rail on the hospital bed. Maybe because I could sort of tell, when grandpa was looking at his grandson for the last time, looking into his eyes, looking around in there trying to find him, he didn’t find him, he found me instead, and he knew what had happened, and he didn’t even look mad. Just hurt.

- Charles Yu, "Standard Loneliness Package" (2010)
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