I was the prototype

by Amandeep Jutla

The morning she came to visit, I had been on x-lungs for just four days. Already I was hearing talk of infection.

“This is,” the medical told me, “unusual.”


“In the literature? No. At our facility, though? We use a vacuum room. Class four precautions.”

“Yet the tubing is compromised.”

“Compromised. Somehow. A contaminant in the secondary pump. We haven’t isolated the pathogen. We won’t. The damage is done.”

“Am I up for reinstallation?”

But the medical had, conveniently, started to leave before I was finished speaking. Typical of machines. When they know you know the answer to your own question, they won’t humor you.

I was left with the reader at my bedside. I didn’t pick it up. A new set of headlines every hour, but none ever caught my interest. I tried to sleep.

She came to visit, woke me up. My twin.

“Sister,” she said. “I came to see you before you died.”

“You figured you owed it to me?”

“I figured it would be worth seeing. Your last – what, days? Hours? How much time do you have?”

I pointed at the x-lungs, rising and falling on my chest. “Installed four days ago. They’re supposed to last at least a month. They’re already contaminated.”

My sister shrugged. “You once told me you didn’t believe in luck. By now I’m sure you’ve changed your mind. What did it? A single, colossal accident? A cumulation of small mishaps?”

“Something else,” I said. “Your triumphs, your successes. They never ended. Ever since we were kids . . . ”

“You didn’t understand the difference between us. Was it more bearable, then? Losing a game is much easier if you think you could have won. This is what I’m told, anyway. I don’t speak from experience. I can’t.”

I wanted to get out of bed. “Why are you here, again, exactly? To rub it in?”

“To tell you something.”

She was close enough now that I could smell her breath – saccharine, cloying, thick.

“When I turned eighteen,” she said, “they pulled me aside. They explained you to me – what you were, why you were. They gave me a choice. I chose to let you live. Think about that.”

“Out of pity?”

“I preferred to think of it as mercy.”

“Out of sadism?”

“I’ve told you what I came here to say.”

“I never needed you. But you always needed me.”

She didn’t look back. I don’t know if she heard me. A day after she left, the x-lungs shut down.