When Jack arrived at the nursing home with his family, the director quickly and quietly took him aside and explained to him today's visit might be "difficult."
Jack, his wife Anne, and their twin daughters now both 10 followed an orderly through a windowless hallway paved with blue carpet that promoted one of the girls to ask if grandma "lives in a hotel?"
Her room was on the far end of the hallway. For Jack, the walk always felt a little bit longer. When they stopped at her door, the growing sense of dread had turned to nausea. Every time he saw her, she seemed further away, and not just mentally. Her thinning hair would be whiter her flesh more shriveled.
Her decaying mind kept her obscured behind a veil of memories. The past was more real to her than the present.
When the orderly opened the door, Jack saw his mom sitting up in her bed wearing a VR helmet with a rare but pleasant smile on her face.
"I have to warn you she can get pretty mad when we take the helmet," The orderly warned.
The young orderly cautiously approached the old woman and gently tapped her on the shoulder.
Jack watched his mother's wide smile collapse into a grimace.
"What is it?!" she snarled.
"Your son is here to visit your Mrs. Chambers, and he brought your granddaughters."
"What granddaughters? And I told you my name is Brittany!" she answered acidly. "And you can tell them to leave. I'm busy!"
"Maybe just see them for a few minutes?" The orderly suggested sweetly. "They're really excited to see you."
"Fine whatever," Brittany said. "I gotta go for a bit, but I'll hit you guys up later," the old woman said to the digital aberrations only visible to herself.
She took off the VR helmet and set it down on the bed.
"Hi, mom," said Jack.
"Hey, Jack, what's up?"
"I thought you might want to see the girls today. They just had their birth-'
"Is that my phone?" Brittany interrupted.
"No, mom, I didn't hear anything," Jack said in a tone of subdued frustration.
"I think I hear it," Brittany said, reaching for an old smartphone lying on her nightstand.
Her wrinkled fingers trembled as she tapped on the blank screen "Sorry I've been on this Twitter fight all day," she said
"What's Twitter?" asked one of the girls.
"Mom, the girls had their birthday yesterday. They're both ten now!"
Brittany didn't respond to the news. "Ugh, why isn't this thing working?!" Brittany tapped her bony finger against the blank surface.
She picked up the VR helmet and put it back over her head then picked up the dead phone again.
"Now, it's working." Brittany's liver-spotted hands curled around the broken phone. "This bitch only has 12 followers," she muttered.
Jack signed in resignation.
Without any acknowledgment of her granddaughters, Brittany put back on the VR helmet to retreat back into the simulation. A simulation built from her most precious remaining memories. Memories that had all been thoroughly documented over a lifetime of social media use. All the posts and daily pictures made her timeline a flipbook of decay.
It was an existence where life had remained static and where she could at least believe she was safe from the corrosive effects of time. The machine resurrected the people and places her heart most yearned for from the days of her life she most treasured, and her son and his family were not included.