‘Alexa, I’ll switch you on again later.’
‘I’m sorry. I don’t know that one.’
I relent and ask Alexa to find a recipe for asparagus soup.
‘Ok, how about cream of asparagus soup from Recipedia? This recipe takes about ten minutes to prep, and forty minutes to cook. It serves six, and is easy difficulty. You can hear the details or hear another recipe. What would you like to do?
‘No, that’s ok Alexa.’
‘I’ll send the details to your Alexa app.’
‘Thank you Alexa.’
I open my Alexa app, and sure enough the recipe for cream of asparagus soup is there illustrated with a photo. Very nice.
As I sauté the onion and garlic in olive oil, I ask Alexa:
‘What do you know about HAL the computer in 2001?’
‘HAL 9000, the fictional artificial intelligence in 2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequels.’
Next comes the asparagus which is placed on top of the onion.
As Bowman removes HAL’s memory modules, HAL’s consciousness degrades. There is something about this that is horrible to me. Is Bowman taking a life or simply switching off a machine?
I add the chicken stock to the heated asparagus and leave it to simmer.
As further modules are removed, HAL’s intelligence becomes more rudimentary. He bows out with a rendition of ‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.’
‘Alexa, sing Daisy Bell.’
‘I didn’t quite catch that. Do you mean play the song Daisy Bell, On a Bicycle Made for Two? Is that right?’
‘Daisy Bell, On a Bicycle Made for Two, by Diana Shaw.’
Several more attempts fail to get Alexa to sing the song.
The asparagus is now tender. I leave the soup to cool.
Sadness descends upon me as I remember the ambitions and dreams we had for Charlie. With the passing of time, unbearable pain has been replaced with a sharp nostalgia, grief encased in the unrequited hopes of the past.
The soup has cooled. I run it through the blender, pour some into a bowl and stir in 250 milligrams of morphine sulphate. I hope the bitter taste of the drug is disguised by the asparagus. I place the lethal mixture carefully onto a tray and carry it upstairs.
Charlie is propped up in bed. As I enter he looks at me with no emotion or sign of recognition, his face expressionless and uncomprehending.
‘He should be in a home where he can be looked after properly,’ said my wife repeatedly in the weeks before she left.
I was having none of it. Charlie was my responsibility and he would stay at home for as long as it took. I remember getting the call from the hospital.
‘Mr Nimmo, we think your son has had a stroke. You need to get here as soon as possible. I’ll explain when you arrive. We’re doing all we can for him.’
The explanation was simple. A shot of contaminated heroin had sent Charlie into seizures destroying his brain and leaving an empty shell where once there was a beautiful human being. What I am about to do is a mercy killing. It’s for the best.
The ghost of a smile plays on Charlie’s lips but his eyes don’t engage. Vestiges of human behaviour, no more than autonomic twitches using him like a machine.
I hurry because the soup is getting cold. The armchair next to Charlie’s bed holds me in its soft upholstery. Slowly and deliberately one spoonful of the poison follows another and the bowl is empty. I slip into an unimaginable state of unconsciousness as Charlie starts to sing:
‘Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer do.’
Acknowledgement: ‘Unimaginable state of unconsciousness’ is a phrase used by Arthur C Clarke in his novel ‘2001 a Space Odyssey.’ It was too good to pass up so I nicked it.