It’s always a struggle first thing in the morning. These stiff, arthritic knees take time to warm up, to loosen, to bend. I’m out of bed now and moving around. The nurses in the home tell me that there are better exercises I could do than those on my old Wii Fit, but I have to take my virtual bike around Wuhu Island each morning, otherwise how will I know if today will be a good day?
I turn on the TV, switch on the Wii and nudge the button on the exercise board with my toe. The screen comes to life, and there I am, my Mii, my virtual self astride my virtual bike on my own, virtual Wuhu Island.
I haven’t changed my Mii for 30 years. It’s still as I was when I was 50. I know because that was when I first cut my hair short and it was still brown then, with a little help.
I step onto the board and she kicks off, heading up the sunlit path with the gravel crunching under the wheels of her bike. I start walking on the spot and she speeds up towards the first flag. She takes it and I turn her to the right to take a short cut between the trees. The birds are calling and the tyres swish as they roll over the grass. I’m heading towards the town and other Miis, generic ones, wave encouragingly as I pass.
Then I see a familiar dark blue shirt. Not all of the Miis are generic. This one is my dad. He’s jogging across my path towards the rising sun and the red suspension bridge. I stop and watch him go. He’s doing what he always loved best. He used to run to work and he ran marathons before his heart condition was diagnosed. He died quietly in his chair of a cardiac arrest thirty years ago. I watch him head for the bridge from where he can run along the shoreline or round to the ancient, ruined city. If there is a heaven, my dad would consider Wuhu Island to be it.
I pedal into the town and head for the square. A little black and white cat is sitting on the corner. I ring the bike’s bell and it turns an eager face and gallops towards me. It has a red collar. This is Ripley, my most devoted and most needy cat. Her definition of happiness was to sprawl across my lap. She would wait for me to come home, then follow me, wailing until I finally sat down. She lived to a good age and died in my arms at the vet’s 10 years ago when old age had reduced her life to an existence and I could bear it no longer. She gallops up, overshoots and then reappears, cantering alongside me, looking up at me as she always did.
We approach the fountain in the middle of the square. I turn the bike towards it, see the flag and ring the bike’s bell. Ripley scampers away, collects the flag on my behalf and thunders back. I now turn and pedal out of the town and up the hill toward the hamlet and the cliffs. I pass between the houses and crest the hill. Ripley collects another flag and I freewheel down to the rock archway. There I see a powder blue shirt. My mum is jogging directly towards me. I stop the bike and hold my breath. Will she change direction or keep coming straight? She jogs right up to me, smiles directly into my face and then trots past.
“Hello, Mum,” I say quietly. I turn my Mii and watch her go. She died 15 years ago. Pneumonia after a fall, but I see her here most days. Not all days, there is a random element to the appearance of the Miis, I may not see her at all or be mortified as I was one day when she jogged past wearing the chicken outfit from the flying game, but that’s another story. So far, it’s been a good day. I start stepping again and my Mii kicks off the ground and continues to pedal. Ripley, who had been waiting expectantly, frolics back into the game. She and I crisscross the meadow, picking up all the remaining flags between us and are now heading for the finish line. It’s inside a small arena which I could approach with aplomb by taking a series of three jumps and ultimately flying into the space, but I know Ripley won’t follow me over the wall, so I go the long way round and enter sedately through the gateway.
There is very little time left and I scan the group of Miis who are assembled to cheer me over the line. I hate it when they are all generics, but it’s okay, I see him. To my left, at the finish line stands my husband. He’s clapping, cupping his hands to his mouth and jumping up and down with excitement. I brake and Ripley goes to stand next to him. I tell him the news. Only the good news. You can’t tell bad news to someone who’s so happy. Finally, I step again on the exercise board, the bike starts up and passes the finish line. My Mii raises both arms in triumph and I pedal, no hands, up the road as Ripley frisks beside me.
My husband died five years ago, a swift and remorseless cancer, leaving me all alone to face old age among strangers. Except here. Here my loved ones are all still young, still fit and I see them most days. Today I saw all four which means that today will be a good day. One of the best.
Helen Combe is a member of the Solihull Writers club in the U.K.