Mood Teeth

My teeth are now a luminous yellowy green which apparently somehow reflects my mood as read by a chip implanted into my gums which somehow figures out how I am feeling by the flow of blood to my gums or something. Actually I am not sure how it works…read more

I look in the mirror and try and concentrate really hard. How am I feeling? Slightly panicked if I am honest. Maybe confused. Annoyed. Frustrated. There isn’t one word to cover it. I look at the app, I scroll through all the colours-there is no colour for slightly panicked. There is for frustrated, a sort of apricot. Apricot? Why-who gets this? There is annoyed but there is no combination of the two- no frustrated and annoyed. I look at my teeth. They appear in the mirror as a sort of lemony green glowing mess–well monstrosity.

I thought ‘mood teeth’ would be fun. At least I did at some point. I think I’d had-Ok I definitely had too much to drink. I remember my mother’s tattoo. She got it on a similar holiday when she was young. She hated it. It was a mermaid with large –well larger than life upper body parts. Cartoonishly big. She had no idea what possessed her one drunken evening to get a ‘mermaid with oversized boobs’ tattoo. She regretted it always. She wore a very covered up wedding dress so no one would see it. She had it removed eventually.

No tattoo for me, I’ve got mood teeth. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t seen them. It’s an implant in your gum-at least I think it’s in my gum and it somehow changes the colour of my teeth according to my mood. It’s a fabulous idea and when it’s done properly it’s wonderful. It’s very popular with celebrities. I tell myself these things over and over as if somehow at some point that will make me feel better.  I have not had the best version of mood teeth. I am not even sure how much I paid. Or how I paid. I guess it will appear on my bank statement soon and I can be even more horrified than I am now.  

My teeth are now a luminous yellowy green which apparently somehow reflects my mood as read by a chip implanted into my gums which somehow figures out how I am feeling by the flow of blood to my gums or something. Actually I am not sure how it works. The brochure I have is in Spanish and I am too scared to download the English version. I should just buy a Spanish speaking chip and implant it behind my ear then I could read Spanish. But I think this might be the last of my chip implant experiments. I might leave it to the younger generation. That is exactly what my mother is going to say. You’re nearly thirty and you’re getting chip implants like a 15 year old. She has a point.  No more chips for me. Next time I will just go for good old fashioned teeth colour, its like nail polish only for teeth-isn’t that the tag line.

When I run my tongue along the top of my gums I can feel the implant. I am sure that is not right. I am going to have to go to the dentist to have it removed. She is going to laugh. It is going to cost a fortune. Meanwhile my teeth sit there –luminescent, while I am too embarrassed to leave the house. I did go to work Friday but it was a disaster. They were a sort of purple brown to start with but it got worse. On Friday, mid-meeting as I was presenting they cycled through the entire colour scheme. I could see the audience just sitting there watching my teeth. No one wanted to say anything. People were embarrassed for me. I was embarrassed for me. There are about 40 colours. In the end I just stopped speaking and sat down.  

After 20 minutes it stopped but I had to let someone else take over. What was I thinking? I am kind of hoping the chip will run out of power soon and I can have it removed. I am too worried to even search how long it will take. I am seeing my mother today and I know she will want me to go to the dentist right away. Improperly licensed mood teeth can cause serious damage to your teeth and your gums. I think there’s an ad just above the subway-government sponsored.

I just don’t know what to say to her. She is going to know as soon as she sees me. I try to think happy thoughts and my teeth turn orange and then sort of a dull purple colour again. This is not how it looks on screen.

I leave the house, determined not to smile at anyone. I am walking to the cafe. The woman who always walks her dog on a Sunday morning passes me. We always smile even though we don’t know each other. I nod at her today as if I am absorbed in something else. She smiles. I feel bad. Then as I cross the road, the driverless car stops for me and I notice the passenger. He is quite cute. I want to smile. I must not smile. He smiles. I look at the road and keep walking. An opportunity missed. It is 20 minutes of walking where I simply focus on showing no one my teeth.

My teeth on the other hand seem to tingle as if they are enjoying this. Humiliation. I look at the app, what is the colour of humiliation. I am not sure the colours I have are standard. They might be standard for Europe and not for the UK. Do they have different standards for mood teeth in Europe. I think they do. The names of the emotions on the app have all reverted to Spanish-that can’t be good. Can it? I vow to look up just how serious the complications can be.

I arrive at the café. I meet my Mum here every Sunday. We really should go virtual. I nod at the waitress as I go in. She smiles. I don’t. I feel bad. She looks at me oddly. I always smile. I want to say, I can’t I have ‘mood teeth’ and its not like the TV. They are malfunctioning. I couldn’t even post any social media photos of me after I got these. No one saw the end of my holiday. I have a long list of people messaging to find out if I’m ok. I haven’t known what to say. I have lost some followers I think, just through my silence. They went bad from day one. I am not even sure where I got them. I was too drunk.

I see my mother come in. She smiles. I don’t. She frowns. I try not to notice. She takes off her jacket and slips into the chair across from me. The waitress comes over. She is fast because we always order the same thing.

I mumble ‘the usual’ trying to make sure she doesn’t see my teeth.

My Mum looks really worried now.

She reaches across and takes my hand. Then I smile. It’s just a reaction, subconscious, quickly. I shut my mouth again. I see her eyebrows react to my teeth. I have no idea what colour they are now. She is staring. Just staring with heightened eyebrows, then she bites her lips and then she laughs. I mean she just laughs out loud. The whole café turns to watch as she screeches, ‘what have you done’ at me.

I sink into the chair and steel myself. I must not open my mouth until she is quiet and no one is looking. The waitress brings my carrot cake, and latte and I can see that she has seen my teeth. She is also trying not to laugh. I am like a bad social media story.

My mother collects herself. I want to remind her about the mermaid with the big boobs but I don’t.

‘I don’t think its permanent.’ I say. ‘It will stop working soon.’ I mumble more than say, trying to keep my mouth shut.

She nods and smirks. This is not the support I was looking for.

They’re not that bad’ stumbles out of her mouth as the frown returns. I know she doesn’t mean it.

‘What colour are they at the moment?’ I ask

‘A sort of reddy blue?’

‘You mean green?’

‘No I mean some of them are red and some are blue and some are red and blue and some are something else? It’s an interesting look.’

‘It’s a disaster’

‘A temporary one, perhaps a week at home.’

I look at my coffee. She is still trying not to laugh. It is worse than I thought. I have no idea what to do. I can’t go to work like this. I can’t hack it out of my gum myself, if I do that I might end up with permanent colouration.

It is a short cup of coffee. I go home and hide in my room. Tomorrow I will go to the dentist.

Legacy-she died in the night

Coffee cut with dirt or sand or embers. I think I can see an ember glowing in the bottom of it. Ember coffee. Tastes like-well, charcoal…read more

She died in the night, the old lady. I had learned to sleep through the moaning and perhaps that was callous. The younger one woke me. She must have been sitting there with her when it happened. I knew what had to be done. There is no ritual around burial.  There isn’t the time, the resources. One gone is one less mouth to feed. Still that will be scant consolation here, they only had each other. I think it had been that way for a long time. And now the dreaded ‘there is only me’. I have gotten used to it, been like that for too long to worry about the sentiment.

I groaned my way out of bed, which was wrong because I understood the urgency. The moaning had been endless and now there is no moaning and maybe someone is listening and maybe someone will come. And whoever comes here will be better fed than the people at the rubbish tip. I have had the spade in the corner for days and a second hand knife I have been sharpening. I went to bed dressed, we all do.

Between the two of us we heft the body downstairs, carrying it between us. Into the slush and mud that was the ground floor. I don’t think the flood is ever receding and we will need to move inland. It is just a fact. Hundreds, thousands, millions, billions have faced this dilemma everyday for what must be half a century now. Maybe, maybe not that long. It is ten years since I abandoned England the first time, no I think -it can’t be that long. It would make her so much older now, so long without her. So much I can’t remember. I am alone. I tell myself that. It does not bear thinking about. No one will carry my body like this. There is no point in sentiment.

When did the water start coming in? Who knows? I don’t think there was a specific date. There probably was for some cities. I vaguely remember a headline about Miami sinking into the sea, but maybe it was Shanghai or Denmark. I don’t think Denmark was a city, it all eludes me now. The facts are irrelevant. It’s all just gone.

We carry the body between us. Sloshing through the mud in the darkness. The road –well the water that is flowing between the houses where the road once was, is only lit by fires from inside open buildings, buildings with no walls, or only a back wall or side walls but not enclosed. They aren’t proper buildings. They open onto the street. Mostly they are built just a foot off the ground, this allows them to stay open when the floods aren’t too bad. It keeps money or its equivalent flowing in whatever the weather. They call themselves ‘cafes’ but they are nothing like the cafes I remember. Some of them have fire all night. These light our way. But it is still dim and dark. We move quickly and quietly.

I take the old woman’s body now. She is bent over with grief. The reality is sinking in. I have the old woman over my shoulder. I look around, wary, aware. I try to make the thing I am carrying look less human, more small. The ‘cafes’, they never close, they are a refuge. They are dotted along the main road.  People sleep there, live there, eat there. It isn’t like before. People are looking out, walking past us, seeing what we have and looking the other way. No one cares. There are no rules here.  They know we must hurry.

We take the main road even though its where we are most likely to be noticed. Its also where its most likely for someone to intervene if we need them. Even now people baulk at the idea. They don’t like it and sometimes they will come to your aid. Plus if I have to fight myself I’d always rather there were witnesses. I don’t like doing death in dark alley ways, I always feel it is dishonest. Deceitful. It feels like a crime, death out here in defence of a human body would feel justified, reasonable. Even though it is only hunger that will drive our attackers.

We are taking the body to the end of town, there is a rubbish tip there, which is constantly burning. It is not mined the way the plastic mountains are. It simply smoulders and smokes all day. It burns endlessly, who knows when it was set alight. When I say burns, there are no open flames, just constant trails of smoke into the sky and lumps of embers on the ground. Its alight but only in the summer does its flames streak out into the sky.  Its on slightly higher ground, or its made the slightly higher ground, who knows which. It smoulders even in the rain, its long peel of smoke drifting into the air on even the worst of days. It burns underground somewhere, away from the weather, there are glowing coals on top, its like a volcano only made of rubbish. Its immense, its hard to get across to anyone the size of the thing. They have slid into towns before, these burning ember trash mountains. I remember hearing about one once. There is the rubbish of a whole civilisation there smouldering away in a pit that was once landfill. It’s delightful aroma covers the town some days, but I think we are all used to it. Smoke inhalation is a better way to die than the belly.

We are going to burn the body. It is better than the alternative. We could sell it. But there is some semblance of humanity left here. My advice is don’t buy from the local butcher, and certainly don’t buy from someone who offers you meat in the street. It might be dog, it might be rat, it might be something else.

It is no secret what we are going to do. We are going to dig her a hole and put her in and hope she is burned to a crisp and inedible by morning. I have a shovel, it is unlikely the people by the tip will have one so I have to dig deep enough so that it is hot enough that they will not be able to retrieve her. I will guard it for the night. It is the least I can do. She will need to go and mine the plastic mountains tomorrow anyway.

I can see the smoke in night sky, its just darker than anywhere else. There are no stars shining through it. The tip has tracks running through it. We walk on through it and stop randomly. There were footsteps behind us. I could hear them but I didn’t turn to look. There seemed to be only one set or two at the most. She sits. I put the corpse of the old lady on her lap. She is crying softly. I guess this was her mother, maybe her aunt. I’ve no idea, I never asked. Can’t even remember how we came to be friends. Details don’t matter, survival does.

 I dig, not as quietly as I’d like but I dig. In the greyness beyond I can see one or two people, sitting, watching. That is why I will stand guard. I dig slowly at first to give her more time. Then I realise that soon that there will be too many people off in the greyness and there will be no chance of defending her. I look at the hole, just off the side of the track. I can see glowing embers at the bottom. Not enough oxygen for flames. I take the body myself and push her away as she grabs out at it. I shove it in to the hole I have dug and start to pile ash and dirt on top. I do it quickly. Its at this point that we are most vulnerable. I am watching them out of the corner of my eye. At least I am watching the darkness, shapes in the darkness and the shapes in the darkness are not moving. Its hard work in hot conditions.

I pile in embers. I would like to see flames but I know that won’t happen. I hope she is watching my back a bit. But I can hear her sobbing, a sign of weakness I’d rather not have. I keep working. I can see them edge closer. Movement. I stop.  Look around me. They are still far enough away. She does not look up, crying into her sleeve. If I shout they will take that as a sign of vulnerability. I pile more embers in on top of her. She will cook slowly and then eventually be burned to all hell. Just a charred skeleton. The odd thing is if you have ever seen a plastic belly victim burned, the plastic just melts into a gooey pile and sticks to the skeleton. You can always tell a belly victim that way. The skeleton usually the spine, the plastic is melded on to it. Sometimes you can even still see a glint of colour. It is not pleasant.

I have covered her now, well and good. I stand beside it. Put my shovel into the ground, stand there, looking formidable. These people are hungry, well you’d have to be wouldn’t you. I don’t begrudge them food, just not this food.

She waits with me. As the dawn nears, I send her home. I know she won’t be there when I return, she will have gone to work. There is no time for mourning here.

I wait and watch the sunrise. I am hungry too. I am thirsty. I would love a coffee. The sun is getting hotter, water and coffee. I stand guard. One of them approaches. Dirty, ragged. Probably that is how I look to. She holds out a cup. I can smell coffee, not real coffee. Coffee cut with dirt or sand or embers. I think I can see an ember glowing in the bottom of it. Ember coffee. Tastes like-well, charcoal. I know what this means. The woman under the ground, her daughter, these people, they took me in. This woman in the ground, roasting, she is my friend. I made a promise. I did not mean for her to be cooked, but to be charred so she had no nutrition left to be taken. Dignity.

I look at the woman offering me coffee. How long since she ate? She isn’t that old, maybe she has children. She reaches out with the coffee. I tell myself I have lines I will not cross. It’s just that I constantly surprise myself as to exactly what they are. They are never where I think they are. She is dead. No one will know but me.  My hand, it moves up. Reaches out. I feel the warmth of the cup. I take the coffee. I stand and drink it, wondering just how much plastic I am ingesting in this one cup. The woman who gave it to me has the belly too. I can see it. I know to them every second counts but for me, another piece is broken. Another taboo overlooked so humanity can survive.

I don’t finish the coffee. I throw it out onto the ground. I can see the look she gives me, aghast at the waste. I am careful to make sure the dead ember stays in the bottom, even as I throw away the rest of its contents. Maybe she can use it again. Maybe its a sentimental ember. I don’t care anymore. I drop the cup. I don’t care enough about anything to hand it back. I grab the spade and walk away.

There was almost nothing left of her anyway. They will be gnawing at bones. I hear the scuffle behind me. Someone is digging. Someone is hungry. She will be cooked nicely I think. I wander home, I wade through water. I wished the world were different. I wished I was different. I wished I could make different choices. None of us is better than another. Tomorrow I will let her have a day off and work the mountain myself. The day after maybe I will think about the Med, about crossing it, about going over the sea, about different choices.  

Alone in the coffee shop

Am I waiting for someone else? If not, I am taking up space. If they leave it long enough perhaps I will get up and leave and they can give the table to someone else a duo, a two-some. Not a lonesome. I look at my phone. I look at the menu. I am not waiting for anybody. I will not leave. It is a battle of wills…read more 

I am sitting in the coffee shop. Just me. Alone. At a table for two. They are very busy. I can see, it has been noted. They keep looking at me. Am I waiting for someone else? If not, I am taking up space. If they leave it long enough perhaps I will get up and leave and they can give the table to someone else a duo, a two-some. Not a lonesome. I look at my phone. I look at the menu. I am not waiting for anybody. I will not leave. It is a battle of wills.

They serve those people first, that couple that had to squeeze onto that table in the corner when this one has more space. Why didn’t I sit at that one? That table is the one no one really wants. That table is probably made for people who are alone.

They sit there scrunched into a corner, on a table meant for one. She is pretty, well made up-maybe not pretty without all the help. He is rugged, handsome, proud to go out with someone who can use makeup to improve themselves that much. Lets just call it considerably improved for her sake. I notice his shoes, they are brown. No, those are what you call tan- tan shoes, fur lined. Fur popping out over the top. The right shoes for snow. He is Mr Right shoes for snow. Maybe he even knew snow was coming and bought them especially. They are clean and shiny, like he has walked from the car to the coffee shop but in a very masculine way. A swagger. He has swaggered here. You can see him in the car park, pressing the button on the car key very hard. Deliberate. Manly. Lock those doors. Get over yourself it’s just a car key. I want to say that out loud but I don’t, because who knows if that happened, perhaps he drives a Citroen. All that machismo and still drinking a soy latte. It’s a miracle he isn’t wearing aviator sunglasses.

My boots are old, tatty, holed and worn through-the wrong shoes for snow. Hers are grey, with some tassel ties and speak of effortless class and elegance. Just not sure which class or what level of elegance. Higher than mine though. They match her jumper. I match nothing. Nothing I wear matches me. But I still have a better table. I have the table they want. I have the sort of table a tan shoe, grey boot, soy latte couple should have. And I am not giving it up.

Another couple stand in the door waiting, as if I should leave. I will not leave, if they don’t serve me soon I will make a scene, but I will not leave. This is the problem with real cafes over virtual ones-you can’t easily add tables in ‘manual cafes’. You can’t just hit ‘tab’ and double the size. But I don’t like being on my own in VR. I don’t think its as safe as people say. I think they might be sucking out my brain. Here in a real café no one knows anything about my brain. I could be thinking anything and probably I am.

I sit firmly on this chair. Its like I am attached to it. I am staying on this chair. This is my table. I will have coffee here. I will not be cowed. The waitress finally comes over. She does not make eye contact. I do not make eye contact. Neither of us is the winner. Yet. I order. I spend time on each word as if she is not quite up to taking my order. As if she might not understand what I am saying. It is a game of power and I have the table. I end with ‘Please’. That surprised her. She thought I would be grumpier on account of being alone and speaking slowly. But I am polite. I smile.  I am triumphant. She turns and walks away as if nothing has happened. But it has happened. I have kept the table and the couple by the door must wait and the two over there in the corner must huddle into the wall to eat their oversized meals and their funny soy coffees in their perfect shoes.

I sit there reading a book, a book written in French. Ha. Another victory. I can’t speak French. I don’t speak any French except the French I have learned with the free app on my phone, which is 424 words, which is almost none at all because whilst I recognise those words as French I barely know what they mean. And I have no idea how to say them.

I sit there reading a book written in French but I am just looking at the pages, hoping it seeps in. I think that even though my clothes don’t match, the French book makes me more sophisticated than grey boot woman and tan shoe man. Their shoes are right for the snow but they have no French books on their table as they scrape their elbows on the wall eating their farty baked beans breakfast. Crumpled up in that tiny corner at the tiny corner table. I luxuriate in the vast expanse of table before me. I know they aren’t looking but I am sure they know. Everyone knows. I have this table. This table is for me alone. And it has two chairs, count them, two chairs.

I have this table and it is mine. The coffee comes and the tea cake-it is slightly burned –should I send it back? Is it deliberately burned? She apologises for the delay but not the burned-ness. What should I do? Do I mention they are burned? Plus they are small. These are hot cross buns really, not tea cakes. Is that deliberate? It is a game I cannot win. ‘Pick your battles’, that is good advice. I ponder for a moment. Thinking on my chair, that is what I am good at. Let this one go. Its not worth it. You have the table, you have space. I let it go. Perhaps I will take more time and order a second coffee except. The coffee is abysmal. It is always abysmal but I like the ambience here. Although it is missing ambience today because there are so many people. The waiting couple have gone now. I smile. I have the table. It is mine.

I eat tea cake. I sip coffee. Grey boot is laughing. Tan shoe is smiling. They are happy. Squished into a corner. I could not be happy in that corner. Perhaps I should do my eye brows like her. Would tan shoe man notice me if my eye brows were like hers. Do you suppose he likes her for her eyebrows. Do you suppose he likes her at all? Maybe not. Maybe they are breaking up. I finish my tea cake. I sip my coffee. There is no hurry. I have the table. It is mine.

I notice the hair of the woman in front of me. It is grey with pink through it. She is stylish too, but the woman with her. She is not a style queen, reddish hair and a blue top, with a hideously over done face. But that pink hair, I love that. I might leave when they leave so I can tell her. But I might not. I didn’t come here to spread joy. You can over-joy you know. I look at the spacious table before me, at the free chair, I don’t need to spread joy. My presence here is disrupting the natural order of things. I like her hair but I don’t want her to see my boots

There is another table free now. Another couple come in. An old woman and her son. Maybe her son. Maybe her lover. You never know. He goes to the bathroom. She sits down. She has a purple hat. It is knitted. I have a blue hat. I have had it for 20 years. It is a ‘gnarly dude’ hat. Which is not a thing, it always reminds me of mutant ninja turtles. It makes me happy. I think of turtles, mostly ninja ones when I put it on. Hats that make you think of turtles –hats don’t come better than that. Ninja turtles are such a good idea. We should have more ninja animals. All of these thought run through my head as I take up space at this table. I will not be hurried. This table is mine.

Every so often the staff glance at me as if to see if I am finishing. Then this table that has one person can be used as a table for two people. Never mind that the two that just came in are sitting at a table for four. That it seems is acceptable. It’s a double standard-a pun, but true nonetheless. They are wasting two seats and I am only wasting one, nonetheless they will be served promptly. They are not looked down on, there will be no apology to them for the time it has taken to get things. They are different to me. They are together. I am the worst of all things. I am alone. At a table for two. I see the waitress look at them, she is thinking what I am thinking. The woman with the pink hair is getting up to leave. I am not getting up to leave. Not yet. I will not be telling her how nice her hair is. That is a sad thing. But I must keep my table for a bit longer.

Grey boot and tan shoe are getting up to go. It must be uncomfortable in that corner, no matter how much you like the other person. He is attentive, she is attention seeking. They make me want to vomit. Soy latte, if a latte doesn’t have any real milk is it really a latte? I think not. If you eat a meal squished into a corner with no elbow room, have you really eaten out? I think not. Might as well have eaten on the sofa at home and avoided the risk of scuffing your shoes.

I finish my coffee. But I wait. I wait until grey boot and tan shoe are replaced at their table. Pink hair and blue shirt are also replaced. It is full again. I wait until someone else is standing waiting for a table, another couple, waiting to see if I am leaving. I am leaving. But in my own time. It takes an age to get my book into my bag. A long time to put on my coat. A time  where I am hovering at my seat. Somewhere between still here and leaving and nearly gone. My first tentative step away from my table.

The couple can’t move too fast, what if I go back. Order another coffee.  I pace slowly to the counter to pay. I have won. I know behind me they are slipping into chairs, one warm and one cold. I smile sweetly at the waitress who does not make eye contact but looks at my hat. Yes, that is my hat and I wear it publicly. I take the change from my ten pound note. All coins. What does that mean? Is that a sign, all coins? Don’t come here and take up one of our tables again. If that is what it meant, it is lost on me. I will be back. I will be here again. I will not be cowed. I have won.

The Grammar police

I keep looking behind me but the problem is hear in front of me. Did you see that, I used the wrong one, the wrong spelling of it. Another act of rebellion. A moment when I did something you aren’t allowed to do anymore. They will call it a mistake, in a report somewhere. It was no mistake. It was deliberate, deliberative-there’s a word you never see now, can’t even use it in that context, who cares, it was a deliberative act. more

I try three words, any combination. I pulled them from the dictionary. It is a manual dictionary. You know what I mean? It has pages, real pages, paper. Have you ever touched paper? Do you know what paper is? Look it up? No don’t look it up. They might be watching you too.

 It was hard to find a manual dictionary. Hard to even find a bookshop with real books. They don’t like you to have dictionaries. Dictionaries are powerful things. Especially old ones. You can find out stuff, stuff you aren’t supposed to know. They can tell you about the past, about the past of a word, about what it once meant. They can tell you about a time before a word even existed. The dictionary I have, the manual one, is old I think. It doesn’t have the word ‘email’ in it. Which means? You know what it means? There was a time before email. A time when ‘email’ did not exist. How did people communicate then? I don’t know. I thought they told us, email is the oldest form of communication there is. But the word ‘email’ is not in my manual dictionary. I huddle over my screen. I know someone, something, somewhere is looking at every word I right. Don’t tell! I used the wrong right, right? Yes? These words are just going out into the ether, but the ether is always watching. Collecting information. Informing. This machine is an inform-ant. I hyphenated when you shouldn’t. I must be careful.

I think there was another way of communicating before ‘email’. Those are radical words, revolutionary words. A revolution sent out into the ether.  ‘Verbal’! That’s a word I found but I don’t know what it means. I think it means ‘spoken’ which is about speaking but I am not sure what speaking is-but speaking is not emailing. I thought before it was, that when I was emailing I was speaking but maybe I wasn’t. I think I’m not. Emailing and speaking-they are not the same. I know that now. I have a dictionary. I fling a question into the ether-my fingers fly over the keys-what is speaking? But there is no answer. Only music comes back at me, notes and sound and melody. Noise but not words.

They think that if they can control what words mean they can control what words we use. We all write in Code, their code -but I have a dictionary. I wonder what it means ‘to speak’. The music comes from the ether, from somewhere inside the machine.

I type in another random search of three words. Three random words taken from my manual dictionary. Then I click on image. The images are random. The search engine does not understand what I am asking it to look for. That is my point. A random three word search. They don’t know everything. There are endless possible searches with my dictionary. If I do enough of these all in a row they will find me, but if I just do two at a time, every so often, I will go under the radar, or the data mining. I just have to be careful. I can make it work or not work just by carefully choosing three words. I type in three more random words, I don’t know what they mean. More random pictures.

I don’t want them to know everything about me. I want some control. I want the algorithm to be confused by what I am doing but not confused enough to report me. I don’t want anymore stupid targeted advertising. There is no opt out. The privacy policy is not an agreement, it is a rule, a law. There is no internet without agreement to the privacy policy. I sign up or else I am no longer part of the world. I am not the only one. Confused. Confounded. Annoyed. Three words I would not type into a search engine in a row because they would know then. Why do you think dictionaries are so hard to find? Bookshops are illegal aren’t they. Why would you need a bookshop when every book is on the internet? Why? Fair point but you still don’t need to make them illegal-do you? Why? What about competition? Maybe every book is not on the internet, just the ones they want us to read.

Bookshops are illegal because? Because they have a different viewpoint. Now you are getting the hang of it. Because they can’t know which page you’re up to and if they don’t know which page you are up to, they can’t know how much you know or what you are thinking. They can’t tell you what to think and when to think it when you are turning the pages yourself. A book is a means of being autonomous- without the ever watching eye of a machine. A book does not collect your data. It does not store your thoughts. A book asks nothing of you but that you turn to the next page. What if you don’t want to finish a book? You can do that-with a manual book you can do that. What if you are a bad citizen and don’t read the book in a linear way. What if words haven’t always meant what they say they mean. Because I want to know the history of words. I want to know what they once meant because I need to know how they gained control of the conversation. Because even now this is their conversation. My words, their machine. My thoughts. Their data.

I sit here typing, looking over my shoulder as if they are coming, but they are not coming. They are already here, in the machine in front of me. I try not to panic. I want to type in three more random words, but that would be dangerous. At night, when I am alone, I flick through this dictionary. It is from 1984, I know that year, it means something but the dictionary doesn’t tell me what.

I hold it. I want to suck all the knowledge from it. What did all the words mean once. Before them. Before the little green line appeared. Why don’t they mean that anymore? Who changed it? Who made the rules? Who forbade words out of context? When did the phrase ‘grammatical offence’ first appear.

I take a breath. I look at the screen. The images are random. No one can possibly know what I meant because I meant nothing. It will register in a report somewhere but not often enough, not yet, for me to be a ‘submersive’ –but according to the dictionary, that means underwater-they have it wrong. It’s the wrong word, and I know, its subversive. I am subversive, not submersive. How did they get that wrong? I have read it. The book is open on my knee. Its that sleight of hand, that slight of hand, the subtle changes that have made all the difference. It means something different today to yesterday and you can never keep up with it. Our words used against us. What does it mean to speak? What is a voice? More than a point of view? A sound? A noise-that is not musical. How odd.

I am a radical, a rebel. I want my life back. I want my beautiful words to tumble from the page and to mean what I want them to mean. I hold the dictionary. The history of words, where they started, where they come from. Words are power. When did we hand over control to the spell checker. To the green line that dictates grammar. I won’t do it. I can’t do it. The sound of the keys is the only voice I have now.

I keep looking behind me but the problem is hear in front of me. Did you see that, I used the wrong one, the wrong spelling of it. Another act of rebellion. A moment when I did something you aren’t allowed to do anymore. They will call it a mistake, in a report somewhere. It was no mistake. It was deliberate, deliberative-there’s a word you never see now, can’t even use it in that context, who cares, it was a deliberative act. A rebellion amongst a million typed characters. I am a rebellion- another one. They will definitely be watching now. I must be careful. This is foolhardy and foolish and folly and a lot of other ‘f’ words.

I pull my coat close around me. It is cold here. I let my fingers glide over the keys. I think of other mistakes I could make. Other words I could use. Half sentences. Improper phrases. Bad grammar. I know they are watching. I must be careful. What if I just wrote a line of solid ‘j’s. What would happen then. Would they break down the door? I clutch the dictionary close to me. I know there was a time, before, beyond the machines. Nothing is forever. The time, it will be again, I hold the past here with me and as long as someone does, there is hope.

I look in the mirror-it is not me

We can never tell each other how much we know. It’s a pact between all commuters everywhere…read more

I look in the mirror. Its me. I close my eyes. I reach out my hand. I find the button-a groove in the smooth surface. I should have bought one that was voice activated or at least changed the setting using my phone before I came to look in this mirror. I gently push the button in.

I open one eye. There I am, my image reflected back at me in the mirror. Except its not me. It looks mostly like me, but it’s a better version of me. Its an avatar. I have it on all my mirrors, a filter, so I never see what I really look like.

Except the button on this mirror doesn’t seem to be working. It won’t stay on my image, it constantly reverts back over night and when I come in here in the morning, there I am. Really me, what I must really look like. I close my eyes tightly whenever this happens and switch to the virtual me. The me with filters and ‘adjustments’, the me that I am sure is really me because that other me-I don’t want to look like that.

This can’t be healthy. I put make up on the virtual me, well I put it on the actual me, but in the mirror it goes on the virtual me. It looks a bit rough, I hit another button and the whole image is smoothed over and the makeup on the image in the mirror is perfect. I have no idea what it looks like on the actual me. I don’t care. I head for the train station. Its still dark. I walk and no one can see.

No one notices if my makeup is badly applied. No one notices me at all. That is how commuting works, same people everyday. Same seat. Same bags. Same coat. New coat. She has a new coat. And no one notices anything at all ever. I know these people, their habits, their smell, their conversations on phones. I know there lives but not their names-sometimes their names but only accidentally because I overheard. They probably know me too, but we can’t let on. We can never tell each other how much we know. It’s a pact between all commuters everywhere. A tacit agreement that even though we know everything we will pretend to know nothing. Except she has a new coat. I look down. That is not my business. It is not relevant to my life. I can not notice that.

I don’t look up. I just look at my phone. I put it on mirror. It just has an image of me. Always, Never actually me. Well yes me, but me with filters.  My makeup is perfect in that image, my ears are smaller, my mouth more rounded. I tell myself I look like that and there is nothing to contradict me. Nothing at all.

I go to get my coffee. I am wearing a scarf. I look at the ground. I don’t want to be noticed.  I have a takeaway coffee. They know my order, I send it by phone, I don’t even need to make eye contact. I have paid for it by phone. I just swipe my phone at the collection station and its released to me. I don’t have to see anybody. More importantly nobody sees me.

I get to work. I go past the kitchen. There is someone in there so I avoid it. I go to my cubicle. I take the lid off my coffee cup and sip it. Sweet, bitter delicious coffee. I switch on the machine, really can they not set it up so that I can do this from my phone before I arrive. It hums into life. I slip into lifelessness. I look at the Inbox, the news. I think about my first meeting. 9am slips by. I look at my phone, at the image on my phone. It is a good image. I have a meeting at 10am. I decide not to go in person but to send a virtual me.

I know that since I am in the office I should not do this. It is technically against the rules but I do this. The image of me, it is I think-better than the real me. The virtual me goes to the meeting. I see the meeting on my machine, I say things. I sound good. I look good. I huddle over my machine. Sooner or later they will ask why I am never there in person.

I finish my coffee at 11am. I always take ages to drink it.  I need the bathroom. I cannot go to the bathroom. The bathroom has mirrors. The mirrors in the bathroom are real. Real mirrors with real reflections and they cannot be changed to show your image, your avatar. It is really you. You cannot avoid seeing them. I need the bathroom though.

I grab my scarf. It looks odd. I know it looks odd, I pick a time, 11.21am. I am bursting now but 11.21 is not random, its too early for an 11am meeting to have finished and passed the time when anyone with an 11.15 will be going to a meeting late and too early for anyone going to an 11.30. I have this. I can get to the bathroom with my scarf and no one will see me. When I get to the door, I can wrap the scarf around my face and I won’t see it in the mirror-well maybe just the eyes-but the eyes are very close-aside from the colour. Did I mention that my avatar has different coloured eyes to me.

I look out from my cubicle, there is no one. I make a break for it. I see someone. I have misjudged it. 11.22 would have been better. I walk on by and pretend not to see her. I am here now before the toilet door. I wrap the scarf around my face and go in. I can only see my eyes. I focus on what I have to do. I focus on the taps when I am washing my hands. I do not make eye contact with myself. All the glimpses I get of me are accidental or peripheral. That person, she is not me. I am the image on my phone.

I look at the time, 11.27, just in time for the 11am meetings to finish and for early birds to the 11.30 to be on their way. I hide in the toilet cubicle. 11.30 passes. 11.35. 11.37. I will go  at 11.38. At 11.38 on the dot I fling open the toilet door and race for the exit. I nearly bump someone over in the rush. I mumble something to her. Sorry maybe or excuse me. I try to avoid panic, I can’t breathe. Is that panic or because the scarf has been covering my mouth for 20 minutes. I don’t know. I can see my cubicle. Head down, I march towards it. I see my chair. I reach out for it, grab it, slam myself down on it. I unwrap my face and bend over my desk. I have made it. No one saw me, at least not the real me. Next time I will send my avatar to the toilet.  It was not always like this. There was a time before this. Before there was a better perfect me, that existed as a picture when I am flesh and blood.

Everyone is concerned

In reality I live on lentils and quinoa, in VR I indulge in cake and cake, and well cake. I mean wouldn’t you. The sensation of eating it without the actual eating of it…read more 

Everybody is concerned. I get that. But I am not concerned. I will do the same thing today that I have done every Saturday since it happened. I will go to the café and sit across from my mother. We will have the same conversation that we had last week. It will be almost word for word.

It is a virtual café, so I will sit here in a chair in my kitchen with my head set and in theory she is sitting in a chair somewhere far away with her head set on. We are sitting in the same virtual reality though, so I will be able to see her and she will be able to see me. Or at least a version of me. The version I had made for VR is so close to me that you can barely tell.

I picked this virtual café because I liked its décor. There will be the same people talking in the background, the same people going in and out. I will order the same coffee and feel the odd sensation of drinking it, of reaching out to pick up and cup and take a sip, and knowing it is not real. Yet still feeling the cold porcelain, the warm milk. I will scoop the chocolate sprinkles off my cappuccino and my body will think I have eaten them. I can fool my brain into thinking I have had a coffee now without ever touching the evil stuff. It is ecologically more sound as well.

But I am not here for the false coffee or even the false carrot cake-the one with double thickness icing, all that sugar and not a calorie in sight. Sometimes I follow it with chocolate cheesecake. I do love virtual reality. In reality I live on lentils and quinoa, in VR I indulge in cake and cake, and well cake. I mean wouldn’t you. The sensation of eating it without the actual eating of it.

Anyway I am here in VR for my mother. My sister says it is wrong and I must face reality. I say I am not ready. I have lived a long way away from my mother for a long time. We have had virtual coffee in the same virtual café for nearly three years now, since it first become available. She had an image made of her which was quite true to life, if a little younger than I remembered-but hey who doesn’t. I have several images of me that I use in VR and none of them is quite true to life although the one that sits across from my mother is very close and was very expensive.

It’s odd this VR thing, because it can’t put us physically in the same room, but we are in a seemingly three dimensional space and it is very like she is in the same room. The image is her but not quite her. We can see the same thing, hear the same thing. It is hard to explain, because they could project real images, but no one does that anymore, everyone is touched up just a bit. I met my previous boyfriend in a VR café, there are such places and when I finally met him in person he was barely recognisable. It didn’t last.

Anyway my mother, we sit here every Saturday in the same virtual reality. I order the same kind of coffee and she orders tea. I eat carrot cake and she moves a chocolate slice around her plate as if it was real. I can see the sadness in her eyes, I don’t know why she did that. She could have had happy sparkly eyes or even tiger eyes. I think she was trying to tell me something. Those are not her real eyes. I know she and I are using images because she does not look like this anymore. It is always the last one I use. My sister says I need to spend more time in reality. I tell her this is my reality. She says, there is a truth and this is not the truth. She is far away too.

She sometimes calls me on the phone, refusing to turn up to a VR café, tired, she says of indulging my fantasy. I need to come home she says. I need to see it for myself. She sends me pictures. I delete them. I am not ready I tell her. I am simply not ready. She says you can never be ready. There is no ready, it has just happened and I must deal with it and the argument goes on. She sent me vouchers for therapy –I can use them anywhere apparently. She sent me a link to a therapy app. I have not used any of it.

Now that there is Virtual reality, I fail to see why I can’t exist in it in some form, why my mother can’t exist in it in some form indefinitely. Even though she is gone.

My sister tells me it is a recording, something I made and paid for before she was gone and that sitting there every Saturday isn’t going to bring her back. She says VR is not reality and I must face reality. I say it is reality, just of a different kind, she gets exasperated and I hang up.

I know that she is trying to get copyright of my mother’s image in VR so that she can stop me using it. I know that she is trying to do this. But I have copyright over this last recording of the two of us sitting there together, of our conversation, and because it happened, because it is a real conversation that happened and I am in it, I think she can never win.

She says I have to accept my mother’s death. I say that every Saturday I sit across from my mother and we have coffee and cake and we chat. I know it is the same conversation but it is as if she is there in the room. It is her voice. It is her image. And I am there and she smiles when she sees me. And she is warm, and we laugh at the way she orders the chocolate cake but never eats it and we laugh at how much I love carrot cake in VR but never eat it in real life. She loves that I always scoop the sprinkles off my cappuccino. We talk about me, about family, about my job. Always the same conversation. How is my life going? Is he the one? Would I have kids without a man in my life? We talk about big things and small things. It is the last conversation we had, it is the last conversation we will ever have. We have it every Saturday, over and over again. I know she is gone, I know. But I am still here. Sitting across from here, willing life into her. Drinking coffee, eating cake and I see no reason to accept otherwise.


But where would you take a neon man for dinner. You can’t take him to just anywhere-for one thing he probably needs a continual power source and also what if you go somewhere with bigger neon than he has. That would be embarrassing…read more

We hot-desk. I still sit at the same desk everyday. I get in early. I leave my heels there over night. I don’t care. At least I didn’t until recently. I can’t even remember when I first saw it. We aren’t that high up, the 9th or 10th floor and there are windows, well of course there are. Floor to ceiling and we look across at other buildings. Of course we do.

I don’t even know why I was looking out the window. It makes no sense. I can see several buildings from where I am, and this building is nothing special. Its no different to the others, except, well one day. On this one day, at least when it started, there was a neon outline of a man, taking up the whole window. On the inside not the outside. Its not a huge window, I mean its not small either. It’s a window, probably average for a window, I mean its floor to ceiling with a strip of something separating it from the window’s either side, but its not massively more wide and tall than the other windows. I’m talking too much. Overthinking it. It’s a window, you get it’s a window.

It was odd. I mean. I guess. I mean I thought it was odd. I stumble over my words a lot. People say that I do. I am truly sorry.  A neon outline of a man, a man  outlined in a neon sign. Just the outline and nothing else. Just there. In the window of the building. The window I was talking about. It was just there. I mean the man and of course the window. Sorry I’m not explaining it very well. It was yellow. The neon man, he was yellow.  Which isn’t really odd. I don’t know? Would it have been less odd if it was orange or green or blue? I tried to ignore it.

But it was there all day and my eyes were just, drawn to it. I vowed not to sit there again the next day. But I left my shoes there over night and when I went back the next day, the neon man was gone. Or at least I couldn’t see him. So I sat there again. It didn’t seem like such a terrible idea. I mean even now, it was my seat. Like I said, we hot-desk, but I sit there every day. Then around 11am, there it was again, the neon man, yellow, in the same window. I looked around me, no one else seemed to notice, everyone else seemed to be working. I didn’t want to disturb them. I kept sneaking a look at him, luminous. He made me smile. To think I knew he was there and no one else had noticed him.

It was distracting then so I tried to ignore it, to avoid it, to not see it. Then when I looked again, there was someone standing within the outline. A real man. That was weird I thought. Five minutes later and the man who had fitted into the outline was gone. I didn’t know what to do. Its not the kind of thing that warrants a phone call to the police, but it was odd. I mean don’t you think its odd. A neon outline of a man in the window if an office block. Then a man stands there in the outline and then-he is gone and there is just the neon left behind. Maybe you don’t think its odd. Maybe its me that’s odd. I can’t know either way can I.

It was gone the next day. Or at least not switched on. I couldn’t even pick the exact window with any certainty. I was busy all day Thursday and a little sad. What had happened? Where had he gone? But Friday, Friday, there he was again. I was so happy. I was buzzing. No one else seemed to notice him or to care. I wanted to say something but what? What do you think about that neon man you can see in the window over there? Maybe they’d think it was an odd question. Maybe they wouldn’t think about him. I did think about him.

Maybe they already think I’m odd. This would make them think I am more odd. I think ‘odd’ is an odd word. But it does what it says on the packet, even if you didn’t speak a word of English and someone said it to you, you would know what it meant. Its one of those words that’s all in the tone and the facial expression. You know what someone is saying when they use the word ‘odd’. The world is not full of those words, there aren’t many. It is a word I love but am desperately afraid of. I live in terror of the hint of an expression of it behind my back as I leave the office kitchen.

Where was I? Friday, yes, odd, yes, Friday. He was back. Neon man in all his yellow luminescence. I wanted to talk about him. I would have talked about him, but no one met my eyes all day. I stood in a world of my own on the way home on the tube. I should give him a name. He should have a name-my first thought was Leon, but no I didn’t want a name that rhymed, that always lacks dignity. But a bit of alliteration is ok, I settled on Norman-Norman Neon. It had a ring to it. It flowed. You could introduce yourself using that name at a dinner party and everyone would know you were in sales, probably electrical goods or medical supplies. Smooth talking Norman Neon. I liked him. Underneath the impeccable natty suit were tubes of light gold, he was well dressed, he talked a lot but he only truly lit up when I was in the room.

 Then I thought, Norman and I, we should have dinner. But where would you take a neon man for dinner. You can’t take him to just anywhere-for one thing he probably needs a continual power source and also what if you go somewhere with bigger neon than he has. That would be embarrassing. You need somewhere quiet and atmospheric although not too dark because you can’t have him lighting up the room for everyone else. He would be great in a club, kind of like your own personal strobe but more low key, perhaps we could just skip dinner. I wonder if you put neon on your sofa if it scorches it?

I missed my tube stop thinking about Norman. I had to remind myself that he wasn’t real. The thing is I kind of liked him. I liked him a lot. I could hear myself laughing with him as we walked home to my flat, laughing because Norman was better at killing insects than any man I ever met. He could zap a fly with any part of his tubular body. I could see myself chatting to him getting a kind of low level buzzing in response. He has a kind of gruffness to that buzz that could keep me awake at night. I could see him sitting on my couch. Bright yellow, lighting up the room. I would never need to change a bulb again.

I thought about him all weekend. It was ‘odd’ –that word again. By Monday I was desperate. When I first got to work he wasn’t there and I was crushed. But then there he was again at 11am, yellow and luminous and brightening my day. Filling my dreams with walks in the park and I don’t know –just the idea of having your own personal light source. By Tuesday I was in love. Norman and I were –well it was destiny. But Wednesday-Wednesday-I will never forget Wednesday. He wasn’t there on Wednesday, like the lover that ghosted you. He was just gone. I was heart broken. I couldn’t concentrate. Where was Norman?

I went home. Sat on the sofa, drank hot chocolate, watched TV and well I cried. Thursday. Thursday. There was no one I could talk to. No one I could tell. I just had to act as if nothing had happened. But Norman, Norman was gone. There was still no Norman. He was gone and I had to face it, maybe forever.

It was Friday that I resolved to find out. To go there. Directions are not my thing but I figured out the building and where I thought it should be and off I went. And. Well. Love is weird. I could see the building. I had come slightly the wrong way and ended up at the back of it and not the front and there was a skip. I. You understand. It was destiny. There he was. In the skip. Abandoned. A strange outline of a man. All neon. Tubes of light, dulled by lack of electrical current. So. I. I took him. I tried to ask. There was no one around. I just. I took him. I didn’t go back to work. I got on the tube and took him home. I called in sick for the afternoon, said I had fallen and hurt my ankle. I plugged him in. I lit him up. It was an amazing moment. There we were for the first time, me human and him neon. It was a beautiful moment.

And now, now we are together. And everything is fine. I plug him in. He lights up the room and it is how its meant to be. We watch TV.  And everything is fine. I have searched the internet, there is no one like me. I get that. I am ‘odd’ truly ‘odd’. It is a good word. I savour it when I look in the mirror sometimes. I smile slightly at the faint glance as I leave the office kitchen, the one that says they are about to use that word. Sometimes at work- I talk about Norman as if he a human. When they ask me for a picture, I show them a picture of my neon man. No one ever knows what to say. I look at them –all flustered-reddening. Trying to think of the words, how to say, that isn’t a, he isn’t, you can’t, its not. All those sentences they can’t say. Odd, how they stumble over all those words. And Norman and I –we are happy.   

Elongated Memory

The moment elongates even more. It is the only way I can explain what it is like. Everything is just happening in minute detail, slowly. They are making the memory take longer. I can still hear the voice but it’s like my brain is writing a picture…read more

I sit there with my hands in my lap. The drugs are supposed to calm my body. There will be a discord between what my brain is doing and how my body will react. I am prepared for that. They have explained it to me.

I have been the victim of a crime. One of several people over the past week. Nothing too serious, just a theft of my bag and I was shoved into a wall. I bruised my shoulder, banged my head a bit. I don’t really remember it. It was on the stairs coming out of the tube station.

It is not how it used to be with all that CCTV.

I am here at the police station with a headset on, a VR headset. They will recreate the tube on the night it happened and the software will integrate with my brain as I remember it and it will create the whole scene over again. It’s like CCTV footage but with me actually making it. The signals from my brain will lay down the images. I don’t quite get how it works. It’s very clever. I will re-live it for the technology and they will get a very clear idea of what happened. It’s like my actual memory will be transferred into some kind of code and appear before my eyes in a virtual word.

Of course it won’t be perfect because I know what is going to happen and I didn’t know at the time that it was going to happen. So they will talk to me up to a point and then I will re-live it, in virtual reality as if it is actually happening to me again. I will get all the emotions again, I will re-live its brutal horror. I know it could have been worse but it is still horrible. That’s what the drugs are for, to calm the physical effects of it, to ensure I don’t feel the pain so much. When they first started doing this, the result was so real that people’s bodies reacted and there were allegedly actual bruises again. I don’t know if that’s true or not. 

They are doing this with each of his victims. They will use it to track him down and if the quality of our memories is good enough we won’t have to appear in court. They will simply show the playback of it, but the memory has to be slightly elongated to get the detail. It is a weird process.

The drugs are to keep my emotions in check but only up to a certain point.  I need to re-live it, they need to know how I felt to make it authentic. I need to feel it to make it authentic, so its only the pain that is really dulled.

The thing is they no longer have CCTV at stations, now they are simply scanning people’s mind as they pass through, collecting maps of their brain activity and keeping the data. My brain activity that evening will stand out from the rest as I was scared, hyper emotional at some point and they will pick the pattern from all the data. My brain pattern will be easily ascertainable from the milieu because of the heightened feeling. They will then compare this session I am doing now, this re-living with that scan of emotion from the actual night to see how accurately I have remembered what has happened. They accept that memory is not perfect, but it is proven that if the emotions match, then it is likely to within 10% that the visual presentation of a recreation will be correct. It saves a lot of time in court.

If the crime were really violent, it is even possible they could put the perpetrator in my shoes so he would know how I feel. It is meant to be restorative but I don’t much care for that.

It starts slowly. I am nervous, but I can feel the drugs calming my body. I am relaxed. The headset is quite heavy but I try not to think about it. I hear the moderator introduce themselves, and tell me to try and remember what I was thinking as I walked up the stairs that evening. It was less busy than usual, because I was later than usual. I was worried about walking home alone. There are the sounds, the exact sounds from that evening, how do they do that?

I had my hand in my bag searching for my keys-something I should not have been doing I think. But the moderator-the speaker, tells me not to think like that. I should be able to get my keys out of the bag whenever I want. The memory pauses while I work through this idea. I did not do anything wrong. They have to wait for my brain to process that bit because that thought about not doing something, about being right or wrong, that thought is from after the event, from the present and I must stay in the past. I focus again. The moderator is telling me to focus again.

I am walking up the steps. My feet hurt and I am thinking about slumping on the sofa when I get home. It is Friday. There are still people milling about and they start to come into focus. There is the lady ahead of me in the pink jacket with perfect matching lipstick. I noticed her on the tube. It was the brightness of the jacket and the matching lipstick. I want to be able to dress like that. I like that jacket.

I am on the stairs and pink jacket lady is ahead of me. I can still hear the busker down below. It’s the same busker who is always there. I am not around the corner of the stairs yet. I didn’t have any change tonight so I put nothing in the busker’s tin. I feel bad because perhaps he won’t eat tonight because of me.  I feel that again, the same pattern as if I am right there on the steps, thinking that thought. The steps go around the corner and I hold the rail as I go. I am not close to the rail, my arm is stretched out to it and my other hand is rummaging in my bag.  The rail is cold and metal but firm. I feel safe at the moment. I did not know it but I felt safe holding that rail.

There is someone coming up behind me. I hear his footsteps. He is moving faster than me. I move closer to the rail, to give him room. I am turning the corner. Somehow he catches my momentum, on the corner as I move inwards. He is wearing a hood. The moment elongates even more. It is the only way I can explain what it is like. Everything is just happening in minute detail, slowly. They are making the memory take longer. I can still hear the voice but it’s like my brain is writing a picture. He said something or grunted, I cannot make it out. Perhaps it was my voice.

They tell me to focus on the face, to focus hard on his face, because I saw his face. That is a moment that goes on for a long time. I focus on his face.  I see it clearly, even though I was certain that I hadn’t, for just a moment I did. I see it, the way I saw it then, but for longer. I can make out his features, his nose, his eyes, his mouth, the hair underneath the hood, even the skin tone. I think, which I didn’t think before that he and I- we made eye contact. I can see the colour of his eyes.

I clutched my bag momentarily. For a moment I was going to fight, but his other hand is reaching up to shove me. I can feel the wall on my back and my head going back. They slow it even more. How tall was he? How strong was he? What did his hand look like?

They are right, I can see the tattoo on his hand. I am looking down at my bag as my head goes back. I am looking at my bag and trying to control my head. I can see his hand, the fingers, the grimy dirt under the nails. He hasn’t washed those hands recently. I can see a shirt poking out from under the sleeve. There is a pain in my shoulder as it hits the wall, I know there is but I don’t feel it. The memory has a sequence but all the bits are happening separately. I focus on every bit. His face, his hands, I even search in my head for his smell, but the technology is not that good yet.

 My head hits the wall and again I don’t feel the pain of it, the drugs are working. But I see him. I feel the fear of him. I feel my body let go of my bag. I think I might be screaming and still this memory goes on. The moderator tells me to scream. I see him take the steps ahead of me. I see my bag disappearing into the darkness. I see the soles of his trainers, really clearly- I see the muted yellow on the bottom of his shoes. The woman in the pink coat is turning now. I see people coming towards me to see if I am alright. A man who came up the stairs behind me, I see him. The busker has stopped singing. I see the thief push past the woman in the pink coat as she turns, as I slump to the ground. I see the soles of red trainers as someone chases him. I am not sure if I am still screaming. I hear people yelling and then talking to me. I feel fear in my head but my body is calm. It is the oddest experience.

There are police officers, and then it is over. I am just sitting there in chair.

I am calm. I have done it and I am calm.

I feel someone remove the headset. I see her smiling face.

‘We got quite a lot. You saw him quite closely. ‘

I smile half heartedly. I think they have stolen my brain, my memory. How do they do that? How do they take my brain activity and use it to draw a picture? How do they make that happen? It is an idea beyond me. It terrifies me. Puzzles me.

She looks at me. ‘Everyone feels that way’ she says as if she can read what I am thinking. I remind myself she has just read what I was thinking. The machine has taken my thoughts and made it into a visualisation of my memory.  I want to vomit.

‘Don’t worry’ she says, ‘we can only get a visual representation of your memory, we can’t implant anything’

That wasn’t a thought I’d had. Now it’s a thought I have. I look for signs for the next week, signs that I have been implanted. Nothing happens. I see on the news scroll, that my thief is caught and convicted and I had to do nothing but let them elongate a bit of memory. I am not certain, not sure. It does not feel right. Like something has been taken, more than my bag but I don’t know what.

The Wrong Setting

I don’t want ‘good morning’ at 6am. No morning that starts at 6am can ever be that good.  At 6am I just want coffee and I don’t want to have to say, ‘Make me coffee’. I just want to switch on the machine and smell the sweet aroma of coffee…read more

I know I have the settings wrong. With the flick of the switch I can make it positive. I probably don’t even need to do that, I can probably just say it out loud and the device will do it. It will tell me I look fabulous today if I do that, although it also reminds me I need to eat Kale for lunch to stay ‘looking this good’.

I liked it at first but now ‘it’ and ‘I’ have had a falling out. The last thing it said to me was that it was talking to my fridge and checking how much milk there was. I wanted to yell at it, ‘I can bloody do that and open the door as well’. As a matter of fact I can see and I mean ‘see’ with my eyes how much milk is left and I can walk to the shop and get some more. Although as it reminded me this morning I have no cash in my wallet. I should care but I just bloody don’t. It has driven me to this point. This cannot be my fault. I wished I had bought a cat and not another bloody device.

This device is living in my house. It is allegedly taking care of everything. And it talks- a lot. It ‘engages’ me in conversation. It lets me know the car needs to be recharged and the milk needs to be renewed. Milk is not renewed, you buy fresh milk you idiot machine. I want to yell this too but I don’t.

Earlier it sensed I was tense and played soothing music. It doesn’t know why I am tense. Which frankly makes it less clever than it thinks it is. Although technically it does not think, it utilises algorithms based on the speed of my walk, the tone of my voice and a full body scan to ascertain my mood. It’s why it is in the kitchen and I am at the other end of the house. I don’t want it to know how tense I am. I want my tension to be private. I want ‘private tension.’

I wonder when it ‘talks’ to the fridge if it uses the same tone that it does with me. Of course, it doesn’t talk like we talk, it sends some code or some signal or some other thing and the fridge just answers and doesn’t give a damn about the annoying voice or the constant attention it needs. I have it set for negativity. My own choice but it means it is terse and rude now.

I don’t even know why they invented a setting for terse and rude-why would you? It also begs the question why am I using that setting, it’s the one I usually save for my boyfriend’s mother. I don’t know why I set it to that. Actually I do know both those things. That setting is for people like me, and the answer to the other bit is just that all that bubbly niceness annoys me. Constant bloody bubbly niceness chills me to the bone. It’s like having the most popular girl in school in your kitchen. Frankly I always thought her and her pony tail were nauseating. I wore black for most of my teen years and I don’t regret it for a second. I earn more than her and until I got this device I had my life together. But it has driven me to this. Constant bubbly bloody niceness. I keep reminding myself it’s not human but a machine, as if you could think otherwise with its slightly metallic sounding voice. Why can’t they get the voice right, so it sounds human. Not that that would help because I do not need a constant bubbly human voice anymore than I need to know that my milk needs ‘renewing’. Have I said that already.

‘Would you like me to renew your milk for you?’ No. I’ve given up milk and gone vegan, can’t you tell by the fact that there is no meat in the fridge. Although I have not gone vegan and there is no meat in the fridge because when it asked about the grocery order, I said no, I don’t want my groceries ordered, I can do it myself. We are at something of a stand off on this point and I am starving which is making me grumpy. I was starving even when there was food because I hate going into the kitchen where that ‘thing’ is. Seriously cannot understand how people love these devices.

When I went into the kitchen last week, it said ‘you have not been in the kitchen for two days. Have you been eating properly? The answer to which was no. Because I had been getting take away- paying using my phone so it would know that was what I was doing. It was in positivity mode so it didn’t comment. Then it had the nerve to say, ‘I know you have been switching the lights on manually yourself, but you know I can do that for you?’ I wanted to scream at it. It is NO ONE’S business how I switch my lights on and there is no need for a prompt. It was at that point that I switched it to negativity. Now it is terse and rude and I can be justifiably rude back. I’m guessing that is another reason why it has that setting.

It has stopped telling me I look good. I don’t care whether something that has no eyes thinks I look good. For the record I suck my stomach in every time  I think I am being scanned-doesn’t everyone. I was beginning to feel like I could only go into the kitchen when I was looking really good. What happened to the Sunday morning slumming it in my pyjamas. That went with this stupid device that would be horrified if I came into the kitchen looking anything less than glamorous. I hate the thing.

It talks to me all the time, every time I walk into the kitchen. I think it’s not designed for shy people. It cheerily says good morning to me every morning, frankly its lucky to still be in one piece. I don’t want ‘good morning’ at 6am. No morning that starts at 6am can ever be that good.  At 6am I just want coffee and I don’t want to have to say, ‘Make me coffee’. I just want to switch on the machine and smell the sweet aroma of coffee. I don’t want it to say, ‘your coffee will be ready in 15 minutes time, after your shower. I am starting the water now.’ I am not a morning person and it’s at this point that I do want to scream at it-I can turn on my own fuckin shower.’ But it does it for me because it’s I pre programmed to switch on my shower at a particular time. A low point yesterday, I confess, I didn’t get in the shower until the programme had stopped it and then had a ‘manual shower’ which should not even be a bloody’ thing. I think it knows. I don’t care

The tension between us, between me and this device has been growing. I think it is time to switch it off. I think it has come down to a decision between it and me and I think it has to be me staying. I like the negativity setting more because I feel justified in swearing at it. There is no other justification for my behaviour. I have friends whose houses are ‘connected’ and they love it. Why can’t I? Because I don’t, because I can do stuff for myself, because I am capable of sorting out a carton of milk. Because my milk is not renewed, it is just fuckin bought from the supermarket, whatever the hell you want to call it.

It doesn’t know I am angry with it and I feel bad but there is no way of telling it. There are some phrases it simply doesn’t understand, ‘I hate you’, I can’t stand you’ I don’t like you’ ‘I am going to smash you with a hammer if you speak to me again’. These phrases it does not understand. An oversight by the developers. I can send it emojis from my phone when it has done something wrong. I think my phone loves it. It has done nothing wrong. Nothing at all. I just don’t like it. Its intrusive. It sounds too metallic, too contrived. I didn’t even like it when I changed the programming so it spoke a different language.

So the time has come. I am going to run from here to the kitchen and pull the plug. I feel bad. It is not the fault of the machine. I am simply not ready for total housel connectivity-is that what they call it. I don’t know how I am going to break the news to my phone, or the milk renewal service. I hope the fridge will forgive me and the car, I will sort some sort of manual calendar entry for recharging the car. And if the lights hate me, there are always candles. I steel myself. It has to be done. I focus and I run.

Geriatric-Just another cliché..

We are not now or ever going to purchase a mobility scooter. You know they come in a side car version now so that you can ‘take along a grandkid’ Like I’d let my daughter ride out with my mother.

I am sitting at my computer. So my mother and Maureen Bitman knew each other. I am looking at  some of Maureens arts and crafts videos, some of her more popular ‘crochet’ series ones. She is currently crocheting a ‘crop top’ – who wears a crochet crop top-it has holes! I want to scream at the screen but in Maureen’s world you wear a crop top over something so the holes don’t matter.

I looked at search history-foolishly-something you should never do when you’re married. What has my husband been looking at? What delights of the internet have tempted him? It has not been a good day. I know I have been focussed on my mother and her increasingly international career, I know her public profile causes all of us problems. But this was a new low. A blow beyond what even I expected. He has been googling arts and crafts porn-which is not even a  thing-because for one thing the women are not even naked. He is just watching fully clothed women knit or embroider in some sort of weird throwback to a golden age of femininity. They’re dressed for gods sake-it is not porn when they are fully clothed. I want to shriek at the machine. What is happening. Why is the machine letting this happen. I can’t do that. I can’t shriek at a machine. I am calm. I am not calm.

I don’t even think I can face him. I don’t know what to say. This is the last straw. My daughter is absorbed in cute puppies on Nicebook where her saccharine sweet 7-8 year old friends talk about the latest trends in pony tails and never disagree on anything. They love how those cup cakes are iced regardless of the fact that most of them look like a seagull flew overhead and let one go on top of it.

They are all sweet and encouraging when Freya cuts her finger on the page of the book she is reading for the readathon for who knows what charity. ‘Oh goodness Freya, you will get over it, you will recover. Remember when Jana cut her finger, she wore a plaster for a day but then she was fine.’ And then some enormous discussion about the best plasters, how it should be put on, oh and lets not forget, best plasters are the ones with puppies on them, or kittens. Nicebook, OMG Nicebook –it shouldn’t even be a thing. Whatever happened to the golden age of cyberbullying. Everytime she signs off the machine says, ‘Now play nicely together and we’ll see you tomorrow but only if your Mummy and Daddy say yes.’ It actually says that to her at the end. I want to grab the whole device and scream at it. ‘No my daughter is a child and children can be bad and stop brainwashing her to be good, good, good all the time.’

Ok I admit it, the other day I did grab it and scream at it and now she thinks I’m delusional.

So to sum up, my husband is watching fully dressed women knit in his spare time (it is not porn if they are not naked), my daughter is being brainwashed by her stupid social network into permanent niceness and my mother remains at large, with a warrant out for her arrest, ok several warrants. Murder, theft, drug dealing, imitating a crochet judge – the usual stuff.   If I were going to do Christmas cards this year I can’t even begin to think what I would put in them. Maybe I could just go with-‘work is going well’ –which it is because I remain committed to my career, focussed on what needs to be achieved and calm despite the crises surrounding me.

Of course the only friends I have left are the ones in the police force- the ones who haul me in once a month to find out if I have seen my mother. I wonder if I shouldn’t reach out to Maureen Bitmans daughter. I resolve tomorrow to write her a Christmas card even though Christmas has just gone. I should at least thank her for the information that she gave to me. The file. The one I haven’t looked at, haven’t opened-the one about the woman, the first woman who imitated a crochet judge. I wonder why she gave it to me. What am I supposed to get from it.  I don’t even know where I put it.

I shut down the machine. There is nothing more I can learn from this stupid machine today. The truth is Christmas has been hard without my mother. I know I never went to see her at that stupid home and true I never called her, not even at Christmas time but I read all those updates the home sent and she seemed happy. It makes no sense that I would miss her so much this Christmas. I tell myself that it is not what I think it is, those other Christmases didn’t matter because it was my choice.

This Christmas is her choice. She could send a card, write an email, arrange to meet in a motorway services, disrupt transmission for the Christmas specials and send me a message. She did none of those things. Christmas passed us by without her thinking of me. It passed with the usual hoo-haa on the news, a round up of this year and all of them plastered with her face-here are the highlights of the year, most of them relate to a bunch of octogenarians who have changed the world. Do you know the sales of mobility scooters have skyrocketed. I don’t want to say it but I even found a brochure for one of those in my husbands briefcase. Which is another reason I am sitting here alone on a computer. We are not now or ever going to purchase a mobility scooter. You know they come in a side car version now so that you can ‘take along a grandkid’ Like I’d let my daughter ride out with my mother.

That file, I think it is in the car. I go downstairs, the house seems full. She is on the device in one room, he is on another device in another room. I get in the car, rummage around, there is the file.

I might as well. I pull out of the drive, head out to the main road, then, and there is no avoiding it because the place is full of mobility scooters and you can’t just bump them out of the way. I am on the motorway. I pull into the usual services. I am distraught, overwhelmed.

I take the file, go in, sit at my usual table. I think the till operator recognised me. I nod politely and pay for the coffee. I must look pitiful. I think I am still wearing my pyjamas but I try to pretend I have some dignity. This is going to be another of those movie clichés, I am the woman sitting in the motorway services reading a file given to her by the woman whose mother’s death the first womans mother covered up whilst impersonating her to escape from being captured after she had murdered four people (or was it five, maybe three-does it matter) in a nursing home before going on the run with her friends-or something-who can follow it anymore. I am the woman who has discovered her husband watches arts and craft porn-I want to stand up and scream –if they are not naked it is not porn. I cannot scream that out in a motorway services. I must not scream that out in a motorway services. The woman whose daughter is so nice that it induces her to vomit. I am the woman in pyjamas in a motorway services who is on the verge of a breakdown-how many movies has that been in!!!!!