A Home World Like Roy
by C. J. Simpson
|part 1 of 5|
Old stuck-in-the-mud Roy is not willing to allow the parasitic Bugs to invade his body. What might it take to change his mind?
I’m in a shop, the last one for a long way around here, and I’m waiting to be served by a girl who looks 25 but could be any age now that the bugs are around. 40? 50? Your guess would be as good as mine.
She smiles a bright, perfectly white, insincere smile, a sign which confirms what I already know: she’s infected with bugs. They’ve been in her mouth, cleaning, fixing, enamelling. I’m sure the smile she wears so uncertainly is not there because she is pleased to see me; it’s a surprised grin she greets me with.
The likelihood is I’m the only person to have stepped through these doors in days. Did you not know? Shops are obsolete; they are kept around only for old curmudgeons such as myself, apparently. The customer is always right after all.
“What can I get you, sir?” she asks, in the same manner she might ask: ‘What are you doing here?’
I wonder how surprised she’d be if I pulled a gun from my coat and coolly informed her it was a stick-up. I doubt she’d be surprised at all; she wouldn’t know what I meant. She’d probably say, “Oh. That’s nice.”
“A pack of cigarettes, please.” I say the word ‘cigarettes’ slowly so I won’t have to repeat it to her.
“A pack of what?” she asks predictably.
“Cigarettes,” I say to her, feeling tired and ashamed. I have no reason to feel either of these things.
“OK,” she says and bows her head to a small, luminous blue, holographic screen floating neatly above the perfect white counter top. Her finger jabs into the projected light there.
This room, this shop, is utterly white. The counter is white, the floor is white, as are the walls and ceiling. I am standing inside a white plastic cube. There are no shelves in this shop, no products to view, nothing that I may pick up and hold. The interior of this shop is how I imagine the infirmary of an intergalactic spaceship might look.
The girl herself is dressed in white; her hair is a light blonde, which cannot be natural to her. She wears a white Alice band in her hair and her too-blue eyes are almost fluid, like liquid sapphire. I find I can’t look into them for too long, they make me feel seasick.
We stand in silence, facing one another, waiting. I hear a barely audible click from behind the serving girl and, hearing the same, she turns away to retrieve my cigarettes, which have appeared in a small opening in the perfect white wall.
She returns to face me and hands the cigarettes over the counter. As I press my thumb onto the small green pad on the counter top, I glance up at her, and see a tiny metal disk just behind her right ear, which is home to millions of the bugs. The idea of this, even after all this time, is revolting and makes my skin crawl as though she’s wearing a nose bag full of cockroaches.
This girl must have prioritised the maintenance of her facial features above anything else the bugs maintain. It’s the only time you’ll see a bug colony in such a visible place on the body. I reflect that the bugs are at least good for one thing: I know that this girl is shallow, vain and boring.
I ignore the girl when she tells me to have a nice day as I leave the shop.
I tear the plastic wrapper from the cigarettes, slide the pack open and place one in my mouth; holding the soft filter between my lips, I light it.
I know it’s against the law to smoke in public, but who’s around to enforce it?
* * *
The street I am on is vacant; there’s not a soul in sight. All that exists here are the rows of buildings on either side of the street: neat and plain domiciles uniform in their appearance and in their proportions. The three-storey white-clad buildings look as though they have been dropped here ready-built, made in a factory to specifications used the world over. Midway along one row of these tenements, a unique front vulgarly screams out its visual independence. This is the place I’m heading to.
It’s not my kind of place; however, I know of no other bars for miles around, and so I’m here because I have no other choice.
I approach the exterior of the theme bar. Today a tropical beach scene is displayed across the whole of the building’s front. From a distance it looks like a huge picture postcard, but as I approach, I notice some elements of movement in the otherwise serene scene; seagulls fly across the blue sky and waves lap gently at the sandy beach. The beach is deserted and as I stand facing the building, searching for the entrance, I see a cluster of small crabs make their way slowly into the foam of the sea.
I walk along this image. The doorway is well hidden, but halfway along I hear the unmistakable hum of an electric motor and a doorway appears as a section of the image slides smoothly inwards.
I enter and make my way down a short corridor. Here, the beach theme continues, and I walk along a sandy strip. A tropical forest canopy hangs close above me; trees and bushes threaten to scrape against my face as I walk, but they have no substance. I know this illusion is achieved by a combination of holograms and large screens on the walls and ceiling.
At the end of this corridor I walk through one final hologram of a bush and then on into the interior of the bar.
As the front of the bar is filled by a large image of a tropical scene, so too are the walls of the bar’s interior. Each wall of the room shows the image of a beach, continuing from one wall to the next. However, the resulting diorama isn’t perfect; the corners of the room can be made out where the edges of the images meet, and there the effect is ruined.
I approach the bar. It would be plain, wooden, and blank were it not for the holographic overlay giving its sides the appearance of bamboo construction and its top that of rough-cut driftwood.
The lone barman tending the bar wears a garish and bright red floral shirt and below this a pair of unsuitable shorts. He notices me and walks over. “What can I get you?” he asks.
“A beer please.”
He lifts a glass from the counter top and turns to the beer tap protruding from the bar’s surface. In a moment of clarity I realise where and when I am.
“Sorry,” I say quickly before he has a chance to pour anything into the glass, “could you make that a bottle of alcoholic beer please?” I’d forgotten: they don’t sell regular alcoholic beer by the glass anymore; the bugs put a stop to that.
I notice the irritation on his face; he replaces the glass and disappears to find my bottle of beer. I take a seat on the stool, cursing myself for making such a great first impression and my eyes roam the room, taking in my surroundings, a distraction from my own embarrassment.
The room is small, small for a bar. I count six tables, each of them hiding a holographic generator somewhere below. Their appearance is in keeping with the rest of the room.
The room is bright, thanks to the screens covering every wall of the room and the bright halogen lights I imagine are hidden behind the numerous holograms, the brightest being the one in the centre of the ceiling where the fake sun floats. It hurts my eyes to look directly at it.
The patrons of the bar are dressed in the same fashion as the barman, and I feel overdressed in my grey trousers and blue shirt. There are a number of people in here, and I feel the usual awkwardness I have felt my whole life around people I do not know. I would rather be at home, reading a book or watching an old film stream than partaking in this experimental socialising.
This is the latest of Susan’s ideas on ways I can improve my life. Last night she made me promise, during our nightly holo-chat, that I would come out and socialise. I explained to her that there would be no socialising on my part, even if I did agree to visit a bar on my own. But she made me promise regardless, and asked me not to be rude if anybody spoke to me. I should try to get along with them, she said. I felt like a teenager being told to go out and make friends. But I love Susan, and she knows what’s best for me, and so I follow her advice grudgingly.
I can’t complain other than about the jogging she has me doing twice a day. I’ve enjoyed some of her ideas: eating out more, enjoying rich, and well-made food. And I know after my second drink here I won’t think so badly.
Susan is my girlfriend and life coach, apparently.
I turn back to the bar when I hear the soft thud of glass on wood. The barman holds out a small flat square piece of plastic and I press my thumb against the green square in its centre.
I remain sat side on to the bar and I drink from the bottle, while watching the scene on the walls. The beer is ice cold; it tastes good.
Not such a bad idea at all.
* * *
Copyright © 2012 by C. J. Simpson