You™

by Jessica Down


A heron flies through the blank sky, and as the wind moves across your face, you close your eyes to inhale. You watch the bird again as you exhale.

I feel sterile.

You feel as if you are in a film, as if you have received what you have always been promised. You feel uncomfortable, as if you somehow just received a moment you always longed for, always have been told to long for, always have been told is impossible.

I walk down the street every afternoon on my way to work, and I try to focus exclusively on the wind and the music I listen to. I can get caught up in the way I begin to glide to the right rhythm, and I think to myself that I want the music to end right on time, when I get to work, and maybe this is the opening to my movie. As if, somehow, I can force myself to believe that maybe this is the beginning of the story.

You listen to your music, and begin to feel very self conscious. You look around yourself, and even though you see no one around you, you decide to walk slower, thinking they might notice your stride.

You recognize the faces of celebrities towering all around you in the empty streets. As the clock projected in the sky above you hits the hour, the remaining empty billboards light up. You straighten your jacket as you see a video of a woman wearing the same jacket flash across the screens next to you, becoming another woman who dyed her hair the same color, but bought the volumizer you couldn’t afford.

It’s convenient to work across from a drug store.

* * *

YOU

“I’d like to talk to you about male enhancement.”

Nothing shows up.

You click on the next IP, and pitch another product, based on their interests. You’ve been told that if the other party is interested, after your image appears on their screen on the other side, that they will appear on your screen as well. You wonder why they pay you, or who is paying you, since no one has ever appeared, and you click the next number.

YOU

“I’d like to talk to you about enhancement.”

You wonder if you’re doing it correctly. Maybe all the people on the other end really do want to speak about products, but are waiting for someone else to call.

I’d like to talk to you about anything.

* * *

You walk out the door from work, and stare at a giant image in front of you. The same city, but cleaner, within a 50-foot plastic canvas. You recognize it as an image, as a false understanding of what you experience, and yet completely accurate, and you walk towards it. You walk into it, you walk through it, and continue walking home. There isn’t grass on either side.

A car travels past you on the barren street. It reminds you of a film you once saw when at the end of the movie he just drives away. You know it was a remake, but you like remakes. You can relate to them. In the original he killed himself.

You often find yourself looking at the sunset as a brand new television, or looking at your life as if it’s on another channel. Sometimes you feel as if you have low ratings, or you were cancelled without anyone telling you to stop acting.

As the sky becomes darker, you realize that the most terrifying thing you can imagine is another human being.

* * *

I need you to feel like you.

In your apartment, you watch your computer screen. You sit in a large, soft chair, with your hands placed on the keyboards in each arm rest. The screen consumes your field of vision, commanding the entire wall in front of you. You move the cursor with small eye movements, and the light of the screen illuminates your face. Sometimes you wonder what happens outside the walls of the screen while you sit at home, but never enough to look. You come across a button that says “ME”.

me graphic

I haven’t written you as I or me.

You wonder what would happen if you clicked it. Would it somehow reveal your true self, would you then become an “I”?

I Think Therefore IBM™

It is another advertisement.

* * *

You think that no one will ever read about you, because all of your favorite novels are in first-person, and no one reads anymore. You’d be the character that would blow their own head off instead of driving into the sunset.

You used to go to the cinema with Sean, and they had fifty screens, and you would go between all the rooms, until they installed a body scanner. You remember when he tried to run through without a ticket, but instead fell to the ground. You remember years later when Sean told you that you were useless, and you believed him, but you remember it so well because as he screamed it at you, you told yourself don’t forget, don’t forget, so you could force yourself to feel something.

I still feel numb.

* * *

YOU

“I’d like to talk to you about American Airlines.”

YOU

“I’d like to talk to you about Animal Corp

YOU

“I’d like to talk to you about Avalon.”

you speak softly.

* * *

You focus on a blank screen in your apartment, eyes beginning to glass over. You think about someone else, and you remember things that someone else has done.

You wonder who is Sean? and you think, I don’t think I saw the original of that film. But yes, you did.

You close your eyes briefly, before you sink inwards—

* * *

Walking home after work, the night seems particularly bleak.

You pass a repurposed telephone booth on the street, with a convincing image of a girl smiling painted across it. You stop for a moment, staring at the perfect image. You stare at it, reading the words painted across it, when you realize what it is. People have told you many times that you need to go to a therapy booth. Black text spans the side of the booth: People love People™.

You step inside, and sit down on the cold bench. A screen in front of you reads:

$3.00/minute
Please Scan Credit

You stare at the glowing letters for a moment, seeing yourself in the screen. You scan your identification, and pick up the phone. Text illuminates the screen:

Tell Me About Yourself

Theoretically, someone is listening. You can’t think of anything to say.

I write short stories set in the future attempting to thinly disguise my own isolation.

You feel extremely unfamiliar, and drop the phone to walk home; a haunting feeling creeps over your skin, a notion that you are near the ending. You wonder who put the therapy booth there, and when. It had never been there on your walks home before.

* * *

You feel McMiserable, more than usual. You walk into a store and search for Revlon and Ciq, you search for Golden Sun scented perfume. You walk out feeling better, and you move down the street thinking that tomorrow you have a chance to look the way they do.

You walk into work, and as you sit at your desk, you catch yourself in the mirror. You see acne scars and dried mascara. You put on your new Revlon Ivory foundation. You stop when you look into the black screen, and realize no one will answer.

You glance back to the mirror, when something sitting below it catches your eye:

squiggles graphic

You stare at the image on this page, blankly, and feel as if it has no meaning to you. As you move your eyes down this page, you remember that this was Sean’s rendition of a famous painting. You look at it again, and can’t recognize which painting. You don’t recognize it at all.

* * *

I can’t lose you now.

You’re lying on your bed, eyes closed, as your head slowly sinks into your pillow, your body sinks into your bed, and you sink into yourself. You start having a dream of people you don’t recognize, with a metaphor you don’t understand, and you don’t remember falling asleep. You look back to see if you had, but you never did. You keep your eyes closed, breathing deeply, and you think to yourself, Who is Sean?

* * *

ME

What’s happening?

* * *

You decide to watch the original movie to understand the reference you make to yourself when cars drive past you, and when you wonder why they don’t kill themselves. You wonder which you would have done, if you owned a car; you wonder how you would end this story.

* * *

The next morning, you wake up with your makeup still on. You lie completely still and make small movements to pick scabs off your hands. The last image you saw before you woke up was of a woman’s face that you didn’t recognize. You turn on the screen next to you, and the newscast comes on. You switch shows.

You try to walk to work without opening your eyes, as you feel the cars move past you.

* * *

I need to decide which version you are. I need to decide which version I am.

You walk down the street, and as the wind hits you from racing vehicles, your mind stays blank. You pass by the cinema, and you do not think of anything.

You wonder if your life has a point, if your story has a point, if there’s a metaphor hidden within your life.

You realize that you need to project yourself in order to avoid hyper-emotional states. You realize that you need a character who is more isolated than you are, and you need others to feel that way. You continue writing, you continue reading, you continue as you.

You walk to work.

* * *

YOU

You’d like to talk to me about yourself.

As she said it, she wasn’t sure who she was speaking to. Her voice was shaking as she said it again, “You want to talk to me about yourself.”

I knew she had realized that she never did see that movie, and I never introduced her to Sean.

Suddenly, I realized that my character had gone against me, and I wondered if you had gone against me, and then I figured it was all a result of feeling guilty for buying too much make-up.

A car drove past the open window, and she said:

“If you were going to kill me the whole time, Just Do It™.”


Copyright © 2014 by Jessica Down

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