Just Inside the Frame
by Harrison Kim
Part 1 appears in this issue.
“What would you say if I told you Sammi doesn’t play professional tennis?” Mr. Woss grinned with his wide, horsy mouth.
Sammi broke in. “I wanted to please you, Lana. I told you what you wanted to hear.”
“You’re covering up your talents,” I said. “You’re a very modest girl.”
“You’re attracted to Online Sammi because you’re attracted to what’s missing in yourself,” Mr. Woss spoke in a deep, father-wisdom voice. “And she’s attracted to the same in your online persona. But of course,” Hans went on, “the real Sammi was lacking money. She needed some for various items. She also thought you lived in a gabled house in Wyatt Hills. You believed her to be a lithe tennis star from Jerome, Kentucky.” He paused. “It was all a little like the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.”
My mom grinned and caught his eye, then waved and fluttered her bangles. She looked good with her hair all thick and curly. Mr. Woss paused for a moment, then turned my way. “Do you recognize that you’re just another small-town girl living with her mother? A twenty-four-year old girl who needs to grow up?”
“No.” I felt my voice go higher. “I do not recognize that. Very few small-town girls appear on The Hans Woss Show.” I paused. “I’d have a Dad, too, if he recognized me.”
Mr. Woss smiled. “Your mom and you are very special.”
“Yes, indeed,” I waved and smiled, thinking of myself on the screen and everyone watching.
“Is Sammi moving anything right now?” asked Mr. Woss. “Like you say she did with the coffee cups and hangers?”
I stared across at the physical manifestation of Sammi’s online persona and wondered if she could really lift her leg straight and right up behind her head, like in those videos that only showed her from the back. Her legs looked short and fat.
Physical Sammi eyed me, and I waved at her with both hands. “I see you in my head!” I exclaimed. It was the Online Sammi, though, who was there. This young woman sitting across from me had the wrong shape.
“What is she doing in your mind?” Mr. Woss asked.
“She’s sharing photos of herself.” I put both hands over my eyes. “You’re only on the outside frame, Dad. I can’t see you now.”
“Trust me, I’m here too,” he smiled, ignoring my “father” statement. “You met online and created two different stories about yourselves. You believed each other’s stories.”
Physical Sammi lifted her face. Her made-up brown eyes bored into mine. “I work the midnight shift in a seniors’ care home.” she said. “It’s very hard to meet anyone in person, given those hours. I thought I’d found the friend of my dreams.”
I stared at the back of Mr. Woss’s cream-colored head and marveled at how the floodlights made it appear so delicious and yogurt-like. That took my mind off a dark line of sadness that formed along the shape of his somewhat bowed legs and bent-over shoulders. I had that same form, though not as pronounced, exaggerated by all my time leaning over the computer.
“Why did you create a false identity?” Mr. Woss asked Sammi. He stood to one side and the spotlights shone in my face and erased his shadow line. I rubbed my eyes, then the edges of my temples. I’d forgotten to keep my image screen up. Mr. Woss shimmered as he leaned over Sammi. Was he really there? I rubbed my eyes again.
“Lana gave you two thousand dollars,” Mr. Woss said to Physical Sammi. “What did you spend it on?”
“Tennis lessons,” she said. “And shoes.” She paused and looked up. “For tennis.”
My mom interjected. “That’s a lie, you so-called Sammi!”
Physical Sammi shrugged. “I didn’t know who I was talking with. I thought she was a society girl from Wyatt Hills. She could spare the money.”
I lifted my head and concentrated on the ceiling. I imaged myself up there, staring down on everyone. Millions of viewers were seeing reality unfold tonight. They watched me tell my story, and they listened. They heard my words and my truth.
Mr. Woss said, “You’re living in a dream,” but what’s wrong with that? This dream of Online Sammi and I had brought me to this place. Vegas, the Hotel Marriott, the limo ride, the chance to tell my story in front of millions, the opportunity to meet my dad.
“I can offer you six weeks horse-riding therapy at my ranch in Oklahoma,” Mr. Woss told me. “Some good, wholesome outdoor activities.”
“I don’t like horses much, Dad,” I said. “But as long as Sammi and I can go together.”
“It’s up to her,” said Mr. Woss. “What do you think, Sammi? Do you want to fleece this poor mentally ill girl out of even more money?” Then he stopped for a second. “Wait, Lana. Did you call me Dad?”
“Oh, for sure,” I said. “Can’t you see the resemblance?”
Mom jumped out of her seat. “Don’t listen to Lana, Hans. She’s not feeling well in the head. It’s all these lights.”
Mr. Woss peered right into my eyes. “Hmmm. I did recognize your mom from somewhere. But I can’t remember exactly. Could it have been the Folsom, California Renaissance Fair?”
“No,” I said, “it was a one-nighter on a bunk bed at a horse ranch on April 22, 1995.”
“Well,” he said, “I don’t remember anything like that.” He smiled slyly. “We’ll have to get some paternity tests done!” He looked at my mom. She shrugged. He turned to the audience. “This is what happens when reality gives way to a vivid imagination. Anything can be said and believed to be true.”
Mom leaned over, stage-whispered loud in my ear. “This was our secret! I told you not to tell. Now shut up!”
“Nothing’s secret on The Hans Woss Show!” said Mr. Woss. “Even the lies!”
In between each conversation, music swelled, and lights blinked on and off, red ones and blue ones.
“So, Lana, I’d recommend a four-week stay at my resort-like horse ranch and clinic in Oklahoma,” Mr. Woss put his hand on the back of my chair. “You’ll meet some very qualified medical personnel and obtain the best treatment available.” He looked at the cameras. “And if anyone else is interested, the link will be posted on my website.” He stood up and motioned to Mom and me to stand up. “Thanks very much for being on our show!” Everyone in the audience clapped and cheered.
“Thanks, Dad!” I said. “I’ve always wanted to call you that.” He shook my hand. “Great you could be here, Lana. The show will be edited before it goes on air, of course.”
I walked over to Sammi, who was doing a two-arm stretch. “Let’s meet for coffee!” I said. I stood there and she looked at me.
“I guess so,” she said. “Now that we’ve come all this way. Do you want me to give you a hug?”
I stepped back. “Well, I’m not that comfortable with touching, but there’s always a first time.”
* * *
We met at the coffee shop below our hotel.
“How’s the tennis?” I asked.
“Pretty good.” Sammi said. “Sorry I was such a grumpy-pants. Wow, I didn’t know you were the daughter of Mr. Woss!”
I stepped back, dabbing at my eye with a handkerchief. “Neither did I,” I said. Then I sat down. “Listen. Don’t go away. I can tell you some more stories.”
“Okay,” said Lana. “You got me a free trip to Vegas.”
I talked about my life in Wyatt Hills, the gardener I almost had an affair with, the drinks in the Saturday evening comfort of lounge Bel Mozo.
Sammi listened quietly. She asked about my law profession, the court cases, if I tried any murderers. I told her I mediated real estate torts.
Sammi told me that she not only won a tennis tournament last week, she tried out as a singer. “I’m trying to get on America’s Got Talent.” She warbled a sample. “They liked me.” I said I liked her pink shoes.
We both were wearing “Mr. Woss” T-shirts. “Did you get the mug?” I asked, and she rummaged in her purse and pulled it out, a cup with Mr. Woss’s big face on the front. “I want to know if you can move it along the table,” I said. “In a poltergeist fashion.”
“That is not possible,” she said.
She placed the mug on the table, and we stared at it for a while. The waiter poured some coffee in. I took my Mr. Woss coffee cup and raised it to my lips. I looked at Sammi. “Do you love me?” I asked. I placed the cup back down on the table.
Sammi raised her head. She gazed at the cup. It began to tremble. I watched the coffee shake, then swirl round and round.
“Wow!” I screeched, I couldn’t help it. “You’re moving it, Sammi!”
“A minor earthquake,” Sammi replied. “After all, this is California.” She put down her coffee. “The walls trembled, too.” She breathed in deeply. “Maybe I do care for you, in a phantom way.” Then she laughed. “It’s hard to meet anyone halfways normal these days.”
We smiled at each other, then turned in our seats and spent the rest of the hour together watching the final version of another Mr. Woss episode. It rolled on an infinite loop over the cafe’s screen, just above our heads.
Copyright © 2020 by Harrison Kim