Something Real: A Short Piece of Fiction
Welcome! We Are So Happy Here
The phone won’t stop wailing.
I stare at it as if my glare could turn the sound to stone. The phone keeps screaming, though, and I know that it is only a matter of time before it becomes a human voice.
I close my eyes. The rain feels good against my face - that delicate spray that comes from being semi-sheltered in a rainstorm. It is that airy spit against my skin that keeps me from sinking into the ground altogether.
I answer the phone without a chance to speak. The voice on the other side is yelling about something, sputtering as if he himself could imitate the raging storm - this wee and angry man who looks at capitalism and calls it art.
I sigh loudly, sure he won’t hear it.
He shouts, “Are you listening to me?”
I laugh, “Not really.”
I can picture his small, bloodshot eyes erupting. He screams, “Goddammit, Sloane - I will find you and I will hammer your toenails to that dancefloor. Get your shit together.”
I imagine him, angry that he can’t hang up his iPhone by slamming it.
My head leans against the bus stop. The plastic feels cool against my temple and I watch as every raindrop slides for the ground, like backs against walls.
The face of my phone barks as a text message pops up: JESUS CHRIST SLOANE WHERE IS THE FUCKING DRESS I SWEAR 2 GOD
My whole body vibrates. My core glows. I reply: DRESS IS FINE.
I pause. I add for good measure: ETA 1 HOUR.
The weight of the ballroom skirt hangs on my hips. It presses against that small curve - the one meant to home water jugs, or books, or perhaps the soft form of a child.
Instead, there is gauze that feels like polymer against my skin, layered with chiffon and lace.
My skin raises, the hair standing to meet the cold air. The rain begins to settle into the dress, that corset boning that is supposed to imitate my own. I can feel the cold through the padding, pressing against my ribcage.
I’ve made love to this cold before, in the intimate hours of the night against cotton sheets. High thread counts and warm bodies don’t affect fossilized hearts. The electricity of ring lights and the electricity of human cells do not feel the same.
I blink as a pair of headlights exhale against the road and then inhale back into the endless, curving night. From this angle, it almost looks like there is no one driving it - as if the electricity of human cells had been swallowed completely by highbeams, those tiny controlled fires in speeding glass globes.
My phone blinks, reminding me of Gus’ text.
There are no busses tonight. The muscles in my legs ache as they push forward, clenched against their own exhaustion. The dress is too heavy, the shoes are too delicate, and my body is not strong enough to carry all those expectations of beauty.
Lights blink in the distance, the kind of buzzing and broken lights that hum to the sound of the moths that perish against them.
I kick the shoes off but don’t throw them away. I let their strappy rubber bands hang from my fingers as the skirt of the dress drags through the mud. My feet sink into the firm plush of the earth and for a moment, it feels like being held.
There is a sharpness between my shoulder blades that refuses to unknot. The locket in my chest aches to pop open with every step, that heart so stubbornly made of anything but flesh.
But then what is that beating?
The whirring of a racing automobile - something electric.
The sharp thing at my spine pinches.
My hands drop the flimsy shoes and ringing magnet. I twist myself, the pull of that pain against muscle grates until the tips of my fingers find the root of it.
My hands fall back to my sides. The dress is getting heavier and the night is getting shorter. My phone with its blinking time machine is somewhere far away, buried in tall grass.
It doesn’t matter. I know, that I only have twenty-six minutes and eight seconds left.
My vision glitches for a moment - bright and angry shapes flash and then fade back into the sky.
The pain in my spine shifts slightly and my knees beg to buckle beneath me. The clock is ticking, though - ticking so fast I can hear it talking. It talks in circles and sings in loops and reminds me of the consequences of that moment when the music stops.
I can hear Gus in my skull in the form of block letters: YOU HEARTLESS BITCH WHERE ARE YOU
I wince - the locket strains against its hinges; the fossil remembers the life it once lived.
The pain in my spine turns wet.
When I push open the heavy door to the garage, my feet are stamps, leaving muddy signatures across the earth-turned-concrete.
Gus barely looks at me, “You know what this is about to cost us if you don’t get on that stage in the next 44 seconds.”
He stops when he notices the dress, “What the fuck did you do to this thing? This is state-of-the-art technology! Jesus fu- whatever. Just get up there. They’ll love it - they’re too invested at this point not to.”
He ushers me up the steps and the soles of my feet feel both natural and unnatural against the cold, LED dance floor. There is a part of me here, a part of me that should never have existed in the first place.
Lights flood the stage and I am blind except for the pain still sticking out from my spine and the warmth running down my back.
The music begins to play and I know that the cameras are rolling: the Livestream has begun.
What exactly lives here?
I start to dance. I am jumping and smiling and twitching and moving and having so much fun, now. I am happy I am happy I am the happy machine I am
The dress begins to light up, it blinks and bleeds in ruby LEDs that trick you into thinking that you are simply being mesmerized.
It is a beautiful thing, this escape, this release from reality.
It is a gift, these dripping lights, this 80 BPM song that never ends.
They will never get the chance to thank us.
Gus’ voice enters my skull, “It’s working! Don’t stop! We’re so close!”
I keep pumping my arms, the pain in my back has faded into discomfort, the warm wet begins to dry in that place where skin and electric corset meet.
I am so exhausted and so uncomfortable but there is this synthetic happiness that makes it all somewhat bearable.
When I am plugged in, I remember that I am made for this: the hustle, the grind, the finer things. As long as I stay on this dancefloor, I am capable of anything. So long as I don’t stray too far away.
Why did I ever try to leave?
Oh, I’m so silly.
This is such a great song - I can really feel it in my heart. What are those lyrics? Oh, nevermind.
The muscles in my face twitch and break out into a smile. I look into the camera, “You are meant to feel this way.”
I can feel the energy of nodding heads and beating hearts through the LED rubies hanging off my hips. I can hear Gus in my head as he recites the numbers in front of him, the data coming in from those millions of viewers. I can hear him smile, “Docile, happy, distracted, limited critical thinking… the general brain activity is exactly where we want it to be, in order to begin the next phase of development.”
He doesn’t pause, “Thank you for your service.”
It is the last thing I hear before he unplugs from me.
I feel something inside me link to the LED dancefloor, some anchor clicking into that space between the tiles, the sound between those 808s.
This moment is infinite.
My God, I am so happy.