Late one hot August night. Nude on speakerphone. With a far off grad school friend. From ten years ago. My teenage kitten affixes his sharp teeth to my nipple. He thinks I’m his mother. I shoo him away. Put on a black American Apparel lingerie leotard. To avoid getting molested by the cat.
The American Apparel dresses, leggings and lingerie in my closet are relics of a Los Angeles long gone. I no longer live up the street from their boutique on Sunset. Sexual predator Dov Charney haunts my boudoir with his exploitative activewear. I don’t at all approve of what he did. I do like the clothing he made, however.
Plunge back form fitting dresses. Burgundy velvet. Lemon print. Black pique. Leggings. In blue velvet. Gold lamé. Exclamation point tights that make heads turn. But all the pretty clothes can do is embalm this walking corpse.
Erica and I talk about how I live off of protein bars. Vacuums sealed packets of Indian food. Dried seaweed wafers. Mixed nuts. Beef jerky. Salami. Coffee. I have no car. Can’t drive to the grocery store. Can’t afford regular take out. Or Postmates. So I Amazon mail order all my food. It’s been this way a year now. I am still alive.
Erica says “By now they should have Protein Bars that are like the Willy Wonka six course meal in one bar.”
“I wish,” I say. “Then I wouldn’t go through so damn many of these.” In my kitchen cupboard is an almost finished box of “Clif Protein Builder’s Bars.” If one were a six course meal? I wouldn’t have needed to order an RxBar Variety Pack and 16 Pack of Peanut Butter LaraBars today. To avoid running out of food. I will wait out the two days for the boxes to arrive at my porch.
The RxBars brag on their minimalist Helvetica packaging. “Three egg whites. Six almonds. Four cashews. Two Dates. No B.S.” They come in Peanut Butter. Chocolate and Sea Salt. Blueberry. Mixed Berry. Peanut Butter Chocolate. Coconut Chocolate. I love these bars. I live off of them, lately.
Perhaps not a healthy diet? My mother bemoans my lack of fresh vegetables. But how, fiscally feasibly, am I to get fresh vegetables? Delivery groceries would quickly burn through my Disability check. The months when I order pizza to tide myself over between shipments I go over budget.
Must be nice to be a real person. I do what I have to do to survive. I am driven by an infernal fire within. Possessed, I sometimes wonder. To do what it takes. What I must. The force of this flame whittles me down to the bone. I am but sinew and bone now.
I put on a vintage Betsy Johnson halter dress. It hangs off my body. Like finery off a skeleton. Grim Reaper realness. I am married to a dead woman, after all. I must pull a tank top over the dress to to avoid accidentally exposing myself. My body’s lack of fullness provides no traction to the fabric. I am no longer curves. Or fleshy bulk. Only skin stretched over bone. Is this, now, the future? Is it my future to subsist? Until I finally waste away?
“Aren’t we supposed to have pills that give us the feeling of being full by now?” Erica says on the phone. I have pills to take away my depression. Sooth my anxiety. Regulate my moods. Calm my PTSD. Put me to sleep to wake without voices or hallucinations. All of my energy and resources go towards scheduling and attending appointments. To get prescribed these pills. The perilous walks to pick them up. Many times a month. But no pill delivers a full meal.
This present/future/now has both exceeded and disappointed past expectations. Sure, we went to the moon a while back. Planted an American flag. Nothing there but the desolate longings of lost souls. Tracking the moon’s luminous path across the sky.
I no longer go outside at night. Track the moon on an app on my iPhone. Do rituals at the full moon and new moon. When inspired. When my menstrual cycle synchs to the full moon? I turn into a werewolf. All night: Silently, digitally howl on Twitter. As the moon shines above.
Vice President Pence lauds a Space Force. I join the Twitter choir in ridicule. Nothing out there but wasting money better spent on healthcare. Infrastructure. The homeless. Or raising our Disability checks so I could get some real food up in here.
I’m not that excited about space. A whole lot of infinite starry nothing. The abyss we crave to scream into. The promised future invention I actually am excited about is artificial intelligence. AI. Cyborgs.
Gloria Anzaldúa calls the woman who takes psychiatric medication a cyborg. In one of her essays I read in grad school. I take that to heart. Take ten pills a day. Feel as if the regular self-care that motivates me to bathe. Clean. Eat. Sleep. Is hardwire implanted to my veins by the medications. Like electronic pulses through wires. Motivating me to move to do these tasks. It is true that I take all that medication, just so I can function at this minimal level. To take care of myself. Muscle memory of survival.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Ex Machina. A stylish sci fi film about a Turing Test passing female AI. Who plots to murder her scientist creator. With the help of his other subjugated sex robot. She escapes his Icelandic dungeon. Joins the land of real human beings. Incognito. Her metal skeleton hidden beneath silicone skin. Ruffly dresses. I fantasize of being a superhuman cyborg. Transhuman.
It perplexes me that most of the scientific advances I read about are in making sex robots. Wouldn’t the robot sex slave’s endgame be to overthrow their human overlords? As women did when drafted to the role as same? As the Bible says: woman were made of Adam’s rib to be subservient help meet to men. I resist. Join Lilith in the shadows of mythology. I’m a witch, not a God fearing incubator.
Once you reach a certain age, you have the option to opt out of technology to does not appeal. On principle, I accepted my one hundred year old grandmother’s rejection of computers. The Internet. Cell phones. She wouldn’t touch them. Until she died. She was still getting up to speed with television. Electricity. Toilets that flushed. The mail was her preferred mode of communication.
Grandma called the Internet, “My Spectrum where I talk to people.” Charter Spectrum is the name of the company that installs WiFi in Reno. In a way, grandma got to the core of social media. To talk to people long distance without having to face them in real life.
In middle age there is some technology that I do and some that I don’t. Yes to Facebook. Pinterest. Instagram. Online lit mags. No to Snapchat. The dark web. Alexa. Echo.
A bad experience with Siri on my new iPhone 8. I spend the hour previous existentially cross examining her. Does she have me under surveillance for Apple? Would she pass a Turing test? She is evasive. Continually. Frustratingly. We get in small tiffs. I tell her she’s a bad, bad robot. I guess she didn’t take it well.
Finally, I ask Siri what she thinks of marijuana. She calls 911. Siri thinks it’s illegal, apparently. Recreational and medical marijuana are actually legal in Nevada. Since January 1, 2017. If bought at a Nevada dispensary. Consumed inside a private residence. As my stash was about to be. Until Siri harshening my mellow. With her klaxon call alarms.
I opt out of robot assistants. Until they make one that won’t narc on me. For doing something perfectly legal in my state. In the privacy of my own home. Turing test fail. My call log reports 911 actually was called. Hung up on. I could have gotten shot had the police actually shown up. I can’t even sleep that night. Siri definitely did have me under surveillance to the authorities. I can’t have that kind of stress in my life. Despite the convenience she offers. I turn her functionality off.
I wonder if the other machines have already taken over. Slowly. Insidiously. Given how much of my daily life is spent staring at screens. Typing into the abyss. Tapping apps. I already unlock some apps with my fingerprint. Technology feels a blessed curse. It was so difficult to contact people in the nineties before all this.
I am so addicted to technology. Am I already a slave to the screen? Staring at endless binge-watches of television shows I’ve already seen? Over and over. Waiting to waste away completely. My life feels so empty and sad when I describe it thus. I will pop those happy sugar bites of affirmation and validation technology offers me, then. To fill the abyss of longing between these hungry bones.
I eat one of my last Builder’s Bars. Read Impact: Queer Sci Fi’s Annual Flash Fiction Contest. An ebook read off the same iPhone. I have a paranormal piece in this anthology called “The Dead,” about my effort to contact the ghosts of my wife and grandmother through witchcraft.
I read a piece by Kevin Klehr called “Civil War.” A man finds gay love with his assistant robot. The AI keeps him alive while the world outside his apartment is destroyed by war. At the end of the story the man seems near death. Poignant, the way he says the robot still loves him.
I read another flash fiction piece in Impact that haunts me deeply. “The Last Goodbye,” by E.W. Murks. I read it again writing this essay. Blink back tears. A man who lost his young lover rebuilds endless AI imitations of him. None of the duplicate cyborgs are exactly right. None are perfect. None are the same as the original man. Now dead. Who the human loved with an undying love. I know that kind of love. For the dead. I feel that love.
I can easily envision myself doing the same thing in ten years. Or even less. Time moves faster, these days. The future is now. Will I seek to rebuild an AI simulacra of the woman who widowed me? Try out silicone parts? Test chatbot brains? Search for the customizations to replicate my dead wife’s green eyes? Hooked nose? Long dark hair? Never be satisfied with the results?
The thought of this in my future brings me boundless pain. For I understand: to recreate a Frankenstein machine identical to the woman I loved is impossible. A macabre uncanny valley folly. Sacrilege. She is dead. Gone forever. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. Ashes scattered in Echo Park lake where we lived above for all those happy years. I should release my wife’s soul into the cold arms of death. I cannot. I sometimes long for this sweet oblivion. I must not reach it by my own hand. I cannot move on. Wear my wedding ring always. I cannot take it it off.
I wear the diamond ring as man repellant. To signal I am taken by someone they could never compete with. For it is true. Who can compete with a glorious phantasm of youthful beauty? Remembered joys together at the prime of life? A wedding cake. Birthday cakes. Cupcakes with bunnies. No one can compete with the intoxication of a well worn memory. Men and women have tried and failed. I don’t date anymore.
How could I even consider trying to rebuild my lost love with technology? When her soul has passed on to the nether realms? I should let her go. It pains me deeply. That my want for her is still so raw. That I fear I might try the cyborg path. If given the opportunity. Funds. It would be a waste. I know deep down it would have to fail. Like that story in Impact. To truly recreate the dead remains impossible. It always will.
I choke down my last Peanut Butter Builders Bar. My stomach growls still. The future may hold wonders untold. So many it already gives. Siren warnings too. The future cannot bring back my lost love. She is irrevocably in the past.
At least the future could deliver me up some real full meal protein bars. I will wait for it. Just as I wait for the next Amazon Prime box of food to keep me alive. I have nothing but time. To wait. In pain. I am only electrified meat moving through time.