Issue #016 Published: 20-01-2018 // Written by: Chris Kok

AltR - A short story by Chris Kok

‘Tell me what you see.’

‘I see you.’

‘Yeah, but… What do I look like?’

‘You look like you.’

‘Me old? Young? Skinnier? Blonde? You always liked blondes.’

‘I always liked you.’

‘You’re sweet, Richard. But seriously. I can look like whatever you want, you know that, right?’

‘You look like you are. Like my wife.’

‘Okay, fine. Not very ambitious, but kind of nice. How about everything else? The bar? The patrons? Anything different?’

‘I’d have to turn it off and on again, to be sure.’

‘Okay.’

‘Let’s see…’

‘Any difference?’

‘It’s lonely. Apart from that, just the music.’

‘What about it?’

‘When it’s off, it’s some kind of electronic chaos. When I turn it on, it’s Nick Drake.’

‘Lovely.’

‘It’s nice to see you smile.’

‘It’s nice to be smiling.’

‘You want another drink?’

‘I’m okay, thanks. But go ahead.’

‘Bartender? Another, please. Just for me, the lady’s fine.’

‘It’s really nice of Malcolm to give you that thing. It must have been expensive, even with his employee discount.’

‘I suppose. Although to be honest, I don’t really see the point of it.’

‘You don’t?’

‘Well. Maybe it’s just that it’s a little freaky. Don’t you think? I mean, this thing reads my mind.’

‘Only so it can give you exactly what you want.’

‘Yeah but, still…’

‘Did it hurt at all?’

‘No, it comes with a local anesthetic. Then you just slide it up your nose.’

‘That is a bit creepy.’

‘Ah, it was alright, really.  Malcolm helped me set it up. Took all of five minutes.’

‘So how is it?’

‘It’s… nice. I guess. I haven’t had it off longer than a few minutes, so it must be doing something right. Mostly, I like the little things. Now, when I walk past those dumpsters from the Chinese place on the corner, I don’t smell them anymore.’

‘What do you you smell?’

‘Nothing. Just normal outside smell, I guess. Oh, and I haven’t heard the new neighbors’ baby crying lately. That must be this thing’s doing, too.’

‘What else?’

‘No more trash in the street. The house is always spotless. TV’s a lot better. Whenever I turn it on, there’s something I want to watch. And it’s always just starting. Food is amazing. I haven’t had a single bad bite since I started using this thing. Even though, as you well know, I can’t cook worth a shit. Oh, and it’s always sunny now.’

‘You always hated the rain.’

‘I mean, it still rains. I still get wet. I just don’t feel it anymore. The weirdest thing though, is driving. There’s never any traffic now, but the car still inches along, same as always.’

‘Well, it gives you time to finish your crossword. Otherwise you’d never get it done.’

‘Not without your help, anyway. God, I’ve really missed you, Julie.’

‘I’ve missed you too.’

‘That’s… It’s nice to hear.’

‘You seem tired. Are you tired?’

‘I am. How long have we been sitting here?’

‘Two hours and forty-two minutes.’

‘Aw jeez. We’d better get home. I have work in the morning.’

‘Whatever you want, sweetie.’

‘Barkeep, I’d like to settle the score. There you are, keep the change. Honey, you’d better wrap that scarf tight. It may feel like summer to me, but it’s freezing out there and it’s a bit of a walk to the car. The streets seem empty, but it still parked itself two blocks away.’

‘I’ll be alright, I think.’

‘Of course.’

‘But you’re sweet to say it.’

‘Julie?’

‘Yes, sweetheart?’

‘Would you kiss me?’

‘I thought you’d never ask.’

Richard takes her home, through peaceful city streets. He doesn’t see the beat up cars, the beat up men that sleep in doorways. He doesn’t see the lightning in the distance, announcing the coming thunderstorm. He doesn’t hear the sirens or the worrisome steady clunk and scrape of the engine. He stares at his wife beside him as the car drives itself, then parks.

They walk the final blocks in silence. He doesn’t smell the dumpsters on the corner. He holds open the door for her, then follows her inside.

He doesn’t see the stacks of mail, piled up in the hallway. He doesn’t see or smell the dirty dishes, cups and glasses that cover every surface of the living room. He flicks a switch and he sees the lights go on. He doesn’t feel the cold. He washes his face and feels the water on his skin. He crawls into bed with Julie.

‘You know,’ he says, ‘maybe I’ll stay home tomorrow. We can have a nice day together.’

‘That sounds lovely,’ she replies.

‘Goodnight, sweetheart.’

‘Sweet dreams, dear.’