Once upon a time, there was a scared little boy with a stuffed bear and he told Mr. Bear all his secrets until he was old and didn’t need a teddy bear anymore. And he never thought about it again until Mr. Bear sold his story to the media in a desperate bid to regain his affections.
I thought for years that it was insulin
that you were shooting under your skin;
you told me that you needed it to live.
Eyes caught Boy from time to time and there would be a pause, often enough, and a smile after it. Not of recognition. No one seemed to know him; he didn’t know anyone he was passing by. But every so often someone would be looking about, pulled out of themself, and smile. Sometimes they were gone in the crowd before Boy could even smile back, until he caught a glimpse of his face in a store window and realized he was smiling without even knowing it, watching children tug parents toward windows or people have conversations on phones. It was distance and it wasn’t, and he’d been bridging it without even knowing what he was doing.
“Bess?” He said her name twice, and on the third saying his hoarse voice cracked a little.
She turned, stepped close. The crowd pooled around them, making space for her without even knowing why. “What is it?” she said, her voice locked on him.
“You said – you said when I smiled – you said it was a weapon. Why?” he whispered.
Bess blinked. “You’re asking me that now?”
“Your face doesn’t have enough lines, Boy. It’s soft, gentle if they don’t look too far into your eyes –.”
“Hush it.” She pressed a finger to his lips. “Everyone’s eyes have wounds in them, if people look deep enough. Even you should know that. But it’s hard to see yours sometimes, if you’re looking out more than in. Your hands don’t have enough lines, enough wear. Even your clothing is like that. Fresh. New. People look at you and they see innocence.”
Boy drew back from her finger. “I’m not innocent.”
“You count me and Reynard Fox as friends. Of course you’re not.”
He turned his head away. “I don’t mean that. I’m not innocent; I’m empty. It’s not the same thing at all.”
“Hey.” Bess turned his head back and raised his chin gently with her right hand. “It’s close enough in this world. You look at people, Boy, and you see them. Not many people do that without judgement, or without wanting to use what they learn. Everything is new, because you’re empty, and you’re saying hello to the world every moment and sometimes, just sometimes, people can’t not say it back.” She let go.
“And that’s a weapon?”
“Anything can be a weapon. Hope. Love. Helplessness.” Bess shrugged. “You open people up a little, and that can hurt them even if you never want to. You understand?”
“Good. I’m not sure I do either.”
The world has become too digital
I have a dozen photos of you scattered
over the coffee table, rest buried
on a dying hard drive as an omen
(we don’t listen to omens anymore)
There is a loss in preserving in clouds
the world kept in ether as if aether
was real; I had to tell them I had
no recent photos of you and they
judged me with cool eyes.
“We need one for the poster,” said
so they could find you all I had
was a crappy photo on my phone
of you in the park and it was grainy
(too small and dead to feel like you)
“We make no promises,” said they
but took my money and my hopes
to seek you across the city and all
I want is to see you again missing work
to find you and everyone says: ‘You can
get another dog’ and I want to kill them all.
I’m trying to write poems
That aren’t about you
But every simile reminds me
Of things we used to like
“We tamed a monster, but it was not tamed wholly. No monster ever is. In our pride, we thought victory was permanent, that defeat was ephemeral. It is the other way around. We know that now. The monster broke free, the chains shattered and we had not the wit to put them back together. We were complacent, standing in the light, pretending it would never be dark. We killed the monster, in the end. What we could not tame we destroyed, and it took our world with it. So much is lost that will never be found again. And even this, even this we think as true, it may be nothing. We are only echoes of what we were, and the only thing for us is to find something new. To forget what was. To make something new. The past holds no hope for us. Only death. Only darkness.”
Boy kept wanting to speak, to ask questions – what Star Wars was, for one – but everything he could say would just highlight how much he’d lost. What do you do if you spent twenty years not in the world, if you return without your memories of who you were? He didn’t know. He didn’t see how anyone could know, or even answer the question. Even Reynard Fox fell silent when Boy pulled up the shadows of memories of the Wasting and gave them form in words.
You go on. Someone had told him that, before the Wasting. The words were in his head, solid as waking. From what? To what? Nothing. No memories, no hints. It was like finding a stop sign in the middle of a road with nothing else around it at all. What did it mean? What didn’t it mean? He had no idea, so just walked beside Bess.
“Is something wrong?” Bess said.
Boy stopped, removed tears from his face. “I thought it was raining,” he said when Bess didn’t look away.
“It’s not.” She paused. “You want to talk about it?”
Boy shook his head in turn after a pause all his own. “Not yet.”
For a moment he thought Bess was going to press him, but she just stepped back and nodded, walking down the road. And Boy was left wondering if he imagined a distance between them that had not been there before.
They come into my office. Two of them, young things. It’s all young things these days. He’s dressed in a suit that would make a Ken doll cringe in sympathy, she looks like she was gutted up and remade by one of those reality shows that offers to make women amazing – by cutting up their bodies and making them pretty because that’s all that counts these days. Even the kids like this that come pitching ideas to the studio look like they belong as extras in some teenage soap opera. I bet they even know what boxes they’d tick for demographics.
That’s the world these days. More and more old people, but we pander to the kids. Getting to the point now where it’s easier to find an ethnic on TV than an old person, at least not one who isn’t ethnic. Or something-or-other ticking some boxes. Me? I’m balding, fat, and I would be smoking if Beryl hadn’t made me quite for the fourth time in two years last month. I’m drinking coffee. It doesn’t help, but it probably counts as a diet.
“You have a pitch?”
“Yes, sir.” She simpers, smiles. Probably expects to get something out of it, but I haven’t had anything to give in at least two years. Stress gets you every damn time in this business. “We have a new project in –.”
I wave away the papers and cd rom and usb crap the kid offers me. He looks younger than he is: there’s nothing hard in his eyes. Her, I’m not as sure about. “Talk to me. Tell me your idea.” I smile. “Sell it to the network.”
He blinks, opens his mouth, closes it. “The show is called Waking Up. That’s the working title. We’ll need to figure out a real one closer to transmission, but it’s going to be very hard to advertise and needs to be hidden from the public. Ideally we do an entire short series – say, 13 episodes? – have them in the box and then begin showing the show, advertising it after. Let word of mouth build, social media light it up and see what happens.”
She takes over. “Waking Up is about a patients in hospital who have to undergo surgery. The surgery happens as normal, but we have a stage set up – a vast one with actors, a whole town, extras. You name it, we go all out. They wake up in it, and we convince they they really died and went to Heaven. And the audience sees how long it takes them to work this out.”
I stare at her. Then him. Then back to her. They both offer up their eager smiles. “You’re not joking.”
“Why would we be joking?”
I remind myself how the reality TV fad started. There is a bottle in my desk. I don’t reach for it. “Because people believe in Heaven?”
“Oh, no one who is serious does,” he says. “Old people, yes. Not you, but old people. That will help the show since every radio type and most of the talking heads on TV will rant against it, letters get written and it becomes the sort of show where watching it is an act of rebellion. You don’t get shows like that anymore. If it has to go all-digital, so much the better. We pepper it with ads, find companies willing to gamble on product placement and we’re off!”
“And the lawsuits?” I say, because I have to say something sane or reach for the bottle.
“Oh, we’ll clear it with the regulatory bodies and the lawyers,” she says. “The network has deep pockets and that is what wins court cases. We simply outspend, emphasize the publicity they gain – I’m sure some will get book deals and chat show tours out of it. It’s money we lose, but it goes toward less lawsuits in the end. Of course, we’d need to change it up come the second season. All new actors, new sets, probably begin filming it while the first one is airing so less of the patients catch onto what we’re doing. And we add in the twist.”
“In the second season, ‘Heaven’ is really Hell.” She smiles.
I don’t smile back. I stare at her, and him, and hand the usb and cd rom and papers back to the kid. “Get out of my office.”
They get. Part of me wonders if Fox or HBO will take up the show. The rest of me doesn’t give a damn, and it’s been a long time since I did that. I turn off my computer and head outside for an early lunch. Maybe today wasn’t going to have as much stress as I’d thought
Just came across this recently on how sci-fi has lost the plot. Mostly about how there are no optimistic sci-fi stories anymore or space exploration that isn’t mired in wars and all grimdark. I mostly don’t write sci-fi — almost all my attempts end up quite, quite bleak, even they they end on some kind of up-note (at least for novels). The dar stories are optimistic, but the path to the ending is pretty damn grim in parts. And the only sci-fi novel Ideas I have knocking about in my head are one I’ll probably never write [every attempt at it has failed thus far] and one involving an alien invasion that attempts to convert everyone to their religion — which I need to get back to working on some day.
Hm. It makes me think I need to give more consideration to optimistic sci-fi in general. Shall need to have a long think about this….
I am tired of silences that ache with unsaid words
We are each our cavities screaming out our names
Below the house there was a room I never saw.
This is not that story. I wanted to talk about him.
About my husband. About our engagement, how
we celebrated each anniversary, how he recalled
every year which one it was, how he’d hold
important dates in his head even if I’d forgot.
The surprises of flowers or chocolates unasked
the notes he’d leave me after he left for work
we had poetry together; our children said so
our neighbours modelled their lives on ours.
No one will say that now. All they talk about
is below the house, the room that he built.
The children they found it in but that was not
– that was not us, not what I knew, what we had.
Can’t you see that? Can’t you see there was more
to him than the monster you have left me with?
It’s not that time. I keep trying to find words
hunting down meanings in dictionaries with
broken spines; every word you whisper is just
another wound and your smile is too real
and mine just fell apart and you are before me
dying and all I can do is talk about a sports team
neither of us ever cared about and my small talk
is dying faster than you are and I have to survive
and I don’t know how to and there are no words
and you’re still trying to make jokes when
there are no punch lines left, just the kicker
life shits on us and I don’t have words and I
don’t have smiles and I keep trying because
you are but I want to remember you and you
are not this body dying in a bed with smiles
and you are not whispers but shouts and you
are not soft words when hard ones are needed
and I don’t know you and I don’t know me
but neither of us is giving up but I still have
Once upon a time, a fairy godmother fell in love with the child they were granting wishes to and waited for any of the wishes to be ‘Stay with me’ or even ‘Never leave me even if I grow up’ but that never happened, even though Peter never grew up at all.
"The world is full of conspiracies. But the one where we met and fell in love is the only one I care about right now."