"Who are you?" he asks.\n\n[[I'm an intellectual and I love romantic comedies.|1]]\n[[I'm an optimist and my favorite color is pink.|1]]\n[[I'm quiet and I want to go to college.|1]]\n
"What was your first word?" he asks.\n\n[[My first word was... "thanks." I think.|25]]\n[[My parents never told me.|25]]\n[[It was probably "mommy" or "daddy."|25]]\n
You can feel your presets tingling—-\nsuddenly they’re burning and\nyou dig your nails into the back of your neck \n\n“I’ll make my husband get you again—\njust look for her, she’s got \nshort red hair and blue eyes—\nher name’s Ria”\n\nthe artificial pod air,\nthe glassy prison,\ndaily remutative displacement\n\n"we’re more like cognizant mannequins\nthan young girls," you think to yourself\n\nyou nod slowly\nyou haven’t seen hope in anyone’s eyes\nfor a long time, but…\nthere it was\n[[in her eyes like a fresh sky|26]]\n\n
"Do you have any secrets?" he asks.\n\n[[The first bra I ever wore... I stole it, because I was too afraid to ask my mom for one.|27]]\n[[My cousin trapped me in the bathroom once and kissed me. It was awful.|27]]\n[[I've never masturbated...|27]]\n
they took away your name first—\nthey didn’t like that\nyou’d share it with clients\nit was too nice\nyour face would change every day anyways\nand no one would be able to look you up\nby anything but “0820”\n“let it go” they said\n“your name is part of the world\nthat you’re no longer a part of—\nyou should accept that now or we\nwill have to place you on Floor 5”\n\nAnother projection:\nred eye man\nthe studio\nempty silver screens and asteroid posters\n[[“Hello again.”|28]]\n\n
"What's the most romantic thing you've ever done?" he asks.\n\n[[I've never really dated anyone...|21]]\n[[When I was little, a boy gave me a little piece of string and tied it around my finger. He asked me to marry him.|21]]\n[[The only date I ever went on... we sat in a park all night, literally until the sun went up. We went home without kissing, but it was really wonderful.|21]]\n
his wife walks in with a food slide\n“I hear they don’t feed you girls much”\na selection of dainty lemons and stuffed\norange shells glimmer on the slide\n“take anything, you still have 5 minutes”\n\nwives are always nice but\nthis is a first—-\n[[you pick a pressed lime dipped in sugar|22]]\n\n
"If you could go anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?" he asks.\n\n[[As far away from here as possible.|23]]\n[[I'd go to an ice cream shop and... ask for a job. I'd want to stay there.|23]]\n[[Any island would do. I just want to be alone on a beach forever.|23]]\n
“our little girl” the wife kneels\nbeside you, fiddles with your hair\n“she got picked to be sterile too”\n\nthe gold walls get shaky and\nyou slam your eyes shut\nten of you hover around behind\nyour heavy lids and crack their heads together\n\n“they told us she was in good hands—\nshe’d have a clean pod and\nshe’d go for high credit…\n[[I think she might be in your sector”|24]]\n\n\n
"When was the last time you cried, and why?" he asks.\n\n[[Yesterday... my client wouldn't stop yelling "you're such a bitch!" and it scared me.|29]]\n[[A few years ago... the last time I saw my mom.|29]]\n[[It was last month--someone gave me ice cream. I hadn't had it in years, and it tasted so good.|29]]\n
shot up into the studio\nstale air fills your lungs\n\n“I want you out of there,\nI just can’t stand it—\nthe different faces, the bodies—\nI want to see what you really are.”\n\nyour brain rolls around like dice\nand you stare at your feet—\norange toenails\n\n[[“Is that… okay?”|30]]\n\n\n
birds squealing over blockbuster reel\nthe asteroid’s kicking our ass\nhe kicked the screen \n[[silver sparks pool on the floor|2]]\n
your production value must be low\nyou're like an animated doll\nsex thaws you and \n[[preset words set your tongue to work|4]]\n
"Where are you from?" he asks.\n\n[[I'm from a small suburban town where everyone rides horses for fun.|3]]\n[[I'm from a dry, hot place where there's lots of sand and not enough water.|3]]\n[[I'm from a city where everyone's got to have the latest gadget.|3]]\n
you puke smoothies between blow jobs and\nrest with the power strip sale and\n[[blinking credit towers|6]]\n
"Who do you care about most?" he asks.\n\n[[My old cat. She died when I was a kid, but she was so soft and would always sleep with me.|5]]\n[[My best friend, Ali. I haven't seen her in a while, but she always shared her cotton candy with me. She knows all my secrets.|5]]\n[[My little brother. He has big, green eyes, and his first word was "milk."|5]]\n
cameras spin around useless\nmaking records of abandoned food cores and\nflapping crystal doors\n\n“oh, nice hair cut”\nhe pulls you up by it, and you resist\nhe won’t hurt you if you do\nhe’s messed with presets\n“shouldn’t you be past masochism honey?\nThe boss says so—\nmaybe I should send you back to the island”\n[[you buzz your lips and grin|8]]\n\n
"Which ice cream flavor is your favorite?" he asks.\n\n[[Vanilla with chocolate sprinkles.|7]]\n[[I've never had ice cream|7]]\n[[Chocolate, drenched in chocolate sauce.|7]]\n
projector birds attempt to chirp naturally\nat least the sky is still a plastic blue\nsmall boys fling themselves against it\nleaving cracks in their heads\n\na million of you shuffle by in your vision\ncracking their heads together\n[[ripping the pearls out of their hair|10]]\n\n\n
"Who was your first kiss?" he asks.\n\n[[Her name was Crystal... we were just kids.|9]]\n[[A boy with hair that was so blonde, you could basically see through it. He was nice.|9]]\n[[Chris... my kindergarten boyfriend. I know, silly.|9]]\n
you can’t wait for all of the color to wash out of your skin—\n\nyou’ll go to a transient heaven—\nfaint girls in a field\nswallowed by the grass
posters of chipdocs and\nsecondary presets curl off the wall and\neveryone walks by indifferent\ntheir brown hair ripples like keystrokes\n\na huge man straps his wife onto his back\nand she waves her credit slip through\nthe store streams, requests buzzing off\n[[her lips into the reflectors|12]]\n\n
"What kind of music do you like?" he asks.\n\n[[I like quiet electronic music... like, that ambient stuff.|11]]\n[[I tell everyone I like pop music... but really, I'm into classical.|11]]\n[[Hip hop, all day every day.|11]]\n
he squeezes the back of your neck\n“back to the List, baby”\nthe floor quivers under your feet\nas you sink, you shoot him a soft smile\nhopefully that’ll bring him back for seconds\n\nthe Belt tightens around your waist and\nyou're pulled into an empty pod\nyou guess the glass was reset\nbecause you can see your face in it\nsmall like an egg\n[[cheeks still red from the studio air|14]]\n
"What kind of house did you grow up in?" he asks.\n\n[[Everything was white. My mom hated color... all she liked was lace and Annabelle Hydrangeas|13]]\n[[It was a small apartment in the city. I spent more time at school than I did at home.|13]]\n[[It was average... the most special part of the house was this persian rug that was there when we moved in.|13]]\n\n
a projection pops outside your pod\nobscuring the reflection\nyour face hovers opaque over his—\nstubby hair and red eyes\n(he had red eyes too)\n“Gimme your pod number—\nI like your hair, I got an hour”\n\n“Pod 0820” the projection disappears\nyou see yourself again:\ncurly blue ringlets today—\n[[you preferred yesterday’s purple wisps|16]]\n\n\n
"Do you have any hobbies?" he asks.\n\n[[I don't really have time for hobbies anymore, but I used to love making those little braided thread bracelets. It was fun to pick the colors|15]]\n[[I don't really have time for hobbies anymore, but I used to love listening to songs, memorizing the lyrics, and singing them for my friends.|15]]\n[[I don't really have time for hobbies anymore, but I used to love playing card games... like, Fish, you know?|15]]\n
the Belt loosens and your pod lifts\nthe top wiggles and you shoot up\n\nthe room shocks your eyes\ngold reflects gold and light stamps\nslide around on the wall\n\n“welcome and all that—let’s keep it quick”\nhe presses his hand against the back of\n[[your neck and presets burst behind your eyes|18]]\n\n
"What's your dream job?" he asks.\n\n[[I'd love to... groom pets. I love animals, and I think it would be fun to just spend time with them every day.|17]]\n[[I always wanted to own a convenience store. I'd get to make friends with all the regular customers... it would be nice.|17]]\n[[I used to wish I could be a movie producer. I think I'm a really diligent person, so I'd probably make a good producer.|17]]\n
business is good lately and\nmost guys keep their presets standard but\nthis one’s got you somersaulting\naround the room\nhe’s giving you a run for your money\nbut boy, it is good money\n\nyou’re both sweating by the end\nair cubes hovering around\n[[leaving your whole body prickling and cool|20]]
"What your idea of the perfect day?" he asks.\n\n[[I'd love to go visit my family. Just to give them all a big hug.|19]]\n[[The beach... I've never been to one, but I've always wanted to go swimming.|19]]\n[[I think, if I could, I'd sleep for an entire day straight. It would be good to just escape alone into a nice bed.|19]]\n
you can feel the board’s excitement\ntheir fingers flying through presets\nin preparation for removal—\nyour throat sinks like a stone\n\n“Of course, it would be an honor.”\n\nyour smile is wide and obvious\nhe hands you a small white pill and you realize\nthat he already made the payments—\nhe’d probably been preparing for months\nsifting through your files\ncustomizing presets and sipping at silica tonic\n\nyou had honestly liked him up until this point\n\n[[the pill dissolves on your tongue|32]]\n\n
"Do you believe in luck?" he asks.\n\n[[No.|31]]\n[[I want to. It's the sort of thing that you only really think about when good things really do happen, so I don't think about it much.|31]]\n[[Yes, but it only exists in the movies.|31]]\n
6578 got acquired, transitioned,\nher pale yellow hair fell out the moment\nthe pill passed through her lips\nthey say it hovered between them\nand a breeze blew the strands \ninto his face\n\nnon-refundable\nreplicable coloring books\n\nyou get what you don’t see\n[[they don’t tell them that in the press release|38]]\n\n
"Who are you, again?" he asks.\n\n[[I don't think it really matters. No one else seems to care, most of the time.|37]]
they don’t tell the people\nabout the effects of daily remutative displacement\nthe thin pink blood capsules\nthe numbing pods and the relapse—\ntheir altered air and\nour inevitable, insatiable nature\n\nyou’ve heard that girl’s eyes wash out—\nblue cracks and leaks\n[[blue pillow stains|36]]\n\n\n
"What do you want more than anything else?" he asks.\n\n[[To live far away, alone, in a small house near a beach.|35]]\n[[A friend.|35]]\n[[A new, different life. I'd like to be born again as someone else.|35]]\n
so this is it, you're acquired\nyou bet you've got 6 months until he realizes\nthat girls like you wear out quickly\n“I’m like an animated doll” you told him—\nhe laughed and said you were perfect\n\nA thousand of you in your eyes\ncracking their heads—\n[[silver pools on the floor|34]]\n\n
"What was the happiest moment in your life?" he asks.\n\n[[Running around on the beach with my friends as a kid.|33]]\n[[The first time I held my little brother after he was born.|33]]\n[[The first time someone said "You're my best friend!" That was the best feeling.|33]]\n
Nina Freeman