Jenny sipped her sherry-oak Macallan. She’d got the taste for it while studying in v-London, and sacrificing hunger for liquid meditation. Jenny’s academic funding came from her earlier career as an accountant, and from her father, who was a virtual lawyer in v-New York. She’d returned to university as a mature student with a taste for mature whisky.
While in v-London, keeping on task had been difficult. The collision of a pijama-based cyberlife, an overflowing bank account, and next-hour drone delivery of alcohol, had almost been too much to handle. Many times during the three years Jenny had wavered, she said, leaning toward a disengaging retreat back home, and ten back to the MBA in v-London, and the status and wealth it promised.
The night she left Simon had been the worst and best of her time studying, as splits often are.
From a slow build involving light-barrier lunches and socially-distanced walks, Simon had quickly begun to take over the running of Jenny’s life. He changed her wardrobe, encouraging brevity and extinguishing wool. He'd repainted the room she slept in using the Roomovator app, describing, in terms he felt she could understand, how orange activated his sex chakra and blue simply did not. He developed a list of foods for her that would help ‘them’ fight the virus, stave-off mid-evening cravings for chocolate, and strengthen their resolve to get through the remaining year of study. He had even made a list of spices to be used in certain quantities in the foods ‘they’ prepared, explaining the values of each and the signs to look for if the spice was non-synergistic with her digestive system.
While Jenny had always strived to live well, and saw merit in changing things to improve one's time in pandemicity, she had begun to think of Simon as a dictator, and often worked in dark-mode to avoid contact.
The final straw for Jenny was, she said, the fetish party.
Simon had arranged everything, her clothes, her hair style, her shoes and nail polish color, and the choice of the Oculus X-RAYtd headset to suit the night’s experience.
“We’ll make sure we remember this night forever,” he had told her, and it had annoyed her terribly, though she couldn't put her finger on why.
When she swung her legs sideways to get out of the taxi, a photographer caught her movement on film, and she heard Simon speaking those words. When Jenny kissed a woman called Lucy and a man called Tom, passionately and deeply, a camera flashed near her face. When Jenny danced on stage, bending and stretching provocatively to show off her body in the smoothness of the latex pants Simon had chosen for her, his words accompanied more camera clicks.
Jenny ordered another whisky, and I followed suit, and she continued with her story.
As the night at the fetish club was ending, the photographer and Simon asked Jenny to wait for them to disengage, while they talked to a girl they’d met whose eyes were a deep purple. Jenny sat at the bar on her own, feeling the numbness of passive abuse, and holding the photographer's camera. She suddenly felt very aware of her outfit, the latex pants and top, the high-heeled chunky shoes with the blue buckles and open toes, and she didn’t dislike them. She managed to feel both excited and devastated in the same moment.
Simon and the photographer returned. “There’s a place she knows where all kinds of stuff is happening. Let’s transfer over there now.”
Jenny handed the camera over and said no, she’d be disengaging. She wanted to go to the party or whatever it was, but she didn’t want to be with Simon any more. She buzzed away instantly.
That was the last time she saw him, she told me. She removed his paint choices from the room filter, packed up the clothes in a box, and removed all of his lists and calendar updates from her screen.
Seven years later, as Jenny worked in v-Austin late one evening, an ad for the Oculus X-RAYtd ‘Memory-Keeper’ update crossed her tickertape under the spreadsheet she’d been staring at for hours. She suddenly recalled that night at the fetish club and how Simon had told her “We’ll make sure we remember this night forever.”
Rather than return to the Excel of death, as she called it, she searched for that night on Google images, and began scrolling through. At first, she said, nothing seemed familiar. Second page. Nothing. Third, Nothing, nothing. And then, there it was. The photographer’s photos. Jenny, kneeling, kissing Lucy, Tom behind Lucy, all of them half naked, and lost in the moment. Jenny, breathless, scrolled through many more shots of her and Lucy and Tom, and other people, and her on stage, dancing.