“They say we live on the bones of unknown civilisations” he threw back a clear shot by a slow bringing to the lips, scissored between two steady fingers and a whip-crack chin motion “and that before the dinosaurs, there were men. And” waving a biblical hand “women too, if you’re going to look at me like that. And that they thought they were the pinnacle, the result of so much evolution. But they used a different form of communication. Hey” snapping his fingers twice “I’m talking. So they left no trace. But there were clues.”
She never planned on sitting next to Stan, late at night in the quietest feeling bar in the city. It is never her plan. But she always finished her job feeling blanked out; a day spent grading fabrics, textiles, chairs, beds, clothing, toys according to the Gramercy-Lexington International Emotional Scale meant she forced herself to accomplish more traversing through the range of human emotions than a pregnant teen: exhilarated to despondent to safe to ambitious to suspicious to hysterical, all according to whichever textile she ran through her fingers, or rubbed against a cheek, or wrapped around her shoulders. The job paid well – funded as it was, collectively, by the biggest toy manufacturers, interior designers, even companies like Toyota were bankrolling her – and it didn’t leave her too guilty to enjoy spending her earnings, as she had felt when working as a prostitute (since prostitution had been legalised more or less worldwide in 2021, the general feeling was that it was immoral to charge for something that other people gave away for free or in return for safety – the pink press had called it ‘flooding the market with nether fluids’ and the Financial Times had bitched and whined about its lack of regulation and other failures unique to the private industry) or as a lawyer.
The only real downside was that at the end of each day she would feel empty, spun out, completely unable to feel an emotion wholly without obsessively compartmentalising it, labelling it, struggling to correctly describe it. So, instead, she chose to waste her nights at the feeling bar, with self-promoters like Stan sitting next to her (for she was a female who could afford some hefty upgrades and regular tune-ups, and there was always some twitching mass of muscles who wanted to sit next to her) and sitting back ,this particular evening, on the Venetian-Sunset-Purple™ fun-fur chair of MemoryFoam® [which, she couldn’t help but wearily, automatically make a mental note was evoking:
Colour – nostalgia for times not yet happened. romances that existed only in a sepia hindsight . full-bodied, low-tannic red wines drunk from a flat-bottomed water glass with ‘duralux®’ stamped upon it. Blue cheese spread thickly across warm crusty bread.
Texture – childhood toys, dependency thereon. the feeling of release when all issues regarding safety / nutrition / location / toilet are taken care of by a third party.
Density – your mother pushing you on a swing. your father pushing you on a bicycle and promising not to let go and he doesn’t let go. the gentle but knowing touch of your favourite lover. the snug fit of your most flattering jeans. she chose blindly from the menu.
The waiter accepted her request, as always, with a small nod and not a single facial expression. He was delicately formed and impassive, and she could never tell if it was always the same guy or not. Each time, as Stan or Bradley or Whittley droned on next to her, she would note some small details – a puckering around an old nostril piercing, a tan line around an absent wedding band, but the next time she saw him, she couldn’t be sure if these absences, these negative spaces, were present or not.
Her shot arrived, and she brought it to her lips and threw her head back; instantly she knew she had chosen Despair. As it burned her throat and warmed her stomach, it was already sending a vulture to sit on her shoulder, pinning her vision down to the bare essentials. It was never as all-engulfing as an acid trip, but more similar to how you felt when you caught a cold slowly, slow enough to observe the symptoms develop from a detached corner. She remembered a science class, chemistry, she was about seventeen at the time, full of push-up bra and sweet vermouth with cola and not much else. Her teacher was teaching them how electrons fill in the spaces in atoms – first singly, then begrudgingly pairing up. Her teacher, whose name she couldn’t remember but who, she was certain, had half a finger missing, and whose class she had worked hard in, toiling under the misguided hope that a perfect grade would impress said teacher into revealing the mystery of the loss uniquely to her star student, had said that an easy way to visualise the way of the electron was to compare it to people getting on a bus – everyone would choose an empty seat first, and only when all possible empty seats were taken would they choose to pair up and sit next to someone else.This had made her feel ‘sad’, feel ‘hopeless’ at the calmly accepted norm that, when given the option, all humans will choose to be alone, will choose the option that allows them as much aloneness as possible. It was years until she realised that, when the electrons were filled into their spaces singly, the resulting atom was unstable and then, once there were more pairings, the atom became more and more stable, more predictable and easier to manage.
She always preferred overcoming an emotion that was categorised as negative to buying one of the cheap happy shots. Sipping water through a bitten-flat straw, she observed Stan, whose meandering yet firmly-asserted topics, coupled with his thousand-yard stare at nothing in particular, suggested his last shot had been Self-righteousness. She amused herself with blocking out the sound of half his words, which dented his meaning not a bit. “Every generation. Last one. Doesn’t realise. Always the same.”
Amy Tighe received her MA from Goldsmiths and immediately took it travelling. She lives next to a roaring night-train and a fox-brothel and finds both sounds to be soothing. When she isn’t writing about the dystopian near-future, she helps underachieving kids find their inner pirate.