Stream #18

18th Jul - 16th Aug 2019

- Jan Davidsz de Heem

In the fridge
a lone bottle of white milk
the potato and light

― Mike Andrelczyk

* * *

Dear Beth,

I saw this advertisement about a digital girlfriend you can buy. It's a Japanese product. The lonely businessman is followed--on the train, in his cubicle, on the train, back home. He never speaks. He does not appear eager in any way, does not seem really to care about anything. He barely even looks out the window on the train. He's just kind of there. When he returns home he sits on the edge of his bed and presses a button on a little silver device and a hologram appears of a girl. She asks him about his day, offers to turn down the lights, turn up the lights, etc. There's supposed to be a connection, or at least an opportunity for one. He microwaves something and eats in front of the TV. The businessman takes off his clothes and goes to bed. He barely talks to the digital girlfriend at all. She's like a goldfish he can't even bother to feed. When he falls asleep, the digital girlfriend is awake.

At 3:00 AM or thereabouts, the digital girlfriend nods off. Does she dream? The manual gives no indication. She sleeps standing up, chin tucked into her chest as tiny Zs stream from her gulping lips. In the manual there appear to be warnings conveyed in pictograms. The businessman sometimes rises in secret and studies them by the light of the refrigerator, drinking a glass of milk. He is wary to use the overhead lights, as the girlfriend may know he is awake--she is not omniscient, but very well-connected, and could wake up and catch him reading her manual. She has no connection to the refrigerator, he assumes. Concerning the pictograms ion the manual, there is no universal sentiment he can understand--just exclamation marks, waves, an image of a broken heart somewhere above the weather, 747s crisscrossing beneath. Stymied, he creeps back to bed and sleeps a few hours more. In the morning her alarm wakes them both--this is presumably part of her, a circadian brainwave, a heartbeat. He shuts down the girlfriend and progresses through his day. At lunchtime he eats his lunch from a paper bag on a bench that faces a fountain. He ponders on the state of CGI technology in film--digital simulations of water, indistinguishable from the real thing.

Unlike processed cheese, for example.

Egg beaters.

Vegetable burgers.

We see all this and hear all about it via narration, some offscreen voice actor, someone familiar, some movie star. Lots of pauses. There is a sense of relinquishing something, of acceptance. The narrator is tired. The narrator probably won't do much voice acting after this. Retirement looms like the setting sun on the horizon.

The businessman crumples up the paper bag. Looks at it in his hands. We watch. We wait. He sighs. The bag is there. No magic. No tricks.

The fountain stops working. The water falls to rest. The scene’s narrator does not remark upon it. It’s almost as if he expected it. We shouldn’t put words in his mouth, though—-perhaps he has left. Maybe he doesn’t care anymore. Maybe he never cared. He’s already home. Opening the refrigerator, pouring himself a glass of milk.

never trust a man who wants to propose a thought experiment

Dear Beth,

It's hard to be apart. I keep watching the commercial. In some ways I understand the appeal. The way she looks at him. How attentive she is. How she makes him feel desired. I was never enough for you

Religion was a technology, our spirituality the singularity. But now we desire reason, and wish an atomized annihilation. Religion took us beyond ape, but we want to go beyond moon.

Dear Beth,

The waitress said, “Your signature makes me happy.” She probably didn’t mean anything by it. But the prospect of making someone happy—-he prospect of telling someone else, a stranger, that something about you made them happy—-was almost too much to bear. I haven’t slept well in days. I cleared everything off my nightstand. I want it completely empty. I want to glance at it and see emptiness. Emptiness feels owned.

Dear Beth,

I had a dream that I was watching the commercial again but I'm not sure it was a dream. I think I was awake. My eyes hurt my face hurts. You were the digital girlfriend but it wasn't you. It was the you I always wanted but I wasn't me either. I was someone worthy of your desire which I know I'm not. I don't know who to blame anymore.

I started teaching myself karate. I'm going to go outside more. I'm going to stop drinking milk from the carton. You were always annoyed about that I'm sorry. I'm sorry about the time I left that potatoe in the fridge and it grew those wierd tenticles. I'm going to clean everything like you wanted. I got new sheets. They are in a box by the door but today I'm going to open them and spread them on the bed. They picture on the internet when I bought them had a happy couple with a dog they were all snuggling. I'm sorry I keep writing you like this.

Dear Beth,

I was walking last night. I had used the last of the coffee making it through the afternoon and I knew I'd be defeated by the morning without it. It was raining and my head was down, listening to Aaron Copland piece you used to play at the piano each time you'd walk past. I thought about your long fingers and the bounce of each key as your finger lifted up from each note.

I think your wedding is coming up. Alex bought it up by accident when I asked what he was up to. I understand why you haven't bought it up. I couldn't afford the plane ticket anyway. Everything costs so much now I dont have your help splitting everything in half.

I'm happy for you. I think that it's a good thing. I'm getting better too. Happier. I've been picking up all my clothes from the floor and putting them in the wash, just like you asked me to. you're right, the room feels a lot better when I do that. You were always so good at knowing how to make the room feel better.

Dear Beth,

Please say something. Please, I'm really suffering. I'll do anything

Dear Beth,

A bee stung me for the first time since my sixth birthday. I was afraid I would swell up. I thought maybe I'm allergic, but I'm not.

I can't sleep. These small hours between bar close and first light are so lonely. My grandpa is probably awake, too.

Whenever I close my eyes, I see your lips. I hug my pillow and whisper I love you. But you know I like to be held.

I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm such a fucking idiot, please come back

From: Beth
To: [redacted]

Every time you turn on the computer an angel dies. Remember I explained everything to you and then you promptly forgot it? You are a small, petty, and weak man.

Dear Beth,

I can't tell you happy it made me this morning to see your name at the top of my inbox again. I was sat in our kitchen, having some toast and the coffee was dripping through. It didn't take long to read, so I read and re-read the email until all the water had fallen through beans and sat brown and steaming.

The coffee was steaming and I was still reading. Over and over again and I read the words thinking of how your mouth would move if they were saying those words. I mouthed the words angel. I mouthed the word angel and the coffee got cold, but you were there - right at the top of my inbox.

I remembered everything, my angel, and my coffee stopped steaming.

The girl sitting next to me on the bus has my wife’s hands. I swear to god they’re exactly the same. She’s drawing flowers in a little notebook.

I want to rush home and tell my wife “baby, this girl on the bus had your hands!” But that would piss her off.

So I just sit here and stare and the flowers in this girls’ book.

Daisies, I think.

sometimes when i look at my dog i see only me