I look in the mirror-it is not me

We can never tell each other how much we know. It’s a pact between all commuters everywhere…read more

I look in the mirror. Its me. I close my eyes. I reach out my hand. I find the button-a groove in the smooth surface. I should have bought one that was voice activated or at least changed the setting using my phone before I came to look in this mirror. I gently push the button in.

I open one eye. There I am, my image reflected back at me in the mirror. Except its not me. It looks mostly like me, but it’s a better version of me. Its an avatar. I have it on all my mirrors, a filter, so I never see what I really look like.

Except the button on this mirror doesn’t seem to be working. It won’t stay on my image, it constantly reverts back over night and when I come in here in the morning, there I am. Really me, what I must really look like. I close my eyes tightly whenever this happens and switch to the virtual me. The me with filters and ‘adjustments’, the me that I am sure is really me because that other me-I don’t want to look like that.

This can’t be healthy. I put make up on the virtual me, well I put it on the actual me, but in the mirror it goes on the virtual me. It looks a bit rough, I hit another button and the whole image is smoothed over and the makeup on the image in the mirror is perfect. I have no idea what it looks like on the actual me. I don’t care. I head for the train station. Its still dark. I walk and no one can see.

No one notices if my makeup is badly applied. No one notices me at all. That is how commuting works, same people everyday. Same seat. Same bags. Same coat. New coat. She has a new coat. And no one notices anything at all ever. I know these people, their habits, their smell, their conversations on phones. I know there lives but not their names-sometimes their names but only accidentally because I overheard. They probably know me too, but we can’t let on. We can never tell each other how much we know. It’s a pact between all commuters everywhere. A tacit agreement that even though we know everything we will pretend to know nothing. Except she has a new coat. I look down. That is not my business. It is not relevant to my life. I can not notice that.

I don’t look up. I just look at my phone. I put it on mirror. It just has an image of me. Always, Never actually me. Well yes me, but me with filters.  My makeup is perfect in that image, my ears are smaller, my mouth more rounded. I tell myself I look like that and there is nothing to contradict me. Nothing at all.

I go to get my coffee. I am wearing a scarf. I look at the ground. I don’t want to be noticed.  I have a takeaway coffee. They know my order, I send it by phone, I don’t even need to make eye contact. I have paid for it by phone. I just swipe my phone at the collection station and its released to me. I don’t have to see anybody. More importantly nobody sees me.

I get to work. I go past the kitchen. There is someone in there so I avoid it. I go to my cubicle. I take the lid off my coffee cup and sip it. Sweet, bitter delicious coffee. I switch on the machine, really can they not set it up so that I can do this from my phone before I arrive. It hums into life. I slip into lifelessness. I look at the Inbox, the news. I think about my first meeting. 9am slips by. I look at my phone, at the image on my phone. It is a good image. I have a meeting at 10am. I decide not to go in person but to send a virtual me.

I know that since I am in the office I should not do this. It is technically against the rules but I do this. The image of me, it is I think-better than the real me. The virtual me goes to the meeting. I see the meeting on my machine, I say things. I sound good. I look good. I huddle over my machine. Sooner or later they will ask why I am never there in person.

I finish my coffee at 11am. I always take ages to drink it.  I need the bathroom. I cannot go to the bathroom. The bathroom has mirrors. The mirrors in the bathroom are real. Real mirrors with real reflections and they cannot be changed to show your image, your avatar. It is really you. You cannot avoid seeing them. I need the bathroom though.

I grab my scarf. It looks odd. I know it looks odd, I pick a time, 11.21am. I am bursting now but 11.21 is not random, its too early for an 11am meeting to have finished and passed the time when anyone with an 11.15 will be going to a meeting late and too early for anyone going to an 11.30. I have this. I can get to the bathroom with my scarf and no one will see me. When I get to the door, I can wrap the scarf around my face and I won’t see it in the mirror-well maybe just the eyes-but the eyes are very close-aside from the colour. Did I mention that my avatar has different coloured eyes to me.

I look out from my cubicle, there is no one. I make a break for it. I see someone. I have misjudged it. 11.22 would have been better. I walk on by and pretend not to see her. I am here now before the toilet door. I wrap the scarf around my face and go in. I can only see my eyes. I focus on what I have to do. I focus on the taps when I am washing my hands. I do not make eye contact with myself. All the glimpses I get of me are accidental or peripheral. That person, she is not me. I am the image on my phone.

I look at the time, 11.27, just in time for the 11am meetings to finish and for early birds to the 11.30 to be on their way. I hide in the toilet cubicle. 11.30 passes. 11.35. 11.37. I will go  at 11.38. At 11.38 on the dot I fling open the toilet door and race for the exit. I nearly bump someone over in the rush. I mumble something to her. Sorry maybe or excuse me. I try to avoid panic, I can’t breathe. Is that panic or because the scarf has been covering my mouth for 20 minutes. I don’t know. I can see my cubicle. Head down, I march towards it. I see my chair. I reach out for it, grab it, slam myself down on it. I unwrap my face and bend over my desk. I have made it. No one saw me, at least not the real me. Next time I will send my avatar to the toilet.  It was not always like this. There was a time before this. Before there was a better perfect me, that existed as a picture when I am flesh and blood.

Everyone is concerned

In reality I live on lentils and quinoa, in VR I indulge in cake and cake, and well cake. I mean wouldn’t you. The sensation of eating it without the actual eating of it…read more 

Everybody is concerned. I get that. But I am not concerned. I will do the same thing today that I have done every Saturday since it happened. I will go to the café and sit across from my mother. We will have the same conversation that we had last week. It will be almost word for word.

It is a virtual café, so I will sit here in a chair in my kitchen with my head set and in theory she is sitting in a chair somewhere far away with her head set on. We are sitting in the same virtual reality though, so I will be able to see her and she will be able to see me. Or at least a version of me. The version I had made for VR is so close to me that you can barely tell.

I picked this virtual café because I liked its décor. There will be the same people talking in the background, the same people going in and out. I will order the same coffee and feel the odd sensation of drinking it, of reaching out to pick up and cup and take a sip, and knowing it is not real. Yet still feeling the cold porcelain, the warm milk. I will scoop the chocolate sprinkles off my cappuccino and my body will think I have eaten them. I can fool my brain into thinking I have had a coffee now without ever touching the evil stuff. It is ecologically more sound as well.

But I am not here for the false coffee or even the false carrot cake-the one with double thickness icing, all that sugar and not a calorie in sight. Sometimes I follow it with chocolate cheesecake. I do love virtual reality. In reality I live on lentils and quinoa, in VR I indulge in cake and cake, and well cake. I mean wouldn’t you. The sensation of eating it without the actual eating of it.

Anyway I am here in VR for my mother. My sister says it is wrong and I must face reality. I say I am not ready. I have lived a long way away from my mother for a long time. We have had virtual coffee in the same virtual café for nearly three years now, since it first become available. She had an image made of her which was quite true to life, if a little younger than I remembered-but hey who doesn’t. I have several images of me that I use in VR and none of them is quite true to life although the one that sits across from my mother is very close and was very expensive.

It’s odd this VR thing, because it can’t put us physically in the same room, but we are in a seemingly three dimensional space and it is very like she is in the same room. The image is her but not quite her. We can see the same thing, hear the same thing. It is hard to explain, because they could project real images, but no one does that anymore, everyone is touched up just a bit. I met my previous boyfriend in a VR café, there are such places and when I finally met him in person he was barely recognisable. It didn’t last.

Anyway my mother, we sit here every Saturday in the same virtual reality. I order the same kind of coffee and she orders tea. I eat carrot cake and she moves a chocolate slice around her plate as if it was real. I can see the sadness in her eyes, I don’t know why she did that. She could have had happy sparkly eyes or even tiger eyes. I think she was trying to tell me something. Those are not her real eyes. I know she and I are using images because she does not look like this anymore. It is always the last one I use. My sister says I need to spend more time in reality. I tell her this is my reality. She says, there is a truth and this is not the truth. She is far away too.

She sometimes calls me on the phone, refusing to turn up to a VR café, tired, she says of indulging my fantasy. I need to come home she says. I need to see it for myself. She sends me pictures. I delete them. I am not ready I tell her. I am simply not ready. She says you can never be ready. There is no ready, it has just happened and I must deal with it and the argument goes on. She sent me vouchers for therapy –I can use them anywhere apparently. She sent me a link to a therapy app. I have not used any of it.

Now that there is Virtual reality, I fail to see why I can’t exist in it in some form, why my mother can’t exist in it in some form indefinitely. Even though she is gone.

My sister tells me it is a recording, something I made and paid for before she was gone and that sitting there every Saturday isn’t going to bring her back. She says VR is not reality and I must face reality. I say it is reality, just of a different kind, she gets exasperated and I hang up.

I know that she is trying to get copyright of my mother’s image in VR so that she can stop me using it. I know that she is trying to do this. But I have copyright over this last recording of the two of us sitting there together, of our conversation, and because it happened, because it is a real conversation that happened and I am in it, I think she can never win.

She says I have to accept my mother’s death. I say that every Saturday I sit across from my mother and we have coffee and cake and we chat. I know it is the same conversation but it is as if she is there in the room. It is her voice. It is her image. And I am there and she smiles when she sees me. And she is warm, and we laugh at the way she orders the chocolate cake but never eats it and we laugh at how much I love carrot cake in VR but never eat it in real life. She loves that I always scoop the sprinkles off my cappuccino. We talk about me, about family, about my job. Always the same conversation. How is my life going? Is he the one? Would I have kids without a man in my life? We talk about big things and small things. It is the last conversation we had, it is the last conversation we will ever have. We have it every Saturday, over and over again. I know she is gone, I know. But I am still here. Sitting across from here, willing life into her. Drinking coffee, eating cake and I see no reason to accept otherwise.

Elongated Memory

The moment elongates even more. It is the only way I can explain what it is like. Everything is just happening in minute detail, slowly. They are making the memory take longer. I can still hear the voice but it’s like my brain is writing a picture…read more

I sit there with my hands in my lap. The drugs are supposed to calm my body. There will be a discord between what my brain is doing and how my body will react. I am prepared for that. They have explained it to me.

I have been the victim of a crime. One of several people over the past week. Nothing too serious, just a theft of my bag and I was shoved into a wall. I bruised my shoulder, banged my head a bit. I don’t really remember it. It was on the stairs coming out of the tube station.

It is not how it used to be with all that CCTV.

I am here at the police station with a headset on, a VR headset. They will recreate the tube on the night it happened and the software will integrate with my brain as I remember it and it will create the whole scene over again. It’s like CCTV footage but with me actually making it. The signals from my brain will lay down the images. I don’t quite get how it works. It’s very clever. I will re-live it for the technology and they will get a very clear idea of what happened. It’s like my actual memory will be transferred into some kind of code and appear before my eyes in a virtual word.

Of course it won’t be perfect because I know what is going to happen and I didn’t know at the time that it was going to happen. So they will talk to me up to a point and then I will re-live it, in virtual reality as if it is actually happening to me again. I will get all the emotions again, I will re-live its brutal horror. I know it could have been worse but it is still horrible. That’s what the drugs are for, to calm the physical effects of it, to ensure I don’t feel the pain so much. When they first started doing this, the result was so real that people’s bodies reacted and there were allegedly actual bruises again. I don’t know if that’s true or not. 

They are doing this with each of his victims. They will use it to track him down and if the quality of our memories is good enough we won’t have to appear in court. They will simply show the playback of it, but the memory has to be slightly elongated to get the detail. It is a weird process.

The drugs are to keep my emotions in check but only up to a certain point.  I need to re-live it, they need to know how I felt to make it authentic. I need to feel it to make it authentic, so its only the pain that is really dulled.

The thing is they no longer have CCTV at stations, now they are simply scanning people’s mind as they pass through, collecting maps of their brain activity and keeping the data. My brain activity that evening will stand out from the rest as I was scared, hyper emotional at some point and they will pick the pattern from all the data. My brain pattern will be easily ascertainable from the milieu because of the heightened feeling. They will then compare this session I am doing now, this re-living with that scan of emotion from the actual night to see how accurately I have remembered what has happened. They accept that memory is not perfect, but it is proven that if the emotions match, then it is likely to within 10% that the visual presentation of a recreation will be correct. It saves a lot of time in court.

If the crime were really violent, it is even possible they could put the perpetrator in my shoes so he would know how I feel. It is meant to be restorative but I don’t much care for that.

It starts slowly. I am nervous, but I can feel the drugs calming my body. I am relaxed. The headset is quite heavy but I try not to think about it. I hear the moderator introduce themselves, and tell me to try and remember what I was thinking as I walked up the stairs that evening. It was less busy than usual, because I was later than usual. I was worried about walking home alone. There are the sounds, the exact sounds from that evening, how do they do that?

I had my hand in my bag searching for my keys-something I should not have been doing I think. But the moderator-the speaker, tells me not to think like that. I should be able to get my keys out of the bag whenever I want. The memory pauses while I work through this idea. I did not do anything wrong. They have to wait for my brain to process that bit because that thought about not doing something, about being right or wrong, that thought is from after the event, from the present and I must stay in the past. I focus again. The moderator is telling me to focus again.

I am walking up the steps. My feet hurt and I am thinking about slumping on the sofa when I get home. It is Friday. There are still people milling about and they start to come into focus. There is the lady ahead of me in the pink jacket with perfect matching lipstick. I noticed her on the tube. It was the brightness of the jacket and the matching lipstick. I want to be able to dress like that. I like that jacket.

I am on the stairs and pink jacket lady is ahead of me. I can still hear the busker down below. It’s the same busker who is always there. I am not around the corner of the stairs yet. I didn’t have any change tonight so I put nothing in the busker’s tin. I feel bad because perhaps he won’t eat tonight because of me.  I feel that again, the same pattern as if I am right there on the steps, thinking that thought. The steps go around the corner and I hold the rail as I go. I am not close to the rail, my arm is stretched out to it and my other hand is rummaging in my bag.  The rail is cold and metal but firm. I feel safe at the moment. I did not know it but I felt safe holding that rail.

There is someone coming up behind me. I hear his footsteps. He is moving faster than me. I move closer to the rail, to give him room. I am turning the corner. Somehow he catches my momentum, on the corner as I move inwards. He is wearing a hood. The moment elongates even more. It is the only way I can explain what it is like. Everything is just happening in minute detail, slowly. They are making the memory take longer. I can still hear the voice but it’s like my brain is writing a picture. He said something or grunted, I cannot make it out. Perhaps it was my voice.

They tell me to focus on the face, to focus hard on his face, because I saw his face. That is a moment that goes on for a long time. I focus on his face.  I see it clearly, even though I was certain that I hadn’t, for just a moment I did. I see it, the way I saw it then, but for longer. I can make out his features, his nose, his eyes, his mouth, the hair underneath the hood, even the skin tone. I think, which I didn’t think before that he and I- we made eye contact. I can see the colour of his eyes.

I clutched my bag momentarily. For a moment I was going to fight, but his other hand is reaching up to shove me. I can feel the wall on my back and my head going back. They slow it even more. How tall was he? How strong was he? What did his hand look like?

They are right, I can see the tattoo on his hand. I am looking down at my bag as my head goes back. I am looking at my bag and trying to control my head. I can see his hand, the fingers, the grimy dirt under the nails. He hasn’t washed those hands recently. I can see a shirt poking out from under the sleeve. There is a pain in my shoulder as it hits the wall, I know there is but I don’t feel it. The memory has a sequence but all the bits are happening separately. I focus on every bit. His face, his hands, I even search in my head for his smell, but the technology is not that good yet.

 My head hits the wall and again I don’t feel the pain of it, the drugs are working. But I see him. I feel the fear of him. I feel my body let go of my bag. I think I might be screaming and still this memory goes on. The moderator tells me to scream. I see him take the steps ahead of me. I see my bag disappearing into the darkness. I see the soles of his trainers, really clearly- I see the muted yellow on the bottom of his shoes. The woman in the pink coat is turning now. I see people coming towards me to see if I am alright. A man who came up the stairs behind me, I see him. The busker has stopped singing. I see the thief push past the woman in the pink coat as she turns, as I slump to the ground. I see the soles of red trainers as someone chases him. I am not sure if I am still screaming. I hear people yelling and then talking to me. I feel fear in my head but my body is calm. It is the oddest experience.

There are police officers, and then it is over. I am just sitting there in chair.

I am calm. I have done it and I am calm.

I feel someone remove the headset. I see her smiling face.

‘We got quite a lot. You saw him quite closely. ‘

I smile half heartedly. I think they have stolen my brain, my memory. How do they do that? How do they take my brain activity and use it to draw a picture? How do they make that happen? It is an idea beyond me. It terrifies me. Puzzles me.

She looks at me. ‘Everyone feels that way’ she says as if she can read what I am thinking. I remind myself she has just read what I was thinking. The machine has taken my thoughts and made it into a visualisation of my memory.  I want to vomit.

‘Don’t worry’ she says, ‘we can only get a visual representation of your memory, we can’t implant anything’

That wasn’t a thought I’d had. Now it’s a thought I have. I look for signs for the next week, signs that I have been implanted. Nothing happens. I see on the news scroll, that my thief is caught and convicted and I had to do nothing but let them elongate a bit of memory. I am not certain, not sure. It does not feel right. Like something has been taken, more than my bag but I don’t know what.