U R A fever

April 29, 2009

At three p.m. Steffie was still wearing the protective mask.  She walked along the walls, a set of pale green eyes, discerning, alert, secretive.  She watched people as if they could not see her watching, as if the mask covered her eyes instead of leaving them exposed.  People thought she was playing a game.  They winked at her, said hi.  I was certain it would take at least another day before she felt safe enough to remove the protective device.  She was solemn about warnings, interpreted danger as a state too lacking in detail and precision to be confined to a certain time and place.  I knew we would simply have to wait for her to forget the amplified voice, the sirens, the night ride through the woods.  In the meantime the mask, setting off her eyes, dramatized her sensitivity to episodes of stress and alarm.  It seemed to bring her closer to the concerns of the world, honed her in its wind.

At seven p.m. a man carrying a tiny TV set began to walk slowly through the room, making a speech as he went.  He was middle-aged or older, a clear-eyed and erect man wearing a fur-lined cap with lowered flaps.  He held the TV set well up in the air and out away from his body and during the course of his speech he turned completely around several times as he walked in order to display the blank screen to all of us in the room.

“There’s nothing on the network,” he said to us.  “Not a word, not a picture.  On the Glassboro channel we rate fifty-two words by actual count.  No film footage, no live report.  Does this kind of thing happen so often that nobody cares anymore?  Don’t those people know what we’ve been through?  We were scared to death.  We still are.  We left our homes, we drove through blizzards, we saw the cloud.  It was a deadly specter, right there above us.  Is it possible nobody gives substantial coverage to such a thing?  Half a minute, twenty seconds?  Are they telling us it was insignificant, it was piddling?  Are they so callous?  Are they so bored by spills and contaminations and wastes?  Do they think this is just television?  ‘There’s too much television already–why show more?’ Don’t they know it’s real?  Shouldn’t the streets be crawling with cameramen and soundmen and reporters?  Shouldn’t we be yelling out the window at them, ‘Leave us alone, we’ve been through enough, get out of here with your vile instruments of intrusion.’  Do they have to have two hundred dead, rare disaster footage, before they come flocking to a given site in their helicopters and network limos?  What exactly has to happen before they stick microphones in our faces and hound us to the doorsteps of our homes, camping out on our lawns, creating the usual media circus?  Haven’t we earned the right to despise their idiot questions?  Look at us in this place.  We are quarantined.  We are like lepers in medieval times.  They won’t let us out of here.  They leave food at the foot of the stairs and tiptoe away to safety.  This is the most terrifying time of our lives.  Everything we love and have worked for is under serious threat.  But we look around and see no response from the official organs of the media.  The airborne toxic event is a horrifying thing.  Our fear is enormous.  Even if there hasn’t been great loss of life, don’t we deserve some attention for our suffering, our human worry, our terror?  Isn’t fear news?”

Applause.  A sustained burst of shouting and hand-clapping.  The speaker slowly turned one more time, displaying the little TV to his audience.  When he completed his turn, he was face to face with me, no more than ten inches away.  A change came over his wind-beaten face, a slight befuddlement, the shock of some minor fact jarred loose.

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u

April 28, 2009

u

This past little while I’ve had writer’s block which has been difficult since writing is usually a good way to offset/transcend my feelings of anxiety, depression, ennui, existential despair, identity crisis and other generalized blergh, feelings which I always have on some level but have been having a lot more of lately.  Not being able to write (well) makes those feelings worse and leads me to try something/anything which will make the block go away.  As a result, today I’ve resorted to covering one of my own songs, which probably is even more like masturbation than home recording usually is.  Enjoy!

the audience – part 6

April 22, 2009

6.

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i really don’t like to make short link posts that contain none of my original content but i love the critical shopper, especially when written by cintra wilson, especially this one today.

the audience – part 5

April 21, 2009

5.

Laura had a headache.  She sat sunk into her seat in the middle of the first row of the home theater having a headache and thinking about how bad it feels to have a headache and wishing she didn’t have a headache.  Even though she couldn’t see them, she knew that the audience was watching her, still, always, that they were sitting circled around her, two of them in the chairs on either side of her and one in the second row, right behind her, she knew that, but she had pushed herself deep into the leather cushions of the recliner and was holding two big pillows up against the sides of her head so that she couldn’t see them watching and hopefully they couldn’t see much of her, either, except like the top of her head or her hands or maybe her feet.  She tried to remember when she had last gotten a mani-pedi, it had been a while, she had always gone with the girls and she didn’t want to go by herself because what if she ran into them or somebody else and was embarrassed.  She wondered if pushing the pillows into her head was making her headache worse or better but she knew she couldn’t put them down so she just hoped better.  The big TV was on in front of her, some show or movie about gangs and shooting and police and graffiti and she was looking at it but not watching it.  It wasn’t technically a TV really but a screen, a projector, more expensive and impressive, like at a movie theater, but she called it a TV because she watched TV on it mostly and a TV is a thing you watch TV on.  She couldn’t really watch the TV right then, though, all she could do was look at it like from a distance, it was like having the TV on when you’re really sick, when you can’t focus on it at all and it’s just light and color and sound that are floating in front of you like in a fog.  That’s how she was watching it because she was sick, really sick, she had a headache and also the other thing, that thing.

Buyer’s remorse, that was the thing, that was what the way she was feeling was officially called, that was the scientific name for her sickness.  Laura had been feeling so bad that afternoon, after the tour and lunch and everything, that she had googled “name for how it feels when you feel bad about buying things” and it had been the first result, “buyer’s remorse.”  This was not how you were supposed to feel when you spent a lot of money on something, not at all, you were supposed to feel the opposite of how she felt: better, stronger, faster, like in the song.  You were not supposed to get a headache.  Not that you didn’t ever regret buying something, of course, or decide you didn’t like the thing you bought, that happened, that was bound to happen sometimes with the speed of trends and fads coming and going so fast, the movement of technology and everything, not to mention personal changes like weight loss and/or gain or how haircuts could disqualify certain clothing options or accessories.  That was all normal, though, that was different than this because usually if you bought something that you didn’t like, you could just throw it away or stick it in the back of your closet and forget about it or give it to someone as a present, get rid of it somehow, it wasn’t always following you around and staring at you and making you feel ugly and fat and that you had made a mistake.  That was different, this was different, they were different.

The tour, god, she had tried, she had really tried.  She had really tried to make it fun for them, showing them the house and the grounds and all, all that stuff, the rooms and features, she had put a lot of thought and effort into it, seriously, homework and everything.  The night before they came, she had watched like four episodes of Cribs to try to get some ideas for how she was going to present everything to them and after that she had gone around and mapped out the route she was going to take through the property, trying to think of interesting and funny things she could say about the features of the house and the grounds, like on Cribs when people pointed to their beds and said, “That’s where the magic happens,” and you laughed or were supposed to at least.  Laura didn’t watch Cribs often, it used to be popular when she was younger and now they were trying to bring it back again which wouldn’t work, obv., it was too old to be new cool but not old enough to be vintage cool, it was just stupid and uncool, it was just middle.  In the old episodes of Cribs, a lot of the houses were really uggo and the design was dated and 90s but sometimes celebrities had good taste or creative ideas or one of a kind items or features.  That was sometimes interesting, at least, Laura liked to see how people who had more money than her would choose to spend that money, she liked to judge their taste and artistic sense, which usually was ugly and not as good as hers or her family’s but sometimes was inspiring and/or inspirational.  Overall, though, Cribs was stupid, especially the new Cribs, but still, it was important to educate yourself about things you were doing in order to do them with excellence and grace and beauty and Cribs was the guide she needed to make her tour the best it could be so she had watched it.

They had the gone all through the house, starting in the entryway (the audience took off their sneakers standing up, like boys), then through the grand hallway by the big staircase (she hadn’t shown them the panic room – it was private), quickly into the formal sitting room (Laura showed them the music box her mother had bought her on a trip to London when she was 9.  It didn’t make music anymore but still the ballerina and the box itself were both beautiful, she thought), out of there and back through the grand hallway into the big open plan kitchen with the island, the tile and the marble and the chrome (the chrome was standard and regular but the tile and the marble were from some famous and exclusive place in Italy or Spain – “It’s amazing that something could so dark but also shine,” she had said, pointing at the marble, “don’t you think?”), through the dining room with the china cabinet and the place settings (boring, never used) and into the living room, with the comfortable couches and the big TV, door open, socks off, out onto the first deck, with the outside dining room set and the sauna (Laura hated the sauna, she had almost died in there on a dare during a sleepover in middle school or at least that’s how it had felt, like death – she acted out the story for them, playing both herself and Emma), down the stairs onto the second deck, with the pool and the pool furniture and the pool house, off that deck to the top of the long stone staircase which cut down through the cliffs to the ocean (she was going to take them all the way to the beach and show them her secret place but they looked really hot, not in a sweaty or ugly way but the way they say pregnant women (especially thin, pretty pregnant women) glow, so she just turned around), back up the decks and stairs and into the house through the other entrance (she didn’t show them the garage or the cars because she never thought that was interesting on Cribs, even though all the rappers made it seem like such a big deal), past the gym and the laundry room and the bathroom and the theater and back into the grand hallway (she told them she didn’t really like the word “grand” – “It seems elegant, yes, but it’s so old and they should really come up with another word…” – Laura didn’t actually feel this way but was having trouble coming up with clever things to say about the room the second time through), up the stairs, one by one (she had tried to look up what artists painted the paintings on the wall but didn’t know how to search for that, with just pictures, there should be a way, online shopping would be so much easier), past her dad’s office (locked) and his bedroom (locked), into the first guest bedroom (she told them to drop off their stuff there, there was a big king size bed and also a couch and chair, she thought that would be enough for them), past the bathroom, past the second guest bedroom (boring, empty) and its bathroom, finally finishing up in her bedroom at the end of her hall, the fluffy white carpet and her pastel yellow walls and her open French windows with the white gauzy curtains blowing in like in an old movie and in the middle of it her big, beautiful bed, floating on the carpet, to the left her inspiration wall with the all the pictures she had cut out of magazines or printed off of the computer or drawn and the trophies and certificates and awards she had won and then her desk with her computer and accessories and design materials and art supplies, her framed posters of Audrey and Coco and her mirror in between them, the big full length with the gold edging, she had shown them all this, all these things, and finally they had ended up where she had planned to end up, in her walk-in-closet with her dresses and skirts and shirts and pants, blouses and cover-ups and sarongs and negligees, the drawers in the back neatly stacked with bathing suits and underwear and shorts, categorized by type, in other shelves belts and bangles and scarves and ties and all her other odd accessories, on the upper racks above the hanging clothes her funny hats and quirky costume looks and stored old things that didn’t fit or didn’t look right anymore but might at some point in the future or otherwise held memory value, back issues of the magazines stacked high in plastic containers, and in perfect lines on the floor the shoe racks with her sneakers and sandals and flats and heels, all of it, she had shown them all of it, she had shown them all these things.

She had shown them all these things, all the things that she had and owned and was, everything, and the whole time, the entire time, the audience had done nothing, had not reacted, had been silent, their faces blank like paper.  They had just followed her around and looked at her and when she had pointed at a thing or place and described it occasionally they had looked at the thing or place, especially if it was a really impressive thing or place, but sometimes they just kept looking at her even when she was pointing at something and was telling them how important it was and how much she cared, they just kept looking at her, rudely.  They didn’t smile, they didn’t wink, they didn’t raise or lower their eyebrows, they didn’t move their eyes to signal liking or not liking, approving or disapproving.  It was like something was wrong with them, like a disability, like they had some kind of mental or physical disease that kept them from appreciating nice people and things and showing their appreciation in a normal human way.

They were pissing her off, seriously.  She didn’t like how their faces were so expressionless all the time, it was creepy, or how they didn’t seem to care about anything or how they weren’t impressed by her house or her views or her stuff, but most of all, more than anything, she didn’t like how they were silent.  That was the main problem, that was the really stupid thing about the whole deal that she did not sign up for, their silence, the fact that they wouldn’t say anything at all to her no matter what she did.  Laura hated that, she hated silence, she hated quiet, she hated not talking and not listening and not hearing.  Like sleep, sleep was important for beauty, that was why they called it that, beauty sleep, and Laura respected that of course, you couldn’t argue with science, but at the same time she hated sleep, she hated the darkness and the quietness and the aloneness of it, the fact that sometimes it seemed like it would last forever and never end.  When she was really little her mom read stories to her sometimes before sleep and after that was over, for as long as she could remember, she had gone to sleep with the TV on-it didn’t matter what show it was, it could be an infomercial or some political debate or Conan or Jay, whatever, she just needed to hear voices talking out loud while she went to sleep.

But this audience, no matter what she said, no matter what she did, they didn’t talk, they didn’t say a word.  How could you do that?  How could you be a person who did that?  How could you be a person who did that to someone who was trying very hard to be nice and likeable and friendly and pretty and how could you just completely blank that person out, especially when that person was paying a lot of money for you to be around them and it was like your job kind of?  After the tour she had hid in her bathroom (they didn’t follow her in, thank god) and called the woman from SES on her iPhone and the woman, Amanda, she had been so bitchy and such a know-it-all, she had said that the audience was only required to look at Laura, not respond in any way, and why didn’t she know that, hadn’t she read the whole contract before she signed?  Hadn’t she been listening when Amanda described sub-clauses A-3a and A-3b?  If Laura wanted to cancel the contract, Amanda said, then she was of course allowed to do that, that was within her rights as a leasee, but they wouldn’t be able to pick up the audience until Wednesday morning at the earliest because of scheduling conflicts and Laura had hung up on her right after she said that, which was the one good thing about talking on the phone instead of texting or IMing someone, maybe the only good thing, that you could just hang up on a person and they couldn’t do anything about it but listen to the phone click off.  After she hung up, she had splashed some water on her face and opened the bathroom door and there they were, sitting Indian style in the hallway and looking up at her.

Lunch.  Laura didn’t really get as hungry at lunchtime as she used to after a month of not eating lunch because of the Freeze, not that she ate much lunch before the Freeze of course, you had to be careful, but she used to usually have something at least, a salad or a smoothie or whatever, carrots and apples, something food-like and filling.  This was supposed to be a special lunch, though, so she had ordered a big platter of sushi from Naga-sake, everything, sashimi and miso soup and fried things and all different kinds of rolls and nigiri, really artistic and beautiful and expensive stuff, and she had gotten them to send over pretty black lacquer boxes and nice chopsticks, she had wanted to be such a good hostess.  But when she had set out all the food on the kitchen island, the audience didn’t touch it, they didn’t go near it, although the redhead kept looking away from her every couple seconds and staring at it, which Laura thought was kind of weird.  Maybe they didn’t like sushi or maybe they hadn’t had it before, that was a possibility, but then if they hadn’t had it then they should at least try it, if only to be polite, that was how the society worked, you had to be polite and follow rules.  Laura tried to eat some in order to get them to eat, too, lead by example, but really they just looked at her and she had always been kind of awkward with chopsticks, it was hard for her, not natural, maybe Asian people had different kinds of hands because of evolution or something that made it easier for them. She was trying to eat and it was hard because of the chopsticks and the audience looking at her just made it worse, people are so unattractive when they eat, she knew that, that was why you never saw people eating in movies, and though she was focusing on holding the sliver of sashimi and not letting it drop, she knew that they were watching her still, always, and so after her third piece of yellowtail she had put the chopsticks down and they had gone to home theater and sat down in the dark with the TV on and stayed there for the last six or seven hours, except for a bathroom break.

On the screen, one guy was shooting another guy and the other guy was shooting back at him and they were jumping behind and in front of cars and stuff in the ghetto while they shot each other.  Laura had a headache, it was awful, but she had to do something about it, she had to do something, action, movement, etc.  Complaining or worrying about problems was not what winners did, winners solved problems, winners were part of the solution and not the problem, that was what her dad said and he knew about these things.  Laura wasn’t worried about getting caught with the audience because her dad wasn’t home and hadn’t been for a while, for a few weeks.  Not that he was one of those dads, the cold old business dads who didn’t care about their daughters or spend time with them and made the daughters be sad or depressed or slutty or wear ugly black clothes and lipstick or otherwise “act out.”  Her dad was a good dad who cared and stuff, really, he was, he had just been away a lot lately because of all the problems with the economy, because he was a problem solver, part of the solution and not the problem.  “There’s a situation out there, sweetheart, a pretty bad situation” he said, “and you’re dad’s going to go fix it.  He’s going to make it all better.”  He had told her this and handed her a couple of cards and kissed her on the forehead and then the limo was there to pick him up and take him away and that had been February.

Exercise.  Exercise, she decided, that was it, exercise was going to make her headache go away.  Physical therapy, that was what they used on sick or hurt people to make them less sick or hurt, the therapy of being physical, doing things and action and etc.  Just thinking about exercising and being physical made her headache feel like it was almost going away, that’s how right she knew her choice was, a solution, not a problem, she was sure of it.

Laura took a deep breath, threw her pillows down on the floor, and jumped out of her chair, running through the dark room towards the open door of the home theater.  As she cleared the doorway, she looked back and saw the audience all jumping up after her, confused expressions on their faces, shocked, ha, she had surprised them, they had not expected this, she had done something unexpected and surprised them.  That made her feel good and so she kept running, it was the right choice, a solution not a problem.  She ran down the hallway, past the laundry room, past the bathroom, acting, moving, doing, being.  She passed the gym, where she had planned to go for her exercise, the treadmill and the spin bike, but it didn’t seem right, it wasn’t time to stop, she wanted to keep running, she wanted to keep moving.  She looked over her shoulder and the audience were right behind her in the hallway, running after her in their sock feet with sleepy looking eyes.

She pushed through the door and hit the first deck outside and her feet scraped against the concrete but she kept running, past the furniture, down to the second deck, past the pool, jumping over the corner of a pool chair just for fun.  It was sunset, the sun was setting, and she was running, she was exercising, she doing something, action, movement, being.  The audience were behind her but they were kind of slow, ha, they weren’t as fast as her, they weren’t as good at running, obviously she was better.  She came to the top of the cliff stairs and started going down them two at a time and the wind was blowing spray off the ocean up at her but she was just watching her feet on the cold stones, how they were landing in all the right places, in rhythm like music, and suddenly faster than she expected there was sand, she was in the sand, soft and cool.  She looked up ahead of her towards the ocean and started running faster, tearing through the sand, kicking it up behind her towards the audience, who were still at the bottom of the stairs because they were slow and she was fast, it didn’t matter how pretty they were, she was fast and they weren’t.  There was that saying you can run but you can’t hide but she was running and hiding at the same time, like a kid playing that game, running like this made her feel like a kid, she never ran anymore except on the treadmill and that didn’t feel like running because you were staying in the same place, there was no motion or travel, it was boring.

Then she was in the water, in her dress in the water, and she was still running and it was harder and her feet were kicking up explosions of water and she was getting deeper and her dress was getting wet and then she fell into it, into a wave, and it pushed her back and she pushed back against it, motion, travel, action, movement, back and forth.  Physical therapy, the wave felt like it was beating the bad things out of her, the ugly things, all the things she didn’t like.  That was totally cheesy, it was some kind of stupid hippie line like those girls who hung out smoking at the breaks listened to, but she didn’t want to think about that, she just wanted to push and be pushed by the water, back and forth.  A wave turned her around and as she fell back into the wake she saw the audience standing at the edge of the water, staring at her, breathing hard from chasing after her and staring and looking.  She smiled at them and they didn’t smile but looked at her smiling and stood there breathing, the same was as always but she didn’t care as much, it wasn’t so bad.

When the sun set and the water got dark and scary, Laura got out and squeezed out her dress and she and the audience walked up the steps back to the house.  She was shivering as they went up the steps and she wished she had a sweatsuit like them, even if it wasn’t the most stylish outfit it looked soft and comfortable.  They waited outside the poolhouse in the moonlight while Laura showered and changed into a robe, and then they all headed inside.  She was really tired but tired in a good way, tired in a way which was excellent and graceful and beautiful, like all of her muscles and bones were filled with precious metals, liquid gold or silver, like she was a famous statue in some ancient place.  She couldn’t remember the last time she had gone in the ocean, they almost always tanned by the pool because it was more convenient and easy and close.   She hadn’t swum that much since she was in middle school probably, she didn’t have the time or attention span anymore to just swim without distraction like those muscle-y girls on the swim team in their bathing caps and one pieces, she hated those caps, they made them look like men and weird men at that, so ugly.  But who even cared, what did it matter anyway, she had swum, she was tired, it was great.  The feeling of being tired was really good, it was almost like being drunk, not like super drunk where you got sick and wanted to die and not like the perfect drunk that you could really be yourself and love everyone and feel like they loved you but at least the medium kind of drunk where your body feels just loose and warm and nice.

When she got upstairs, Laura knew she should do some kind of beauty regimen because of the horrible effects that salt water and all the contaminants in it can have on hair and skin if not properly handled, god, she really needed a rinse and a deep, leave-in conditioner and some moisturizer in targeted areas, but she was so tired that when she got to her room that she fell onto the bed immediately.  This was kind of hard to do, the falling, because her bed was really high, like several feet (it was called a princess bed like in that fairy tale about the peas and mattresses) so when she fell only her upper half was on the bed and she had kind of had to pull herself up the rest of the way like an extreme sports mountain climber but eventually she was centered on the bed and under the covers and breathing slowly in and out and feeling like she was sinking into the bed she was so sleepy.  The audience surrounded the bed, which had billowy white fabric like the curtains hanging over it so that when Laura looked up into it it was like looking into a cloud, a really pretty one.

“Okay, you all can leave now, I’m going to bed,” Laura said.  She turned off the lights and drew the curtains with buttons in her bedside table.  She reached around for her remote to turn on the TV but it wasn’t in the normal spot and she just couldn’t find the energy to sit up and look for it.  It was dark and quiet and she almost fell asleep but she heard something, breathing, and she realized they were all still standing there.  She waited a little bit for them to leave the room, maybe they were slow or something, like mentally, but the audience stayed in place, looking at her, still.  She clicked the button that made the lights come back on and raised her head.

“I said you can go,” she said, swinging her hand towards the door like swatting a fly.  She looked at the closest one to her, the brunette, who was standing on the right side of the bed.  The brunette shook her head and stayed in place.  Even in Laura’s tired state, she recognized that this was something, it was a reaction, an actual reaction, an audience member reacting to her, doing something in response to her doing something.  She didn’t know what to do or how to handle it, it was a new thing to deal with.

“What?  Why not?” Laura asked.  The brunette looked over at the other ones, questioning them for a second with her eyes, and then approached the bed, leaning over the edge.  She stuck her arm in front of Laura’s face and pulled back the sleeve of her sweatjacket and on her wrist there was a watch, an ugly black chunky thing like you would get at a gas station or drug store.  The watch said “3:12:47” and was counting down, second by second, 3:12:46, 3:12:45, 3:12:44.

“Is that how much time I have left?” Laura asked.  The brunette nodded and then quickly backed away from the bed, taking her earlier position and pulling her sleeve back down.  Laura looked at her for a second, smiling as much as she had the energy to smile, and then closed her eyes, she just couldn’t keep them open.  It was something, they were responding, she had made the audience respond, she had said a thing and they had done a thing in response and she had said another thing and they had responded again.  It was something, she felt good, happy, if not a big happiness then a big little happiness at least, at least medium happiness.  She felt like she should get up and do something, be interesting, act out, find herself, dance around the room, whatever.  Be, like in that commercial about how verbs are what you do.  There were so many possibilities she could think of, so many verbs and things and chances and situations, so many choices to make, to do, to be, they were all swirling around behind her eyelids, moving pictures.  She was really, really tired, though, and so instead of making or doing or being she just sunk deeper into her pillow, listening to the sound of the waves and the soft, slow breathing of the audience.

reader’s digest

April 20, 2009

readersdigest

the audience – part 4

April 20, 2009

4.

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the audience – part 3

April 17, 2009

3.

The lady on the phone had said that she had to be at the house when the audience were delivered because she had to meet with a customer service representative to sign a release taking charge of the audience and agreeing to certain terms and conditions, blah blah blah blah blah-while she had waited for her to stop talking, Laura had put her iPod earbud into her left ear so she didn’t completely die of boredom.  What kind of company these days didn’t have an online store?  It was ridiculous, having to listen to someone talk just to buy something, god.  She was the one doing them the favor, what with the economy and everything.  But it was supply and demand, that was economics, they were supplying something she wanted and could demand her to do annoying things like call their phone number, that was how it worked.  After she had finally finished talking, the lady had said the audience would arrive between 9:00 and 10:00 AM the next day, so, early on Sunday morning, Laura sat in the panic room drinking organic blackened caramel espresso with Stevia and watching the feed from the driveway security cameras.

Her dad had the panic room installed when Laura was ten, after he had read some article or seen some news story or movie or something about them.  “We have to be protected,” he had said.  “Our things can be replaced, but you can’t,” he had said, and when he had said “you” he had touched Laura’s shoulder because he had been talking about Laura and how she couldn’t be replaced, was irreplaceable, like in the song.  The morning after the panic room was finished, Laura and her mom had pretended there was a horrible murderer like Freddy Krueger or Saw in the house and they had hid in the panic room in their pajamas, squished together into the leather sofa and squealing with faux-fear.  Even still, even though by now the panic room was old and way out of date by style and technology standards, Laura still loved it, loved being inside it.  It was like in the first Harry Potter movie when he had to live in that little room under the stairs, except that was horrible for him and for her it wasn’t horrible at all, it was great, small and cozy and dark and safe.  Safe, like if they had safes for people like they do for jewels and Laura was a diamond held in black velvet, that was the panic room.  Irreplaceable.  And her dad had paid the workmen extra to have a cable from the TV run through the wall so you could watch regular shows on the monitors as well as the security camera feeds and even though because of the thick walls the internet reception kind of sucked (even with her Air), Laura spent a lot of time there.

At 9:35, the left front yard camera showed a shiny black SUV rolling into the driveway.  Laura knew it wasn’t proper to go out there before they rang the bell, it wasn’t good manners or ladylike, what a lady is like, but she was too excited and didn’t care and she rushed out of the panic room and through the door at the first sight of the car.  She had had this dream the night before and as she had been sitting in the dark in the panic room she had been replaying it in her head, like brain Tivo.  In the dream, she was on stage at some very famous and important awards show wearing a dress woven completely from gold thread, not just a dress but a gown, elegant, the gold shining under all of these sparkly lights high above her head like stars.  She was on stage and someone had handed her an award and she was scared for a second, a split second, because she thought she was supposed to make a speech but she didn’t know what the award was or why she had won it and when she looked out from the stage, all she could see was darkness.  So she had just stood there for a moment and smiled and then suddenly there was clapping, lots of clapping, it was so loud, like the ocean or a thunderstorm or the ocean in a thunderstorm.  It sounded like everybody in the whole world was clapping for her and that was the part of the dream she kept replaying in her head.

When she got to the SUV, a blonde in a wrinkled white peasant blouse was standing beside the driver’s side door, flipping through a clipboard.  From behind cheap sunglasses that were trying to look like medium priced sunglasses, the woman smiled at her in an automatic kind of way.

“Well good morning!” said the woman, sticking out her hand.  “You must be Ms. Conradi.  Hi, I’m Amanda, from SES.  I’m here with your audience.”

Laura said hi and touched the woman’s hand and tried to look around her into the SUV.  The windows were heavily tinted but she thought she could see movement inside.  That was them, it had to be, her audience, they were here.  It seemed like she had been waiting for them forever, even though it had only been like a day.  She wondered what they would look like, what they would smell like, what they would think of her.  She imagined that it was like being a little kid and wondering what your new baby brother or sister would be like when they came home from the hospital.  Laura didn’t have any brothers or sisters because she had been a demanding pregnancy, her mother said, but she had seen things like this in movies and in Facebook albums and always wondered what it would be like, getting this present that wasn’t a present but a person.  The woman handed her a pen and a clipboard and started talking.

“Now this is a pretty standard kind of thing so let me just run through the small print for your benefit, any questions, you know, just ask.  Basically, you’re signing a two week lease for your audience, beginning now and ending on…Sunday, March 22 between 9 and 10 AM, when your audience will be picked up from this location.  If at any time you decide to extend your lease, you may qualify for a discount and should contact Customer Service as soon as possible, especially if you’d like to retain this particular audience – as you may know, our service is becoming very popular and they may already be booked if you wait too long…”

The woman — Amanda, whatever — had tired eyes and chapped lips and overall could really use a chemical peel and some work, maybe just Botox but possibly some real work, a nose job or something, like Erin’s mom had just gotten.  Laura knew everyone couldn’t be beautiful but everyone could at least make a good effort, she thought, that was just being polite.  The heavy little bag the woman was wearing was a knock off of an LV knock off from forever ago, the print, god, and the strap dug a hard, deep wrinkle into the shoulder of her blouse like a scar from an operation.  Laura stood and stared at her flip flops while the woman droned on and on about clauses and exceptions.  Eventually, she quit talking and pointed to the bottom of the page and Laura was able to sign the lease.  She tried to give back the clipboard but Amanda chirped something at her and laughed and then peeled back some pages to reveal another contract.  This was worse than school.

“So, you’ll have a copy of this to keep but let’s just run down the terms of use right now and then we’ll be all set, okay?  So, per this service agreement, the audience is required to look at you, the client, for the extent of their shift, barring blinks, yawns, bathroom breaks, and other small human anomalies – you can see the list right there.  Their shift is fourteen hours on, ten hours off.  When the audience isn’t working, an empty room with a lockable door is to be provided in which they can rest – beds or other amenities are not necessary but are of course encouraged – I’m sure you got all this over the phone, right?  Food, clothing, and toiletries have been provided for them so you don’t have to worry about that although they do need a bathroom accessible to their room which looking around here I’m assuming will not be an issue, of course.  If there are any problems, especially problems involving the loss, injury, sickness, or death of the audience, please call either Customer Service or my personal cell (the number’s right here) immediately.”

She kept going on and on and on and it was so early in the morning and already hot outside.  Global warming was bad and everything for the reasons they described in that movie but also because even though winters didn’t get that cold in southern California, Laura still liked to have some difference between the seasons for fashion and style reasons.  Winter style was nice because it was more about the clothes than your body, about how you dressed and not how you were.  Amanda pointed to a place on the clipboard and Laura signed that place and dated it and Amanda tore off a pink copy and handed it to her, then tossed the clipboard into the front seat and opened the back passenger door.  Slowly, her audience slid out of the SUV onto the pavement.

There were three of them, all three wearing matching blue sweatsuits with single white stripes running down the side.  Not Juicy or Adidas or anything recognizable, some kind of off brand, with bright white tennis shoes and little white vinyl backpacks rounding out the look.  There were three of them and all three of them looked to be about her age, a little older maybe, it was hard to tell.  Amanda closed the door and there were three of them standing there on the driveway in front of her, staring at her, not saying a word.  There were three of them and they were completely beautiful, they were prettier than any girls she had ever seen in real life or maybe even on TV, not on ANTM, not on Project Runway, not in expensive commercials for makeup or perfume, they were prettier by far, Vogue pretty.  There were three of them and they were prettier than her, all of them, each one.

The three of them stood there staring at her while Amanda pulled bags out of the back of the SUV.  Laura looked back at them in little glances and tried to remind herself to breathe, that this was a skill she had and could perform without thinking.  She wished she had worn sunglasses so they couldn’t see if she was looking at them or not, so she would have some cover.  There were three of them, a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead, their hair shoulder length and well conditioned.  There were three of them and they were thin and tall, each of them five or six inches taller than her at least, so that they cast long, thin shadows on the driveway in front of her.

They were so pretty.  They were so pretty it almost hurt to look at them, the way it hurts to look at the sun.

Laura had never had this problem before, of having girls around her that were all much prettier than she was.  With her friends, things had been all worked out for a long time.  Of the three E’s, she knew she that was just prettier than Erin, that was simply a fact, no one would disagree, you could do a survey but you wouldn’t need to because it was obvious.  It was okay, though, Erin was super smart and had lots of good qualities to compensate for not being very pretty; it even made them better friends in some ways because she never had to be jealous of Erin so she could tell her embarrassing or emotional personal secrets that she couldn’t tell the other girls.  As for Emma and Emily each had specific parts that were prettier than the same parts on Laura, like for example Emily had what they called in magazines “a kissable mouth,” the kind of mouth they use to demonstrate lipstick (Laura was very self conscious about her mouth and the kind of turn up in the corners it, which she thought made her look clown-y although everyone said that was crazy). Emma had these swimsuit model boobs so that she was always pushing her chest out and bending down a little in pictures and for example if it was a picture of her standing on the beach at sunset, boys would write comments like “nice view ;)” which was kind of cheesy, okay, but also showed thought and noticing of things.  Anyway, but even with all this Laura felt confident that she was still overall prettier than them, her beauty profile and style aura combined to give her an overall higher percentage of attractiveness than those two and most girls in general.

“Is everything okay, Ms. Conradi?”  Amanda asked, breaking Laura’s concentration.  She was standing half in, half out of the driver door of the SUV, looking at Laura over the top of her sunglasses.

They were so pretty, it was awful.  Could Laura return them?  That’s what she was wondering, that’s what she was trying to figure out.  Or if not return, then exchange, get a different audience, maybe, god, maybe fatter or uglier, younger or older or something.  Maybe if they were a different race, like Asian or something.  It was awful.  In plays and TV shows and concerts, the audience wasn’t important, nobody focused on the audience, they all blended together to watch or listen to the star, the person on stage who was the center of attention.  Laura stared at the audience, breathing, and they stared at her.  She wished again she was wearing sunglasses so they couldn’t see her eyes, that felt important.  It didn’t feel right, it wasn’t right, it wasn’t a good fit.  How could she say that, though, to the woman is what she was wondering, it wasn’t like saying that a shirt was a size too small or something, how could she make it into words, “I don’t want this audience, I don’t like the way they look.”  The customer is always right, her mom had told her that, that was the golden rule of retail, but she didn’t even know how to put in words to ask and she had signed all those papers and they were staring at her there, just standing there and staring, and she didn’t know if she could even move.

“Everything’s okay,” she finally said.

“Fab!  That’s great, have a wonderful day,” Amanda said, closing the door and starting the SUV.  She pulled out of the driveway and then she was gone and Laura was alone with the audience.  She stood in the driveway, staring at them.  They stood in the driveway, staring at her.  It was quiet, Laura could hear the ocean off the back of the house and the sprinklers running down the street at the Boswell’s, but that was it, it was mostly quiet.  When people describe a neighborhood as being a “quiet neighborhood,” that’s supposed to be a good thing but it didn’t feel particularly good to Laura at that moment.  They were so pretty..  She breathed in slowly and let it out, a yoga breath, concentration, find center.

“Hi!” she said, giving them her best cheerleader smile.  She wasn’t a cheerleader but she could’ve been if she had really wanted to, she was cute enough no matter what Taylor Montgomery had said about her in the locker room in gym.  “I’m Laura!  You’re going to be my audience.  It’s so great to meet you!”

They just stood there in the driveway, staring at her.  They didn’t say or do anything, they didn’t smile or frown or blink, they didn’t even seem to be breathing, really.  They just stood there, staring right at her.  Laura was a little scared but she stepped closer to get a better look at them, still smiling like you smile at a dog that you’re scared of.  They all looked so similar it was kind of creepy almost.  She thought that maybe it just was the matching sweat suits, clothes are so important in creating the style aura, but as she got closer, she realized it wasn’t that at all.  Their faces were identical, the bone structure, skin tone, everything, each of them with perfect blue eyes in the same shade.  Their body shapes, their bustlines and curves, their height, all the same.  The only way she could see to tell them apart was their hair.  Did identical triplets even exist, was that even a thing?  Laura didn’t know.  It was so quiet in the driveway, just the sprinklers and the sound of the ocean.

“I like your sweatsuit,” she said, looking at the blonde one.  “Blue is a really good color for you.”

The blonde one didn’t say anything but kept staring at her like all the rest of them.  They were staring, but really, it wasn’t so much at her as through her, they were staring through her, like they had some magic power that let them see under her skin.  It made Laura think about last summer when those UV bathing suits that helped you avoid tan lines were so in and the guys had discovered that you could use the nightvision on a video camera to kind of see under them and they had gone around on the beach taping girls and then at night watched the videos together at somebody’s house and rated which girls were the hottest.  Laura had seen a little bit of one of the videos on Emma’s computer, they had passed a clip of Brianna around after she had given Derek Johnson blue balls in a jacuzzi and it was so creepy looking because the colors and light were all weird and wrong and reversed and it was like you were seeing into another world that was part of our world, this world where your clothes couldn’t protect you from seeing what was inside no matter how carefully you picked them out.

After what felt like forever, realizing that they were going to be totally rude or weird or shy or whatever and not respond to her, Laura pushed out another smile and headed for the front door.  She heard footsteps behind her on the brick, so she knew they were following her, even though she didn’t turn around to check.  As she walked, Laura could feel their eyes on her, on her back, on her legs, on her hips, on her shoulder blades.  The weight of the looking made her skin tingle, made the tiny, invisible hairs on her skin prick up under her jersey dress, something simple she had thrown together when she was first learning to design but that she still wore because it was comfortable and a good fit.  Laura wished she had a mirror so she could hold it up and look back at them looking at her, like at the salon when they hold up a mirror so you can see the back of your head at the same time as your face, so you can see all of yourself at the same time.  She wanted to see what parts of her they were looking at and if their faces changed as they looked at the different parts, if they liked what they saw or not, but even though Laura was really confident and strong and a total feminist, girl power, she didn’t feel like she could turn around and look at them, not right then at least, so she just kept walking.

the audience – part 2

April 17, 2009

2.

theaudiencepart2finished

the audience – part 1

April 15, 2009

1.

Laura knew that there was something unique inside her, a truly great thing, a thing that made her special and different than other people, but she didn’t know what it was or how to find it or why no one else could see it.  Also, she was totally, totally way super bored.  These were two of the three horrible things she was dealing with on a Saturday afternoon in March, two weeks before Spring Break.  The third thing was that she was Frozen, that had been Frozen for a whole month, and that wasn’t just a thing, that was serious, that was huge, that was a tragedy.

The Freeze was what the most popular girls in school did when someone did something which was not acceptable and required punishment.  When someone was being Frozen, nobody would talk to them or hang out with them or be their partner for class projects or sit near them at lunch or anything.  Friends of the person being Frozen, if the person had friends, would sometimes protest about the Freeze but then they would be threatened with being Frozen, too, and so would shut up about it pretty quick.  Laura always participated in Freezing people which was pretty easy for her because she wasn’t interested in talking to most people anyway, god, especially not the kind of weirdos and losers who usually got Frozen.  She remembered how sophomore year Amanda Jeffries, who at the time had been Frozen for like two and a half months, a record, had, in the middle of an assembly about the importance of a drug free America, just stood up and screamed, screamed and shouted all loud and crazy, not words just sounds, and wouldn’t stop until the guidance counselor came and apparently was still in therapy three times a week about it even though she went to a different school now where they didn’t give grades or tests or anything.

Laura had been Frozen for a month so far, a month and six days, to be exact, because of stupid Jessica Meyer.  Stupid Jessica Meyer had gotten stupid drunk at someone’s stupid beach bonfire birthday party on February 2nd and spilled beer all over Laura’s new sandals (which she had just gotten specifically for the party) and Laura had called her a stupid bitch and fine, okay, maybe pushed her a little bit.  But really it was Jessica’s fault that she had slipped on the beer bottle, she was clumsy, it was amazing she was a cheerleader, ridiculous.  It was so funny to watch, she had slipped and fell on her butt and her mini flipped up a little in the wind and then all the boys had gathered around trying to look up it and shouting, “Cat fight! Cat fight! Cat fight” and elbowing each other and suddenly it was a big deal.  There was no fight because the cops showed up pretty soon after that and Laura could really care less about the whole thing, god, high school, but Jessica Meyer had decided it was a big deal and because Jessica Meyer (“My friends call me Jess, you can call me Jess-i-ca”) was a cheerleader and one of the prettiest and richest girls in school (although not much prettier and richer than Laura, only kind of, only some, but anyway some) and definitely the most popular girl, that meant Laura was Frozen.

It had been just about the most horrible month of her whole life, it was like Hell; Laura imagined that if she ever went to Hell this was what it would be like.  Not that she would ever go to Hell, of course, because she was a good person who  had a lot of good qualities like being pretty and interesting and talented and caring about issues, but still, it was like Hell.  Laura had never been super popular or had a wide friend net but she had a few very close friends, good friends, like sisters, which Seventeen said was the best kind of personality circle to have around you anyway, it was an A circle, which got you extra points in the quiz one month.  Her three best friends were called Emily and Emma and Erin, they were Laura and the Three E’s (Laura had come up with that), and they had been besties since sixth grade.

During the first few days of the Freeze, the three E’s had done everything they could for her, they had been even better than best friends.  Though they didn’t actually talk to her in school, they texted constantly all the things they would’ve said anyway and when people weren’t looking shot her looks and glances and smiles, messages with their faces instead of their voices, and then after school they would all secretly meet up at one of their houses, sneaking in back and side doors and wearing sunglasses and scarves like in a spy movie.  At first, it was great, it was almost better than being friends without the Freeze, because it made their friendship more important, like a secret pact, like an inside joke that only they knew about.

But then one day, day 5, there were suddenly no more texts and no more looks and no more secret meet ups.  They ignored her all day at school, their phones were off and they didn’t look at Laura and what could she do?  There was nothing but hoping and praying and texting, more and more texts to their silent phones, class after class, “PLZ talk to me,” “wut is going ON? PLZ PLZ,” until finally she just gave up.  When Laura got home, she checked Facebook, Myspace, Youtube – they had defriended her everywhere.  She had been untagged from all the pictures they were in together, hundreds and hundreds pictures with her face there with them but no name, like a stranger who had stepped into the pictures by accident.  When she saw that Laura had found she couldn’t breathe for a second and had to remind herself that she knew how and could do it herself without thinking.  Someone had gotten to them, that was the only thing, someone had gotten to them and maybe threatened them, if not Jess-ick-a Meyer then one of her entourage, Laura didn’t know because of course no one would talk to her and she could do nothing about it.  Then it was Hell, that was when the Hell started.  It wasn’t like Hell, it was Hell, literally.

It was horrible having no friends, Laura had had no idea before.  It was bad in class but at least there she could distract herself by pretending to pay attention to her teachers and write things and stuff.  The worst was lunch.  At lunch, she sat at a table in the corner of the emptiest quad of the fresh air pavilion, the loser quad, her ears plugged with headphones from the second she stepped out of class.  She didn’t eat anything but instead tapped at her phone for the entire 45 minutes, pretending that she was texting people and receiving texts from them.  Really she was just typing pretend messages to the three E’s about things she had thought of or seen on TV or remembered from their long history together, although a lot of the time she ran out of things to say and so would type song lyrics or sad things she was feeling or song lyrics that expressed sad things she was feeling .  She didn’t actually send any of the messages because she didn’t want to look, like, any more sad and desperate, but if she kept pretending to be writing then it helped her stop thinking about all of the other people around her who were probably looking at her being sad and alone.

It was Saturday afternoon and there was nothing to do or say, just nothing, and Laura was so bored and it wasn’t a good bored, comfortably numb like in that stoner song, it was a bad bored, a sad bored.  She thought again about going out by the pool and working on her tan, which she had been thinking about every five minutes or so for the last couple of hours.  She knew it wouldn’t make her less bored but it would at least be a use of her boredom, like her boredom would be accomplishing something useful like making her more tan and pretty.  When life gives you lemons and everything.  But she decided against it for the millionth time because she he had burned a little at the pool on Thursday afternoon when she had fallen asleep trying to do some of her stupid Pre-AP English coursework. She wasn’t reading the actual books, of course, god, who had the time, but reading and trying to memorize the chapter summaries and the character guides and all the themes and symbols and crap like that was almost as boring as reading the stupid things in the first place.  She had to do all of these responses about what things meant and how they made her feel but she didn’t mean or feel anything about her reading and then this sunburn on top of it all, horrible.  She didn’t want to risk a deeper burn which the magazines were saying now was permanent, like ink or marker, so instead of going and laying out, she continued laying in bed with the computer and thinking about her problems and possible solutions to them and eating baked organic potato chips (35% less fat) and drinking Diet Cherry Pepsi (no calories) and searching for information about eating disorders.

To try to stop the Freeze, she had been thinking about developing or at least pretending to develop an eating disorder.  Even though she wasn’t fat, not at all, not even a little, okay, eating disorders were getting big again, they were coming back since the 90s, there had been a chart in one of the magazines, and having one might be a good direction for her go in to get sympathy and attention from people and get people to care enough about her to maybe stop the Freeze.  Her dad always said that it was important to have goals and then work until you achieved them, that that was what winners did.  Laura was a winner, she knew that, that was for sure — in fifth grade, they gave out bumper stickers for Honor Roll and her mom had put hers on the S-Type even though her dad had said it looked horrible on the chrome and gotten kind of mad about it.

Laura’s problem was she didn’t know enough about eating disorders to know which one she wanted to do or how she would do it when she decided.  They had learned about them in Contemporary Wellness class the year before but she hadn’t really been paying attention because Blaine Jacobs had sat across from her then and liked to play footsie under the table.  That was sophomore year, October, but Blaine was a junior who had moved from Vail and had to be in the class to fulfill a state graduation requirement.  One day she was sitting there doodling in the margins of her notebook and suddenly she felt his hot, sweaty sock rub up against her calf and then slide down to stroke her toes through her ballet flats.  The sock was rough and almost scratchy against her bare leg, like when her dad kissed her when he hadn’t shaved for a few days.  She had looked up from her notebook and seen Blaine there across the table, smiling right at her.  He had kind of cute eyes and trendy bangs and she was at that stupid age, fourteen, oh god, so young, where that was enough for her and so she put her left foot on top of his sock and made a sort of sexy foot rubbing sandwich and smiled at him in this flirty, R-rated movie kind of way.  But then after they had been doing this for a couple of days, the rubbing and smiling, and had also kissed for a minute behind the C block lockers, he had Myspace messaged her this totally shady porno video of a girl in a cheerleader skirt jerking off some guy with her feet.  Under the video he had written, “looks like fun lol text me l8ta.”  That afternoon, Laura had tried it out in her bedroom with both a carrot and a cucumber from the kitchen but had ultimately decided after a conference call with Emma and Erin (and then some emergency follow-up video chat with just Emma) that it was a total turnoff and not really LOL at all and that was about the end of Blaine Jacobs.  Laura knew she was special, she was an interesting and unique person who was so much more than just nice feet, even if she definitely did have them, of course, he had noticed.

She sipped the Pepsi and it slipped down her throat, a cold line racing through the center of her body.  She imagined that her specialness was a physical thing, like an organ, like a liver or a kidney or something, and that maybe there was a problem with hers and it wasn’t producing whatever hormone it was supposed to produce to make her special.  Maybe she needed some kind of medication or even an operation.  Laura knew that if she was going to for real do an eating disorder and not just fake one that she didn’t want to do the one where you had to throw up because that can mess up your teeth, the stomach acid, and she had really nice, straight, white teeth and didn’t even have to have braces or laser whitening but just naturally had this lovely and amazing smile which was one of the things that was most pretty about her, her mom said.  Her mom lived in Seattle now with this guy who was younger than her dad and did something with computers that made him pretty rich, although not as rich as her dad who did something with investing that made him richer.  Her mom called on Wednesdays and Saturdays and talked about how happy she was with the changes in her life and how she had gotten on the board of a nonprofit that was really doing some good for the community as a whole and how Jacob loved her, she said, three ways, “for who I was, for who I am, and for who I will be.”  And it was all just so totally stupid and sad and she remembered how her Mom had cried and cried when she found out about Dad and Krissy and the secret apartment but because she loved her and wanted her to keep calling and not get mad or distant, Laura acted like she was impressed with the changes her Mom had made in her life and was really proud of her and stuff.

On the other hand, if she was going to fake an eating disorder then maybe she should do the throwing up one (bulimia, Wikipedia said) because it would be so much more dramatic and would probably get her more attention and sympathy and specialness and profile.  She could wait in the bathroom until she heard the right kind of girls outside her stall and then could fake throwing up and come out looking sad and emo (but still cute, of course).  How could you fake throwing up, though, the sound of throw up hitting the toilet?  Water from a water bottle? Yogurt?  Gum?  A mix of the three? Throwing up was such a unique sound.  On YouTube, Laura watched a video of this girl with anorexia (she was pretty sure it was anorexia, though not positive, it was hard to tell).  The video was a series of pictures of the girl as she lost weight – she started out as kind of chunky and over the course of the video got way super thin.  The video was set to “You Are Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and had really cheap homemade production values. Laura watched a couple of similar videos and finally made an informed decision not to do the eating disorder thing at all or at least not for real, because it seemed like having an eating disorder was really bad for you, which, duh, of course, but even more than the health problems, the eating disorders were actually making these girls uglier, so bony and bad complexioned, dry skin, bad hair, and why would you go to all that trouble and do all that work just to look uglier, seriously?  Laura thought that was just stupid.

She was about to shut off the computer and maybe take another shower (she had had two so far that day, she was trying different conditioners) when an ad popped up.  Normally she automatically closed ads without looking at them, without even having to think about them, but for some reason she didn’t close this one.  The ad had a pair of big blue eyes all dramatically lit, staring out from the screen, and underneath this it said, in block letters, “SOMEONE COULD BE WATCHING YOU RIGHT NOW.”  How completely creepy!  Laura loved horror movies because you could scream and it was okay and normal even and people laughed and touched your shoulder or gave you more popcorn when you were scared.   Her mouse hovered over the little “x” in the corner of the window but something about the eyes and the way they were looking kept her from closing it.  Looking at them looking at her made her feel something she couldn’t explain exactly, a weird feeling, a special feeling, and so she clicked on the ad, right in between them.

A simple website opened – a black background with gray text:

“Do you feel unappreciated?

Does no one give you the attention you deserve?

Are you a celebrity without an entourage?

Are you a star in your own life?

If so, rent an audience today from SES.

Day / Week / Month / Extended leases available

Next Day Delivery.”

Underneath this was the same pair of eyes as in the ad, followed by a 1-800 number.  Rent an audience?  What did that even mean? Laura thought it was amazing, how totally weird, you could get anything on the Internet.  One time when she was twelve, she had borrowed her dad’s Platinum AmEx from his wallet and she and Emma had ordered a case of lipstick from France so they could be ready to French kiss boys, ha ha, “french kiss.”  It had been really difficult to do because all they really knew was the Lady Marmalade song and so they had to use translation websites and French dictionaries and everything and when Laura had finally seen the order confirmation screen (in French, duh), she had been really proud of herself, both for the idea and the execution of it.  She had been so proud that she had told her dad about it at dinner that night, thinking he would be impressed with his beautiful and talented daughter but actually he had gotten really mad and yelled at her and canceled the order.  Laura learned her lesson and from that point on spread around the balances so he wouldn’t notice, which wasn’t that hard at all, really, she just copied down all the card numbers and expiration dates and online banking passwords.  Her dad had told her time and again that money management was a good skill for her to practice for her life, maybe the most important skill she could learn since she had already mastered being the prettiest daughter he could have.

She stared at the eyes staring back at her.  Even though they weren’t animated, they still seemed to move a little, like those shiny hologram stickers they would stick on their notebooks in elementary school.  She was so young then, how time flew, she was a Junior now and soon she would be a Senior, god, and then she would be an Adult, in the Real World.  An audience.  She wondered what it would be like to have an audience, a group of people who only cared about her and nothing else.  How many would there be?  What would they think about her?  Would they clap and cheer when she did or said cool or interesting things?  Maybe they would have signs, like at a football game, special uniforms or her name painted on their bodies, letter by letter.  Her mom, when she talked about the divorce (although she would never use “the ‘d’ word” because it was negatively charged), said that sometimes you have to make changes in your life, that sometimes you have to do a big thing to change all the small things.  She said that when she was with Laura and her dad that she had been an ugly brown moth trapped in a cocoon but that when she had made the change in her life to leave Laura (and her dad) and go off with Jacob, she had become the beautiful blue butterfly she always was inside, she had been released.  Her spirit color was blue, she said, with purple highlights.  God, it was such crap, her mom was so stupid, Laura hated her except sometimes.  She looked at the eyes on the screen and they looked back at her, big and blue