Devices (home)


by Ken Poyner

  DEVICES Home Page  |  Contents  |  Authors  Wordrunner eChapbooks  | March 2016  |      

When she sat down, I was shocked that I could see a difference from her physical state last night to her even more limited corporeal condition this morning.  She sat in her frumpy, little, too-old-for-her, short nightgown and leaned forward as she fingered her smart phone, one leg twisted back along the side of the kitchen table chair, one leg extended under the table.

“Fran, it seems to be worse.” I had only brought up the subject two weeks ago, though I had been noticing the change for more than a month.

“I don’t really notice it. It is only you that goes on about it.” She had decided to be difficult this morning, starting out with the defensive its-you-not-me stance. She held her smart phone slightly away from her face, blocking any sight she might have had of me.

I looked her over and what kicked me most was that I could not really tell where the edges of her fingers ended and the clear air around those fingers began. They were not really a blur, but more of an apathetic white-out: an ill-defined set that blended into the unspectacular surroundings. They seemed to disappear, as though a change in electrical phase were thoughtlessly propelling them eerily into unseen dimensions.

Then I noticed her bare feet on the floor and I was not sure where the floor ended and her feet began. Where she became reasonably solid, she seemed almost to grow out of the floor, an extension of the more solid substance: or like a mist drifting from a morning’s untroubled lake. The back foot was coyly tensed on her bent toes, and the tension stood marginally out; but the foot flat under the table dipped into an alloy of flesh and tile, the molecules of her being tethered too far apart, one from another, to appear capable of being distinctly her much longer.

Starting a while back, her facial features had been becoming a bit of a blur; but it was much harder to notice, as she still used some make-up and there are natural shades of color shifting combatively in any face, so I had only clues to fix on. And the memory of faces last longer than the more practical memories of the rest of anyone’s body.

“We might be able to solve this if we talked it out. Maybe we could come up with a reason.”

“E-mail,” she said, her fingers already alight on the small device’s drop down keyboard, flying like amphetamine laced spiders dancing legends on a hot pan.

I turned back to breakfast, fumbling with splitting our English muffins, wishing I had cut them closer to the toaster so I would not have to walk them half way across the kitchen lain open like a morning catch. It is a small kitchen, but the longer I can face the counter, the less likely I am to say anything. I do not like fighting in the morning. And I was sure to lose this fight.

I have been falling out of her life. Last night, like many before, during our checker of love-making, she had kept her headset on and was running over past texts that had collected during the day. The tablet lay beside her and could be operated with one hand, or picked up and held just over my shoulder, both hands arching around my head to each be assigned search and select utility. Afterwards, she sat aslant in bed, as always, sheet bunched at her waist, allowing me to fondle an unannounced, carelessly dangling breast while she tapped out replies, reviewed videos, evaluated the popularity of today’s recommended anonymous posts. I lose interest, but I fondle nonetheless, as I think that to do so is part of the role I am supposed to play. This has been our ritual for months, our compromise; but last night she appeared to notice less than usual that I was, at that time, with her in the room. I have always religiously tried to be no bother — to not disturb her, to not get caught up in any peripheral connected to whatever device at the moment draws in her attention. I look for the wires, wait for the day when the few remaining appliances that are not yet wireless do finally go acrobatically free of physical connection. As though foreplay, I expertly position the two of us so that she can access without much effort whatever device she chooses to work on during my barely perceived pursuit of frenzy. And, once the position is established, I do nothing to obstruct, nothing that might require a movement of the screen, or of us, or which might cause a static in the headset.

Of course, I have wondered: if I were to knock out a cord, or with a misplaced elbow switch off the device, might I get from her an angry buck, or a livid kick, and maybe some life. Fingernails on the back in retribution would still be fingernails on the back.

I have my own devices, but I was never a fan of constant connection. When I met Fran, she was checking her account balances from a corner table in a local wireless hot spot, daintily sipping coffee or tea — I never learned which — while I looked over the engaging length of her. My gaze grew more longing and emboldened by the depth of her electronic conviction. She was a physical potential tethered to a virtual obsession. She was as solid and real as I sometimes still imagine her, and she seemed to be driven by the gravity that was pulling her into her frighteningly fast digital fancies. I imagined us together, our batteries run entirely down. I abandoned my seat and moved to share her table. When I asked if I could take the cheap plastic chair opposite, she waved me in place with but a flick of her exciting wrist. Every movement she made seemed sensual, counter-poised to the limited quickness she played out against her screen and the embedded keyboard. All around us, couples and singles and groups were texting and e-mailing and making small on-line purchases; and in the anonymity I asked her for her handle. She spoke it like spitting out the head of a chicken. I sent her a picture of myself and a vita she could not then know was written by someone else for someone else, and at some point after scanning it all on her device, she looked up.

She seemed to have no concern for the physical; and so, even at the start, I felt I was being allowed to borrow the magnificence of her physicality, though not really being able to engage in the unevenness of a mutual sexual relationship. Nonetheless, at the cold book of our beginning partnership, she would usually put aside her communications connections long enough for us to accomplish our frenetic prayer to the animal. Or my prayer to the animal; to at least the animal remaining — and perhaps withering even then — within me. Once, she even told me that our sex was nearly as good as something she might catch on one of the personal notifications sites. I should have been proud, I have learned. If it is not in a blog, it is not real.

It did not last long.

At first, she began running a simple connection that required only her visual attention on her laptop, and I learned to accommodate my passion so as not to block out her sight of the screen. I could take as much time as I liked, so long as I was done by the end of the program. Then she began reading e-mails in large text, needing a free hand to scroll; and now listening to text messages converted to voice.

I expect that the fading was already well underway when I met her. I have no idea how substantial she might have been five years ago, or even three: she might have shoved the air around her about and clattered thunderously on simple pavements, or bullied the less substantial gravities of other objects. I might have seen it sooner, had I had some experience with the more full-featured and clear-edged being she surely was back then — when the sharpened drop of her lip meant something, and the dip of a shoulder could birth a man’s hope. But I did not catch on to the singularity of her disintegration until I had come out of my infatuation with the unknown, and then improbable, process of making our relationship work: of creating an us out of she and I, no matter the shredded angles and unkempt bends tossed into the blinding bucket of disjointed emotions I had to work with.

I’ve noticed this fading also to be happening to her friends. When we see them out, hunched over a table at a coffee house or a small restaurant - their laptops or tablets laid out and their fingertips surgically excising cherished attention from the offered mundane in their incoming boxes and bins — and inserting the returned lackluster into their outgoing — or even walking unsteady in the street with their smart phones or tablets held mid chest, and headphones completing their isolation. Even in clothes they seem to me to be fading: fading, as though losing more unnoticed atoms to the wind than their bodies can be bothered to replace. They seem to be, as a class, each day drawing thinner and thinner — not in weight, but in mass, in substance, in the ability to be subject to gravity and its elemental cousins. Each day they are more diaphanous. Each day more light seems to go through them, rather than around: fewer and fewer photons are blocked by them altogether. Their once full shadows suffer.

I see no sympathy in these friends when she sits unseen down and texts them across the room, or calls them into a chat session, flashes a picture from our table — next to theirs — where I sit watching her work the keys and personlessly fall into the screen. The world outside the box seems to find a path through them that is unimpeded; and she shares this distinction by socializing new rituals, ones that leave me further and further outside of her notice, no matter the event, no matter the climax, no matter the understanding or simple recognition I seek — or which I seek to bestow.

She pulls her back leg forward to meet the other and I swear I can see the chair legs through her leg as she lets it glide inelegantly and almost forgotten under the chagrin of the table. When her English muffin pops up from the toaster, I will butter it before I set it down in front of her. She would eat it without butter or jam or anything, so long as it can be done in quick commitments of only one hand, and then back to the keys. She is lucky she lives in a house with a man who eats, and who is willing to cook — if badly and only out of a sense of self-preservation. She barely touches what I put out for her, but I only cook my own meals and then add a little on the side to leave available, hoping she will find her way to it. And it is enough.

She runs a momentarily free hand through her hair and I am sure the light of the solid and recklessly mundane kitchen fixture passes through it more today than it did yesterday. Or maybe this morning’s light is brighter than yesterday’s. The sun may be adding more to what our simple electricity is offering. Maybe with the passage of one day our sun is more rightly centered on our window, streaming in at a more direct and demanding angle.

But I know better. I will soon slide her this capably toasted muffin, and she will eat less than half of it before getting up and going to synchronize her smart phone with her laptop, checking first thing all the feeds that load faster on her top-of-the-line home-based computer than they do on her mobile companions.

I swear, out of pure animal rage I could kick out the chair, throw her face-first over the table and have my will with any part of her; and, so long as she could still work the smart device, she would not care. Actually, I do not think she would notice. But I eat both halves of my muffin, sitting straight in my chair, looking at the dishwater-tinted wisps of her hair left driveling down alongside the dimming outlines of her occupied face. I know a person who once lived there.

Leaving most of her first half of muffin askew in the plate, she rises, still staring into the screen, and begins to plod towards the workroom we have carved out of our living room, where the electronics thrive and scheme. She holds her smart phone chest high and navigates the hallway by bumping once into the wall. The shoulder of her free hand is drooping like a eulogy.

“Fran,” I say softly, but she does not hear. I look for her shadow as she begins to escape the sunlight, and I notice that today, with the carpet in the hallway frisky and flattened for action, she has no shadow at all.

Fran, I think. Is that short for Francine or Francis? Or maybe Frankie, or Frangelica? I don’t think I ever knew. I don’t think I will ever know. Or maybe her name was never Fran at all.

end of story

© 2016, Ken Poyner Go to top