Aimee wheeled her bicycle through the front door of her duplex where a pedal got stuck on the screen door, causing her to yank hard on the bike seat. Already annoyed at being fired and now taking it out on the bike. She yanked hard, the pedal joltingly coming free and the bike slipping out of her grasp and shooting through the door, wheeling wildly away from her where it smacked into the sofa and toppled over, startling her cat, Ophelia, and causing her to dart past Aimee and outside into the bushes, where she'd hidden for days once, not allowing Aimee to get her, like Aimee was some alien creature she'd never been in contact with before. Still holding the screen door open, Aimee near-yelled, cockdrip, right as her neighbor, an old man with a shih tzu, who sometimes gave her creepy eyes, walked by. The man, not the dog. For a minute she felt, oh fuck, and then she thought, whatever, creep. I got fired today, she yelled, waving, a big smile. The man quickly walked past her house. She thought of following him and shouting, If that dog does his business on my lawn again, I'll slit his throat, but didn't.
She decided to let the cat be. She wanted to get inside and view her Consciousness Data and Analysis to see what this shitty day had really been like. She wanted to investigate the situation with Nellie with the hope that her Interaction Data showed that there was a real chance she hadn't really lost her job, that maybe Nellie'd stick up for her and plead with the owner of the store. Maybe it would show that Nellie had reacted in a fit of anger that Aimee knew Nellie was capable of regretting. Maybe Nellie would go home and view her own Interaction Data and find that maybe she'd failed to take the correct course of action, that maybe she'd been a shitty person. Maybe Nellie'd have a realization about her own selfishness and judgmental nature, realize that maybe she shouldn't have allowed the owner of the store to fire Aimee from the assistant manager position, namely because allowing your best friend, or once best friend, to be fired was a terrible thing to do.
The lights undimmed in Aimee's apartment. She heard the voice of her OS say, Hello Aimee, her named pronounced with an "ah" instead of a hard "a" sound. She grabbed the bike's handles and wheeled the bike to the second bedroom that contained a desk, a bookshelf with books from college, and in one corner, her old photographs and paintings. She returned to the living space, said, Lights dim, and when they didn't, she said, louder, Lights DIM, and then they did. She dropped her backpack on the sofa and rubbed her left hip and then down along the side of her thigh, imagining massaging her femur, the titanium alloy rod. She rode her bike the few miles to work, she went to rehab still, she rubbed the scar tissue with ointment, she stretched, she strengthened, and yet no matter how much cream she put on the scar, it still looked as though her leg were replaced with another leg, a cadaver's leg, like one quarter of her was Frankenstein's monster, which was altogether weirder and more unsettling than fully being Frankenstein's monster. She still always felt the deep ache in her leg and up into her lower back every day, like a constant reverb from the accident, a constant reminder that to be alive was to be suffering in some way.
Aimee told the holoscreen to open. It materialized in a soft blue light in front of her, a small floating projector emitting the hologram. A laser scanned her retina and smartLens, the hub of the wetware, and immediately began downloading the day's Data from her. To further engender the feeling of anger she had at Nellie, she told the holoscreen to open Nellie's social media accounts while it downloaded Aimee's Data. The holoscreen brought up two of Nellie's feeds, in separate windows. This was the evidence that Nellie had slipped, like a commoner, into the routine of everyone else, and Aimee liked reminding herself of it. There were daily, if not more frequent, updates: photos and videos from Nellie's yoga classes, of her stretched body in yoga pants, of her standing in her studio, arms wide, like she was welcoming her students, welcoming all existence, many of the photos with Nellie in a yoga pose, leaned way down, her cleavage visible. She did have very good tits, Aimee thought. Slut. Photos of her in which her legs were extended, the toes pointed, calves flexed, her thighs muscled but also womanly, shapely. Nellie was no little girl! Nellie was all woman, the photos seemed to say. All woman! Completely self-possessed and assured, looking directly into the viewer. Aimee told the holoscreen to scroll: photos of Nellie's new hair color, light blonde with red highlights, a new skirt from Kenya, a basket weaved somewhere in san Salvador, photos of her with Jordan (the man who had replaced Aimee) and a drink at the table they shared, Nellie making a sly face at said drink, Nellie with a plate of elegant vegan Tex-Mex, Nellie making a surprised and wide-mouthed face at said Tex-Mex. It all made Aimee a little grossed out at Nellie, like she'd been betrayed by her. Where had Nellie's alienation gone? When she had asked Nellie about this a few months ago, over drinks, Nellie had said, I had to have a change. I couldn't live like that forever. Like what? Aimee'd said. Like me? What does that even mean?
Her Consciousness Data finished downloading. Aimee sat on her sofa in front of her holoscreen and told it to bring up the days Causes and Effects. The holoscreen floated gently with Aimee, as she moved the coffee table and opened up a space on the floor to do some exercises, the hologram following her around the room. The quarter-sized projector hovered through the room and projected the hologrammed screen into Aimee's line of sight. In a side-window, the holoscreen brought up potential photos for the day, captured by other OSs that had friended her own: her face laughing at something Lucas must've said (her dark hair looked good, her usually olive skin a little pale, but okay), the blurred green of cilantro and romaine and other vegetables behind her, the misting machine on; her face serious and sad while looking at a scarred cantaloupe, probably captured by a repeat-customer's OS; even a photo of a few minutes ago, taken from her own OS, when she was, what now looked like, chasing Ophelia out the door—bending over, reaching for the cat, smiling. She didn't remember any of these things happening like this, and wondered, in particular, what Lucas had said that had made her laugh like she was somehow not in control of herself. She thought that she usually appeared stoic and unimpressed, humorously malcontent, slightly unkempt, yet also wryly knowing, darkly comic. The small window posed a subtitled question about whether she wanted to post any of these photos to her social media feeds, and she immediately said, Delete pictures. Causes and Effects slid into view and began graphing data, preparing an analysis and scrubbing her thought processes of interference and noise.
Aimee did sit-ups in the space she had cleared on the rug—sit-ups to strengthen her core and take strain off of her lower back – while watching the holoscreen. The meta-data for her Physical Being showed that there were minor improvements in almost all the major physical categories. She approached twenty sit-ups and saw her average resting heart rate was 63 for the day. She was up to thirty-five sit-ups when she saw a small note at average resting heart-rate that informed her that while "running was improving overall health," a more "body-centered" practice was necessary, either yoga, or perhaps tai-chi, so that she could "optimize the balance between physical and mental health," which Aimee, from the floor, sneered at, since Nellie'd been trying to get her to do yoga for the last six months or so, since her accident. She finished her sit-ups, rapidly doing them, feeling pain like a hot razor in her lower back and hips, and then turned over on the floor for planking, another core strengthening routine. The holoscreen adjusted to her line of sight, closer to the floor.
There were four spikes in heart rate during her day, which Aimee asked for more information about. The first, labeled Interaction One, was when she encountered Nellie in the break room. Even though their first exchange had lasted only ten minutes, Aimee's heart rate and blood pressure had increased. She read the notation "nervous tension and anxiety" as the primary reason for the heart rate spike and blood pressure increase. She told the holoscreen to scroll and saw that her blood pressure was, again, 115/80 on average, and besides the interactions with Nellie, only spiked three other times. Once, when she drank a small black coffee at 9:30 am. Then another heart rate and blood pressure spike at 2:47 pm, when, under the pretense of going into the stockroom to look for fresh peaches from the Snyder's farm to refill a display, she felt like testing her leg out. She'd been jogging through the stock area of the grocery and started doing cuts, planting hard on her left leg to see how it felt, and she went jogging around a corner, trying to see if she could plant any harder—to make a cut like she used to in lacrosse—when she'd slipped on a box someone had broken down and flattened and left out, and she kind of rode the box for a moment, like a surfboard on the hard, slippery concrete floor, and then it shot out from under her and she'd landed hard on her left hip and leg. The jolt of the floor was like someone taking a metal baseball bat to the metal rod in her leg. She thought she could even hear it, the metal thok, and she'd nearly screamed in pain. Instead, she'd just sat there, trying not to cry, holding her leg out straight, rubbing her thigh down to the knee, saying, repeatedly, It'll stop soon, it'll stop soon. Jordan, Nellie's boyfriend, had come into the stockroom at this most perfect moment and said, Oh my god, what happened? He had sat down with her, and she'd tried to wipe the tears away and stop crying and said she'd slipped on a fucking box that some asshole left out, but she didn't mention that she'd been running and pretending she was back in college playing club lacrosse. He'd taken her thigh in his hands and began, with his thumb and index finger gripped around her thigh, rubbing back and forth, telling her to lean back. It hurt, but it also had felt so good, was such a relief, even though she still didn't like this person Nellie had chosen to be with, the obvious beard, the obvious idea of himself on display: a bearded, glasses-wearing Vegan Chef! Helping his girlfriend out once a week at their organic grocery store! Yet his hands on her thigh were just what she needed. Yoga would really help, he'd said. Nellie would love it if you came to one of her classes. She misses you.
Ophelia suddenly jumped onto the windowsill outside and meowed. You made the choice, Aimee said to the cat. She sat crosslegged on the floor and continued viewing the holoscreen. At 5:11 pm there was the last heart rate and blood pressure spike of the day, labeled Interaction Four, in the organic meat section of the grocery with Nellie, when she'd been fired. Aimee wondered if Nellie knew Jordan had massaged her leg and told her they needed to be friends again and if Nellie'd still allowed her to be fired her despite this information. There was one point of "optimum" blood pressure for her age, thirty-four, and that was 113/80, during a period of about three minutes when she'd taken a shit in the employee bathroom. It had been tremendously, almost seriously, healthy. She stretched her legs out straight and touched her toes. Staring at the holoscreen, the soft blue light of the hologram illuminating the space Aimee sat in, Aimee told the computer to scroll to her Ingestion Data and saw that she had ingested approximately 900 calories today so far, 350 from organic greek yogurt, which contained almost 50% of her daily recommended intake of protein, which was important, she thought, since she didn't consume meat, and 198 calories from local organic nuts and sunflower seeds, which she saw on the ingestion graph as a red highlight, noting that she'd overshot her estimated goal of 170 calories from nuts and sunflower seeds. Aimee made a huh sound. Scrolling, she saw 120 calories from two cups of green tea, one at 11:30 am and one at 3:30 pm, the tea infused with raw organic honey and organic whole raw milk that the store got from a local farm, and then 220 calories from a snack of raw organic broccoli and cauliflower sprinkled with sea salt and pepper and organic Californian olive oil, a dish that Nellie made for everyone and left out in the break room (snack time!), all of which Aimee felt generally pleased with, since she set out to eat no more than 1000 calories before she ate dinner tonight and also because she saw her eating choices as a good thing in a world of lazy and consumer-oriented and capitalistic shitty things.
She finished stretching and went into the kitchen to have a snack before dinner. The holoscreen followed her. She told the screen to scroll. It moved into her Thoughts and Emotions, the last data-set before her Interactions with Others. She saw seven recurrent thoughts, broken down by intensity, clarity, and frequency: 1) a variation of "don't want to wake up," "no," "bed still," "zyzcha," and "but sleeping is the only part of being alive I like" that lasted for about a half hour, from 7 am to 7:30 am, during which she hit snooze twice. Aimee stared at the "zyzcha"—there were glitches, usually solved by updates, but unless thoughts were very clear, basically internalized language, which apparently the OS could "hear" (she didn't know how it worked) some thoughts either didn't come through or came through scrambled. Once, in the middle of reading some Thought Transcript, she couldn't remember about what, the word "nach0" kept appearing, "nach0" with a zero in place of the letter O. What was weird was that she hadn't been craving nachos or even thinking about them, but upon seeing that nacho with a zero in place of the 'o,' she had felt an overwhelming need for the most unhealthy nachos she could find.
She continued reading: 2) a variation of "fuck, I have to see Nellie today," accompanied with transcripted and condensed and summarized thoughts/imaginings that occurred to her on the way to work and while at work: "Nellie will probably be wearing something fashionable and chic, will probably talk about yoga, about how she's working with students who're so talented, who she feels real kinship with, they've told her she's one of the best teachers around, and she tells them that it's only because her students are so dedicated and positive-minded that she's good at all! She'll find some way to work into a conversation something about an asana competition she recently won and how the practice is having such a positive impact on her life and the lives of others. How she's vegan now, with Jordan! Here's a picture of a vegan meal she had last night! Look at all the greens! Her shit gave her a high five yesterday! Jordan's penis is made of gold and shoots organic agave as its jizz! He saved a bear cub recently who'd wandered down from the mountains, then he breastfed it, and Nellie taught it yoga and it's doing so well! Here he is now! Chubling's his name, Chubling the bearcub! Show everyone downward dog, Chubling! Nellie just wants everyone to know yoga's benefit, including bearcubs!" Aimee, standing in the kitchen, stared at the thought stream with something bordering on pleasure, reliving the thoughts, thinking now that Nellie's real problem was that she was in a constant competition, a competition to be the most beautiful, the most spiritual, the most knowledgeable person about how to be person. She missed the old Nellie.
Aimee opened the refrigerator, pulled out organic milk and stared at organic Newman-Os, thinking, No, no, don't do it, not processed food, and then grabbed the Newman-Os, and told the screen to scroll. She went to the small breakfast table, the holoscreen elongating and floating over the top of the table, while she opened the box of Newman-Os. She saw a Thought Transcript concerning Jordan, Nellie's boyfriend, and said, Skip. She kind of hated him—this bearded, glasses-wearing, vegan chef.
She pulled out a Newman-O, ate it whole. She told the holoscreen to stay and went into the kitchen for a glass, grabbed it, and returned to her seat, poured some milk, shame like a match lit somewhere in her mind, burning. Fuck off, Aimee said aloud to herself, though the shame didn't leave. Okay, she said louder. How about the fact that I'm nice to both of these people at work? She felt her shame dissipate a little, and thought, look, she was allowed to be frustrated, have frustrating thoughts. She'd been fired today, after all! She'd broken her femur in a serious mountain biking accident not a year ago and had only been visited in the hospital by her best friend one time, so she was definitely allowed to be frustrated with these people as long as she was outwardly kind, which she was. To make herself feel better, she told the holoscreen to pull the recording of May 12th, nearly a year ago, when Nellie had visited Aimee in the hospital: the recording began to play, though the Thought Transcript from that day had been deleted. On the holoscreen, Aimee watched Nellie put a to-go container on the food tray above the hospital bed. A reverse-POV shot from Nellie's holoscreen—a shared event—showed Aimee sort of on her side, her left leg propped up, a metal halo-like device around her thigh holding the rod and plates in place, her eyes sunken in her face, both black and blue, a cast around her left arm. The POV reversed back to Aimee's. In the background, an old plasma TV was on a nature show, the washed-out glow of a summer day out the fourth floor windows of the hospital. Nellie's hair was brown then, her face was sympathetic looking, wide blue eyes, lips that she kept nervously licking, wearing a simple blue dress that matched her eyes, and strappy sandals. I made it, Nellie said, tapping the food container she'd brought. Organic butternut squash and carrot soup. Great, Aimee heard herself say, sarcastic and deadpan. When Nellie didn't respond, Aimee heard her voice go gentle and say, thank you, and observed Nellie sit on the side of the bed. She liked this part. This was the part where Nellie told her the reasons she hadn't visited. I'm sorry I didn't come earlier, Nellie said. The grocery just opened, you know that. And when I vidMessaged you, you said to take my time and knew I was busy. You weren't going anywhere. I know I said I'd come last week, but Jordan needed some help in the kitchen at his place, so I was working with him. I lost track of time. He had to fire a sous chef. Caught the guy stealing. It's been a total whirlwind, the restaurant and grocery opening at the same time. Your help is definitely missed. I was so counting on it. And I just got swept up with the tide of things, you know. Aimee watched Nellie's anxiety and fear. She told the recording to stop: it wavered on Nellie's face and eyes looking down, her body on the edge of the hospital bed. Right at the moment where Aimee was letting her go on. Letting her make excuse after excuse, pushing Nellie to realize her own selfishness and ugliness. She told the recording to continue and saw Nellie's eyes glance at her, and thus right into the smartLens's micro-camera, and right at Aimee at this moment sitting at her breakfast table, as though Aimee were again looking into Nellie's gaze. She paused the recording again. Aimee knew that in the recording, in the lived moment, she didn't say anything, didn't say, It's okay, didn't say, I understand, didn't say, I know you have things going on, didn't say, I know the world keeps on going, sickness arrives, injuries arrive, death arrives, and nothing stops, there is no stopping. She didn't say she knew all this because she was in a hospital and saw the world, on her screen, happening without her. She didn't say she saw her own mother posting photos of her gardening states away, emailing her or vidMessaging her, but never visiting; she saw her brother out at pubs with unique beers somewhere out West, barely registering her plight; she saw wars on the news; she saw celebrities getting pregnant; she saw Nellie doing yoga; she saw Jordan and Nellie laughing in the back of his restaurant; she saw photos and videos of the organic grocery she was supposed to be helping get on its feet; she saw Jordan biking. She didn't say any of this. She just let Nellie sit there in the quiet of her own stopped talking, and sitting at the breakfast table viewing the recording, Aimee felt herself letting Nellie sit there again. She told the recording to play, listened to the quiet, her own silent response, and waited, waited, and then there it was. She told the recording to pause: Nellie was glancing at her, a mixture of fear and sadness and shame at herself, the moment right before she looked back down at the bed and began crying and saying how there were no excuses, she was a shitty friend, she was so sorry. But Aimee didn't want to watch that part. She only wanted to see this moment, hovering in the hologram before her, when Nellie was on the painful verge of realization, that moment of fear and shame at her own actions, a feeling that she wanted Nellie to be feeling right now. Close recording, she said to the holoscreen.
She got up from the table and went to get more Newman-Os, not realizing until she was at the refrigerator that the box was on the table. She shook her head at herself then went to the front door, let in Ophelia, who followed her back to the kitchen table and sat on the floor looking up at her. She dunked a Newman-O, ate it whole, and told the holoscreen to scroll to her Interaction Data. The hologram disappeared, rebooting, which it did almost instantly, updating the OS. The OS binged and the hologram, glowing bluely, reappeared and told her new features had been added and would take effect immediately, and she said thank you, knowing the updates were meaningless to her. She asked to return to her Interaction Data. She had Interacted with four "Primary Others" during the day. Nellie (twice), Jordan, and Lucas were the Primaries, and about seventeen other people, who were store customers, were the Secondaries. She said, Full recording and transcript for Primaries, and the OS immediately loaded the recording and transcript of her first Interaction with Nellie, the recording of the Interaction recorded from the micro-camera in Aimee's smartLens, a POV perspective, with subtitles included. In a window to the side of the recording, there were, summarized and condensed, her most lucid thoughts during the Primary Interactions.
The POV recording began when Aimee entered the break room and saw Nellie eating a sandwich. She knew that since her OS and Nellie's were "friends," she could also view this Interaction from Nellie's perspective, if Nellie had let it remain open and shared, which she did with everything for her brand. Watching the recording on the holoscreen, she saw her viewpoint approach Nellie and heard her own voice begin the conversation by asking what Nellie had been up to the night before. Nellie, who was eating the croissant egg-sandwich, looked up, smiled with a giant bite in her mouth, and shook her head, held up a finger. The video paused on its own, and the holoscreen enlarged the transcript window, a summarized and condensed version of all her thinking at that moment, and she read that while Nellie was finishing her bite she'd been wondering where the deviant, weird, depressed girl she'd been friends with for so long had gone—Nellie smiled at everything now, a kind of catatonia. The recording remained paused, indicating that Aimee's thought pattern was more significant, more impactful to Aimee's psyche than the actual event.
There was a clear memory she had of Nellie, that she re-lived: the time (months, a year?) they'd once both tried to expose the banalities of social media as well as it's artistic potential by creating a joint account and then posting the most disgusting, vaguely transgressive pictures of each other that they could, pictures of eggsalad on their faces, with the notation that this was a "foodie selfie" and that the eggsalad on Nellie's face contained mayonnaise and cumin and scallions and a delectable pinch of chives, with a side of salad frisee, which could just be seen on the upper left of Nellie's chin. Or a picture of Aimee immediately after she woke up after drinking, with an enormous whitehead above her right eyebrow, and with a caption that read, "This whitehead is made of chocolate and beer and depression." They wrote things like "If I encounter a person who's claims to be happy, I immediately believe they're deluded" and "A Heartbreaking Tweet of Staggering Mediocrity and Depression, Cured by Xanax and Weed," and in this way, warded off the loneliness and depression that was their lives in the face of so many seemingly happy and superficial people, and they felt relief, through their own words and through each other, against the alienation they felt at being alive in a stupid culture. Where had this time, this person gone? Aimee wondered now. She felt herself ushered back to that period in her life, and she wondered what they had really been doing. Had they been doing what they believed they were doing? Or had they only been fucking around? There had been this time together, where they were great friends, and then things had changed. They got broker and broker together, and over time, Nellie (at thirty-two!) got sick of it. She took some businesses classes and eventually moved out and helped start a local business with a new boyfriend, Jordan, first the vegan restaurant, then the grocery store, of which Nellie was now a manager, and also which Nellie asked Aimee to come work at, and sure, that was nice, but it caused Aimee to be alone.
A Newman-O broke off into the milk and Aimee said, Damn, eating what was left in her hand. She told the recording again to play on holoscreen: in the break room, Nellie was finished with her bite, took a big gulp of kumbucha, and viewing the recording again, Aimee saw, as she had seen today, Nellie say, I'm so gross. I'm sorry. That wasn't a pretty picture. In the recording, Nellie wiped her mouth with a napkin, all dainty. Her nails were painted green, with little green marijuana leaves on each nail. Aimee, at her breakfast table, felt herself, again, not having anything to say to Nellie in response, until she heard herself say that it was okay, she wasn't gross, and Nellie had quickly started talking, telling Aimee that actually last night had been sort of crazy. Aimee leaned forward, elbows on the table, watching Nellie talk in the hologram. Her face and body almost there, rendered in 3-D, but transparent, glowing: Nellie was saying she had smoked some organic pot with Jordan last night and then watched TV. I was so high I just couldn't even really watch the show, Nellie said. Actually, it was a really shitty night. Aimee observed Nellie's face now, pausing the video, and saw a clear worry there, her face drawn and looking down. She told the holoscreen to resume the recording. I thought I was having a heart attack, but it turned out to be a panic attack, Nellie said on the holoscreen. I've been having them lately. The video paused on its own. Aimee saw her POV perspective nodding, and making sounds and saying, That's awful. I'm so sorry. What caused it? It's got to do with my mom, I think, Nellie was saying on the holoscreen in the breakroom. I miss her so much. Aimee had forgotten that Nellie's mother had died two months ago, from an intestinal bacteria that she'd gotten while vacationing in Patagonia. Aimee's Thought Transcript was blank. The recording continued, showing the moment before Nellie left the break room, tears in her eyes, and saying that she needed to get back to work, and Aimee heard herself say that if Nellie needed to talk, she was here, and now, watching this moment, she knew she meant it, or she thought she did, though she also thought, now, that Nellie needed to face her mother's death. She needed to really look at it! Then in the recording, Aimee was standing in the break room alone, a quarter of a croissant and egg sandwich left on the counter, which Nellie hadn't finished eating, and Aimee had picked it up and was eating it. The recording ended. Ophelia jumped onto the dining room table. Down, Aimee said.
She told the holoscreen to advance to her second Primary Interaction, which was with Jordan, Nellie's boyfriend. Images of herself running through the stockroom and slipping on cardboard and crying were not appealing, and she said, Never happened. Delete. She told the holoscreen to move to her next Interaction, which was with Lucas, a person she genuinely liked, but she couldn't take the thought that he had reduced her to a flirting seventeen year old, and plus, she couldn't stand the idea that he wasn't actually attracted to her, that she might view the Interaction and find out that he was actually just pitying her, paying attention to a limpy, out of shape girl, who was thirty-four and an assistant manager of a fucking grocery store, jesus, she could barely stand that, not to mention the fact that she'd been restocking avocados while talking with him, like wow, what a deep and interesting activity, no wonder he was attracted to her, and she said to the holoscreen, Nope, not real, delete. The holoscreen did nothing and she said, Delete, de-lete, fucking DELETE.
She got up from the table, saw that it was getting dark out, and she hadn't had dinner. She went to the kitchen and looked in the refrigerator. It contained to-go Thai food: two types of curries, some probably hardened jasmine rice, three things of rice pudding, all of them moldy. There was also a jar of organic pickles she'd pickled but never eaten. She closed the refrigerator and decided to finish with her last Primary Interaction, however painful it might be, seeing her and her best friend arguing, first in the organic meat section of the grocery and then in parking lot, where she'd followed Nellie because Nellie had broken down in front of everyone in the grocery and had to get out of the store so as not to make an even bigger scene. But viewing the Interaction would help Aimee with the vidMessage she needed to send to Nellie; she wasn't going to beg for her job back, but she was going to let Nellie know that she regretted her part in the fight, and she needed to watch the recording of the Interaction to get the message right. She uncorked an already open bottle of red wine, sniffed it, then poured herself a tall glass, and returned to the kitchen table. She was well prepared now, armored against whatever she was about to view, both of herself and Nellie. Ophelia jumped onto the table obscuring the holoscreen, and Aimee clapped twice, hard, the cat only looking at her, then Aimee made a deep, guttural sound, a growl, which sent Ophelia skittering, jumping off the table, a placemat sliding off the table in the opposite direction.
Open last Primary Interaction, Aimee said. The POV recording immediately began, with a view of Nellie arranging grass-fed organic ground beef in the grocery's rather limited meat display. It was one of the things Aimee personally disliked about the store—why did they have meat anyway? She'd asked Nellie this before, and it was what she said now, as she approached her: I still don't get why we even do meat. I mean, we shouldn't be trying to be Whole Foods. It's like the one non-local thing we do. It doesn't make sense. In the recording, Nellie wiped her hands on her apron, looked at Aimee, and said, We do meat because that's what some customers want. The store isn't just about what we want. Yeah, but fuck those people, Aimee said. Nellie said, We've had this discussion before, your dissent has been duly noted, and thanks again for reminding me of it. My dissent, Aimee said. Wow, what're we, in feudal times? Aimee, Nellie said. I don't even know what that means. Just go finish the produce section, since we all know that's the only section you'll actually work. There was a brief Thought Transcript, reading that Aimee couldn't believe Nellie had said that, the fucking gall, though what did gall mean exactly, and then the video began again and Aimee said, Alright, alright, don't have a panic attack, and began walking away, back to produce. Sitting at the table, Aimee cringed at the words "panic attack." With her gaze turned away from Nellie, the recording showed a customer walking with a basket filled with organic fruits and vegetables, when the video suddenly jolted. Aimee heard herself go, Ow, fuck. A meat package went sliding on the floor in front of her. She turned around. What the hell? Did you just throw meat at me? Aimee said. She was facing Nellie again, the recording trained on her. Nellie looked fiercely pretty, her face and body clenched, tears in her eyes, and another package went whizzing toward Aimee, almost coming toward Aimee in her kitchen. It hit her in the gut with an oomph. Then another package, which missed and went skidding by on the ground. At the moment Aimee picked up one of the packages and threw it, then another, then the last, and in what seemed like impossible, karmic fate, the owner of store had walked in, watched this last throw without Aimee realizing it, and then had stepped toward her and said, Get your things and leave my store now please. Don't come back. She looked to Nellie, but Nellie only looked at the ground.
Aimee remembered the hot flush of anger that rose to her face. The recording paused. Her Thought Transcript was an elaborate and confusing jumble of information. Three windows then separated, creating three different Thought Transcripts that had occurred during that moment. The first read: "I can't believe she didn't stand up for me, I could see her embarrassment, at least she's experiencing something real for once. Then a second thought transcript, which she'd never seen before, that she could barely read now, that said things about how she wished she hadn't said what she said or done what she did, that she wanted to not do this, that she wanted to tell Nellie she was sorry, and then a third transcript, all of which were apparently layered together, that read "Go hug her." Sitting at the table, she wondered what this was. The recording began again, the owner of the store gone, and she saw her own hands running over to the package of meat, picking it up. She heard Nellie say, You don't have to do that, and Aimee said, So I guess you want me out of here, too, and her hands picked up the meat, and the recording viewed Nellie, who was shaking her head, and Aimee turned around, to the person who was holding the basket with all the produce, who was also recording this on his phone, old school, and she punted the package at him, causing him to duck, drop his basket, and run out of the store. Nellie came at Aimee, told her to stop, and grabbed her arm. Aimee heard herself saying, I'm done now, okay. I'm going.
They went out through the stockroom, to the back parking lot, where they sky was a crisp blue, and Nellie said, You're big problem is that you have no idea who you are. You think you're this malcontent who really sees how everything is fucked up and nobody else does, but you don't do shit. You just complain and live a small, small life, based around how shitty everything is. Aimee heard herself say, You never visited me in the hospital. You were too busy. That's so unfair, Nellie said. I sat in a hospital bed for a month and watched you and the store and this bearded manchild post videos and you both get all happy together in like no time, and there was no room for me, Aimee heard herself say. You're so self-pitying, Nellie said. It's unreal. That's probably true, Aimee said. That's fine. But at least I can deal with the reality of the world. Your mother's dead and you can't figure out why you're having panic attacks. It's because the world isn't a piece of cake, Nellie. The world isn't a vegan meal! Nellie was crying a little now, saying, You're not welcome back here. I'm done doing things for you. Your mom is not coming back, Aimee heard herself say. Get over it. You don't know anything, Nellie said. It's all about Aimee, Aimee's leg, Aimee's not young and pretty anymore, Aimee thinks the internet is dumb, Aimee thinks everyone is dumb.
Then the recording showed Aimee's hands and lower body walking quickly away, a view of the pavement, walking away, toward her bike, which she got on, and the recording began to blur, which was a thing tears did to recordings, and in the distance the mountains blurred and the crisp blue sky blurred and Nellie's body in the parking lot went indistinct and fuzzy as Aimee rode by, and she was on the bike, then off it, falling off, failing to get her balance, and at her kitchen table Aimee heard Nellie shout, Don't call me anymore, don't message me, and Aimee was riding away, now on the bike and unsure where she was going, just away.
Delete, Aimee said now at the kitchen table. Delete all. She said it knowing it wouldn't help. What she really wanted was to delete everything else, too, all the interactions saved on her OS, yes, but also embedded in her mind—she could delete, but could she forget her mother and brother not visiting her in the hospital, merely vidMessaging her; could she forget the many times she'd replayed the Interaction with Nellie in the hospital, both on the holoscreen and in her head; could she unsee what she'd seen and said today, the ugly ways she'd been, the ugly way she was, the ugliness of it all? Was there a way to disconnect herself from herself, to abstract herself from the rest of the world, and become a point in the middle of space and time that was simply what it was in the same way everything was what it was, was there a way to delete herself from the monstrosity of herself and start anew?
She finished her wine and poured another glass. She sat there for a minute. After a few minutes, the holoscreen, hovering bluely, vacant, notified her that Nellie had posted updates to her feeds. Aimee told the holoscreen to view the updates, bracing herself for portions of their argument that Nellie must've felt she should show to the world, probably not unlike the photo she posted after she'd visited Aimee in the hospital (like she'd been visiting every day!): a picture of Aimee in traction, the caption reading something about how Nellie'd visited one of the most important people in her life, and asking for everyone to send her good energy because that's what she'd be doing. The images came up. She saw pictures leading up to a meal. Some dish Nellie and Jordan had made for dinner. The final image was of both of their hands resting on the table, sort of in the background, behind the food, the hands seemingly waiting patiently to eat. Aimee looked hard at the picture: sautéed carrots, mushrooms, spinach, over a mound of polenta. Nellie and Jordan's hands on the table. The tail of a dog in the corner of the photo. She could see no meaning, no message behind the image. She stared hard, trying to understand: a coffee table, utensils; two plates of food; two glasses of water; vegetables on the plates, and behind the vegetables, hands; vegetables and hands, resting in perfect composure.