To grow tired of someone is a temporary condition, whereas love is forever.
Everyone has heard the platitude “absence makes the heart grow stronger.” Yet now the masses confront a predicament unheard of – the ability to be too much in touch with the one they love from a distance.
It is easy for one to think that they grow tired of their lover: pictures of yet completed meals, micro insights, and constant anecdotes flood our consciousness. It is easy to assume that love, giving way to monotony through this deluge, was never love to start.
Although modern technology has been promised to alleviate the difficulties of love, it has proven to be nothing more than a poisoned pill. But no longer! No longer, because today, we at Amor Eternal happily introduce the future of passion, romance, and love.
Souls are nothing more than repositories of personal information, and our patented matching Baucis and Philemon chips will be installed in the female and male lovers respectively.
Upon first installation, the chips will synchronize all data between the two lovers creating an immense shared digital soul-plane. From here the chips will function constantly, updating the soul-plane with the activities of the other half.
A Dr. Arthur Aron once suggested any two people could fall in love over the course of thirty-six increasingly intimate questions and a four-minute gaze shared between the lovers’ eyes. We have further simplified this process of generating unparalleled intimacy to the flip of a lover’s switch.
This process, known as unification, will over the course of only a week create a single soul between the two lovers. Individual identity will be preserved, though it will grow out of the single soul – just the way that love intended.
Unification is much like combining two digital folders: all duplicate data will be deleted, while individual instances of data will be preserved, though now completely and utterly shared. Baucis and Philemon present the new frontier in [continued on page A7].
The raggedy yellowed newspaper clipping was haphazardly tacked to a dark wood paneled wall. It fluttered softly in a cross breeze. A fluorescent light overhead gave the paper a cryptic look, enhanced by heaps of notebooks covered in near illegible chicken scratch spread carelessly across the threadbare room. A woman, doubled over in the corner, was feverishly scribbling across the pad the same three words: “He comes again.”
Baucis and Philemon enjoyed great success upon first release in America, Europe, and other select “Westernized” areas of the world that saw the chips as the deliverance of humanity from an expanding technological soul sickness. The irony of curing a spiritual disease with a product that compared the human spirit to a digital folder was not lost; rather, as a testament to the near total removal of humanity from the natural world, this model of human understanding became one of the chief selling points.
“B&P, as I so lovingly refer to Baucis and Philemon, is the best thing to happen to the human spirit since the invention of poetry. For eons, man has sought the unification of souls; and now, through Amor Eternal, we have been delivered a product that does not disappoint...” raved one review.
Another major technological journal added, “Amor Eternal has found a way to synchronize the human experience. While this technology is still young, and we wish strongly for a patch to fix the vaguely disquieting problem of memory thievery, it works flawlessly in terms of love and romance. Never have two people seemed closer, or indeed as one, than they have after the installation of these chips. While the product works perfectly as advertised, indeed even better than possibly expected, this technology also paves the way for exciting advancements in other fields.
Information exchange will be revolutionized; indeed, this may well be the start of a new inter-human digital revolution. Imagine a world with no textbooks, where shared knowledge can automatically be updated into a person’s existence. The true future of the free exchange of information is here.”
If there were dissenting opinions, the ravings of the “techaratti” quickly drowned it out. Within a mere six months of its release, the chips gained the acceptance and blessing of one of the major evangelical heads of the United States, who proclaimed:
“The fine folks at Amor Eternal may have just saved the state of marriage from near irreparable damage in the face of the decadence of the modern age. Too often now do we see youths engaging in premarital sex as if it was nothing more than a distraction from everyday life; too often do we see vagrants and misers sullying the nature of holy matrimony only to rain destruction upon it through the liberal encouragement of divorce; too often do we see this nation give up on love for lust.
But now, through the wondrous gift of these love chips, man and woman can be united in a way that the Holy Lord would surely deem fitting. With them I have witnessed couples close to the edge of divorce become one, truly reconciling in the nature that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ preached.”
Within three months, the installation of the Baucis and Philemon chips became the most sought-after cosmetic surgery in America. Amor Eternal’s opening IPO, despite open reservations from the FDA, was a record setter. Everyone wanted a piece of the pie and the company could do no wrong in the eyes of star-crossed lovers and shareholders alike.
The woman shambled up out of her hunch in the corner. Dragging herself along the wall, she shuffled through the room with a certain dead-eyed familiarity. She hobbled past the reams of papers scattered along the floor before turning down a shadowed hallway towards the far door. It groaned as she opened it, and —
Her pupils violently contracted as the disheveled apartment became uncomfortably bright. Images streamed through her devastatingly. A man in a tuxedo emerged out of the room smoking a Marlboro Red. His voice cascaded over her.
“Come along, darling, we’ll be late otherwise,” he said in a playfully mocking tone. “Seriously, though, you look ravishing.” He walked back into the bedroom from which he came.
“You don’t need to worry about your hair. It’s gorgeous. Looks like my favorite pasta.”
“Shut up,” came a delicate faux hurt voice. “With you messing with me like this, I’ll never be ready.”
“Fine with me, I’m fine standing up your parents for some early evening fun anyway.”
“Oh really? Mmmm.” The sounds of tender embrace tinkled from out of the room and danced down the hallway.
— the woman found herself curled in a ball at the base of the door. Her eyes were pools.
Reports of "derangement" came mere months after the success of the Baucis and Philemon chips. Each report followed the same pattern. First, one of the partners in the unification would pass on. Following this, the survivor would report auditory delusions of the partner’s speech, usually utterances commonly associated with the lover that would be repeated ad nauseum. The auditory delusions would continue for a few days, before ending as suddenly as they started.
In the majority of cases, the end of the auditory delusions would be followed by a period of self-reported enhanced clarity. The time period would vary greatly — from a few days to upwards of half a year — but it would almost unanimously end in a psychotic episode. Usually the surviving partner would experience a recurrence of auditory delusions, coupled with dissociative episodes and crippling visual flashbacks. These flashbacks would always contain the deceased loved one, in full detail. Often, the flashbacks would be an amalgamation of both partners’ memories, allowing the surviving partner to have a “3d remembrance” in which the recalled scenario would be seen completely from an outside perspective. It was described as if the survivor were an outsider looking in on the most intimate details of a couple’s relationship.
Usually these “hauntings,” as the media soon labeled them, were crippling.
Following the publishing of articles noting the definite correlation of “hauntings”
and the installation of the Baucis and Philemon chips, Amor Eternal went on record.
“Noting the extreme difficulty that some of our consumers are suffering after the regretful passing of their loved ones, we have gone to extreme lengths to address the issues inherent within the chips. Unfortunately, we will admit that these ‘hauntings’ are indeed the fault of our technology. Fortunately, we have found the fault — the early versions of our unification process had a certain firmware flaw. We are extremely regretful that our device, intended for such good as the solidification of love, has had such unintended consequences.
“As such, we are offering to completely cover the first year of all medical payments associated with the malfunctioning of our product, with select patients receiving extended paid care on a case-by-case basis. For remaining customers, we are also offering a free firmware update for all chips which will address the issues of ‘hauntings,’ ensuring that they will be a ghost story soon forgotten.
“On top of this, Amor Eternal happily announces that next year we will be releasing the Daedalus Chip, which will hopefully revolutionize the way information is shared amongst people all over the world...”
The hauntings were not forgotten, though, nor did the firmware updates prevent future occurrences. The final moments of life, and the trauma of its end, should never be forced on one still so very much alive. Once the two folders were compiled, they could not again be separated.
The woman was lying over her sheets, staring absently at the ceiling. Refracted lights and shadows fought amongst themselves overhead in the dying dusk. Her fingers clenched tightly at the bed sheets below her — cream and white covers over a thick duvet. Above the headboard hung a framed photograph of her, infinitely younger, smiling broadly in a flowing wedding dress. Beside her, with arms interlocked, was a jovial man who had cheeks and stomach to spare. Both of their eyes were shining brightly.
“You right, you right. And when you right, you right,” crackled a voice through the room. It echoed out of every corner and reverberated through the woman’s body. Fleetingly, life spilled into her eyes as she gazed around the room. The moment passed. The sound clip was placed on pause.
Balancing on her left elbow, she did one last, quick survey of the room before beginning to sink back down onto her back. Suddenly there was a crackling in the room — her pupils violently dilated. Above her head the wedding picture wobbled back and forth. A crack formed in the glass cover before spidering across to the edges of the frame.
The glass shattered out of the frame onto the woman below. The picture itself became a viscous bubble as it expanded and contracted. Like a worm slowly trying to bury into a person’s palm, the image began to crawl out of the frame, tentatively feeling around the empty space in front of it.
“These surreal moments are the happiest in my life,” came the voice again. This time its location was clear. Above her a face started to form in the gelatinous ooze that the photograph had become. A mouth and teeth were being pushed into the worm’s head from the inside. Something was trying to wiggle its way out of the image, pushing as hard as it could into the bedroom.
The image squirmed violently against its anchoring to the wall. The face at the tip continued to take on more expressions as it played through various emotional states, before the worm ceased to shake and stuck straight out. The wedding portrait was warped to unidentifiable degrees.
After an excruciatingly uncountable stream of time, the image slowly bent its tip towards the woman below it.
“Give me a kiss, Thisbe,” it parroted in perfect mimicry of the man the portrait once represented. Thisbe screamed as the impossible face moved closer, puckering its newly formed lips in her direction.
Thisbe awoke on her bed with a violent headache to a heavy knocking at her apartment door. Everything in her room was in perfect order, no signs of shattered glass or splintered frames. She rolled out of bed as quickly as possible while avoiding eye-contact with the wedding photograph.
“Note to self,” she muttered, “we need to put that picture into storage.”
The knocking continued, after a brief cessation, with renewed force. It reverberated strongly through the apartment, like it did when her husband used to kick on the door with arms too full of groceries to let himself in. She grabbed ahold of the doorframe to steady herself.
“Compose yourselves,” she whispered as she fought the haunting rising within. “We must be presentable to whomever is at the door.”
Most people who were haunted post-unification had to be institutionalized. Thisbe prided herself on her ability to be able to lead a sort of half-life on her own after her husband’s death. Generally, she could tell whenever a remembrance was about to happen, giving her at least half a minute to prepare. She imagined the feeling was akin to what some epileptics would feel on the cusp of a seizure. Sometimes she could even fight the rising haunting altogether.
The knocking at the door continued right up to her answering it. She didn’t bother checking who was at the door anymore; usually it was only a neighbor asking if she needed groceries or a doctor arranged by Amor Eternal to check up on her.
Somewhere inside Thisbe, she realized she should be concerned about how she looked as she opened the door.
“When was the last time we showered?” she thought.
“You like your water too cold,” floated back the answer. “It’s always better when the heat turns you into a lobster.”
She shivered, momentarily unaware of the man in the doorway.
“Excuse, but are you Mrs. Thisbe Zimmerman?”
Thisbe drifted back into reality and hesitated at what greeted her. She was unaccustomed to receiving new visitors, especially when they asked for her by her full name. The man seemed to intuit her concern and he flashed a brilliantly reassuring smile. His teeth were almost as white as his button-down shirt.
“Please, don’t worry. My name is Jonathan Wang. I am a reporter for the Daily Times, and I am working on a comprehensive report on the Baucis and Philemon chips and Amor Eternal. I was wondering if we could talk, possibly carry out a series of interviews? Here, take my card.”
With a motion as well rehearsed as his speech, Jonathan pulled a crisp card out of his back pocket and handed it to Thisbe. Hesitantly she took it from his hands. Their fingers brushed, and her pupils expanded.
Thisbe collapsed. Light into blackness. Blackness into light.
The high pitch whistling of the kettle cutting across the kitchen woke Thisbe. She was lying along her left side on the living room couch, her head carefully placed on one of its plump patchwork cushions. Spread over her was a nauseatingly blue blanket that her cousin had bought as a wedding present. She had hated it automatically, but her husband had taken to wearing it as a cape during his naked saunterings around the apartment.
To wake underneath it gave her an almost immediate sense of calm, regardless of how she ended up on the couch or who was making tea in the kitchen. Out of the corner of her eye she caught sight of her love proudly strutting naked towards the kitchen, briefly looking over his shoulder to flash her a loving smirk.
She forced herself to stare at the piles of newspaper clippings she had collected, haphazardly balancing on the coffee table. “Worrisome side effects in love cure,” one read. “Amor Eternal stocks being gutted,” another answered in reply. The various newspaper clippings ran from being crisp week-olds to curled yellow edges.
Falteringly grounded, Thisbe did not give any indication of being awake to the stranger in the kitchen. A sense of awkwardness overtook her; to wake up with someone else already in the house struck her as dreadfully rude.
Slowly she stretched, cracked her toes and fingers, and rose into a sitting position.
“Oh, Mrs. Zimmerman, glad to see you’re awake. You gave me a hell of a scare back there. Suppose it should be expected.” Jonathan walked into the living room holding two cups of tea, smiling that wide smile he had had at the door. The memories came back to Thisbe, and she bashfully nodded her head and gestured to a seat next to the couch, already occupied by tear-stained stuffed animals. One in particular, a husky with dead black eyes, was especially worse for wear. It was Thisbe’s husband’s, and at the start of the hauntings it gave her the greatest relief to cry into it. Back in those days, immediately after his death, it still smelled like him. Now, with the scent all but gone, Thisbe felt kinship to the dog’s empty eyes.
Jonathan mindlessly piled the stuffed animals on top of each other to make room for himself at the edge of the chair. Spilling a little tea, he put both cups down on the table and perched himself. A bittersweet smile threatened to flicker across his face as he glanced at Thisbe’s hands.
“Now look at the way that ring sparkles! Too bad that diamond’s actually glass,” joked her husband sitting next to her.
Thisbe tensed up, willed him away. She heard the bedroom door close.
Jonathan studied her as intently as he could without trying to make her feel like a lunatic on display — the way her forehead scrunched up, her fingers tightened, her pupils slightly dilated.
“So, Mrs. Zimmerman — or, is it alright if I call you Thisbe? No need to be too formal, am I right?”
“We don’t mind what you call us,” Thisbe managed to mutter gazing with intensity at a bead of water slowly flowing down the side of her tea cup. Jonathan cocked his head slightly and gave her another brilliant smile. Inviting her to speak.
He looks like a vulture sitting like that, Thisbe thought to herself. Circling over death.
“I wonder if his head would shine as bright as those teeth if he were bald,” asked her husband as he materialized behind Jonathan out of dust motes floating in a shaft of midday light. The motes shifted and he vanished back into the air.
Jonathan took a sip of tea. Then another and another and another. Still, Thisbe didn’t speak.
“So,” ventured Jonathan, “I noticed that you said ‘we’ when you answered my question. That’s quite fascinating — are you aware of how you address yourself?”
Thisbe shot him a dirty look. “Have you never spoken to someone post-unification? It is fairly common for us...for me, for a couple...to address our — myself in the first-person plural.”
“Oh yes, of course. You must forgive me. I forgot how once a soul-plane is digitalized the self becomes enhanced to a duo. Interesting effect linguistically, that.”
“I’m sorry,” Thisbe said, not daring to avert her gaze from the water droplet slowly moving down the cup, “but what exactly is it that you want?”
Jonathan gave a hearty laugh. “Now we are talking, Thisbe. You see, what I want is to know you. You are an interesting case of someone being haunted, one of the few who can still function independently. I am writing a retrospective on the effects of unification so many years out, and I would love to feature you. A profile, if you will. Can you help me?”
The way Thisbe’s soul-plane remembered it, the day was overcast and a steady rain pelted the sidewalk below. “More like spitting really, babay,” the youngish man — or would it be better to say an old boy? — said. A playful smile shimmered across his softly rounded face as he curled up beside Thisbe by the window, staring out at the streets down below. Occasionally a lone person, at most a small group, would run down the street and provide them both with schadenfreude.
“That girl’s so lucky,” Thisbe said when a moderately plump girl waddled by beneath their window.
“Mmm, why’s that?”
“Cause she can really take the time to experience the weather.”
The rain was picking up, flushing all sorts of debris down the street. An empty soda can floated aimlessly beside the curb, following the plump girl’s course down the narrow side street. It was amazing how often the rain would fall in this city, yet there was always more trash to be washed away.
The water soon began to flow strongly down the window pane, obscuring the view of the street. Still, the two continued to gaze out at the refracted caricatures of reality. Heavy blobs and molted colors flowed down the glass in quiet intensity.
“Something bothering you?” the man asked.
“Nothing, I’m fine,” Thisbe softly smiled, staring at a singular stream of water cascading across the pane.
The man gave her a sidelong glance, as if seeing her for the first time. His eyes were fully opened, a slight wrinkle forming at the center of his forehead, and a contented smile raised his cheeks. “You know, when I was little, I used to watch those rivulets of water flow along the windows of my dad’s car as we drove down the highway. I pretended they were cars racing each other.”
“Cars? Psh, you were really stupid back then?”
“Guess nothing changes,” Thisbe said, giving the man a priceless smile. Her eyes squinted and creases formed beneath her eyes. She took his hands and held them tight.
“I never want to be alone again. Can you help me do that?” the man asked, as he took a small velvet box from out of his pocket.
“Pyramus, oh my God, it’s beautiful,” she cried as she slipped on the ring. “God, look at the way that ring sparkles!”
“Too bad that diamond’s actually glass,” he chortled.
“Excuse me, Mrs. Zimmerman?...Mrs. Zimmerman? Thisbe?”
She was back in the living room, pupils contracting. Across from her sat Jonathan, journalist pad spread at the ready on top of his knee. The drip that had been glacially running down her cup was gone; the tea was lukewarm. She blinked heavily, crows feet forming around her eyelids. Any potential air of tragic beauty about her was now only tragic.
“We’re sorry...memories sometimes swallow us...me...up,” she stammered, eyes still never leaving her cup.
“It’s quite alright, Mrs. Zimmerman. I can see you’re not in the best shape today, so I won’t stay too much longer. Just, I was wondering — never having seen a post-haunting before — but are you aware of what your body does when it drifts off? Do you have any feelings?”
“Lost in memories. Have you ever been in love?”
Wang gave a short conspiratorial laugh. “I’m sorry, Mrs. Zimmerman, but if Amor Eternal has shown anything, it’s that love doesn’t exist. It’s a fairy tale that can only be induced through drugs or severe tampering to the subconscious’ conception of self. So no, I —”
“Then how do you suppose to write about us with no understanding of our feelings? Even before the chips we were basically one. The slightest thing would remind us of us...” Thisbe sat up, erect and confident. A rouge blossomed under her pallid complexion, and her eyes were stingily focused upon Wang’s for the first time.
“Even the smallest element can bring back memories, flood us with remembrances.”
“Funny you should call it that,” said Wang. “Aren't the delusions you are suffering called ‘3d remembrances?’”
Thisbe faltered. Her posture became awkward as she hunched over herself. Now babay, don’t go gargoyling like that, the voice said as it floated by on a single breath, not the least bit becoming on you. A door slammed in the apartment. Weeping flooded the room, soaking in through the floorboards. Thisbe’s feet became wet as a teary deluge started pushing past her ankles. A cacophony of screams and wails filled the living room as each picture rocked in its frame and lent its voice to the pandemonium. Even the walls began to cry, and their sorrow flowed openly down in rivulets behind the wallpaper.
Thisbe began to shudder violently as she dug her fingernails into her legs. She rocked herself back and forth as she tried to force all these images from her mind.
“Our feet are dry, our feet are dry...our...feet...are...dry.”
Talking became harder. She had to coordinate her breaths with her rocking so as not to breathe in the water, which had risen suddenly around her neck. The room had become a sea of sorrow. She tried to swim to the door but was caught by a sudden current. The water was cold, and icy, and all consuming.
The apartment was gone. Up above, the constellations reformed into her and Pyramus, slowly waltzing towards the moon. She was trying to tread water, but her shoes became heavier in each kick and further dragged her below the waves. There was no floor, no room. The teardrop sea expanded in every direction without end. The only lights came from the firmament above. The stars had reached the moon.
Suddenly there came a sharp crack. Boom! The world shook and rogue waves, rising violently from the sea, buffeted Thisbe. Above, the constellations and the moon vanished. Utter darkness engulfed the world.
“Help us! Someone please, help us!” Thisbe screamed as loud as she could over the roaring of the waves and the water pouring into her mouth. “Please, Pyramus, help us!”
There was a sizzling, like baking soda and vinegar. A light burst forth violently into the sky, almost blinding her. It grew and grew, swallowing the blackness around it. Slowly, the light expanded to fit the whole sky. It metamorphosed and flowered, slowly growing from a fish to a pig to a little boy. He gave a grievous smile at Thisbe.
“Please, Thisbe, stop being such a gargoyle. Go away from us.”
The boy flashed as brightly as a thousand suns.
Thisbe was back in her apartment, curled in a ball sobbing. Her head was resting casually on Jonathan’s knee. He was awkwardly stroking her arm, muttering soft reassurances. A mixture of pity and revulsion spread like oil over water across his face.
Almost immediately after the first hauntings were reported, they captured the imagination of both academics and common people. To the masses they were merely seen as an unexplainable consequence of technology — a brilliant idea that flowered too soon. Public opinion inexplicably remained trusting of Amor Eternal. They were able to mastermind the tragedies in such a way as to seem like wise fools, promising the best but beset by tragedies outside of anyone’s capabilities. They were able to release three more versions of Baucis and Philemon before the government stepped in and forcefully banned the chip.
But from success to tragedy back to success again, the brains behind Amor Eternal quickly formed a new company — Information Unlimited — which quickly became subsumed into a military contracting outfit. Although their exact work was never made public, the press releases they sent to stockholders spoke of how they revolutionized the way soldiers communicated in the field. They promised an end to friendly fire incidents.
Meanwhile, academics spanning across anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, and psychology poured over the hauntings to gain a better understanding of the human form. Amor Eternal had pulled back the curtain of the human mind. The soul had been laid bare for examination. Nearly immediately, research papers began to flourish from out of the well of human suffering the chips had wrought.
As one researcher so eloquently put it:
“It has long been common knowledge amongst the psychiatric community studying technology that the present course of society has led to a large increase in the splintering of the human ego into many different facets instead of one overarching whole. Indeed, it is not at all uncommon for a typical young adult to have two or three online personas, depending upon the number of sites used, while simultaneously having a work persona, a relationship persona, a persona used amongst family members, et cetera. As such, it is fascinating to be able to observe the death of a persona in an individual; a process hereby impossible until the release of the Baucis and Philemon chips and the subsequent process of ‘hauntings,’ as it is so vulgarly put.
“Essentially, a haunting develops after an integral part of the human ego is destroyed. Post-installation, the two souls in question are undeniably integrated into one unified whole — a process remarkable for its complete thoroughness and ability to simulate a sense of oneness amongst two people. I have heard it compared to a sense of mystical union. In any case, this union can only last as long as both partners are alive. Once one partner dies, however, a significant portion of the newly formed joint ego also dies. As such, the surviving partner is suddenly adrift in the world with both a permanently fractured ego as well as a complete digital-mental recording of the one they were connected to...”
Other psychologists, taking less of a philosophical approach, blamed the process of hauntings and 3d remembrances upon the functionality of the chips. Once installed, it was impossible to roll back the unification process. Due to this, it was believed that one partner would fully experience the process of dying and death itself while in most cases still being quite physically fit. Death’s experience would be recorded into the digital soul-plane where it could be compared to a sort of virus invading a database.
Inadvertently, the chips allowed humans to continue to live after fully experiencing death. An event as traumatic as this would significantly alter the mental functionality of the survivor, leading to vivid flashbacks often caused by the slightest event that triggered memories of the deceased. In many ways, hauntings were thus considered interestingly distinct — yet inherently similar — to post-traumatic stress disorder.
The main difference being that whereas PTSD caused sufferers to relive a singular traumatic event, hauntings drew upon the entire history of the soul-plane. The surviving partner could experience delusions from any point in the shared experience post-unification. Certain individuals suffering from hauntings managed to combine various memories into one singular narrative, thereby creating a sort of living ghost. This was more common amongst those who were unified for longer periods of time.
After the initial meeting of Jonathan and Thisbe, a series of informal interviews were carried out over a two-week period. In the beginning Jonathan attempted to develop a schedule with Thisbe that would be best for the two of them; quickly he learnt that she lived in a twilight time world of her own. With her remembrances constantly rocketing her into the past, or sometimes even leading into full blown timeless fugue states, any reliable system of appointments was impractical.
Jonathan decided it would be prudent to simply show up whenever he was in the best mood; he would be able to conduct his interviews more happily, and to Thisbe it would hardly make a difference.
Within the first two meetings, Jonathan quickly developed a list of topics and cues that he would avoid at all costs. He kept this list in a dark blue moleskin notebook he took everywhere with him. Imagining himself a bit of an artist and a future Pulitzer winner, it was not uncommon to see Jonathan scribbling ideas down while he rode the bus or the subway. Oftentimes he would come up with at least one idea a day that he assumed was purely brilliant, and he would wrinkle his eyes in joy only to see the idea an hour later and realize that it was utter nonsense. Still, he found solace in his own cataloguing of himself.
Having to now devote this notebook to an orderly list of interview rules irked him slightly. Still, it was vitally important that he remember such things as:
- By the love of God, don’t fucking touch her
- When T seems as if remembering, change topic rapidly
- Never call into question practices such as use of first-person plural
- Avoids words “delusions,” “3d remembrances,” “hauntings,” etc. This rule was followed by a purposefully left blank page to expand the list of banned words as necessary.
These tips acted as simple guidelines to help Jonathan steer clear of the rocks in the treacherous sea that was Thisbe’s psyche. He hoped to avoid a repeat of the complete emotional breakdown that occurred during their initial interview. Comforting people was never Jonathan’s strong point, even though he had a caring demeanor; he just felt entirely uncomfortable getting that close. This stood doubly true when the one needing comforting was mentally deranged and harbored a half-dead soul.
“So,” Jonathan carefully asked a week after their first interview, “when was the first time that you saw Pyramus again? Can you describe it to me?”
The two of them were seated in the living room, as had become customary. Overtime Jonathan had managed to move the pile of tear-stained animals off the chair into a small pyramid arranged on the floor beside it. A majority of the newspaper clippings and notebooks of Thisbe’s had been cleaned away, leaving the coffee table free for tea and snacks to be easily served. Jonathan found that as long as he brought food he was certain Thisbe had never tried before — he began to frequent a Bulgarian bakery on the other side of the city — she would usually be too absorbed by the new stimuli to enter a full-fledged 3d remembrance.
Thisbe was slowly picking at her banitsa saralia, as was her nature when eating a new food. Carefully she would break off a small piece, inspect it closely for a few seconds, and then pop it into her mouth where she would let it sit and dissolve. Jonathan couldn’t help fight the feeling that he was interviewing a giant hamster, between Thisbe’s dirty matted hair and reticent eating habits. A small grin lifted the corners of his lips.
She swallowed delicately. “The first time Pyramus came to us,” Thisbe murmured, “was maybe two or three months after we left us. It was like everyone else. First Pyramus would talk to us, before we first visited. When we first visited us it was in the morning, at breakfast. We thought we had gone mad, or that we had the divine grace. We hadn’t heard too much about the side-effects of the chips at that point.
“We were eating breakfast. A grapefruit. We would eat them together in the mornings, half each. Pyramus would scoop it out for us, so there was a delicious pulpy juice mix below the fruit. That morning we brought ourselves to eat a grapefruit for the first time again since...
“We tried to do it the way Pyramus did. It wasn’t the same. We heard Pyramus laughing at us, and we began to cry. We were frustrated, abandoned. When we opened our eyes, Pyramus was there. We saw him through our tears.
“‘Pyramus,’ we said, ‘We’ve missed you so much!’
“‘Come on, look on the bright side,’ Pyramus said, ‘at least you get to fuck anyone now!’ Pyramus was trying to joke, to cheer us up. It was an old joke we’d say to each other in the beginning of the relationship when we would talk of breaking up after a fight. But we just began to cry more.
“‘Don’t be such a gargoyle, Thisbe,’ Pyramus said. We came towards us, but when we tried to hug we couldn’t. We disappeared, and when we woke up later we were passed out on the table.
“Such a waste, too. The grapefruit had ended up on the floor,” garbled out Thisbe. Jonathan was always surprised by these little moments of dark humor that Thisbe would throw into conversations. He would often keep track of these by marking them as “channeling Pyramus” in his notebook. Each of these remarks was matched by a tick. Thisbe’s voice would often become huskier and she would contort her face ever so slightly differently. The changes were subtly unnerving. He recalled his first experience seeing “The Exorcist” when he finally noticed the habit.
“At least in this case,” Jonathan would think to himself, “the two souls are united...even if one is technically dead.”
The thought was never as reassuring as he would care for.
The last time Jonathan saw Thisbe was much like any of the other interviews they had spent together. He carefully asked her a series of questions concerning her delusions, before stopping a little earlier than he would have liked due to the feeling that she was more preoccupied than usual. She was stooped in her usual position on the patchy leather sofa; her fingers were constantly playing along the hems of her clothing. Her responses were shorter than the past few sessions and Jonathan was frustrated that the time developing a rapport with Thisbe was going to waste.
“So, Thisbe, what made the two of you want to install the chips in the first place?” Jonathan asked the question pointedly; his foot was restlessly bobbing up and down to some insane inner beat. His notebook from the past few sessions was close to blank. The mostly empty college ruled lines taunted him. He was close to finishing the article, but it was lacking something. A definite touch.
Thisbe turned her gaze slowly towards Jonathan and met his. For a second the two locked, but Jonathan quickly glanced away. Her eyes had hardened into a flinty defiance that he had never seen before; usually they were weepy or lost looking, as if gazing at objects that held an entirely different resonance. Still, she didn’t speak.
“Not a peep, huh?” Jonathan snidely said. He was usually better than this, he knew that. Just nothing had been going right today.
Not very talkative today, babay? Pyramus slowly materialized on the couch next to Thisbe. It’s fine, he said sounding a little hurt, I don’t have much to talk about either. He stretched out languidly, and then flopped his head down on Thisbe’s lap. She gave a small start.
Jonathan barely noticed. He had ceased noting her tics. He picked up a pastry, took a few bites out of it, set it back down. Some tea was drunk. “Listen,” he said, “I don’t have all that much more to ask you about. I almost have enough between you, interviews with psychologists, a few other aggregated profiles, and journal studies to polish off my article. It’s just missing something. A little bit more of a human touch, something to really grab the people. You know what I mean?”
Maybe we could take a bubble bath together later. Get some bubbles bursting, nudge nudge wink wink, know what I mean? Pyramus gave a wry searching smile up at her. Thisbe gave a small nod.
Great! I’m just going to go to the bathroom, Pyramus said jumping up off the couch. Thisbe also stumbled to her feet, eager to follow.
“Where are you going?” Jonathan asked her. She found him suddenly standing less than a foot in front of her on the way towards the bathroom.
“We’re just going to the bathroom,” Thisbe mumbled.
“That’s just where I said I was going...did you hear anything I told you before?”
Thisbe looked at him uncomprehendingly. Thisbe! Hurry up, don’t want this water to cool off now, do you? Her body stuttered, simultaneously shuffling towards the bathroom while attempting to sit down. She ended up doing an awkward crab scuttle that covered no distance at all.
“Maybe today’s not the best day to have our interview,” Jonathan slowly said. “I’ll come back tomorrow or later this week...
“You take care of yourself, okay?”
“We’ll be fine,” Thisbe murmured. She was staring down at her feet now, back slightly stooped. “We’re just in need of a relaxing bath. Lets all the stress out...”
The bathwater was warm and relaxing over Thisbe’s body. With the bubbles it seemed silken and protective: a bubble wrap encased around her battered body and mind.
What’s on your mind? Are you tired? Seem so withdrawn...
From out of the bubbles Pyramus slowly started to form. They all slotted together like lego pieces, building and coalescing into a jovially brooding man. His face seemed older than Thisbe remembered — it was more lined than before. Maybe it was just the light.
“We want you to stop coming to us,” croaked Thisbe. “Please, leave us be.” Her tears cut through the bathwater and soap on her cheeks. A rouge crept across her face, neck, and upper chest.
You’re radiant, my dear. Look like a college freshman all over again, just like when we first met. Pyramus was slowly moving towards her. His body was invisible beneath all the bubbles; still, his head bobbed closer and closer, decapitated beneath the foam.
“Stay away from us!” Thisbe pleaded. “Please...stay away from us.”
I never want to be alone again. Can you help me do that? His face was now just inches away from hers. She swore she could feel his breath cooling the water on her cheek; she swore she could touch him again; she swore that this was real.
“Pyramus...” Thisbe leaned forward to kiss him. The world shook.
The walls of the bathroom rumbled and began to collapse.
The sides of the bath cracked and disintegrated into nothingness.
A bathwater deluge spilled unstoppably across the room. Everything that it came into contact with corroded into nullity.
It kept going. It kept flowing.
The ceiling thundered down onto Thisbe’s head after the walls collapsed, but it passed by as insubstantially as the fog. The lights went out.
Still, the water continued to expand. There was no bottom beneath the waves. There was no shore in site. Thisbe was again swimming in the sea.
“Stop it! Someone save us!” Thisbe shouted at the top of her lungs. No reply came. She hugged herself tightly. Her sobs carried over the crests of the waves, towards unhearing shores.
Slowly constellations appeared in the sky, flowing in from the horizon. The stars danced their lonely distant waltz. No comfort came. She continued to hug herself. The stars began to change, the constellations evolved. Thisbe appeared in the sky, mirrored in the stars. She was in the apartment’s bathroom, wearing clothes she recognized from years ago — an oversized giraffe shirt hung around her knees, covering up silver gym shorts.
Hunched over the bathtub, she was scrubbing furiously. Her face was contorted in the effort; her eyes were moist and red, her teeth gritted, and her hands were white in a vice-like grip around the sponge. Pyramus entered the bathroom, a snide grin covering his kind features. Lowering the toilet lid with a slam, he sat down and watched Thisbe cleaning from behind for a few seconds.
“I think you missed a spot, darling,” Pyramus chimed with a distinct emphasis on the “darling.” “We wouldn’t want all that cleaning to go to waste now, would we?”
Thisbe merely bit her lower lip and continued to scrub.
“Come on, now. You’ve got nothing to say? Nothing at all?”
Thisbe batted her eyelids quickly and let out a rough breath. “I just don’t see why...” she punctuated her sentence with another violent exhalation “you think we need to get these chips installed? What’s wrong with us now?”
“What’s wrong with us? This is wrong with us! This fighting, this uncertainty. This ever-present doubt. How can we be happy when we’re never sure what it is that is going to happen? How can we love each other without knowing and sharing all there is to be shared and known?”
Thisbe was still staring into the tub. She had yet to turn towards Pyramus, to acknowledge his presence in the room. He leaped up from the toilet seat. “You hear stories of people’s hearts suddenly being hardened or of them falling out of love. How can we be happy when I worry not only about your emotions, but about mine as well?”
Plop. The sponge hit the bathroom wall with such intensity it stuck there for a few seconds before slowly leaving a sudsy trail towards the tub. Thisbe spun around, rage flowing down her face in saline tears.
“If you ever have these doubts again, Pyramus, let me know right away. I will set your mind straight.”
She pulled him violently towards herself. Passionately she kissed him, bit his lower lip. A drop of blood appeared. It rolled off his lip as she pulled back, and it hit the floor. Plop.
“But still...how can we ever be sure?”
She hugged him tight. She wouldn’t let go.
The image ended. The constellations began to melt away. Thisbe was again engulfed in darkness, bobbing alone in an endless sea. Exhaustion seized her. Treading water had worn her out physically; tears and the memories of Pyramus tired her emotionally. Slowly her head began to sink below the waves. There was a flash.
“It will be good to finally be one.”
She ceased to struggle.
Sinking was easier than swimming.
Thisbe’s body was found in the bathtub later that day. A neighbor Jonathan alerted on his way out about Thisbe’s exceedingly withdrawn nature came by that evening to check in. No one answered the door and, fearing the worst, the neighbor called the police. An autopsy found that Thisbe had water in her lungs. Her death was immediately put down to drowning after falling asleep in the tub. An accident.
Those few who remained closer to her didn’t rule out suicide, but nothing beyond lingering suspicions could ever be proven. Amongst the mess of papers in the apartment, investigators believe they found the last note she wrote before her death. Scribbled in her chicken scratch hand was the message: “He comes again.”
After her death, Amor Eternal had one less medical claimant to deal with; Jonathan, however sick he felt about it, had an end to his story. Life continued its ebb and flow.
At the funeral, mourners remarked on the blissful smile across her face. It was the best shape many had seen her in in years.
She shared a headstone with Pyramus beneath a mulberry tree.