The installer had me take off my shirt while he unpacked his toolkit. “You got the two year contract on this? You sure?” he asked.
I nodded. The gyros in the walls whispered to life to keep the room level as the city tilted, probably climbing a dune, and the sun burst through the window, making the points and edges of the installer’s tools glint and glitter. I hoped the stabilization was as good as the landlord promised.
We were in my new kitchen, at the table. I tried to sit still while he started in on my abdomen. My new apartment, like living in a cloud, all polished white plastic and sourceless white glow, all spheres and curves, littered here and there the chromed evidence of my inhabitance. New possessions for my new home and my new life, different from my old life. The apartment let a picture of Leil slip up out of the floor and scud over the ridges of the entertainment center, settling into a swirl in the ceiling.
“Girlfriend?” asked the installer.
“Was,” I said.
“Sorry,” he said, “Still, plenty of cars in the sky.”
A solar array crawled over my window, casting the room in shadow, and the sourceless white glow intensified to compensate. The picture of Leil, the one from the arboretum where she plucks a rose and it grows back, and she smiles to see the petals unfolding, and she plucks it again and again until she has a dozen from the same stem, and then she showers the roses down on me, on the lens, that picture, that picture slid down from the ceiling and settled on the back of the chair opposite me.
“What do you do?” asked the installer, trying to change the subject.
“You know those Sony aubler ads?”
He raised his eyebrows, “The ones that smell like rain and ozone? For the aublers with the…what’s it called?”
“SupraBright Screen,” I said. “I wrote those.”
“Good job,” he said, and went back to work on my abdomen, “Congratulations.”
Not good enough, if he couldn’t remember the SupraBright screen.
The solar array crawled off the window, feeling its way along the outside of the building, following the afternoon sun, confused by the scattered refractions from all the polished buildings that sprouted from the city’s chassis and cars that flung themselves through the sky. There weren’t many of those old arrays left. How long would this one last before it too chased a shard of light off a rooftop?
Leil’s picture called up reinforcements, all the moments of her I’d captured, and set them to dancing around the window. The installer couldn’t fail to see what was on my mind.
“What’s that mean?” he asked, “That you wrote it? Did you come up with the smell?”
“Just the action and the dialogue.”
“Oh,” he said. “Still, good job.”
Everybody loved the smell. I could have taken credit for it, I gave Billin in Scent the idea. When I met Leil she had that fake malfunction in her oculums that occasionally shorted and smelled of ozone. It was very ahead of the curve. The way her gaze actually sparked when she looked at me. And rain, that was in her skin or in her sweat or something. I never asked, I just inhaled.
“This’ll really impress your friends,” said the installer, tinkering with my chest.
I said, “I’m not going to let anyone see it.”
He sat back. “Two year contract and you’re going to hide it?”
“Yeah,” I said.
Leaning forward again, he said, “If I could afford two years of this I’d show it off.”
The room lurched, probably one of the city’s legs slipping on the desert sand, a million ton foot bogging down.
“Great,” said the installer, “take maintenance a day to dig that out, and my building’s almost out of water. Probably don’t have that problem in this neighborhood.”
All the Leils spread out, each occupying a surface. Leil swimming, Leil diving and surfacing. Leil pulling the sheets over her mussed hair. Leil checking her face in a mirror. She always asked why I never took serious pictures, why I recorded the moments she wasn’t ready, the times she wasn’t posing. I thought it was obvious.
The solar array crawled back over my window, always after that shifting light.
“I caught my kid riding one of those,” said the installer. “Him and his friends were trying to race them. Idiots.”
“No,” I said, it was perfect. It was new. Leil dropped off the walls and the apartment called up pictures of teenagers riding solar arrays, grainy, shot through cheap lenses, spattered with compression artifacts. Low bandwidth uploads from kids’ first rigs.
That was our target market, right there, clinging to scuttling machines hundreds of feet up the sides of buildings, laughing with adrenaline, covering the beady light sensors to steer. I could see the ad: boys using their shadows to try and race solar arrays over the surface of some solidly middle-class piece of construction under a sepia sun, a smell like hot dust that turns to the tang of steel being machined when a sleek girl blows past the boys on an array that she’s riding like she’s sand-surfing, standing at a ninety degree angle to the building, the aubler in her hand, blast of clean, white light from the SupraBright screen making her array sprint. She looks over her shoulder at them and winks, and you just know she’s recording their stunned faces.
Maybe some tagline like, “SupraBright. SupraFast. SupraNow.”
“All done!” said the installer, taking a step back. “What do you think?”
I stood up, the kids riding arrays vanished and the wall in front of me flashed mirror-silver so I could see my reflection.
The installer had put a perfect hole in my middle. Right through me. Just the thing I’d signed and paid for. A two year contract. And in the mirror I could see Leil’s pictures on the wall behind me, floating back up from the floor, winking at me through the hole where my heart and my gut used to live. The city shuddered, trying to lift its foot and continue its search for some fleeting oasis to drink dry, to ease our endless thirst.
* * * * *
Will Kaufman’s work will be appearing in [PANK], Unstuck, and Litro Lab, and has in the past appeared in 3:AM, Metazen, Sundog Lit, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. He also coauthored the chapbook “UFOs and Their Spiritual Mission”, published by Social Malpractice Press. He has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis and an MFA from the University of Utah. You can find him online at kaufmanwrites.com.
This is his first contribution to Snake-Oil Cure.