by Robert S. Wilson
“Honey, can you take out the trash?” The moment the words slip from my mouth I realize my mistake.
“Sure.” Devin gives me a solemn smile and rushes over to the trash can next to the refrigerator, opens the lid, and begins pulling out the white plastic bag. I’m immediately jarred from the fantasy now and I try like hell to hold onto my smile (exactly why, I don’t know) as I mentally will the Lifeline file to end. As it does, the spotless shining kitchen from my artificial reality fades into a shimmering grayish flicker and I’m left sitting lonely and forlorn at the foot of our—I’m sorry my—maple-finished four poster bed.
It hasn’t been our bed for six months now. Not since, without warning, the real Devin moved his things into the guest bedroom across the hall. I can’t say I blame him. After all, by that point, I was already regularly spending more time with Other Devin than the man I married a decade earlier in meatspace.
I feel a flash of guilt at the renewed realization of this and then just as quickly a thin slimy layer of resentment replaces it when I think about Devin’s own LifeCraft buddy. In my head I’ve dubbed her Caroline Not. But I’ve never heard him call her by any other name than simply Caroline which leads to awkward confusion sometimes when I wake up in the middle of the night to hear him passionately call out my name from across the hall.
I get up from my bed and step over the growing pile of clothes strewn across the floor. I wonder if Devin’s room is equally dirty. He always claims he is the cleaner one. Maybe he is right. Maybe not.
I walk out into the open house and down the hall into the kitchen to find him sitting at the table, devouring a bowl of Fruit Loops. He stares grinning at nothing, eyes bulging and glazing over the content of some doubtlessly infantile Lifeline feed like some giddy overgrown adolescent. I ignore him and take out a couple of eggs from the fridge. I happen to remember the end of my Lifeline session and glance over at the overflowing trashcan to my left.
Worthless. I’ll have to do it myself again.
When I spin around to grab a bowl from the cabinet I nearly knock right into Devin who is now standing, Lifeline device no longer dangling from his inner ear. A moment of awkward silence oozes and pulsates between us and then we manage to make our way around each other without a touch or a word between us. Good. It’s better that way.
On Monday, after work, I pull the car into the driveway and get out in a rush toward the mailbox as rain patters all around me. I pull out the pile of envelopes and magazines and stash them inside my coat and head inside the house. It strikes me as odd that, for once, Devin’s car isn’t blocking my spot in the driveway—isn’t here at all yet. I shake the rain from my coat and hang it up and the bundle of mail falls scattering to the floor. I curse and bend down to pick it up when I notice the name on the return address on one of the letters staring face-up at me.
Jeffery Stinson: Family and Divorce Lawyer
A sinking icy anchor drags my stomach down below sea level. I tear open the letter and skim the cold lifeless legalese for what I know I’m going to find; Devin’s filed for divorce. I feel a million things at once, remember a million little moments starting from the day we met and leading up to now. In an instant the solid rigid paper in my hand shatters months of virtual happiness, passion, and… something else I can’t quite put my finger on.
Those experiences, those fantasies of who I wanted Devin to be… are laid bare to me now. In all their selfish plasticity. I get up from the floor and go straight to the bedroom. I scramble for the Lifeline device on the computer desk and with fumbling fingers, I put it in my ear. My hand hovers over the LifeCraft icon for just a hair of a second and then it double clicks on LifeShare instead. Once the Lifeline’s gray formless interior has fully bloomed up around me, I begin recording and let my mind focus on that solitary moment of fear and memories all tangled into one big overwhelming emotional knot.
I nearly burst with the force of it. The ice and fire and tug of it. But it’s important I get every ounce of joy and fury. Every nuance of love and loss.
When I’m done and the experience is rendered into billions of ones and zeros, I feel my physical body tense up, tears sliding down my face, and I take a long deep breath. My inner self within the Lifeline holds on to the file with gray featureless hands and then releases it. The file shoots away into the gray void as if pulled from a powerful vacuum and within seconds it’s just a shrinking pinpoint blasting through empty space.
A notification scrolls up from below, letting me know my file has reached Devin’s inbox and in that second in time I feel just a glimmer of something I haven’t felt in nearly three years.