Jan 27th 2023
I’ve answered the doorbell without peering through the eyehole and now I’m regretting it.
“Can you please, please visualize at my thesis defense tomorrow?”
There’s Layla at my opened porch door, wide-eyed and whining. Her pout is less endearing now that it’s unaccompanied by bedroom eyes and one of my oversized pajama T-shirts.
“Please,” she wraps and unwraps a braid around her finger. The gesture throbs like an old wound. “You are the best visualizer I’ve ever had.”
I would be lying if I said I haven’t missed it. “Fine,” I say and shut the door. Dammit.
The first time Layla hooked me up to GOD was on our second date. We’d just finished making love for the first time, and her hair was mussed at the back, red-blonde strands coming out of her pigtails. Her face was flushed and her skin glowed and her expression was bright and refreshed and relaxed. She rolled over and reached towards the floor near the bed.
“Put this on,” she said and handed me a helmet attached to a giant metallic wire tangle on wheels.
“Kinky,” I said and accepted the helmet.
“I’d like you to meet the Galvanic Orchestration Device,” Layla said. “Put it on and visualize something,” she instructed. “Something static. Really focus on it, otherwise you’ll ruin it. And close your eyes.”
“Ruin what?” but Layla had already shut the door.
After fifteen minutes, she came back. “Can I open my eyes?” I asked.
“Yeah.” Layla was kneeling in front of the metallic tangle, and rummaging between the wires. Her hands found a small door; she opened it and fished inside.
“Whoa,” she breathed and held out her palms. In them lay a perfect miniature likeness of Layla, done in shining bronze. Her expression was alert, relaxed, glowing, with tiny strands of hair coming out of her braids.
“You are so much better than Nate,” she said.
“Who’s Nate?” I asked.
“My ex,” she replied. “He’d try to make a pencil and it would come out wood pulp. He had the imagination and focus of a toad.”
Trying not to smile, I looked back at the statue. Layla did too.
“Whoa,” she said again and kissed me.
In the weeks that followed, we kissed and made love often, and in between we hooked up to GOD. I would create a sharp, fresh-smelling bouquet; Layla would present me with a yellow peony that drooped, and kiss me sloppily on the cheek. I’d create a rosy apple, its leaf quivering at the stem; Layla would produce a shriveled tennis ball, wrinkly and fuzzy at the edges. “I’m going to miss you,” she said when she was leaving town for an overnight conference. “Wait right here,” I said, and came back from GOD with a true-to-life replica of the contents of my underpants. She laughed, rolled her eyes and manifested a blurry, misshapen fedora to go on top of it. We made love twice and she nearly missed her train.
Three or four months later, we settled into a routine. We made love once or twice a week. Layla worked on improving GOD, and I’d hook up to it. I got to know the nuances of the machine, the colors of my creations growing more vivid, their shapes more true. I manifested lifelike, miniature reproductions of famous sculptures, a perfectly round balloon that floated, and even a pair of golden glasses that matched Layla’s prescription.
“Enough.” Layla was stern as she took off the glasses and replaced them with her own. “Let’s grab dinner. Go dancing. All we ever do is GOD, and I need a break from work.”
“You know I can’t dance.” I retrieved the gold glasses and jiggled the nose pieces. “Can I have one more go? I was going to try a phone charger to replace your busted one.”
Layla stared, and I stared back. She rolled her eyes, relenting. “Fine. I’m going to go order a pizza.” She sighed.
“I’m sorry, Kye,” she said one night. “This isn’t going to work.” She wrapped a pigtail around her finger and unwrapped it. “I need a partner who at least says hello before they make out with my labwork.”
“That was one time,” I defended. “I was this close to a functioning remote control car!” Layla stood against the doorframe, arms crossed, unmoving. “Yeah. Fine.” I sighed. I took the helmet off and placed it on GOD. “I’m sorry.”
It is the morning of Layla’s thesis defense, and Layla is on the stage facing a quarter-full auditorium. She is talking into a microphone; her advisor and other audience members are asking questions. Behind her, GOD and I are also onstage, waiting, spotlights pointed at us with a sense of drama I did not expect from a thesis defense.
“And now, a round of applause please for Kye, who will be demonstrating for us today.”
“I don’t know what to make. I should have practiced,” I whisper under the sound of clapping as Layla kneels to show the audience the empty compartment inside the tangle of wires. The spotlight shines baldly on its stainless steel bottom.
“You’ve got this,” she says under her breath. “You can visualize in your sleep. Even Bruce with his photographic memory doesn’t get creations as sharp as yours.”
“Who’s Bruce?” I ask. Layla wraps and unwraps a braid around her finger.
I follow her gaze to a curly-haired, bearded man in the third row. Pinned to his lapel is a sorry-looking yellow peony with droopy, malformed petals. I recognize the handiwork, and it feels like a kick to the gut.
“Never mind,” I say. “Don’t tell me.”
The auditorium dims and we are alone, GOD and I, onstage under the spotlights. Even though I only saw Bruce for a second, the image of him is bright in the darkness of my mind, him together with Layla, the both of them doing things I would really rather they didn’t. I have an urge to wreck the presentation — imagine something fuzzy and anticlimactic and unspecific and grey — or even take the humiliation a step further and imagine nothing at all.
GOD buzzes warm and familiar under my fingertips.
In my mind, there’s no more time, there’s no more auditorium, there’s no audience, there’s no Layla. There’s definitely no Bruce.
I shut my eyes and put on the helmet.
When the fifteen minutes are over, I bring my knees to my chest and open my eyes. Breathless, I watch as Layla rummages between the wires and opens GOD’s little door. The auditorium is hushed with anticipation. A wave of water gushes out of GOD and onto the floor of the stage; she jumps back, and a glistening blue-red shape sways and lurches in the stream. It smacks against her feet with a soft thud.
I’ve created a living, writhing fish.
Layla turns to me, her eyes wide, her expression repulsed.
“What’s wrong with it?” She whispers.
“It’s a discus fish. They’re supposed to be like that.”
She crouches down and gingerly picks up the fish: a flat, glistening, electric blue six-incher with a crisscrossing red pattern running across it. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I hiss. “They’re a popular aquarium fish. My sister just got some.”
She rolls her eyes, then rises and steps to the front of the stage. She holds the fish up to the audience like a trophy, and it thrashes and flails in her hands. “A live discus fish, everybody. Give it up to Kye!”
Over the cheers, applause, whoops of wonderment, and cries of protest, the fish throws reflections like a disco ball around the hall. I stand up in the puddle of water, and I feel like I could almost dance. I take a bow, then unlatch the helmet and give it back to GOD.
Meirav Seifert is a queer storyteller, English teacher, and writer-translator-editor based out of Tel Aviv-Yafo. Seifert explores identity, relationships, emotions, and mental and physical health through her short stories and graphic works. They graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in English Literature and American Studies and are a member of the Codex writers forum.
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