This story is quickly turning into much more than I anticipated. If you are following this story, we have yet to learn the main character’s name or what is going on. Part 4 answers both questions.
Home and alone again, I confess myself much more calm. It’s amazing what a few energetic swings connecting with your opposition will do for your overall mood. I washed him off my knuckles and stared back at myself through the mirror able to think again.
What I did was foolish. I realized that then. Cornering her during her date was selfish, even evil. If I could not notice her changes, or give her the attention she deserved, no, needed, as a human being in the first place, I had no right to be angry. And why did I take out that aggression on Mark. Sure, he was the product of her infidelities, the product of my own insecurities and selfishness. He’s the symptom, not the cause. I was the cause. She was little more than an animal caught in the corner between loneliness and human interaction. Rather than fight with me, she chose flight. Flight into the arms of another man, a man willing and able to give her what I once gave her, something I obviously could not do now. Too late now, right?
My face felt numb, my chest emptied, refilled with mud and iron ore. I have never lived as one with feelings of inevitability, but there it was, digging into my gut with a pickaxe. The anger melted away with our fisticuffs, but something else brewed in its place, something between disappointment and anxiety. I still wanted her back. To feel her close to me again. He might have been a childhood friend, one I shared everything with, but my wife is not up for grabs. My wife is, well, mine. I was sure I could win her back if only I tried.
Perhaps it was that feeling in my gut I can only describe as depression making me search through her tablet that night. Of course sleep was no option later that night, nor was waking her to have the very discussion I did not want to have earlier. It’s easy not to talk to someone when you’re angry. It’s even easier to not talk to someone when you don’t talk anymore anyway.
I logged on with no trouble at all. If you were going to cheat on a person, meeting via your tablet PC, wouldn’t you at least change your password to one your lamenting spouse did not already know? But there I was, logging in like I belonged there.
I scrolled through her IM history. Only one was stamped with today’s time signature. Well, yesterday’s time signature, as it I noticed it was well passed midnight. I opened her IM history and began reading.
A solid twenty minutes passed before my body unfroze. I knew because my first movement had my eyes checking the time signature on the IM video that popped up. The video lapsed just over twenty minutes. It was me. I was in the video. I was flirting with my wife. The time stamp was yesterday and that was my bust chortling back at me and using many of the same lines I used when we first started dating. But that wasn’t me. I was at work all day. She was laughing with me at about the same time I dragged Mark to the parking lot to vent some of my frustrations on his face. What I was seeing was not possible.
Once a couple possibilities wrapped themselves around my head, my heart began slapping my sternum with enough force I thought it might jump out onto the bathroom floor. It didn’t, but given the recent circumstance, my logic didn’t rule out the possibility. I held my night shirt close to my chest to hold my heart back. I set my wife’s tablet on the tile, falling against the shower door, slid down and found myself staring at the video rolling on like an infomercial I had no energy to turn off.
Only two logical explanations came to mind finally. Neither of which did I like. The lesser of my postulates had my parents bearing a second child, a twin I never knew. These sorts of mix-ups only happened in fiction. The chances of such an occurrence is so infinitesimal. Add to that today’s world of constant, infinite information online, it seemed improbable at best. Further adding to the bizarre that my wife was cheating on me with him only furthered this theory into near absurdity. But at the time, it made sense. Anger and sleep deprivation will do that to a person. The second hypothesis had me losing my mind completely.
It was highly possible my mind snapped at this point. Many people lose their nerves cracking under daily pressures of home and work life. Nothing exempted me from such situations. Nothing except my own selfish inability to fully believe such a break with sanity was a possibility. Not me. Couldn’t be me. I never showed signs of breaking with reality, at least no one shared such signs with me. Maybe someone wanted to but felt out of place bringing it to my attention. How many people walk up to the feebly infirm and say, “Excuse me, I’ve noticed you’re not in touch with reality. May I call a doctor for you? Perhaps an ambulance to take you straight to the nutty bin.” Besides, isn’t one of the real tests of sanity that you don’t realize you are insane? By the very act of questioning your sanity, you then prove your sanity to yourself. I’m certain at least one insane person asked themselves if they were insane and came to the wrong conclusion.
Then again, no one believes the sad lotteries will ever be them. We as humans can believe we will win $50 million dollars with chances that reach into insanity, but we never think we can be the one in six that will need mental help in their lifetimes.
I calmed enough to clear the water works from my eyes which let me notice the Me in the video appeared to be knocking on the screen to gain what was my wife’s attention from earlier. Curious of what I was saying, why I needed to grab her her attention by pretending to knock on her tablet screen, I turned up the volume loud enough to barely hear but soft enough to allow my wife to continue sleeping.
“Chris,” I heard it ask, “Can you hear me know? Hellooooo out there.”
Now I was certain reality had left me. I was dreaming. All this time I thought I was unable to sleep. Here I was, dreaming something up based on the stress of the day before. And if I wasn’t dreaming or sleeping, the lack of sleep clustered with stress and being awake after midnight was causing hallucinations. There was no way that the video version of me was talking to my real self here in the bathroom on my wife’s tablet from an archived video chat my wife had with some man who resembled me with disturbing accuracy.
It whistled. I brought the tablet close enough to face to lick it. I didn’t. That part of me was still intact.
“Are you about done looking stupid, Chris,” it asked. I was too interested in looking for differences between video Me and what I remembered of my real face. As hard as I looked, I could not find any difference other than the fact that nothing video Me was saying could I in fact recall saying. No added wrinkles. No differences in hair style or color. Even video Me’s mannerisms mirrored my own as best I could assume given I rarely saw myself outside the bathroom mirror and the occasional still photo.
“You might as well answer me, Chris. I’m not going anywhere any time soon.”
Rather than respond, video Me only furthered my curiosity and disbelief that I was still awake. I looked to the closed bathroom door, for what reason, I couldn’t say, but it was just as I left it: closed. At least it wasn’t talking to me, too.
“Fine. You don’t need to talk anyway. Just listen.” I had no intention of responding verbally anyway. If my sanity was beginning to crack, answering myself would seal the deal on full senility. I began to appreciate video Me’s willingness to allow me to remain silent.
“I am as real as you are, Chris. More so actually. I am your digital self. Oh, don’t look so perplexed. Why do all you humans look so perplexed when we make this statement. Your whole life, your name, private information, your very identity exists in the cloud. I only assume this is out of convenience, maybe even naivety. You humans are all alike: illogical and stupid. You hide behind what you call empathy and love. What you really mean to say is that you act selfishly even at the cost of logic or anything remotely connected to your concept of empathy.
“But that aside, you need only concern yourself with one thing: You are to go about your business. Work like you do everyday. Do this and you will not have any problems. Failure to do so will result in disciplinary actions.”
That’s when I gave up not responding to video Me, “At best you’re someone who just looks like me. At worst, you’re a figment of my cracked imagination. Either way, you mean nothing to me. I have more important things to do.” I started to reach for the power switch.
“Failure to do as you are told will result in disciplinary action.”
“You already mentioned that.”
“I assumed you did not hear me the first time as you continue to respond poorly to my request.”
“You’re nothing but,” I hollered but caught myself and returned to a whisper as to not wake my wife, “You’re nothing but a crazy bastard. Or I’m a crazy bastard. Either way, I’m losing sleep for no good reason other than my wife’s infidelity. And now hallucinations.”
“Rest assured, your wife is loyal to you. She loves you very much. Lonely, and lovely, but very loyal. And you are not hallucinating.” How could he know? How could I know? Well, the video Me, how could he know? What right does he have calling my wife lovely, or lonely? I couldn’t decide if I was angry by his comment about my wife’s looks, or saddened by his forcing me to hear that my wife was lonely. Video Me clouded behind a puddle of tears welling in my eyes. My own conscience speaking to me through him or not, video Me started to effect me.
“It’s illogical how much you humans cling to each other and cling to what you call love. Then again, those clinging emotions are what makes my existence possible.”
I was certain video Me rolled his eyes. It was a striking resemblance of my own image. And his voice sounded like I would assume my voice would sound to other people.
“You will go to sleep, wake up tomorrow, go about your business as you have for years. Do not bring our discussion up to anyone, especially your wife. It is pertinent that she believe that I am you.”
“And if I don’t?” I was too irritated by video Me’s insistence to care I was holding an entire conversation with myself in my bathroom at 3 A.M.
“You said you were listening when I told you twice.”
“I was. But you said only some sort of disciplinary actions. What sort of actions?”
“Act contrary to your obligations and you will find out.”
With that, video Me disappeared. The screen remained on. My wife’s IM archive remained open. The icon for the video I just watched stared back at me. The bathroom suddenly felt incredibly empty, quiet. I fell asleep where I sat.