Recoded

The following short story was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre night Space Dreams and Dystopia.  Please enjoy.

I knew this would happen, sooner rather than later. We were all shopping so much, all the time, and for the same products: the same Heinz Ketchup, the same Charmin rolls, the same Tide detergent. Same plastic straws, same La-Z-Boys. Same cars, just names changed on the hood. We were all eating the same potatoes—those perfectly oval, uniformly elongated, light brown, large, and heavy ones with nine eyes on them, four on one side, four on the other, and one eye on one end—‘the end that points up the first time, when the potato is rolled in clear water poured from Brita water filter filled to the brim in a transparent nine inch Pyrex bowl.’ So much of the same with all of us, that it really stopped to matter whether Alex bought his watch yesterday, while Susan bought hers today. Eventually, in our houses and on us, we all had the same products. Ours had become a genus of the homogeneous.

And thus it was decided, that we might as well be differentiated only by barcodes. So, yesterday, being the last day of our different faces and appearances, we had spent hours taking pictures of ourselves. Most photo studios were full with appointments. For us, we just traded places in front and behind the camera with our good friends, the Gibbs. Cherilyn’s red hair had seemed to glow in the fading sun of the evening, in that last picture I had taken of hers. I have always thought that red color is truly unique. She says she gets it from her great grandmother Greta, whose red hair, and blue eyes have been the subject of their family ballads. We each had a mug shot, a full-length front and even a full-length back, and then a couples only photo too. I uploaded the pictures to Snapfish, to develop some hard copies later.

The hatchlings in the nest on that long limb of the willow are hungry again. I can hear their incessant chirping. Mommy sparrow must fly to the bird feeder I hung on the other limb of the tree to get breakfast done. It is dawn, I figure. I turn around to look at Ahmet, my husband as I knew him till yesterday. I am not a superficial person, but I have not desisted from confessing in my inner circle of friends, that Ahmet’s lank frame, sharp nose, and his slender fingers had made an instant mark on me the first time I met him in the Asian Students Association, in Phoenix. That was six years ago.

Today, as I turn around, I can feel a sense of loss at what I see, but I also know exactly what it is that I am seeing. There he is, snoring like always — but now with the chiseled face of a Hollywood actor framed by the suede brown hair of a Victoria Secret model. And yes, he looks busty under the sheets. I recall they’ve picked Dolly Parton’s breasts.  The human prototype was created based on popular votes for each part of the human body. My hand then rests on my chest. I can feel the mountainous terrain of the country crooner’s upper body. On my petite self, such boobs may completely look out of place. But wait, I remember, all adults age eighteen and over, are going to be five feet and three inches now—the average height of adult human beings as of eleven fifty nine last night, as calculated by the super special team of four statisticians and six anthropologists chosen from five continents. And then my eyes rest on my left wrist. I see the bunch of digits—thirteen digits, we were told.

So here we are, Ahmet and I, husband and wife, two look alikes, with different barcodes, in a world of look alikes. I feel bad for the mirror makers.

I yearn for the look I had forever taken for granted. In my teens, I had even regretted my appearance. I wanted to be plumper than I was then, and wanted my limbs to be just a tad heftier. I hated being so petite that I was almost inconspicuous and perhaps considered puny. Out of curiosity, I roll out of bed, and at my computer, I click on the folder that contains my pictures, including those I took yesterday. I wish I had not. Through years of photo rolls, and through one desperate click on the keyboard after another, all I can see are the trees, flowers, monuments, and digits. There are no people, no faces, no traces of people. Just a barcode atop the Eiffel Tower, and one floating with the dolphin in Australia, and two black barcodes, presumably sitting, on the foregrounds of a white Taj Mahal. I want to break down in sobs, but I control. I turn back to hear the heavy, but unlabored, breathing of my roommate. I can’t call him Ahmet, no never again. I don’t want to.

 

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