Tony saw his dead wife. He wasn’t crazy, and she wasn’t a ghost. But he saw her, and she couldn’t see him.
He went on with his day, same as every day before she decided she hated everyone and rammed their car into a bus.
“Die, stupid children,” the on-board nav device recorded as her last words.
So they didn’t get life insurance.
And people hated them.
More specifically, him, cause his wife was dead. Vilified, for killing all those kids.
And to top it all off, she had recorded herself with the holoselfie gadget he’d bought her for Christmas.
It was a device for every narcissist. Not only could you see yourself doing whatever it was that you did all day, but you could see yourself from any angle, holoprojected in your own space.
Oh, sure, it was marketed as, “Posture Straightening Gadget,” or as, “Personal Development Gadget.” Tony’s favourite excuse was the, “External Personal Evaluator.”
That was the version his wife wanted, so she could see herself and what she did all day, and make sure she became more interesting. Or work out more. Or dress up nicer while doing chores.
It made sense at the time, or at least it made sense how she phrased it.
How was he to know it would push her over the edge?
Because she wasn’t a perfect narcissist, you see. No, a perfect narcissist would watch himself all day and feel great. He’d think he was hot shit, the best ever. A lesser narcissist saw imperfections, flaws, things he should improve upon to look better.
A smidge lower than that and you had Alex, his wife. She was narcissistic enough to want to watch herself all day, but not so much as to feel complete.
The days started getting darker since he got her that damned gadget. But darkness creeps in, luminosity fades slowly and your eyes adjust and you don’t realise you’re in the shadows until it’s too late.
He saw the signs. He spoke out, but not enough. She was obsessed with herself. Always fixing her posture. Always slapping herself for biting her nails. Always angry at Tony for not noticing her biting her nails and helping her stop the bad habit.
The imperfections kept going on and on, in a long list.
But the problem was, that Tony had never seen imperfections in her. He loved her, and to him, she was perfect.
“You stupid man. Can’t you see my nail polish is chipped? Why didn’t you tell me that? How could you let me go outside like this? Aghh!” The hologhost of Alex grabbed her hair and stormed into the bathroom.
She wasn’t really there. Recorded from one of the dark days, it was replayed so that the user could see himself and improve. But the gadget was smart enough to stop recording, since she had set it to record only her, and dumb enough to keep replaying the projections, never noticing that the user was dead and gone.
“Good morning, love,” Tony said, loud enough to be heard inside the bathroom. He put on his tie. It felt weird around his neck after not wearing it for so long. Like a noose. He got dressed.
Then he went to work. It had been months since her death and things were crazy, but he had used up his paid-leave and he really needed to get back there. It was insane how much funerals cost, and his wife wasn’t really good with budgeting her credit cards. So he readied himself for the big coming back and stepped foot into work.
It was a boring type of job, corporate, not even central offices, just the offshoot offices they send people who do inane work for inane hours and nobody wants to see their miserable faces around. The building was grey and ageing, bought from some public use so it was practically condemned. They were inhaling asbestos and rat feces in there, but nobody cared and nothing ever got fixed.
He got a lukewarm welcome at work. Some people said their condolences, others just nodded and said hi. Some patted his back. His boss called him in, spoke in platitudes, we’re here for you, this is your family, yada yada.
Then he got back to his cubicle and started working. The specifics of his job are not important. For while he worked, he couldn’t help but see himself in bird’s eye view, like the holoselfie would if he used it in here.
What would it see?
A guy–with a patch of baldness on the back of his head that everyone could see but which he ignored because he couldn’t notice it in the mirror–hunched over a keyboard, sipping his coffee. And the coffee wasn’t even that good, but the holoselfie wasn’t yet advanced enough to have taste, but you could see it. The surroundings in which you experience some food or drink matter as much as the cooking. It was impossible to taste anything other than miserable coffee in this miserable place.
He did do something: he went to pee a couple of times. He spoke to the man in the next cubicle, stretched his legs a bit.
That was all.
An entire 8-hour work day, seen from a bird’s-eye view.
Pathetic, he thought, and it was his wife’s voice.
How had it all changed like that? Tony used to be fun. Nah, he was never cool, but he was fun. Fun to be around, fun with his friends, fun with Alex. That’s why she fell in love with him. They had so much fun.
Now, it was all bland and grey and pathetic.
Tony clocked off work and went home, to find a wet bag of shit on his doorstep.
A usual occurrence, after what Alex did. He got inside, took off his jacket, took some absorbing paper and a trash bag and threw the stinky thing away.
It was hard for him to hate people. Losing eighteen kids is a good excuse to be mean to people.
Tony kicked off his shoes.
“Don’t track mud inside! I told you so many times, scratch them there by the door,” Alex yelled at him before turning back to wash dishes.
“Yes, babe.” He obeyed his dead wife and then started a microwave meal.
As the microwave spun, he watched his wife prepare dinner for him. He remembered what she didn’t like about that particular recording. “Ugh, those sandals, terrible. And that hair bun. Tsk, tsk, my posture, again. I keep forgetting to stand straight over the kitchen sink, that’s why my back hurts. And look at that, I scratched my butt without thinking. I told you, Tony, you need to notice these things so that I can stop doing them!”
The microwave dinged.
He pulled out the meal and sat in front of the smart TV. It noticed him sitting there so it turned itself open and played his favourite show.
Tony caught himself thinking about the holoselfie. What would it record now? Misery. Yes, the surroundings were slightly better than the depressing office, but now it was the cooking itself that ruined the taste buds.
He scratched his chin; there was stubble. He laughed at himself. This morning, when he was about to get in the bathroom and get shaved, his wife got in before him. He had forgotten she wasn’t really there and just skipped it and went to work. He was still stuck thinking about her as if she was more than a recording.
He had an idea. He went to the holoselfie gadget, it was the newest thing in the house, and pushed the display. It showed a menu. “New user detected, keep recording and render last 24 hours?”
He tapped “yes.”
He didn’t look back at the gadget, ever again. He just left it there to do its job. Tony went about his daily rituals: shave, shower, fix the bed, read a book, sleep, wake up, get ready for work.
His wife didn’t greet him. When the gadget recorded, it didn’t show anything until the next day. It needed to process the data or something like that. Tony never read the manual.
He got ready for work, cleaned the new bag of shit from his porch and went to his 9 to 5.
The work was the same. Even blander, if that was possible, because the novelty of him coming back had worn off. This time only a couple of co-workers greeted him, and he spoke only with one.
Those were people he’d spent fifteen years of his life next to. He knew stuff about them, overheard conversations, saw their profiles and their photos. But did he even know them? Did they even know him?
Did they show up at his wife’s funeral?
Only the reporters did, and they got their news.
Thankfully, they quickly forgot about him. Some other man might have put on a better show, been more dramatic, more newsworthy. Even the vultures knew that Tony was boring.
Tony finished his eight-hour shift and went home.
No bag. That was an improvement.
He got inside, and started a microwave meal.
He glanced at the gadget, it recorded religiously.
He watched his favourite show, then cleaned up after himself and went to bed.
He hit the snooze button. He checked the time. Twenty-four hours of holoselfie time. Twenty-four hours of his life, indicative of the entirety of his existence. Inane. Pathetic.
The holoselfie showed himself on the bed, transparent, bluish, like his soul standing up and going out of his body. Even his bed placement was aligned, his life was that predictable.
His holoselfie stood up and yawned, then started getting ready for work. His wife appeared, walking around the room.
“You stupid man, can’t you see my nail polish is chipped?” his wife said.
His holoselfie said, “Good morning, love.”
Tony said nothing. He hooked his tie on the top of the door and hanged himself.
His wife stormed into the bathroom, and his holoselfie forgot to get shaved for work.
# # #
George Saoulidis writes sci-fi shorts. Sometimes, he throws in a bit of mythology. It’s always very dramatic and someone always dies. Or it’s funny. Or both.