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00:01: she stares at the screen with disapproval.
00:02: still staring at the screen with disapproval.
00:03: sadness is emerging from sectors four, five and six.
00:04: complete sadness.
00:05: Jasmin’s eyes are closed. A whale is surfacing by the boat.
00:07: Jasmin’s eyes are still closed.
00:08: lacrimation has started in sectors seven and eight.
00:09: Jasmin has stopped interaction with VDSS1224. A large glacier looms off the bow of the ship as she walks away from the display.
I watch the video again. I pull up her buyer history to see if there is any affliction for cruises or whales or ice; there isn’t anything qualifying her response. She even bought a snow jacket off a retargeted ad nine months back. I wade through hundreds of her conversions before I pull up the origin of her GUID and initial conversion; it was 962 days ago. It came from a video display for San Francisco Giants baseball tickets. Each ticket came with a promotional baseball glove and t-shirt. She bought three tickets. Shirt sizes selected: Men’s. Women’s. Youth. Baseball glove sizes: Adult x2. Child x1. I run a search for youth or men’s products in her history. Nothing after this date. I watch the video again and a feeling that I’ve never felt before pokes right above my belly button and into my sternum. It’s abstract and I can’t decide if it is just indigestion or something else. I drink some water.
VDSS1224 has been running for five days and Jasmin hasn’t been back to the store. In a week or so, the team will review her FMS in the conference room. She’s not only pinned, but has recorded the lowest FMS to date. Mr. Munchberger’s going to insist my program has made a mistake, he’ll want to justify the anomaly to the client. I thought only a person like me could see a woman crying and debate perhaps that they were tears of joy. I pull up Jasmin’s social media profile, but it offers no ancillary information. When I click on Jasmin’s picture, the one where she is showing off her teeth in all their glory, my chest grows tight and my head becomes cloudy.
Mr. Munchberger was okay with me taking the rest of the day off, though I think I registered in him a look of suspicion. I haven’t missed a minute since I started here six years ago except for the voluntary holiday given after New Year’s. I didn’t know it was voluntary at the time or I would have come in.
It isn’t a long walk to my apartment from my office and by the time I get home, the feeling in my chest and the cloudiness in my head have died down. I untuck my shirt, water my plants, and hang around just long enough to make the decision to head back to superstore12.
When I get there, I stand near the KZ and observe people interacting with VDSS1224. Even without having my facial matrix program, I can tell that people are enjoying the video by the number of phone swipes and by their time spent watching it. Offering no further introspection to the situation, I leave.
I shouldn’t tell you, but right now I am standing in front of Jasmin’s apartment building. I know; what the hell am I doing? If I knew that I would tell you, as this is a live confessional, a 21st-century streaming epistolary if you will. Something about Jasmin’s video has attached itself to me and I can’t think of any other way to describe it. I’m not even sure if the correlation I’ve made between her FMS and her buyer history is factual or that I care; gut feelings aren’t my strong suit. The only thing I know is that when I see Jasmin’s face on the video, my facial matrix outlining the elegant sectors of her consciousness as some unknown rottenness turns them foul, I become trapped.
At home, I sit with my back against the refrigerator again. Her name was Rebecca, she was a forty-two year old divorcee that I had met through an online dating service a few years ago. She liked to grab my crotch in public places. She would tell me my penis was her penis. And then she’d squeeze it. She said she wanted me to always walk around with her flaunting a semi-hard-on. When she couldn’t see its outline through my shorts, she’d grab it and massage it, licking the top crease of my ear. She said she liked the fact I was young and fun, not like the older men she was used to. Half of them couldn’t even get hard cocks. I could walk around with one.
One night, on the way to her apartment, she gave me my first kiss. She’d stopped in front of a restaurant, staring in the window at a couple eating and drinking. She waited until the couple looked over and then grabbed me. Her lips were rough despite their soft appearance and our teeth crashed into each other. I couldn’t breathe, but worst, I couldn’t swallow my spit. Her tongue ran itself around the insides of my cheeks gathering my saliva and when she pulled her mouth from mine, a foot-long loogie hung between us. Shaping my fingers like a pair of scissors, I cut it from my lip. Like a rope swing, it swung over and dangled from her mouth. I’m pretty sure it was shock on her face. Yeah. I would put money on it that it was shock. And it seemed like an eternity before she finally wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, the wad of spit falling to the ground with a gooey slap.
I followed her eyes back to the couple inside where the woman now covered her mouth with her hand and the man shook with laughter. Then, turning back to me, she ended things; there would be no more cock pulls. “How can you look the way that you do and be such a fucking weirdo?” she asked. I didn’t think it was so bad; I liked it really. People on the street and inside the restaurant were looking at us. “Are you a fucking retard?” she yelled. I began to say I was sorry, but then I shrank back into a little box at the center of my mind I like to call the safe. I retreat there and become rigid. In the last 0.09 seconds of Jasmin’s video, I noticed she has a safe too; a place where she keeps things from destroying her.
It is 12:35 p.m. and I’ve decided to take my lunch break at superstore12. It’s been a week and a half since Jasmin’s interaction with VDSS1224 and her FMS is up for review in two days. I walk around the store in the identical route she takes, eating a sandwich that I bought from a cooler next to the produce, which if I must be honest, took me a few minutes to pick out because they have quite the selection. I relate to Miserable Pete.
In the different departments, I stop and look at past items Jasmin has purchased, trying to infer a pattern. I pick up the melon slicer, the sweat-proof socks; I moll over the rocky chunk ice cream; I even find the retro Orange Is the New Black boxset she purchased twice last Christmas. I look for anything I can find of hers that’s been pinned for review. Nada.
Then I see her. She just passed from home goods into electronics. Before I can decide, I hear my voice excitedly calling her name like I know her. She turns and looks at me. I can surmise, from the daily study of her face, it is a look of bewilderment.
“Are you talking to me?” she asks, looking around.
“Yes,” I say confidently.
“How do you know my name?”
“I work at OBA. You’re one of our valued customers.”
“What’s OBA? Is this some kind of prank?” She smile-ishes; things are going well so far.
“OBA is a biometrics firm.” Now a look of confusion, I think. She’s really cycling through expressive states. “I wrote a program that quantifies people’s reactions to new products by designing facial recognition software that graphs emotional ranges over timelines. It is used by companies to adjust their marketing efforts for more conversions.”
“And this has to do with me?”
“I already told you. You’re one of our most valued customers. A dynamic buyer.” I insert a double eyebrow raise here.
“A what? Did I sign up for this or something?”
“Nope. A dynamic buyer. It means you buy a lot of different stuff.” I list off her previous thirty-or-so conversions, which gets me a look I am not sure how to measure.
“And you know this again how?”
“Cameras throughout the store.”
“You watch me shop?”
“Everyday. Well not in person like today, but from my desk. Biweekly, the whole team reviews your FMS,” I say jovially enough.
“Your FMS, your facial matrix score. It is a nodal…”
“Security,” she says in another smile-ish expression.
“No wait. We work for the store. Sort of. I work for things inside the store, like your melon slicer?”
Jasmin starts quickly walking away from me, but I stay at her heels.
“Security,” she says again. “Stop following me.”
“I’m not trying to upset you. Are you upset with me?
She looks over her shoulder at me. I stop guessing her mental state.
“Upset with you? I don’t even know who you are. Just get away from me.”
“How silly of me. I’m Charley.”
“Go away Charley.” She is really walking fast now.
In a last-ditch effort I blurt it out, “What happened with Alaska? What happened to them?”
Jasmin stops. I try to make a genuine face or a less curious face, a safe face.
“What did you just say?”
“What happened to the man and the boy, the one’s you bought the baseball gloves and t-shirts for?” Jasmin is sad. I can’t believe I know this. Lacrimation starts in sectors 7 and 8 confirming it. I want to comfort her. Her brown eyes look heavy like two anvils waiting to drop.
“Please leave me alone.”
I feel a hand on my shoulder. “Excuse me, ma’am. Is this guy bothering you?” I turn to see a rather sturdy man standing behind me.
“Yes. Get him away from me.”
“But wait, I’m–”
“Sir, you need to stop talking to her and you need to leave.” I try to sidestep him, but the man grabs me good by the collar of my shirt, forcing me toward the exit.
“Would you man-handle another patron of the story like this?” I shout. He doesn’t say anything. I tell him to let go of me. I plead to be let go, I just have to explain. I look for Jasmin. I don’t see her anywhere; she must have disappeared down one of the aisles.
I’m standing on the sidewalk out front of superstore12. The security guard has succeeded in removing me and keeping me out. He guards the door even though I assure him I won’t try to get back in. I think about waiting across the street for Jasmin to exit when I spot Miserable Pete strolling down the sidewalk. An obese woman rides next to him in one of those electric scooters, holding his hand. When they get to the door she pulls off to the side and parks outside by the exit near to where I am standing. She calls to him, rocky road. He responds (inaudible to me, fucking city buses) and moves past the security guard who is still eyeballing me. I think about calling after Miserable Pete, but remembering that’s not his name, I don’t. I decide not to wait for Jasmin either. I’ll see her again.