The Third Day, Stone

Billi sat squirrel-perched atop a neon green (rgb:[0,177,64]) pedestal slurping their Sateeva© energy pouch staring idly into the murky deep of the studio, occupied with fleeting fantasies of this evening’s private dinner plans with Hansel Maxi-Million!.

Cross-legged at the knee, from a director’s chair set just outside the curb of the capture proscenium, Emil the Agent enquired about their interview prior to the shoot without glancing up from the pretentious FT newsprint splayed awkward like a salmon wetsuit over their person.

Billi bent their head like a dog scratching an ear as they slid away the silicon cap jeweled with brightly colored Velcro®ed-Styrofoam™ balls to shake out their shoulder-length Burts Bees®wax curls, salted with lucrative streaks of gray to ‘really connect’ with more seasoned audiences. (What respectable and ethically-minded post-suburbanite would give two whits about some middle-aged upstart intellect-monger trying to dive head first into the metaverse and never come out? No, they would need to see someone who looked just like them to do it. Whether a snake shedding its skin, a caterpillar cresting into a cocoon, or a white man up his own ass, if there was any chance of success, this was most likely to be the way, like it or not.)

“Did you know the game ‘ping-pong’ is racist?” Billi chose to answer instead.

Emil heaved his response catapulted by a sigh. “So the plight of indigenous peoples around the world, I presume you spoke about. How droll.” He licked his lips audibly which crunched in echo around the empty studio. “Also, the game can’t be… is unlikely to be racist in and of itself. I presume they were referring to its nomenclature.” He dramatically turned the page with an exaggerated arc, and only an eye far more astute than Billi’s would wager he wasn’t actively perusing headlines like: Federation and Allies Achieve Accord, or Hot Boi Sync Raise 5Tri for Youth Expansion. “But why is this even a topic of discussion during a qCast?”

“No, it wasn’t for the interview, Emmy-A. That went well.” Suddenly they sat up straight, as if awakening into what they were saying, “No, it didn’t, sorry — it was shite.” They drape one leg over the edge of the podium, more relaxed. “Absolute shite.”

Emil snapped his paper into a crumple on his lap and leaned in without uncrossing his knees. “I don’t like the sound of that one bit! Why was it shite? Did you gallivant off halfway through on some narcissistic bender of emotional neediness? ”

Billi squeezes a dollop of paste from the Sateeva© pouch (‘When you’re so on the go, you don’t have time for a spoon!’) onto their fingernail intent on flicking it at Emil, but long out of practice, it plops back on their wrist.

“Or beg for release from your indentured servitude to the big, bad bogeyman agent who made you the Cloud Star you are?”

Photo by Vitaly Mazur on Unsplash

Billi sucked the en-vitamined kale puree from the sleeve of the Lycra® catsuit. The outfit tasted chalky despite its comfort, carrying with it the underlying perspiration of previous inhabitants. Billi shook their head in disgust and brushed their tongue off with their teeth. “Why didn’t we just get a new suit? Why the fuck did we let them give us this one?” Billi made two quick wolf snarls at Emil. “Blech.” And stepping down off the pedestal, “By-bys, you’re welcome for proving your point.”

While Emil graciously acknowledged their apology with a surprised but agreeable inquisitiveness, they were both startled by an unexpected belch from speakers hung somewhere overhead, bearing the gravel-throated slow drawl of fading vocal cords, lyrical in its sway, almost giddy in its delight, accompanied by super-imposed alias-crunch:

“It doesn’t matter what I said then, it matters what I say now… I always say!”

“Is that really the secret code?” Billi asked as they approached Emil, looking up into the cat’s walk to better discern the location of the voice.

“Yes, but they’re trying on different effects. Luna probably saw you get up from the control room. She said to stay there.” Emil reclined into the canvas backing, but kept the paper closed and stifled with both hands.

“But I said I needed five.” They waved an index finger in Emil’s general direction. “No, I mean, is that really, really the code? Or is it just what we’re using here?”

“How in heaven’s name would I know that, Billi?” Feigning exasperation, he gave them a WTF?! shrug. Billi leaned on cool metal scaffolding.

“But tell me, what do you think is happening in this sequence?”

“Are you announcing out loud in public that you haven’t read the script?” Emil comically creased his newspaper haphazardly and stuffed it under the armrest from where it fell to the ground, then relaxed slowly from its abuse in queer-stepped motion, like the time-lapse video of a sea urchin springing suddenly to maturity.

“I read it, I read it. Panties bunched, my gawd! I just mean, what do you think the author meant by this part?”

“This part we’re doing now?”

We’re not doing anything — I’m doing the acting. Yes, this part in the script.”

“You’re doing the acting, and I’m not in the script, so I surely don’t know what part you are talking about! I didn’t see this in the script.”

“Quite a gag, Emmy-A. Quite the gag from a sired jester, wouldn’t you say? Wouldn’t you say that If I asked you to, Emil? What if I told you to. What if I were speaking to you right now not as if you were Emil, but instead, as if you were you, and in this context, I were I. A story between and among friends without benefits like meeting. A small chamber opera of sorts, about a girl, and in that case it is a girl, but Eveline is ultimately just an allegory for the species. Which certainly doesn’t sound sexy when you put it that way. When I put it that way. But this is not that, this is light-years beyond that in some ways, even if it sandwiches this. The first piece of music to be finished from beyond the grave. But he’s afraid, isn’t he? That there isn’t enough time or talent to get through this arduous love affair with incessant creativity, a font of ideas so lucid and inventive, it’s impossible to smash them all onto paper. Or pdf, or fax printouts, or whatever is in vogue these days. The Great American Faxed Novel. Didn’t happen. No more so than telegraph romances. *wink, wink* Once you could hear someone’s voice, the entire enterprise was sunk. Millions of invested dollars, once-prosperous fathers launching themselves out of skyscrapers, all for the collapse of morse code. I bet on Xerox, I bet on Kodak, I bet on paper mills, I bet on horse races. But all of this to say that I would sooner avoid the issue of my death than to embrace it. I would sooner reach out to you, my non-electronic friend, my compatriot in difficult words, esoteric ideas and lofty ideals, than to pitch myself beyond the dark Dark, the other side of mourning, alone. No matter how it goes, you go in alone. This whole life, every fucking moment of this life is being alone inside your head. It’s not generally a bad place to be, but you’re locked in. There is no magic that can nestle up to you inside your cranial locker room after a tough loss and hold you by the shoulders, massaging gently, intoning platitudes of how everything is going to be okay, this is just one game.

While there will be angels or Valkyries or moribund reapers, they will not really be there. Because they are already also you. Until now. Until soon. Once you cross over, or once you are brought back, you will learn how to be born again unalone. Sacred. Inimical. Exalted. In distinctive unison.

But all of these “creative” ideas have the same problem. They don’t go anywhere. The characters aren’t thrust into yet another hornets nest at every turn, just when it seems they might have a brief instant in which to let down their guard, and share with you who they really were and what it meant to them to be alive, to be animated by you, for even this brief sojourn. It is always show, don’t tell. But let me tell you something, dear reader — to be clear, I am not referring to some fictitious “other” reader in fifth dimensional space, I mean you who reads these words right at this moment and right where you are. I just want to ask you something, just between the two of us.

— What do you think are larger, rocks or stones?

By the way, you’ve been uninvited
’Cause all you say are all the same things I did
Copycat trying to cop my manner
Watch your back when you can’t watch mine
— Billie Eilish, Copycat

Photo by Alexander Kaufmann on Unsplash

Rocks.

— Really. I would have thought the other way around.

Imagine skipping stones. You wouldn’t go skipping rocks, would you? Or if you did, you’d expect to be less successful, hucking jagged monstrosities into the tide, ka-blam! No, stones are definitely smaller.

Or think of gemstones, how petite and marvelous they are. A little goes a long way. If I have a “rock” on my finger, whoa! Like I can hardly lift my hand I’m so encumbered.

— Hm. Convincing enough to go with. Thank you, Billi.

Billi bolstered courage and squatted down to a hunch near to Emil while apprehensively scouting the shadows. “I don’t know that I want to do it.”

Emil wasn’t sure how to respond. They had certainly collaborated before on important career decisions, but Billi had noticeably shifted their disposition to become more laissez-faire of late, and Emil appreciated the less weighty tack of their relationship.

Billi swayed a bit but came closer and stabilized themselves on the arm of Emil’s chair. “I’m serious. I’m not sure I want to go first.”

Emil couldn’t help feeling a sharp sting of betrayal, they’d been building to this crescendo together so long, the idea of cold feet singeing on this hot opportunity had been sequestered. Or so he thought.

“We’ve been working for this for decades, Billi, this is your image. How long have you been thinking like this?”

“No, it’s all new. Just doing this part. His part. It’s getting freaky, like I’m a ghost in my own head. Like He might be me… not in an actor’s projection method kind of way, I mean that it might actual be about me. And I’m not sure I’m ready for that and I don’t know that I want that. It’s not who I am. Do you know what I mean? Free will, I mean?! Am I writing this or is it writing me? Don’t we already know the answer? — it got double emphasis!”

Wow — if you look this bad, do I even want to see the other guy?

He’s not dead, he’s resting…

My mother used to say that, across from my dad in her tall golden armchair in one corner of the den where we kept the family television {for some reason only the young ones cared to look at the television screen head-on…}, she was just: resting her eyes. Until she stopped saying that and snored, glasses tilted back on her head lopped in the velvety mustard head cushion. But she was a light sleeper, if you said: ‘Karen/Mom, I need…’ she would pop out of her delightful dreamworld ready to entertain the request.

You’re just resting your eyes then?

Ha! For an eternity, yes. Put them to rest along with their myopia, cyst ruptures and cataracts for better more broad-spectrum oculars? (and that’s before you even start applying the FxFayceFilters™ where you can actually see like a mantis shrimp. (It turns out to be nothing more than a punching kangaroo in the end. Spoiler alert!), yes I will. And I will take the simulations where I am mantis shrimp, and meta-simulations where I am the concept of mantis shrimp as understood by octopi over the eons. Even if ne’er the twain did meet, mind you! Mined you! Hotspot! Alert! Spoilers! Hack! Hack! Cough!

¡God bless You!

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