Can you believe it? This is my fourteenth story—that’s fourteen weeks in a row! Ah, the power of making a decision and sticking to it. I will welcome your feedback here and/or on Facebook, as always:
What Sort of Secrets?
By Laura McHale Holland
I thought the very notion absurd when I moved into my one bedroom here at Happy Sunset. Vibrant Virtuality, my eye. I told the little gal with the heavy eye makeup and butterfly tattoo on her collarbone, Robin—she handles all that new resident registration stuff—well, I told her that real life had been good enough for me up to this point, so it was darn well going to be good enough for me from here on out, thank you very much. Yep, just give me my three squares a day, an exercise class or two, maybe a weekly outing to a museum or shopping mall, and transportation to the doctor and such, and I’ll be fine and dandy.
This little Robin, God love her, she raised one of her eyebrows, the one with that earring stuck in it, poor thing, and she tried to hand me a video all about this Vibrant Virtuality program. She thought I’d find it appealing. But I set her straight. I told her that I, a halfway educated person who never indulges in things like Bingo or poker, would rather sit all afternoon in the game room doing just that than watch some mumbo jumbo about growing vibrant through the companionship of virtual replications of pets long dead. The very idea.
But then I met my neighbor Flossie Jones in the dining hall. She’s a big advocate of this Vibrant Virtuality, was in fact one of the first volunteers to test it, Beta testing, I think they call it. Yeah, that was a few years ago that the testing began. And she’s been hooked on it ever since. She told me all about how it works.
You start off having a few sessions with a counselor-type person who attaches some electrode things to your head and asks you all sorts of happy memory questions, you know, like think of a happy time at the beach or your favorite room ever or the best scents you’ve ever smelled, and, of course, your favorite people and pets from the past. And while you’re talking about all this real private, emotional stuff, the electrodes (if that’s even the right word for what they are—I don’t know) are able to capture everything you’re seeing in your mind’s eye just like a movie (and even some things that are there that you don’t see), along with everything you’re feeling, too. And then all that’s stored in a file with your name on it in the Vibrant Virtuality computer. They ask you what sort of companion you’d like, and you state a preference for, say a cat or a dog, or maybe even a pot bellied pig or miniature horse. But it’s up to them to decide what’s right for you.
It all sounded kinda hokey to me. But then Flossie invited me to her apartment. And since I didn’t have anything else to do and was all in a tizzy on account of the move and all, I said to her, alrighty then, I’ll come visit, but just for a minute or two, a gal’s gotta get her beauty sleep. And wouldn’t you know it; her place is just a few doors down the hall from mine, and it’s got the same basic layout. The Thomas Kinkade knockoff on the entryway wall, the little kitchenette you’ll never use because you eat all your meals downstairs, but it’s nice to have to look at anyway, the bathroom with the bars so you can grab them if you slip, the little string to pull to set off an alarm if you fall down. And sitting there on her sofa was the most beautiful cat I’ve ever in my life seen. This was like some sort of royal cat, the cat’s meow. She was long-haired calico with green eyes, and she was mesmerizing. She had this halo around her that changed colors in the light like a gorgeous crystal. Flossie said her name was Missy Tibbs, and I could pet her if I wanted. I don’t even like cats, personally, but I couldn’t resist just plunking right down and petting that cat. And that little critter, fake as I knew she was, well she put me right at ease. And before I knew it, three hours had gone by. Flossie didn’t mind. She had another little kitty, Missy Tabbs, on her lap.
I slept like a log that night, and woke up feeling like a shiny, new dollar coin, and before breakfast, I was down in the office asking little miss Robin for that video I’d passed on the other day. And then I set up an appointment with the Vibrant Virtuality counselor. There was a waiting list, but it was only a couple weeks before I started my sessions. And then we were done with that phase, and I couldn’t wait to see what sort of companion I would get. I wanted a dog just like my little spaniel Sparky from when I was a kid. He was my favorite dog ever, with silky black fur I used to love to brush.
Then today, at suppertime, Robin came up, smoking one of them slim cigars, which she wasn’t supposed to be doing anywhere in the building let alone in public, but I’m not the kind of person who would tell the management, you know. But anyway, she had a big grin on her face, and I noticed that one of her molars has rainbow stripes on it, and I made a mental note to ask her who her dentist is because I want a rainbow tooth too, and then she said to me that my companion was here and would be waiting for me in my room when I finished eating my supper. Well, you bet I wolfed down the rest of my meatloaf and mashed potatoes. I didn’t even wait for my chocolate cookie dessert. I got up so fast, I knocked over my chair when I got up. But Flossie said not to worry, she’d set it right.
I rushed to my room, opened the door and nearly had a heart attack. There on my sofa in only his boxers was Daniel Mulroney, looking at me in a way that made me feel stark naked; he’d aged, of course, since I’d last seen him about 40 years ago, but it was him, for sure. He was our neighbor when my husband, Joe, and I bought our first house. Daniel Mulroney was leading-man handsome. Dark wavy hair, sparkling blue eyes, a trim 6’1”, the best smile ever. I mean I used to daydream about him all the time. But I never, ever, you know, did anything with him, except kiss him just once at a New Year’s party, and everybody was kissing everybody, after all. It didn’t mean anything (I must say, though, now that I think of it, it was sort of electrifying). I mean I loved Joe, still love Joe even though he’s been six feet under for the last five years.
So I backed up out of the entryway and closed the door. Now I’m leaning against it, wondering what on earth I’m going to do. I was expecting Sparky, for goodness sakes. Flossie’s coming down the hallway now. She’s going to ask me about my new companion. What can I possibly say? She’ll probably want to come in and see. But I can’t go back in there, not alone, not with her, not with anyone. I’m 78 years old. She’s going to think I’m some kind of trollop, a tramp. That couldn’t possibly be true, could it? My God, what sort of secrets have I been keeping from myself? I’m not sure I want to know. Vibrant Virtuality my eye.