In between advertisements for a new line of cars that run on everything from hangovers to a well-held grudge, my husband's face appears beside a screen displaying a topographical view of our block, seen from space, with absolutely no weather, none at all, just a long row of houses and a yellow dog wandering around in the street. I turn the channel.
My husband is a weatherman. I don't trust him. Well, I trust him with some things, but mostly I just do my own research if you know what I mean.
I reach over to the external and dial up Joan from down the street.
"Look I'm just calling to-"
"I was just thinking about you! I saw Jack on TV and he said that tomorrow's supposed to be-"
"Weatherless. I heard. Joan, I was just calling to let you know Rocket's back. The satellite picked him up and he's-"
"Yes." I wonder if there's been some proliferation I'm not aware of. "He's outside over by the Gleason's."
"Oh thank you so much Helen! I'll unlock his door."
"You might want to turn on the beacon too."
"The beacon? But Jack said-"
"I know what Jack said but really Joan just to be on the safe side…"
"Helen you're absolutely right. Thank you so much."
"Not at all. Talk to you later."
"Oh yes let's."
Joan is in denial of the fact that she can't stand her dog Rocket. I think she's getting a good return on it though, so I help her out occasionally. You never know. There was a two-week stretch last year when almost all our kitchen appliances were running off Helen's discovery that Ted, her husband, was fucking a news anchor. She'd found a pair of panties in his jacket pocket, and promptly forced it out of her mind, leaving her with so much power pulsing through the place she was giving it away.
Joan, for her part, has been sleeping with my husband, but for some reason I can't bring myself to pretend it's not happening. Maybe I should give it a try. We could begin using the dishwasher again.
The TV beeps, calling me over, and I dutifully return to my post. Just as I sit down Jack comes back on talking about what I can expect for the next few minutes - again, no weather - but then pulls out a small box and opens it to reveal his AS-Mask. I gaze across the room at mine, prone, its vaguely oriental eyes looking deep into the fake grain of the dining room table. Jack begins to remind people to wear their AS-Masks whenever they leave the house, and suddenly the blender begins to buzz, obliterating some food items that had been in there since it ran out of juice two days ago. I look down and realize that I'm standing at the table, mask in hand, Jack now giving his all to an empty room.
I sigh and put my pretty face back down, listening while the blender slows down and then stops. The Anti-Surveillance Masks were delivered to every house on our block about two weeks ago as part of a testing period before they launch the program nation-wide. I can't wait.
I punch back in and flip through a few more ads, a competing weather report for our block predicting 57% more slerm from 5:45 to 6:02 this evening, and on to an infomercial about worms that attach to your face, chew your food for you, and shit down your throat. Slerm? Jack's competition has begun making up weather conditions to pique viewer interest. I'm supposed to log on to the website and get the lowdown on their latest invention.
My husband hasn't always been a liar; he just has a big heart. Jack responded to one of the earlier recruitment efforts back when the weather began to go crazy, and he's been doing it ever since. In the beginning it wasn't so bad. Real-time micro-weather reports were pretty handy, and for a while the weathermen actually tried to keep it all kosher. But a few inflated egos and the whole profession went to pot. Now they're all indy, record from private studios, and peddle their reports to any block looking for a sanitary smile and a sunny day. Jack gives them what they want.
I make my way to the computer and visit the slerm site. Pop-up ads wander around just under the surface of the interface, appearing like phantoms before the site's sensors destroy them. The whole process is played out in a dramatization that actually draws more attention to the ads than you'd have given them if they were left alone to do their thing. I visit low-budget sites just to avoid this sorry display, and let the ads accumulate. They slowly cover the site's second rate content and wind up lobbing logos off the screen, where they climb around on the desk and head for the items they hope to replace. Sometimes I let them. I don't really care what brand stapler I use. Joan swears up and down that ever since she accidentally let a little "Panasonic" slip past her and onto the external she's had 1.3 percent better reception.
"What does 1.3 percent better reception sound like?" I asked.
"A million bucks!" She said with an enormous smile.
I decided to drop the issue, listening to all the exercise equipment in her garage come alive and begin to burn the fat off Joan's thighs. Joan is quite the little battery.
En route back to the boob tube I pass by my quietly menacing mask, waiting to be worn. The AS-Masks are all the same: a deep tan face with slightly ruddy skin, a strong but not overly large nose, lips on the full side around a rather smallish mouth, and almond shaped eyes. The face looks neither male nor female, and the age is indeterminate. You look at this mask and you feel like you know him/her. You feel vaguely drawn to it, but it makes you uneasy at the same time. Makes me.
I haven't worn it yet. Okay I put it on once right when it got here, but I haven't worn it outside. Joan, who I bet wears hers around the house, tells me it feels great to know you're sticking one to the government, but she stared at me blankly when I asked why she thought the mask was being endorsed on government-owned TV channels.
"It's a free country," she finally said.
I get back to work.
The TV makes a couple of weird noises and then dims, and a moment later I find myself watching an actual show. I get paid less for shows, but I decide to stick with it anyway. On the screen appears a man who walks with a limp down a weatherless street. A group of men about the same age come up to him from behind and begin to hassle him, calling him names, and soon a punch is thrown. He falls to the ground and twists his leg on the way down - but the movement actually corrects his previously lame appendage! He bounces back up and lays waste to all his assailants, then continues on down the street spread heavy with even, unfliltered light.
I reach for a tissue as the credits begin to climb the screen. I've always been a sucker for shows. Jack never watches them with me anymore, says they just don't hold his attention, but I tell him Hey, we can't power the alarm clock on that kind of honesty! What if you're late for work?!
The truth is I wouldn't mind if he found another job. With things going so well for him it's unlikely that he'll be looking for anything in the near future, but a girl can always dream. Joan's unwavering support alone would probably keep his ratings high enough, but I've begun to see him on other channels, pimping his WeatherLESS Reports ™ - a phrase he actually coined - to other blocks, some in other towns entirely. It's not that he doesn't have talent. And obviously the perks of being married to a cultural icon are unavoidable: free deserts, getting the green light treatment, but lately I've been wanting, I don't know, maybe a few yellows. Sometimes as I'm speeding past all the commuters waiting their turn, waving and giving me thumbs up, I find myself wondering what it might be like to get a red.
Jack's back on and this time he's wearing his mask. He's still supposed to keep it off during peak viewing hours but the minute there's a 5 minute slump he grabs the opportunity to peer through those weirdly familiar eyes. He stares right at me and says Put on your AS-Mask right before a commercial cuts him off and follows up the command with a comparison of six different kinds of mask-attachment creams. A sticky substance that holds the thing in place, absorbs your skin's oil, and secretes it through to the surface of the mask, is supposed to make the face look more lifelike. Another one also serves as a real-time temperature regulator that responds to micro-weather fluctuations surrounding the head and neck.
This second one could be handy, I think. Sometimes it gets obnoxious trying to keep up with all the changing temperatures at different altitudes during a standard geographical location alteration. Knees in the subzero range while your feet are on fire and it's raining from your waist to your nose. They should release a full-body version of that stuff, I think, and immediately an ad for the full-body version of the temperature regulation mask-attachment cream pops up, replacing the other products.
I frown. Those bastards are quick.
I wait for the royalty credits to appear on my cash card, and within ten minutes I'm a multi-millionaire for the next five, when half of it's usurped by block, neighborhood, city, county, state, federal, and interfederal taxes; my identity is stolen; all the remaining money spent on a small nuclear device by a group of liberal refugees trying to gain access to their children; and the rebels are gathered up and brought to justice in an international court of law which docs me a week's salary for financially backing their terrorist plot just as my patent expires and a million spin-offs flood the market. Sigh. It simply does not pay to brainstorm.
I turn off the news and clock out.
When Jack and I got married he was an honest man. He was honest, and I loved him. I still love him, I suppose. I can't really imagine life without him. I guess that's the same thing.
I decide right then and there to surprise Jack when he gets home by having my mask on. Put a little spark back into things, maybe. He'll be happy to see that I share his concerns about being watched, and maybe he'll pay some attention to me. Maybe we'll see a show together.
On my own time, I turn the TV to Window and look out at the street. Snow is piled up in our driveway, it's sunny down at the Gleason's, and there's a thick fog-like substance about as big as a dog crawling around in Joan's yard. I squint and realize four little furry legs are jutting down from the fog into the dead grass. Rocket. I call my neighbor again.
"…Helen?" she whispers.
"Yeah, Hi. I was just call-"
"Helen how on earth did you know it was me?"
"How did I know it was you?" I think about it. "Well, Joan, I called your house, and you know your voice is-"
"Oh! Of course. I'm being silly."
I realize something. "Are you wearing your AS-Mask?"
"Well but I was just trying it on again to see! I just got six different types of mask-attachment cream and Helen you're not going to believe this. I also got a cream that covers your whole body and regul-"
"Speaking of weather Joan, I just thought I'd tell you that Rocket's been eaten by fog."
"Yes. I'm sorry."
"I'm afraid so Joan. I was just watching the Window channel and I-"
"Oh God Helen I…" Joan is in tears. She is sniveling, and obviously too choked up to chat.
"I'm going to hang up now Joan," I say as nicely as possible. "I'll call later to check in on you."
I hang up the external and walk over to the kitchen. I bring the AS-Mask up to my face, and wait for the blender to pick up any excess energy resulting from Joan's terrible loss.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
is Editor-in-Chains of Monkeybicycle
, a literary quarterly and reading series in Seattle. He would like to say a few words about that.