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Jack came home late. As usual, he did not bother to be discrete. He simply marched across the street from Joan’s house, tucking in his shirt. Helen sat at the actual window and watched, sipping a smoothie from a cup that shrunk as the liquid inside it disappeared into her mouth. It was supposed to just vanish when she was done, consuming itself as she sucked, but a few unprocessed bits of food clogged the straw and it fell to the floor, jumping around like a Mexican bean beneath her. Pitiful. She stepped on it just as Jack walked through the door.
Her husband hung up his coat and made his way to the kitchen. Lights came on around him as he moved through the house; they glowed warmly and dimmed after he’d passed by. Helen looked on from the living room, standing in the dark.
“Helen if you can’t power them yourself, why don’t you at least turn on a couple lights manually?” Though he still hadn’t looked directly at her, Jack asked this in an entirely non-threatening way. It reminded her, his tone, of farm fresh apples, though she’d never eaten one. Something wholesome, she thought. Or maybe just round and red.
“You know I don’t want to waste electricity, honey,” she replied. Her voice was, by comparison, flat and secondhand-sounding, an inner-tube she’d gotten on sale that didn’t fully inflate. But there it was, all she had. Since she was already at the pool, she figured, there was no sense in turning back now. She should go in, shouldn’t she, and just try to ignore the other children’s stares and snide remarks.
She splashed around in the shallow end. “We’ve begun having energy bills again,” she reminded him.
“Honey don’t you worry about that,” Jask assured her, still not even one small glance in her direction. “I’ve been working overtime.”
“I know honey and I think it’s wonderful, really, but I have to start pulling my own weight.” Helen’s bathing suit began to itch. “And besides, the competition is getting sneaky. I was looking at the Slerm site today and-”
“God don’t remind me,” he groaned. “I can’t believe I let Slerm go unnoticed for so long. They really beat me to the punch with that.”
Helen watched with renewed amazement as the kitchen lit up, the toaster came to life, and the lights turned on along the hallway, though he’d made no movement toward it. She was always impressed by Jack’s abilities. His raft shone under the sun like it was right off the rack; it held him out of the water like an island. Helen’s stuck to her skin.
“The thing is, hon,” Jack said as he pulled leftovers from the fridge, “is that I had a premonition about Slerm, and I’d even started coming up with a good description.” The AS-Mask had an odd effect on Helen. Through it all she could see were broad, abstracted strokes of her husband’s movement, as if he wasn’t a body moving in time, but merely a series of stills. He sifted into her eyes like a flipbook, and her statements stuck in between the pages, marking her place in his world.
Sitting in her dark corner by the TV she used for work, she watched him finish making his sandwich. She was having second thoughts. She was watching Jack go about his routine and she was feeling the first tidal movements of her AS-Mask-induced hallucination and she was having second thoughts about whether to go ahead with it, whether to call him over, whether to let him see. She sat in silence as he ate, beaming ambiguous messages at him like look don’t look look don’t look look until Jack finished his sandwich and left the room. As he marched down the hallway, the lights followed him and faded from where he’d been until Helen was left again in darkness, in over her head, back-paddling to the stairs of the pool and cursing the stupid short stack of words, useless, that lay at her feet like a soggy towel. She gathered herself together and followed her husband down the hall, sloshing through the ankle deep run-off of her rogue emotional state.
Helen had been married to Jack for five years. Five years since they’d met, at her boyfriend’s request, in a chat group called Single Professionals Seeking Under-educated Partners Who Haven’t Been Taught to Expect Fair Treatment in Matters of The Heart. She was impressed by his self-assuredness, amused by his prejudices, and thrilled by his emotional depth, which, having no dimension, seemed limitless. He’d given her the details of his day, opined the vaguest of political perspectives, and described the fine curvature of his secretary’s ass. She’d encouraged him, reflected her impressions of him, engorged, back across the screen where they’d masqueraded as personal revelation, and tittered at his jokes as though offended. Helen loved, she found, to titter.
For his part, Jack loved the name Helen. He’d compose poems for her in real time, none of which failed to use the rhyme “melon.” They were short, often rather explicit, and betrayed a frank acknowledgement of his literary limitations. They were not about Helen at all; he did not ask about her family, he did not ask about her past, he did not ask her opinion about anything. Helen, coming from a family whose judgment rested solely on her ability to reiterate ideas she didn’t own, had never felt so authentically cherished.
Helen tried to summon some of this initial excitement as she walked down the hallway to her husband’s bedroom. She passed pictures of his family, who she’d never met, and an attractive collection of pictures they’d received the year of their marriage featuring two small children who were supposed to resemble kids they’d have, had they wanted any. It was a free service offered by the state. Neither had wanted kids right away, but they’d both taken to the images, probably for different reasons, and there they’d remained, a reminder that what went on in the bedroom wasn’t a practical affair. She turned the corner into the bedroom and saw that her husband had already gotten into bed. He was facing the far wall, and she paused to study the lumps he made in the blanket. Low-lit advertisements crawled over the bed’s brain-like surface. She could hear his breathing, still filled with sighs and slurps. He wasn’t asleep. Following a cute little logo across the comforter, Helen absentmindedly reached for an itch on her face and stabbed her fingers into the hard shell of her mask. She cried out abruptly, startled by the interception.
“Helen?” Jack spoke the soft words of someone trying to sleep, and turned, finally, to face her. “Helen!” He whisper-yelled, his face lighting up the room. And in the warm wash of newborn photons a transformation occurred. The ambiguity that had plagued her just before fell away, leaving an intense certainty in its place. Now, confronted by Jack’s enthusiastic expression, Helen’s skin flushed and her hips began to sway. She watched her husband’s smile begin to shed its astonishment and turn into a mischievous grin of predation.
Helen took a step forward. “How did you know it was me?” she said. The words just came out without being asked. They sounded ridiculous coming from her mouth, and it was slightly exciting, she found, to be saying something so patently absurd. Her shoes untied themselves.
Jack’s smile grew deeper in his face, settling in. “Just a hunch, baby.” He swept aside the covers and his body, clean and un-pierced, displayed for her its unnatural muscle tone. His cock Re-Membered™ to fit the peculiar curvature of Helen’s cooch. He ordered the lights to low. Helen remained standing and watched him grow closer. She had the urge to leap into the air and pounce on her husband’s head, stabbing him in the eyes and clawing holes in his cheeks, and she waited patiently for the urge to dissolve back into the high voltage pattern of violent images that bore it before taking a step toward the bed to meet him halfway.
“You are so beautiful,” Jack whispered. Helen knew it was true. She looked over his shoulder at her reflection in the mirror above the bed. The AS-Mask had by now crawled up into her hairline to fuse invisibly with her deep blue lazy curls. It had wrapped itself under her chin and changed color to fade into the pale of her neck. As Jack undressed her the mask’s expression retained its hallmark serenity, and the juxtaposition of Jack’s quick unsubtle gestures and her own stoic poise left Helen feeling dizzy and wanting to break the spell by helping him along. She resisted.
“I was thinking,” she began, watching him, far below, tugging her panties down with his teeth, “that you might like to watch TV with me later.” Her words seemed to line up right inside her mouth and then fall out all at once, too impatient to wait their turn, and the statement tumbled, overweight, onto Jack’s head, interrupting his momentum.
He looked up at her with a pained expression. “TV? What are you talking about, doll-face?” He was obviously confused, and Helen immediately felt embarrassed, for him, for herself, and solved the problem by grinding her crotch into his face. Jack reached his arms around her and pulled Helen forward, swinging her to the side and sliding down. Thunder sounded outside, closing in, and Helen did a mental survey of the yard, making sure she hadn’t left anything outside since the afternoon’s windstorm. It was difficult, she found, to stop thinking about dead iguanas.
Helen had always had trouble concentrating. Even her first boyfriend Asseem, gold medalist in going-down, hadn’t been able to keep her from mind-walking over the pock-marked surface of her imagination, at 17 already a minefield of false starts and embarrassing bloopers: taking her classmates for peers, taking her parents for people, taking what she could when she could and becoming so self-absorbed in the process that no one in their right mind could translate her warbled words into anything meaningful. And this is where Asseem, name meaning “immune,” came in.
But he didn’t come in to any story involving an evolving girl named Helen. For that, at the time, was not her name.
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Read chapter 1 of Forecast at Juked: http://www.juked.com/2009/07/forecast.asp
Read Chapter 3 of Forecast at Emprise Review: http://emprisereview.com/?page_id=525