Stumps from a scarred branch dig into my belly as I lie here, but you can’t see me. Sunlight in streaks passes through gaps in the leaves. Lime green, grass green stripes and splatters hide me.
Down there, you’re writing, and I need to see. This need consumes me all summer. Are you writing about me? I try finding the book in your room. I follow you after you have written, hunting your secret, but you detect me, elude me, two years more in the world enough to give you every advantage.
So I’ve been here since I ran from the dinner table, her voice calling after me. This time I was the one who eluded capture. I wore green today, I planned this as I pulled on a pair of your old shorts. She raised an eyebrow, said nothing at breakfast, nothing at lunch. She looked, though, and there’ll be plenty to say when I get back.
I’m too high. I know that the moment you open the book, when you pull out your fountain pen. The blackbird in the neighbour’s orchard competes with your scratch. Can’t see him, can’t see me. I can’t see, your script too tiny from my vantage point. I lie, branches burning into my belly. I am only invisible as long as I stay still. One move, I’m no bird, a twig will crack, leaves will betray me.
I think like our cat, brown dapples in the green, unseen enemy of small fur and feathers. I can be cat, slide, glide, slip along the branch. I know from the scrape and burn on my legs that I’m making progress.
I pause. How close must I be? The branch dips, I’m lower, lower still. Can I see my name in there? Or hers? You’re scribbling still, black scrawl indecipherable.
I stop, lean, peer. The branch scrapes at my stomach, tugs on shirt buttons as if I’m moving. Twigs claw my face and I put my hands out, clasp the leaves, then I’m flying like the blackbird, and the text is getting nearer, and you look up and I can read … every /// word …
Let me entertain you drives through her head as she focusses on the blood. It’s important to make the grey of the blade more silvery, to make the blood stand out, the red more crimson, oldword for #DC143C, for #E30022, and she shudders at the imprecision. How can she replicate the experience, seen onbrain across the ‘verse, if there’s no exactitude? She needs the feed as the music swells in her mind. Little Bo Peep has lost his sheep, He popped a pill and fell asleep. She shifts, cold metal bar pressing against her thighs. Grand-mère said that they used to have cushioned seats, adjustable seats, seats to make sitting at the computer for hours more comfortable. She remembers the sentence, but the meaning twists. Computer, a stand-alone box of circuits, heavy, clumsy. Apparatus. Apart. Sitting at the computer, like you could leave it. A tremor runs through her at the thought of not being connected.
She swipes in the air to heighten the #ED2939, increase the shadows of the giant dovetech’s incisor as it carves through the skin to make the glint of the metal that little bit brighter, pulls at the code so that man’s guts spill out towards her, zooms in on his screaming face until you can tell when he last shaved. It’s going to be the full VR experience, for everyone, onbrain.
She steps back to view the scene better. It enlarges anyway, no need to step back, and the soft wall reminds her of this. One day she won’t need her body, her cell, one day everyone will be in total VR, no need for this futile human dance.
Maybe in the next box, maybe thousands of miles away, someone else is enhancing the sound, the smell, and as soon as they are done, as soon as the scream reaches the right intensity, as soon as it balances the clash of the dovetechs, the thud of their mechanised limbs, and as soon as the rust-metal smell of blood and oil is embedded, this episode will feed. She fizzes at the thought that her #DC143C, her #808080 will be viewed in everyone’s minds tonight. Perfect entertainment.
She pulls her hands apart, zooms in so she can see what no-one will notice. She scans the background and somewhere there’s a blackbird singing. Shouldn’t be there. Has to be erased. A twitch, pain sparks from her neck, shoulder, arm, hand, forefinger and she’s found the small black shape, zoom in. Onbrain, there’s a spark, she twitches again, and tremors shoot down her spine. Maybe it’s the bird where it shouldn’t be. They’re nearly all gone now. A vicious jab in the air with her shaking hand and the birdchant stops. The sparks stop too and she leans back against the padding, sweating as she slides down the wall.
The song loops back to the start, pounding bass, screaming vocals blacking out the pain. Hell is gone and heaven’s here, and she can see the redbrown stains, dried #c4302b on #d7000 and a faded #A81C07. One hand flickers, and if she could, if this was VR, she#d heighten the #A81C07, soften the rough beige cotton that lines her cell, /// erase all trace of her blood, #erase the walls, wipe out this cell and the next and the next,/// and take away the bloodstains on the soil and #paint the world #3DF500.
Shades of green machine, lime, and grass shoot through her head. She lolls to the side, spring green, Persian, olive, Kombu, Granny Smith, jungle, laurel, rifle green speed towards her face, three dimensial VR, onbrain gone wild as she smells, she tastes, the blood, the oil, the earth.
I can read the words now.
Blackbird wings beat in my head, ants scurry along the lines. There’s grass and mud between my teeth, bruise on my cheek, ink on my skin, and a torrent of anger in your voice pouring over me.
I try to sort my limbs from yours, but the script still scores tracks through my mind.
I can hear her screaming as she thuds down the lawn,
… I’m too old for this … you come here right now … what will your mother think … she left me in charge … I’m too old for this … you’ll give me a heart attack … I’m not letting you out of my sight again!
Nothing matters, now. I’ve read the words.