YOUR DISTRUST OF PEOPLE IS verging on paranoia, and although I remain exempt from your unfounded scrutiny, talking you down from your suspicions has become ever the drain on my energy. So I spike your contact lens solution with meds that will sensitize your eyes to the good in others. Or more accurately, will disinhibit the ability to perceive benevolence, which the brain tamps down when we grow up. It works better than I expected. Your mood immediately brightens, and your rapport with coworkers and friends improves.
A few days later, you’re wearing glasses, and everything deteriorates. Your demeanor darkens, and you treat nearly everyone with antagonistic skepticism.
“Changing your look?” I ask over happy hour appetizers in Vegetableau.
The question runs the risk of nudging you toward drawing a connection between your change in behavior and wearing contact lenses, then a connection between tainted contact solution and me. But I want to know what happened.
You respond with no accusation, only consternation. Your gaze goes to your shirt then returns to me, accompanied by a quizzical shrug. I tap the rim of my own glasses to refer to yours.
“Oh, that. There’s something wrong with my contacts,” you say. “Things felt too bright. I think I need to get my prescription checked. In the meantime, I’m wearing glasses.
”Now what am I supposed to do? Sprinkle ragweed pollen on your pillowcase and spike your allergy-relief eye drops? Looking at our plate of grilled zucchini slices, I consider lacing food and bevs with the eye-sensitizing meds, but the effect would be much weaker—if there’s any at all.
On the way home, I stop to mope by the river, staring blankly at its currents while slumped on a wooden bench.
Until some goslings get my attention as they waddle after their mother along the edge of the water. Then I know exactly what to do: make a smartpatch that will deliver oxytocin when you’re around people you should be kinder toward. The trick will be getting the patch to release the transdermal hormonal shot around the right people, at the right times. Which probably means hacking your smartwatch so it listens in on conversations and triggers the patch to release oxytocin when it detects a pro-social tone of voice. A lot of work but worth it if this succeeds.
With a promising way forward, I turn my attention back to the line of goslings trailing their immaculately white parent. If only I could stroke their fuzzy little bodies. That would feel great, and this gets me thinking … instead of building a smartpatch, I could simply abandon a kitten in front of your door in hopes that you’ll take it in. Basically, an oxytocin bomb that should have positive spillover in your relationships at work and with family members.
Actually, I could do with a kitten myself. This could be great for both our sakes. Fortunately, when it comes to fur, I know what your favorite colors are.
LATELY, IT’S BEEN HAPPENING MORE frequently and with consequences—innocuously protracting my walks in the park, embarrassingly derailing conversations with friends, inconveniently costing me four extra stops on my commute then my train of thought during a meeting with a client. Pretty things casting their spell over me, locking my mind in their wondrous clutches. Now, I’m worried that I too easily succumb to their appeal. Earrings here, a bird over there, clouds everywhere. So many lovely things sprinkled throughout this city, lying in wait until I’m close enough for them to effortlessly draw in and hold my gaze then attention with their visual siren songs.So I program my smartglasses to blur anything remotely pretty into sheer indiscernibility. Tuned to take action liberally—likely blurring more than necessary (doubtless a number of cute things)—the obscuring algorithm is initially around 90% successful and should only improve as it adapts by analyzing the pretty things I waggle an index finger at to manually blur them into vagueness. While reviewing its performance, I find that most of the missed 10% are things the AI has classified as beautiful rather than pretty: swans, certain plaid shirts, the plating of lunch entrées at Thoroughfaire Lounge, tulips and daffodils, some watercolor art on the covers of poetry books.
Giving the AI feedback does the trick, and several days later, my focus is unbroken by prettiness. In the following weeks, the technological blinders completely shield me from that disruptive power of the pretty to entrance. I’m consistently on my A game at work, all productive and contributive. So when Wenderly invites me to that new blockbuster with pretty actresses and lovely CGI landscapes all the reviewers gushed about, I accept, confident that this break is well deserved—if not overdue. And how could any real issues crop up? Sure, I might be hopelessly enthralled by the characters in their eye-catching raiment, but once the movie is over, it’s over.
On my way to the theater by train, I’m delayed by a track-switching malfunction. When I finally get to the station closest to the theater, I have to jog the remaining blocks to make up for lost time. Even though Wenderly has no doubt padded the schedule, she still doesn’t like to be kept waiting.I arrive late, and unsurprisingly, she’s already there.“Sorry, there … was an issue … on the … blue line,” I tell her, winded from the exertion.“No problem,” she replies in an understanding tone that I’m relieved to hear.
As usual, her face is blurred by my smartglasses, and I have to rely on vocal cues to get a read on her emotions.“I got the tickets,” she says and holds up two slips of paper.
“What’s that?” I ask, pointing to the gray oval clutched in her other hand.
“It’s my patience stone,” she answers. “Helps me wait and tolerate delays or uncertainty.”
My gaze stays locked on the stone’s sleek curvature. Taking this as an indication of interest, Wenderly expands her explanation.
“When I was growing up, I sometimes thought patience might be like solitude. Something I’d just feel under the right conditions. I was thinking about that perspective a few weeks ago and decided to try creating the right conditions for patience. So I carry these stones that I’ve always found soothing to touch and hold, especially when I’m anxious.”
“That’s a good idea.”“You want to feel this one?”
I reach out an open hand, and Wenderly places the stone on my palm.
I curl my fingers around its arcing contour, pressing my fingertips against the hard surface, still warm from her handling of the stone. The whole thing is incredibly smooth, waterworn to a pleasing roundness, tinged with pink and glinting with flecks of mica. After staring at the stone for what seems like several seconds too many, I raise my other hand over it then zigzag the tip of my pointed index finger down the almost silky length of the stone. A moment later, my smartglasses have turned her patience stone into a pink-gray fuzz.
I hand it back to Wenderly, then remark, “A little heavy, isn’t it?”
“A bit of weight is necessary to ease a bit of wait,” she says. “At least for me.”
“Nicely put. I see how the heft can be comforting and worth carrying around.”
We enter the theater, and Wenderly heads for the concession counter as I go claim seating.
Once we’re settled in the middle of the fifth row, I toggle off the blurring algorithm, to fully experience all the cinematic splendor that awaits us.
“Here, I got you this to rehydrate,” Wenderly says.
Turning to her, I take the bottle of water she’s held out to me. Reflexively my gaze flits up from the bottle to her eyes. Even in the subdued glow of the theater’s dimmed lights, her violet irises are mesmerizing—like amethyst—and all I can think for a moment is Forget the movie. Let’s just do this for the evening. Good thing the smartglasses have kept me oblivious during the times we’ve met for coffee and pancakes in the past couple weeks.
“Great, thanks,” I manage to say.
We exchange smiles, and that seems to be my cue to turn back to the blank screen in front of us. I twist the cap off the bottle, take a gulp then put the bottle in the beverage holder on my right.“Can I also get that stone?” I ask, hoping she won’t ask for an explanation.
“Actually, I was going to use it before the movie starts,” Wenderly says. “But we can use it together.”
She places her hand on the armrest between us, the patience stone resting on her upturned palm. It has a pale sheen under the dim overhead lighting, as though revealing a kinship with moon rock or heritage of comets. I draw my fingertips across the stone’s gradual curve then place my palm on this gentlest of slopes.
Soramimi Hanarejima is the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, “captures moonlight in Ziploc bags.” Soramimi’s recent work can be found in AMBIT, Pulp Literature and Vestal Review.