Deadbook by Debora C. Martin

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Marie was stretched out on the sofa, sipping a glass of wine, flicking through the television channels. We’d already watched two shows featuring evil people, smart crime solvers, and autopsies, not speaking much while we watched, dozing off from time to time, but not at the same time. Marie rested the remote on her thigh.

“It’s ridiculous that TV advertises pills to deal with the side effects of opiates. Why make opiate addiction easier?”

“You have a point.” I replied from my recliner, not turning my head because I was focussed on the next commercial, the one with the beautiful middle-aged woman advertising the benefits of Viagra.

I asked what Amy was doing. Marie rolled her eyes and pointed the remote toward the second floor.

“She’s on Deadbook again.”

I turned and waited for explanation.

“Your sister still talks to Don on Deadbook.”

I un-reclined and started upstairs to Amy’s room. My hiking boots pounded the wooden steps hard, but I knocked gently.

“Come on in.”

Amy lounged on her bed, back propped against two pillows, computer on her lap. She wore yoga clothes, though she didn’t practice yoga, and her hair was pulled back in a pony tail. I sat beside her, but not too close, and carefully turned the laptop to view the screen showing a hologram of Don, a hologram constructed by Deadbook when Amy, like other bereaved customers, submitted photos and information about the person they’d lost.

“Amy, this isn’t really Don.” I said calmly, noticing that dead Don had 300 likes.

“It’s almost Don.” She grabbed both sides of the computer screen.

“Who am I Don?”

“You’re my wife, the love of my life.” Amy smiled at the Don and then at me.

I stared at her and felt my eyes bulge.

“Of course the hologram would say that. Deadbook owns the material you provided.” I tried to relax. “I know you miss Don, but Deadbook seems dangerous. It misleads people into believing they haven’t lost anyone. Grieving is part of life. You need to get out and make more friends.”

“Don and I have many friends.” Amy scrolled down the screen. “Look, here’s Mavis. Poor thing had a massive heart attack in the grocery store. And Peter, a brilliant musician before the drugs. I listen to his sonatas. And Stanley… Don, I think you’d like Stanley. Why don’t you connect with him?”

“OK.” said hologram Don. “Does he fish? Sorry, did he fish?”

I shut the laptop and Amy slapped my arm, but not too hard.

“I can’t believe you did that. I never end a conversation with Don without saying I love him, without hearing him say he loves me.”

I said nothing, because I was reflecting on why Marie and I, both alive, were not habitually affectionate. But, my frustration returned. I took a deep breath and exhaled, reaching for Amy’s shoulders and attempting to hold them tenderly.

“Amy, these aren’t friends. They’re dead people. Possibly nice dead people… wait, maybe not nice dead people.” I tried not to show my exasperation. “Their relatives only entered positive information. They could be…..what am I saying? They could have been mass murderers. You only put good stuff about Don in his profile, right?”

“No. I submitted things we squabbled about so we could argue and make up. Do you remember how Don insisted on wearing that goofy camouflage hunting hat? And when he did, I told him he was invisible to me because he was wearing camo? Well, he wears that hat now and then, and I ignore him until he takes it off. Then I tell him how handsome he is. Just like old times. Please Jared, leave me alone. Deadbook makes me happy.”

“Fine, but I didn’t invite you to live with us so you could throw your money into cyberspace. There’s more to life than work and Deadbook.”

As I left, closing the door too forcefully, I heard Amy reopen her laptop and engage with the Don.

“I’m sorry Jared shut you down, Don. I know he loves me, but he doesn’t know how to help.”

“No problem, honey. Life is too short.”

My noisy exit woke Marie, who heard me power walk to the kitchen and open a beer before returning to the recliner. The Viagra commercial was running again. When it ended, I told Marie about my conversation with Amy.

“Not everyone grieves the same way, Jared. Maybe you need to accept the way she’s chosen.” I found the suggestion insulting, but said nothing.

On our way to bed, we heard Amy talking and laughing with the Don. Once in bed, I told Marie, as I slipped into sleep, “I’m registering for Deadbook tomorrow. I need to talk to Don.”

#

Amy had forty-five minutes to get to the travel agency, but couldn’t move. She felt lethargic and couldn’t stop replaying her conversation with Jared. She knew Jared worried about her time on Deadbook, but he’d acted more angry than concerned.

Amy had talked to Don about favorite recipes and favorite places to travel and Don had said he would buy new clothes today. She was curious what he’d wear tonight, but not excited. She considered calling in sick, but instead, forced herself to the bathroom, the car, the closet, the drive-thru coffee shop, and finally, the office.

Despite the coffee, her head felt as cloudy as Mt Fuji, which was featured on a poster in the travel agency’s window. She poured another cup and pulled files from her desk drawer. On this day, she would construct a smooth, safe, and price-conscious trip for twenty-eight senior citizens wishing to explore Egypt for fourteen days. She’d promised a rate, but the arrangements would cost much less, and expected a significant commission. She wanted to go to Egypt, but not with the seventy-year-olds. She wanted to travel with Don and wondered what Deadbook charged for a virtual vacation.

Amy pretended she and Don were going to Egypt. When she booked flights, she reserved aisle seats for tall people like Don, and window seats for smaller people like herself, who preferred to drink a few glasses of wine, cram a pillow against the cabin wall, and sleep until the captain announced arrival in an exotic land.

When she chose hotels, she chose rooms with balconies, balconies where you could spy on street life while you sipped wine and nibbled a local snack—-maybe figs, dates, freshly baked bread. That’s what she and Don did.

Amy accomplished her tasks with little enthusiasm. She skipped lunch and didn’t converse with colleagues, and at the end of the day, she drove to the park to walk for awhile.

#

I emerged from my home office, headquarters for my graphic design business, at the same moment Amy entered the house and Marie carried beef stew and salad to the table. Amy poured wine as we took our places. None of us had much to say. I looked at Amy.

“Why are you so quiet?”

“No reason.”

“Look, I’m sorry I got so mad about Deadbook last night. I’m just worried. I hope I didn’t hurt you.”

Amy glared at me. “Hurt me, no. Mess me up, yes! I was enjoying memories of my dead husband and you lectured me on reality. I hope you’re happy. I heard you. I didn’t want to, I tried not to, but somehow it went in anyway. Now, thanks to you, I’m officially depressed. I’d like to get very drunk. Officially grieving! And Deadbook can’t help. Thanks for dinner, Marie.” She grabbed her glass of wine and trudged upstairs.”

Marie looked down at her plate. “You wanted her to grieve. She’s grieving now. Happy?”

“Of course I’m not happy. But she’s moving in the right direction.” Marie looked at me in a way I couldn’t interpret, but I was certain it didn’t signal agreement or support. I put my spoon down.

“I need to talk with you about something.”

Marie shot me the identical look.

“I registered for Deadbook today. Remember, I wanted to understand it so I could help Amy? Well, you have to lose someone in order to belong to Deadbook and…I made you my lost someone.”

“You killed me?”

“I pretended you were dead. Truth isn’t required for Deadbook membership, which makes me more concerned for Amy.”

“You killed me. How?” The new look peeking over the top of the wine glass made me nervous.

“Car accident. Couldn’t think of anything else.”

“Is this wishful thinking?”

“Of course not. Actually, submitting your profile was very emotional. I felt nostalgic, silly, sad..it was quite a roller coaster.”

Marie poured herself another glass of wine, but didn’t offer any to me.

“So, what am I wearing?” There was not one trace of amusement on her face.

“I submitted the picture from our honeymoon. You know, you’re wearing the black dress with the straps?”

“So I’m dead, but I look fifteen years younger?”

“I like the picture. The hologram will be ready tomorrow, but I can change things, as long as I pay. Another reason I’m concerned about Amy.”

Marie bit her lip and I had no clue what was going on in her head. “Did it occur to you that I might not want to be on Deadbook?”

I hated the sarcastic tone in her voice.

“Well, I didn’t use your real name, only your picture and some facts to make the hologram more real. Even though it isn’t.”

“Jared, how do you un-register for Deadbook?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry. I didn’t expect this to upset you. You’re upset, right? That’s why you’re looking at me like that way?”

“It’s because I’m the one who lost a spouse. Extraterrestrials took him and replaced him with an alien who looks like you, but doesn’t understand the nuances of human life, such as the concept of boundaries. I can’t talk now, but if you don’t fix this, you can go back to your planet.”

Marie topped off her wine glass and stormed upstairs. Bewildered, I washed the dishes. I didn’t know Amy was crying herself to sleep, and I didn’t know what Marie was doing, but there was discontent hovering above me, and I was afraid to journey upstairs, I returned to my office.

I signed into Deadbook using the password TalkToDon, and scrolled down the list of dead members. I couldn’t communicate with other users, but I could make holograms communicate with each other. Encouraging communication between grieving individuals was not part of Deadbook’s business plan. Instead, their market niche was connecting those who left with those left behind.

Marie’s hologram wasn’t scheduled to be ready until after midnight, but she already appeared in the the directory. I had named her Angela and when I clicked on Angela, up popped the hologram of Marie in the black cocktail dress. God I loved that dress. We hadn’t been anywhere in a long time where women wore dresses with straps. Straps were sexy.

“Hi honey,” said Angela. It was Marie’s voice, constructed from an old voicemail. I had to admit Deadbook had done a stellar job considering I’d only provided the words: Don’t forget to pick up milk on your way home.

“Hi yourself,” I said in a seductive voice I rarely used with Marie. Then I wasn’t sure what to say. Marie was right. This was weird. But was it weird because it was weird, or was it weird because Marie was alive? Would it be as weird if Marie were really dead like Don? The sad truth of the matter was I wanted to ask Angela to take off the little black dress and was curious if the hologram could actually make it happen. Marie wouldn’t be flattered, so I tried other questions.

“How was your day? What’s new at work?” I hadn’t provided enough facts and the hologram reminded me continuously.

“You didn’t give me that information, Jared.”

I returned to my original purpose. “Marie, I mean Angela, could you connect with Don for me?”

“Of course, click on his name and I’ll connect with him. Who’s Don?”

“You know, our brother-in-law who died in a car accident?”

“I’m the one who died in a car accident.

“You both did.”

“Really? Were we together?”

“No, you know you weren’t.”

“No, Jared, I don’t, but it’s OK. I’m not angry. I know now.”

It seemed like the actual Marie, without the anger, and I was embarrassed I hadn’t provided background on Don. I stared at the screen for a few minutes.

“Are you still there?” asked Angela.

I clicked the Add Information button and typed a paragraph explaining Angela’s relationship to Don, then arranged for Angela to adore Marie’s favorite wine, before telling Angela I was tired.

“Goodnight honey,” said Angela, “I love you.”

“I love you, too.” I said automatically.

I considered eliminating the Angela hologram to make peace with Marie, but I couldn’t do it. I felt if I discarded the hologram, I’d be killing her, or us. And where did discarded holograms go? I didn’t want anyone else to have her. I shut down the computer and tiptoed upstairs, silently settling into bed with Marie, who was asleep, or pretending to be asleep.

#

It was Marie’s day off from her job as Executive Director of an environmental nonprofit. When I arrived downstairs, she’d brewed coffee and taken a cup to the deck where she could listen to the birds. I slid open the glass doors and hoped she was less annoyed.

“Good morning. Did you notice Amy’s car is still in the driveway?”

“No.”

I stared at the trees for awhile before speaking. “What do you want me to do?”

“Give me your Deadbook password. I want to see her before deciding.”

I politely gave Marie my password and told her she was Angela, not mentioning my conversation with Angela the previous night. Marie immediately moved through the kitchen to my office. I was anxious and wished I could see what was happening behind the closed door.

I didn’t know Marie was very pleased about how attractive she looked in the dress, and wished it still fit the same way. I wasn’t privy to her conversation with Angela.

“Hi, honey.” said Angela.

“I’m not your honey.” said Marie, freaked out by the sound of her own voice.

“What? Is everything alright? I did what you asked me to do.”

“What exactly did you do?

“I connected with Don.”

“Oh..how..is he?”

“He asked if I’d talked to Amy lately. I don’t know who Amy is. I know Don is your brother-in-law, but I don’t know who Amy is. You didn’t give me her information.”

“Oh, well, don’t worry about it. Let’s reminisce a little.”

“OK.”

“Do you remember when we missed our flight in Mexico and stayed at the bed and breakfast where all they served was beans and beer?”

“No, but I remember one thing about Mexico, Jared.”

“What, Angela?”

“Great sex on the beach.”

#

I remained on the deck until Marie returned.

“Get rid of her today—all digital traces. That’s what I want.” Before I could say anything, she was gone. It was good to know what she wanted, but I felt uncomfortable and regretted upsetting our calm routine.

I retreated to my office where I could hear Marie taking a shower and Amy running up and down the stairs. I locked the door and signed in to Deadbook, wishing both women would leave so I could be alone.

Angela appeared in the little black dress.

“Why did you leave, Jared? Are you mad at me?”

I didn’t want to explain Marie had pretended to be me, and I feared Deadbook knew. Could Deadbook also know I’d lied about Angela’s death? Did others lie?

“Sorry, honey. Computer crashed. Did you connect with Don?”

“I told you I did.”

“Sorry, I forgot. What did he say?”

“He asked me why I changed my name and if you were alright. Said he talked to Amy regularly, but didn’t hear from her yesterday.”

“Thanks for doing that.”

Now it was time to tell Angela to tell Don to tell Amy she needed to move on with her life. And, it was time to tell Angela I loved her and arrange for her profile to be erased. But I couldn’t do either. Instead, I said, “Listen honey, I’ve got a deadline to meet. I’ll talk to you later.”

“OK. Love you, babe.”

“Love you, too.”

As I put finishing touches on a logo for a paint company, Amy’s car left the driveway. I became distracted by another project and didn’t think about Marie until noon. I called to her.

“Do you want a sandwich?”

“No thanks, I’m busy.”

I was eating when Amy returned and said she had an announcement and yelled for Marie.

“Can you please come down for a minute.”

When Marie appeared, she was wearing a black blouse I’d never seen before. Amy began. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but it’s time for me to leave. I talked with my boss and I’m accepting a position at an affiliate agency in Mexico. They need English speakers and I want to resurrect my Spanish. I leave in a few weeks and the company will find a place for me to live, as well as pay all my moving expenses. I’m really looking forward to the change.”

It seemed like a rash decision, before I remembered I was the one who said she should move on.

“That’s wonderful, but I’ll miss you. And Marie and I will definitely visit.”

“I’ll explain all the details later, but I have a long list of things to do, such as locating my passport. Thanks again for everything.”

After the hugs, Amy skipped upstairs. I wore my I told you so look and mentally patted myself on the back. Marie wore the same look as she grabbed her purse and left to search for something special for dinner.

I went upstairs for a shower and heard Amy humming in her room, opening and closing dresser drawers. Entering our room, I saw Marie’s laptop open on the bed and, while lifting it to a safer location, caught a glimpse…of myself. On Marie’s screen, was a frozen hologram of me. I was shocked at first, but then realized I looked great sitting on the beach in my swim trunks, upper body in good shape, beer in hand. I refreshed the screen and heard myself say, “Hey good looking, where have you been?”

I was irritated, knowing full well I had no right to be. Marie had done what I had done. Obviously, taking Angela off Deadbook, which I had not done, wouldn’t put an end to the episode. But I couldn’t resist saying, “Hello…….Jared?”

“Yeah, where have you been? I missed you.”

Marie had named me Jared. She killed me and used my real name. She was more upset than I’d imagined.

“There’s a lot going on at work.” I said, pretending to be Marie.

“Oh, come on. Let’s have some fun. Life’s too short and it’s a beautiful day. How about we pack up wine and cheese and go for a walk in the woods?”

Sadly, it had been years since we’d picnicked. I felt guilty.

“OK, Jared. I’ll be ready in thirty minutes. Love you.”

“Love you, Marie.”

I left the laptop on the bed so Marie would never know I saw it. I wished I hadn’t. Instead of showering, I put on my boots and left to walk in the woods behind the house. Life was complicated. I wanted to do the right thing and had no idea what it was. Taking the Deadbook hologram down would not be enough. I’d already asked Marie what she thought I should do, and couldn’t ask her again, especially since I didn’t follow through the first time. I should know what to do and I didn’t. Marriage got harder and harder. Wasn’t it supposed to get easier? Wasn’t there a point when you accepted each other’s deficiencies, or were too tired to feel tormented or to be argumentative? Apparently not.

Finally it came to me. I called Marie and asked when she’d be home. In a business-like tone, she said around 4:00, after her hair appointment.

“OK. See you then. Love you.”

“Love you, too?” This made me smile.

Back at the house, Amy was slipping into her coat.

“Turns out my passport expires in a few months. I’m going downtown to expedite the renewal. Probably won’t be home before 6:30. Don’t hold dinner for me.”

“We can wait for you. We want to hear about everything. Take your time.”

It was almost 3:00. I had much to do in the next hour and would need Marie’s laptop.

#

Marie’s arms were wrapped around brown grocery bags, but she managed to turn the door knob, push her way in, and use her hip to shut the door, not looking in my direction.

“I bought Coronas and ingredients for tortillas. I thought it would be an appropriate way to celebrate Amy’s adventure. I have beans, jalapenos, tomatoes for sal…..” She inspected the kitchen table.

There were candles, a vase of wild flowers, a bottle of wine costing more than ten dollars, a plate of cheese, and a baguette. There were two placemats and a laptop sat on each. The laptops faced each other, holograms of Marie and me on the screens. I sat behind the one bearing my hologram. “Let’s have a drink together.”

Before Marie could respond, the Marie laptop said, “What a great idea, Jared.”

Marie said nothing. She walked to the counter, put down the bags, and then stood in front of me and spoke quietly.

“Move to the other side of the table.”

“What?” I whispered, noticing Marie now wore bangs. She’d worn bangs when I first met her. They made her look younger, but I wasn’t sure I should say they did. We continued to speak softly.

“I want to get a good look at how fantasy Marie behaves. You can look at fantasy Jared.”

“OK.” I moved to the other chair. “Your hair looks nice.”

Marie smirked and sat.

“Are you still there?” said both holograms in unison while I poured wine.

We both smiled. Marie shut her laptop and suggested we synchronize the start of the conversation. She silently toasted me, sipped, and as soon as Angela said “Jared?” she opened the laptop revealing Jared.

“Angela?”

“Yeah, where have you been, handsome?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you at the beach?”

“I don’t know.”

“Were you working?” Marie appeared intrigued by her own sexy voice.

“I don’t know. I don’t have the information.” What facts had Marie entered? Had she included any of my accomplishments?

“That’s OK.”

“Where have you been, Angela?”

“I don’t know.”

The interchange repeated three more times while we munched on brie and giggled uncontrollably. I closed my laptop for a few seconds. When I opened it, the Jared asked,        “Are you still there?”

“Of course I’m here, honey.”

“Where have you been?”

“I don’t know.” replied Angela.

“Did you take your clothes off?”

“I don’t know.”

“Could you take your clothes off?”

“I don’t know.”

“Would you take your clothes off?

“I don’t know.”

We suppressed belly laughs and tears dropped down Marie’s cheeks. Between outbursts, I said I felt like I’d smoked pot. Marie wiped the tears off and glanced at the clock.

“I need to get dinner organized. Why don’t we work on improving our own profiles? My password is Revenge.” I nodded, took my laptop to my office, and improved Jared until I heard Amy arrive home.

In the kitchen, candles still burned on the table, now set with orange plates, a colorful wooden sculpture of a mule in the center, purchased by Marie on our honeymoon. The Mexican singer, Lila Downs, played in the background. Marie was putting beans, spiced hamburger meat, lettuce, salsa, cheese, rice and refried beans on small blue plates.

“The tortillas will be warm in a minute. Time to eat. Amy, can you get the Coronas out of the fridge? Oh…and I have lime, too. I’ll cut it up and you can stick the pieces in the bottles.”

“This is so nice of you, Marie.”

“It’s fun. And I like tortillas.”

I took my place as Marie put the tortillas on the table. We toasted the new chapter in Amy’s life, assembled our dinners, and took turns asking detailed questions about Amy’s new city and job. She would be in Merida, not yet a big tourist city, but warm and beautiful, a one hour drive to the Gulf of Mexico, historic Spanish convents, and Mayan Ruins. There were three rounds of Coronas before Amy thanked us again and cleared the plates. Looking at me with raised eyebrows, Marie announced she had a little homework to do and went to the bedroom. I stayed to clean up and Amy left to sort all her material possessions into four piles: gifts, thrift store, trash, and Mexico.

I worked until 9:00 before rendezvousing with Marie. On my way, I stopped to see Amy and found her surrounded by piles of belongings, digging through a small box of items. One by one, she held them up.

“This is the menu from the restaurant where Don proposed to me. This is the tee shirt from the charity road race where we met, and here’a bottle of horrible perfume, the worst Christmas present I ever received from Don or anyone else.”

There were many framed pictures of the two, and she set aside the one of them laughing hysterically about the money they’d lost betting on horses at the track. She close the box. I noticed she’d taken off her gold wedding band and strung it on the chain around her neck.

“I’m giving you Dad’s bronze bookends. I can’t carry them and you’ve always admired them. They’ll look nice in your office.”

The sculptured pieces featured great blue herons and other marsh animals.

“Thanks, I love them. Are you sure? I can keep them until you want them back.”

“No, I’m absolutely sure. I’ll visit them if I need to.”

I thanked Amy, hugged her, and said Marie and I were going to bed early.

When Amy heard screaming from our room, she charged down the hall and pushed open the door. Marie and I were propped up on bed pillows holding our laptops. The shrieking was actually uncontrolled laughter.

“What are you guys doing?”

We turned our laptops toward Amy.

“Oh come on,” said my hologram.

“But I don’t want to go skinny dipping.” said Marie’s hologram.

“There’s nobody here.”

“I’m here.”

“Come on.”

“OK.” The hologram slowly began to unbutton the shirt she was wearing.

Amy said, “I…I… I’ve seen enough,” and moved toward the door.

glasses

Debora C. Martin

Debora C. Martin writes short fiction, flash fiction, and creative nonfiction. Her work has appeared in the print anthology, Everywhere Stories:Short Fiction from a Small Planet, Vol. 3, and in Parentheses Journal, Typishly, and Microfiction Monday, as well as Storgy Magazine.

If you enjoyed ‘Deadbook’ leave a comment and let Debora know.

You can read Debora’s previously published words below:

“Ricochet”STORGY Magazine, April 25th, 2018

Everywhere Stories: Short Fiction from a Small Planet, Volume 3

“In The Middle”Typishly

“Kathmandu” – Parentheses, February 27th, 2018

“Fitting Together”MicroFiction Monday Magazine

You can find and follow Debora at:

Photo by Gerd Altmann

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