Anna Linetskaya is an emerging writer who, after years of academic work and legal practice, finally finds herself writing pieces she truly enjoys. She is currently working on her first novel while completing her MFA in Creative Writing at the City College of New York. When not working on her book, Anna is sure to be found reading books of others. She is unapologetic about her reading locations and is particularly proud of her reading-while-walking skill.
Francie sat with her back to the entrance, her head bent toward the table, furiously scribbling something down in her notebook. To Clarissa’s surprise, it was not one of the shop’s plush ottomans, but a wheelchair with a canvas back that cradled the visibly emaciated body of her friend. As Clarissa took in the unsettling view, the sound of shattering porcelain broke the muted hum of the coffee machine on the counter. Francie had swiped her arm out in dismissal and sent the cup flying. She barely missed the waiter who was trying to attend to her highly audible distress.
“What kind of liquid shit do you serve instead of coffee? It’s a flat white, for Christ’s sake! It must have a foam.”
Clarissa was too taken aback by her friends’ real-life outburst to approach the table directly. Instead, she walked towards the counter to get a closer look at the fragile young woman she thought she knew so well. Francie’s profile was disturbingly different. Her cheekbones were high and sharp under her sunken eyes and her skin was thin and taut, a translucent milky shade where a healthy glow should have been; her upper lip had been altered to reveal a gummy sneer while her lower lip hung swollen like an over-filled pie tin. Even the auburn hair Clarissa always envied was reduced to a kinked and mangy animal tail.
But what struck her most was Francie’s arms protruding from her chunky-knit sweater. Her bony limbs, made even more cartoonish by the pulled-up sleeves, were stained with the aquamarine of healing bruises and laced with the familiar cherry-red of fresh cuts. What myLife app made look slim and slender, was in reality, starved and self-harmed.
Francie had gone through a series of abusive relationships, another set of poor choices brought on by her long-standing issues with her weight and body dysmorphia. But all of that was in the past, before myLife. Francie swore that the app completely changed her life, gave her the proper tools to fully recover. Indeed, it was she who signed up Clarissa for a free trial when the Company put out a call for research subjects to participate in their pilot study. Both friends were happy and fully satisfied with the results. Or so they claimed in their v-shares on the Company’s web-site.
Clarissa forced herself to turn away from Francie, who resumed muttering angrily at her notebook and left quietly, looking back at the skeletal remains of her old friend.
Once outside, Clarissa hunkered down next to Rita, the chilly air calming her nerves. The dog nudged her head into Clarissa’s chest, then raised her snout to snuffle and lick her face, making her smile and relax. This friend was still here. It was still OK. It was going to be OK.
“Clarissa?” A familiar male voice interrupted her tender moment. “What are you doing outside?”
She looked up from the ground. Towering above her in a puffed-up winter coat, was her estranged brother, Atticus. Although it had been more than five years since she saw him last, his face hadn’t changed a bit: same thick-framed glasses set high on the bridge of his nose, same baby-faced lack of facial hair that placed his age as forever prepubescent. MyLife could have easily corrected that, could have shipped him a pair of modern, featherweight lenses and Photoshopped a five-o’clock shade, but Atticus never joined the tribe. To Clarissa, he seemed to be opposed to all technology, and the Company’s app was no exception. That’s why she stopped speaking to him and hadn’t seen him for so long: he just wasn’t a part of her world.
“Come,” he stretched his hand towards her, “get up from the ground.” He helped Clarissa back to her feet and untied Rita’s leash from the bench. “I’ve heard about the glitch. Father was worried, asked me to go check on you. I didn’t think you’d venture out on your own.”
Clarissa motioned towards her dog. “Rita needed a walk. And I’m hungry.”
Atticus threaded his arm through hers and lead her away, Rita trailing behind on her leash. “Let’s go to my place. I know you hate it, but at least I’ve got some food in the fridge.”
► Part 4