Monday, September 9, 2013

Absolute Blue

            It was the last day of August and sprinkling rain. This first it had rained all summer.
            “It’s been almost a year,” he said sitting there on the park bench. He was sitting by himself, though, and not really talking to anyone.
            This first day of rain meant the promise of another dark, emotional fall and of a long and apathetic winter. Already, the tip-tops of the trees were turning pink but the day was still warm enough to sit outside. And so despite the rain; he did. Because one just never knew around this time of year when everything always felt like a last chance.
            “Yes,” the voice was clear.
            “I don’t think I can take another one. I don’t think I want to.”
            He was the only person in the park and somehow, to him, it only seemed fitting. Up a slight, little hill there was a small pond where some geese were floating around. One of them kept honking intermittently but because of the distance it was a soft honk. Softer than the breeze brushing the leaves.
            “Why do you always wear that dress? Even in the summer when everyone else is wearing white?”
            “Because I invented blue.”
            The park spanned acres of uninterrupted grass while the land rolled a little here and there but it was mostly flat. The few trees there were, were of the Japanese Maple variety. They didn’t grow very high…just to about double overhead. And this left plenty of room for that sky.   
            “That dress is black though,” he pointed out.
            “No. It’s just a very deep blue. I’m surprised that you can’t tell the difference.”
            “Well, it is a really cloudy day.”
            “That’s true.”
Like a grey rag soaked with dirty laundry water; the sky was both everywhere and nowhere at once like one of those Eastern paintings where they leave the background blank on purpose. He felt as if he could reach out and touch the grey and that that same wet grey reached out for miles. It may have covered the whole world so far as he was concerned. An unholy blanket causing him to constantly have to look down less the rain should hit him in the face. But would a blue sky have been any better?
            “Nothing really helps,” he confessed, “Sometimes I sleep with a razor, you know.”
            “Well, I wish I could say that that surprised me.”
            “I wasn’t really looking for sympathy anyway.”
            “I am sorry. But I didn’t invent compassion.”
            “Did you only invent one thing?”
            “Yes. That’s all any of us ever do. And I invented…”
            “Blue. Yes. I guess, I sort of knew that all along.”
            After talking like this for a little while longer, the man decided to move over past the goose pond and towards the sandbox with some swings. He sat in one and tried not to think about anything swinging slowly to-and-fro and hearing the chains creak. His feet were flat, though, and never actually left the sand.
            “I almost bought you a sapphire once.”
            “I would have liked it. But I wouldn’t have kept it.”
            “I know.”
            Sometimes lower-lying furls would pass by forming a foreground against the rest of the rag. Sometimes it would all go back to matte. Part of him kept expecting to hear thunder but another knew that was only because there was thunder where he’d once grown up. They were much too far north now. The silence was worse, he thought.
            “Are you going to be around forever?” he asked hopefully but then realized that he was scared to death of the answer either way.
            “I’ll be around as long as you are.”
            She rocked back and forth in the swing beside him. Her single buckled flats crossed at the ankles.
            “I get it now,” he said without excitement, “That dress. It looks lighter when it’s placed next to black. Right?”
            “A little. I guess, none of us are really anything until we’re placed next to something else.”
            “Like the Impressionists.”
            “Like life.”
            They swung in silence after that until the sky cleared and it was night. A few stars twinkled up there but not many. It was late and starting to get chilly so the man stood up and thought about leaving. Slowly, he walked to the sandbox adjacent and stopped there facing an empty playground.
            “Did we ever have a chance?” he asked, “I mean, either of us? Even individually?”
            “Then what about together? What did I invent?”
            “No,” she shook her head and had to stand up on her tiptoes so that he could hear her whisper, “You invented absolute.”

Monday, September 2, 2013


            Cheesily as to be expected, the TV news station was about to cover a love story for Valentine’s Day. And this year, in an effort to make the station’s stories seem more hip, tech savvy, and ‘with it’; the news director proposed they do one on the world’s first couple to have met and married via Vidigab, the internet’s original (and still most popular) site for video chatting.
As a promotion for the site itself, some of the leading thinkers and marketers had come up with the idea of locating any couple who had become wedded by using their product. On their site, they posted a notice to any potential couple asking them to register their names. The notice remained posted for one month to ensure that as many potential couples as possible could be discovered. By the end, the company had gathered a surprising (despite Vidigab’s having been available to the public for nearly a decade already), several hundred couples in all. Some of them were scams, to be sure. And although Vidigab had not advertised any type of monetary compensation for being the first couple to have become married through them; it was generally assumed that there would be some sort of prize for participating in this promotion beyond mere recognition and notoriety. Ironically, as of yet, Vidigab itself had not decided whether there was to be a prize beyond the title and having, during the week of Valentine’s, the authentic couple’s picture posted on their homepage. Either way, the company knew that finding the ‘true’ couple was a priority less they accidentally be sued later on for having picked the wrong one. So, before they knew it, Vidigab had suddenly become more invested in this promotion than anyone working in their advertising department had ever suspected. They sent investigators out all over the country to confirm the identity of the ‘true’ first couple. Some of the sales and marketing interns were sent to seek them out as well. This investigation, however, was more to prove that these couples were legitimately married than anything else. Whether or not they’d actually met via Vidigab; Vidigab knew already since they recorded every video chat session (no matter how long or short) that had ever taken place on their site. They weren’t trying to hide this fact either. It was all right there in the fine print.
            Once the ‘true’ couple was found, recordings of a few of their first sessions were reviewed to ensure that they’d met before anyone else in the competition. This couple was not, however, the first to become married. That is, their courting duration lasted longer. This left Vidigab with another problem on their hands but they weren’t going to over think it. This was their promotion, they decided, and since they had never publically posted any official rules; the couple who had actually become married first had no legal ground to dispute the final ruling. The company would be hearing from this ‘unchosen’ couple, no doubt, as the date of the ‘true’ couple’s wedding would be posted on their site. It really could have gone either way but the board of directors voted to pick the couple who’d had the longer courting period based on one peculiarity. And it was this peculiarity, they’d determined, that would be better for the promotion overall and the overall popularity of the company.
“This is Reggie Letterhead and we’re coming to you live this Valentine’s Day afternoon,” the newsman spoke into the camera, “With a very special couple who have redefined love and romance in the modern age. I’m connected right now, appropriately via Vidigab, with the very two people who have become known to the world as; the first couple to have met on the site, courted each other, fallen in love, and then become wedded. I give you, Mr. and Mrs. Karen and Frank Mitchell. Karen, can you hear me?”
            “Yes. I can hear you Reggie,” she smiled over the screen, “And see you.”
            “Wonderful,” the newsman replied, “I understand that you’re streaming to us from Syracuse, New York. While you, Frank,” he turned his head a hair as if to speak more towards a screen located slightly to his right, “I understand that you’ll be coming to us today from Dayton, Ohio where, unfortunately on this day of romance, you were obligated to take a business trip.”
            “That’s right, Reggie,” the man answered him. He was standing outside near a river with what must have been downtown Dayton in the background, “And I do deeply regret that I’m not able to spend this holiday with my beloved wife. But she knows that I’ll make it up to her, don’t you sweetheart?”
            “Of course I do, baby!” she smiled sweetly.
            By using the automatic split screen feature (one of Vidigab’s latest) each of these persons, from their laptop, were able to see the other two clearly.
            “That’s just wonderful,” Reggie repeated and smiled smugly straight into his own high quality webcam for the viewers’ sake, “You two really do seem happy together.”
            “She’s the love of my life,” Frank replied, “I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
            “You see? For all you critics, cynics, and disbelievers out there,” Reggie thought this was a really good line, “True love can and does exist. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta keep trying. But…speaking of which, let me ask you two a few questions about back when you were still trying to find the right one and then, serendipitously, discovered each other. Let me ask you a little about your dating days and lovely courtship.”
            “We’d be happy to,” Karen answered, “What would like to know?”
            “Well, first let’s give the viewers a timeframe. How long ago did you two actually meet?”
            “You want me to take this one, honey?” Frank asked.
            “Go right ahead,” Karen’s voice; always cheery.
            “Well, it was almost ten years ago,” Frank took a moment to reflect, “Which is amazing to me because it really does only seem like yesterday.”
            “And exactly how did you two stumble upon each other?” Letterhead kept him going.
            “Well Vidigab, from the very beginning, has always had a random selection chat option on their page. Just click the button and POOF! Seconds later, you’re talking to someone new.
            Here, the newsman really wanted to ask Frank if Karen was the first woman he’d ever spoken to, met, or even courted by way of Vidigab but knew that this question might instantly become uncomfortable. Suppose Frank had. Suppose she didn’t know about it. Would he tell the truth? Would he lie but with the truth plainly visible on his face? Because that would have been great. It might even be worth the risk. And that’s one of the reasons Letterhead wanted to do live interviews in the first place. To bust people! To bust people in ways deeper and more emotional, he thought, than a cop ever could. But Letterhead also knew that by getting his interviewee into an uncomfortable situation, because he worked for a such a cheesy television station and was broadcast during daytime hours when mostly the elderly and some families were watching; he too, along with his ratings, would meet with an uncomfortable situation. Day after day, he was tethered to these assholes…and he hated it.
            “Well, love truly is a miracle,” he said instead and without a shred of sarcasm, “If such a couple, so plainly meant to be together, was actually brought together at random.”
            “Well, random is a curious thing,” Frank picked up, “That is…I don’t believe in accidents, if that’s what you’re asking.” Letterhead hadn’t asked him anything of the sort but Frank didn’t realize this. “I mean, we both had computers and were using the Vidigab program years before it became popular with the general population. Maybe we were both just lonely but forward-thinking and the shoes just fit or however the saying goes.”
            Letterhead didn’t like the avenue this interview was taking and even wished he could edit that last part out. But that was the beauty and the catch to being a live reporter. It was his job…his responsibility to conduct this conversation in an artful manner. Why couldn’t people seem to understand that that was very difficult to do? It took a special kind of person with a special wit. He definitely wasn’t appreciated enough; monetarily or otherwise.
            “And then how long did you two date?”
            “One year,” Karen couldn’t resist answering, “And while I’m happy as a person can be now, that year was the most wonderful, most romantic of my entire life. Frank and I were practically inseparable. We did absolutely everything together and so, at a certain point, I guess it only really made sense to get married. And then he popped the question and made me the happiest woman on Earth.” Tears of joy actually began to pool in her eyes as she recollected.
            Finally, thought Letterhead, they were back on track. And this raw emotion she was showing was really going to get the viewers going.
            “Well, Frank,” the newsman smiled slyly and egged him on, “What was the proposal like?”
            “It was like all the happiness I’d felt over that past year had all compiled into one moment. And when she said ‘yes’ and I saw that ring on her finger… Well, sir…I felt like I’d been zapped by a giant, blissful laser and I knew that, from there on out, everything was going to be okay. I knew that we’d grow old together and never part. I still know that for certain. And I felt the touch of destiny, if that makes any sense.”
            “Perfect sense,” Letterhead agreed, “Perfect sense. And now Karen,” he switched back again to the screen on his left, “I’m assuming that not too much more time passed before you two lovebirds officially tied the knot?”
            “That’s true,” she blushed, “It took just a few months to plan. We both wanted to give our families enough notice so that they could be there. And it was so wonderful the way they all got to finally meet and…”
            “And you should have seen her in that dress!” Frank couldn’t even help himself. He was actually compelled to interrupt but knew that, by paying her this compliment, she wouldn’t mind. She’d love him all the more for it.               
            “I’ll bet she was just beautiful, Frank,” the newsman continued, “And I’ll bet you cleaned up pretty nicely yourself.”
            “He was so handsome, Reggie. I felt so underserving and actually thought that some other girl might come over and sweep him off his feet…right there at the alter! It sounds crazy, I know. But once I looked him in the eye and heard him say ‘I do’; I knew that he’d be with me forever and ever. He’s the best man I ever met. Till death do us part.”
            “That’s so charming,” Reggie was finally bored with this and suspected his audience was too. Let’s just get to the kids and wrap this thing up, “And I even understand that you have children?”
            He’d decided to let either one of them field this question and, having left it open this way, they actually both answered at once, “We do!”
            Then Karen took over, “We have a little girl and a boy. They’re six and eight.”
            “They’re wonderful!” Frank picked up, “Our very pride and joy. You know something, Reggie? Looking back on it, when I was still a single man…I have no idea what kept me going. Because today, my family is everything. I live for these people. I don’t remember feeling lost or lonely before…well, not that much. But today, I know that I have a home in the hearts of each of these people and am,” he actually choked up here, “Unconditionally loved.”
            Wow, the newsman thought to himself, I couldn’t have done that any better myself. That was beautiful. And the timing was perfect! Now, all we have do to is bring this thing to a happy conclusion and put a bow on it.
            “That’s beautiful, Frank. I truly mean that. I think your words have touched us all on this Valentine’s Day. And now Karen…do you have any tips or parting words of advice for all those young lovers out there? Perhaps some newlyweds even?”
            “Oh, well that’s a great question, Reggie. But I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer…”
            “Oh, sure you are,” Reggie smiled a twinkling grin, “And I think all the viewers at home would agree with me there. Consider ‘joy’ and ‘happiness’ your credentials.”
            “Oh, well alright then,” she timidly proceeded, “Well, then I have to say that the key for any couple is to do things together. All the time. Always be together. Or at least as much as you can. Now, of course there’s a certain amount of compromise that comes with that. Sometimes you have to do what they want even though it might not be your thing. And vice versa, of course. But that’s what I love about Frank. He always goes shopping with me. Shopping for clothes, I mean. And even though I know it probably bores him out of his mind, he does it just to be close to me. Technology has really helped us along too. I mean,” and she smiled at her husband here through the split screen on her own laptop, “I’d take him along no matter what…whenever he wanted to come with me, that is. I’d lug my laptop around, sure. And I have in the past. And it was really no problem. But today, I can take him around with me on my phone since, as you know, Vidigab can now be utilized through a smartphone application. And it’s just so much easier. I can always have him where I want him,” she smiled, “Right here in my little pocket.”
            “Yes…” Reggie stammered, “So…what you’re saying is that even though Frank may be busy doing other things sometimes, he can still help you try on dresses…tell you what looks good? Things like that?”
            “Well yes,” she answered, “Although I never bother him when he’s working. Not unless it’s an emergency, of course. But when he’s able to, my Frank always comes with me. We’ll go shopping for hours sometimes.”
            “On your phone,” this was actually a question but the newsman’s voice was flat.
            “Well yes,” she smiled, “On Vidigab, of course.”
            “And Frank,” Reggie needed a quick and concise answer and knew he wasn’t going to get it from Karen. He needed a man’s answer. Then he could finally put a lid on this interview before it spiraled any further out of control, “You’re okay with sitting in front of your laptop that whole time?”
            “Oh, I would be Reggie. But like my wife said. With the benefit of smartphone technology, I’m much more mobile now. She can take me with her but I can also take her with me,” and, through the screen, he winked at Karen.
            “Oh,” fuck, that wasn’t exactly the answer he was looking for, “So you two just…do things together virtually then.”
            “Well yes,” came Karen, “I guess you could say that we only have done things virtually together. We thought that’s what this interview was about,” she smiled innocently, “A Vidigab marriage?”
            “Right,” Reggie shot back, “You two were the first couple to have met and married on Vidigab.”
            “Yes,” Karen replied, “But it’s so much more than that. We met on Vidigab…”
            “And Frank courted me over Vidigab…”
            “We married over Vidigab…”
            “I’m sorry. You married…?”
            “And our whole wonderful relationship thus far has all been thanks to Vidigab.”
            And for the first time in a long time, Reggie had nothing to say. He wanted say something. He wanted to ask another question. But it was as if he just couldn’t formulate the words. He couldn’t bring himself to believe it. Plus, since the answer was so absolutely inconceivable, he certainly didn’t want to risk looking like a fool on live TV. But nobody was saying anything! So, absent-mindedly he muttered, “And your children…”
            Yes, Reggie! Yes! Of course! Let’s see them try to get out of that one!
            “I sent her my sperm!” Frank answered proudly.
            “Well, to be more precise,” Karen explained, “It was sent to my doctor’s office.”
            “You were artificially inseminated?” the newsman’s voice lost a notch of its composure.
            “Well,” one side of Karen’s mouth crinkled, “That’s not the term I like to use in front of our children. But, for the sake of being direct; yes.”
            “Both times?!”
            “Yep!” Frank smiled again, “A different batch, of course. We felt it would be more natural that way.”
            “Oh, honey,” his wife softly chided, “There’s no need to be crude. I’m sure all the folks at home don’t need to know all that.”
            “So you two have never…actually…”
            “Met?” Frank could tell that the newsman was struggling with this and had tried his best to fill in the blank.
            “I was going to say…” Reggie searched for a term that would be ambiguous enough to any kids in the audience, “Engaged in…”
“Made love?” Karen suggested pleasantly.
“Yes,” Reggie breathed a sigh of relief, “There’s the term I was looking for.”
            “Well, of course we’ve made love,” Frank seemed to really enjoy talking about this, “And not to brag or anything but we make love just about every night. For that, though, the laptops still come in a little handier than the phones,” he double-clicked his tongue in his cheek.
            “And it can be just as intimate as, how shall I put it? The usual way,” a blushing Karen added , “Maybe even more so.”
            “But you…” Reggie was losing his cool and he knew it, “You, Frank, told us that you were just in Dayton on a business trip.”
            “I am. I live in California and work for the airlines which is really handy for the children’s sake. I mean, they can fly for free so… I guess you could say; we have joint custody although we prefer not to see things that way. They live with their mother most of the time but come to stay with me on the weekends.”
            “And holidays…?” the newsman added flatly from journalistic instinct more than anything else.
            “Well, that’s where the real beauty of Vidigab comes in once again. I’m always over there or vice versa. I’ve never missed a birthday. A Christmas. In fact, last Mother’s Day, the kids even took me upstairs with them after they’d cooked their mother breakfast in bed.”
            “So what about when you proposed?!” Letterhead was exasperated now, the audience had all but disappeared in his mind and these next questions; he asked merely to satisfy himself, “You mean to say that you never actually put the ring on her finger?!”
            “Well, no,” and here, Frank began to sound a bit embarrassed for the newsman’s own obtuseness, “Of course not, Reggie. I just mailed it to her. I mean…not everything can done digitally.”  
            “And the wedding?”
            “Well, we were each with our families,” Karen recollected fondly, “And they did meet each other…just remotely. And their reception was broadcast on a big screen and ours was done the same way over there. And almost one hundred of us in all danced the night away. It really was quite lovely.”
            “But why?! Why did you two never meet?!”
            “Well, I don’t know,” Frank shrugged, “I guess, it’s because everything’s been perfect as is. And suppose one of us moved across the country for the other…but then we didn’t like it. That would instantly create grounds for resentment and well…no relationship ever needs that.”
            “I think what my husband’s trying to say,” Karen eased in with her womanly wisdom, “Is why mess up a good thing when you have it? We’re all so perfectly happy.”
            “I see,” the newsman nodded introspectively, “I see.”
            He wasn’t thinking about them, though, because Reggie realized that, in a flash, this thing had taken another one-eighty. This interview was about to become an internet sensation! Instantly! The question was; how would he come out looking? Like a dope or a genius? The question was; would he ever be able to get these two to meet…on camera, of course. On Vidigab. The question was; would his audience ever be able to love him as much without touching?