Likeness—Jane B. Parker

Kate and I don’t go down to the village very often, we have everything we could want here at home and could have anything delivered. But when she becomes so restive it virtually causes the air to hiss, I give in, and we cut what should be a three-hour drive across the dusty plain down to one. 

I figure it’s too late in life to learn Spanish so Kate handles all the interpersonal interactions. She could be telling the shopkeepers anything about me while I keep my hands in my pockets and nod along. She’s so popular, a comedian in any context. Always determined that we use cash so there are pennies for the street children. 

While we’re in the neighbourhood Kate makes me go see Dr Raul for a quick check on my heart and hypertension and insists on hearing the results herself, because as she tells him, “my husband could have a broken leg and I’d be the last to know it”.

Afterwards we walk along the boulevard and have a beer at our favourite little tin roofed dive. Or I do, Kate doesn’t drink and says, “I don’t know why you do either, it goes straight through you”. 

Arriving back home tonight, feeling a little tipsy and sunburned, I sense a soft presence under my foot as I open the door. What kind of mail, more threats? Despite our best efforts someone determined enough can find us, Likeness™ has always been a leaky ship. This here however is just a print, quite artfully made, silver gelatine I reckon. It’s a family portrait; the family is holding a sign that reads ‘you brought us together again’. 

Yes, even after all this time, I can still feel touched by such news. And of course I feel appalled by the opposite sort, when I hear of someone using Likeness™ for fraud or abuse. 

“It was only a matter of time before the nexus of holograms, AI and data banks was worked into a consumer product. And ever since the code was made public domain in my last will and testament we have really no control over what people are doing with it,” is what my Public Relations Likeness™ has been telling people for years. 

But of late less bad news has been reaching us, perhaps enough safeguards have been worked in by now, I don’t know. I don’t control the updates any more. I have lost touch. I’m not even one hundred percent certain what year it is, those facts can be easily manipulated. 

In the morning Fernanda arrives, she’s a tour de force. Can get through the housework, maintenance the solar panels, and check us over for glitches all in an hour’s work. We used to have great laughs with her, but now her friendliness has a formal edge and I can’t always prevent her from being alone with Kate. 

“You’re going to cost that girl her job, if you keep asking to be erased,” I complain. But I know this fixation was inherent in my wife from the beginning, it can’t be altered. 

“You’re so naïve, you think everyone is human,” she replies.  

Indeed, I hadn’t thought of that. So now that I can’t find the will to think up jokes to tell Fernanda even the mornings are quiet. And I have writers block.

I’ve gotten to the point in my auto-biography when in my late years I willed my Likeness™ into perpetuity. But it’s a difficult phase because although I have all the data, my memos, my tapes, even the health of my REM cycles and heart rate, I can’t for the life of me remember what I was thinking or why I did it.

Though what keeps me up nights, staring into the flat blue vista of the desert, is whether I should tell the truth about Kate. What she doesn’t know is how having died so young we didn’t have much to work with, had to exercise some creative licence. At first I was delighted with these inconsistencies and thought they made her seem more alive, but now I see how she suffers I know she wouldn’t have chosen it. 

Going to town to dawdle like tourists and make believe at living is the only thing that will animate her now; but going out so often that it arouses suspicion is just about the only thing we can’t afford. 

The nights after these day trips she’s tired out and will sleep in the bed, which I appreciate, but otherwise she sleeps outside in the hammock at the furthermost point from the power grid.     

“Aren’t you afraid of animals, snakes? You hate spiders,” I protest.

“You should try it yourself,” she says. “When I can just look at the sky, with air underneath me like I’m floating. But the daylight comes so soon. You could ask them to make me an update like that, couldn’t you? Or maybe you could have, before they forgot all about us. God I would be so much happier…”

When she complains she’s so much like herself can’t help but I think, I really did do some incredible work in my time. I brought us together again.  

Jane B. Parker is a writer and photographer from South Africa. Her creative writing and reviews have appeared in Badilisha Poetry X-change, the Silver Birch Press blog, The Poetry Pea JournalDream Journal, and The Poetry Question. She can usually be found tweeting haiku and micro-poetry @nowiammyself.

photo by Radek Grzybowski (via unsplash)