A fictional piece about the woes of social media, taking inspiration from a song of the same name. We really loved this work from Matilda in Year 10!
Her glasses reflected the party lights, neon colours darted frantically across the lenses, ricocheting from frame to frame like the old stand-by screen on DVDs. Each light wave obscured a different thought that flitted round her brain, behind her eyes. I couldn’t make out her expression, but judging from the slight curl of her lip, I suspected something resembling anticipation, mixed with a slight flicker of disdain. An Oh No You Wouldn’t kind of smirk; a You’re Just A Silly Girl Who Doesn’t Know What She’s Doing kind of smirk, but above all it was a Go On, I Know You Want To kind of smirk. Naturally, this expression only fuelled my determination. I rubbed my lips together and in doing so felt the sweat that had congregated there. Tilting and angling my head I succeeded in wiping it onto the sleeve of my dress. If I wanted to impress her, even the faintest suggestion of anxiety had to be concealed. I was cool. Aloof. Enigmatic. I had done this a thousand times. I attempted to make eye contact with her but the lights made it a challenge. In one succinct motion I had grabbed the tablet from her upturned palm and placed it onto my lolling tongue. A strange urge washed over me to say “Amen” and make the sign of the cross as response to receiving this communion. Perhaps that was inappropriate.
Thankfully, I managed to suppress the notion and my attention turned instead to the chemicals dissolving in my saliva. It tasted like honey, if all of the sugar had been extracted and replaced with soap (a difficult flavour to envision). The girl looked at me, smiling, her mouth moved and I think she was trying to tell me something but I couldn’t focus. I assumed it was merely a surprised congratulation of my daring and lack of inhibitions. I grinned, some invisible force pulling the corners of my lips upwards and outwards. The Cheshire Cat – phasing in and out of wonderland.
I heard her laugh from somewhere but I could no longer locate her. Perhaps the laughter spontaneously generated, charged with representing my current state of euphoria, charged too with electricity, pulsing and convulsing in the air: my adrenaline’s heavy heart beat. It seemed to reverberate around my ribcage like the lights on her glasses. Where was she now? Where was she before? I couldn’t remember if I cared. The laughter hung there for a moment but soon evaporated, leaving behind a flat vacancy, like the shadow on a plaster wall when a painting that’s been up for god knows how long is finally removed. I reached my hands up, splaying my fingers like I’d watched them do in films, and vainly tried to clasp the laughter. I didn’t know what I’d do with it if I caught it. Stand there with the bemused expression of a toddler who manages to trap a bubble in his stumpy grip but is surprised to find it bursts onto his palms.
I began to pace the room but I wasn’t quite sure why. My brain didn’t seem to be too well acquainted with my body any more. At best they were civil neighbours: a nod when one spies the other mowing the lawn; a curt exchanging of house keys when the brain decides to take a holiday and perhaps even an obligatory offering of carrots when the body’s allotment proves particularly prolific. But aside from that I felt rather detached. I floated for a while, a bubble resigned to the fact of its eventual fate in the clammy hands of a child.
My eyelids felt heavy. As if somebody had them pinched between two fingers and were slowly pulling them downwards. Primitive urges taking over, my body instinctively tried to fight back and stay alert but I could feel myself fading.
White. Harsh white light from all angles. I tried to turn my head but it seemed I no longer had the ability, instead my pupils swivelled 360 degrees to look behind me. My very nerve endings had been rewired; stringy sinew replaced with copper and steel, conducting my brain waves at a far faster rate. What I had at first perceived to be wall was in fact screen. Screens standing 12 feet and intimidating, rising far above my head, each pixel throbbing, unsynchronised. Honeycombs, each one contributing to the grand hive which enveloped me. I cast my eyes up, half expecting to see a swarm of bees emerging from the light. In lieu of insects there was a great, dull void. Fragments of space revolving and colliding, shattering and reforming again and again. My reflection seemed to blink back, stuck behind the glass of the void. Except, it didn’t look like me. This girl looked gaunter, deranged even, eyes wide as if trying to drink in as much of the space that was offered to her. She clasped it with two bony hands and guzzled it all down, allowing experience and knowledge to flow through her, desperate to shatter her enclosure. Yet somehow, she was more ethereal. Perhaps this was the real me, troubled and beautiful, walled in behind windows of self-inflicted doubt. I could see through it all now, everything was transparent, clearer than anything I had ever seen. She clawed frantically at the barricade; her chest rose and fell with each desperate strike. But why did she want to leave? She was perfect. Protected somehow, with her blurred features, from the sharp realities of the world outside the void. It’s these realities from which I tend to crave escape. Truths so sharp I could use them to carve my own freedom; slice my flesh and tunnel in in order to tunnel myself out. Open up salvation inside myself.
Or, alternatively, and perhaps more logically, slash open my stomach alone and rake out these chemicals. I couldn’t think straight – but isn’t that what I wanted? To feel something new and uninhibited and free… What would I do with freedom if I had it? Do I not have it already? I move and think and feel for myself. To test out this theory, I slowly, purposefully, traced my fingertips across the screen. It responded almost instantly and a light vibration passed from my hands to my brain and back again, never lingering on one part of my anatomy for more than a second. It felt like validation. And it left me wanting more. Flashes begin to appear and I watched, enraptured. I couldn’t look away, or, more to the point, I didn’t want to. Why would I want my eyes to linger on any other sight? Before, my imagination was my only form of entertainment; I wasted hours in the space behind my eyes that only I could see. Conjuring scenes from the darkness, plunging my hands into dark ink to pull free vivid moments to occupy myself. But they were slick with ink and fabrication, soon dwindling back, slipping far out of my reach and back to the ether. But now I had something real. Tangible. Why would I need imagination now? I prefer this low level buzz that cradles my nervous system, making a home in my spine. This feeling scrapes out the marrow and replaces in with cold, reliable plaster. It even hangs up a painting or two, slowly invades; you don’t notice you have a roommate until all your mugs are replaced with its, and your tea cosy collection is in the skip. You’re irritated but you want it to stay so badly that you don’t mind drinking tea out of cold polka dot cups. I pull my hand away abruptly as I feel the vibrations mounting; it felt like your face emerging out of the bathtub after being suspended for a very long time, for so long in fact that you forget why you began holding your breath in the first place.
I looked up again and saw that she, or rather I, had given in and was lying slumped and defeated, her back against the glass. I willed her to turn around again. I’d forgotten what she looked like. Did she have my smile? My crooked bottom teeth? My hooded eyelids? Or were they gone, erased, presenting only the optimal image of myself – pouting closed mouth smile with eyelashes curled by one of those silver torture devices.
I was dimly aware of the presence of other people here, a great swarming mass of other people all like me but not like me. Thousands of lives intertwined, writhing round one another without ever truly touching, all separated by a thin glass screen. SCREEN. The word itself seems almost onomatopoeic. The sounds that emits from a Tom cat who knows he has lost a back alley brawl. The sound when it suddenly dawns on a child that they have thrown their teddy out of the pram for the last time and they’re not getting it back. Primitive sounds, pouring from the belly of existence. The sound when your mind begins to collapse in on itself, shattering and leaving piercing shards all over the kitchen floor. It takes you a while to notice that the pieces are making you bleed because the pain is so gradual but you are bleeding nonetheless and making a real mess of the counter. You are a lobster boiled alive in your own brain. And if that is you, then what am I, encased as I am, with a screen on every side? Should I fight my surroundings, risk plunging my fist into excruciation? But for what, after all, walls can’t feel pain any more than people in photographs can. Or should my understanding heighten my right to cower in fear?
I finally identify the source of the laughter. It emits, tinny, from inside the walls. It loops again and again, a moment caught in time and stored here in the archives. The noise isolates me, I wonder why I was not invited to share the joke. Tentatively, I move my ear closer to the sound. Noises of all pitches bounce off my eardrums – laughter and chatter and screams, coursing through my virtual blood. They all blur into one another until I cannot tell where my thoughts end and the sounds begin. I want to melt into it, become as one with all these people; have me and my deceased memories digitally stored and guarded over. Lock them away into a drawer in this morgue of long ago events. Perhaps someone will open it from time to time and remember the real me. Or perhaps not, what would I care? All of our memories will soon be replaced with photographs.
It took me a while to build up the courage. My natural streak of cowardice had had a hold over me for a long time. But I knew I wanted the world inside the screen. There was one thin layer between me and paradise. Paradise – “waiting for me the second I say I know who I am.” All I had to do was reach out and touch it. I steadied my breathing, and allowed my shoulders to relax, releasing with it the tension that had been building up within me for sixteen years. Tension created by the traumas of reality, tensions I would never feel again if only I were brave enough. I exhaled sharply and watched my identity evaporate away, leaving me a tabula rasa, existing only to be perceived: fuzzy static or white noise, whistling away to myself for as long as I wished. I was ready. Resolute and absolutely, irrefutably ready. I pressed my face to the screen.
My cheek was cold.
I could feel the patterned tiles pressing into my skin, no doubt leaving an unsightly imprint. But it was not my face that worried me; skin reliably springs back into its former space, albeit some times a little slower than others. My brain however, feels saturated, as if it had spent hours absorbing bathwater and was now a sponge of dirty emotion, fear and confusion and desperation, sluiced from my skin.
I lifted my head from the tile and saw her. She was there, her glasses no longer reflecting the party lights but her phone screen. It lit her individually, creating a faint halo of light around her. Untouchable. She was seemingly sanctified, her fuzzy hairs bathing in the glory of God. But I wanted her to stop. Needed her to stop. Desperation, draped almost imperceptibly with a thin net veil of agitation, flooded through me, spilling out of my fingertips and drenching the cheap fabric as I clasped my face in my hands. I watched as it washed across the tiles. As I adjusted, my peripheral vision kicked back into action and I saw we weren’t alone in the room. At least ten of her, or people like her were poised too with their thumbs hovering oh so slightly above the screen. My desperation swashed back and forth, dampening their trainers, but they didn’t seem to care. Nor to even notice. My voice was thin and reedy yet no doubt still possessed a high degree of urgency. I implored them to stop, turn it off, shut it down, open their eyes. They ignored me, not a single one so much as twitched an eyebrow, each one enchanted by the light or darkness displayed in front of their face. How could I have any convincing effect? I knew that I too had willingly surrendered myself to these digital drugs.