The ad almost has her name on it:
Dissatisfied with your life? Sneak out now!
And nobody has to know—It will be our little secret!
Don’t delay—Call today
The Our Little Secret Travel Agency
On her way out the door, she contemplates her puffy, wrinkled face in the mirror that also holds the house keys—not too bad, really—but for 47? No, she’s looks a good ten or even fifteen years older. She gets tired just thinking of the work it would take to make herself look just a little less haggard and dowdy.
Like most women, she always put herself last, only because her greatest need was to be sure that her children were fed, clothed, warm and happy. She never considered it a sacrifice. She had been a great mother, and she took pride in having done such a stellar job.
And she was a good wife, too, if by “good” you mean keeping a clean and orderly home, serving appetizing, nutritious meals inspired by Ladies’ Day or Family Fun magazines, on time, every night, come hell or high water, keeping the major focus of her husband’s attention—a giant TV screen—free from smudges and dust, always having at least five different crisply-ironed dress shirts hanging neatly in his closet, and making good and sure that her husband never had to root around in his sock and underwear drawers, bellowing and braying like a wounded jackass, for “just one goddamned pair of clean whitey goddamned tighties. Is THAT too goddamned much to ask, godDAMNit?” No, a good wife certainly would not want to provoke such drama so early in the morning. It could ruin your whole day. Or maybe even your whole marriage.
Her husband was a good father and in most respects, a decent man, too. But the one thing that unhinged her was his rage. She just never knew what would set him off. As if wending her way through a minefield, she would try to anticipate, and then eliminate, possible sources of frustration for him that would trigger these explosive episodes. But at the end of the day, he knew what he was doing because he was careful to never lose control in front of the kids—those rages were performed just for her.
He was a hard-working man which meant he was entitled to a hard-working man’s reward. Every night, after the kids went to bed, she’d hear him retrieve his good friend Boney Stalker Scotch from his hiding place in the shadows behind the red fire extinguisher under the kitchen sink, pitching ice cubes into his special glass, followed by the clink of the Boney Stalker Scotch bottle against the glass’s lip. Boney Stalker Scotch on the rocks. Down the hatch! She could almost feel the ice freezing his upper lip as the last drops of Boney trickled into his throat. Aaahhh! And that was just to warm up the ice cubes. The second, third, and fourth doses of Boney were sipped appreciatively in front of the gleaming giant TV. How she hated the stench of that rotgut sewer swill! She could smell it two rooms away.
And how would you like that marriage served, Sir? Hot? No, on the rocks, please.
It would have taken so little to keep him happy. It would have taken even less to keep her happy. So what’s the problem? Oh, did I say there was a problem? Oh, that’s right! Relationship discussions angered him, so rather than ignite his short, alcohol-drenched fuse, she avoided him and Boney Stalker Scotch altogether, retiring to the kitchen to whip up some fat and sugar-laden confection for the following day’s dessert.
He got fat from the waist up and she got fat from the waist down. And they both got old. There wasn’t much romance between the two of them anymore, but they managed to present themselves as your average American couple. Good solid family people.
Had she been the type of person to ruminate, she might have been truly miserable, but she considered rumination to be an indulgence she didn’t have time for. For her, happiness was not that messy a proposition, and had she figured out what she really wanted to do or what she really wanted to be, she would have done it. All she really ever wanted was a happy life, and other than a distant husband with a rage problem who thought she was “frigid,” she was fairly happy, or at least, that’s what she told herself.
But then the kids grew up and left home, and the Boney Stalker Scotch and her husband’s rages were liberated from the closet. Things made less and less sense to her. She began to visualize the years disappearing into the wake of dead, half-baked dreams flowing away from her, to lament the lack of warmth and passion in her life, to notice how ungainly she’d become as her weight spiraled out of control. Her heart had broken long ago, but it must have healed when she wasn’t looking because it was starting to break all over again. Her options narrowed down to a couple of easy fixes: Don’t think in the dark; and in the light, don’t look in the mirror.
By the time she starts to imagine that her aching soul is decaying, she’s already figured out that she really blew it.
She goes back inside just for a quick check on her sleeping husband. She barely remembers that she loved him once. Too bad that it hadn’t occurred to her to leave him when they were younger—when they each would have had yet another stab at happiness, long before a stroke left him almost completely paralyzed. Now it was too late. The kids would never forgive her for such a heartless, selfish decision. She couldn’t even justify it were she to tell them about the many times he’d been unfaithful or his drunken rages that left her cowering in the locked bathroom. They’d call her a liar! And she was a liar! All those years, she never let on to anyone, not even to herself, just how miserable she really was. Oh, why hadn’t she put her foot down, and straightened him out? Why hadn’t she suggested counseling, or called the police on him, or sought the advice of someone stronger than she was? Instead, she had prayed to God to give her the strength to bear her cross. Only now does it occur to her that if she’d only had faith in herself, she would have had the strength to do something much more constructive than carry a cross that was never even hers to carry!
She kisses her husband softly on his smooth, worry-free brow, and is confident that the pain meds will keep him safely sedated for a good five hours.
On the roof of her apartment building, a small, one-passenger, unmanned drone, the exact color of the sky and the clouds, lands in a silent glide just a few feet in front of her. Completely unobserved, she enters the tiny craft through a sudden “whooshed” opening in the little fuselage.
“Good Morning, Morgana,” chirps a neutered, disembodied voice. “Please take your seat, and relax, while we transport you to The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. Thank you for traveling with us today.”
She settles into a lightweight, plush, armchair. As the door closes with a slight “whoosh,” she feels the pressure change in the cozy, herbal-scented cabin. Two flexible, padded arms automatically extend from the sides of the chair and encircle her torso in a soft, warm embrace.
The real world stays on the ground as she is spirited away in the noiseless drone to her destination. Reluctant to leave the armchair’s embrace, she disembarks from the drone into a soft blue light. It’s an interior space, but it’s impossible to tell where the ceiling and the walls are.
“Ah…Morgana! There you are! So nice to meet you. My name is Calliope.”
An angular, bronze-skinned woman with a shiny mane of copper ringlets is seated at a shimmering, pearlescent desk, the top of which is a computer screen. Invited by Calliope’s open-handed gesture and welcoming smile, Morgana slides into a shimmering, pearlescent seat opposite Calliope. Swiping her manicured finger across the screen, Calliope narrates for Morgana that, as already agreed, the non-refundable sum of $30,000 has been transferred from her account to The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. Morgana nods in agreement.
Calliope further intones, “In consideration for this payment, Morgana, you will now have access to a new life in a new body, for 30 eight-hour visits, which you can freely access at your convenience, and because of our special offer, there is one bonus visit, for a total of thirty-one. And, as you are already aware, this is a whole other realm way beyond virtual reality, since you are in real-time in another body that is genetically and neurologically your very own, with complete sensory and emotional interfacing. After the Adaptation, all you need to do is sleep, and once you are asleep you will resume your new life where you last left it. There is no further cost to you, no risk involved, and you are assured of complete discretion on the part of The Our Little Secret Travel Agency. You have also agreed to indemnify and hold harmless this Agency and any and all of its owners, agents or employees from any claims of liability, harm or wrongdoing whatsoever. Any questions?”
Morgana shifts uncomfortably—she’s got millions of questions but she can ask them later. “No,” she says, “Let’s just get on with the Adaptation—I can ask questions at any time, right?” Calliope assents with a reasonable nod, “Yes, absolutely! Remember, we are always here to assure your comfort, pleasure, and fulfillment—we are at your beck and call twenty-four/seven.”
Calliope opens a drawer, plucks out a little glass jar, and unscrews the lid. Inside, there’s a prickly pad. “Here,” she says, “Press your index finger on this—it’s a painless way to extract a drop of your blood so we can get your DNA sequencing started.”
From the same drawer, she selects a small bottle filled with amber liquid, from which she twists free a rubber stopper. “Before we begin, please drink this—it’s peach nectar combined with a light sedative and silver halides to facilitate the body scanning process.”
Morgana raises the bottle to her lips, and savors the perfumed taste of what could only be a magic elixir.
Calliope rises from her pearlescent perch and guides Morgana just a few steps into another opening that whooshes through the ethereal blue atmosphere.
Although the sparse, pinkish décor is soft and warm, they are clearly in a laboratory. Calliope has Morgana undress and lie down on a narrow, plastic mesh table. Normally, Morgana would be way too self-conscious—and chilly—to undress in front of anyone, but right now she is uncharacteristically loose, warm and compliant. Small goggles are adjusted and secured to cover her eyes, and she is told to remain as still as possible for the next 60 seconds. Magnetic boings and whirring currents carbonate their way lightly over, around and through her body. As promised, the noise and the not-unpleasant sensations end all too soon. Calliope removes the goggles, and helps Morgana get dressed.
Calliope finishes buttoning Morgana’s frumpy, ill-fitting blouse. “There! That wasn’t too bad, was it?”
Morgana smiles a crooked, goofy smile and slurs, “No, it was actually quite pleasant!”
“Good!” says Calliope. “If you liked that, you’re really going to love this!—Now we’re off to the Design Room.”
To be continued in Chapter 2: The Design Room
Photo Credit: Rubberball/Getty Images
Music Credit: Gotye – Thanks For Your Time – Official Video (Youtube.com)