The French retro parody punk band continues to belt out the infectiously thumping new-wave dance anthem, “Ça Plane Pour Moi,” through the energized, vibrating air of the dimly-lit room. Colored fairy lights twinkling overhead rescue the space from the darkness.
Never much of a dancer in her real life, Rain surprises herself by flicking her hips with expert precision and doing something like a shimmy with her shoulders, her little breasts bouncing happily in time with the driving drum beat.
No longer the dowdy, insecure person she had slowly morphed into long ago, she was having fun, and felt sexy and confident for the first time in years, if indeed she had ever felt that way before. But wait, there was something else, something completely new that she had only observed from afar, and now she was actually experiencing it herself! Damn! What was it? Oh, she felt…hmmm…Connected? Grounded? In the know? In the groove? In the mood? Whatever it was, it was the complete opposite of out-of-it, schleppy, matronly, chubby, lumpy or frumpy. Yes! That’s it! She felt cool.
“How insipid!” she thinks. “Imagine me, so shallow as to actually think about being cool! Like, really, who cares?”
Obviously, she does because that “who cares?” attitude—valid, reasonable and adult though it may be, is dragged out of the spotlight by her mental bouncer, and thrown down the stairs, making short order of the apathy that must have hitched a ride from her real life into Rain’s tenem.
The song ends and she notices Veronica watching her with amusement.
“So you’re a dancer! Who knew?”
Rain laughs, appreciating the sound of her own voice that reminds her vaguely of wind chimes.
A man approaches her as she watches his strong, sculpted face emerge from the shadows. His thick, black hair is just long enough not to be short but is still neat and stylish. His magnetic black eyes drink in Rain’s lovely image. Stunned by his beauty, she is suddenly aware of her aching soul.
A new band takes the stage, and the music changes tempo. A young hipster couple begins to sing a slow, moody song that captures what Rain is already feeling.
(Embedded Audio https://kidtrails.bandcamp.com/track/september – Artist: Patrick Jeffords of Kid Trails)
As if on cue, the beautiful man asks, “May I?” as his right hand glides across the small of her back, his fingers reaching the side of her small waist; his left hand enfolds her right hand, drawing it gently against the left lapel of his sharply tailored suit.
Without answering, Rain melts into him as they sway in time to the music. She feels faint being this close to the sexiest man she’s ever seen in her entire life. Her whole body feels charged with an electric current that is both titillating and maddening at the same time.
She is beset by a panic that settles into her titanium bones, knowing that she has fallen in love with a total stranger who is probably a stranger even to himself. She knows she must have him.
Have him? What do you mean by that?
The question hovers around her as she tries to ignore it, concentrating on the melting sensation, riding the waves of that electrical charge, alternating between a bucking bronco and a beguiling undertow.
Inhaling slowly, she savors the intoxicating essence of this beautiful man. When her synthetic collagen/elastin Gore-Tex lungs can expand no more, she sighs with a desire already steeped in addiction, laced with impossibility.
The music ends and the man’s face brushes against her own. The abrasive feel of his almost five-o’clock shadow sets off an itch deep inside her which longs to be scratched.
Their eyes meet for what should have been an eternity.
“Thank you,” he says, holding her hands and rubbing their smooth skin with his thumbs. He brings her hands up to his lips and kisses both lightly. He looks deeply into her eyes, and then it’s over. He closes his eyes as if to fix her image in his mind, reluctantly lets go of her hands, and walks back into the shadows.
Having been swept off her feet, Rain is surprised to feel them striding with confidence towards Veronica who is waiting for her at the bar.
“So? How was it?”
“I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say or how to describe what just happened. I feel like I’m 16 again. All these emotions are overwhelming me.”
Veronica puts her arm around Rain. “That’s normal at first. You’ll see. It’s all so new right now—your new body, your newfound confidence. But it is rather unbelievable, isn’t it, how much bearing our physical body has on our emotional state.”
Rain nods in agreement. “I had no idea until right now how much I’ve been ignoring my poor out-of-shape body, how I just left it to its own devices and didn’t worry about it. Never in my wildest dreams did I entertain the possibility of feeling this young again, this hopeful, this alive! So many highs, but I also got a glimpse of some corresponding lows—I know they’re there, too.”
Veronica’s smile is benevolent. “Life, whether it’s your real life or your Spa life, is a great teacher. You can’t have the highs without the lows. That being said, the lows can be fully appreciated from the surface—you don’t have to dive in and hit your head on the bottom of the pool.”
“I guess I’ve always known that. I’m not reckless enough to hit my head on the bottom of the pool—I would say that wallowing is more my style.”
“Well, while we’re on the subject of pools, there happens to be a marvelous pool right here,” segues Veronica, “and if you’re done dancing for a while, I can take you to see it!”
Morgana takes one more stealthy look around through the darkness trying to catch a last glimpse of her mystery man. He’s nowhere in sight, but she’s knows he’s there somewhere. She fights the compulsion to stay and find him, and instead follows Veronica back out through the smoky-glassed doors of The Lounge.
Walking through the glass walls of the hallway, Veronica keeps the conversation going. “You know, Rain, this experience can be about whatever you want it to be. I think it will be interesting for you to mix with the others here at the Spa, to get an idea of how to get the most out of your ‘vacation.’ Of course, everyone goes about it somewhat differently, depending on what motivated them to ‘travel’ with us.”
“Well, speaking of ‘experience,’ did you see that guy who asked me to dance? Who is he?”
“I’m not sure—I don’t know everyone here. I generally work with the women, and not all of them, so there are tons of people here I don’t know at all. If I do, it’s only by sight. Plus, as you are aware, there are three 8-hour shifts of visits.”
With this crazy desire still raging within her, she decides to drop the subject of finding out who this guy is, but that won’t stop her from searching for him. His face has been branded onto her retinas, his essence still fresh in her mind.
Veronica opens another tall glass door for Rain and they both pass through the entryway. Rain’s eyes are assaulted by the shocking blue of the water in the pool and the sky through the tall windows of the natatorium.
“Ahhhh…,” is the only thing Rain can say. Seized by a sudden urge to just jump in, she thinks better of it, and settles for kicking off her sandals.
“Veronica, do you think it would be OK if I just sat here for a few minutes with my feet in the pool?”
“Sure! You have a few swim suits in your room if you decide to get serious about this, you know!”
Rain promptly sits down in front of the circular steps that lead into the pool at the shallow end and rests her feet on the first step under the water.
Veronica does the same and the two sit there, enjoying the refreshing coolness of the water, chatting away.
“So what do you think so far?”
“This is incredible! I’ve never been to a place like this before. It’s so luxurious! And that’s just the inside! I’m itching to get outside, too, and explore the mountains. Except for Nassau and the Bahamas, and, of course, small forays into Mexico and Canada, I’ve never really left my little corner of the world.”
“Well, this is one way of doing that, isn’t it?”
“Yes, I would say so! And what really makes it special is that I’m an almost-completely different person, but seeing it all through my own eyes. It’s nothing short of miraculous! I feel like I have a new lease on life.”
Veronica gets up and pads over to a stack of white towels, grabs two and returns to the pool steps.
“If you can bear to tear yourself away from the pool, I want to show you the rest of the Spa. Are you ready?”
Rain spreads her towel out next to her on the floor, then swivels to the right, putting her feet onto the thick velour. She carefully dries her feet, working the edge of the towel between her toes, paying meticulous attention to each little detail, examining the soles of her feet, bending and stretching each toe, poking and prodding each foot as if she were expecting it to poke or prod her back.
“What do you think of your new feet? An improvement over your real ones?”
Rain looks up and smiles. “An improvement? I’ll say! My feet have always given me some trouble. I’ve always had a very high arch and wide feet. When I was a kid, I had to wear orthopedic shoes, which I hated with such a passion.”
“No wonder the first shoes you wanted were those crazy platforms! They’re as un-orthopedic as you can get!”
“The shoes themselves weren’t all that ugly. It’s just that they were brown oxfords which, as it turns out, never did and never will look good except maybe in a box on their way to the Goodwill Store.
“But they made me miserable not because I didn’t like them, but because the kids at school would make fun of me. At first it was just whispers and giggles and pointing, but then a really cute boy—all the girls, including me, were crazy about him—called me ‘Clodzilla.’ It broke my heart that he, of all people, made up that name.
“If I’d complain to my mother, she would tell me how hard she and my father had worked to be able to buy me those special shoes, and that the only thing I should feel was gratitude. And if that didn’t do it, then, goddammit, she’d take me to a children’s hospital where the kids had no feet, and if that still didn’t do it, then, goddammit, she’d beat the shit out of me.”
“Did she really used to beat you?”
“No, not really! Her bark was worse than her bite! Once in a while if I really ‘needed’ it, she’d give me a good, solid whack, but since I was the youngest of four girls, I’d learned quite early on how to stay out of her way when she was on the warpath. To her credit, though, she’d always give us plenty of warning. So, it’s like you said before about appreciating or observing things from surface—there’s no need to dive in and hit your head.”
Rain could remember her mother’s face, smiling as she slipped on her cork sandals.
“And my mother…she had the right idea—it’s so selfish to worry just about yourself and to let the little things get to you. She always said that if I didn’t count my blessings, then God would send me a passel of worries, and then I could count them, goddammit. She would so totally disapprove of what I’m doing right now!”
“Easy does it!” warned Veronica as she scrambled to her feet and steadied Rain as she stood up.
Back into the glass hallway, their next stop is The Piano Lounge. Here there are people sitting on low sofas and armchairs, with drinks and snacks in front of them, quietly chatting while a pianist plays a never-ending medley of unobtrusive romantic tunes.
Veronica leads Rain to one of the many little sitting areas. A waiter arrives almost instantly and runs down the list of drinks. Veronica and Rain both ask for the red wine. A dark, willowy woman with limpid, green eyes appears with some small bowls of pretzels, peanuts and chips, and asks if she can bring them anything else. They thank her, and just as she is leaving, the waiter brings the wine.
“So, it’s OK to eat and drink?” asks Rain before picking up her wine.
“Oh, yes! And thank goodness! What kind of fun would it be to not eat and drink?”
“Well, I don’t know if fun can ever be bad, but I think not eating and drinking would be a bad kind of fun.”
They both chuckle as they dig into the snacks and sip their wine.
“So, Veronica, it’s my understanding that tenems don’t have to eat and drink, so why bother doing it? Other than the fact that eating and drinking are so much fun!”
“You just hit the nail on the head. Part of the joy of being in new surroundings in a new body is experiencing what you normally enjoy doing. But this is better because you won’t be tempted to overindulge. Your new ‘brain’ is equipped with sensors that monitor your intake of alcohol and food, and you honestly will not want more after a rather modest amount. The ‘pleasure centers’ of your brain are digitally configured to remain stimulated long after you’ve stopped eating or drinking, so there’s no chance of becoming addicted to anything. Nice, huh? No drug addiction, no alcoholism, and no weight gain. I wish we had that type of control in real life, don’t you?”
“Definitely! If that were the case, I probably wouldn’t be here, come to think of it.”
“And neither would many others who are here, Rain.”
“So what about sex and love? Are we immune from that, too?”
“Actually, no. Good thing, too—right? The pleasure centers of your new brain are still stimulated by neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine but the digital version, since we can’t download your brain’s chemical production.
“One more question, Veronica. Are we robots?”
Veronica looks at Rain, whose face is beginning to register some sadness.
“No, not exactly. While you are in tenem mode, you are controlling your tenem. Your tenem, without your downloaded consciousness, would be a robot. The technical term for what you are right now would be a ‘transhuman.’ When you talk to other people here, though, you will hear the term, ‘spabot,’ which I find rather crass and pejorative.”
Rain takes a deep breath, remembering her beautiful mystery man, and exhales another soul-aching sigh.
“Is anything wrong, Rain?”
“Well, it’s my first day being Rain, and I’ve already fallen madly in love with a ‘spabot.’”
To Be Continued in Chapter 11: I Could Get Used to This
Photo Credit: Womansneed.com (Photographer/Artist: Franz Steiner)
Music Credit: https://kidtrails.bandcamp.com/track/september
“September” originally by Kurt Weill, arranged by Patrick Jeffords, released 17 February 2015
Patrick Jeffords: Vocals, Guitars, Synthesizers
Andy Woodward: Drums
Joe Costantini: Bass, Lap Steel
Chaz Bundick: Piano
Claire McKinzie: Vocals on “September”
Pat Jones: Wizardry