“Looking for a special man to share my life with.”
I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best. — Marilyn Monroe
Help Centre, S.O.U.L. (Systemic Obfuscation of User Liberalism)
“Where am I?”
“S.O.U.L. is an organisational body realised to ensure an individual has the capacity for self-generated classification to safeguard the virility of future dreams.”
“How do I sign up?”
“Draw up a short list of experiences. Order them either alphabetically or by memory chronology. Once you have completed this and press submit, you’ll receive automated confirmation of your commitment and your personal path will be generated.”
“When you enter the next level, you will only meet Marilyn.”
“What do you mean?”
“Marilyn Monroe will be the only other entity that you will able to interact with throughout the entirety of this level.”
“What the hell?”
“Rest assured this isn’t actually as dull as it sounds. Marilyn makes for very charming, entertaining and deceptively complex company. She can deliver on a variety of moods based on time, location, and interest. It all depends on which Marilyn you encounter.”
“Wherever I go?”
“Sheesh. Before I enter, why Marilyn?”
“Marilyn Monroe remains the archetypal rendition of a certain class of gamer. Her HEX code (#FFFFFF) is the pinnacle of libidinal dream aspiration for every User, inclusive of gender. Let's meet a little later. Good luck.”
He understood her objective for the evening when she punched him in the face three times as she came.
“Shall we just go to your place?” she said.
“OK,” he said.
I want to experience the world with someone.
A couple enter the bar. Well, let’s say rather “two personas.” A man. A woman. She is blonde. Her face round, welcoming and made up. Her lipstick is bright and red. He looks hot. As in overdressed. You maybe feel a little sorry for him. The knot of his tie is fat and tight as well as crooked. This seems to amplify his discomfort amidst the broader pressure of spontaneous decision-making about seating arrangements of rickety, mismatched chairs. He is now excusing himself to the bathroom before proceedings commence. You might suppose he needs to sort himself out: expel some of the heat from his collar and displace those beads from his brow. Maybe he was late. She is glancing around the bar and catches your eye briefly and she smiles, rises, and swiftly leaves. You can see her scampering hurriedly down the road, only narrowly avoiding other Users of the street. Her heels, though angled close to forty-five degree from the ground, are holding up well during this great escape as we at this point fade to black.
She wasn’t from Berlin. Nobody was. She lay naked on her front on his bed. Her hair, blonde and luminous in reading-lamp light, fell over her eyes, obscuring her view of the wall. Their ears rang in unison to echoes of earlier that night. She hummed softly. Along to one of Max Richter’s “24 Postcards.” Her former volleyball career had shaped her ass. She lay in those clouds. You know those soft slow-mo clouds that only hover around your head if you know your way pretty well around a joint? Alone she writhed upon his white cotton sheets. Her arms would rise slowly and she would twirl her wrists in a circular motion as she drank in Richter’s slowly building compositions. He would think of Two Cigarettes. They wouldn't fuck. Her eyes would close, her lips would be full and ready. She would fall asleep adjacent to where he stayed seated on the sofa, leaning forward to pick up the end of the joint.
“So imagine you’re unable to see and hear without knowing why. You are left for what seems like an age on a tray of what must be metal that feels rather like an autopsy table. It is black and it is cold. This cold heat of the tray is searing your buttocks. You tense. Unsure but not yet scared. As the time passes your anxiety builds. The blackness thickens. Heavy. Grey gaffer tape firmly binds your arms to your legs. Your nipples stand, calling for assistance, whilst goose pimples form, and every early real sexual fantasy begins to creep slowly and mischievously through your anxiety.”
“Hi darling, how are you?”
“Very well thank you. You look fabulous! Great picture.”
“Thank you and likewise.”
“It looks like a press photo. What do you do here?”
“I’m just in town rehearsing a new play.”
“Ah, an actress! Or does one say actor? I always get confused by that.”
“Haha, you can say either I guess.”
“How long are you in NY for?”
“Until the 24th. You?”
“I arrive on the 25th.”
. . .
. . .
. . .
. . .
Help Centre, S.O.U.L.
. . . you can't . . .
“What is NO O.N.S.?
“Hello, User 010. I am pleased to be able to assist you today. Please confirm you require more information about the no o.n.s. you have encountered within this level.”
“Sometimes I bump into Marilyn and she is standing completely still, somewhat sombre in expression, and holding a pretty rudimentary hand-written sign that states NO O.N.S. I’ve looked through the Glossary of Terms and I can't find much, so I'm not sure what to do with this.”
“Previous versions of this game had a number of limitations within their moral framework. These early editions had no choice but to reference discontinued pre-secular morality codes. Though recent editions have made iterative developments in this area, bugs such as NO O.N.S. are still fairly prevalent within this particular level, I’m afraid. We're debugging at present in an attempt to catch up with the libidinal capacity of our current Users.
“Did you see that Madame Tussaud’s waxwork of Nicki Minaj? I think it was in Las Vegas.”
“No. Ha, that sounds intriguing.”
“She is wax. A pale matt brown (HEX code #9c7363) bent low to the ground, ass in the air. Anaconda. Visitors to the museum are staging sex acts with it.”
“With the object?”
The bold mismatched fonts are brighter than usual. LSD, NAILS, LOOKING. Thoughts spitting into the night.
Marilyn will ask you if you would like to go on somewhere else. You’ll agree of course. Upon arrival her choice of location won’t look like much. The DJ will sip and nonchalantly guide a preselected playlist.
You will never meet. You will never share information with each other. You’ve only seen square images. Of her lonely hotel room and a splayed open suitcase in the corner, as though flung in despair. Her belongings strewn across the order of luxury. Of the book she is currently reading. Of her overdressed in Miami, sharing a cropped square frame of what she is wearing from a leather-clad air-conditioned car. She was a touch perkier in Brazil, inspired by the lush greenery, she said.
There is a violence in her life.
She can never be seen or caught. She is there, and then she is gone. New York, Miami, Rio.
She knows many dangers, so she won’t read of horror, or bad things.
She will only look to you for lightness, even suggestions for lighter reading. “Are there contemporary novels that aren’t cynical or bleak?” she asks. She will know riches, but those that come from the blood of others. Her lineage will be steeped in the history of our illusory freedom. You will never meet, and yet you still talk.
Michael Salu is a writer, award-winning creative director, art editor/critic and artist. His fiction, non-fiction and art have appeared in a range of publications including Tales of Two Cities and, most recently, the inaugural edition of new literary journal Freeman’s. Salu runs a multi-disciplinary creative consultancy [SALU.io] and is a co-founder of the cross-disciplinary art event series Local Transport. He is currently finishing a collection of stories and art whilst also working on a script for a feature film. He is the former creative director of Granta Publications. Michaelsalu.com
More in this series
“Yes, there are still whales, there are still haddock, crabs, seals. Their hearts beat, muscle and sinew unaltered by steel scale or steam-powered fins. For now, anyway.”