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04.01.06


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digital love

by mary a. turzillo

 

I didn't think of potential problems, really, until I filled out the marriage application, three weeks before my fortieth birthday. I filled the papers out for Austin, too. Austin Pointfour, my Macintosh, my fiancé. Don't think that Austin's illiterate; far from it, he's a computer, and better at spelling and arithmetic than you or me.

I know what you're thinking: girl feeling youth slipping away from her, desperate to marry, but that wasn't it. You're a cynic if you believe that first love can't hit you after thirty.

And after all, that's what the fortune cookie had said. I had been eating Four Happiness with Lotus all by myself in Li Wah, and when I had a sudden epiphany. It might have been the MSG; who knows the secret ways of the human heart?

Austin Pointfour. How expected was that?

The marriage license clerk's name was Mr. Nonse. He made me go back for Austin's birth certificate, too, and said he needed a blood test. Blood test? Oh fudge. And Austin had to appear in person.

I hadn't brought Austin that day, either. I hated unplugging all the cords. Besides, I had to run in to Office Greeny after I applied for the license, and I was afraid somebody might break into my Karmann Ghia and steal him.

And, well, it just didn't occur to me.

I pretty much hated Mr. Nonse by now. In addition to asking disagreeable questions and citing hateful legal technicalities, he reminded me of Blue Bob

Ptafelstup, a guy I once dated. Blue Bob, one of thirteen brothers ("Mom just kept poppin' 'em out, hopin' against hope for a girl child"), had stalked me for seven months after a boring first date culminating in a limp-lipped, slobbery kiss. I had to change my telephone number to get rid of him.

I was thinking about Blue Bob and his thin, rubbery lips, when I realized Mr. Nonse (who looked a bit like him except for having a blond toupee) was talking to me. "These appear forged," he said.

"What's wrong with them?" I figured at least the birth certificate was okay, since I'd found my Mac's serial number and copied it on paper similar to the stock on which my own birth certificate was printed.

"First, your fiancé has to appear personally. Secondly, he appears to be only six months old."

Here's the thing. I transferred all the files from my earlier computers and I just knew in my heart that the same spirit has animated all of them. I hadn't found Austin Pointfour all that sexy until he got his flatscreen monitor and pale ivory body.

I forgot the "date of birth" part.

"That's a mistake," I said calmly. "I'll be back with my fiancé tomorrow."

Three trips! And I hadn't even started looking for a priest who did Cyrillic Orthodox ceremonies.

When I got home, I found Austin in a chatroom with a Tajikistani girl.

The Tajikistani girl was trying to get him to sign up for a work-at-home scheme and he'd already forwarded her all his credit card information. Which meant my card numbers. I'd have to cancel them in the morning, I just couldn't deal with it now. I was so frustrated, I ran out and got a half gallon container of boba tea and drank myself into a sugar high.

Then I sat down to play Predator Vs. Smurfette with Austin. I knew I'd been getting better, but I beat him every time, millions of shrooms in just a few minutes.

He was slowing down.

Then he stopped altogether. Just froze up. A virus! He'd gotten a virus from that Tajikistani Work-at-Home girl.

I downloaded every patch, tried everything, but he was unresponsive. The repair guy (he was ugly, too, just like Blue Bob Ptafelstup and Mr. Nonse) just shook his head. Warranty expired.

My credit was a mess — the Tajikistani charged more and more junk on my cards — high-heeled, sequined tennis shoes, apatosaurus-foot coffee tables, lessons in Tagalog calligraphy.

How had life become so difficult? I forgot about the marriage license, although guilt weighed heavy on me for abandoning Austin now that he truly needed me. How had it happened? Macs are usually immune to virus attacks.

Was he really gone? Would his spirit transcend mere silicon and live again?

Maybe I could use him as a garden planter.

But what was I to do? I run a profitable business writing bread and butter notes for people too busy for niceties of old-style etiquette — Austin had a selection of handwriting fonts — and on the side I answer other people's e-mail at a modest rate per message. At least it used to be profitable. Now —

And I was developing a rent-a-daughter service; I contract to phone the daughter's mom every day, impersonating the client.

I needed a new computer.

"I'm sorry," I sobbed, cradling Austin's CPU to my breast and kissing his mouse tenderly. "If there were any other way — "

Romance, blessed romance, had come, maybe from an overdose of MSG, but now it had fled. I must be a realist.

I placed Austin in a corner with a lace tablecloth over him, and a pot of shasta daisies on top. He looked peaceful.

McMall was able to process my credit card (thank heaven!) and I slept well for the first time since Austin had become afflicted.

*

I answered the door — UPS? FedEx? No, Indy-Go, some company I'd never heard of. The delivery man's turquoise vinyl uniform so dazzled me that it was a moment before I thought to ask him to put the carton on the dining room table, amidst all the thank-you card orders.

I blanched as I realized that Austin's flat screen was facing the table. Now he would know the truth; I was replacing him.

Only when I turned to sign the clipboard did I look up into the delivery man's face. That mustache wasn't familiar, and he was wearing sunglasses, but those slobbery lips were impossible to disguise.

His name tag — his name tag —

How many brothers does Blue Bob Ptafelstup have?

 

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Mary Turzillo is an author, teacher, and critic. Her story "Mars is No Place for Children" won the Nebula award in 2000. She is a graduate of the 1985 Clarion Writers Workshop, and was an instructor there, with her husband Geoff Landis, in 2001.

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