Stuttering lights crossed the night sky as the drones floated above the spidery criss-cross of network cables, just a few inches above my head. I kept thinking about the cameras pointed at my house, wondering if I would get to see the recording of that moment when my life changed. I followed the movement of the hovering four-armed machines until my eyes stung.
3 AM. Time to eat. I went back inside my house and ate a dozen cold chicken nuggets from a box lying on the counter. My appointment with the filing officer was at 7 AM. I couldn’t sleep, even after dinner.
The morning hadn’t started yet when I was on my way to the filing centre. The speed of the train made the yew trees look like skeletal figures, floating in morning blue, just like the people staring out of Anna’s paintings. I wondered what she would do if she found out what sort of person I was. The more I thought about it the more that possibility seemed inevitable. Anna insisted on having dinner together, like any person wanting to validate their relationship. I found creative ways to skip it. I would pretend to work late or say that my stomach was hurting or that I had stuffed myself with free sandwiches at work.
On a couple of occasions, she woke up in the middle of the night and caught me downstairs eating steak or curry but she never thought anything of it. It was difficult during weekends though. After she had just moved in, she was busy with her painting classes but as soon as the term finished, it became difficult to come up with excuses.
At the records bureau, a short man dressed in a black shirt told me to take a seat. His desk was surrounded by B4 Servers which blinked and beeped, giving out a smell of overheated wires.
“Why do you need that footage Mr Blake?” the man said while adjusting the minuscule camera on his glasses.
“My shrink told me it’s important to see that recording,” I said and rubbed my hands under the table. ”I can’t remember what happened that day. I’ve been suffering from the night eating syndrome ever since,” I wasn’t there because of my shrink but it was the best explanation I could come up with.
“Why can’t you remember?” the man asked while raising his eyebrows.
I couldn’t tell him why so I said, “I drank too much.”
The man pointed a pen at me. “We often give people what they ask for and then they end up spending entire days watching videos of themselves.” He smiled and gave me a knowing look.
I assured him I wasn’t going to do that. But I knew I would. I couldn’t wait to go home and relive all the times Laura and I played Age of Doom and told each other stories over wine and vodkas.
“Giving this data to the public is absurd,” the man said and shook his head. “Terrorism prevention should require us to sacrifice our privacy.” He looked as if he didn’t really want to give me the flash-drive even though that was his job. I almost had to grab it off him. My hands trembled as I touched its cold, smooth surface.
The man said something else but I couldn’t hear him. He seemed a bit of a closet fanatic so I didn’t want to encourage him. I walked out and rushed past commuters. While on the train, I phoned my office and took the day off, pretending I had a viral flu.
At home, I sat at the kitchen table for five hours watching the footage while the chair dug into my back. Towards the end of the recording, Laura and I had dinner. It was the last time I had dinner at a normal time. She was joking a lot, telling me how many guys flirted with her. She then rose from the table and swallowed a pick-me-up pill. I took one too and half an hour later, the walls moved, the table shrunk and Laura looked like she had been filtered through a distorting mirror, her eyes bigger than usual and her mouth about to swallow me, like she had swallowed all the other men. Then she told me she cheated on me with John, our mutual painter friend. She said it as if it was nothing. I could see myself turning red. I remembered a murmur growing in my chest. A knot was in my throat. She took another pill. That was it. It all became clear. I should have stopped her. I usually stopped her. But I didn’t. Not that time. Not after what she had done. She took another pill. And I just sat in my chair, imagining that the remaining threads that held us together were being cut and that our malignant blood poured out of our separation wound.
I paused the video and shivered. I tried to stop myself from sobbing when I heard Anna’s voice.
“Did she die?” she asked. “Is that why you have trouble eating?”
I looked behind me. Anna was standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips. What was I thinking? Of course she had realised what was going on. She had probably seen the entire thing too. It was just like her to come in at the worst possible time.
We stared at each other as if we acknowledged who the other was for the first time since we had met. I forced myself to nod. She placed her hands on my head and kissed me.
I knew she pretended not to notice what I had done. In my head, Laura nodded just like that time when I asked her to marry me and then hunger overwhelmed me as if all my life I had been fed with emptiness.