The Risks of Empathy, A Novela
Sarah had prepared a lovely dinner of full-fatted pork loins with her special bacon and cream gravy. The dessert, the richest chocolate mousse made with the thickest cream available, was chilling in the refrigerator.
“Honey! It’s time to eat! Tell the kids to put their videos away now.”
Sarah’s husband stepped into the dining room with the cigar smoke following him into the room like a cloud of exhaust follows a semi. “Ah Sarah, do we have to eat at the table? It is Saturday, and the kids are really having fun with their new TEs. Heck, I’m havin’ fun too. Can’t we just eat and play with the TEs at the same time?”
Sarah looked at the set table and realized that she probably was going to have to give in.
“Well, but you have to promise that we can eat like a real family tomorrow then. I want to make the veal and lard patties that I saw on that cooking show yesterday.”
“Sure Honey, it is Saturday after all.”
Rita stepped into the hall of her apartment building and didn’t notice the old urine smell and the shouts coming from this and that apartment. So many years of living in a rundown hellhole had dulled her sensory organs to the din and olfactory assaults. She made it to the ninth floor and unlocked the graffiti covered door to number 908. The number was not really discernible any longer, but it didn’t matter because she never had guests who might need to find the apartment number anyway. She stepped though the doorway and quickly locked the three dead bolts and latched the three security chains. That done, she relaxed imperceptibly and walked into the kitchen of her small efficiency which was really little more than a sink, hot plate, and small refrigerator.
Cold beer in hand, Rita made her way over to the very worn and stained recliner that might have once been red, but was now decidedly worn brick, and settled into the seat that conformed perfectly to her after three decades of breaking in. She looked at the TE sitting on her coffee table and wondered for the thousandth time, just what the government was up to by giving these things away. The brief directions that had come along with the damn thing had explained that the battery in it was good for at least a year and could be replaced free of charge at any U.S. Post Office. Free! Humph! Rita had never seen anything free in her very long life and wasn’t about to start believing in fairies quite yet.
Down at the bar, it seemed like the damn things were all that everyone was talking about. “Did you get yours?” “Have you tried it out?” “Did you try the skiing program? Or the Paris trip? Or the sex show?” it was all anyone could talk about alright, but, noticed Rita, they were all still alive, hell, maybe even a little more alive that she could remember them being in a goodly long time. They didn’t seem to be getting sick or acting like zombies or anything….
The TE worked simply enough. Selling Inc. engineers had refined the original version so that now all there was to it was a very light hairnet. No wires attached the net to the black plastic control box, which was itself about the size of a pack of cigarettes. There was an LED tuner that worked just like a radio tuner. “Channels” or “programs” as Rita had learned from the barroom chatter were transmitted exactly like radio. Only instead of listening to a song, you now experienced something that seemed real. Rita was still suspicious, but she was also very bored. She put the net on her head, and with more than just a little apprehension, she pressed the power button.
An attractive man in a dark sweater and light slacks was suddenly standing about five feet away from Rita. He had his hands up, palms outward in the universal “I mean you no harm” gesture.
“Don’t be alarmed. I’m not real. If at any time you get nervous simply press the power butto..”
And he was gone. Just like that. Rita had almost peed when the man appeared and was shaken by how real he had seemed. She pressed the power button again.
The attractive man appeared exactly as he had first appeared. He had his hands up, palms outward in the universal “I mean you no harm” gesture.
“Don’t be alarmed. I’m not real. If at any time you get nervous simply press the power button and the Total Experience will stop immediately. This is an introduction to the Selling Total Experience, if at any time you would like to skip this introduction simply tune to a new channel. The tuner automatically starts at the beginning of a program, so you will always be able to have a Total Experience.”
He blathered on and on and Rita soon found herself getting a little bored with his prattle, in spite of the novelty of him seeming to actually be in the room with her and his good looks. Then, something caught her attention.
“The Total Experience is not like watching a movie or high definition TV. If it were what you are seeing now might be as much as you could expect. When you tune to the Total Experience experiences you will feel as if you are experiencing an actual event. Remember, this is not real and you can always turn off the power. We recommend that you use the Selling Total Experience only when seated in a comfortable and preferably soft chair or from the safety of your bed. Selling Inc. will not be held liable due to accidents associated with this devise under special agreement with the United States government. Happy Experiencing!
The attractive man appeared exactly as he had first appeared. He had his hands up, palms outward in the universal “I mean you no harm” gesture. “Don’t be alarmed. I’m not real. If at any time you get nervous simply press the power button and the Total Experience will stop immediately. This is an introduction to the Selling Total Experience, if at any time you would like to…”
And he was gone again as Rita shut the thing off.