By Kevin Tasker
The synesthesia implants were my wife Darlene’s idea. After a somewhat blissful year of chowing down on each other’s eye color (her baby blues tasted of mountain sunsets and my forest greens of roasted artichoke) and listening to the taste of our Beef Stroganoff (which sounded weirdly like the War of the Worlds broadcast I found one summer on Culture Harvest), Darlene dumped me for a paleo-vegan bodybuilder she’d met on Veggie Muscle. I won’t lie and say her abandonment was entirely unexpected. Lulled by my new sensation matrix, I’d pretty much let myself go. Still, life without her was painful. A sixty-five-year-old can get pretty depressed when the closest he comes to meaningful human interaction over the course of a whole year is hearing Spalding Gray whenever he eats a danish or tasting his father’s steps in virgin snow whenever he stares at the greying wallpaper.
Dating again has been a disaster. Last month, I struck up a pretty good conversation with a fellow divorcee on Furniture Frolics after our avatars plopped onto the same Louis XVI chaise, but when we decided to meet for martinis in the real world, I couldn’t get over the taste of her hair color. It tasted how the air tastes on the industrial corridor off Interstate 8. You know, that bitter tang that infiltrates your lungs even with the windows up. After my third drink, I told her it wasn’t her; it was me. Then I went out to the parking lot and tried to pry my ear off.
“Common injury,” the robo-nurse at Urgent Care said, as it reattached my earlobe. “But—”
“Yeah, yeah,” I said, “The implants are permanent.”
“Any attempt to remove the implant may result in catastrophic injury,” the robo-nurse quoted from the e-booklet Darlene and I had received with our devices on that beautiful day when we signed away our sense-rights.
“Right,” I said. “I know.”
Driving home, I tried not to taste the raspberry sherbet sunset. It was something Darlene and I would have loved to sample together.
Last week, I awoke to an epiphany. The implant couldn’t be removed, but maybe, given my circumstances, I could obtain a sense-modulator. I logged onto Implant Co. Customer Support and waited around for six hours, conversing with various cheerful Support Bots.
Finally, a real person got on the line. I explained to him that my wife and I had purchased our implants together, but now she was gone, and I was distraught. Before I could tell him what I wanted, he cut me off.
“Modular Package X isn’t cheap,” he said. “Nor is it 100% effective at mitigating heartache.”
“Modulator package X?” I said.
“It’s also a tad more invasive than the standard model.” He paused. “How attached are you to your facial bone structure?”
The surgery was an overall success. I had to sell the house and my computer equipment to afford it. I also had to sacrifice my cheekbones and my jaw to make room for the additional hardware. But the robo-doctors promised that the enterprising minds at Implant Co. were hard at work on upgrades that will allow me to speak again.
For now, they’ve given me a complimentary hologram mesh, which I can drape over my face when I go out. If you don’t look too carefully, it provides a pretty close approximation of a human. I can even customize the mesh using a few mods they included gratis, probably out of pity.
These days, I strut around Kroger looking like Captain America. Whenever somebody cuts me off in traffic, I turn into Freddy Krueger.
Yesterday, when I was sitting on the porch of my new eight-by-ten trailer with the sunset turned way down so that it tasted only minutely of sherbet, Darlene’s car pulled up. I switched my hologram mesh to Captain America and raised my hand in greeting.
Only it wasn’t Darlene who got out of the car. It was Cleopatra. Cleopatra waved at me, and I understood. Darlene must have gone through a similar crisis to my own. That explained the hologram mesh she wore. Maybe the paleo-vegan bodybuilder had left her for someone else. I didn’t care about the details. I was too overwhelmed with gratitude.
When we embraced, my entire sense matrix purred. I couldn’t tell her, but I think she knew I wanted to see her real face. And I know she wanted to see my true self.
I turned up my sensors, and she did the same.
Then, shyly, like two teenagers on their first date, we each raised our hands to our earlobes and tugged.