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The Walls Are Watching

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~*~

When Rebecca Bergen got home from work on Tuesday, the wall next to the refrigerator was displaying ads for a coral-colored sofa.

She'd seen a similar sofa in a store the day before, and thought fleetingly about buying it, but didn't.

I didn't say anything out loud about that sofa, did I? She eyed the wall warily and turned off the display, half expecting it to turn itself back on.

The apartment made her nervous, though it wasn't just her apartment—it was everywhere. At home, at work, in stores, in coffee shops, it was always the same: she had the unsettling feeling of being noticed.

Ads like the one she'd been shown tonight only supported that thinking.

Last week, the picture of her cat, Scooter, disappeared from the refrigerator display. Scooter had died a year ago, but Rebecca still liked having his picture there. She tried to get the fridge to show it again, but it wouldn't. It was as if the apartment knew the cat was no longer a member of the household, and was deleting all references to it.

What Rebecca wanted didn't count.

Just yesterday, she'd decided to weigh herself for the first time in a week. The scale had registered an increase of five pounds, and when Rebecca got to the kitchen, the wall had bus schedule listings and was showing pictures of women walking to work in business suits and tennis shoes.

When it was time to leave for the office, her car wouldn't start.

She wound up taking the bus after all, unsure whether the apartment knew her car was in trouble and was trying to help her, or whether it had disabled the car to make a point. She no longer even bothered considering that it might be coincidence.

Her car worked again this morning, though who knew what tomorrow would bring? The refrigerator refused to display pictures of Scooter for her, but it was happy to show her people exercising at the gym or running on the footpath next to the river.

Subtle.

The phone rang as she was scrambling eggs for dinner.

"Rebecca?"

"Hi, Mom." Rebecca turned the heat down and pulled a plate out of the cupboard. "How's everything?"

"Well, I was wondering whether you might come by in the next few days. I need to cook up another week's worth of meals."

Rebecca's mother was blind. She'd lived alone for the past ten years after her husband died, and had known every dial and knob in her apartment by heart. But last year, her apartment was redone as part of the Glass Of The Future directive. Now, she couldn't use the stove any more without assistance from sighted people.

"Is tomorrow night okay?" Rebecca asked. She knew her mother didn't want to pressure her, but she also knew how afraid her mother was of being declared unfit to live alone. "I could come by around six."

"Oh yes, thank you! That would be perfect!"

"I'll bring some groceries. Love you."

"I love you too, sweetheart."

Rebecca hung up the phone, and scowled. With all of this 'Glass of the Future' modernizing, they couldn't come up with a voice-activated stove? Only a business visionary or a government agency would push a plan forward that made life more primitive for some people than before.

Later, during the evening news, there was a report on the happiness of coupled people versus those who were single. As Rebecca got ready for bed, the wall showed ad after ad depicting available single men.

Oh, brother, she thought.

But the wall wasn't finished. The next morning, it showed ads featuring single women instead. Probably a glitch, Rebecca decided, though one of the women struck her as very pretty.

Her car seemed to work again, which was a relief. Lugging groceries to her mother's on the bus would have been a real chore.

The skyboards on the way to the office advertised wall displays large enough to fill an entire side of a room. Rebecca's breath caught, and her shoulders grew tense. Even the current display screen in her bedroom made the room seem small.

After work, she stopped off to buy food to take over to her mother's. They cooked for almost three hours, with a short break for dinner. By the time she got home that night, it was almost ten o'clock, and Rebecca was exhausted. Her bedroom wall started running an infomercial on Healthy Lifestyle Choices, but she just buried her head under a pillow and went to sleep.

The next morning, the wall was showing personal ads for available women again. Rebecca stared at it blearily, thinking that at least this time she knew she'd left the display running the night before. Most mornings it was already on when she woke up, as if it was waiting for her. She turned it off every night, but it never stayed off. None of her friends seemed to know how to change that, either.

The bathroom mirror display activated while she was getting ready for work. Soon, she was bombarded with pictures of lonely kittens at the animal shelter.

"Stop that!" she shouted, throwing a towel at it. It was still too soon to think about getting another pet, and whose business was it if she needed to mourn Scooter awhile longer?

She went into the kitchen for a cup of coffee, and the wall next to refrigerator fired up immediately.

"Off!" She rubbed her forehead and tried to relax her shoulders. What I wouldn’t give for this place to be quiet once in a while. The displays actually tended to run with muted volume, but if there was a visual equivalent of noise, this was it. Why the hell don't these things ever shut up?

Once again the car didn’t start, so Rebecca had to take the bus. The skyboards loomed overhead, filling the streets with images, ads, influence, like that movie that showed a future where it was always raining. Rebecca found all of it incredibly tiring.

When she got to the office, she called her friend Larry, down in IT.

"Hey, how's it going?" he said.

"Okay," Rebecca answered. "Busy enough. I'm thinking about moving, though."

"Moving?" Larry said. "But you've got that great place right now, where everything's all renovated and modern."

"Well, you know," Rebecca hedged, "after a while, it doesn't seem worth it. And the rent's pretty high. I'm thinking of finding someplace more… old-fashioned, if possible."

Larry was quiet for a moment. "How old-fashioned?"

"As basic as you can get and still have electricity," Rebecca said. "Have you heard of anything like that?"

"I might have," Larry said. "We could meet for lunch and talk about it."

Rebecca's desk display began showing menus for nearby cafes and restaurants, making her decision that much easier.

"All right," she said. "Let's grab some hot dogs from one of the carts down the street, and walk while we eat."

"Ah, a picnic!"

She thought about park benches and stationary trees and bushes, all perfect places for surveillance equipment that might already have been in place for years.

"No," she said, "I was thinking of something less… crowded.

"Let's go down to the river."

 

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