FRIDAY I’M IN LOVE
Kate noticed the camera on Tuesday. A small silver orb, between the size of a baseball and an Easter egg, the camera sat stout and proud on the kitchen counter as if it had been there her whole life. When she crouched to eye level, the lens winked like an asshole, green laser beaming into her heart: I’m on, I’m on, I’m on.
Why had her husband Rick installed a camera in the kitchen? An outdoor system was one thing. The neighbors had banded together for a group deal on surveillance following a series of break-ins, a spate of package theft. One morning a man in a beige sweatsuit quietly exposed himself to Kate on the sidewalk while she was on a power jog, his penis swinging halfway down his thigh like that childhood song can you tie it in a knot/can you tie it in a bow. She considered reporting it but felt as if a secret had passed between them, as if she’d somehow been chosen, so she kept the moment to herself.
Over takeout Rick marveled about an app that allowed him to track all porch activity: who rang the bell, slipped business cards and mailings from Papa John’s, flung supermarket circulars, petitioned for Green Peace. It was security but it was also entertainment. Check it, the UPS deliverer puffing a j, the local campaign candidate launching a juicy sneeze onto his clipboard. Kate laughed uncomfortably and acquiesced. Technically, she was still a stay-at-home mom, even without the kids. This would ensure no surprise visitors. This was safety, not imprisonment. The world was no longer what it was.
But inside – atop the marbled soapstone, like some nanny cam stuffed in a teddy bear? Kate and Rick were empty nesters. There’d been no discussion. What would the camera catch? A midnight snack perp? An ecstasy of ants? The dog absconding with the cookie jar?
Kate stared at the eye. The eye stared back. When the kids were young, she’d tacked that poster in their playroom: dance like no one’s watching, etc. She was a sucker for calligraphed aphorisms. Mark Twain clearly did not anticipate the internet. Once the twins discovered Instagram, the messaging shifted. Act as if everyone is watching. Even after they blocked her from their social media accounts, she found herself stuck on this loop: Someone is always keeping track.
Was this Rick’s way of staying abreast of her great aspirations? She tore off a hunk of loaf with her teeth and chewed wolfishly. The camera didn’t even blink. She gave it the finger, flicked the recessed lighting on and off, left the room.
On Wednesday the camera bore into her backside as she made Rick’s coffee. The milk was a bit chewy and broke apart, floating on top like coconut flakes. She should have dumped it, replaced it, gone to the corner coffee shop for a fresh brew. Instead, she gave it a vigorous stir until the separateness came together again.
With Rick at work, Kate swept the floor, loaded the dishwasher. That took two minutes. She opened a book and closed it. On twitter she read about her semiotics professor facing allegations thirty-five years after assigning Camera Lucida. In the kitchen, the camera drew her in like a magnetic field. The notion of Rick following her every move was enraging. She felt like Rapunzel in a complicit castle. She raised her fist, but it was a hollow gesture. If she unplugged the thing, there would be no connection. There would be no one monitoring her at all.
She made goal posts with her fingers, stuck out her tongue. The adolescent rebellion emboldened her. Here she was, in The Real World. Back when she worked in magazines, she pitched an article about the death of privacy. This was the 90s. The Truman Show had not yet been made. Her prediction: a slippery slope was irreparable. Her story was shut down as histrionic and shrill, so she watched the parade of housewives and weight loss contestants and pregnant teens and rose-seeking singles, how to survive naked and alive. If you can’t beat ‘em, she shrugged, clicking channels. Kate became the ideal audience.
Who might be her voyeur? In a small dark room, some sack was being paid to pore over footage of households across America. She could practically smell his soggy bowl of Grape-Nuts. A job was a job, and everyone had their reasons. In truth, there was a limit to her imagination. Kate lifted the camera like a microphone and exhaled. The lens fogged.
On Friday she made toast, made a hoagie with peppers and onions, sliced her foot long diagonally in half. She devoured it from tip to nose. She was a pit. she fried up a package of pierogi, swept her fork through a valley of sour cream. Give the people what they want. Her kids used to watch YouTubers wrap and unwrap packages. Dear Ms. Alexa, she commanded. Play us a tune. Kate was not the karaoke type, but her spatula helped. TGIF. She dialed it back to The Cure, belted Like a Virgin on her hands and knees panting along the parquet like a tiger. Ass in the air, it wasn’t a bad ass, she did Pilates, after all, transformed the kids’ room into a gym, with a reformer and everything. The machine looked kinkier than it was. She thought of her surveillance guy – or gal! – her surveillance person with an iron-on logo across their breast pocket. She was giving a show, spilling out of her shapewear bra, spicing up the weekday drudgery, could there be a greater mitzvah?
Not that it was selfless. Nothing is ever one sided.
What if, she thought, it wasn’t some stranger but Rick, her husband of twenty-eight years in a windowless room, Rick glued to his app for package drop-offs, Rick who busted the myth of empty nest sex, but called Amazon her boyfriend, Rick leaning back in his ergonomic swivel chair with a napkin to his lip as his wife whooped it up on the cold hard floor. What was he seeing? At 54, she’s had two boys, twins. She had softness, signs of wear, but screw the ring light. There was expectation and reality. She was tired of disappointment.
With her eyes closed, Kate reaches for herself. She is the breathy Victorian heroine she binges on demand. She is the star of her own simulation. Her kids assured her Porn Hub was no big before they left home, before they went West to couch surf and invest in cannabis, people do what they’re going to do, everyone’s chasing their edge, it was only generous to bear witness. Maybe attention made the loneliness livable. Tit for tat. Maybe there was more to it, the possibilities running so wide and so deep she can almost hear the door crack, the knob turn, a distant voice calling anyone home to which she hums in here.
Sara Lippmann is the author of the story collections DOLL PALACE (rereleased by 713 Books) and JERKS (Mason Jar Press.) Her debut novel, LECH, is forthcoming from Tortoise Books this fall. For more, visit: saralippmann.com