Trist sunk into the sagging loveseat immediately after throwing her keys onto the credenza. The air in the apartment was too warm, but she didn’t have the vim to stand back up to adjust the thermostat.
It had been a long day, with several of her clients being especially difficult. One wanted Trist to call his almost-estranged son and to convince him to visit him in the nursing home, threatening to leave him out of the large will. Another, unfortunately, was just never easy no matter the day.
It would be another hour or so before Luc, Trist’s husband, got home. Luc typically finishes his scheduled tennis coaching sessions around this time. “Scheduled” seems to be a suggested word. He was far too gregarious to just leave the kids at six sharp, and would stay after to talk and afford guidance in their personal lives. Luc and Trist agreed that kids for them were out of the equation, but Luc couldn’t help but pretend to be a dad for those on the courts.
Luc tore his ACL in the middle of qualifiers for a middling tournament, whilst figuratively also tearing any chance at tennis stardom. Since then, it had been difficult finding steady work in a field rife with athletes who flustered in the big leagues. Teaching kids at the high school made ends meet then.
For dinner, Trist had a table set with a large heaping pile of curried lentils with herbs, some sausages, and a bowlful of roasted root vegetables. All served on plain glassware as their precious china from the wedding sits unused. Festivities where elegant plates were appropriate just never arose in the year since their wedding.
The gibber jabber went as usual; Trist and Luc always loved their banter when together. A little light teasing here or there; a lot of complaining about their days recently. Usually, the nights ended with some light escapism. For Luc, it was scrolling through feeds while Trist enjoyed streaming dramatic series. Parallel play as the psychologist called it: the company itself was the entire point. That night though, they never stopped talking.
” … it’s just those people are so terrible. I know this makes me a terrible person, but I really want him to just… go away if you catch my drift.”
“Actually, you know what Trist? it’s been too long, we should go on a vacation. Maybe that’ll help? I know I need one too.”
“We’ve been through this. We don’t have the money for that yet. I don’t have the vacation days… your kids’ parents are gonna be mad if you have to cancel practice. So many things to plan. Maybe someday”
“Yeah I know….”
In that little exchange, the seed was planted. Several weeks later, Trist saw an advertisement in the nursing home promising the elderly the ability to travel like they were young again. No more of the shuffle onto coach buses, and being herded around the sights like animals. It promised adventuring with the vigor of youth.
The product Zephyr was a state-of-the-art implant alongside pills which loaded “experiences” to the implants. Essentially, it engaged the remaining senses that VR goggles ignored by interfacing directly with the brain to stream in what it feels like to surf the waves of Bondi beach, or zip line across a Costa Rica jungle. Fanfare for such a revolutionary product was massive.
It was also far cheaper than any physical journeys, and the implant was noninvasive. There was a catch though: after an experience, one must still pony up the monthly fee. It turns out the plasticity of the human brain means that it actively will seek and diffuse away those memories. After a few days, it would be as if the experiences never happened.
Trist showed Luc the website that night.
“Remember how we talked about taking a trip awhile ago? This is so much cheaper!”
“Yeah, but we’re not actually doing it. Does it really count?”
“It says it can pretend that days has passed and …”
“… And there’s a subscription cost. What exactly are we subscribing to anyways?”
“Oh that’s for making your brain remember the whole thing.”
“Pfft, so not even really remembering it.”
“Come on, it’s not even a hundred dollars, let’s just try it.”
A week after getting the implants, Luc and Trist opened the mail to discover the package has arrived. The two initially couldn’t decide on what they wanted to do, but ultimately chose the couples package to Belize. The box contained just two pills, one for each of them, and the remaining space where filled with brochures advertising this-or-that “trip.”
The actual experience was magical. The getaway was a “reservation” at a cabana on the beach for three days with all excursions included. There with other people on the shore, but they were AI generated and got out of the way when prompted. The weather was, in every sense of the word, optimal. Water, crystal blue. And best of all, the two were somehow able to interact while in this simulation.
It was legitimately a fun adventure for Trist and Luc. And oddly enough, the pictures they took while “in” Belize showed up on their doorsteps soon after. Truly unBelizeable as the trite T-shirts would say.
This became a tradition for them: every half year, they would pick out another adventure. It provided just enough glimmer in the rat race for them to push on.
Some time later, the cycle of capitalism hit a nadir. Trist’s nursing home laid her off, and Luc’s coaching gigs dried up. They struggled to stay afloat, even with the unemployment checks. Those also eventually shriveled up prompting the two to start cutting expenses.
By the fourth month, the Zephyr monthly cost came onto the chopping block. They knew that all those experiences would be erased, but figured it’s easy enough once things were better to do it again. After all, don’t many people wish they could re-experience a transformative movie or music for the first time?
Six months after the lay offs, the maintenance pills stopped coming. Unbeknownst to Luc and Trist, their implants also malfunctioned. One day, they woke up in bed, and stared blankly at each other’s eyes, waiting for the rush of memories to kick in.
It never did.
The memories wiped extended beyond their little vacations. Somehow, their entire relationship was among the trail of destruction left behind. The two kept on starring into each eyes inquisitively as if the act of looking could remove the hoarfrost that clearly was between the two strangers now.
As Trist and Luc individually got up and looked around their room, they realized how fragile love was. Just bits of neurons firing at the sight of a certain person triggering other portions of the brain to respond; a little hormone here or there too. Yet, from the photos of the two happily together in unknown lands, it was clear that it had meant everything to the two.