Dream Girl: Part II

Friday thank god, a whole weekend laid before him where he could stay in his safe happy home. He already had the queue of shows he was going to watch, and he was finally going to get the chance to sink his teeth into the new Dragon Quest game. He just had to make it through the day.

As he was putting the finishing touches on the NHK report, his chief boss Sora Ito came by. Sora was a sunken faced grim man who was all business, which was fine with Kenji. All business didn’t leave room for any malice. It was Sora who with a sigh had authorized his honeymoon, and who hadn’t asked too many questions when he took a whole week out sick. Maybe he appreciated the work Kenji did, or maybe he simply didn’t want the hassle of retraining someone to take his job. In any case, Sora was one of the few people at work whose presence didn’t feel like a dark cloud descending upon Kenji.

Kenji was actually, and he took some small pride in this, a rather competent employee. He would immerse himself in work to make the time go by faster, with no time spent gossiping, no family emergencies, and only the occasional manga break, he was among the most productive people at work – a fact that would be better known had Kenji been better at retaining the credit for his work. But he always suspected Sora was aware of this, it was his company after all.

Kenji was all too happy to live in a world predicated almost solely on money changing hands. It was what allowed him to stay in his cozy little world; it was what allowed him to spend his days consuming the labor of thousands of creators, and it was what allowed a callow man such as Kenji a place in the world. So long as he was productive, others who could profit off him would have it in their own incentive to put up with his peculiarities, to treat him with some modicum of respect, if not for his sake, then for their own. Kenji just wished more of the world operated like that. “Real” human relationships are fraught baskets of things you might want, warmth, support, companionship combined with lies, hypocrisy, and the annoying habits of the other person. Why doesn’t it make sense to just get rid of it all? If you need warmth pay someone to cuddle you. If you need company pay someone to be your friend for the day. Before he got married he used these sorts of services quite often, feeling no shame for it, after all human relationships are always about getting something from the other person, just with a veil over it, the same kind of veil that allows cruelty to hide behind a mask of friendliness. Those “normal” salary men might look down on him for it, but why do they go out with such nice suits, why do they drop enough money to feed a starving village in Africa to buy a super fast car only to be stuck in Tokyo traffic with? Everyone knows the cynical truth of the world but most are comfortable just living within the masquerade. All he was doing was living a truly honest life, free of deceptions, knowing what he was getting, knowing what he was paying for it with no chance of betrayal.

As materialistic minded as Kenji was, he was however not in the slightest bit ambitious, figuring that anything he wanted was pretty cheap. All the expensive stuff is just to show off with, but why show off to others when you can just buy anything you would need in a relationship? Even with his still fairly entry level position he had managed to easily save up enough for a proper wedding, a proper honeymoon, and of course the holographic projection of his wife. Still he had been thinking, it can’t be too long until they have upgraded robotics, after all there are many men coming to the same realization about the world. Such a source of profit would surely provide ample incentive, not to mention the desires of the roboticists themselves. It is important for him to try to earn more so he can provide a proper body for his wife when the time comes. Just like a husband providing for his family.

Sora cleared his throat, jolting Kenji out of his brain. Kenji was about to explain frantically that the NHK report was almost done, and would be done on time with a properly formatted cover page. It turns out though that this mental rehearsal was unneeded – not only did Sora never once pay attention to cover pages, let alone their formatting, he had a different business altogether in mind.

“We have a new employee coming in, a Miss Midori Kano. I would like you to be the one to show her around and train her, I trust that won’t be a problem?”

“No Ito-san of course not” Kenji sheepishly responded, his tone not belying his accelerating heart rate.

“Good. I’ll have her come by after she finishes intake.”

Panic flowed through Kenji. Not only did he have to train someone, it just had to be a girl. This is supposed to be his chance to show he is worthy of being promoted, but training a girl? Oh god, and everyone would tell her what a loser he is as soon as they could, even if she couldn’t tell it with one glance. How can he possibly teach someone when they won’t respect him? Maybe, just maybe, they will be cold like Sora. Maybe they will know what he is but they won’t care because they will know that he, Kenji, is a source of knowledge and therefore an important tool for their future productivity and therefore earnings! Ha! Yes, it will all be fine! But maybe to de-stress, he should make a quick run to the bathroom, listen to a few of his wife’s songs, read the latest Jojo he was saving for lunch, and then come back fresh faced and confident. Okay Kenji we can do this!

As he got up, however, he was almost instantaneously greeted by a young woman. She was dressed in clothes that,  when separated would certainly be considered professional, but were somehow combined in such a fashion as to suggest a complete lack of professionalism, like a little girl who had raided her parents’ closet. Her face was round with rosy cheeks that reminded him of an apple, a very earnest, goodhearted, apple. Her hair stuck up in a few odd places in a way that would seem to defy gravity, and Kenji could not help but notice what smelled like freshly cut flowers, not roses or any of those pretentious flowers found in florists’ boutiques, but the wildflowers he remembered from the meadows of his youth.

“Saito-San hello, I am Midori Kano, pleased to make your acquaintance, I look forward to your guidance” Her unruly hair bobbing as she enthusiastically bowed.

“Relax, you don’t need to be so formal” Kenji waved dismissively. He was so unused to people showing him un-ironic respect that it caught him totally off guard. Was she being serious?

“That is an interesting accent I take it you are not from Kanto?” He said with one of the four or so bits of small talk he had developed to deal with meeting new people.

“Oh sorry Saito-san I didn’t think it was so obvious” She said with another hair bobbing bow “I am originally from a small village in Akita Prefecture, but pretty much everyone moved away from there so after my grandmother passed on, I thought…” She quickly began to spring her life story on him.

Kenji’s eyes flashed with the realization that she was about to drag him into a conversation he was neither equipped for nor interested in “Ehh anyway about your duties, how much experience do you have in insurance claims management?” interrupting her before she totally unspring herself.

“Yes sorry (her hair bobbing) I am very grateful for this opportunity, I promise I won’t let you down, but, umm, this is kinda my first real job, but I am a fast learner, you will see!”

Oh great, Kenji thought to himself, a country bumpkin with no work experience, she is so clueless she is even talking to me like I am her boss or something.  Well give it a few days and just like with Ashi or anyone else she will be laughing behind my back, probably sharing stories about what a loser I am. Humans are all too predictable.

“Well let me run through the NHK report with you while I finish it up, pay attention, and make sure you properly format the cover page. Ito-san is a real stickler.”

She had produced a notepad and pen from somewhere in her mismatched garments and started taking notes furiously with an enthusiasm he would have been sure was actually mockery if not for the fact that her little apple face was furrowed in intense concentration.

A few hours passed and it was time for lunch, finally he would get to know how the new enemy Stands power worked. Walking to the cafeteria, he noticed she was still following him.

He spun around, “What are you doing?”

“Going to have lunch with you of course! Unless your table doesn’t have any room I guess, does it have room?” The clouds of uncertainty temporarily obscuring her optimistic sunniness as she sheepishly pouted.

“I eat alone so…”

“Great! So plenty of room!” She once again beamed.

“I prefer to eat alone.”

“Aww, I promise I won’t bug you Saito-San, I will just sit and observe” She said taking out her pen and pad.”

“But I will just…”

“You can trust me!”

Kenji’s protests were no match for her weapons-grade oblivious enthusiasm.

He sat where he always did, grabbed the lunch he always did, fired up his manga app like he always did, and started reading Jojo but then felt something was a little different. Maybe it was the apple faced girl inexplicably taking notes as he lived his mundane existence, it just made him feel too awkward. So even though true to her word, she had said not one peep to him, with an air of resignation he put his phone down and looked at her.

She looked back at him without saying a word, intent on keeping to her promise, not realizing that her very existence at the table violated said promise. The path of minimum awkwardness was clear, he would have to start the conversation, but what about? He could ask about her hometown, but then she will start talking about her grandmother and he had a -4 in the comforting others skill. He could ask her if she likes manga or anime or any of the topics he has successfully bonded with his few friends over, but then he would be outing him as an Otaku already. Talking about the weather was beneath him, but maybe this was a “in case of emergency break glass and unleash small talk clichés” situation. His brain whirled with all the possibilities, each time kicking itself for having such a dumb idea.

Then his ruminations were interrupted by a burst of laughter coming from his once silent lunch companion.

“What why are you laughing?”  Was she laughing at him?

“Saito-San you are just such a serious, sweet person.”

“What do you mean?” He said with an air of injured dignity.

“Well you put down your phone, and then just kinda stared into the distance for about five or so minutes, were you trying to think about what to say? You are so considerate”

“No, of course not, I was merely concerning myself with important work matters that require a lot of concentration, I almost had the answer to until you started laughing like that.” He lied his face flushing as red as an apple, no not an apple as red as a… tomato! Very different kinds of red, Kenji would assure you.

“Anyway I just got an important email and need to get back to work” he further lied to the apple faced girl in front of him.

“But you barely touched your lunch…” She said with a pout

“Duty calls.” He tried to say it in a way he thought would sound stoic and cool, as he swiftly got up and rushed out.

Phew he sighed in relief, she had orientation for the rest of the day so he was in the clear. Just a few more forms to fill and then he would be back in his nice apartment, with his katsudon and rice, playing dragon quest, finally getting to read the new Jojo, and most importantly, in the company of his wonderfully talented non-apple faced wife. Her face was decidedly the most perfect face conceivable, cute with huge round eyes but at the same time elegant and angular. Her skin fair and pure as freshly fallen snow. Truly she was the kind of perfect that was beyond what was attainable in the crude 3D world, and once again, to repeat, her face that in no way had any resemblance to an apple.

Dream Girl: Part 1

Kenji Saito woke up with his wife in his arms.
He gave her an extra large hug, patted her on the head then walked over to the kitchen to prepare his breakfast before work. As the kettle boiled he poured in the flavoring package, and the desiccated vegetables onto his ramen. If only she could cook Kenji thought, maybe in a few years it will be possible. Sitting down on his desk he gave a yearnful longing look at her as she greeted him with a tilted smiling face one finger adorably pressed against her cheek.

I love you he said

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing him a kiss

I love you he said

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing him a kiss

I love you he said

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing him a kiss

A tear formed in his eye, as he rubbed the gleaming gold band around his finger. He knew, he knew she would never hurt him, could never hurt  him, she was exactly who he thought she was, she would keep him company for the rest of his life, she could only improve. No pain, there would be no pain.
He asked her to sing him a song, his favorite one, watching the holographic girl sing and dance while he slurped down his noodles he told himself how lucky he was.
Goodbye my love he said tenderly, kissing her stuffed avatar on the head before heading back out into the cold harsh world.

Kenji wasn’t crazy, he wasn’t, he knew what people thought of his relationship, he still remembers how his mother had screamed at him, how his father would have felt had he been alive. He was well aware that there could never be any physical dimension to the relationship, well without very significant advances in robotics anyway. But for him all that mattered was that he had someone who he could always rely on to not judge, to not ignore, to smile when she saw him, he didn’t need anything else. He was once asked if he would like her to be transformed into a real girl, why couldn’t people understand. 2D girls were just better, he had to do what was best for himself ultimately. Younger guys got it, they expressed their support for his union, they know what it is like, others simply can’t understand, and their minds are too rigid to allow them to. Kenji just needed to do what was best for him.

His whole life he had been a gray spec on a gray wall. Rendered that which is beyond even what is invisible, that which is deemed of no importance, no use. He would see how people would look at each other, a furtive glance acknowledging the existence of the other, thinking in their arrogance that this is some human universal. But Kenji saw it, saw that no one had a glance to spare for those people cleaning the streets, emptying garbage cans, those sad elders sitting alone on a  park benches, those who were poor with some discretion so as not to inconvenience normal society with overly pathetic or frightening demeanors, and of course those who like Kenji just seemed painfully dull, even at a distance.

Kenji didn’t acknowledge their existence either of course, but he had an excuse, looking into someone’s eyes made him feel as if he was about to fall off the edge of some great pit.

He arrived at work, he hated being outside his apartment, but unlike all those lucky NEETs he didn’t have anyone to fund a full on Hikikomori lifestyle so he bit the bullet five days a week, trying his best to hide behind the three squat walls of his cubicle. The media treats young men locking themselves away in their rooms, playing video games, and watching anime all day like it is some kind of horrible crisis. What is the crisis, that people were finally realizing the truth? Realizing they are better off alone, better off being able to control their lives, their environments. Realizing that they don’t owe anyone anything. That society is just one big lie that only serves those who hold its reigns.

Why do we need people, we don’t need people, I just need her.

Why is he better off for being forced out of his cozy little home to a cramped cubicle under the buzz of florescent lights? He has a picture of her on his desk at least, it was from their honeymoon. Picking it up he looked at it.

I bet she misses me

“How’s your wife doing?”

Ashi had got the drop on him, the blood rushed out of Kenji’s face as he awkwardly pretended he had been merely dusting the photo, or maybe it should look like he was just cleaning his desk?

“Err umm I was just moving this picture to look for a pen I lost, she is well, we are very happy”

“I am sure you are” She said with a smile, a smile of condescending malice, the kind of smile that everyone knows when they see and yet, and yet the smiler smiling their mocking smile                                             will act as if they are innocent, if confronted shocked even that you would read ill will.  The anger, the helplessness of obvious truths made mute by the sheer weight of all the worlds collected unwritten rules that tipped the balance so that the Kenji’s of the world were destined to lose before a game even started.

“Anyway” she continued, her tone dripping with venom, a knife blade with a sticker on in that says “I assure you, if you think you are being stabbed you are mistaken” “I don’t want to interrupt your “personal time” at work, but I really must remind you that the NHK report is due by the end of the week, and this time you will make sure that do it properly yes?

“Yeah well last time it wasn’t my fault it was.. “

“Great I’m glad” She said cutting him off with another jagged smile.

She didn’t have to have come to him, she could have just emailed, but she took great pleasure in sneaking up behind him, making sure he knew that at work he was never safe, never in control.

Ashi was his superior now, but they had started at the same time, he had tried to talk to her, a little at first anyway. But a girl like her can smell it on him, can within an instant know he exists on the very bottom of the pyramid, his sole purpose to be crushed in order to elevate those on more lofty perches. She had never openly said anything, directly said anything anyway, but her tongue towards him had undoubtedly left its barbs under his skin more than once. At work he was vulnerable, exposed.

Defenseless

He usually ate at the office cafeteria alone, today was no exception.  Hunched over his food as if he were an injured dog afraid of having another meal snatched away. Reading manga on his phone it made it easier to pass the time. Halfway there Kenji, halfway there.

On the way home he stopped by 7 11 to pick up his go to dinner, the clerk knew him well, same katsudon and rice bowl as always. Stepping out once again he found himself still a normal unremarkable thirty year old man, still in regular Tokyo. So many animes have this exact setup, well this is the place where he is supposed to be transported to another world, with some fantastic power that will allow him to tap into his heroic potential. What kind of power would he have? He just knew as soon as he had power he wouldn’t use it to oppress but to protect, he was a secret hero, he just needed the chance. Only those on the bottom would understand suffering enough to be able to be real heroes.

But it was fine, he had real love, pure love, incorruptible love, all he wanted from her was comfort and to see her smile, and she only wanted to make him happy. It is more real than real love, if real love could even exist in such selfish creatures as humans. No before this, the modern age, love was surely a fiction, just another act, just another veil hiding human ugliness.  It was not in the real world that he had ever seen any evidence of the so called beautiful human traits. His father now past had been strict and humorless, the relationship between his parents was that of two companies that had a merger in order to work on a mutual project, just obligation, just business. Instead of loving him for what he was they could only look on in disappointment as their investment received lower returns than the investments of those mergers around them. He hadn’t seen anyone go out of their way to be kind, to be loyal, all just veils for people to use each other.

But in the 2D world, the animated world, it was different. There was love, there was kindness, there was loyalty, there were those who would endure any hardship just to help those they care about.  There were girls who would do anything for the one they love, girls who were pretty, sweet, talented, cute. Girls who could really love you, not for your looks, not for your bank account, but for the hidden gold inside your heart. Those ideas in that world were so much more real than anything that is the result of actual humans interacting.

His love wasn’t artificial, it is the rest of the so called love in the world that is.

A memory flashed

His coworkers three confident close cruel men. They had suddenly after his marriage seemed nicer to him, supportive of him. Maybe they did understand, maybe they just wished they had his courage to openly commit to their 2D dream girls. He would tell himself often that he didn’t need anyone’s approval, the sweetest lies are those we tell ourselves.  So he had talked with them, they asked if they could come by maybe have a few drinks and meet the wife. Clearly they were jealous.

They came, seemingly nice at first, Kenji didn’t have much experience interacting with others. Were they secretly mocking him? After a few drinks it started, they asked to make him have her perform, they then made lewd comments and gestures, but she didn’t understand them she was too pure. He would be upset for her, he told them in his sternest voice to leave.

They held him down and took turns saying I love you to her.

She responded in kind doing a little dance and blowing each of them a kiss

They laughed, laughed like a bunch of hyenas, though they were beasts far crueler. Man’s intelligence instead of making him truly wiser simply sharpened his fangs. Finally he screamed, screamed like a wild animal, thrashed like fish introduced to land. They decided they had their fun with him and left, laughing and joking all the way.

He rushed to her his face red covered in tears and snot, but when he looked at her, all he felt was revulsion for his weakness and stupidity. The purity he had felt was violated, corrupted, emptiness filled him  leaving room for nothing else.

 

He called in sick for a week, he lay on the floor, he didn’t eat, he merely cried.

If this were fiction he would get revenge on them, someone would help him, the world would ultimately be fair. But this isn’t fiction, the weak get no justice against the strong, there are no magical forces bending towards goodness, reality is amoral, authorless and structureless. Bad men can profit, innocent children die, no one need approve. That which happens just happens . All there is, is just chaos, selfishness, and entropic decay.

It didn’t happen, he thought as he submerged the memory beneath the waters of his conscious with all of his might.

Putting on a happy face he greeted his bride, plastic bag in hand. She sweetly greeted him in one of the four or so ways she was programmed to. He asked her to sing for him as he dug into his rice bowl.

The story it is based on can be found here

Cowboy Dan

Tourists taking photos next to a picture of a kitschy cardboard cowboy… Dan pats his pocket, takes out a cigarette and lights it, inhaling deeply, the smoke mixing with the dry desert air filling his lungs and unceremoniously exiting through his nostrils with a huff. He stood there soaking in the artificiality of it all. A man, younger than he appeared with a face battered by the elements, tanned by the sun, and covered in coarse dark stubble from neglect. A lean man, a hard looking man, he always wore his dusty old tattered cowboy hat, an anchor to who he was. He had moved away from people into the vast expanses of the wild west, but the people found him all the same. What once was a harsh unforgiving land, a land that tested him amongst his solitude, now boasted three Starbucks per square mile. Stomach churning with disgust he enters his pickup and speeds back to the only place in the area he could not feel like an alien, or worse, a relic.
The humble shack that he had built himself, considered an eyesore by the “locals” had to be grandfathered in. What had once stood as a proud testament to man’s resilience in the vast desert, now only served to disharmoniously interrupt the endless rows of cookie cutter houses. Inside, he lights another cigarette, empties another bottle into a chipped glass and throws it down into the pile of bottles and cigarette butts strewn about the floor. God damn that freeway, god damn the people, and god damn this town. At a little past midday in a drunken stupor Dan closes his eyes and passes into unconsciousness.

Awaking at midnight he hears the distant howls of coyotes, he staggers out of bed and realizes the only reason he isn’t hung over yet is because he is still drunk. No matter how much he drank, sleep wouldn’t stick, how he yearned to just have some way of making today into tomorrow, tomorrow into the next day, and so on and so forth.

Grabbing his keys and throwing on his cowboy hat despite the noted lack of sunlight, he once again enters his truck, putting the pedal to the floor heading for the nearby reservation. There is a bar there filled with members of the local tribe. The people that would be there at this time of night would be just as resentful, just as full of hate, just as lacking in purpose, just as clinging to romantic images long since faded as Dan was. He was a regular at the bar, but not a well-liked one. Truth be told, if the community was not in such dire straits he would have been banned long ago, but it was, and his money was still green.

He came there to soak in the bleak atmosphere, to feel a kinship in suffering, to escape the saccharine sterilized modern world that had no place for a man such as Dan. And maybe, just maybe to make a connection with someone, anyone, a reason he would never admit, not even to himself.

There he drank and smoked, his pathology oozing out of him, daring anyone to so much give him a sideways glance. Until someone did, another regular, just as drunk and just as resentful. A gruff exchange took place; “this is a place for members of the tribe, I told you before we don’t need the presence of you drunk thieving white men here.” Dan swung his fist and connected it with the speaker’s jaw, only to be jumped by the remainder of the patrons. He hit his shoulder hard on the ground as he was tossed out of the bar. His face was bloodied, he for an instant reflected on his life, he was overcome with the desire to sob, to cry, to breakdown there laying on the cold hard earth. But he was a man, a real man. Screw them, screw them all, he doesn’t need anyone, he hasn’t ever needed anyone, he is fine alone, he is better alone.

He lights another cigarette and drives into desert, the empty desert.
There Dan looks up the stars
Cowboy Dan fires his rifle into the sky
God if I have to die, you will have to die
Impotent undirected rage, boundless hidden sorrow, a veneer of pride and self importance that he could not ever dare to try to look under.
Cowboy Dan was a major player in the cowboy scene.
He didn’t move to the city, the city moved to him.

Based on the song found here