IRL

Now where was our Brida this morning? asks the man whose name is Dad, who is us. Brida was not in her room when we looked. Brida was not at school. Brida was not busy practicing good oral hygiene like we taught. She was here the night previous, asleep in her sleeping-place. Now she was gone, disappeared, leaving no trace. This was not good, not at all.

• • •

Gods want to make matter. Magicians, or alchemists, want to change matter. And the scientists want to classify, or categorize, matter. You can always be a scientist, if you’re lucky you can be a magician or alchemist. Few, very few, become gods.
—Joshua Cohen

• • •

Brida has a long i, not like the name Britta (alternative spelling = Brita). If you cut it to the convenient nickname Bri it’s just like saying brie, the type of cheese. Sometimes this is what we called her, was Bri. This is where we start.

We call out, going, Bri!, Bri! We ask to faces across our congenially cosmopolitan suburban street, saying, Have you seen Bri? Once in a while there is confusion, the faces going, Cheesy brie? We explain to them, Not brie, but Bri. As in like Brida, our girl. Whom we love.

The streets have telephone poles and perched crows and apple trees spewing crab-apples all year that get in our shoes’ way when we come home from long days at our 9–5. There is sun and blue sky with nicely distributed cumulus. The streets do not help.

So we flip. Flip ship, flip sheet — to side B.

And go on looking we do. The supermarket, the park. The elementary school. Brida is older than elementary. She is not elementary. The deli bar, being sure to further discriminate against brie. The McDonald’s. The Starbucks around the bend. The public transit bus as it goes by every 10 minutes or less from 7:36 a.m. until 10:14 a.m. and from 3:10 p.m. until 6:57 p.m., and all the times in between. The jungle gym at the park. Brida is not there.

For good measure, we check the library too. (Ha ha.)

We notify authorities, or something.

And everything is fruitless. We wonder, sadly — is Brida gone for good?

• • •

Brida’s suburban closet still smells of her, on top of its smells of mildew and dank from the poor habits she has of tossing her wet after-shower towels into the closet hamper and also of keeping old empty cartons of 2% milk from when she has midnight cookie-cravings. Her bedroom is well furnished and it accords to feng shui, she’s said. There are ethnic print window-drapes and complementary decorative pillows. Once or twice, Brida submitted photos of the room to lifestyle- and d├ęcor-type magazines, for reader-participation events, though we don’t know what the results of these submissions were.

Now we detect a hint of brie cheese, though likely our mind is making that up.

The one non-kilter thing about Brida’s room is the large imposing poster she has of Bret “The Hitman” Hart. It is him with his ’90s-futurustic Bono-sunglasses and the pink one-piece which does not contain his oversized pecs. His hair is long and black and falls in skinny wet strands. He has a WWE Champion belt over his belly (it says WWF, from before World Wildlife Fund made the wrestling promotion change its name to WWE). He is a good-looking man, the Hitman, and a hero too.

• • •

Now: Deep in the city there is a room with its ceilings high and its windows dull. It is an urban venue. Sometimes we come to the room, taking the freight elevator though we are not freight. It is just that the freight elevator is the only access path, save the stairs. And we are not limber-limbed as we once were. The space is at the building’s top, and it is blank, with its windows seeing the city-river below.

• • •

And this time we are sure we make a device. This time we are sure that we record. The movements of Brida, the whereabouts of our girl.

• • •

A long time ago we’d listen in amazement to the sound of regular beats in our chest, never suspecting what they were. We were unable to identify ourselves with so alien and unfamiliar an object as the body. The body was a cage, and inside that cage was something which looked, listened, feared, thought, and marvelled; that something, that remainder left over after the body had been accounted for, was the soul.

But today the body is no longer unfamiliar: We know that the beating in our chest is the heart and that the nose is the nozzle of a hose sticking out of the body to take oxygen to the lungs. The face is nothing but an instrument panel registering all the body mechanisms: digestion, sight, hearing, respiration, thought.

• • •

Now to the deep-city room we come. Day after day after our regular 9–5, braving the commute. The city is urban, colorful too. We come and we create. We require fast-acting SSDs, high levels of RAM, state-of-the-art processors and videocards. Our world is going to be big, bold, we know. The room at the top of the urban centre has space for fabric screens, for projectors, for LCDs. For computers and gizmos and toys. Down some several floors below on the street is the Wendy’s with the drive-thru, the Outback Steakhouse, for when we are hungry. We are proficient in making electronic worlds, to an extent. We know things like JavaScript, C, C++. Python, perhaps, on a good day. There is some time on our hands. We know how to develop worlds — we know what we’ve always looked for. We come. And we wait.

• • •

And in the beginning the edges have gridlines blue and pink, from visible reality. But we think this is okay — Ignore it, we say. Understand we are still ironing out the kinks.

• • •

And so the world slowly emerges, the world that we have made. See there is an expanse before. It is wide and green and purple and blue, green on the floor and pink in the sky. Already you can fly with us here, if you will. Into cloud. See the grass, the dotted ferns. Soon we will have trees. Soon ponds and water and rain too, after we realize the nuances of the machine, the complex codes. We are only one dad. See our medium-sized mountains away out far. We will craft an attachment, let visitation be possible for outsiders. You’ll have to come up to the space with us, through the freight elevator — we hope you don’t mind heights, or dark enclosed spaces. Because boy the freight-elevator gets dark. There are walls of exposed brick dusty and gray that move by your hand as you rise, approaching the world. Keep close, hands in. Remember what it is to be in a spot beyond control, to be living a life where you’re still learning rules.

We are thinking of calling it Dadworld. Dad is our name.

The world where our Brida will soon come out.

• • •

Yet still there has been no sign of Brida, this day or last.

• • •

Brida’s was a face without ruts and crags. We saw her every day, she was there, she was ours — our child. She came to the bathroom with eyes groggy from sleep, which is not a pleasant view, and we loved her still, despite. She had full lips, a wide nose, thick brows and brown eyes, we think. She had hair big and brown too, with curls. Her face was soft and creamy-white, like the cheese. She was not cheese. We could know this without tasting. She was not cheese.

• • •

When good old Canuck boy Hitman Hart was in his prime he was treated like a king. He went to the USA and he was a king. He went to India and he was a king. Kids cheered for his face. China a king. He had a face you could love.

How high can you soar when you master being loved?

He was a good guy, a hero, and gave the story that righteousness prevailed. He was a hero, for creating a world.

We look at the internet for Bret Hart, Hitman Hart. His big, thick arms, his supple skin like braided bread. We are sure he did authentic non-steroided exercises for his looks. He was a wrestler, in the WWE (then known as the WWF). He was a good guy, he was a champ.

And we do situps and pushups and chin-ups daily, for our looks.

• • •

And realize that at the room we are making a tale in a frame —

Once upon a time there was a story that began.

• • •

Now witness our world come alive. See the trees like tall lettuce, the buildings of tall concrete. See a bird or two fly. We are powerful, and can see with many eyes. The landscape with its grass and copses and tributaries and fjords.

Too we notice a face that emerges, in the late evening of the weekday after work. We have toiled away, clacking 0s and 1s. In the darkness of the tall urban space from the freight’s rise below, the LCDs and LEDs and 150-watt bulbs burning bright in our face. We are half surrounded, half not, in reality, and irreality. The face comes up, out of lines and grids and pixels and squares. It is a Brida, our Brida — the Brida which we’ve made.

And she is not exactly the Brida we’d known, but that is okay. We opt to dub her NewBrida instead, to distinguish and recall.

• • •

And remember to press Rec, for getting it all down on tape.

• • •

Soon too we achieve water in Dadworld, big and stochastic and complex. See the waves now. See how they start up here — panicked and tall. See how they crest, white and foamy. It is water, all at once. The waves are part of a whole, a collective, the experience of the one being the experience of the whole. They start up high and go down, and push onto land, changing the ground. The sea collects from rivers, from rain. All the same. NewBrida’s tears, our tears, the H2O. Going up to one place and coming back, to the start.

• • •

Help us. What was Brida like, our Brida gone?

Again we try to recall how she looked, before she disappeared. In our urban space we have no photos of her on hand. We have a vague image in our mind, and perhaps our high-performance solid-state hard drive with its albums of pics. But NewBrida will have to come from memory alone, and as far as she accords to the way we remember, then she is correct.

We and Brida are good-looking people, we are. We are called Dad, recall. It is when you’re good-looking that you can be a productive father. We see ourselves in the mirror, our chiseled jaw, our lightly stubbled chin, our cheeks hollow like caves. Bret Hart had features like us, too, and that is a comparison we will take to the bank. Hitman Hart, hard and delicate at once. And we cannot look away. We have become entranced. We say:

Help.

• • •

Then we put the finishing touches on NewBrida. Smooth the kinks, compile the pixels and bits. She rises from the 0s and 1s. She comes together — she is ours, and is good.

We stand beside. We look at her face up close. Her skin is tight like cheese. We hold a piece of brie up to our eye, then look at our Brida’s arm. They are alike, creamy and soft. We look at her pores, and they are not deeper than an orange-peel’s; they are not wider than those of an orange-peel either.

Or any other North American citrus fruit, for that matter.

NewBrida survives scrutiny. She is just as we remembered. She is just as the Brida of old.

• • •

And always running is the second machine with its auditory cues, its mics, its lenses. This one is important, collecting footage and tape. Because we know we have been here before, and know we will return. All the little movements we make, the decisions, the quirks that get cleaned out in due time — these are important to know. For later, see. It sees everything we do, and everything in Dadworld too, the birds and bees and trees out far. The sky wavy like lemonade and Kool-Aid, on occasion. Put in the card, press Rec, press Rec.

• • •

Now we come, with our new Brida. We enter — we look, and see —

Intermittent breaks, escapes from the ether. Link-in, submerge your eyes. Sounds like noise, like fuzz, like cracking winds. Open. Yawn big. Emerge.

The window dissolves into glass, a pane, a view. Stand with Brida, look around. Behind us is a tower bricked gray and tall. It is jagged with outcropping balconies, antigravity, you know. And if you will it, it can go.

Now Brida see — the canyon rocky and red. Deep with its river below. Too the deciduous trees hanging wide. Fly forward — run. This is what it means to be alive.

There is grass here, a field of green. Here is how you move swift through fields. Don’t worry about rocks; there are none. And if there are, they won’t hurt. The tree in the middle of the field, the open blue — here is how you see. The swing there hanging from the branch — that one is for you.

Swing on, it’s okay, yes.

Hold tight.

But see we cannot dilly-dally all day.

There is much to learn if you are to become real.

Now Brida let us fly like a bird. Blow your mouth, make wind. The sky up here is colored like borealis. Go in with us, tall and deep. Through the color like lasers, like waves. Dissipate, good. This is the world that we have known.

• • •

We love Brida as a child. We love her as ourselves.

• • •

And good-looking = productive child-creator, yes.

• • •

Listen:

Here now we need to become real. Enough of adventure, of getting lost. Heed what I say. This is important stuff. Come to the bathroom with its full suburban amenities with me, Brida. Brida, my Brida, see — here is how you apply shaving cream when you shave your face. Here is how you commence to shave without slicing your face wide open. Here is how you eat a Quiznos sub. Here is how you avoid eye contact with the lady at Quiznos on your third night in a row so as to not make the interchange awkward and inconvenient.

Going to Quiznos because of the fact that if you spent time making food you wouldn’t ever have time to create, what with your regular 9–5.

Get the coffee with that sub, the combo-deal. Here, open the top. This is how you drink piping-hot joe without scalding your mouth. If you are our creation, you will have to get good at this one.

See we are on tilt before our morning joe.

Now Brida: Here is how you be real.

• • •

And we are falling in love with our new Brida too, coming to life in our image.

But we say to her still: We envy you, because you do not know.

She does not speak, nor object.

• • •

So now too we show what we could never show to Brida before;

Here is how you change a gasket. Here is how you stand by our side at the local Walmart for hours, at the Customer Service counter. Here is how you help us evaluate the suitability of our boat’s oil-levels going forward. Because we will need the oil-levels, for our boat to be good. Here is how you come with us to the deli-counter, help us pick out pastrami, provolone, smoked chicken, our girl. Keep us company, child Brida. Without outbursts of boredom, or wandering off to the aisles of artificial Lay’s. You are here for us.

Our Brida: Here is how you live in the world.

• • •

Now the final trip, with Brida. We have flown, we have run; now we must swim. Brida — come with us to the aluminum 18-hp motorboat which you have just helped us double-check, which we have just refueled, reoiled, and verified for quickness. Come, sit near. See the winds fierce, the sky gray, the weather going hog wild this day. We will remember this day — we have made a machine for recording it, and it is rolling now, in the far corner behind the screen over there. The boat is already dispatched, into the waves. Careful on the rickety dock. It is our craftsmanship — it is not perfect. You can tell your legs not to fall over if you want, but it’s more fun if you don’t.

Get in, quick. Let us chop and soar swift.

Now we go with Brida across the sea. It is hard for us, because of the current. The water does not like for us to fly it. We are not Jesus, as much as we try. Though recall: We have developed the rules, the code.

The water is a cruncher, putting stress on our CPU. All the little molecules interacting with hydrogen-bonds and soft Van der Waalses, meshing into goop. Hear the high-performance water-cooler on our video-processor — the chugging and gear-wheeling and back-and-forth.

Travelling with Brida, who we call Bri for short.

And so with Brida in the boat we fly. We chop-chop over crests and sines and occasional tans. And with our high-performance binoculars equipped we see: the island across.

There is a long wait while we traverse the sea. We flip our hourglass back and forth countless times, counting time. There are big waves, and we worry we might flip as well. Then we recall — the waves are mere 1s and 0s too.

And so we come across, and get to the island, our destination. The sky is stormy and makes us afraid; Brida doesn’t look so hot, either. She is partially green, partially blue. We hit land, sand, the shore, and we mount. And we go through the wet sand brown and gray, to the top of the dune. It is treacherous, with a long drop below. Rocky waves, sharp water. Brida, come.

By this time it is night, or close to, by accounts.

And at the top of the dune there is a gate. It is red and culturally diverse, speaking of its full ethnic exposure. There is a great knob in the center, gold. Colorful mosaic around the edge. And animals and beasts doing Kama Sutra, engraved in the sides. It is kosher and halal. It is not food, but still. If you wanted to eat its candy-apple red you could.

We try to open the knob; it is locked.

And but see do we know what’s beyond? Did we not create this? The sexual door now saying, No? Saying, Do not come in? Is there Hitman Hart beyond the gate? Is there a new Wendy’s Frosty, a Quiznos $5 Toasty Deal of the Day, for our late-night snacking delight? Is it Walmart Grocery’s specials for the week? Is it Brida herself, old Brida, the one from the start? Because we see Brida right here too, doddering her feet across the sand, departing the jerry-rigged boat.

And she walks to us with her clunky legs, her broad shoulders, her 5-o’clock-shadowed face. Dragging hairy knuckles on the ground. There is rain, in the cloudy sky, though we don’t get wet. NewBrida, or Brida, our Brida, who looks just like us. Who we see is no Brida. Who from now on will be gone.

Again: it is our name that’s Dad. Dad is us.

Now go back to the start.


Reggie’s fiction has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Filling Station, Hobart, and other venues, and has been nominated for the Journey Prize. He lives in Toronto.