An essay by an anonymous witness, as provided by Liam Hogan
Art by Scarlett O’Hairdye
I lost the man I loved.
I threw myself into my work, knowing I would get over him.
I was wrong.
My life was a pale shadow, the only hints of brightness my memories of him, of us. Time … passed. What else had it to do?
I thought my only chance of happiness was gone. Then I heard about a Scientist who could do wonderful things, impossible things. It was said he could bring back those who were lost, merely from their letters.
And I had a whole shoebox full of those.
It wasn’t easy to meet him, even harder to get him to agree to help. But finally, clutching my shoebox, I was shown into his attic laboratory. Small motors whizzed and whirred, lights flashed, a laser shone along a Perspex wave guide.
I listened impatiently, not getting more than one word in three as he tried to explain how it all worked. My impatience was edged with nerves: it had been so long. What words would I say to my love when he stood before me once again? What could I say that would put right what had gone so terribly wrong?
I realised the Scientist was asking me a question: “You do understand, I hope?”
I almost laughed. How could anyone understand? Except another genius, perhaps. “Yes, yes,” I said. He nodded sympathetically, and I felt a twinge of doubt.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “What was it I just agreed I understood?”
“That my invention has been over-exaggerated? That I can’t bring back a lost one–”
My heart crumbled into dust.
“–merely their kisses.”
“Well yes. Assuming those are letters with kisses on them?” The Scientist pointed at my shoebox.
“Of course … but they’re not actually kisses, just Xs on a piece of paper?”
He grinned. “Quite so. Which makes them even better than kisses; they are symbols of a kiss. We physicists, truth be told, are not very good with reality. But show us an equation or two–just a set of symbols balanced on either side–and from them we can create a whole idealised universe! From the symbolic Xs on your letters, we can, or rather, I can, bring back a loved one’s kisses.”
It wasn’t what I had hoped for and yet, was it not so much more than I had? To feel I was loved again, to feel I was forgiven, without perhaps the worry that I was reopening old wounds. I pushed aside the triumphant little voice that suggested this might even be for the best and thrust the box at him.
The machine hummed and buzzed. He’d carefully selected one of the letters–one not crinkled and splotched by my tears, one where my love’s bold signature did not cramp out the addition of those two precious Xs. I stood against the wall, lined up with millimetre precision at the pointy end of something that would have looked at home in a Flash Gordon episode, as the Scientist fussed and tweaked.
“Have you done this many times before?” I asked.
He looked up, his face aglow from the computer screen. “Many? No,” he said. “Not many.” He bent to his task, before glancing sheepishly back. “Actually, it’s my first time.”
And then he threw the switch.
There was a snap and a pop and the faint smell of something burning. I felt a warm, slightly damp pressure on my lips and even the faint prickle of a moustache my loved one had tried to grow that Movember, and with it an emotion I’d locked away burst to the surface …
As the passion ebbed and my sadness returned, I retrieved the letter the Scientist had used and stared at it. “The kisses,” I said, “they’re gone!”
“Of course,” the Scientist replied. “My invention lifts them from the page. The equations must balance, yes?”
I nodded, still in shock, and then handed him another letter. “Again,” I demanded.
He shook his head slowly. “The equipment must be reset. Come back tomorrow … around five?”
So I returned the next day. And the next. And every day for three months. Each time the kisses were different; sometimes they were kisses on the lips, sometimes just a peck on a cheek, and sometimes … sometimes I blushed when I saw the Scientist watching me.
But after three months, I desperately leafed through the churned up letters in my shoebox and realised I’d used up every last kiss.
The thought of going back to the leaden state I’d been in before I’d found the Scientist left me bereft. I sobbed on the Scientist’s shoulder, blotting his white coat with my sorrow.
“We could …” he mused, as he gently stroked my hair, “if we inverted the capacitors and plugged the digital feed directly … do you perhaps have any text messages from your loved one?”
I blinked back the tears. “Texts? Yes, I have texts. But won’t we run out of those as well?”
The Scientist smiled. “Ahh, that’s the clever bit. Texts aren’t originals, they’re always copies: the one that was sent is not the one that is received. And since they’re already digital, we can replicate them as many times as we like.”
There are those who wonder if the Scientist messed up deliberately. In the six months that have passed since he threw the switch that last time, he’s always said it was an accident, whether he’s the guest speaker at a scientific conference or when he’s sat in front of the always inquisitive TV cameras that I try my best to avoid.
But even if he’d admitted it was intentional, nobody would have been able to stay angry with him, not for long. Not while kisses gently nuzzle their necks.
The World’s a better place for it. People are nice to each other. Wars are a thing of the past. Oxytocin levels are at an unprecedented high, and nobody feels quite so lonely anymore.
Except for me, perhaps.
You see, the Scientist didn’t feed in one of my love’s kisses, he “accidentally” fed in one of mine. It was probably a good thing he picked a relatively innocent text message, where that electronic X merely symbolized a hug and a kiss on the neck, and not one where we … well, you know.
And yes, he replicated the message first, but he should never have looped that copy back into the replicator. It would have been an infinitude of kisses if the circuit–if every circuit in the building–hadn’t burnt itself out after creating seven and a half gazillion copies.
That’s something like three hundred years’ worth of continuous kisses for each and every person on the planet.
People sometimes ask what it’s like to be kissed by myself, and I have to tell them that I alone cannot feel the touch of my lips, that no-one nuzzles my neck every second of every minute of every day. Even the Scientist can’t fully explain why, though I think I understand. Have you ever tried to kiss yourself? It doesn’t work, does it? In bringing everyone else together, regardless of race, of gender, of belief, he’s left me standing alone. The law of unintended consequences. They turn their sad eyes on me and ask if … maybe … as a thank you, I’d like to be kissed back? As friends?
I politely decline.
Because here’s the odd thing: yes, I miss those kisses, of course I do. I dream of being kissed.
But it’s not well meaning strangers that I see when I close my eyes. It’s not even the face of the love I lost. It is the face of the man who went to such World-changing lengths, simply to feel the tender brush of my lips …
It’s the Scientist’s.
Dr. Stephen Bailey graduated in Physics and Philosophy at Oxford University, receiving his PhD from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology for his thesis: “We’re all Equals: A treatise on symbolic logic within the Physics community.” Head hunted by the computer games company GlobalVision, he pioneered a move towards more realistic game play. While Sim-Office was a failure as a video game, it proved a remarkable commercial success as a remote working tool. GlobalVision was acquired by Google in 2012, allowing Dr. Bailey to fund his own research projects. Voted most eligible Scientific Bachelor, 2016.
This unverified account of the events leading up to the Valentine’s Day 2017 Phenomenon was reported to writer Liam Hogan, of http://happyendingnotguaranteed.blogspot.co.uk/, by a source who wishes to remain anonymous. It appeared first in 52Loves.
Scarlett O’Hairdye is a burlesque performer, producer and artist. To learn more, visit her site at www.scarlettohairdye.com.
“X X” is © 2015 Liam Hogan
Art accompanying story is © 2017 Scarlett O’Hairdye