Augmented Finality

Mark Fitz and his wife Karen Cagles rearranged the study of their new home in Charlotte. First the sofa, then the end tables, the two overstuffed red leather chairs, and of course the Romare Beardens on the wall. The changes were a success, and now their computer screens faced one another like glowing phantoms. They spent their evenings online. Karen streamed television and Mark surfed. Their tiny headphones gave each the comfort of private intimacy.

Tonight they ordered dinner at their favorite restaurant, a downtown sports bar, where they deleted emails and sent text messages until their food arrived, then returned home to their computer screens. The electrons that assaulted their faces possessed a magnetism that drew them forward in vague wonder, and the multitude of reflecting radiating pixels formed bright masks that peeled away like colored cellophane with each new screen. Karen clicked from Facebook to Twitter to Instagram to Vimeo and Flickr, then back again to Facebook. Mark, once an avid reader of histories and biographies, had put down his books for Playstation games before discovering sites for genealogical searches. The thrill he'd once felt turning a page was dwarfed by the anticipation experienced in a click. Time passed. Their breathing commingled with the hum of their machines, the only sounds in the room.

They took turns making drinks. She was vodka. He was bourbon. Eyes fixed upon the screen, Mark lifted his glass and crunched the last of its ice. He removed his headphones, laid them gently beside his keyboard, and turned to face his wife. Over her shoulder, he watched two Apollo astronauts pogo like twin Frankensteins on the surface of the moon. He touched Karen's shoulder. She looked up at him as he raised his glass.

"I've decided I'm not going to this wedding," she said a little louder than natural. Mark tapped his index finger against his right ear. Karen pulled away her headphones.

"My great grandmother was the woman who gave Al Capone syphilis," Mark said. "She was a resourceful woman, from what I've found." He nodded toward his computer. "Imagine the power she held. Killed Capone. Drove him mad."

Karen lifted her vodka glass and followed her husband into the kitchen. "What is the statute of limitations on serial marriages, anyway?" she said.

"One link to an FBI site alleges that when the crime buster learned that Capone had syph in his brains and would die in prison, J. Edgar Hoover vaulted around his office like a chimp on meth."

"Why can't they just live together, save the cost of their eventual divorce and give the rest of us a break," she said, reaching for the Absolut bottle. "Besides, you'd think that by the time a man gets to be your dad's age, he'd learn to keep his zipper up."

"That site may not be reliable, but it sure looks legit." Mark tilted his head to check the liquor level in the two glasses. "It's a cool looking site. Still, it's sometimes not easy to tell what is and isn't authentic, you know, true." He poured tonic then handed Karen a fresh drink.

"If you make me go to another of your dad's weddings, I might divorce you, Mark." Karen started down the hall. Mark followed.

"Deal. This is the last one," he said trailing behind her. "This is it."

"I was counting this one."

In the study, Karen picked up her headphones.

Mark stood squinting as he spoke to his screen. "This is it, the last one, I'm sure."

She gave him a look that said, Yeah, right.

"Hey, maybe it's love," he said.

Karen adjusted the headphones, turned back to her computer and pressed the un-mute button. She watched as three astronauts, one a woman, floated about a space capsule, their shrunken heads protruding from the bulky suits, their happy faces unnatural in zero gravity. One sucked a floating disk of orange juice through a straw and into his mouth. His pleasure was interrupted by a dotcom commercial, then another and another. Karen glanced at her watch, saw that it was the bottom of the hour, hit the mute button and closed her eyes.

Soon she was fantasizing about NASA sex experiments, the bliss of nakedness in space, the exquisite caress of weightlessness. What could be more erotic than the total absence of any touch? She imagined the release of gravity from her shoulders, breasts and buttocks. Could her lover draw her nipple to his mouth? Would he wrap her in a cocoon of hot breath by simply forming his lips and gently blowing her ankle, sending her body into an almost imperceptible rotation, his coiling breath inching up her ankles, calves, thighs, and hips, up her stomach, until, finally, their mouths met? The only sensation, lips upon lips? Bodies suspended, no friction. She imagined strong hands on the small of her back, the delirium of total surrender, of how very, very close two bodies could get without touching. Weightless love. That is what she wanted.