How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #9

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Has there ever been a better time and place to be than in sunny London in the summer of the Olympics? View from the Southbank, London, 2012.

In Which Erica Experiences Some Firsts

By 8pm Erica and Lee had been talking together in the bar for two hours. This was the longest Erica had spoken to anyone besides her mother for years. Talking was impractical and, although she often spent time socialising with friends and family, it was generally considered unwise to spend too long doing something so unproductive as to sit and talk for hours. Time with friends was, it was felt, better spent swimming lengths or practicing musical instruments together. As positive as The Team attempted to be about the collaboration process, there was no escaping the fact that it left one with a third of the time to pursue personal projects.

But Erica was enjoying sitting and talking without purpose. More importantly, Erica was what you and I might call shit faced. Erica had never been more than slightly tipsy before and was not yet aware of the warm, fuzzy feeling that red wine can give to a person. She attributed her new found sense that everything was alright entirely to Lee. Erica was shit faced and feeling romantically inclined. It was a night of firsts.

“This is a night of firsts.” Erica declared. “This is the first time that I have drunk more than 6 units of red wine. This is the first time I have talked to a man for 2 hours. I would like to ingest more alcohol please and to discuss novel and engaging ideas. We shall be like Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard in Breakfast At Tiffanys, in our dogged and irreverent pursuit of novel experiences.” Her mind was reaching for complex vocabulary to compensate for her compromised clarity of thought. The result was, she believed, most satisfactory. Lee smiled, seemingly endeared to her. He is probably seduced by my complex vocabulary, deduced Erica.

“A fine idea madam. However, as a regular consumer of double digit units of alcohol i must inform you that our purchases will be noted and may ring alarms bells if reviewed. Would you like to make this your first bar crawl, young Erica?” Lee rose from the cosyness of the alcove and led Erica by the hand towards the front door.  As he did so she noticed a small, plain white box tucked in his jacket pocket. The box was more distinctive from anti-smoking propaganda than real life but she recognised it nonetheless. As they stepped outside into the cool night Lee caught the line of her gaze. “I spun a good lie to my doctor. Physical addiction and the avoidance of anxiety attacks”, he explained. “Have you ever tried a cigarette Erica?”

The pair glanced around furtively before stepping into a quiet, cobbled side street. Lee shielded a cigarette from the fine mist of rain which had begun to fall and inhaled deeply. He passed it to Erica and she pressed the butt to her lips with affected confidence, the first flush of mischief she had felt since, at nine, she and a school friend had sampled the liqueurs in her parents drinks cabinet. Predictably, Erica coughed and spluttered. If anybody had been able to watch over two time periods at once, they might have noticed uncanny similarities between this action of Erica’s and the exact same action of Erica’s mother 35 years ago. Both had spluttered; both giggled as they returned the unwanted cigarette; both hoped to be kissed by the person who had supplied it.

“Perhaps it is my turn to suggest some firsts sir. Do you like to run?” Erica asked the question but didn’t wait for an answer. She tore past Lee and out of the alley, pelting at full speed along the pavement. The Thames streamed past a few metres below her as her inebriated mind elatedly converted the rythmic drumming of her heels on the cobbles into the hooves of galloping horses. She was a jousting knight plunging toward his opponent; she was Ghengis Khan storming into battle with the Turks; she was Erica the athlete and for once she was not, not, not Pretty Jenny.

 By the time Lee had caught up with her she was leaning against a wall outside the bar for which she had been headed; her hair was wild from the wind as she ran but her breath had returned to a steady rate. Lee’s had not.

“No, I do not like to run.” He panted. And then he kissed her. It was exactly what she had hoped would happen.

Erica let herself savour the moment for as long as a member of the frantic generation reasonably could. It was nearly nine o’clock after all, and little more than three hours until her evening would be over. She reviewed the line she’d been planning and spoke it, before doubt could creep in and intercept.

“Lee, this has been a night of firsts and I feel that this may be what is known as a hero’s call to adventure for me.”

“That may be the wine.”

“Possibly. But seeing as I have never been drunk or experienced a call to adventure before, how can I know?”

“A valid point madam.”

“In light of this I would like to propose that the adventure that I have been called to is sex with a human man, and that you may be that man.”

“Have you had sex with something or someone other than a human or a man?”

“No, I was just nervous and thought it would be funny to say human man. It is perhaps this social awkwardness that is at the root of my current virginal status. This would be my first experience of sex, full stop.”

Lee’s gaze remained fixed and suggested a combination of excitement and hesitance. Despite her lack of experience in the field, Erica felt confident that this was a sub-optimal reaction to the suggestion. She had been pleased with her assertive directness thus far: it was exactly the approach that she encouraged in her readers. So she decided to continue with it.

“I have gauged that your hesitant reaction is sub-optimal, comrade.”

“Erica… This is an excellent suggestion. I appreciate your directness and I can think of no better way to spend my Friday evening than by assisting you in your hero’s call to adventure. But it wouldn’t be right if, in light of your directness, I didn’t treat you with directness in return. I would also like to apologise for my overuse of the word ‘direct’ in this uncharacteristically long dialogue. I rarely put myself in situations where synonyms are required.”

Erica could not think of anything funny to say so she said nothing. Instead she compiled a quick mental list of all the awful things that may be wrong with her that may lead a plain, drunk man to reject her for sex on a Friday night.

“We… If… If we do… If I do come home with you… It won’t be the first time for me.” Lee was spouting various syntactically inaccurate sentences from which it was difficult to ascertain meaning. The experience was clearly uncomfortable for him.

“What I mean is… I mean it won’t be the first time for me with you. I… We… have had sex before. Only last time… When we last… Last time your name was Jennifer.”

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How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #8

This episode will probably come later in the story but I want to write it now and fuck it, MY BLOG, MY RULES.

Emily x

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Maybe one day I’ll be famous and have Nepali fans and someone will look at this and be able to tell me what wisdom is coming out of this guy’s pipe. Pokhara, Nepal. 2015

In Which Erica Experiences Some Firsts

Erica – not unusually for an average earthling – had no first hand knowledge of the world before her own existence. If she had done, her perspective may have been much broader and one of the things that she perhaps would have noticed was that her ancestors were generally a lot more still than her contemporaries. Her parents generation believed their children had a far more frenzied demeanor, and were generally of the opinion that this habitual mania stemmed from a sense that time was short; that their poor offspring felt the pressure to achieve before their chips were subdued at midnight, and their lives jumped forward another two days. Erica’s parents could not fathom how it might feel to fall asleep on Monday night and wake up on Thursday, with half the week already done. Erica could not fathom anything else.

Something that Erica was slightly more aware of was that her generation was much more attractive than her parents generation. This was a natural consequence of culling the bottom two thirds of the population based primarily on physical traits. This phenomena did not present itself as an issue often since, for most of history, younger people have generally been perceived as more aesthetically pleasing than their older counterparts. The only time that the general handsomeness of her contemporaries was brought to her attention was when she saw a young person that was unattractive. As is the way with most rare and unusual things, being unattractive had taken on a ‘hip’ and exotic quality and had, of late, become a very attractive thing indeed.

Erica was sitting alone in a bar near Embankment station. The bar was famous for cheese and red wine and Erica was enjoying 80% of her daily fat recommendation and 25% of her weekly alcohol ration on her first Friday evening in three weeks. Her attention was caught by a man sat in an alcove a few metres away from her. He was extremely plain and this was, naturally, what had caught her attention. But he was also very still and this was what held it. Careful as she was, one glass of red wine was enough to embolden Erica. She had not drunk any since last Friday – three weeks past – and it took her approximately 140ml of table red to summon the courage to broach conversation.

Erica was, as has been previously stated, very attractive. She had blonde hair which communicated a sense of warmth and youthful innocence, her abs were visible on most days and her body fat had recently been measured with calipers at just over 18%. Erica took little pride in these statistics since they were, in her view, the statistics of Pretty Jenny. It had been a while since Erica had experienced resentment, angst or indeed any heightened state of emotion about this fact. Instead, her teenage sense of injustice had translated in early adulthood to a faint detachment; an anxiety to keep things tidy and not to use anything without permission, as though she were a guest at the home of an old, revered aunt.

But today had been a hard day, and the man in the alcove was looking at her. Erica was tired of playing the role of wallflower.

She rose and walked toward him. She knew that she was attractive and she knew that his looking at her was a subtle social code that it was acceptable for her to initiate conversation. She decided that she would take the plunge and trust that something intelligent and alluring would come to her as she sat down. It didn’t. She lowered herself onto the sofa next to the plain man, smiled politely and looked at the bottle of wine on the table in front of him. There were approximately ten seconds of silence, which her companion seemed to find far less alarming than Erica did. Eventually the chasm became too big and she had to fill it.

“You’ve got a whole 75cl bottle of red wine in front of you but you don’t look like you’re waiting for anybody.”

“Thanks for letting me know.”

Erica waited for him to add a question; a statement of his own; anything to move things forward. Instead he returned to silence. His nose was crooked in the middle and his eyes were sunken and lined beneath a heavy brow.

“It’s just, I happen to know that there are 9 units of alcohol in that bottle of wine. And so I was wondering how you were managing the 6 unit limit with… If you’re drinking it all to yourself.”

The man laughed. There was another uncomfortable silence and Erica was just reaching to fill it when he spoke.

“What’s your name?”

Erica smiled a smile of relief and told him.

“I’m Lee. Can I tell you a secret Erica?”

Erica confirmed that he could. Her role as agony aunt had taught her to respond to personal admissions with warm sincerity.

“This is… This is not my first bottle of wine this evening. It may not be my last. I am throwing caution to the proverbial wind with regards to units of alcohol consumption tonight. Would you like a glass of this finest table red, Erica?”

It was rare, in a society of easy promiscuity and frantic busyness, to meet someone with such a present manner and playful sense of humour.

“Yes but first I must tell you something. Anakin I – I’m your father.” Confusing Star Wars and real life had been her favourite joke as a child.

“Erica… I’m pretty sure Anakin is the father.”

Erica laughed and poured herself a glass of wine. She had never had a second glass of wine before, but tonight felt like a night of firsts.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #7

fellatio
This (and the photo in the previous post) are taken from an art gallery in Le Touquet,France. I was there with my elderly grandparents and at least one of them cottoned on to what they were looking at.

Dear Erica,

My name’s Josie and I’m sixteen this May. I’ve been a collaborator for a third of my life now and nothing has worried me too much so far. But some of my friends have started talking about -and are maybe even having – sex. I  just  wondered what your opinion was on that, when do you know you are ready and is it better to be the first one to have had sex in a collaboration or not?

Thanks,

Josie x

Dear Josie,

Thanks so much for getting in touch with such an important question: this one is relevant to everyone who becomes a collaborator and so it’s really great that you’ve given me the opportunity to answer it.

First of all it’s brilliant to hear that – five years in – you’ve not had any complaints or issues with your collaboration. I know a lot of our younger readers are super worried about those first few years and settling into their body share so it’s so good for them to hear about real life examples of collaborators getting on just fine and proving that the system works!

Ok. You’ve asked to discuss something quite serious and adult so I hope you won’t mind me talking to you like an adult here, Josie.

Now: how do you know when you’re ready to have sex? For my grandparents’ generation the answer to your question was simple; it’s when you’ve got a wedding ring on your finger. For my parents generation the answer was similarly simple and similarly didactic: wait until you’re in love; that’s when you’ll know. You’ll feel ready. Sweet little epithets Josie, I’m sure you’ll agree, but I have some problems with the wisdom of our ancestors. It fails to take reality into account and, I feel, the problems that wisdom caused were twofold:

1) These rules are too idealistic and fail to factor in human nature. Therefore they made the majority of people (who wanted to have sex but hadn’t found a marriage partner or fallen in love) feel weird or like they’d failed.
AND
2) These rules are oversimplifications and were, weirdly, overcomplicating sex by making people question the quality of the sex they were having and whether they really had been in love or whether this was the person they should’ve married etc, etc, etc. Basically,for those guys, sex = worry.

Both of these problems resulted in the same thing: our parents and grandparents ended up feeling confused, uncomfortable and ashamed of the sex they were and weren’t having and the whole thing caused a lot of upset. Part of those feelings (and the advice itself) came from the notion that your body was yours to preserve and to protect and, by extension, sex wasn’t something you should give away. It was like giving away a part of your self. 

Things just aren’t like that anymore.

We are lucky enough, Josie, to live in an evolved version of our parents society which appreciates the value of the mind as the source of our selves. We understand now, through the success of collaboration, that the body is just a vessel for a mind. Our ancestors often talked about this notion (‘it’s what’s inside that counts’ etc) but didn’t really live by it. We are the generation that practices what they preach.

So what’s my attitude to sex? It’s don’t overthink it. You think you want to try sex but aren’t sure that you’re ready? Go for it! If it turns out you don’t enjoy it then just chalk it up to experience. What other damage is there, apart from the imaginary damage you’ve been warned about by your stuffy ancestors? You think you want to sleep with three different guys from your school rugby team in one week? Well why not! It’s your life, your choice and if you think it sounds like fun then who’s to tell you you’re wrong?! You want to sleep with a guy from your drama group or football team but worried you’ll be the first of your collaborators? Don’t worry about it. You share a body but the experience of sex is about more than a body (or two bodies)! When they decide to do it for the first time is their choice; what you do when it’s you that’s alive and kicking is your choice, so long as you don’t impact your collaborators negatively (which is all covered in the Ten Rules For Harmonious Collaboration). 

Speaking of negative impact, there’s just one important point that I really need to stress to you Josie, and to make sure you really hear it I’m turning to capitals and exclamation marks. YOU! MUST! ALWAYS! USE! PROTECTION! I can’t make this point enough… the only way that you can really make your sex life someones issue other than your own is to catch an STI or get pregnant without prior planning and authorisation. Using a combination of condoms and birth control pills is the only way to make sure that, once you do make that step, you are treating sex with the maturity and responsibility that it deserves.

This is the generation that values mind over matter. If you’ve made your mind up that you’re ready then trust me Josie, that’s all that matters! All that remains for me to say is: good luck and have fun!

Love,

Erica xoxo

*

This letter had been one Erica had been putting off replying to for a few days, despite her editor pestering her to respond to it. Encouraging promiscuity was one of The Team’s ‘Spring Initiatives’ and she’d been briefed so extensively as to how to ‘pitch’ it that her response had been little more than padding out their bullet points into full sentences.

She would have felt a lot less uncomfortable sending it if she had ever really experienced sex. Sex, so far to Erica, was nothing more than a dull ache that she sometimes felt in the mornings.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #6

I’m playing with the idea that the government has styled itself as The Team. I want them to have a name which is vague, anonymous and which insinuates friendliness.

Below, Erica begins to answer some of her postbag.

Happy Friday!

Emily xx

“The world’s problems shouldn’t be the human family’s heirloom” – Adora Svitak

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next

It was ten o’clock in the morning and so far Erica had achieved a great deal: she had made her bed, folder her pyjamas and brushed her teeth. She had switched on Classic FM and completed approximately fifteen minutes of light yoga while focusing on her breathing and internally stating her intentions for the day. She had set the coffee machine to brew while she showered and had switched to Radio 2 and had sung along to a song she liked from the Top Forty while she made toast and spread it with a precise sliver of Marmite which extended just so to the corners of her wholegrain toast. She had savoured the coffee and toast slowly, flicking through the news online, while still in her dressing gown.  She had completed the quick crossword and required a search engine for only two of the clues. She had dressed in black leggings and  an oversized shirt, had dabbed her temples and lips with some virgin coconut oil and applied a thin layer of natural brown mascara to her eyelashes. She had practiced her French for twenty minutes and replied to six personal emails. All this she had done, and yet a nagging part of her felt that she had done nothing. It was the part of her that sat down to write her diary at night – a healthy habit for a healthy and reflective mind – and that realised that none of this was worth writing in a diary. How many decisions did she make a day without anything changing?

She opened the folder in her inbox marked ‘letters awaiting reply’. For five days a week, her routine was the same. In the morning she picked letters, wrote replies and submitted them to her editor. In the afternoon she checked replies from the preceding day’s efforts, read through all of the underlines and annotations and edited her letters accordingly. The process in general took a week before her work was considered publishable: her editor was fond of reminding her that the ‘message’ she sent out should be ‘clean and peachy keen’. Sometimes Erica wanted to be mad at her editor for their insipid obsession with sanitising her writing, but this was difficult for two reasons. One: she had not really been truly mad for several years and couldn’t quite remember how to do it. Two: she had never met the editor and therefore wasn’t quite sure who to be mad at. She wasn’t even entirely sure her editor was always the same person.

She picked a letter at random.

Dear Erica, 

I am 9 years old and I am worreyd about my phisical tests next year. I am doing my best to be fit and ready for them but I a worryed about if I don’t get picked. Does it still feel the same? Also what if you want to carry on doing something for two days in a row do you have to stop? Sometimes I do a jigsaw and leave it out in my bedroom over night. Can you tell me what a normal day is like for you?

Thanks,

Joe xxx

The reply would be easy. Erica could at least admit that writing was easier with the interventions of the editor: paint by numbers instead of a blank canvas. It was exactly the kind of question that the editor enjoyed and she knew exactly the spin they’d like to put on it. She left in the spelling mistakes – the editor felt they were endearing.

 Dear Joe,

Thanks so much for getting in touch! It’s awful to feel worried about something, especially when you can’t control it. But hey, you did the right thing by writing in to me because, hopefully, you’ll believe me when I say that there’s really nothing to worry about at all!

First off, don’t worry about ‘getting fit’ for the physicals. While it’s always a great idea to be fit and healthy, there are all kinds of factors that can mean that your body isn’t placed in the top third of your age group, and lots of them don’t have anything to do with you! A family history of diabetes, not having had the measles yet… In fact, my case is the perfect example! There weren’t many nine year olds fitter or healthier than me, but my eczema meant that I just didn’t make the cut.

But hey: don’t feel sorry for me. Although I had all the concerns and doubts that you’re probably having now when I was told I’d be being moved to a new body, it was totally the best thing that could have happened to me. While it may seem scary to ‘lose’ your body, it’s important to remember that people’s bodies have always changed, often for the worse, and collaboration is an opportunity that our ancestors never had to change for the better and to increase our health and fitness. Remember: if you don’t get picked, you’ll be moving into a body that was tested as healthier and fitter than yours! The only way is up!

You asked me if it still feels the same. I ask you this: when you wake up in the morning and open your eyes, do you have to look in the mirror to remember who you are? Of course not. Who you are is what’s in your mind. When my collaboration began it felt as though I fell asleep and woke up just like any normal nights sleep. The only difference was the way I looked… and my skin didn’t itch any more!

That leads me on to your question about when you want things to run over from one day to the next. When your match is made, The Team will arrange things so that you always fall asleep and wake up in the same place. Although two days will have occurred in your body without you, it’ll be hard to tell. Plus – in collaborations it’s important that we take care of what we have: you’ll get used to tidying your jigsaws away and labeling them with ‘please do not touch’, just as much as you get used to putting yourself to bed ready for your collaborator!

Lastly you asked me about an average day. Well… I can’t imagine that’d be much different to the average day in anyone’s life… collaborator or otherwise. I wake up, practice some yoga, read a little world news and eat a healthy, balanced, breakfast. The Team has all kinds of great breakfast recipes online to help you with balancing your nutrition. I listen to some music to cheer up my mood and set to work answering great emails like this one! After a delicious lunch I will call my mum (she’s not a collaborator so she’ll often have a couple of days worth of gossip and news to fill me in on!) and complete a little more work. In the afternoon I’ll meet a friend for a stroll in the park or to hit an exercise class – spinning and Pilates are my current favourites – and we might treat ourselves to a frozen yoghurt or a trip to the cinema. Most evenings I prefer to come home and curl up with my cuddly old cat and a book. I make sure I leave myself in good condition for my collaborator (her name’s Jenny!) by removing my make up, drinking a pint of water and cleaning my teeth. Then it’s time to hit the hay and get some beauty sleep! When I wake up two days later I remember the day before as though it just happened. Not much different to any normal girl, I guess!

So Joe: your body changing is scary because it’s a new thing and I understand that. I mean think about it, it was even newer when it happened to me! But we humans have always been scared of the future… that doesn’t mean we should avoid it. So if you do end up upgrading, embrace it and get ready for a life of improved health and all the happiness that that will bring!

Hugs and kisses,

Erica xOxO

The words had flowed out of her so easily it was almost as though she meant them. She checked through to make sure the tone was as perky as her editor liked and clicked send. It was eleven o’clock. Erica had twelve hours of her day left.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #5

Got a problem? Struggling to collaborate? Never fear, Erica's here!
Got a problem? Struggling to collaborate? Never fear, Erica’s here!

Erica is an agony aunt employed by the government. I like the idea that she developed an interest in writing at school in her angry poetry phase and went from diary writing to professional writing. It’s a funny fact that a disproportionately large percentage of the fictional world work in writing. Wishful thinking of their creators, I suppose…

The questions that Erica answers will be from the under-10s who are worried about their impending body swaps / physical tests as well as from teenagers struggling with the new challenges of collaboration. I’ve written a couple of answers below but am looking for more ideas. Please offer some suggestions in the comments section for the kind of thing that people might worry about in this area and I can turn them into letters in Erica’s inbox and write answers for them tomorrow!

Some things to bear in mind for Erica’s letters/responses: firstly, the government cultivates a friendly, conspiratorial character for itself which I want the reader to suspect but the characters to never outwardly suspect. Think Buzzfeed or indeed much of the marketing of contemporary brands (Innocent Smoothies, Tesco etc). Therefore Erica’s responses will need to be heavily sugar coated and sanitised. Furthermore, the government is faceless and, although they largely dictate the style of her writing, Erica has never actually met anyone that works for them. She gained her job online and her correspondence is always with the company, not with a specific member of the company. If anyone has any ideas for a fuzzy name for the government, please add that to the comment section too!

So below are some examples of the kind of letters I’m looking for and that I’ll be writing replies for tomorrow.

Emily x

Dear Erica, 

I am 9 years old and I am worreyd about my phisical tests next year. I am doing my best to be fit and ready for them but I a worryed about if I don’t get picked. Does it still feel the same? Also what if you want to carry on doing something for two days in a row do you have to stop? Sometimes I do a jigsaw and leave it out in my bedroom over night. Can you tell me what a normal day is like for you?

Thanks,

Joe xxx

*

Dear Erica,

My name’s Josie and I’m fifteen this May. I’ve been a collaborator for a third of my life now and nothing has worried me too much until now. But some of my friends have started talking about and maybe even having sex. I just wondered what your opinion was on that, when do you know you are ready and is it better to be the first one to have had sex in a collaboration or not?

Thanks,

Josie x

*

Dear Erica,

I’m a collaborator in my early twenties and was fit and healthy enough at ten to be able to keep my original body. I have always been really proud of this and thought it made me one of the lucky ones. 

Recently though I have been feeling quite sluggish and a little heavier around the middle  despite eating healthily and working out as per the government recommended fitness schedule. 

I’m pretty sure that the way I’m feeling is due to the bad habits of one of my collaborators. The other day I woke up and I could swear I could smell smoke.

What can I do to make sure that my collaborators don’t damage my chances of a happy, healthy life?

Thanks in advance,

Alex

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #4

Street Art

The reluctant acceptance of how things are

Ten years of growing up had softened Erica. Like any child struggling with the seemingly illogical and oppressive realities put before them by ‘society’ and ‘the man’, Erica eventually grew tired of being mad and fell in line.

Until she was thirteen Erica had kept a journal detailing all the things that she disliked about living life in the corporeal form of Pretty Jenny. Pretty Jenny was a slightly slower runner than Erica had been: her legs just weren’t as long. Pretty Jenny, at ten, had already gone through enough of puberty to require a bra. This was an embarrassing thing to suddenly be faced with at primary school and, even worse, meant that some of Erica’s favourite t-shirts (‘Sea World 2011’, ‘Geology Rocks!’ and ‘I Believe In Unicorns’) didn’t fit anymore. Worst of all, Erica was suddenly alarmingly pretty. Although most of her friend’s bodies had been discontinued too, none of them had become as alienatingly attractive as she had. Her friends suddenly found her difficult to talk to. Reluctantly, after a few weeks of stubborn loneliness and awkward conversations, Erica had edged towards the ‘cool crowd’.

Eventually, being surrounded by ‘cool’ took its osmotic effect. By twelve, perfectly rational things that she had previously not considered suddenly became horrifically embarrassing. Suddenly the brand of her shoes and the length of her skirt in relation to her knee bore significance and, although she did little to resist it, Erica attributed blame to Pretty Jenny for it in her journal.

At thirteen the journal stopped and Erica began to engage in low quality, angry poetry which no one but her would ever see. This was because Erica would become ashamed of her poems days after their completion and would throw them into the bin in crumpled balls. The poems would insult Pretty Jenny more directly and spitefully than the journal ever had, and Erica would become panicked that her ‘collaborator’ would somehow find them or intuitively know about them, and get Erica into some kind of trouble.

When Erica was fifteen, her mother arranged a letter exchange with Pretty Jenny’s mother so that the girls could find out more about each other. Erica had agonised over the tone and length of her letter but Jenny’s reply had been insultingly brief and breezy.

Hey Roomie! ; )

How’s it going? Funny to think I’m writing this and it’ll be me that’ll be reading it tomorrow. Thanks for your letter. Cool to know all your interests and stuff. Cool that you’re in to running. Weird – I never run so can’t imagine me actually running but I guess I do, ha! My favourite things to do are mainly watching sitcoms (I love all my mom’s old stuff like Friends and Sex and the City), hanging out with my guy friends and stuff. I’m really into frappuccinos and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream (OMG… phish food).

Anyway, gotta run,   

Jenny XoXo

Erica was incensed. Incensed that Jenny referred to Erica as ‘I’; incensed that Jenny was eating Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and hanging out with ‘guys’, neither of which Erica had done; incensed that Jenny was allowed to watch Sex and the City when Erica’s mother had described it as inappropriate. It made her skin crawl to imagine Jenny writing the letter the day before and to realise that it’d been her own hands that had been writing. Only Jenny didn’t think of them as Erica’s hands at all.

It galled her to realise that Jenny was having all of the fun for both of them. The next week Erica dropped out of athletics club. She spent her lunch money for the whole week on chocolate and ate it all in one sitting. Then, when her mother had gone to sleep that night, she streamed some old episodes of Sex and the City and watched them wearing headphones. There and then, she vowed to herself to start living the life that Jenny’s beautiful body was built for.

By seventeen behaving in the light, superficial way that had seemed so alien when she had read Jenny’s first letter had become instinctive. Erica too loved ice cream, had ‘guy friends’ and often ended social interactions with abrupt declarations of ‘gotta run!’

By twenty, Erica couldn’t remember why she had been so mad. She was healthy, beautiful and popular, and couldn’t remember what else she’d ever believed she needed. Even better, she now had her own apartment in the outer zones of London, two cats and a steady, reasonable income. Erica was employed as a writer. More specifically: Erica wrote to reassure little girls and boys about the virtues and thrills of collaboration. Erica was a government employed agony aunt. She often thought of herself as a British Carrie Bradshaw and very rarely thought about athletics, angry poetry or geology anymore.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #3

The protagonist is called Erica. Erica is twenty years old and, at ten, became a participant in the first wave of collaborators. Erica’s body was not selected for use in her body share and so her mind was downloaded and her body discontinued. I like this word. For ten years she has been living in the body of a girl much fitter and more attractive than she ever might have grown to be. If all the children in your age group had been physically tested at ten and only the top third got to keep their bodies, would yours have been selected? I wouldn’t have much hope for my brother and me.

Emily x

Would you have made the cut?
Would you have made the cut?

Sometimes when Erica was asleep, she dreamed of her old body again.

In the dreams she was always running. Not from an enemy or some unknowable malevolent force as in a recurring nightmare, but running for the pure, life blooded pleasure of it. She remembered a Sports Day race she’d won: the 100m sprint on some distant summer Wednesday when she was nine. She remembered the pure unrivaled pleasure of leaping through the air; of tearing forwards towards the finish line. She remembered the salt of her sweat matting her hair and the congratulatory hugs of her gangly and overexcited friends. She remembered the innocence of being young and of someone else doing all your worrying for her; the promise of a summer and a life that stretched before her, unwritten and belonging to her. She remembered.

It had been a long time since anything had felt as though it belonged entirely to Erica.

Her new legs were better. They were stronger, leaner, more inclined to tan. Her whole body in fact, was more athletic than she had been at nine. Before the change, she’d been lanky, awkward and pale: the kind of freckled, ‘strawberry blonde’ child whose mother badgers her to stay in the shade and plaster on Factor 50, and whose lurching height prepares her for track and field sports, not man-eating. She’d never had the chance to see how her own body might have developed but she felt sure that, had the law not been passed when she was ten, she would never have become what she was now. She had moved through puberty never developing more than a handful of spots and with the kind of easy, cheerleader looks that would have been more at home in an Abercrombie and Fitch advert than a North London comprehensive. It had made things easier, she was sure. But it had never fully felt like home.

Erica remembered meeting the little girl that had beaten her in the physical trials; the little girl that she’d become. Her name was Jenny, and the round, sweetness of the name had matched the face: the cheerful layered hair and apple cheeks of the girl that she was to become.

“My mum told me that you did really well on the physical fitness tests. They just couldn’t pick you because of the eczema.” Jenny had been precociously reassuring and Erica had struggled to meet her eye, her gaze dropping ashamedly to her chapped hands lying limply at her sides. She could feel the hate all the way down to her fingertips. “My mum said we were both in the top 5 percentile for fitness in the country, but that your eczema meant that your body was… less ideal than mine.” There was no question but the girl was smiling expectantly, waiting for an answer. After an awkward beat, pretty Jenny poured more words into the silence. “That’s great about the fitness, you did really well!” “Fuck you.” Erica seethed silently; it was a phrase she had learned that week and was seething at her enemies semi-regularly. She really meant it  in the case of pretty Jenny though. “Fuck you and your stupid layers hair.” Erica had asked for a layered haircut only two months earlier and had been denied, on the grounds of layers being impractical for tying up in sports events. It would not be for another four years that Erica’s vocabulary would extend enough to allow her to describe this series of events as “Fucking ironic”.

After years of political discussion and months of campaigning it had all happened, as big things often do, unexpectedly quickly. Her mother had received a letter on the Monday and the tests had been that Sunday. Her mother had driven her there in the people carrier, uncomfortably breezy and giggly as they strode across the car park and into the clinic. She had been asked to run back and forth across a room in time with a series of bleeps. She had been told to skip for a minute. They had taken blood samples and urine samples and pressed a lollipop stick against her tongue. She had said ‘ahh’, recited the alphabet forwards and backwards and sung up and down two scales of notes. Mortifyingly, she had had to strip down to her underwear and have photos taken from fourteen different angles. Then she had gone home and had her tea and gone to sleep and the next day her mum had received a phone call; she had been placed in the forty-eighth percentile and a match in her neighborhood had already been found. An appointment had been made. Her body was to be discontinued that Saturday.

Erica had not cried, though her mum did. She had contemplated comforting her mother – it was probably the mature thing to do. Instead she had found herself walking upstairs, closing her bedroom door, sitting in front of her wardrobe mirror and trying to count the freckles on her face.