The Memory Bank

This is the opening chapter of a children’s novel which I wrote for my Writing For Children class, and which is being ‘workshopped’ this Friday. I think the target audience would be around 10-12 years old. My favourite authors when I was that age were Jacqueline Wilson and Roald Dahl, and I was thinking of both of them a lot as I was writing this piece, particularly in terms of character.

‘The Memory Bank’ is a working title and I’m open to suggestions for a better one (for the novel itself and for this particular kind of charity). Also, if you know anything about hospitals or neuroscience and are offended by the scene in the hospital, I’m sorry and please help me.

Emily x

Starfish on the beach, Ho Tram. 2014 (The tenuous link between picture and writing = star).
Starfish on the beach, Ho Tram. 2014 (The tenuous link between picture and writing = star).

The Memory Bank

I was eleven years old when they first came to steal my memories.

On the day that they took the first one, I’d just won first place in a national gymnastics competition, which was hosted at my school. I remember that my normally wild hair was tied tightly in a bun. I remember that my leotard was purple crushed velvet, edged with glittering diamante. I remember that I was given a medal, and that my grin was a mile wide as I stood on the winners’ podium to have my picture taken for the local newspaper. Except I don’t really remember any of this at all. The only reason I can describe these things is because of the framed photo that my mum hung up in the living room. Really, I don’t remember any of it, because as soon as I stepped down from the podium they found me and, for the first time, they took my memory away. And that part I remember very well.

“You did a great job there today, Esther. I’m very impressed!” Those were the first words ever spoken to me by Mr Silk. He had a voice to match the name: smooth and luxurious. Mum was helping me to put my coat on before we headed out to the bus stop. We both turned and looked at this peculiar man – long beige coat and big toady smile – who was staring at me expectantly. I said nothing. I’m not very good at talking to strangers and I was even worse at it when I was eleven. My mum normally did all the talking for us, but she was looking a bit confused too.

“I’ll bet it feels fantastic doesn’t it, standing up there having won that first place medal, everyone so impressed and wanting to take your photo? I’m very jealous, I was never any good at gymnastics. Here, I’ve brought you a hot chocolate, I thought you might need warming up. Stood out here in that leotard all morning!” Mum suddenly got a bit suspicious then and snatched the hot chocolate out of Mr Silk’s hand. She was a bit too hasty and some of it spilled out of the top and scalded her skin. She must have been worked up, because she didn’t even seem to notice.

“She’s fine, thank you very much!” Mum was holding my tracksuit bottoms out at me and glowering. “Come on Esther, or we’ll have to run for the bus.”

I shoved them on as quickly as I could and we turned to walk away. I could see that mum wanted to get out of there double quick – she only ever calls me Esther when she’s angry or wants to make someone think we’re posher than we are. To anyone that knows me, my name is Star.

“Mrs Stephenson! Perhaps before you go you could just take my card. I work for a children’s charity you see.” Mum stopped in her tracks as though she’d seen a lion. She turned around slowly and I could see in her face that Mr Silk was about to get one of her special dressing downs; one of the ones where her voice goes really low and you can tell you’re on your final warning before she pops.

“It’s Ms Stephenson. And I don’t know what exactly might make you think that we need your charity but my daughter and I are doing perfectly well on our own, thank you very much.” She held the hot chocolate out to him and, when he didn’t take it, placed it down by his feet. Then she whirled me back around and began to march me out of the gym, while I tried not to care about leaving the hot chocolate behind even though I was a little bit cold and hot chocolate is a really special treat in our house.

We were almost out of the door when he caught up with us.

“No Ms Stephenson, please! Please, I didn’t mean to offend you. You’ve misunderstood me. It’s your daughter that could help us. I mean we’d pay you both, of course, if you were to agree. We have funding for that. But the children at the charity could really benefit from the help of a little girl as – as well brought up as Esther.”

I’m not sure which part of what he said got to my mum, but the truth is we do always need more money. My mum is obsessed with me being brought up well too, so maybe it was that. Whatever it was, she turned around. She still had her ‘don’t mess with me’ face on but her voice was calmer now.

“What kind of charity is this, exactly?”

Mr Silk’s big toady grin got bigger and for a moment, I thought a huge tongue might come springing out of his mouth and swallow us up like flies. But instead he just laughed. “Why don’t we go and get that hot chocolate and we can sit down and have a chat about everything?”

So he explained it all. That his name was Mr Silk and that he was in charge of recruitment at a charity called the ‘Memory Bank’. His job was to find happy children with lots of great things going on in their lives and to pay them to donate some of their happy memories. The memories would be given to children who’d had difficult or unhappy childhoods, or were overcoming specific bad things that had happened to them. Mum didn’t seem to really believe him and was asking lots of questions about science and research and safety. I got a little bored and zoned out, trying to really savour every mouthful of the hot chocolate. I’d stopped listening completely and was pretending that my tongue was a big hot chocolate waterfall when I suddenly realised that both of them were staring at me and waiting for me to answer a question.

“Well Esther, what do you think? £500 to help someone less fortunate than you? And your mum says you like science – how do you fancy seeing some exciting lab equipment?”

The answer seemed obvious to me. Everyone was always saying how important it was to support charities and to help people less fortunate than you. And £500 was a lot of money.

“Yeah ok, I don’t mind.”

Mr Silk’s smile was getting so big that I thought it might climb off of his face and strangle me. Mum was smiling too, although hers was a little more anxious.

“Well come along then ladies,” Mr Silk was standing up and gesturing towards the door. “What are we waiting for?”

I know what you’re thinking. My mum sold me out for £500. But the thing is, we really did need the money. Since dad left, we’d really struggled. Mum was trying to get her qualifications sorted so that she could get a better job. She said if she worked hard enough, she could be a Geologist, and we’d never have to worry about cash anymore. She said we could get a car and go on a nice holiday every year and we could even redecorate my bedroom in any colour I liked. But in the meantime, she had to count every penny. I have to hand it to my mum, she was great at counting pennies. I never saw her buy clothes brand new, and she always knew which supermarket had the best deals on. She was always thinking about how to make our money go as far as possible. With all that in mind, I understood why she wanted to get us the £500. Plus, mum liked doing stuff for charity too. It seemed like a win-win situation.

When we got outside Mr Silk hailed us a black cab. I’d never got in a taxi before. I could tell mum was quite excited by it too, eyes darting around everywhere, taking everything in. She was trying to hide it from Mr Silk though, so I tried to hide it too. I just sat quietly and watched the meter tick up and up, counting the price in multiples of bus tickets. After five minutes we’d already spent £4.57, which would have been enough to get all three of us all the way back to Erdington on the 903 AND have 7p change. I went to tell mum that – she loves how good I am at Maths – but decided to keep it to myself because Mr Silk didn’t seem like the kind of man who ever got buses at all.

Instead I sat and thought about how I could redecorate my room maybe, once we’d got the £500. I’d already picked out the colours I wanted from the paint chart at the shop: ‘Moroccan Flame’ and ‘Volcanic Red’. I wanted it to feel like the room was on fire, like I was sleeping in the middle of a star. Not the silly pointy ones little kids draw on birthday cards and stuff, but real stars, like you see in the night sky. Close up, a star looks like a huge ball of flames, although really it’s made of gas. Hydrogen, mostly. The coolest thing about stars though is that they look tiny but really they’re enormous, even bigger than our planet, they’re just really far away. In fact, sometimes they’re so far away that  by the time the light reaches us and we can see them, they’ve already burned up and aren’t even there anymore. When we look at stars, we’re looking into the past. How cool is that?

“Don’t go letting your mind wander too much Esther, we want to keep that memory nice and fresh!” My mind had wandered and I hadn’t even realised that the taxi had stopped. Mr Silk was holding the car door open for me, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital looming behind him.

“Come on, Star!” My mum was forgetting to pretend we were posh. She looked anxious, digging her hands into her pockets and shifting her weight from one foot to the other. So as we walked towards the hospital I looped my arm through hers so that she know we were in this together. That’s what she always does for me when I’m nervous. It was hard trying to be the relaxed one, when I was feeling a bit frightened myself, and the hospital was HUGE. So I just stared at my feet and tried to ignore all the hurried nurses and the sad looking visitors with flowers and the shuffling patients in ugly blue nighties. We paced through corridors and up staircases, the sound of bleeping and whirring everywhere. Eventually, we stopped and Mr Silk’s voice went all sing-song cheerful. “Here we are!” He pressed an intercom button, flashed an ID badge and we walked in. Ward 411: Neurology.

After that, my memory gets a bit blurry. Everything was so new that it was hard to take it in. Mr Silk talked to a doctor who introduced herself as Dr Green, a cognitive neuroscientist, and told me she’d be performing the operation to extract my memory and not to worry, it wouldn’t even hurt. Then another doctor came in and didn’t even tell me his name, only that he was an anaesthetist, and that he’d be putting me to sleep for the whole procedure then waking me back up again. Mum panicked a bit then and asked lots of questions but I was actually excited to be anaesthetised. It happened to Poppy in my class and she said she couldn’t even count backwards from 10 before falling asleep. I wanted to see if I could beat her and that was all I could really think about until they lay me down and inserted the cannula, which hurt a tiny bit but not as much as Poppy had made out. Then the anaesthetist was smiling down at me and saying “count back from 10” and I was really concentrating, doing my best to not let go and saying: “10! 9! 8…”

And the next thing I remember is waking up.

“Welcome back, Esther.” Dr Green and the anaesthetist were still smiling down at me and it was like they’d not moved, but the clock on the wall behind them said 3:25pm which meant at least an hour had passed. Mum and Mr Silk were sat in chairs next to the bed and I suddenly realised that everyone was waiting for me to say something, but I felt so sleepy that all I wanted to do was close my eyes and go back to sleep. Dr Green said it was important that I answered a few questions, and she propped me up with some cushions and gave me a glass of water. The questions were easy enough to answer at first: yes I’m fine, yes I remember why I’m here, no, nothing hurts. But then things got strange.

“And what do you remember about this morning, Esther? Can you tell me about your day? Start from the beginning – what did you have for your breakfast?” I opened my mouth to answer but suddenly realised I had nothing to say. The whole day before me was a fuzzy blank. The first thing I could remember happening all day was meeting Mr Silk in the school gym, just as I’d climbed down from the podium. I told Dr Green, a little embarrassed, and she beamed as though I’d just recited my 72 times tables backwards. In French.

“Perfect!” Mr Silk was standing up and clapping his hands together enthusiastically. “Well done Ms Green, a perfectly clean cut again. Exactly what we wanted!”

“It’s Dr Green,” I heard myself saying, but Mr Silk wasn’t listening. “Show her” he said, gesturing at a glass bottle on a metal trolley behind Dr Green. With care, she picked it up and held it up to the light for me to see: a purple liquid which glinted pink and black as she turned it in her palm. “This is your memory from this morning.” Dr Green was staring at the liquid as she spoke, spellbound. “We can give this to another little girl or boy and all of the joy and excitement that you felt this morning, they’ll remember it as though it happened to them. We know it seems a little strange, but we think that giving” – she paused to choose her words carefully – “less fortunate boys and girls the chance to remember happy childhoods like yours… could really help them to build happier futures of their own.”

“Do you like it, Star?” My mum was stepping towards me, looking a little nervous. It was strange: it was exactly the voice that I used when she was cross at me, except I didn’t know what I was supposed to be cross about. “It looks a little bit like outer space, doesn’t it? I thought you’d like that.” She turned to Dr Green and smiled proudly. “Esther loves outer space. She’s brilliant at science. And maths.”

Dr Green smiled back. “Ah well, if that’s true Esther then I’m sure you’ll want to do some investigation of your own.” Carefully, she placed the glass jar in my hands for me to inspect. It really did look like outer space, dark and deep, a glittering universe of its own.

“Do they all look like this?” For a moment, I thought about asking to keep it. Suddenly, £500 didn’t seem so special. I couldn’t imagine what I could buy that could be as beautiful as the galaxy that was shimmering in my hands. But Dr Green was already lifting it away from me.

“No. They’re kind of like mood rings. They change from donor to donor, and depending on the kind of memory. We label them in detail of course, but the colours help us to categorise them, which makes them easier to assign later. Greens are happy family memories, for example. Pinks are to do with academic achievements. I’ve never seen one quite like this before. Whenever we get a new shade, we let the donor come up with a name for it. Just for fun, you know. Would you like to choose one, Esther?”

I only saw the jar for a second more, before Dr Green placed it carefully into a tray and locked it away for good.

“Yes,” I said, feeling confident for the first time that day. “Call it ‘Starlight’.”

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.

How To Live Forever And Die Tomorrow: Post #2

evolution and tradition
Goodbye tradition, hello evolution!

For now, I like the idea of referring to body sharing in the story as collaborating. This will be the term coined by the government to give a sense that body sharing is a positive opportunity for its participants with a focus on working together for a communal goal; for the greater good. With that in mind, below are the government issued rules.

Emily x

10 Simple Rules for Harmonious, Happy & Healthy Collaboration

  1. No smoking
    Since the discovery of tobacco, smoking has enjoyed an exponentially ‘cool’ reputation and inexplicable legal protection as a ‘human right’; simultaneously it has taken the lives of increasing numbers of our human family through various health effects including cancer, heart disease and strokes. Let us be the ones to end the madness! If you or someone you love wishes to protect their right to smoke then ask yourself: is more important to you than protecting your children? All governments must find a balance between preserving the safety and the freedoms of their people. By banning the consumption of tobacco in any form, your government hopes to build a future where the human family no longer views smoking as their inalienable right but as a distant and amusing pastime of their antiquated elders. Besides supporting the health and longevity of your collaborators, wouldn’t you like to help support a smoke free future for our descendants? We thought so.
    ..
  2. No alcohol consumption beyond daily unitary guidelines
    All we’re asking is that in the interests of maintaining a reasonable calorie intake, avoiding associated health risks and preventing irrational decision making, you stick to 6 units of alcohol per week. A harder one to stomach than a ban on tobacco, we know. Both tobacco smoking and excessive alcohol consumption have detrimental health effects but – we get it – while the former holds a place in the hearts of the human family purely because of its addictive quality, the latter’s popularity is partly due to, well, the fact that it can be a lot of fun!  But ask yourself a question: did you need alcohol to have a good time when you were a child? No? We thought so. And when you think of your childhood do you think of a time of deprivation, boredom and misery? We didn’t think so. Let’s aspire to bring some of that optimism and energy of childhood into our adult lives. Some might call turning our backs on alcohol the rejection of British heritage and tradition. We call it evolution.
    ..
  3. No recreational drug use
    In the light of Rule 2, we feel this one requires little explanation. In the ‘Cons’ corner we have: illness! Bankruptcy! Destruction of relationships! The encouragement of a criminal underbelly! Violence! Death! In the ‘Pros’ corner we have: “but it’s fun, mann!” Which side are you on?
    ..
  4. Responsible nutrition
    Don’t worry: we’re not going to nanny you on this one and tell you you can’t eat carbohydrates after 5pm or that you can never have that second slice of cheesecake again. But participating in collaboration does give you the benefit of having your nutritional intake automatically monitored and we’re always looking to reward our healthiest family members! Keep it lean, clean and green guys and your body, your collaborators and your government will thank you!
    ..
  5. No unauthorised tattoos or piercings
    This one’s just good manners: would you be happy to wake up and find the name of a band you hated branded on your flesh without your permission? We do our best to facilitate harmonious collaborations by matching you to similar personality types but there’s no accounting for taste. If you want to get inked, then the old adage still remains true: it’s your body. But remember: it’s not just your body, and any such decisions will need to be made collaboratively. See Appendix 174 in The Happy Collaborator’s Guidebook for further information on how to apply for a tattoo.
    ..
  6. Regulated sleep schedules
    When one door closes, another opens. Sometimes it can be difficult to be the Cinderella who turns on her heel and leaves the party early, but at the heart of successful collaboration is compromise and a respect for your collaborators. To ensure consistency and fairness (and your much needed beauty sleep!) your chip will be deactivated at 11pm on a daily basis and will reboot for one of your collaborators at 7am sharp the next morning. That’s our end of the deal. We promise to keep you safe, healthy and virus free as long as you keep up your side of things: getting yourself back to a safe and comfortable place for your collaborator to wake up in.
    ..
  7. No unauthorised travel
    This one’s a toughie. We know how fun that spirit of adventure can be. But would it be fun to wake up in some far flung hostel bed, baffled by your surroundings and clueless as to how to get home? That’s your adventure from the perspective of your collaborators. Understand us: we love to get away from it all just as much as you do. But just like your mama taught you, it isn’t fun unless it’s fun for everybody, and that’s the ethos behind our insistance on thoroughly planned and authorised travel. See Appendix 23 in The Happy Collaborator’s Guidebook for further information on how to gain authorisation.
    ..
  8. No unprotected sex
    Let’s be frank: sex is a hell of a lot of fun, right? Our ancestors have gained us a reputation with the rest of the world for being uptight about what goes on ‘between the sheets’ but the way we see it is: why not throw away the unnatural chemicals our parents used to have a good time and embrace the lurrrve chemicals Mother Nature installed in us for recreation instead? The ethos behind collaboration is not just about embracing the idea of sharing a body. It’s about embracing the idea of a human family. We’re all friends here, guys! Go out, have fun, collaborate! But use a condom: avoiding STIs for you and your collaborators is just good sense. There’s no excuse for carelessness.
    ..
  9. Arranged relationships
    Eventually we all want to settle down, right? It used to take two to tango but now, we’re sorry to say, it takes six! Monogamous relationships deserve to be treated with respect and it’s important to make sure that everyone’s happy with their match. That’s why committing to a relationship with any sort of long term prospect without the consent of your collaborators is strictly prohibited. If you’re looking for something a little more serious then refer to Appendix 428 in The Happy Collaborator’s Guidebook for further information on how we can find the perfect match to help you (all of you!) fall in love and stay in love.
    ..
  10. Shared pregnancies
    This one’s a gift! Only a third of the morning sickness, a third of the fatigue and only a one in three chance of having to deliver! Now that’s what we call evolution. You don’t need us to tell you that pregnancy affects your body in a big way. And parenthood? Well that’s kind of a big deal too! With than in mind, we’re sure you can understand that any pregnancies not agreed on collaboratively will be terminated. Remember: this is for your protection. When you do feel ready for the biggest ride of your life, refer to Appendix 554 in The Happy Collaborator’s Guidebook for further information on how to communicate collaboratively about taking that big step.