TOMIKO • by Pat Scaramuzza

My car was ugly. Angular, pitted gray, it could barely fly. If it weren’t for Tomiko, I’d feel ashamed picking up my boyfriend Chuanli. He climbed in the passenger seat and kissed my ear as my car’s hologram of Tomiko knelt frightened in the street, surrounding us. Then, following my launch trajectory, Tomiko pushed herself up, took three steps, and flew into the air with her arms outstretched like a superhero.

“Your holo is a scandal, Yuan,” he told me as we soared over the holos of the city. A thousand projected images watched us from below; every shop and billboard sported their own borrowed persona. Most were strapping, muscled men or radiant, beautiful princesses, wearing whatever clothing the season mandated we buy from them. I had on jeans and a tank top. I didn’t care.

I grinned at my lover. “I like Tomiko.”

We stopped at a corner store for some Yum chicken, next to a redneck’s sleek utility vehicle. His holo looked like Clint Eastwood, squinting at us as we descended. Tomiko landed rough, on all four limbs, tears welling in her eyes. Eastwood seemed uncomfortable. I tried to catch the driver’s eye through the layers of holograms, but he wouldn’t look at me.

The store’s giant chicken holo clucked, and a mechanical arm pushed through the light show to give us a bento full of chicken. Tomiko took three steps and we were off again.

I had no plans except to fly. Some wind in our faces, a buzz past some racy projections in midtown, then maybe back to his place to snuggle. Maybe I did some risky flying. I’m sure that’s why the cops started following us, the eagle hologram around their car strobing red and blue. I thought about trying to run. I was speeding. We were gay and weren’t wearing our triangles. I might have had drugs in the back — I couldn’t remember. But my car was a piece of junk. I thought my chances were better talking my way out of it.

Tomiko landed, already on her hands and knees. In a display of force, the police eagle projected talons pinning Tomiko down. She winced and teared up. I had taught her that.

The policeman walked through the interacting holograms to my window. “License, registration,” he said. I handed those to him and waited for the next line, ‘Do you know why I stopped you?’ But it never came.

“What’s with the hologram?”

I blinked and smiled at him. “Just a hero of mine, officer.”

The policeman shuffled my papers. He went back to his car and talked with his partner. They turned off their holo. No longer pinned, Tomiko waited on her knees, breathing scared. The officer came back and handed my stuff back, not meeting my eye. “A warning this time. Watch the acrobatics.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, and I let him take off first. Without their holo, the patrol car was as ugly as mine.

Chuanli let out a breath he had been holding for too long. “You’re awful,” he said, and his body language told me he meant it. “You’re appropriating that girl’s image to get out of speeding tickets.”

I shook my head. “That’s not why I have Tomiko. I can’t help what’s going through that policeman’s head. If he feels uncomfortable, that’s his guilt. I have nothing to be guilty about.”

“It’s the girl who was raped, isn’t it?”

“I’m using her image because I admire her. Because she was raped, and spent months in the hospital, and still walked out with dignity. Because she’s my hero. Do I have to be female, do I have to be raped, in order to celebrate her victory?”

Chuanli narrowed his eyes. “If everyone used her image to shame the police, it would stop working.”

“Not if they feel guilty.” I put my car into gear. “Still, I think that’d be glorious. I’d love to see her everywhere. She’s beautiful.”

I thought about dropping Chuanli off. I’d take the blame, say I had a headache. Maybe he’d call me.

But then he leaned closer, and kissed my ear with a little lick. I glanced at him and smiled.

Tomiko picked herself up, took three steps, and flew.

Pat Scaramuzza lives in Minnesota, USA, with his wife and too many dogs.

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