UPWARDS OF ONE • by Tessa Beebe

Anna drummed her fingers along the flour-covered counter and glanced at the old clock that hung on her wall. “Set a timer for 6:10,” she said.

Timer set. How are you feeling today, Anna?

“Just peachy,” she mumbled.

That’s great! What are the contributing factors? Please select upwards of one:

(Home) (Work) (Health) (Friendship)

Anna rolled her eyes. “None of the above.”

That’s great! You’ve discovered something new to feel good about. Would you like to make a custom entry now?

It had been just three short weeks since Anna was talked into installing the Remelia add-on to her home’s interface, but she already missed the days when she could set a timer without an impromptu therapy session. She ignored the prompt and flicked her fingers, leaving specks of flour along the polished glass screen. “Call me when my pie’s ready.”

***

Anna arrived at the party just in time to hear the chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ being sung by a handful of well-meaning drunks. The crowd was a mix of old friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Most were there in person, but a few were links of those who couldn’t make it. Anna survived until the applause at the end of the song before sneaking off, trying not to pass through the projections of her acquaintances along the way. She hadn’t made it very far before she felt a pair of arms wrap around her from behind.

“Guess who?”

“Like I could ever mistake that squeaky voice,” Anna replied.

Zoe popped up on the tips of her toes in an effort to peek over Anna’s shoulders. “Whatcha got there?”

“Housewarming gift. Uh, you might want to put that gift in the fridge, by the way.”

“I wonder what it could be,” Zoe said with a teasing smile.

“Here,” Anna said, passing the pastry box to Zoe. “It may be a few months late, but I said I’d bring you pie — and tada, pie you shall have. Sorry I’ve been so flaky. Uh, no pun intended.”

The chorus of singing had carried on, the drunks apparently undeterred by the end of the birthday song. A rather enthusiastic rendition of ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’ echoed through the house.

“Keep it down!” Zoe shot a scathing glance in no particular direction before resting an apologetic hand on Anna’s shoulder. “What were you saying?”

“Just that I’m sorry I—”

Their conversation was interrupted by the unmistakable sound of shattering glass, swiftly followed by half a dozen links flickering out.

“Oh, you’ve gotta be kidding me, that projector came brand new with the house,” Zoe said. “I’m sorry, girl, I have to deal with these idiots. I’ll circle back and find you later. Have fun, okay?”

Anna was unsure what to do with herself in the absence of her friend. It had been a few months since she’d been to a party, and she felt it. She stroked the phone in her pocket, nervously lining its edges with her fingertips, as if trying to convince herself she were merely fidgeting.

After the projector broke, the majority of the party moved to the kitchen, leaving the living room relatively quiet. She made her way to an empty couch and settled in, figuring so long as she stationed herself in the common area nobody could accuse her of being a recluse.

“Anna Clements at a party? Did Hell freeze over when I wasn’t looking?”

There was doubt in Anna’s mind that taunting a person had ever been a successful tactic in getting them to socialize more; still, she forced a thin-lipped smile. “Hey, Ervin. How’ve you been?”

It had begun to rain by the time Anna stepped outside to get some space. She pressed herself against a wall, listening to the raindrops as they pelted the awning above. She tilted her head back, trying to remember to be kind to herself.

“Ah, screw it.” Anna took the phone from her pocket, if for no other reason than to keep her hands busy. She guided her fingers along the screen in an intricate pattern, finally completing the process she’d begun earlier in the night. Pale pink light drifted along the screen, following the path of her finger.

Access sequence confirmed. . . Hello, Anna. I’m here.

The screen beamed while Anna remained silent. She was getting used to Remelia in her home, but outside it felt too strange.

Are you there, Anna?

Before she had the chance to respond, another voice broke through the silence. “There you are,” Zoe said.

Anna quickly stuffed the phone back into her pocket. “Sorry, I was just getting some fresh air.”

“Nothin’ to apologize for. What’s up?”

For a brief moment Anna considered answering honestly. She wanted to say that it felt like she was the only person left in the world who felt anxiety. Maybe nobody else talked about it, or they talked to some AI. Hell, maybe they even talked to themselves. Whoever they were talking to, it wasn’t her. She wanted to say that it felt like she was forgetting how to talk to people, and that she was being left behind. “Not much,” she said. “I’m just feeling tired.”

***

When Anna woke up in the morning she fidgeted in bed, imagining her friends still sleeping blissfully through their well-earned hangovers. She glanced at that old, familiar clock, even though the apartment’s main interface sat just below it — it was 9AM, the weather was 36 degrees, and Remelia was displaying the daily morning check-up. Anna dutifully ignored the prompts on the screen and checked her phone instead. One new message.

“thx for coming! it was awesome to see you. btw, the pie was so worth the wait. lunch tmrw? xox, zoe.”

Anna smiled and looked back up to the interface.

How are you feeling today?

In that moment, the question didn’t seem so overwhelming.


Tessa Beebe is a Canadian artist living in Germany, where she spends her time building robots, playing with her cats, and writing.


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Every Day Fiction