It was quiet under the water.
The tepid bathwater made Mina feel weightless. Her hands bobbed next to her, not touching her skin, not feeling the shape of her stomach or her hips or her thighs. Peace. She allowed herself to relax, even as her body started to remind her of the oxygen in the world above. Her body, constantly betraying her.
Just a little bit longer…
Mina erupted from the water with a gasp. Her body crashed into the bottom of the tub, sending a wave splashing the edge, and allowing the all too familiar voice of Kiri to creep back in
to her ears.
“Edmond Sullivan liked your post. David Souvide liked your post. Dotty Hedgeshaw liked your post.”
“Total number of likes?”
“How does that rank?”
“Kiri recommends that your focus should be on connecting with friends and family.”
“How does that rank?”
“Your profile is in the top sixty-three per cent.”
Mina went to put her head back under the water.
“You have exceeded your recommended bath time. To avoid dehydration, exit the bath now.”
“I’ll just shave my legs, Kiri.”
She reached for the pink razor sitting on the side of the bath. The silver blades were clogged with hair. Mina unwrapped a new one and began to shave. Her calves were actually beginning to look nice, toned without being too big. If only her thighs would…
Drops of blood spilled into the water as the razor bit into the skin.
Mina wrapped herself in a towel that had long since needed replacing, angling her body so she didn’t see the mirror. She wasn’t sure which days were worse; the days where she didn’t have the strength to look, or the ones where she lingered.
“Eleanore Lalchere wished you a Happy Birthday.”
“Eleanore Lalchere has 3,489 followers. She has liked fifty-one of your posts.”
Mina pounded the bottom of a bottle of expensive moisturiser, willing out the last of the product. “Public reply: ‘Thanks Eleanore! Love seeing what you’re doing. Kisses, Mina.’ Who else?”
“Arnold Versal wished you a Happy Birthday. He has fifty-two followers and has liked thirteen of your posts.”
The birthday cake on Mina’s dining table was chocolate and swirls. The note next to it read, “Happy Birthday, little sister! Love and kisses, Lucy.”
“Warning: high calorie count. Estimated 534.29 calories per slice.”
Mina fiddled with one of the Kiri’s headphones. It had been implanted slightly crooked, not enough to warrant a second surgery, but enough to remind Mina that it was always present. The Kiris were supposed to be convenient; a surgically installed combination of headphones and glasses to replace devices that could be lost, broken, or stolen. “A game-changer,” they had branded it. “The next stage in human evolution.”
Mina looked down at the cake. Surely, she could have a taste. After all, it was her birthday. She should be allowed to treat herself on her birthday. And she could do a little extra in the morning to burn it off.
“Kiri, set Victoria Evans’ Workout Level 5 for an hour from now.”
“This workout is not recommended for your level of fitness. Kiri recommends: Level 4.”
“Set Level 5.”
“Would you like to live-stream this workout?”
Mina looked at the birthday cake on the table.
“Live-streams increase your followers’ overall interaction with your profile by sixty per
“Yes. Live-stream workout.”
Then, a new voice. “Happy Birthday to you.”
“Kiri, stop playing Happy Birthday.”
“I don’t understand your request. Please repeat.”
“Happy Birthday to you.”
The voice was coming from outside of Mina’s headphones. It was floating through the wall of her tiny apartment. Mina pressed an ear to the flaking wall-paper, hampered by the crooked headphone.
“Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”
The voice was breathy and soft and sweet. Until it wasn’t.
“Fuck. Nope, that wasn’t it. Happy Birthday to you…”
The voice floated away like leaves on the wind, and it took Mina’s breath with it. She didn’t even realise she was holding it until-
“Victoria Evans is live-streaming now. Would you like to join this stream?”
Mina backed away from the wall, turning up the volume on her Kiri to block out the singing. “Yes. Join live stream.”
The graphics in front of Mina’s eyes swooshed into a construction of blonde hair and perfectly toned muscles. “Hey my loyal followers!” said a pair of glossed lips. “Victoria here, helping you get to your best self! But sometimes that can be hard. We’re driven by all the things that are bad for us, that we know we shouldn’t do, like skip a workout or have that extra cookie with our morning latte. And sometimes will power just isn’t enough. So, I’m launching a brand new product that will take all of those roadblocks away! Tune in tomorrow for the big surprise! And remember, never stop reaching for the best you!”
The live-stream ended, and Mina dumped the birthday cake in the trash.
“Adeep Densai liked your live-stream. Penny Thompson liked your live-stream. Dean Sanders liked your post.”
“Total number of likes?”
“Total number of likes: 187. Uncompleted workouts often draw less viewers.”
Mina massaged her swollen knee, which has started to ache two thirds of the way through the Level 5 workout.
“Incoming call from: Lucy Murray. Accept?”
A grinning face appeared on Mina’s Kiri, obscuring her vision. Mina swiped her sister’s face onto a single lens of her Kiri glasses, allowing the feed of likes and comments to continue down the other.
“Little sis! Did you have a good birthday?”
“Did you love the cake?”
“It looked beautiful.”
“Are you ok? I saw your live-stream. That fall looked nasty.”
“I didn’t warm up enough. Cramp.”
“You might want to get your Kiri checked. It looked like it recommended you a workout that was too hard.”
“I was fine.”
“You didn’t finish it.”
“I would have.” Mina’s eyes trailed back to the number of likes on her post. It had been steadily climbing until the past hour or so. Now the number stood still.
“What happened to your art posts?”
“I haven’t posted those in months.”
“I liked those better.”
“They weren’t getting me enough likes. I lost my sponsors.”
“And this will get you more? Mina, there’s a thousand fitness bloggers out there. Tens of thousands. You can’t stand out among them, you know that right?”
Mina stroked her stomach, trying not to pinch the skin between her fingers.
“When my analytics go up, I’ll go back to posting art.”
“You said that six months ago.”
“These things take time.”
“Just…look after yourself? Ok?”
“I am.” Mina waved the image of Lucy away, allowing her feed to fill both lenses. One hundred and eighty-eight likes. Mina’s fingers clamped down on her stomach like a pair of scissors, as if to cut away the skin there.
“There are three steps to a successful live-stream.”
Mina slipped out of her apartment, trash bag in hand, Victoria’s voice chirping through the headphones. “Firstly, you have to look the part. No baggy gym pants, ladies! My new line of sportswear launches tomorrow so be sure to pre-order today to avoid missing out!”
“Kiri, pause Victorian Evans’ live stream.”
“Show me Victorian Evans’ new sportswear line.”
A carousel of fluorescent sports gear filled Mina’s vision as she pressed the button for the elevator. Mina’s heart sank. The only garment that would cover her stomach had huge cut-outs on both sides. Mina pinched her hips as the elevator dinged, ignoring a woman berating a whining child who got in with her.
“Kiri, show me my bank balance.”
The number was only slightly higher than the one beside the sports top.
“Do you wish to purchase Victoria Evans’ starter workout top 5.4?
“Hold the elevator!”
Mina’s arm shot out instinctively, stopping the metal doors from closing.
“Thanks,” said an out of breath voice. “I’m late as it is.”
Mina swiped the purchase page off of her lens and blinked. She was sharing the elevator space with Marilyn Monroe.
Marilyn had a pair of white heels in her hand and was stuffing a muffin into her face with the other, spilling crumbs onto the elevator floor. The woman tutted, but Mina’s eyes didn’t move.
Marilyn didn’t have a Kiri.
The little girl was still sobbing. A newly attached Kiri made the skin around her eyes and ears puffy and sore, the lenses looking huge on her tiny face.
“Mum, I don’t like it,” she whimpered as she picked at the red skin. “I want to take it off.”
“How many times…you can’t take it off. You were the one who was upset because you were the only one at school who didn’t have one.”
“But it hurts!”
“You wanted to fit in, remember? Everyone has a Kiri.”
The little girl responded by looking into Marilyn’s Kiri-less face. Marilyn stuck out her
crumb-covered tongue at her, making her giggle.
“I like your hair,” the little girl said shyly.
“This old thing?” Marilyn reached up and casually pulled the blonde bob off her head, causing a mass of blue hair to spill down her back. “It’s pretty but it itches awful.”
“I like your hair even better now.”
“Me too.” She crouched down so her face was level with the child’s. “I like your dress. Is it a special occasion?”
The little girl nodded. “It’s my birthday.”
Marilyn gave a theatrical gasp. “Your birthday! Well then. Happy Birthday to you…”
Mina started. The voice from the other side of the wall.
“That’s enough, thank you.” The woman grabbed her daughter’s hand and pulled her out of the elevator before the doors had opened all the way. Marilyn held the doors open, smiling at Mina.
“Um.” Mina fiddled with the trash bag in her hand, cheeks burning. The lavender scented-plastic wasn’t doing a lot to mask the other smells. She hastily held it behind her back. “I’m going down a bit further.”
“Ok.” The doors tried to close, but Marilyn smacked them open again, sticking out her hand to Mina. “I’m Anna. I think we’re neighbours.”
“Mina.” Mina looked from Anna’s outstretched hand to her own, clutching the rubbish. “Um, my hands are dirty.”
“I don’t mind.” Anna crammed the rest of the muffin into her mouth. “There,” she said through a full mouthful. “Now it doesn’t matter.”
Smiling, Mina took Anna’s hand.
“The second step to a successful live stream is consistency. That means uploading regularly and on time. Your fans want to see you! So don’t let them down.”
“Pausing Victoria Evans’ Tips for Live-Streaming.”
Mina hung outside the apartment next to hers, trying to summon the courage to knock. “Kiri, identify resident at this address. Apartment 496.”
“Subject does not exist.”
“Use facial recognition from approximately 9am this morning, elevator.”
“Ellen Campbell, age 39-”
“Margo Campbell, age 7-”
“All registered Kiri uses identified. Would you like to resume Victoria Evans’ Tips for Live-Streaming?”
Mina didn’t remember it growing dark. It was only when she realised she couldn’t see her pencil in front of her face did she put down the sketchpad.
“Kiri, turn on the lights.”
The cheap lamp next to the couch sparked to life, illuminating a sketch of Marilyn Monroe with her heels in one hand, a waterfall of blue hair covering the iconic white dress.
She could feel it was good. It was as if her belly were full; the feeling after a home-cooked meal. She couldn’t remember the last time she had felt that way.
“There is an item from Victoria Evans ready for checkout that expires in ten minutes. Would
you still like to purchase?”
The sports top flooded Mina’s lenses, obscuring the drawing. Large red letters exclaimed “Only five left! Don’t miss out!”
“Yes,” Mina said quickly, laying the picture to one side. “Purchase.”
“You were listening to Victoria Evans’ Tips for Live-Streaming. Would you like to resume?”
Mina stood up from the couch, her muscles stiff. How long had she been sitting there? Her knee, still swollen, twinged as she stood. “Yes. Resume.”
“And finally, the number one tip for a successful workout live-stream. You have to complete your workout. Every single time. No one’s interested in seeing you fail! They want to be inspired by you! Consistent, completed workouts while looking like your best self. That is how to drum up followers and keep them following! It’s possible if you just believe!”
Mina limped to her fridge, digging around in the freezer section for anything cold. She settled on icy packet of broccoli and pressed it against the swelling.
“But sometimes belief isn’t enough, because staying motivated is tough. Even I need a bit of motivation sometimes! But ladies, I have a big announcement for you. A game-changer to allow you to truly become your best self.”
Mina cast a glance at the far wall, half-expecting a breathy, sweet voice to drift through it.
“With my new app, the Tonal Motivator, you’ll never fail your goals again! In fact, I am doing a giveaway with a twenty-four hour deadline. Complete a Level 7 workout using my Tonal Motivator and I will personally give your profile a shoutout on my feed and encourage all my followers to follow you, wonderful human!”
Mina dropped the broccoli.
“But remember, my offer is over in twenty-four hours. This is a one-time deal, so don’t waste it! You miss one hundred per cent of the shots you don’t take. The Tonal Motivator: The Way
to the Better You.”
“Kiri, how many hours left on Victoria Evans’ Tonal Motivator challenge?”
“Set an alarm for 6am for a Level 7 Live Blog Workout using Tonal Motivator.”
“This workout is not recommended for your level of fitness.”
“Just do it.”
“Confirm Tonal Motivator? This action cannot be undone.”
Mina could barely see for the sweat pouring over her Kiri lenses, could hardly hear Victoria Evans’ perky instructions over the blood pounding around her headphones. She had strapped her knee with whatever tape she had found around the apartment, and it was holding.
“And now,” Victoria Evans’ trilled. “Push-ups!”
Mina dropped to the floor, ignoring the pain in her wrists and her shaking arms as she pushed herself up, then down, then up again. This is it, she reminded herself. If she could just get through this workout, if she could just get Victorian Evans’ recommendation, then she would gain enough followers to finally be able post what she wanted and she would finally be able to stop…
“Let’s see those burpees!”
Mina hit the floor then pushed herself up again, slamming her hands above her head as she jumped, landed, and felt her knee give way.
As she missed the next peppy cue – “Give me those sit-ups, girl!” – the Tonal Motivator started. A low drone, like a fly, started in both ears, blocking out everything except Kiri’s robotic voice.
“To turn off Tonal Motivator, resume workout.”
Mina twisted onto her back and started pulling chin to knees, ignoring the fire that split across her abs as she started the sit-up reps. The drone stopped.
“Just a bit longer,” Mina gasped as the next instruction caused her to switch positions yet again.
Mina clawed her way onto her hands and knees but at the very first jump, she felt her knee crunch and she was on the floor again with a howl of pain as the Tonal Motivator switched back on.
“To turn off Tonal Motivator, resume workout. The Tonal Motivator: The Way to the Better You.”
“I can’t! I’m injured!”
“To turn off Tonal Motivator, resume workout. The Tonal Motivator: The Way to-
The drone was growing louder and higher, changing from fly to jet engine. Mina clapped her hands over her ears but this only pushed the headphones closer into her eardrums.
“Kiri! Turn it off!”
“Action cannot be completed.”
“Turn off the Motivator!”
“To turn off Tonal Motivator, resume workout.”
Kiri’s voice was a canon in Mina’s ears. She stumbled to her feet and limped to the bathroom, collapsing onto the floor as she turned on both bath taps at full blast.
“The Tonal Motivator: The Way to the Better-”
Mina clambered into the tub and plunged her head under the water. Silence. She floated there, feeling the water cool the sweat on her stinging face. Her ears were burning, drops of blood spilling from her ear drums, darkening the clear water.
Her lungs began to burn.
The second she emerged to the surface, gulping air, the Tonal Motivator ripped through her again, and she plunged back into the water. This time, she couldn’t stay under as long.
“The Way to the Better You.”
Mina’s hands grasped the side of the bath as water cascaded over the sides. They landed on something small and plastic. The brand new razor.
Anna didn’t comment on the still healing cuts around Mina’s eyes and ears when she knocked on the door of apartment 496.
Anna looked at the drawing in Mina’s hands. “Did you finally bring me a house-warming gift?”
Mina handed the sketch of blue-haired Marilyn to her. Anna smiled as she took it.
“I like it.”
Cat Sole is a kiwi writer based in Sydney. She is the writer and director of several web series and short films, including the web series “Codependent,” and the producer and co-host of the writing podcast “Kill the Cat”. She is currently struggling to write this bio because her calico cat is demanding to lie on her keyboard.