The "THERAPIST" Issue


The Forever Letter

     by Linda Breneman

Dear family,

The images beamed out of Lightfield Design Studio spoke to me: piano keys, desert highways, campsites, awkward dancers, striped kittens, curved dashboards, mullioned windows, billowing smoke.

Lightfield's feed gave me a feeling.

And since Donald died, my dears, I have needed one.

I haven't talked much about it, but your father's death has cut me in two, and the half that's left is too tired and dry to conjure anything as taxing and juicy as an emotion.

I decided to sign up with Lightfield. To redecorate with holograms and alternate reality.

Why not, right?

Who wouldn't want to live in a thatched cottage, a chateau, a stone tower, a giant clamshell?

In fairyland, nebulae, origami, wildflowers?

With a view of Paris, New York, Istanbul?

In Fiji, on Kilimanjaro?

Infinite choices.


The truth is, since your father died, I haven't known what I wanted, but the salesbot said Lightfield's designers were miracle workers. Any one of them could help me figure it out.

I ticked the box, and Magda projected her avatar into the middle of my living room, a pale nymph with bare webbed feet and no hair, wearing a yellow dress made of newborn fuzzy chicks. She had oversized, mirrored eyes and carried a reflective waveguide disguised as a clipboard.

She yawned. "We're slammed," she said, "since the ad campaign went viral."

"It convinced me," I said.

Magda shrugged. "It's just your psychographic profile mapped onto a product matrix. It seems like magic, but it's only imaginary science." She seemed so cynical.

I have to say, kids, at that point I was afraid I was going to be disappointed.

"If you say so?" I said.

She smoothed her fuzzies and looked at me sternly. "Look, lady. We are ridiculously expensive. Our customers have an urgent need. Or they're obscenely rich, which you're not." She flashed my net worth in the air, swept her arms around at my environs.

I looked around. After your dad died, I had cleared all his stuff out, sold all the art, gotten rid of everything that reminded me of our life together. I was hoping I could make the space mine alone.

I couldn't, though. Now I know it's because his passing transformed me into someone I couldn't know or understand.

Mistakenly, in my grief, I believed if I couldn't have my old life back, I needed a radical change.

I kept paring down my stuff until only the essentials were left: a mattress in one corner, two chairs in the middle of the soaring living space. Seeing it through Magda's eyes, I felt impoverished and incomplete, and I didn't want to feel that way anymore.

"I want to go ahead," I said firmly.

We perched in the remaining chairs.

"You'll have to answer the questionnaire," Magda said, eyeing me and then looking down at her faux clipboard.

"Fine." I was trying to be patient with Magda. It was hard.

"What constitutes 'home'?" she said.

"It's a feeling. Like you belong. Home matches your conception of yourself."

"Okay," she said, ticking a box.

"Pick one," she said. "Den, nest, nomad, habitat, small fire."

"Sorry," I said. "Den, nest...?"

"Den, nest, nomad, habitat, fire. Your first impulse."

"Um, nomad."

"Right," Magda said. "I thought so."

And here's where the session got serious.

My home transformed instantly into a vast, flat landscape. Beige dirt and gray sage bisected by a straight, yellow-striped, asphalt road.

I was sitting in the driver's seat of an ancient gas-powered car, a Chevy Camaro.

Imagine that. Like an actor in an old vid, I was all set to operate the vehicle myself--two tons of shiny black metal, with smooth leather seats and a roar that would hurt your ears. Nowadays, everything about the Camaro is wrong, but I was delighted.

You see, I remembered the car. Did I ever tell you that your father and I drove across the country a hundred and eighty years ago, when we were young, long before any cell therapy, transplants, or anti-aging potions?

"Go ahead," Magda said. "It's like dreaming yourself awake."

I pushed a crank to lower the car's window and smelled exhaust from the internal combustion engine, heated sagebrush, and my own young sweat. My arms were brown and smooth.

"This is more than projected photons through a reflective waveguide, isn't it?" I said. "Certainly not," Magda said, winking. "Lightfield would never peddle unvetted technologies."

Smiling, I prepared the Camaro to accelerate.

You see, my dears, your dad and I lived together for almost two hundred years. When he lost the ability to breathe and wouldn't accept another set of new lungs--when he let himself die--I pretended for the longest time that I could stay here with you and go on without him.

I was wrong.

As I write this, Magda has her head down. She's working furiously on her clipboard. I see vectors converging on timelines.

I see dozens of wyes like tree branches reaching.

And now I see a shape ahead on the side of the road. I know his walk, even from the back. Donald, silhouetted against the cerulean horizon. Not Donald bent and scrawny, but Donald straight and strong.

He is walking with a slight limp, the limp he always had, and I remember the swooping dips when he danced with me in the living room of our first house, Chopin playing, our striped cats sleeping in front of the mullioned windows.

Magda is gone, leaving only her giant invoice behind.

Sorry, kids, but I'm about to pay it off. It will take everything I have left.

But I'm ready to go.

Everything is going to be okay.

If I remember how this is supposed to work, how it's always worked, really, I will see you again soon, your small red faces, your blue, unfocused eyes.

Keep my letter and know that love is forever.

Know also that this car will take me zero to sixty in so fucking fast, I'm laughing.

Linda Breneman has worked as a waitress, a mail carrier, a technical writer, a mom, and a video game reviewer. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in various literary magazines. She lives in Seattle.