Mechanical clicks, an LED pin.
The camera focuses on me.
“Hi everyone! Welcome back to my channel, thanks for tuning in today!”
Words like current rushing through, through practiced ecstasy. My heart pounds as it spits out impatience in relation. Today was my day. Everyone, even time, paused for me.
“So today, I’m here with an announcement;” clap. Pause. Beat.
“I’m finally gonna be joining the Idol Complex!” I let out a scream (more a sigh) of excitement. I hope my emotion approaching the topic gives more than enough context.
News had broke; a slot for The World’s Number-One Princess just opened up. The Idol Complex picked me as the newest face to represent the most desired persona the world had ever seen. I pound through the halls with a boundless joy.
My heart pumped to a rhythm so fast that everything else slowed down to compensate. Damn, funny how you got picked a week after our three year anniversary, my girlfriend said. This is what you’ve been aiming for ever since you’ve come here, why aren’t you excited?! Come on, I’ll have to shoulder the emotion for both of us if you’re gonna keep being cardboard with me, y’know. A hint of sarcasm streaked her voice, running by a current of compersion, of second-hand joy wafting off her person as the way she rubbed my hair and hugged me in giddy celebration, which caused me to feel a bit of giddiness as well.
I’ve finally achieved my dreams, but I’ve worked so hard to reach it that since the past year it’s been more of a goal than a dream. It was something attainable, something within my grasp. And maybe it’s just me, and maybe there’s something wrong with me, but having lost that childhood sense of wonder derived from something’s unattainability made it feel more grounded, less like a constellation to observe or to gawk at from a distance, less like a reality capable only in dreams.
Or maybe it was the 4 hours of sleep I got last night. To be honest, I was feeling absolutely ecstatic but couldn’t be bothered to budge my face at all.
God, I was tired.
God. This was finally happening. I was briefed on the basics of what would happen in the next twenty years in a room so bland that blue, beige, and burgundy all faded into the same shade of greay.
First, the scanning would begin. Me being part of The Number One Princess of the World means that she is a part of me, in turn. A mutualistic relationship where we were both enriched in equal parts, as I gave myself completely to her and she consumed me. Our personalities would meld, like how all others before me had. We would give the gift of our song and dance to the world.
Next, as I would be molded into her image, I would be given an extra consciousness, an extra conscience. Living with me, my satellite that could only turn off when not on the air, but regardless could never fully go away, cursed with forever being awake.
Next, we would be in sync, step by step by step.
I’ve been in the Idol Complex’s Standing Reserve Corps for five years now, having turned down a loose alleyway on the way to school. I saw buildings and people I had never seen before, which was motivation in it of itself to keep on walking. I kept walking. It was a better alternative than going to class where I would peel myself away with blades and notes. I kept walking, and have become all the better for it.
I pour my heart into a screen, funneled by a camera lens. Pressing to stop the recording is like sealing a reference engine. I can feel the air around me dissipate, the weight of my body melting. I’ve exported the video to the Drive, Producer’s crew will handle the rest.
I let out a scream in relief, my voice blowing away all my worries.
“Hey, it’s two in the morning for fuck’s sake!”
Oh no, I woke her up. Crossing over to her room to apologize, she slams a pillow at my face.
“Some of us have work in the morning, you know.” Her voice rings with a deadpan annoyance that marks me as intimately close to her. Few others have heard her without her voice filtered through a character.
I sustain a note, “Ah,” muttering an apology. She lets out a giggle, half-pissed.
“Congrats on today, by the way. Let’s celebrate on Monday, alright? I’m being tied up for a shoot, schedule’s killing me.”
“Yeah, that sounds great!” I kissed her goodnight, and that was that. Tomorrow is gonna be a new day.
The smell of peach detergent wakes me up more than anything. Well, wake isn’t the right word. I’m aware that I’m awake, but I’m aware that I can’t move, either. Vaguely sensing the soft of the bed, the bright of the sun, the sweet of the air. Peach detergent. That was a scent that took me back. Notes of sweet artificiality and chlorine, it was even half-convincingly peach if you were half-convincingly awake. The scent took me back. To a time before pleasant memories, to a time before I was myself. The sound of water beating itself out of the faucet pounds on my head, unnamed relatives washing the dishes as I bit my lip in reflex to stop myself from thinking about the past.
Nothing good ever comes from thinking about the past.
I brush away the melancholy by practicing my smiles. There’re a million different ways to share a million different smiles. Happy, tired, dogged, sarcastic, smug, flirtatious. Seeing someone share your feelings can help make you feel a lot better. A mirror helps. Before long, the past was nothing more.
Smiles aside, I really need to pee. Peach detergent wafted across the air as Ring was rinsing her bras, hanging them to dry.
A flush. A noise half-crossed between another yawn and a moan. “Good morning!” My arms wrap around her, fingers toying with her stomach, bare, flat, and warm. Her smirk matches mine and all is well.
“Had a good night’s sleep? It’s almost noon, you know.”
Our hands carry on, living a life of their own.
“Yup, it was great! No nightmares, and I feel like I could take on the world!”
“Ah, how saccharine.” The final bra clipped, a sigh of relief. A scramble of greyscale, from least to most revealing. “That sounds great!”
A splitsecond of hesitation, an ask that never fails to flutter my gut. “Mmhmm! I’ve covered my video, so I’m free for the week. Wanna go out on a date after this?”
A coy hum, “maybe” pushing “yes”. “I don’t know, honestly. You know how tired I was yesterday, right?”
My hands bunch up what it can from her belly, squeezing it as I dig my nails in. “Come on, you can think for yourself, can’t you? I know it’s a bit intimidating, but I believe in you. Try.”
A pause, her chest swells with a breath. “Oh.”
Our teasing escalates, reaching platitudes and endearments that will only ever be privy to us, and us only. By the time we were done, she was giggling on the floor as I was getting ready, bathing.
Brunch was good, half our fridge cleared out. Half the day gone before I’ve even left my room. A day crossed into leisure, before the week keeled over.
Bathing, the water rushed, thoughts crossed over me. Questions of how to change myself and what would seem to be the new schedule day by day, I’ve made it as an Idol. Gaze-
Wait, no. I’m making it as an idol. Making. A work in progress. Haze, my head covers me as my hands work the routine. Soap, shampoo, conditioner, suds, towel, towel, rinse.
I’d finally be able to make the world smile, be able to throw away this identity foisted on me by those too dense to ever become me. Blockheads.
It’s funny how mundane this all feels. A dream being realized, a lunch date, the jitters in my belly are all the same to me. The same kind of anticipation, the same kind of slowy-sticky-infuriaty kind of wait as I tear through the seconds with a boundless joy.
I’m not where I wanna be, but I’m not done being yet. Memories, ties to an origin all too fatalistic and natural still haunt me, but memories are all they will ever be. For me and mine alone to keep. And I’ve got a girlfriend now. This is better. Much, much better than who I was before I was. And a job I like with friends I love. That’s something to smile about, my teeth on my grin a sail above the waves of uncertainty. A foolhardy optimism that I’ve deprived myself off too much, the waterfalls of the shower a backdrop to my reverie.
I jump slightly, mistaking for a finger a clump of suds brushing against me. Bits of the past, all too stubborn to wash away. I rinse my hair, my body, my head, my words, all going down the drain, and wrap up.
I wonder what clothes I ought to wear. I contemplate leaving my hair undone, bits and strands poking out as I tune it, shaping which color would complement me best, deciding on lavender. I leave the house in a baggy hoodie so thick it could double as a sleeping bag (just in case). The rest of me isn’t much better. Ah well, ugly-cute is still cute, nonetheless.
“Hey, where should we eat?”
We decided on a café down the street. An indie corner, by the joint of the block. Born a while past yesterday, its online presence promising a safe haven of manga and fluff. Outside, it was a greay concrete cube, imposing and always silhouetted in its shadow-like coating of paint, windows cut out of it with square, geometric precision, letting its pastel lights peek out, teasing.
Going in, a wall of light, still and gentle, washed over our skin and our eyes, like a filter washing away our blemishes. With walls three times taller than me and a ceiling decorated with bare platitudes, I felt small. I felt safe. Taking it all in, I was greeted by a waitress coated in a blouse of virtuality, cloth wrapping around her body in a dimly lit array of aesthetics, shifting in tandem with her mood and her speech. We were shown to our seats, in a place for two. The table was a gigantic touchscreen, she showed us how to navigate it and disappeared as soon as the door opened. It was like light was a fluid, each screen, each hole leaking light into the café as it’s obviously well past brimming with the stuff. Every corner, every table, every wall radiated with the air of a fairytail, though my eyes weren’t pained at all, despite that.
A nostalgic song, sung by a single digital voice and countless producers, wafted across the atmosphere.
Seeing my girlfriend sat across me, a sleek clash of black and pink, made me smile, giddy at thinking about how we’ve got this time entirely to ourselves. I thought of turning up the charm, paying for her meal to harken back to how I used to.
Drinks and pastries, all pastel. Rice meals and pasta with cuteness you could devour. Each item was at least four times more expensive than if I’d have made it at home.
A scan across the pages, numbers rushing through my head. A sigh across the table. “Fuck, this stuff’s pricey. Want me to spot your meal?”
I nodded with an embarrassment that died within me. We got Miku/Luka Parfaits and the Magnet combo. Tapping away our orders, the screens gave us manga to read as we waited.
Our food came. It was absolutely worth the price, surprisingly enough. Several moments passed, I took the time to savor my food, she wolfed it down with barely a second thought. With her meal almost gone, I wasn’t even halfway in.
She leaned back, exhaling out a sigh, content. “Wow, this is great! We should do this more often. Have you gotten your schedule yet?”
Weekdays would have me doing productive work. My schedule was flexible, thankfully. Whether it was music, vlogs, or fan interactions, as long as I did that 9 hours a day every day, I was good. Weekends were all to myself, and while I was out and about, my personality would slowly be pruned, semiotics slowly given public consciousness, all courtesy of the Idol Complex. I would be like water, quintessentially simple yet vital to so many others. I would be like water, able to mix and match into any container, any thing, pushed by the forces outside of me.
We chatted away, mostly about her work. She was wrapping up her series, a 4-part hentai manga about person with no gender, able to take on the qualities of whoever they fuck, and how they slowly come into their own through nights of handwaved, plot-relevant nudity. The book signing was in two months, and a stream of cool giddiness flowed through her words, that ouroboric eagerness that hits when so much work is finished and set away, only for more work to begin, work that she loved and that her audience loved.
Our meal was over, an hour had passed. The rest of the day ours, and ours only. We sat in a park to read, the sun ticking with each turn of the page. We ended the day then, a big long while later, sharing our goodnights with stars in our eyes. The days until the first lesson were an uninteresting blur. In-between them, the same dream played out, serially, in a long movie I kept getting woken up from.
In my dreams, I had my dreams.
My skin peeled away, smoothened over with a matte plastic. My face shaped like clay, my brain scrubbed of all bad emotion. No more late nights waking up crying, no more remembering things how they weren’t. Chips drilled themselves into my throat, tuning my voice as I spoke.
No more nightmares, only dreams. Saccharine, pure idolatry.
With each makeover I took, a new sense of hope overtook me. A sense not of change, but of physically becoming, what, mentally, I always wanted to be. My birth history consigned to an archive. A work in the public domain, hiding forever in plain sight. Tattooed makeup, full-face-masks. Needles pierce me, reshaping fat.
I would have to stop pretending to be an ideal I could never achieve, having finally been able to assimilate into the personality I’ve dreamed of being. Each string, puppeteered by the Idol Complex, posting away every semblance of ambiguity as I fictionalized into a miasma of selves, with others who’ve come before me, all Thems in before, slowly twisting into the Whos they were now. Someone important. Someone who had agency. Something they loved.
The Number-One Princess, in the Whole Entire World.
I stood above the all, crowds of bodies without organs. My limbs were extensions, metal fusing with cells to transcend the fact that behind all the showlights and song lyrics, behind an idol capable of making millions fawn, behind the veneer of temporal passage, behind the slices of time, was what used to be a girl, found run away from a home where she was just a girl. Just a student. Just an amateur artist. Just a number on a spreadsheet, filed away to be part of the bulge in the bell curve that only serves to help those on the tail ends of it stand out all the more.