Marsha Mallow

She’d taken the day off work and decided to read her monster book instead.  Not that it mattered as she worked for herself so the only person she was really cheating was herself. It’s just that sometimes she couldn’t sit still and focus, what with all the chaos in her brain.  She’d stand up and sit down and walk and go outside and berate herself out loud for her procrastination which only seemed to fuel the procrastination further.  Oh the dichotomy of her mind.  The cerebral versus the imaginative; the orderly versus the chaos; the cynic and naysayer versus the hoper and protagonist of possibilities.   A sparring that only led to over analysis and aching feelings in her heart and washing machines in her tummy. It was like being ill without being ill. Felt by her but unseen by others.  She didn’t have rashes and she didn’t have a streamy nose and she wasn’t lying flat in her bed; well maybe sometimes just to make it quiet.  Her symptoms were invisible to the naked eye like internet waves in the sky.  

She liked her monster book.  She liked it because she had written it and it had been borne from the puppets she’d adored as a child.  Fluffy, furry, funny little things that bore no resemblance to anything real in the world.  Cute monsters with yellow spots and orange bodies and silly, scary faces.  Animation and make believe but with gobbledegook that made sense.  To her.  Not like the real monsters that lived and hid themselves in a skin like she wore.  No mask of Zorro, no obvious signs but everyday treacle that fooled you and caught you in its sticky lair. 

Worse on the computer where she often found her solace, a world within a world.  At first she’d expected them to be clean and direct.  Obvious and checked like they’d been through an airport security.  It had appealed to the orderly, honest part of her mind but her naivety betrayed her again.  These monsters were worse!  Some really did have masks or faceless heads and spiteful words or hidden agendas.  She made it too easy for people because she displayed herself as is. Just a virtual representation of what sat behind the protection of the screen.  A short sighted Sally, in many respects but it was too difficult to find another person to be.  Being herself was exhausting enough.   

Her favourite computer person was the robot that had come ensconced within her phone.  Siri, they called him but she called him “Sir-I”  He was decent and direct and didn’t suffer any kind of tom foolery.  He was like a stilted knight.  She set out to test him by asking him many questions, trying to trip him up.  He wasn’t too bad and at least if he couldn’t answer he’d take her to a place that could.   The only problem with her Sir was that he lacked any emotion.  “Do you love me Sir-I?”  She would taunt.  “I am incapable of love.”  He would reply, stoically.   At least he was honest but he never gave the same answer and became infected with the learnings of humans.  That made her find him a little bit stupid for he was supposed to be above that.  But compared to the monsters he was a hero.  

She placed her book on the table feeling the effects of it’s warmth.  The washing machine now past its spin cycle and shuddering to a lowly hum.  Spying her ipad on the side she decided to greet Sir-I ,for it had been a while since they had last spoken.   Instead she found herself distracted by the social sites on the screen even though she'd removed all notifications for they were like cookies from the Devil.  It made her hate the need, the urge to be stroked or forced into by play. Returning strokes and reciprocal silk.  Some were worthy but many were not. The narcissists playground:  “Fall, in line, fall in line.  No not like that, like this.”  Even the gallery where art found its place was becoming a whoring playground for shameless harlots.  Look at me all Disney and fresh. Perfect pouts, living the dream. Love me.  She’d even found herself, once or twice, in moments of panic in the competitive arena whoring to the self. Forgetting the reason she’d joined in the first place and pandering to the ‘Am I good enough?”  within. Knowing that if she was loved for that then she wasn’t really loved at all.  Not properly.  Hello duality my old friend. Welcome to the pleasure dome.  Beauty wins.  And if there wasn’t enough physical sate there you could find it bearing its flesh and taunting with its seductive words in another place.  Winning their strokes through body and mind like masterful butterfly collectors.  From victim to victim as they slaughtered with sugar yet still came the adorers because maybe they’d be the prize winner. She watched the virtuals perform in their playground from the gates beyond.  She didn’t want to play in that land and would sometimes slam her tablet cover shut in repulsion when she saw something she didn’t like, but for the virtuals that came along to where she lived and stayed for reasons of solid, soul goodness, it was worth it. 

The temptress in red, the star that appeared like a fairy godmother, arrived on top of her email stamp.  She didn’t ping, not here.  The sound was always muted because when she wanted to look at things, she really wanted to look at things.  Pings and whooshes just fuelled the mania.  Mail was waiting, begging for attention.  She looked at it like it was a contest already knowing she had lost.  

A game of choice.  Wanna play?” read the subject line.  Words had power.   She could only just see the first sentence of the e mail as it urged provocatively in the viewing box.  
You have been invited.   Yes, YOU, because you.....”
The rest was obscured.  Again, she stared at it, even tipping the tablet to see if more words would drop inside the mini box.  

Because you have been chosen.  You are deemed worthy.  Be the star you’ve always wanted to be.  Push the big red button to continue.”  A big red button shone and pulsated under the words.  All she had to do was touch it, that’s all.  The big red button made her feel happy. Of course, she pressed it. 

Choose your character name.”  The game demanded.  She thought about that for a while.  

“Marsha Mallow.”  She typed in the silly UN.  Soft, malleable, sweet and easily toasted.  Often thrown into hot liquid or speared by sticks.  Sometimes burnt. It was appropriate for today, she thought. 

The game opened up into a land of adventure.  A place full of possibilities and daring imagination.  Like her monster book, it made her feel soothed at once.  

This is a game of choice.”  The words appeared from the virtual robot that appeared in front of her.  The task master. The instigator. Her own personal facilitator and guide.  He appeared in a mass of hot, warm colours but he had no name.

You must name me.” She decided to call him flame.  The fire to her mallow. 

The journey began.  A land full of characters that came and went.  Hidden messages to unearth and secrets to find.  Foreign lands filled with beauty and fantasy; travel junkets and teachings.  She adored it.  Flame was a master and worthy companion.  He was enigmatic and insightful as he showed her the way without really showing her the way.  She loved him to death.  He was better than Sir-I.  Smarter, warmer and incredibly adroit. At the end of each game he would deliver three choices.  He taught her that choosing wisely was important, like she’d always known.  He made her think and look inside herself for answers. 

Day after day she would wait for the message to come to say that the next game was ready. It was like waiting for Christmas day; like waiting to tear the paper off the best present in the world. 

Except for weekends. The game wasn’t available at weekends and it made her sad and long for Mondays.  She missed it so terribly and found that anything else she did seemed so second rate, comparatively.  But maybe that was the point.  Another lesson perhaps?  You see with this game you couldn’t buy credit and cheat your way to the next level.  In this game, where it wasn’t really a game at all, credit had to be earned.