Stella wakes to recorded birdsong, a mockingbird’s repetition of a tune it’s heard before. Hugo, already in the shower, is also singing. She rolls over and gazes at the ceiling, her day’s appointments scrolling across it like the opening credits from a movie of her life, a movie she’s seen too many times.
Hugo emerges from the bathroom in a cloud of steam, whistling, scrubbing his hair dry. Thursday is his date night and he’s always cheerful. They have an open marriage–like nearly everyone–with all the attendant rules. He’s free of all marital responsibilities until 2 a.m., which he somehow interprets to mean it’s okay to throw his wet towel on the bed.
Stella pads into the kitchen. The bev maker senses her presence and spews out a double espresso before she makes it past the fridge. A moment later, a whole wheat bagel, perfectly browned and with just the right amount of butter, slides from the dispenser.
Her watch buzzes. Hugo updated his calendar to add a reservation for two at Farm Table at 8 p.m. She could click on this, find out who he’s going with, and with a few more clicks, the woman’s complete history. Those are the rules. One night a week, and complete transparency.
Which is why Hugo knows she hasn’t had a date in six months. She finds it amusing that she’s failing at infidelity. Hugo would, and does, sleep with any woman that blinks in his direction. He’s remarkably democratic, and, though Stella, admires this she doesn’t understand how merely being female is enough for him. It takes more than a Y chromosome to excite her.
She hurries down to the street and shakes her watch to hail a pod. Late again. She won’t get a seat at her favorite co-working space. The pod that picks her up adjusts the windows, music, and temperature to her presets. Everything around her knows her habits, but not her needs. They head south to WorkBench–her number two choice. She likes the view of the river, and it’s close to the sandwich spot with That Guy. A waiter that has a Y and something else. Something she can’t define. A great jawline, sure, and a beautiful mix of races that gives him smooth brown skin and silky black hair, but it’s the way he pours water and coffee that distracts her from the turkey and pesto sandwich. Thoughtful. Precise. A mundane task, done carefully. How does he do everything else?
She keeps an eye on her watch whenever he’s near, but her profile is off-putting. Married, looking for serious relationship. Tuesday nights only. Full access to social media accounts. He passes within the ten-foot perimeter she’s set countless times, and the Connection Accepted alert never goes off.
Until today. He stands before her, sweating pitcher of water in hand, and smiles.
“You’ve been pinging me for months.”
She nods and stares up at him.
“Tuesday nights I have band practice.”
She chokes out a laugh. All this time she’d thought she was too complicated or not pretty enough.
“How about tonight?” she asks.
He looks at his watch, then at her. “Your marriage contract doesn’t allow that.”
What she needs is something all her own, outside the rules and algorithms that plot her path to happiness and fail every time. Something private. Something intimate.
She takes off her own watch and carefully submerges it in the glass of water, and just like that, it goes from half empty to half full.
M. Luke McDonell’s five-minutes-into-the-future fiction explores the effects of emerging technology on individuals and society. Her work has appeared in Shoreline of Infinity, The Overcast, Perihelion, and New Reader Magazine. By day, she is a senior designer at a San Francisco software security firm and by night she writes and helps run SomaFM. Follow her on Twitter @Mlukemc and learn more online.