Rodney E Schmidt

The shop had no use for a name. Everyone knew about the controversial technology inside, but very few saw it work. It was hard to get an appointment and even harder to convince people that Clarity Glass wasn’t a tool for the government anymore. The U.S. Army used it for interrogating terrorists; entrepreneurs marketed it as a cure for digital extroverts who became introverts in the real world.

Between a closed-down jewelry shop and a Greek cafe in downtown Los Angeles, the shop advertised Clarity Glass with a neon blue light. The sign attracted every person hopping off the L.A. Metro, desperate to see it in action. Tourists congested the sidewalk while snapping pictures next to the sign. Foot traffic pushed through the horde when they found a gap or risked their lives dodging cars on the street. It was madness.  

Amongst the crowd was a woman with brown hair, green eyes, and healthy tanned skin. She sported a Lou Reed shirt, who died when she was barely a teenager, as a fashion piece, not as a homage to an artist. Finished off with torn jeans and leather sandals, she looked like every Californian on the block. The only thing that separated her from everyone else, she had an appointment to use the technology. But before that, she needed proof of her visit.

“Are you going in?” a woman with a camera asked. Dana smiled at her but didn’t speak.

Dana raised her phone in the air and took a selfie with the neon sign in the background. “Guess where I am?” she wrote in aqua letters with a filter that made lightning bolts shoot out of her eyes.  

Inside the shop, the reception area had white walls that reflected the blue hanging lights. Dozens of round, egg-shaped chairs sat side-by-side with patients’ legs dangling off the edges and their faces blocked by drop-down shields.

A receptionist bolted over to Dana. “Please confirm,” she said, pointing to her blue tablet screen. Dana’s fingertips dropped onto the glass, prompting the tablet to approve the biometric scan. The receptionist took the tablet back and said, “Welcome, Dana Love. Do you have any questions?”

Dana lowered her head, wondering if she should ask about the chairs, wondering why shields blocked their faces. Instead, she raised her phone for a selfie in front of the chairs.

The receptionist grabbed Dana’s phone and deleted the photo.

“Don’t worry. Those people are priming their eyes for retina rejuvenation. This is a lesson for you: Don’t let the flash burn your retinas too many times,” the receptionist warned. She returned the phone. 

A door without a knob or visible hinges opened, and a woman wearing a lab coat walked out. Without looking at Dana, she waved her through the door and down the hall. 

“I’m Mia,” the woman said. “I can’t believe it’s you.”

Confused by her guide’s comment, Dana looked at the floor or ceiling while Mia tried to make eye contact. 

Mia pointed to all of the rooms, playing the part of a docent. One room was for children working on talking to their parents. She laughed, shrugged, then rolled her eyes. Another room, with three large gold locks, belonged to the Los Angeles Police Department and was the only room with a back entrance. The guide put her finger over her lips. Two more rooms designated for couples inspired her to stick out her tongue. Impossible to know for sure, but she either hated her job, imperfect people, or thought everything was an inside joke.

“This is for us,” Mia said, pushing open the last door. “If Clarity Glass can help families, police, and friends talk, it can help you. Now, your application says you’re here to meet a man and start a relationship. I advise dozens of people a day on this sort of thing.” 

The room looked smaller on the website. In-person, it was a full-size living room where a big family would sit down for Thanksgiving dinner. Chairs on both sides, but nothing else. In the middle of it was the Clarity Glass. It was so clean that it didn’t appear to exist. Nothing but a slight sparkle from the overhead light and a fingerprint existed. It was an invisible wall, creating two spaces for people to feel safe while messing up what they feared saying. 

“I don’t mean to gloat,” Mia said. “But this place is pretty special.” She took a deep inhale and lowered her eyes.

Dana smiled.  

“Before we send in the first person, I want to help you get comfortable with the process, okay?”

Dana smiled.

Mia projected a video onto the Clarity Glass of a man reading text messages. He responded to every text, typing so fast that words filled the screen quicker than a person could talk. The focus zoomed away from the man, showing a view of thousands of Angelinos on their cell phones. The narrator claimed that thirty years of cellphone technology—texting, scrolling, swiping—trained the human eyes into talking without speaking. In what scientists called the reverse visual cortex, the eyes moved across keyboards—present or invisible—when the brain wanted to communicate. Just another way technology made life easier.

A new scene popped up with a man and woman sending messages back and forth on the Clarity Glass. They laughed without speaking. Words faded in and out on each person’s side of the glass without their fingers moving. The users’ eyes twitched, but nothing else moved. The scene faded to black with a giant CG spinning on the glass. 

Dana continued to look at the glass. She understood the video, but she didn’t feel comfortable with the closeness of the people. The only thing separating her from another person was a piece of glass no bigger than a quarter inch. She turned from the glass and moved toward the door.  

“Don’t worry,” Mia said. “Once you use it, you’ll see. Now, your application says you haven’t spoken face to face for thirteen months. Was the last person a friend or family member?”

Dana shifted her eyes around the room. She looked through the glass and wondered who was going to sit on the other side first.

“Dana?” Mia said.

“Coworker,” Dana answered. She cleared her throat after hearing the deepness in her voice. It wasn’t the same one people raved about on her message board. Someone once wrote, “Dana Love is a mix of lovely energy.”

“Like you, I was alone, depressed, constantly scared,” Mia said. “This place helped me. You’ll speak without moving your lips and without texting or typing. The inventor said that this is the most genuine way to converse.”

Dana centered herself in front of the glass. A thick plastic table slid out with a black button and a red button underneath. According to Mia, the red button allowed people to enter the room on the other side of the glass, while the black button notified them to leave.

“Let’s talk about safety, Mia said. “No one has ever broken through the glass.”

Mia knocked on the glass panel, kicked it. She picked up one of the chairs and smashed it into the glass. The chair cracked, but the glass was unscathed. She pounded her fist on the little table. Dana, unsure what was happening, hurried away from her guide.

“Sorry about that,” Mia said. “I just want you to know that security is important.”

Dana looked down, nervous, trying to speak, but Mia interrupted her:

“The glass won’t work if you don’t look at it. It can’t read your mind, only your eyes.” Mia pointed to a lens in the middle of the glass. “Look here for the flash. You need to look at it when your guest comes in and every five minutes after that. Don’t worry; it’ll remind you.”

Mia put out a thumbs-up, pressed the red button, then exited the room. The door on the other side opened, and in walked a tall man, about twenty-five years old, with black hair and bushy eyebrows. Dana remembered selecting this one during the precheck last week. His online profile got his facial features right, but his five-foot-eight height was questionable. 

“Hello,” he said, taking his seat. “I’m John.”

Dana smiled, then looked away. She liked the deep tone of his voice and the way he pulled back his cheeks when he smiled. 

The countdown on the glass started from three. Both Dana and John looked at the lens. A giant two formed, and Dana started to sweat. Her fingers twitched when she saw the one. The flash sparked, burning her eyes with the image of a keyboard. The bright glow of the keys and emojis stayed perfectly centered in her sight. From the roof to the floor, the work of Christopher Sholes followed her. 

“Man,” John said. “That burns.” He reached for his eyes, but an overhead speaker warned him not to touch them. “Okay, fine.”

Dana fought the urge to rub her eyes. The online forums said nothing about the pain or the possibility of damaging a user’s eyesight. Globe injuries like a corneal abrasion or hyphema harmed the eyes. Temporary or not, how else could a flash burn an image in the eyes without damage. There goes my 20/20, she thought. 

A message showed up on Dana’s side of the glass that read, “Are you okay? Should I get someone?” She looked up, caught John’s smile, then looked down. He sent her another message: “Would you like me to speak or just send messages.”

She couldn’t believe how the words ran across the glass. It excited her, but it also made her nervous. If her guest talked, that meant her tongue-tied self had to get comfortable with speaking, too.

His eyes shifted, his foot jittered, and he nodded to some heavy beat no one else heard. Someone in another room laughed. The sound of several deep voices came from the hall, followed by a door slamming. Coolness blew from the air conditioner, and dust bunnies spiraled across the floor. John knocked on the glass. The overhead speaker warned him not to touch the technology.

Dana looked at her first date and smiled. Both of them looked happy until John heard the door open behind him. He lowered his head and left.

Mia entered the room. “What happened? Did you read his message?”

Dana nodded.

“I saw you tried to look at the glass, but you looked away too quickly. You have to look for at least three seconds. Did you see the keyboard burned into your retinas?” 

Dana nodded.

Mia sighed. “Don’t worry. I know what will get you to talk.”

   She pulled out her tablet and clicked on her Instagram app. A post with Dana dancing to a prepubescent pop song in her bedroom was below several accounts with fitness instructors, restaurants, and cartoon memes. The following post showed Dana painting solid-color archways in random parts of her apartment. 

“I love your room design,” Mia said with excitement. “We’re not supposed to say it, but I don’t care. I know you. Well, I follow you.” 

“Thank you so much,” Dana said. “Several of my friends did the same thing. Different colors, but similar shapes. My friend, Tone, put circles, but I think the arches look way better. Did you catch the video of me watering my fiddle fig? A follower sent it to me, but I’m worried it’s going to die because I overwater it.” 

“I knew that would get you talking.” Mia tapped Dana on the back. “I had a girl just like you this morning. She wants to increase her social media following and find a guy willing to do the whole partner, baby, and dog story. I’m obsessed with those stories. I’ve pushed four other influencers to create a family.”

“I’m here for a relationship, not a family.”

“The girl earlier wasn’t either. But she realized it was a smart move. You’ll see.”

Dana took Mia’s tablet and clicked on one of her followers. “This guy helped me get a sponsor for this company that makes socks out of old water bottles. Use discount code “Dana” for free shipping when you spend fifty dollars or more.” 

“Do this with the next person,” Mia said, taking back her tablet. “You need to think about things you’re comfortable with.”

Dana looked at the glass, then looked down. “Why can’t I get a keyboard?”

“Nope. That’s how the internet works, not this. The Clarity Glass will help you use your mind and voice to speak without editing it like on social media. People don’t realize that social media rewards people who say what’s on everyone else’s mind, not necessarily what’s on your mind. Clarity Glass, however, rewards you with the truth. Accept it.”

Dana shook her head.

“I’m sorry,” Mia said. “You all work from home, and you’ve all forgotten how to communicate with people. If you can’t constantly edit your thoughts or opinions, you get nervous and choke. You might say the wrong thing, but you can always correct that with a keyboard, right? With Clarity Glass, you can get comfortable with not always being right and with being human. Don’t be afraid to say or think the wrong thing.”

“I don’t think I want to do this anymore,” Dana said.

Mia hit the red button, and another man walked in. She walked out as the countdown popped up on the glass. 

Dana looked intensely at the lens. She thought about her social media, about her followers, about the post she would put up as soon as she got home. Clarity Glass is nothing more than an aggressive therapy session, she thought. 

The lens flashed, burning a keyboard image into her retina. She looked up, dizzy and confused. The copper-colored keyboard stayed in her eyes, even when she closed them.

A message popped up: “Hi.” Dana smiled, and he sent another. “How’s it going? I’m Chris.”

Dana looked away from the glass. She thought about running out of the room.

“This is cool, right?” Chris messaged. “I can’t believe how this works.”

Dana scanned the floor, imagining six of her footsteps separated her seat from the door. Two giant strides would be enough to get her out of the room but not out of the office. What if his door exited into the hallway, where he would jump out and demand to know why she left. 

“Is everything okay?” he messaged. “Should I get someone?”

She shot her attention down, blocked out her peripheral sight like a racehorse, and focused on her footwear. The thin leather straps of her brown sandals clashed perfectly against her skin and teal toenails. Everything is perfect, she thought. Below the exotic color were three other layers of the same paint but with different grades. Someone on TikTok made a video about layering nails with varying degrees of color for a perfect presentation. It made sense to Dana. The first layer was azure, followed by indigo, then teal. 

On the other side of the glass, not as perfect as the leather sandals and teal toes were Chris’ shoes. They were dirty, the soles split away from the upper half, and his toes stuck out. He had on dirty white socks, and his big toenail sliced through the cotton.

Dana studied her dirty guest closely. During that time, the Clarity Glass picked up Dana’s saccade movements. She wasn’t aware of it, but messages popped up on Chris’ side. One said, “This guy is trash.”

Her eyes stayed focused on his shoes. When they slid away, she looked up to watch them flap while Chris walked out of the room. 

Mia walked back in. “That was a little better. How did it feel?”

Dana looked at the glass. The count-down started, then the flash. 

“What happened with Chris?” Dana messaged.

“You called him a bum or something,” Mia said.

“What? No, I didn’t.”

Mia explained that the glass is excellent at picking up subconscious thoughts. Once the brain thought it, the eyes would respond by moving across the keyboard, sending deep, dark thoughts to the other side.

“Did you see my video on Clarity Glass?” Dana said.

“Yes,” Mia said. “But focus on this, not your social media. You need to think about what you want to say, which will help you control your messages. Your eyes will tell people more than you want them to. Don’t let them. Once you control it, people realize they can talk without the glass. Focus.” Mia pressed her fingertips to her temples and closed her eyes. “I don’t want to add pressure, but your time here is ticking away.”

“When can I come back?” Dana messaged.

Mia scrolled through her tablet. “I have an opening in nine months.”

“No, it has to be sooner.”

“Sorry. We’re the only CG establishment in Southern California.” Mia bent down and punched the red button. “Focus. Forget about the time; worry about using the glass.”

Another guy came in and sat down. His big white teeth and bug eyes stood out. 

“I’m screwed,” she thought. Dana noticed his features, then looked away. His beady eyes, tiny mouth, and big ears stayed in her mind. His creature-like aesthetics blocked out everything else in her head. 

The countdown ticked away. The users looked into the lens until the flash burned a keyboard in their retinas. 

“That’s painful,” the guy said. He looked at the glass, covered his mouth, then messaged, “Sorry. I forgot how this works. Talking or no talking?” Dana smiled. “Messages it is. I’m Robert.”

Dana’s eye contact was minimal, but it was long enough for the glass to track her eyes and send a message. “I’m Dana.” 

“Have you done this before?”

“No, this is my first time.”

“How did you hear about this place?”

“My friend DM’d me and suggested I give it a try.”

The Clarity Glass worked how Dana wanted. The conversation flowed without any unflattering truths. She didn’t have to look him directly in the eyes and didn’t have to worry about something wrong. She felt in control. 

He messaged her a couple of questions, but she focused elsewhere. She eyed his body, looking for additional issues. Any more imperfections on him, and the meeting would need to end fast. It stressed her out. The only choice she had, which she wasn’t enthusiastic about, was to find something to admire. 

Dana scanned his shirt: white, clean, no sweat lines around the collar. Down a few more inches from his clavicle were marble-swirled buttons. They had nothing to do with him, but she admired the grey, white, and blue in every circle in her mind. 

I wonder where he got those buttons, Dana thought. I have a white blouse that would look great with those buttons. 

Robert messaged, “Do you feel comfortable enough to talk?”

“Sorry,” Dana messaged. “Did your shirt come with those buttons?”

“Did you just hear what I said?” 

She scrambled, unsure what to say, only prepared to press the black button. 

Robert stood up, slammed his fist onto the glass wall multiple times, mumbling nonsense about wasting his time. He pounded on the glass, rattling it, and demanded Dana to look at him.

The door behind him swung open. He exited into the hall where he  yelled, “This place has too many unstable customers.”

The door shut, cutting out the screams of the disgruntled date. Dana looked at her door, expecting Mia to step in and coach her through another visitor. Maybe provide some words of encouragement, possibly some criticism, or some questions about upcoming posts. Dana wanted to talk about her upcoming vacation, her Roman Holiday. If a fan showed interest, she was on the right track to pick up additional followers and reposts. 

“I don’t have time to wait,” she thought, then pressed the red button. The countdown happened, followed by a flash of light. She was ready; she wanted to do this.

“I know you,” the new guy said. “You’re Dana Heart. I follow you on Instagram, Twitter—everything.” 

Dana looked him straight in the eyes, smiled, and said, “Want to take a picture?”

“Yeah, of course.” He pulled out his cellphone and raised it for a selfie with Dana. He leaned forward while Dana pressed her lips against the glass. “I can’t wait to post this.”

“Please don’t touch the technology,” a voice from the overhead speaker announced. 

“Be sure to tag me,” Dana said. 

“What are you doing using Clarity Glass?” the new guy asked.

“Well, truth be told, I’m a lot like most Americans. I don’t always know how to talk to people outside of my social media world. You know?”

“I understand. Interacting face to face is old fashioned. People work from home. College courses are online. Food deliveries come to every house—these changes hermit the country.” 

On and on, he talked. Everything from his life, his opinions, his fears, it all spewed from his mouth. It wasn’t clear why he started talking; he just did. He wouldn’t shut up about the world, its operation, functionality, and purpose, but no questions about Dana. She nodded to everything he said, but she stopped processing the rambling. 

Looking away from a talker was a clear sign of annoyance, and trying to acknowledge anything about his appearance ended badly. So instead, she looked at him, dazing off into her mind so as not to draw attention to her lack of focus. 

She escaped to her iPhone, where all her vacation itinerary waited. Her getaway was more important than starting a relationship. It was the fifth trip in six months, and if this one didn’t add more followers, her social media days were done. If it were a success, a relationship was pointless. 

The struggling social media star refocused on the ranter, smiled, then accidentally sent him a message.

“When is he going to shut up?” she messaged. Words popped up on his side of the glass. He looked at Dana and smiled. She thought the goofy look on his face reminded her of a buck-toothed guy who worked at the Starbucks on Spring Street. He, too, always talked, always wanted to know how her day was. She sent another: “I hope he doesn’t post that picture. I don’t want people to see me with him.” 

“You know I can see your messages, right?” he said. Dana didn’t know what she had sent. She feared it was something private, or even worse, something she wanted to post later on. It wasn’t for sure, but if she gave away the details on her upcoming vacation, she’d have to cancel all the surprises for her followers.

“I haven’t sent you any messages,” Dana said. 

“Something about not posting the picture.”

“No, no. I didn’t say that.”

“Just because you post messages on your Instagram about love and charity doesn’t mean you care about any of that. You’re nothing more than a sponge sucking up the trends of the time. You don’t care. It’s all about your ego.”

“Thank God,” she thought. She worked so hard on planning a beautiful getaway that took six months to organize. “It’s not like that,” she said.

He spat on the glass, yelled a few obscenities then headed for the door. Two men walked in to wipe the spit off the glass with hairy cloths. The cleaning took a few seconds, with three different sprays, but it was spotless. The discharge never existed. 

Mia reentered and sat next to her patient. 

“Don’t worry,” Mia said. “This is part of the process. I think you’re almost where you need to be. You’ll be comfortable enough to talk to people without the Clarity Glass.”

Dana closed her eyes and lowered her head. She feared the glass was sophisticated enough to read eyelids, so she covered them with her hands. 

“Is anyone allowed to think in private,” she thought. The question was ironic; she welcomed the world into her life every day of the week. It seemed hypocritical to ask for privacy when she accepted intrusion from social media. Her morning routine of coffee, breakfast, and a shower had thousands watching her every morning. She even posted polls for her daily shirt and pants selection, which brought lewd questions about buying her used underwear. A few times, desperate to pay her credit cards, she sold them.

“Remember why you’re here,” Mia said. “You know this is the only way. You’re not going to meet someone on a dating app, church, or a bar—this is the modern way.” 

Dana raised her head and opened her eyes. 

Mia clicked on her social media account and flipped the screen so Dana could see it. A random account with a picture of a woman standing in a golden desert popped up.

“She’s pregnant again?” Dana said. “She has three kids already. Every new kid gives her like a million more followers.”

“Just imagine if you had one kid,” Mia said with a big smile. Dana was only here to meet a person, possibly start a relationship.“You have to do this. Press the button.”

“Are you saying I should have a kid?” Dana asked.

Mia shook her head. “No. I’m showing you the potential. The girl I had earlier this morning, she’s ready for millions of followers. You’re not there yet. You couldn’t handle the fame.”

Dana hated kids but loved the possibilities of adding a kid to her stories. Parents had the upper hand over her because of that. Her parents had a kid and a divorce. Had they used social media to broadcast their stories, followers would have consumed them. Divorce stories meant easy money for both parties in a separation. 

The consumed social media star thought about her body and the transition if she had a baby. She loved how flat her stomach was (gym visits five days a week for six months). Fitting into small clothes, eating and drinking whatever—she loved that nothing held her back. A pregnancy, sadly, would take away all the pleasures in life. 

Life doesn’t begin when kids are in the picture, Dana thought. Life starts when I control the perception of my stories. Kids don’t allow that. But, of course, kids and a partner could produce an endless stream of stories. Posting about a painful separation—pity posts—added months of pictures and hashtags. Maybe a storyline about a breakup or receiving a message intended for another woman. 

There were so many possibilities.

“This is why I’m bored,” Dana said. “This is why this isn’t working. I need to think bigger.”

Mia smiled and nodded, then pressed the red button one last time. She walked out of the room while another man walked in.

The countdown, the flash, they happened faster than before. 

“I’m Gregory,” the man messaged.

“That’s a terrible name,” Dana messaged back. He didn’t seem disturbed by her comment.

He messaged, “I always said the same thing. I wanted to be something simpler like a Tom, a Joe, or Pete.”

“One syllable names are trendy right now. Have you thought about just calling yourself Tom or Joe?”

“No, it would feel weird. If I changed my Instagram name to Joe, I might have to start over. Get new followers who don’t know Gregory’s stories. You know?”

“How many followers do you have?”

They both bragged about their social media accounts. Gregory told her about his green-screen vacation to Iceland. He said he purchased a bunch of new clothes so his followers would believe he hiked on the side of a volcano. 

“Someone called me out because I left a price tag on my Canada Goose,” he said. “I returned the damn thing and took down my photos.”

Dana laughed and tried to one-up him with her green-screen sailing vacation. She said she hired a handyman to build a small platform in her apartment for pictures of herself stretched out on the deck. 

“No one called me out,” she said. “I even built a small bunk bed and pretended to be seasick for a week. Some South American pharmaceutical company sent me a case of patches you stick to your stomach or throat, and it sends calming vibrations through the body.”

They laughed uncontrollably, and the Clarity Glass didn’t miss a word. Both Dana and Gregory had their own Photoshop fails, stalkers and recalled the day they got their blue checkmark. The two talked for so long that two additional flashes happened. 

“Are you comfortable talking?” Gregory messaged.

The Clarity Glass didn’t pick up any eye movement. Dana shook her head.

“That’s fine,” he messaged. “I don’t like to talk to people myself.”
“What about this?” Dana messaged. “This is fine?”

“Yeah, of course.”

Gregory inquired about her life, which Dana answered with a smile. There wasn’t a day, week, or month not planned out. She felt comfortable enough to tell him about her big vacation plans to Italy. The fine details like food, tables, maps, and chairs were ready to create authentic travel scenes. Dana knew which cities, which churches, which seasides she wanted to project on her green screen. A friend of hers made train and plane tickets in Photoshop, along with tickets for a music festival, which she planned to report stolen for the moment in her story when everything seemed lost.

“I can’t wait to watch,” Gregory messaged. 

“I’ve thought about putting on a few pounds,” Dana messaged. “I got to sell the high-carb lifestyle.”

Dana looked Gregory up and down. She noticed how his body was slender, with no muscle or fat, which she associated with European men. Light stubble, tan, skinny jaw-line—he would be perfect for her vacation story.  

“I feel like I want to talk now,” Dana said with ease. “Can you do an accent?”. 

“No, yeah, of course,” Gregory said. 

“So, yes to the accent?”
“Oh, no to that. That sounds wrong. You can’t do things like that anymore.”

Dana looked intensely at the man on the other side of the glass. She stalled, unsure where to go next. “Maybe a relationship is too boring,” she thought. Mia’s voice, for some reason, came to her mind and pushed her to continue. 

“What about a child?” she messaged him. 

Gregory’s nose twitched like the words put a funny smell in the air. He shifted his eyes and adjusted his posture. His body language suggested he was uncomfortable, which Dana didn’t like.

“I thought I was here for a relationship,” Dana started, “but I need to go bigger. I think it’s about time I start a family story.”

“Like a green-screen baby?” Gregory asked.

“A real baby. It needs to be good. I’ll need photos of pregnancy tests, ultrasounds, failures, and successes. I’ll do an entire postpartum depression storyline. It’ll draw a lot of attention.” 

The story was derivative, but that didn’t bother her. Many wannabe social media stars tried it, hoping for an uptick in their followers, and failed. When she said it out loud, it sounded fresh, exciting—something she could do better than everyone else.

“That’s sick,” Gregory said.

“Tom, everyone does it.”

“My name is Gregory, and I don’t care. It’s wrong. I agreed to this CG date because you were looking to start a relationship.”

“Things change. For the better in this case.” Her mind rattled off holiday photos, family vacation photos, the first day of school photos—she wanted it all. “Dana and Tom are better than Dana and Gregory.” 

Gregory got up, shaking his head. 

“Do you follow Jack and Jill? They have three-point-five million followers. They made almost a million dollars last year, have court-side seats for the Lakers. He drives a Porsche, and she drives a G Wagon. They live in separate houses, have side relationships, and a nanny takes care of the kids. What’s wrong with that?”

The glass started another countdown. Dana covered the lens with her hand before the number got to one. She remembered what the receptionist said about retina damage. 

The door popped open, and Mia walked in. “You can always adopt,” she said. 

“No, I have to be pregnant,” Dana said. “I know exactly how I want this to play out. I watched someone else do it, but they were ugly, had no style, no presence. I’ll have a miscarriage, a pregnancy affair, weight gain—it’s already been done, but we’ll do it better. I just need you, Tom.”

Mia froze with her attention focused on Gregory. Dana looked at him with a big smile, praying that he would accept her offer. 

“Can you only speak when it’s about you?” Gregory asked.

“I’ve made peace with who I am,” Dana said. “I’d like to talk to people, but the truth is, I don’t care about other people. I’m allowed to be self-consumed; it’s my life, isn’t it?”   

 All eyes were on Gregory. For the first time, none of the neighboring rooms made a sound. The air conditioner stopped blowing, and the dust in the room stopped spinning. 

“What do you say?” Mia asked.

“Why are you so invested?” Gregory asked.

“I follow Dana Love, and I would love to watch this story play out. Plus, you two are out of time. You need to leave.”

“What about the child? We’re going to have a child just to make money?”

“I’m going to have a child,” Dana said. “I don’t need you to stick around. I just need you for my story.”

Mia put her hand on Dana’s shoulder. “I told you Clarity Glass would get you to talk. Everything becomes clear once people accept the deep dark thoughts in their mind.”

“When does this story start?” Gregory asked.

Dana pulled out her phone and took a selfie with Gregory.

“It already has,” she said. “Chapter One: How Dana met Tom.”

About the Author

Rodney E Schmidt recently graduated from the University of California, Riverside, with an MFA in Fiction. His writing has been published in Pacific Review, The Press-Enterprise, High Voltage Magazine, and the Culture Trip. He currently resides in Southern California, where he teaches English and writes dystopian fiction.