Summer's Gone

[Trigger warning: Suicide, Alcohol]

Amazingly, the first sip can still make me shudder as it goes down, as though it's an unfamiliar substance. Even this is part of the ritual; a tiny moment of uncertainty before surrendering to it. Deep red poison sliding down my throat. It becomes an internal crimson stream, promising to smooth the mind's anxious furrows the way water acts on river stones. A pretty lie, but sometimes that's enough.

When the glass isn't there a part of me still reaches for it and, ever unsatisfied, continues to search restlessly for the thing that's missing. No matter how many distractions and substitutes I find part of me will still be looking for that simple release. I look for ways to ignore it and box my compulsions away, taping them down with personal rules and schedules. Sometimes I even follow them.

It's okay. Just so long as the stream doesn't swell and threaten to flood. I'm okay.

Sometimes loneliness is similarly restless and compulsive, and just as dangerous. That might sound strange, but when I spend every day playing tug of war between needing people and pushing them away it starts to feel a lot like managing cravings. People are so wonderful and enticing I desperately want to know them and be recognised. I desire company, but have to schedule recovery time as though socialisation were some kind of disease. Boxing friends and lovers away for my health.

Bientôt l'été is a risky indulgence, then. One more attempt to connect, wondering if this time will be any easier, though there's no reason to expect it will be. “Life on an orbital station does not need to be lonely or boring anymore,” the brochure promises, although not without caveats. It's an explicitly heterosexual program for one, and I'm not sure what that means for me, whose gender identity is less a matter of chocolate or vanilla, and more a choc-vanilla swirl with clusters. It's still alluring though, this ambiguous promise. Bientôt l'été — it's nearly summer — maybe other things can change along with the season.

I'm nervous, so I take my time entering the simulation and breathing in the details. The choice between a male or female avatar is often quite jarring, but here it's reduced pair of naked torsos waiting to be inhabited. Somehow that feels more natural. Elsewhere these entities are Homme and Femme, with some popular definition of what particular bodily configurations are expected to be, but right here there are no labels. Regardless of designer intentions, there is nothing to interfere with my ability to interpret these bodies as I choose.

There have been so many popular images of science fiction pods with strategically hidden body parts. In many cases preserving modesty really serves to make these areas more mysterious and alluring. Bare breasts here feel more straightforward, with no particular sense of titillation, confrontation or taboo. But they can't completely escape their usual role in sexuality — the eye is drawn towards them.

Obscured heads make these bodies impersonal and undefined. More vessel than character, and perhaps designed to fit together in a certain way. I immediately imagine a lowest common denominator romance enacted using these shells, but that's not quite right. There's too much patient melancholy and my soap opera script falls apart.

Bientôt l'été is simple enough: a walk on the beach followed by a rendezvous at a seaside café. Even without knowing much about French film it feels familiar. I spend a long time on the beach, watching the sun set, rise and then set again. I'm literally gathering my words. They are scattered about and scrawled on the sand. Passionate, heartbroken and thoughtful phrases all filed away for later. The slight awkwardness of translation has its own kind of poetry.

Desire

I linger possibly a little too long, hiding from the encounter at the café. Eventually I have to gather my courage and meet my lover in this realm, or at least some roleplay of love present or past. I take my time wandering back and forth across the sand before finding myself at the door. I resort to a trick usually reserved for physical spaces. Count backwards, take one deep breath then enter.

The anticlimax. Technology is fickle and I can't find a matchup quickly. After a while I give in and settle for an AI. We have a forgettable conversation of back and forth snippets, chess, wine and cigarettes. Afterwards I idly hit the connect button one more time and am surprised when a match flashes up almost instantly. I know somewhere another person is also deciding how to interact. That's a little overwhelming in itself, but there are other things to worry about.

I've lost all my carefully collected phrases to a pointless fling with a computer, and the scenario takes a turn I hadn't anticipated. Suddenly the wine is all I can talk about, with every option some variant on "I really need a drink." My weakness stares me in the face, and forces me to confront myself. There's nothing else for it, and I alternate conversation about booze with deep swigs of virtual red to prove the point. This is who I really am, after all.

My companion expresses thoughts of suicide, and idly lays a gun on the table. There's nothing I can say, and when I try to touch the weapon it's just a shadow and my hand passes straight through. I flail desperately, tears flowing, unable to communicate.

"Why are you crying?"

I can't answer; all I can do is drink impotently. I won't be there for anyone who needs me, I'll be lost at the bottom of a bottle. What made me think I was worthy of anyone? I can't even reach out to someone right in front of me.

Sometimes it feels like we all get exactly what we deserve.

It's nearly summer, but summer was harsh and burned out quickly. I'm much more of a winter person anyway. Maybe things change and maybe they don't, and the Earth keeps moving regardless. Bientôt l'été sees beauty in pain and lets me drape my failings in some version of elegance, and maybe that's at least a place to start. Or maybe I'm succumbing to another temptation.