Movie Night — Chapter 3
Further Down The Spiral — July 1999
“It’s too big, it won’t fit. I told you this would be painful, but you’ve got a one track mind.”
I leaned back in my chair, not ready to give up yet. “I can’t stop now, I’m close. It’s right in front of me, if I could just…”
Aaron cut me off. “It’s not happening with your internet connection. Your trying to download a full disk image, almost a gig, over a 56k connection. The server will keep timing out… hell, I’m surprised you can connect at all.”
Two weeks of searching online for Prefect Wife Inc. and this was all I had. A ghost… or to be more specific a .ghost image file. I had no idea what the hell it was, or how I could open it. That’s why Aaron, my old Debate Club partner and class ‘hacker’ was on the phone with me.
“Are you sure you can’t just come over and walk me through this in person? I can’t talk and browse, my house only has one line.” I glanced down at the notes I’d made so far, and already knew I was lost. “How do I even install the FTP? Just bike over here.”
“No can do, good buddy.” I could hear Aaron typing away while he was talking. “House arrest. You know that.”
He was exaggerating, but not by much. After accessing some teacher’s personal documents on the school network, he’d been suspended and grounded. Aaron didn’t even walk at graduation; he got his diploma mailed after some community service.
“So how do I download it? Can you do it for me? I could swing by and pick it up…” I was desperate.
“Nope. You’re going to need a T1 line if you want to snag that baby.”
“And where do I find one of those?”
“Not in Bedford. We’re not wired for fiber. Closest one is…” he stopped typing. “Say, aren’t you going to State this fall?”
Over the last few weeks, while I was doing my online research, Naomi was on ‘reconnaissance’ with her mother. She was still too freaked out by the whole situation to straight up ask her mom, so she’d started spending quality time with Junko. I’d been concerned it would seem out of character, blowing her chance at keeping a low profile, but Naomi was insistent.
“Ryan, she asks me to go with her to the salon every day.” Naomi had explained over the phone when we’d been discussing our plans. “I never thought I’d be glad she didn’t get the hint after the thousandth time. And if I so much as hint at wanting to go shopping, she’s got her purse out and the car running.”
I was glad to finally be spending some time in person with her. We’d mostly been talking over the phone, though with all the time I was trying to eek out with the modem, our communication had been uncomfortably sparse this last week.
I was picking up Naomi at her house. It was a 90 minute drive to State, but it was seemed like our only shot at getting that file. My parent’s car was a manual, and so Naomi would be riding shotgun both ways. I nervously put the transmission in neutral and rolled down the driver’s side window, letting the cool morning breeze in. I stared off into the sky, blue and cloudless.
I didn’t even recognize the voice at first. Across the lawn, I saw someone waving from the front door of Naomi’s house.
“Ok mom! Love ya!” The figure ducked back in and emerged with a picnic basket. She crossed the lawn toward the car. Her white and red floral sundress was shifting slightly with the breeze, still clinging to her figure in all the right spots.
Was this some friend of Naomi’s who’d decided to tag along? My brain still wasn’t catching up to what I was seeing.I got out of the car to meet this bubbly, tanned girl.
It was only when she was at the curb, feet away from me when I realized who was greeting me.
“N-Naomi?” my shock did nothing to temper her enthusiasm.
“Oh, Ryan!” she ran right up to me, throwing her arms around me. The picnic-basket’s wicker scratched across my back, catching my shirt.
“Ooops!” she immediately began checking the fabric. “I’m so sorry! I’ve been such a silly klutz lately!”
“Naomi.” I gently grabbed both her hands, trying to get her focus.
“Yes, Ryan?” She looked up at me, squinting slightly from the sun. Her smile was wide, with just a hint of the normal old smirk that had been her trademark throughout high school. Her makeup and hair were impeccable; no goth-heavy eyeliner, no streak of blue dye. She looked like she’d stepped out of an Abercrombie poster.
“You look… really different?” I said, still drinking her in.
“Awww, do you like?” she pulled back slightly, still holding my hands, and spun slightly side-to-side. “My mom and I went shopping this week. I know it’s not what I normally wear, but if I’ve got to go undercover, I might as well have some fun! Right?!”
She giggled and leaned in for a kiss. I swear to god, she pulled up her right heel slightly when our lips touched, like some giddy school girl swooning.
“Are you feeling alright?” I pulled back slightly, confused and concerned about this new attitude and look. Was this the Perfect Wife program? It seemed impossible to change someone so radically with just that one viewing.
“Oh…” Naomi bit her lip and looked down, genuinely crestfallen at my lack of enthusiasm. “You don’t like it? I thought I’d look pretty for you.”
“No, no, god no.” I stammered out. “You look amazing! It’s just really, really different. I didn’t even recognize you when you first came outside.”
“Really, you think I look amazing!” I nodded in response and Naomi giggled and clapped. “Yay! I hoped you’d like it!”
“But… are you feeling like yourself?” I picked up the picnic basket, and opened the passenger door for her. Whatever was in there smelled delicious. “Did you… did you bake?”
“Well, of course silly!” She said, sliding into the passenger seat and pushing out her dress to avoid wrinkles. “You been so, so helpful these last few weeks! Doing all the hard work, being so thoughtful and caring! The least I could do is make some cookies for my strong, smart boyfriend!”
“Right…” I closed her door, set the basket in the back seat and got back behind the wheel. I know I should have pushed the issue, tried to argue against her gleeful acceptance… but this was too much to rationally process. I didn’t know where to begin, so I just started driving.
Naomi was more than happy to fill the silence. Over the next ninety minutes, she gushed over what she’d been up to since I’d last seen her.
She talked about her new outfits. How her mother had given her a new credit card, which they’d almost maxed out their first afternoon at the mall. Naomi breathlessly listed off all the stores they’d visited, as if each one had been a revelation. Her mecca was now Victoria’s Secret and she’d been converted to the church of Hollister.
She talked about her new gym routine. How her mother had bought her all new workout clothes, and how cute she looked in them.
“It kinda bothered me at first how many guys were checking me out, but my mother said I’d get used to it. And, yeah, it’s kinda cool that so many guys think I’m hot, right?” She caught herself, suddenly concerned that she’d said something out of line. For a brief moment, I hoped she’d realized how out of character this all was.
“Oh, oh…” she whispered. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of the horrified look on her face.
“Oh… Ryan.” she put her hand lightly on my shoulder. “I didn’t mean…”
I sighed, prematurely, at relief of the revelation I thought was at hand.
“I mean, like, I just want you to think I’m hot. I would never want you to think I cared more about some random hottie at the gym!” she was close to tears, searching for words. “I just like looking sexy, but, it’s… like… well, I like knowing I’ll look good for you? Ya know?”
I exhaled. Naomi hung on my silence with bated patience, holding for my answer, my forgiveness.
“Naomi…” I was too disarmed to fight this. “It’s fine… I don’t care if… if you like looking sexy at the gym. I mean, I used watch you run and you’re… Well, I understand why guys stare. I mean, I used to stare. A lot.”
She exhaled, melting into a warm figure of sincere relief at my barely-coherent approval.
“But!” I raised a finger to punctuate my point. “I’m really, really, really worried. This isn’t you. This isn’t how you dress! Hell, I’ve didn’t know you even baked and you brought a picnic basket full of cookies!”
“Well, I learned to make ’em!” she said, reaching back, pulling one out and offering me a bite. “Like, because you’ve been such a good boyfriend!”
Trying to keep my eyes on the road, I begrudgingly took a chomp out of the cookie being waved in front of my face.
“Mmmmhmm!” I moaned in surprise, in spite of myself. Dear god, it was delicious.
“See, turns out I’m totally a good cook!” Naomi fed me another bite, buying my silent approval while I chewed away in bliss. “And! And! All this stuff with my mom, it’s just, like, totally an act! I’m just getting her approval so we can investigate, or whatever, right?”
I wanted to argue, but I found myself nodding slightly as I chewed.
“So if I’ve got to be doing all this girly-girl stuff, it’s like, I might as well have fun while I’m doing it!” She shrugged her shoulders, satisfied with her logic. “And it’s not like that video really had anything bad in it…”
I nearly choked on my mouthful of cookie. “Whhhha?” I mumbled out.
“I mean, it’s not like it says anything really wrong, it was just creepy the first time I watched it.” she tried to shrug it off her statement.
“Naa—” I coughed, choking on the cookie. This was too much, I needed to stop this.
“What? Ryan, I still, like appreciate all the stuff you’ve been doing. It made me realize how lucky I am to have good man!”
We were still fifteen minutes out from the college campus, but I couldn’t let this madness continue another moment. Biting my tongue, I pulled over to the shoulder of the highway. I rolled down the window and spit out the remains of the devilishly tasty treat she’d been plying me with.
“It was creepy the ‘first time’?” I stared at her, likely bug-eyed in shock. “You watched it again?”
Naomi played with her hair and looked down at her dress. ”Maybe?”
“Naomi… why, why on earth would you watch it again?”
“Like, I knew how hard you were working, and I wanted to help detective too.” she gave me puppy-dog eyes, and reached out to lightly trace her finger across my jeans.
“And my memories of it were all fuzzy,” she looked up and squinted slightly, trying hard to remember. “Like, I couldn’t remember stuff about it? So I watched it a few times to try and figure it out. I tried to take notes, but they were all fuzzy too. It was really weird.”
“Oh man, this is bad…” I muttered, clutching my head. “This is really bad…”
“But! But!” Naomi patted my leg, excited to reassure me. “It was all okies! It wasn’t creepy at all once I’d watched it a bunch. It’s just kinda silly.”
I had to come clean. I hadn’t said anything about the trance I’d seen her in, about the instructions and hypnotizing sound. Now, because I hadn’t warned her, my girlfriend had been re-exposing herself to whatever brainwashing Perfect Wife Inc had used on her mother.
So, on the side of State Highway 15, in the late morning sun, I confessed. I told Naomi everything, how she’d gone slack and repeated the Asian woman’s instructions. I owned up to my own horny, spineless silence afterwards. I was almost in tears, looking at Naomi’s doe-eyed face processing the flood words I was letting pour from me.
When I stopped, out of breath, I waited for the response. For Naomi to be furious, to kick me out, to slap me.
Instead, she giggled.
“Ryan! That’s just silly!” She patted my leg and pulled out another cookie. “I’ve watched that tape like, 100 times, all the way to the end. There’s nothing on it at all except some music and pretty pictures of flowers! Duh!”
Interlude — Hesitation Marks
There’s a lot I wish I could change about that summer.
I wish I’d gotten Naomi out of there, out of Bedford. Especially after realizing how lost she was that day on the side of the highway. I could have just kept driving, fuck the school and the plan to download the ghost file.
I wish my horny, immature, 18 year old self could see I was constantly hedging. Betting Naomi’s freedom, her mind, on the chance I could… I don’t even know…
The chance take advantage of her?
I hate myself to even say it. To talk about my wife, the mother of my child, like that.
But I’ve come to terms with that a while ago. As much as I tried to obscure it to Naomi and even myself at the time, the truth is I was weak and selfish.
And I’ve been trying to make up for it ever since then.
The thing that makes it difficult to clear my conscious is how fuzzy things got by July. Not just the imperfect memories that come with age, but the programming and the chemicals I now know were influencing Naomi and I that whole summer.
That fog and the ambiguity it brings is a double edged sword.
On one hand, there’s the spectre of absolution; everything I did or didn’t do may have been beyond my control. I can point my judgement and revulsion at the men (and woman) who drugged and hypnotized me for their own gains.
On the other hand, I can’t be certain what actions were my own. I’d like to imagine with a totally clear head and full understanding of the consequences, I would make better choices. That I would have acted like a decent human being.
But then, some nights, when Naomi is particularly horny and spaced out, she begs me to save her.
It’s an act. She’s beyond saving now, and she knows it. We both are.
Still, my wife will look up at me, with a mimicry of her old, teenage self. She’ll lock eyes with me and beg me not to take advantage of her. She’ll plead with me not to turn her into a slutty, mindless caricature. She’ll say she doesn’t want the same fate as her mother.
Naomi says all this because she knows it drives me wild. It’ll always be in the middle of some heavy foreplay, right when she knows I’m struggling to pace myself. She’ll turn on her ‘old’ self, and watch me swim with guilt and desire.
Not that it really matters. The deed is done and Naomi is who she is now. But she likes seeing it play out again, watching me break because I want her so badly.
And I lose that battle every time. I always fuck her. And Naomi smiles and slowly lets her façade drop, turning her pleas into giggles and moans of pleasure.
I’d like to imagine with a totally clear head and full understanding of the consequences, I would make better choices. That I would have acted like a decent human being.
But deep down, I know that’s not certain.
And Naomi? Poor, mindless Naomi?
She somehow still knows my shame.
And she loves to watch me fall, again and again.