The dollhouse was delivered by courier whilst she was out. It had been painted in eggshell white and cornflower blue; the exteriors gleaming with a thousand brush strokes of care and attention. The fragile windows opened with a nudge of a finger and the lacquered front door eased open on tiny, perfect hinges.
There was a spectacles case and an envelope with handwritten instructions. It amused Ursula more than intrigued her, so after dinner at the kitchen table, she went through to the living room and opened the envelope.
Wear the lenses. Options will appear throughout. Move your eyes to one of four available decision branches. Take breaks every fifteen minutes and ensure you remain hydrated.
You will learn by playing. Much as you always have.
She opened the case. The lenses were tear shaped, dark convex lenses of polarized plastic, held in place by a strap of thick elastic. She put them on and smiled as tight, green bursts of data bloomed before her eyes.
Angela had not heard his voice in years. The quiet, breathy intensity of it sent her back through the years. He would read to her with such passion that she would be wet before he even touched her.
She went to lift off the lenses but stopped herself at the last minute.
‘Can you hear me?’ she said.
‘The system is fully interactive and responsive.’
She sighed and swallowed down the old feelings that rushed to her conscious mind.
Four symbols floated before her eyes.
Triangle. Square. Circle. Cross.
She indicated the triangle and walked into the house. Angela had been implanted with a nerve and bone induction system at twelve. David had sent a package request to the microbiome operating system in her gut, embedded in a system update.
The system showed a life that might have been. Her body experienced it as though she had lived it all once, and over again.
They christened every room in the house. She gasped at the sizzle of carpet burns on her knees and the deep, fulfilling ache between her legs. Tears came at the prickle of her hair being pulled as they fucked on the stairs.
The lean strength of his arms would wrap around her at night and she would sit there as her physical life went on around her.
It was not an anaesthetic dream of a life for them. There were tests and tragedies for the both of them and she became so involved that she resented the biological interruptions of thirst and bowel movements. Her cramped legs ached as she remembered the last time they had met in real life. She had accepted the grant to study in Washington. He had started Plans and was involved in programming software and securing funding.
They had been two, determined people who never gave up on everything.
Except one another.
She lost weeks to the possibilities on offer.
The diagnosis of his illness unmanned her. He had always said that his gut was the best source of his intuition and inspiration. The system presented it as the thing that would kill him.
She wiped his lips and listened to his ragged, morphine-addled breaths as he babbled about his love for her. She wept when he died and in the real world, she had barely made it to the bathroom before she threw up.
His dedication meant that subsequent visits were an exercise in pain and grief so she stopped going. She threw herself into her work and relationships, but they had begun to feel thin and insubstantial to her.
When she returned to the world of the doll house, there was a letter waiting for her in the hallway. It floated into her vision and she gestured to open it.
I miss you. I sought to forget you but the dreams of what might have been haunted and obsessed me. I thought that this might purge me of that, and in turn, you but new ideas have grown and they resist my talent to present in anything other than person.
Could we meet? Could we not let this be the sum total of who we were?
Recent diplomatic efforts have meant that I can travel to the US now. I am in Washington in two weeks.
She saw the four options appear before her eyes.
She chose the only one that mattered.
As she waited at the arrival lounge, each time she closed her eyes, she saw the single triangle and when she saw him walk towards her, finally it faded anyway.