I wish I could think clearer than I do. I wish I could see things better than I do. Sometimes, when you can see everything, you miss the things that matter most.
My job? Seeing. And I see a lot. In fact, it wouldn’t be an understatement to say I see everything. Everything important, anyway. I stare down the screens packed into a small room, and make sure nothing bad happens. Security. Of course, nothing bad ever does happen, but maybe it’s because people know there are cameras, people know there’s a man like me watching these screens. Security theater, they call it. Look it up.
People feared me. Bad people feared me. I guess that made me a good man. But the most interesting thing to me, was knowing firsthand what could make a good man be so bad. Maybe being good was that one thing I couldn’t see in my infinite vision of the company I worked for. At some point, I even forgot what the company peddled. My work wasn’t directly tied in with what the company sold. And we were in a nice neighborhood - my work wasn’t even tied in with crime prevention anymore. Human beings are busy creatures - you need something to do, to stay busy. Otherwise, you just might go crazy.
That’s when people became my work. It started innocently enough - pattern recognition was the first step. The company boss would take his lunch earlier on Tuesdays. One man would go to the washroom without fail at 10:30 every day and stay there for about six minutes. Day in and day out, all I did was watch these cameras. My duties extended beyond that, theoretically, but never in reality. I was never called to patrol the roof, I was never called to talk to people. Do your job. Do your job. This was my job. Sitting, watching people.
People became videos, unfolded before me. Videos became stories. Stories became fantasies. Do your job. I began looking a little closer at the screens. They say the closer you look, the less you see. Soon, one by one, the other screens blurred out until I could only see one at a time. Ten became too many. Two became too many. Only one screen mattered, and that was the screen that had Clara on it.
Sweet Clara. Clara became an interest of mine. Interests became fascinations, fascinations became fantasies. Do your job. Had Clara and I ever met on the street or at the club before the day I found her, I don’t imagine she would have been my type, nor I hers. But we weren’t meeting in the club. We were meeting at the office, and she didn’t even know. How romantic. Her mannerisms stuck out for me first - they way she twirled her hair when she was bored, the way her shoulders would bounce when she giggled. She was so casual. She didn’t take work too seriously. And yet she wasn’t overly flirty, never making the office boys pant after her like a teasing user. It helped that most of the time I was getting a good look at something - her frame grew on me, as if getting to know her made her body more beautiful by itself. A nice shapely ass encouraged constantly by her choice of clothing, a bust that left nothing to be desired. But I was an overachiever - I desired nonetheless.
The real sell for me became the eyes. I couldn’t quite see them at first, but as soon as I knew Clara had caught my attention, I knew I had to see her eyes. And I had the perfect tools to do so. Enhance. Enhance. With a zoomed-in camera, her deep hazel eyes penetrated my soul for one fleeting moment when she turned around in her chair. There was a certain something to her look - a longing. A desire. A lust. I had picked my fascination well - Clara had the power to seduce with just her eyes. She was practically a gift - perhaps even a god-given reason for me to be here. I now had an excuse to come to work. Excuses became reasons, reasons became objectives, objectives became my focus.
Pattern recognition played in heavily here. I began to number the Claras that I saw. Clara #1 was the Clara I saw at work. But then there was Clara #2, The Clara who was just off work, exhilarated to get out of the chair, stretch, and leave her cubicle. For a while, the bouncing between Clara #1 and Clara #2 became my pastime, my favorite show. On a very special episode, I got to see Clara #3, the Clara that got angry when her computer started acting up. I almost got out of my chair in surprise, in response to seeing the new Clara. Clara was no longer a show, she was her own person with feelings and aspirations. Sonder, they call it. Look it up.
The more I saw Clara #3, the more I wanted her out of the way to make room for Clara #2, the happy Clara. I wanted to be the one there for Clara. But I wasn’t stupid, I was never stupid. I was invisible to Clara, all three of them. I was the eye in the sky, and Clara only looked towards her screen, just as I did. I needed to escape my position over Clara more than she needed to escape her position under me, trapped in a prison of security where I can see her but she can’t see me. Panopticon, they call it. Look it up. I needed to find a way to worm my way in, to become an active part of Clara’s life instead of a passive one, to become a player rather than a spectator. I was sick of cheering from the bleachers, I wanted to get on the field myself and show the crowd what I had in me.
I came equipped, of course. All of the equipment was there at my disposal. The cameras I controlled were there for me to use. Do your job. Enhance. Enhance. A business card on the desk. Clara Jackson. I had a full name. I also had Facebook, and knew exactly what to do. Enhance. Enhance. I smirked the first time I found her profile - Facebook’s security theater hadn’t won her over. Maybe I did a little research. Maybe everyone has done a little research before on Facebook in this way. But everyone stops after a bit because they feel guilty or awkward. After all, it’s only healthy. Besides, it was still an early point, and I was still running the Panopticon.
Not running it well enough. Audio. I needed audio. I made a phone call to my superiors, the first time I had done so in a while. Now, what happens when they say no? No becomes ‘it’s needed.’ ‘It’s needed’ becomes ‘yes.’ ‘Yes’ becomes ‘immediately.’
Suppose I take a night shift, and some people break in. These are bad people. Good people. Good at what they do. They just lost sight of what it means to be good. Or rather, lost hearing. They took out the cameras, yes, but as they stole some documents, they shouted a bunch, and that’s what alerted me to them. Suppose they only barely got away, and left nothing traceable. Suppose the audio could have been the only clue. That’s when no becomes yes. After all, these guys were good. Very good. They knew exactly how to hide themselves, maybe they worked in security before or something. The documents? Of little value, but it was a matter of principle. Besides, the documents weren’t hidden at this point, they were burned, but no one knew that, so they’d be chasing after nothing for a while. Tomorrow, the microphones would be installed.
A few days later, I find out Clara doesn’t care. She posts a lot of her feelings to her Facebook wall, and the new microphones weren’t mentioned. She’s still Clara #2 under that mask of Clara #1, and I haven’t seen Clara #3 in a while. But now, I’m not just seeing Clara, I’m hearing her. I’m getting the full three dimensions of Clara. Hearing becomes understanding, understanding becomes feeling, feeling becomes wanting. Do your job.
The air of desire exists in Clara’s voice as much as her eyes. To the untrained, her voice means nothing, but the highness of her voice is deliberate. Seductive, delicate, urging you to come closer. The way her breath shifts when she talks about something she likes, the way she holds on to her vowels just a tad too long, nothing escapes the Panopticon. There’s a note of lust to her voice, she invisibly begs for someone to come and take her in her high, teasing voice. The head register, they call it. Look it up.
From viewing her Facebook, I understand that Clara is single. From listening to her, I understand that she is wanting. And from watching her, I understand where she goes, day by day. Pattern recognition. I start alternating between looking into her interests online and rehearsing how I could play off of them if we did happen to randomly meet on the street. Then, one day, it happens. When Clara is out grabbing lunch at a place across the street, another man happens to be there at the same time.
This man happens to dress like Clara’s ex two relationships ago, the one she seemed to have a harder time getting over. But this man doesn’t dress exactly like him. Just enough to be unique. This man is also heavily into music, just like Clara. Clara needs only to look at the man, and undoubtedly likes what she sees so far. Enhance. Enhance. She starts going to the same place to get lunch, day after day, because Clara is very into visual cues. The man knows this, he picked up on this in his research. The adaptive unconscious, they call it. Look it up.
Suddenly, I see a lot more. The Panopticon became the Panopticon and the sandwich shop. The Panopticon and the sandwich shop became the Panopticon, the sandwich shop and choice encounters on the street. Never vocal encounters, no - it was too soon for that. Just enough times to see him where he ‘unknowingly’ becomes a part of her routine. Of course, he isn’t unknowing at all. Dramatic irony, they call it. Look it up.
Clara #2 becomes Clara #4, a Clara on the hunt. A Clara that gets emboldened by comfort. Now that she’s seen The Mystery Man on the street so much, she’s more okay with openly looking at him in the shop as he enjoys his sandwich and looks out the window. She doesn’t know he’s not looking out the window at all, but rather at her reflection to make sure she’s looking at him. The man is sporting a modest beard, just the sort of thing she likes, and is reading Kurt Vonnegut, just the author she enjoys. It seems too perfect, but she’s too shy to talk to him first. After all, when he breaks his gaze from the window and looks around the room, she returns to her sandwich.
So Clara thinks she’ll be clever. Clara #4 hatches a plan, a plan to bring a book by the same author and adopt a more relaxed pose as she enjoys her sandwich. The man will be caught completely off guard and want to talk to her. After all, he wasn’t expecting her to like Vonnegut too. Dramatic irony. The lust in her voice, the piercing effect of her eyes, it doubles when she becomes Clara #4. It only comes in small intervals - the breath she takes as she eats, the way her eyes dart from word to word, but it’s there. Enhance. Enhance. Clara #4 is showing herself off. She wants to be noticed.
Just like he rehearsed, the man notices the book and does a double-take. He then looks at Clara for just long enough for her to notice, but not long enough to be creepy, not like he’s stalking her or something. Human beings want to be noticed by those they notice, to be desired by those they desire. But never to they want it to not be mutual. If this man were to make it seem like he wanted her more than she wanted him, he’d be done for.
That’s why he only calmly walks over to her, like he rehearsed. That’s why he only makes a slight joke about her good taste. After all, Clara likes it when men appreciate her wit, and the man knows this. A joke became a back-and-forth, a back-and-forth became a conversation, and a conversation became a ‘may I sit with you?’ Clara is still Clara #4, but only until lunch time nears its end and Clara #4 becomes Clara #1. The man weighs his options and plays it safe, saying he liked chatting with her instead of outright asking when she’ll be there again. After all, the man knows she’ll be back again tomorrow anyway. Clara reverts to Clara #4 and asks if he’ll be having lunch here tomorrow. Dramatic irony. Satisfied with her answer, Clara leaves and the man waits just long enough to leave himself and go back to his job without Clara seeing where the man works.
I’m looking closer at this point, not caring how much less I see. Clara #1 is not fully back, and occasionally Clara #4 breaks through. I see everything. I hear everything. Clara gossips to a coworker, and tells her all about this nice guy she met at the sandwich shop. Sarah. Sarah is a bad person - she warns Clara about meeting strangers, and how he sounds a bit too perfect for her. Sarah is a total bitch who refuses to believe happy accidents can happen. Clara #4 can not be persuaded, but promises Sarah that she will be careful. The Mystery Man could be done for thanks to a bitch like Sarah.
I chose to do some research on Sarah too. Sarah appears to be such a good girl, knowing how much she needs security theater and never daring to be fun like Clara. Of course, Sarah isn’t too careful, and doesn’t read things like Facebook’s terms of service. These things weren’t designed for human beings to want to read them, they’re designed that way. It’s not too hard to imagine that if Sarah doesn’t read that, she doesn’t read up on a lot of the company policies either.
It took only a few hours of reading, a plan here and there, and a clever mind to plant some damnable evidence on Sarah. Sarah became Fired Sarah. Sarah now has a bad reputation around the office, and people know that anything Sarah said is not to be trusted. All the while, Clara #4 and The Mystery Man have met up at the sandwich shop once or twice. The Mystery Man seems a little down one day, and explains to Clara that a friend of his he knew for a bit was fired for doing bad things to the company. He talks about how he really trusted this friend, enough with his feelings, and shrugs, remarking that he doesn’t really know who to trust. Clara can completely empathize. Can becomes will, will becomes does. This man understands Clara. This man is sweet to Clara. Sarah wasn’t sweet to Clara, why should Clara listen to Sarah?
The Mystery Man seems made for Clara. Maybe that’s because almost everything he says is a cleverly disguised revision or twist on something that Clara has said online. Of course, this might raise a few flags with Clara, so The Mystery Man dislikes a choice few things Clara likes. A rehearsed few things, the types of things The Mystery Man knew Clara would find a cute challenge if he opposed her. The Mystery Man thinks Shakespeare is overrated and that Edison was a better man than Tesla, but Clara #4 just wants to hear him explain why. She likes the way he talks. The moment of truth happens, when Clara #4 asks The Mystery Man for his name. For the first time, he feels doubt in himself, fear. The Mystery Man understands why it’s called the ‘moment of truth’ as he gives her his real name, praying she doesn’t recognize it as the man who works security at her job. If he knows anything, he knows she’ll understand what that means. Clara #4 isn’t dumb. Neither is Clara #3, and he isn’t as interested in meeting her.
Luckily, Clara #4 never recognized the name, even after she added him on Facebook. It was a good thing The Mystery Man understood security theater, or she might have found out where he worked. And now, Clara #4 had opened herself up to online messaging, something that she really enjoyed. So much so that conversations with her could end around two in the morning. Luckily for The Mystery Man, it was all too easy to look like you had a sharp wit over the Internet. After all, one could fine-tune what they say to match what the other person wanted to hear. It’s not like The Mystery Man could do that in real life. Dramatic irony.
Soon, Clara was even messaging him at work. Of course, the Mystery Man could never see or hear how she responds to his messages, but his responses were so witty and perfect it was as if he could read her body language and listen for when she remarked out loud her feelings, something Clara had a tendency to do when she was impressed. He tells her what she wants to hear, and she falls for him like he wants her to. They arrange to meet for lunch, and continue the conversation there.
Strangers became friends, friends became close friends, close friends became casual daters, but I was still an overachiever. I was still thinking unclearly. I didn’t just want to talk and laugh with Clara, I wanted Clara.
Enhance. Enhance. The Mystery Man is looking her in the eye and has a slower, more meaningful tone to his voice when he meets her now. At first, she’s caught off guard, but as she gets used to it, she likes it. The advances continue, with the man controlling his voice like he rehearsed while sitting at his job, watching her. His voice lowers and he uses choice words that throw Clara off her game. He uses different motions with his hands, until his hand accidentally brushes hers. Seeing through the red-hot wave of lust he experiences, he continues the conversation as if nothing happened, noting the look in her eyes. He brushes her hand again, then a third time to be safe. Then he rests his finger on hers.
Enhance. Enhance. In the next few lunch dates, The Mystery Man talks about his emotional side, making sure to make it less abundant than Clara’s on Facebook. During the next few Facebook conversations, he goes over his past relationships and what he did wrong. Clara #4 is impressed with how honest he is, and it overshadows the things he did. Clara trusts him more now. Clara is sure about his intentions. Clara knows she has to jump to Clara #5 and make the first move, now that she knows she wants it.
But it has to be in person, so the next Facebook conversation is surprisingly dry. Clara knows The Mystery Man is wondering if he did something wrong. Dramatic irony. During their next encounter at the sandwich shop, after talking about how much they have in common and how fortunate they are to have found each other, Clara #4 shyly asks if The Mystery Man wants to skip work and hang out at her place. The Mystery Man acts surprised, just like he rehearsed, and asks about her. Clara #4 slips into Clara #5 and naughtily giggles, saying she can claim a half sick day. That’s all the convincing The Mystery Man needs, and soon the two are walking to her studio apartment downtown. Do your job.
People are seeing me. People see me walking close, very close to Clara. None of them know me, or know how much of a Good Man I am, even though most would label my actions as that of a Bad Man. I looked too close, and forgot to see myself. Was what I was doing bad? I gathered information and used it, it’s not like I’m doing this to someone against her will. If anything, she was the Bad Woman. I was now reading Vonnegut, sporting a beard, and liking her Facebook posts because it was needed. I had taken it to the extreme. I had become the role I was set to only play. Method acting, they call it. Look it up.
This was not helped when Clara opened the door to her place and I looked to my left, right into her bathroom, right into her bathroom mirror. I could not recognize the man staring back at me. Who was he? What had he become, and why? Was I looking too close? Pattern recognition. I was looking in mirrors a lot over the past few days, but never truly asking the question until now. There was no question about it, Clara was a Bad Woman. And bad people feared me. Did Clara fear me? It felt a little nice to fall for such a Bad Woman, maybe I was becoming a Bad Man myself.
But Bad Man was first and foremost The Mystery Man, and The Mystery Man had rehearsed for a shy flirty Clara, Clara #5. Clara #5 wasn’t a Bad Woman, she was a Good Girl. And I had rehearsed for everything from the shy introduction to eventually asking her what we were, to making the first physical move until she shyly admitted how good it felt.