Annabel Banks

Tell us something

I'll tell you about my day. You always know we're coming because we advertise: our kites go up days in advance, their lasers streaking the clouds and high rises; adver-screamers roam the streets, hacking phones and kits, flooding your width with promises. You know what we are - it's not a secret, it's a selling point - and you dare each other to buy tickets, to make a night of it. You look ahead and insert yourself into this scenario. But you're never prepared.

(She's right)
(Tell us why)

You've been spoilt. You're used to 3D Virt, GamingR, ExtraLife and all the other reality playrooms and you forget this is real, that we are real, the way a line of code or a pixelated image just isn't. It takes about twenty minutes to sink in. Then you start to react.

What happens?
(Are we afraid?)
(I wasn't)
(You were)

It's never the same. It depends where we are.

(I don't understand)

Hang on. It doesn't take me long to make up: I only have to pull on the dress, throw on some paint, brush and balance this wig -

(Not real?)

- no, not real. I can't even dye my hair. My skin won't take the chemicals. Because I have free time, I take a few hours to wander each town. No-one ever realises what I am; I wear a hood and walk the strips, past the screamers for other shows, sizing up the competition. I'm looking for a certain type of small shop, somewhere low and grimy. It will have dirty windows. It will be dark and warm. I'll go inside and buy a small paper card, running my fingers over the picture, shapes of cliffs and beaches, and try to learn about my audience.

Tell us how

It's my own theory: topographical mind mapping. Don't laugh. Valleys-dwellers widen eyes and apertures but don't move, and they never ask questions. Mountain-people are sceptics - faked - it's a trick - and can't wait to get past the dampers, get outside, plug in and find out how it's done. Coastals, like here, are different again: silent watchers, immediate believers. Accepters of myth and the secrets of deep water. Of creatures left behind.

(Go on)
(Tell us about here)

I found my shop early. As I flicked through the dusty boxes the staff watched me; they were hosting my advert for the show, but they had no way of knowing, not without this wig, this paint. All they saw was a girl. They were sitting on high chairs, leaning back against the wall, icams whirring as they focused on my face. Are you going? We're selling tickets. Each had one eye milked as they paralleled, maybe watching the news, a movie, porn-porn of me perhaps; their cams might have been chipped. Maybe, tucked inside their visual field, I was fucking a vid creation, a beast, a bird, a monster. Maybe they were hurting me, watching tears cut new patterns into my blood-stained face. Or maybe they were just Booking.

They had enough attention left over to complain about accepting my coins after I exposed my wrist and told my usual lie. Chip magged, pain in the arse, I know... At least they didn't charge me extra for having to use a card. Where's it going, girly? The question came out of nowhere, and for a second I thought I'd been recognised. I stared.

Postcard. A real finger pointed to the image in my hand. Who're you sending it to? In situations like that I have learnt to smile, shake my head and leave.

(What happened)

When I stepped out of the shop there were more bods on the strip, all looking for a good time. It was getting late, the overheads brightening the clouds, and there were clubbers outside Pleasure Plaza, calling, dancing, happy that the working week was over. One skipped over, waving, and I knew I must have been Booked, but again I could only shrug and walk away.

In the distance the kites swooped and sang, advertising the show, sending down words and pics to curve on the pavement. They go so high, anchored by unbreakable steel strings, and the vibration hums upwards, all the way up to the bright dancing body. I stood and watched. When it's busy Davvers lets me launch them, unwinding the long loops, sending them further up to beam back their message, FREEKSHOW 2NITE. Calling to the crowds. Calling to you. I took my picture back to the tent and propped it against my tray of paints, so I could study it as I whitened my face, darkened my eyes; one paper rectangle, framing a point of transition; sea and slate, blues and greys, one into the other beneath mirroring skies. The natural state of things. I knew you wouldn't be afraid.

Tell us more
(About the show)
(Your words)

Bunny always opens the act, voice as deep as your shock. Although only one of the heads is actually alive, the other never lolls or dribbles. It always blinks, and seems to look around. It wiggles its nose. Sometimes, one of the eyes will droop in a wink. Bunny will see it, and turn to the nearest member of the audience. Likes you, Bunny will say, practised leer on the living mouth. Kiss? Then drop forward and bring their mouthparts level. No one has ever kissed that second mouth, which is strange, because Bunny gets a lot of action after the curtain drops. After the tumbling acts have been on, armPlants whizzing around the arena, it's the animals. You always love the monkey wedding. I don't know why.

Real animals?
(I thought they were fake)
(They look almost human!)

As you saw, my act closes. It goes like this. The damping field cuts in - no-one is allowed to vid me; it would ruin us if pics leaked - and Bunny leads me out, our three heads bobbing to the sub-enhanced beat. I sit, smooth my hands over this pink and yellow-striped dress, the whole look designed to keep me on the right side of cartoon. I am not here to frighten.

Why are you here?
(Don't ask that)

Well, I'm unemployable. At first, it was this or nothing, and I wouldn't smile, which made the audience fear me even more. But I came to feel differently about it after the third show. Someone put out their hand and touched my face as I was doing my act, gently stroking me from my hairline to my jaw, and thanked me. I asked what for. Because we forget, they said, golden lip slot gleaming, and we shouldn't. It made me feel important. When everyone had gone I climbed up the tent, high up into the roof, and sat on the scaffolding. I thought about what it means for people like you to see someone like me.

(An advert?)

Perhaps. I think it's more a memory.

Go on

Lifting the cover is always a tense moment. Sometimes I can't identify the contents, not at first, and I used to worry about a mistake being made, something damaging or deadly or just not right - but I've learnt to trust the team here. They've never let me down. Davvers' ringruler routine is always perfect, carefully pitched to the crowd's needs. I know I'm cared for. Davvers will even end the show early if I'm getting too much of the wrong sort of attention -

Like what?
(Are we hurting you?)
(Shall we move back?)

No, no, you're wonderful. Perfect, in fact. But I sometimes get the after-effects of fear: pinching, scratching, offers of sex, of love, of death. I never cry, that would be unprofessional, but Davvers is always watching, always knows. Then long fingers reach though the crush of flesh and fakes and draw me out, hiding me under that red tailcoat, toplight flashing, volume up, roaring me to safety.

But not today. Today, everything went well. When I lifted the cover I was overjoyed. Long green stems, heated with water vapour to soften them; a small grey fish, also warmed in water, its bulging eye cast up at me with a wink of seasoning. I was surprised for a moment, and then I remembered where we are. They're still caught for sport round here, yes? Someone knows someone who can keep a secret. I picked up the utensils that none of you can name, and cut. Pushed. Lifted.

When the first piece of green went into my mouth I heard a voice. No. I chewed slowly, letting you watch the movement of my jaw muscles, knowing you were picturing my teeth, my wet mouth. I swallowed, smiled, looked down. Cut into the fish.

Davvers started up the low patter that's designed to cover stunned silences. You were addressed as Ladies and gentlemen, part of the ambience of the piece, and invited closer. You paused, and then surged, a wave of bodies, leaning so far over that you knocked me with your icams. Excuse, I heard, Please, and I smiled again, and opened my mouth, displaying the mashed and sticky pile.

And how do we make you feel?

Although many of you came down to be with me, I know that others have left in disgust. They are outside, Booking each other, chipped in to whatever gives them comfort, on their way home. Some feel sorry for me, that I have been neglected somehow. Some always contact authorities, charities, to get me rescued, to get me healed. Kindly Plant surgeons offer to work for free. Kindly businesses offer to pay.

But still you choose to remain you

No. Listen. This is important. Each time, afterwards, I explain how this isn't a choice; my body rejected the Plants as fast as they're implanted. I'm still just a girl, sat alone on the edges of communication, of information, of life. There is no higher moral purpose to this; just a blind person allergic to sticks.

But you are pure -

What value is purity? If you can't change, you can't grow. I'm purest stagnation. I'm the dullest grey.

Do you have time for more questions?

No. Wait - yes, I do, but they are for you. I have a thousand. Can tell me what it means to see the sun sing? How does it feel to be inside the mind of your lovers? To remember every day of your life? What is it like to never be alone?

We cannot (Excuse) (Cannot) (You wouldn't under-)

I know. This is why I ask you here. You mustn't falter now. Get out, go as far as you can, and send back pictures.

And you?

I'll always be here, looking up. I'll be your kite string.

Date and time of last update 11:46 Thu 30 Jun 2011
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