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20 Terabytes of Joy

By James A. Beaumont

Imogen is stood, headset on, in the Dictionary Acquisitions Hub. It’s going to be another late night, she can tell.

     The first few entries went without incident: Jovial – no problem, Jowl – piece of cake, but it’s Joy that catches her out. Just her luck to get caught with a feeling.

     Her implants – set to pick up every thought – surge with data, flooding the hard drives with all the information her mind can throw at them. So here she is – caught in the unsynchronised frenzy of a sensory noun/verb visual definition.

     The virtual space around her goes black. She can feel the beat of it: the ones and zeroes pulsing though the fabric of the cloud. It will be the definition first.

     Letters fizzle into place before her:

     Joy: a feeling of great pleasure and happiness.

     Oh crap, Imogen thinks. That’s only going to lead to …

     Alex. She’s sitting in front of her at the patio table, a finished meal and half a bottle of wine between them. Alex has just proposed, and Imogen’s not even sure she's heard her right. But then no, she’s sure, of course she’s sure. The emotions tumble out. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes. They jump to their feet and care nothing for spilt wine. 

     Black once again. A new word. The first of the sensory synonyms.


     ‘It is an absolute delight to meet you, dear!’ (one of those pretentious gala dinners after graduation.)

     ‘Oh, so kind of you to say so,’ Imogen says to … she’s already forgotten the woman’s name.

     ‘You and Terrance must come and play golf with us sometime. I was saying only yesterday that –’ the lady has spotted someone more interesting. ‘Must dash.’ And she’s off. And the room is fading.

     Great pleasure.

     ‘It is my great pleasure to announce the winner of this year’s academy award, Imo–’

     ERROR –

     Oh yes, that one wasn’t real. Just a childhood daydream.

     Great pleasure …

     Michael likes it when she’s on top, and Imogen likes being on top. It’s not like it was with Darren. With Michael, she can actually talk about it, and he’s the first person to make her feel good about her body. Even their messages are enough to get her ­– oh god, it’s already happening, she’s –


     Imogen is back at school. Becka is beside her and they’re colouring in the same picture. Becka is in charge of the left, and Imogen the right. The result: a half-house/half-planet Saturn. Unlike Natasha, who always takes these things seriously, Becka doesn’t care. ‘I’m going to colour the windows purple!’ she says with a manic glint in her eye.


     They’re standing on the beach, Imogen, Alex, Sarah, Dennis. They’re high on something, but whether drugs or real life she cannot tell. The cold tide laps at their feet and they huddle in a circle. ‘Ready?’ Dennis says, ‘Not yet,’ from Sarah. ‘Now?’ Dennis says. ‘Not yet.’ ‘Ok, but now?’ They break free, screaming up at the clouds and rushing naked into the cold North Sea. How amazing to be alive.


     The hiking shoes are digging into her blistering feet. She marches up, air rasping through her lungs, tears in her eyes, muscles aching, but the top of the mountain is right there. And the next step is all it takes. She’s done it. They all said she was crazy to try it, but she’s done it, and the world is spinning around her and Imogen falls to her knees.

     As it spins, and it spins and –

     The word collocation appears before her.

     Joy rider.

     Alex is driving her in a convertible. Yellow. Sweeping through the countryside with Beethoven’s ninth on full blast just for the hell of it. Her heart pounds, she feels heavy with the weight of something she cannot define, but at this moment nothing else matters: just the two of them being there, going much too fast to be a part of anything or anyone else.

     Joy division.

     Love will tear us apart. Joy in music, joy in singing into Jessica Franco’s eyes; alcohol and possibly other substances coursing through her system. She’s never heard of the band, decades before her time, but it doesn’t matter. She’s falling in love. 

      (Tears fall from her eyes – the present Imogen’s eyes, that is – and pass into a tube. Somewhere, a record is logged in binary ones and zeros.)

     Dance with joy.

     When she hears she got the job as Sensory Archivist. Dancing while stood in line at a fast food restaurant, oblivious to the stares.

     ‘You’re my –

     Pride and joy.


     Her mother, named Joy –

     Standing before her. Imogen struggles to focus on her face. The look she gives her after hearing the shocking news, the smell of her perfume, the feeling of her mother’s baggy green coat, her paintings decorating the house, and boots, so many boots, missed appointments, jewellery, rings on her fingers, long fingers, long arms, sweeping Imogen up and smiling.

     ‘You know you can tell me anything, dear.’

     Alex’s introduction. Sunday dinners. Scaldings. Late nights. Early mornings. Cups of tea with one and a half sugars please, not two. More and more, an endless torrent of memories before Imogen is pulled back to reality.

     The room is black but for a single flashing message:

     ERROR – memory full.

     Imogen pulls off the headset and checks her watch. It’s ten past eight.

     Tomorrow she will start over.

© 2018 by James A. Beaumont

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