Let’s Play by Anthony Ferner

If you go onto the Dark Web, there’s an intriguing app store if you know where to look. Not illegal stuff, just a bit ‘fringe’. That’s where I found the plug-in: PlayTime™. You had to have the chip implanted, but in our circle we all did. You didn’t need a portal, it was Wi-Fi. The two of you could be miles apart – she in Salamanca, say, and you in Antwerp; or you could be in adjoining rooms.

To start, you ‘nudge’ someone, send them the little icon of a naked couple in silhouette: Let’s play. People don’t often say no; it’s etiquette really. I nudged Anna. I’d had a thing for Anna since we were nineteen or twenty, but that was decades ago. I’d seen her a few months back when she came to Europe for a visit. Her face had spread, her fine hair
had coarsened. Her body had sagged and thickened and lost its shape. And so had mine. It shouldn’t matter, if you love a person. Or so people say.

She was rehabilitating ex-guerrillas in Bogotá. (We grow old and die but civil strife in Colombia goes on forever) When I woke the next morning and switched on the tablet, the Let’s play icon was already on my screen. On PlayTime™ Premium, the letters of the message are made up of tiny animated figures performing sex acts on each other. But this was the standard version, the letters simply danced amid starbursts, and a soft jingle played.

It would be almost midnight in Bogotá. Should I wake her? She’d be drowsy and confused. Then again, the night can be the best time for a nudge. Desire is so uncensored then. I tapped the screen. Yes, there was Anna’s body, the rolls of flesh, the slumped breasts, under the mosquito net.
‘Can you see me?’ I asked.
Her voice, still high and bright, still doing it for me: ‘Yes. You?’
‘Yes.’
Anna smiled, a little nervous. She lifted her device and stroked the screen, and I felt her
hands on my chest. I skimmed the screen with my fingers, all of them at once. But her old
flesh was like any other old flesh. I sensed the mood going flat. Arousal is so fleeting. When you’re my age, almost anything will chase it away.
So I pressed ‘Rejuve’.
And, before my gaze, time reversed. The folds shrank back into her, her skin tautened, her breasts firmed, her teeth whitened and straightened, her hair became shiny and lost its grey wiry harshness. I remembered the time, what, thirty years ago, when I’d surprised her at the flat, coming out of the shower. I don’t recall the look on her face, just those lovely nipples, so expectant. And expectant again now. I ran my fingertips along them, felt their warm silkiness.

Her now-smooth hands caressed my belly and the nerve endings tingled. I felt… young. I stroked her thighs, so soft they were, so soft. But compact, dense with the glint of youth.
‘Mmm,’ she said, ‘A little… firmer.’
I increased the pressure, I swear I could touch her, really feel her. I wanted to be with Anna in that room, sharing the same space, tight up against her, smelling her. Hot and sweaty the both of us under the net… Her breathing quickened. I felt urgent, like a twenty-year old, with a young man’s undertow of anxiety, of fearing to outpace her.
‘Are you using anything?’ she said, so quietly I hardly caught the words.
‘What?’ I said, puzzled. This was sex at its safest, surely.
‘I mean…’
I understood. ‘Yes,’ I said, trying for an airiness of tone. ‘Yes, I put you on Rejuve. You know…’
‘Oh,’ she said, ‘you should have asked first.’ She sounded, I don’t know, punctured.
‘Sorry, Anna, listen, why don’t you put me on Rejuve, then we could both…?’
‘No,’ she interrupted. Her hand on my stomach faltered. I felt her fingers withdrawing from my body, then nothing. I had the impulse to check that the WiFi was still connected. The hand came back. The fingers were grainy and chapped, rubbing up and down my chest, rough along my abdomen, around my groin. I looked at the screen. Her body was
ageing, like a time-lapse film, rapid, grotesque. She’d pressed ‘Cancel Rejuve’.

I felt all that delicious anticipation drain from me.  Her hand rested fleetingly on my upper arm, as if to say goodbye. ‘I can’t do this,’ she whispered. Now, she rose from the bed and stood, exposed and defiant, challenging me to witness the truth of her veiny, wrinkling decay.

The screen went blank. I tried to call her but she didn’t pick up. I don’t know what I’d have said anyway. From the street I heard the dull hum of traffic. I went to the bathroom and stared at the slack face in the mirror, hating how the features had lost their definition, like wax softening and drooping. I sat on the bowl of the toilet, joyless,
disgusted with myself, watching a large drab moth flutter stupidly against the blind.