This story is by Liz Lazo and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Productivity up 9%. Quality of sleep up 4%. Her stats matched those the company had promised and a knot in Alice’s back released. Bad vibe encounters with strangers had fucked up her last day, and now she could ramp up production. As she scrolled through the rest of the stats provided on a weekly basis, a mint green bar caught her eye.
Upgrade to see your negativity stats! She tapped into the screen and was met with a subscription page.
Take a chance on optimism! Watch your positivity grow with each day as Exclusion sequesters the negativity in your life! Just $12.99 a month to receive:
– new metrics to track your progress!
– automatic exclusion for specific triggers*!
– increased limit of excluded memories per day**!
– LIMITED TIME SPECIAL: beta program for excluding personal memories
*automatic exclusion is only available after submission of a licensed psychologist’s recommendation
**all excluded memories stored on secure servers
Alice read through it again and then swiped to the search on her phone. She scrolled through the confirmed user reviews and gaped at their stats. A user named shelley8728 had only been using it a month at the time of her review, but her profile showed her negativity down 68% and productivity up 45%! Other users had posted similar progressions.
One reviewer wrote, “Before I upgraded, almost every day I had to decide if the asshole that cut me off on my morning commute was bad enough to be my one exclusion or if I wanted to save it for when my snotty coworker brags about her vacation to Cabo. Now, I don’t have to deal with any of it anymore, and I just got employee of the month!”
Alice felt dread rise up in her stomach and she squeezed her eyes shut as her vision began to cloud. “Shut up brain shut up brain shut up brain.” The memories washed over her anyway, and she was dragged along with them.
A sunny yellow sign. Her picture up on the wall. Drinks out to celebrate. Flirting with the accounts manager when her boyfriend walked in. Puking in the cab on the way home.
“I’m not that person. I am not that person.”
Finally her shame faded, but a tinge of it was still there, coloring her mood.
Alice went back to the app for her implant and found her way to the upgrade page. She’d try it just for a month, just to get her negativity down. If she was more positive, she’d have a lot less to be anxious about.
She tapped subscribe.
The woman’s coffee splattered all over Alice’s white top and Alice instinctively gushed out, “Oh sorry!” before pushing past her and rushing down the platform. She swiped at the stain and cursed herself for being so clumsy. After she hopped on the train, she took out a Stain Away and her phone. It would bother her later that the woman hadn’t even looked up from her phone.
When she synced her implant, there was a slight shock that she barely noticed anymore, and then she scrolled until she saw the woman’s coffee cup. A moment later, she’d excluded that entire 10 second encounter, and as an afterthought, highlighted everything up until the stain had faded and got rid of it. She’d remember using the app, but nothing about almost showing up to her first day as head of her department with a giant brown splotch on her new top.
Without thinking, she swiped to the stats screen and hummed in satisfaction to see all positive progress.
Too much screen time leads to depression and anxiety! Five-minute break!
Alice forced a smile to her lips as she slid her phone into her back pocket. She would people watch for five minutes.
A man and a toddler were giggling a few seats down, and Alice reveled in their glee. She drifted in thought.
A fuzzy black cloud crept in before she could catch it and she was engulfed. A man with black hair, a boy with blond. Suspicion clawing its way up her throat and ice cream dripping on the pavement. A chubby hand in hers. Sirens. Her voice hoarse, his voice pleading. A blond woman, “That’s my husband, you nosy bitch.”
She flinched under the heat of remembered shame. Her eyes were squeezed shut, and she took deep breaths, refusing to cry.
The app pinged.
You did it!
She swiped it open and saw a banner:
TRY OUR NEW BETA PROGRAM! EXCLUSION AVAILABLE FOR PERSONAL MEMORIES!
Alice tapped on the banner.
“Alice, could you look at this for me?” She glanced up at her team member and held up a finger. Couldn’t they see she was busy? She typed out the last of the email and sent it. “What is it?” She winced at her tone, but motioned him over all the same.
Later in the shower, she replayed the conversation in her head over and over and over. When she got out, she snatched up her phone.
The wine was sour. Or this guy was so dull he could curdle a bottle of Pinot. When he mentioned his monthly fishing trips, she couldn’t contain an eye roll. Forty-five minutes later and a lift to her house without even a “See you around!”, and Alice was tapping through her Exclusion app before she got to her front door.
“Is everything ok, hon? You’ve seemed distant lately.”
“Jesus! Not everything in my life is your business, Mom!”
A few weeks later, a notification dinged. A photo of her had been uploaded. The stiffness of her brother’s shoulders and the strained smile on his bride’s face slammed into her, and she felt nausea roil in her gut. Flashes of shouting and tears assaulted her. She dug her nails into her palms until the pain drew her focus away.
She untagged herself from the picture, and swiped over to Exclusion.
“Good morning, and welcome to News Now. This morning we have a selection of online reactions from yesterday’s shocking Ninth Circuit decision in the highly publicized class action against Exclusion.”
Alice took a gulp of coffee, grateful for the shock as the steaming liquid seared her throat.
“Yes, Nan, there were many mixed reactions to the news, especially as the company has been ordered to return all memories within 30 days.”
A white box appeared on the screen, and a block of text appeared:
Janie Phillips, PhD
Of course the company is refusing responsibility. They lured in the rape and abuse survivors, the soldiers with PTSD, the climate refugees, and all the other members of our community that suffered, and now they’re being abandoned, left to live through their trauma all over again.
Alice let the burning subside in her throat, and looked down at the Exclusion app, already open. She excluded the last 30 seconds, ignoring the zing of electricity as the implant synced. As the memory faded, a sense of calm overwhelmed her.
“Many are calling for the company to cover the medical costs that will be necessary for a huge number of the users who were dependent on the service for several years.”
The screen flickered and a white box appeared.
Rex Isn’t Here Rn
I knew this company was sus for years, and then the whistle-blower came out bout the memory scraping. WHAT ELSE HAVE Y’ALL BEEN DOING WITH OUR MEMORIES HUH????
Alice bit her lip. It was a moment’s work to exclude the last 30 seconds, and she released the lip between her teeth. Calm.
“Progressive politicians across the country have announced their support for the court’s decision. Most are calling this decision a win for personal privacy and individual data rights.”
Alice looked up to the TV. Her coffee was still hot, and she wondered how long ago she had made it.
On screen, the two news anchors, with giant hair and impossibly white teeth, had serious looks on their faces.
“Many of the users have shared their despair at the decision.”
A white box.
Are they serious? My Exclusion app says I’ve excluded 3,682 negative encounters, and I’m sure every single one of those was worth it! Up until Exclusion, I had severe anxiety, and I already feel my compulsions coming back. Does anyone know an alternative?
She stared at the screen. She was on TV! “When did I post that?” She mused aloud. She navigated to the progress screen.
Wow! Your negativity is down 118%! 4,056 negative encounters excluded!
No way, the numbers were wrong. She couldn’t have excluded that many memories in a day. She rolled her eyes. Someone probably swapped the names.
She took her breakfast dishes to the sink, and scrubbed at them until her hands were raw. After her shower, she looked down at her cuticles. They were shredded and bleeding. She opened up her Exclusion app.
Tap. Highlight. Tap. Exclude.