A Brief Survey

It was late at night, and I decided to go out and do some shopping while the stores were all quiet.  I pulled into the empty parking lot of a department store.  Just inside the entrance there was a display of white, faceless mannequins surrounded by Greek columns and pediments.  A spotlight shone down on this display, and the walls around it were painted black, giving the impression that the display was suspended in empty space.  One of the mannequins had laurel leaves round her head, and she wore a long Grecian gown.  She indicated the way to the sales floor with the languishing pose of her arm, her palm upturned as though she were gathering cool running water.

The way that she indicated lead down a wide, dark corridor, mostly bare except for a few other faux Greek artifacts scattered here and there along the way.  In the dark I stumbled against one of these artifacts, a large free-standing vase carved with glyphs and symbols.  I knocked the thing over and I saw that I had chipped a piece off of the edge of it.  I was standing there holding the broken piece and looking for where it had broken from the vase when I heard a woman’s voice further down the corridor call out to me, “Oh, it’s fine.  Don’t worry about it.”

I looked up and saw three woman standing around a little area that had been set up in the middle of the corridor.  There was a small rug laid down and on the rug there was an a leather armchair, an old grey TV with silver dials, and a camera set up on a tripod facing the armchair.  One of the women beckoned me with a wave of her hand, and when I came over, all three of them eased me into the chair, gently pushing down on my shoulders and holding me there.  The woman who had beckoned me over went and turned on the camera, and she spoke with her eye to the eyepiece of the camera, communicating with the image in the camera instead of talking directly to me.

The women told me thay they were taking a survey of some sort, and they said that I would get some coupons for the store if I gave them a few minutes of my time.  It sounded like a fine deal to me.  The woman behind the camera asked me a series of random questions as she continued to peer into the eyepiece.  The other two women continued to hold me in place with a hand on each shoulder.  They applied only the slightest hint of pressure, but I knew that they would hold me firm if I tried to resist or get up and get away.  I looked up at one and then the other from time to time.  They both stood with fixed smiles, stairing straight ahead.

When she was done, the woman behind the camera looked up from the eyepiece and thanked me warmly.  Then she went over and turned the dial on the TV with a sharp click.  I noted the deep red nail polish on her fingers and the brisk but precise clarity of her movements.  The glow of the TV slowly brightened.  The picture rolled a few times before settling into place.  And then I saw my own face staring back at me, wearing the same wool winter cap.  I noticed on the screen that my eyes were squinting strangely, and as the footage of the survey was played back to me, I watched as my eyes went in all sorts of different, random directions from one another, like two eyes that hadn’t been properly paired to work together.

Having never seen footage of myself talking, I had no idea that my eyes had developed this strange wandering habit.  I was alarmed and upset that this had been recorded.  I started to stir from the chair, but just as I had thought, the two hands on my shoulders held me firm.  The footage had already been recorded.  It was too late to take it back.  The woman who had asked the questions picked up the TV from its stand and she carried it over to a wall across the way where there was a bank of dozens of these TVs mounted in a grid.  She slid the TV with my face on it into the last remaining empty space in the grid.  Together these TVs formed a mosaic of faces with a variety of grotesque tics and unconscious idiosyncrasies.  I looked from face to face and took in the whole effect of them until I was lost in this sea of gesticulating heads, gone from the chair completely, just another face on the wall.

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5 thoughts on “A Brief Survey

  1. I liked this a lot. It wasn’t just vividly described, it carried its own logic throughout, as if I were briefly transported to a parallel universe where they do the same kinds of things as in ours, but with some weird differences that aren’t apparent to the traveller who’s a stranger to their history.
    Which is what you find in certain movies such as Back to the Future and Time Bandits and a host of fairy stories such as The Princess Bride, Labyrinth . . .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. ^ I mean, I wouldn’t have been angry if you’d asked me to fill out a brief survey. I might have been angry if you’d held me down and made me watch my own googly eyes bounce all over while doing it, however.

    I just love this because I can’t figure out whether it’s horrifying, or comical, or absurd, or all of the above. I imagine my eyeballs are doing much the same trying to reconcile all of those angles.

    Like

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