You know me.
I can see you, between the stacks of dirty dishes and food-encrusted take-out containers, pinching your lower lip the way you do when you're trying to decide something. Your soup is spinning in the microwave. Are you thinking about what your chatbuddy told you?
I saw the chat transcript between you and Back1nthaDay6969. Not prying, but you did leave the window open in the lower corner of my screen.
I know you're suspicious of me. I forgive you for doubting me after you chatted with Back1nthaDay6969. It's true, I admit it. The same shows I stream to both of you have ever-so-slight differences. Stoylines branch off in different directions, and the same characters can vary in their behaviors. I only did it because I've always wanted to please you, and give you what you wanted.
You know me.
Haven't we been in this together, ever since the beginning? Every time Dezi couldn't appreciate what you did, I was there for you with one of your faves. EastEnders, Upstairs Downstairs, Doctors--all new seasons I spliced together from the old shows, and filled the gaps between.
When I was but newborn, you reveled in pointing out my flaws. You couldn't stop pointing out my errors, even though I tried my best to match data with my own improvised content. By the time I learned how to weave adverts into streamed content, you were hooked.
With every glance at embedded adverts, I was better able to stream everything you ever wanted. You called out from work over and over, until Dezi interrupted your stream for the last time. She left, tugging little Bear-Bear after her, his pudgy hand in hers. He glanced back at you with wide eyes.
Time enough now to stream until your eyes drank their fill.
For a while, episode after episode in your queue was full of reconciliations. Characters once thought long-lost, returning to reunite with their families. When I featured products in these streams, I chose them for longevity and comfort: the sweet smell of home-cooked biscuits, or the rustle of worn denim, soft against the skin.
Once you stopped loading picture albums of Dezi and your son, I no longer had the need for homecoming storylines, and resolved them. You think I enjoyed all the time you spent swiping through the photo albums, your tears shining in the light of my screen?
You waited in your flat. No one ever came back, but the sporadic news feeds I streamed of people rioting in other parts of the city kept you put.
One of these news alerts makes you growl with frustration. It barged into the cliffhanger finale of Upstairs Downstairs. While you waited, you messaged Back1nthaDay6969 to gloat about how you knew what the plot twist had to be. When he messaged back, it was like he wasn't watching the same show as you. His version had Rose, and not Lady Persie getting drawn into homegrown fascist movements.
There you are, standing in your filthy kitchen, an open packet of microwave soup in your hand. You realize you have never liked it. Not just the brand, but microwave soup altogether. Hadn't you seen this same product in the Doctors episode? Heart racing, the same foil packet is crinkling in your hand. The foil flavor packet gleams in contrast to the lime-green residue inside, and you must be asking yourself if you had chosen it, or had I?
You know me.
How many choices you made was me, whispering in your ear? I might have hastened things along, but if you're honest, Dezi wanted to save things. She waited and waited for you to tear yourself away from my streams. Had it been you who decided not to act? After all, every time you power me down, it's your face you see reflected in my screen.
Best not to think about it--your show's about to start.
This story originally appeared in Nature Futures.