Social Distance

Futuristic vignette about hooking up in a post-pandemic world

I’m safe, trapped, isolated, secure. No-one can touch my skin; this spray-on latex suit encasing me from head to toe-tips protects me from you, and you, and you. All of you.

Just like my breathing mask; HEPA-filtered and airtight, cleansing your breath before it reaches my lungs, shielding my features from recognition. I’m not ashamed of who I am or how I look. I’m precious and rare, my identity is treasure, not for squandering to casual glances. Shielded eyes skim across my smoothed-out, generic features, what cannot be seen cannot be marked, here below the threshold of unsolicited judgement, I can relax. Have some fun. Sheltered from pointing fingers and opportunistic infection, safe from all the harms that uninvited recognition can inflict. Safety’s embrace, a whole-body hug, fills me with benevolence. Confinement, a counterpoint, spills adrenaline into my blood. A heady combination; comfort and excitement, freedom through constriction.

Get as close as you like, stare as though you could peel away the gleam and glide of processed rubber that exposes my shape and conceals my core. You can look, but not see, touch but not reach. Our fingers slip and slide over slick surfaces, muted impression, muffled response; if we try hard enough, we can make an interface of this barrier. Press deeper, grasp tighter. Communication through sensation, together we learn a new form of conversation. Face and voice excluded, along with all the assumptions and associations that they carry with them, we talk in motion.

When you’re anonymous, the only person you need answer to is yourself. Who am I? Whoever I want to be, whatever I choose to be. What makes you worthy of my attention, and me of yours? After all, there are so many of us here, undulating among the smoke and lasers, writhing to the beat and hum of music across our second skins. We could frot and fumble all night if we chose, judge each other by shape and size, select on sight without ever considering the person within. We could, and we did; in those early days of reopening, we grabbed what we could and left wondering why so much never seemed to be enough.

I’ll tell you why; it was because after so long, we mistook the glory of touch for the joy of connection. We had to rediscover for ourselves; how much more valuable is the human presence within, now that on the outside, we all look so alike. Suddenly, actions spoke more clearly than words, experience held triumph over appearance.

So here we are, protected and interfaced across a few millimetres of stretched-tight latex, strangers along every axis but the one that counts; inside.

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