Thursday, October 7, 2010

Lena's Fledgling

Lena drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. The car drove itself in a pack and she didn't really need to pay attention, her thoughts centering on her friend Mirjam. She calmed her fingers, surprised at her nervous twitching. She wondered if matchmakers usually felt this way.

Lena parked the bubble car on its landing wheels in between two Fiats and clambered out the front bubble hatch onto the Östermalm sidewalk. Lena was impressed with Mirjam's east side row house. Outside the building's front door, a candle in a tin cup nestled in a snow drift. The higher end housing associations had begun copying the restaurant's fashion of burning candles outside their doorways during the winter's long nights.

Lena knocked on the door of the eighth floor flat. Impressive. The elegance of Mirjam's virtual avatar hadn't been all gussy. Lena waited as the sounds echoed within the room. She glanced at her phone and doublechecked Mirjam's address card. She had the right address. She knocked again.

Dust spewed into the air as the door opened a crack stopped by a chain. A pale face, dark hair on the other side.

"Mirjam? It's Lena." The blue eyes, like whirlpools, matched Mirjam's avatar. "You agreed to see my new bubble car."

"I... I thought you meant virtually." Mirjam's voice cracked and her words were barely audible over the thrum of the hallway. Mirjam slid the chain and the door opened. "Tea?"

Lena grabbed her friend's hand and pulled her forward. "How long since you've left your flat?"

Mirjam held a hand up to block the blue-white LED lights in the hallway. Her pupils dilated. She waved a hand at her simple Acne blouse and H&M slacks. "I can't go out."

Lena closed Mirjam's door and pushed her friend towards the elevators. Her friend wouldn't impress the skin-deep crowd, but Håkan would look deeper. Especially, once he'd seen her whuffie score. "You must see the car."

Outside, Lena patted the clear bubble of the car. "How do you like it?"

"Nice. I'll go back inside."

Lena curled her lip and pouted. "You haven't even looked at the car."

Mirjam walked around the car. A foot slipped on the ice and she reached out to the car to balance herself. "Why only two wheels?"

"Smaller, fewer moving parts. It uses dynamic stabilization to balance."

"How can it run on that?"

"Get in, we'll take it for a spin," said Lena.

Mirjam's whirlpool eyes spun to a single dark point. She opened her mouth, closed it, and climbed into the bubble car.

They crisscrossed town until they reached the wide boulevard of Sveavägen. The street was still marked with two lanes for the old-style cars, but this was a bubble car only thoroughfare now. Bubble cars four across weaved through the city. Lena turned to sit Indian-style in the seat facing her friend.

Mirjam placed a hand against the dash. "Lena! Don't you need to drive this thing?"

"All automated. Don't you watch the ads?"

Mirjam grimaced. A car jerked between the lip of their bubble and the bumper of the car ahead of them. "My personalized ads know that I don't go out. You should know that too."

Lena chewed her lip. She'd gotten this far, and she couldn't stand Håkan up. "Let's stop at the bar for some food." Lena waved her hand towards one of the rowhouses on the right side where a few smokers hunkered in the red glow of heaters hanging from a yellow awning.


Lena smiled. "You don't have a choice. You come with me, or you walk home." Lena didn't like the wounded look she saw on her friend's face. This was all in her friend's interest. She shouldn't live her life holed up in her room, living virtually.

They sat at a heavily stained table. Håkan hooked a chair with the curve of his leather boots and leaned on it over their table. "Hi Lena, who's your friend?"

Mirjam looked at her friend and then at the man with the propeller beanie, white tee-shirt, and jeans. "You set me up. How dare you." Mirjam snagged her coat off the back of the chair and pushed her way through the bar's patrons.

Lena shook her head. Håkan could've dressed better. "Give her a ride home." She tossed her keys to Håkan.

"What about you?"

"I'll find a ride." She winked. "You know me."

Scene seed from my writer's weights challenge on using character foils to show traits and on the economist's "The Bubble Car Is Back" article on the EN-V bubble car prototypes that GM is exploring with a company in China.


  1. That was cute. Sometimes all it takes is a push, but then again, sometimes that way lies panic attacks.

  2. @Valerie, thanks. I fledged late and if someone had pushed me I would have panicked. :) Of course, there are some things I wish in hindsight that I'd done earlier.

  3. Which is meant as a compliment to your writing, BTW. :)

  4. :) Thanks, Nevets. I gather that you believe I'm not a creep then. ;)

  5. I thought this was pretty atmospheric, I wanted to explore this curious society with their bubble cars and helicopter beenies. I want one of those cars too!

  6. I see the foil. Mirjam's an introvert, while Lena wants to get her out into the world.

    I don't know if I could forgive a friend for leaving me like that though. :)

  7. hahaha Aidan. That's correct. I don't believe you to be a creep. :)

  8. @Adam, the car's look awesome and use the same tech as the Segway's. That's what got me set on the world.

    @Tessa, yes on the foils. I don't condone Lena's actions. However, I had a friend who _ditched_ me once in Alaska. He probably had a better reason than Lena (he ditched me to fly home a week early because he hadn't packed a warm enough sleeping bag) and I've forgiven him. It was disconcerting at the time since I'd never previously travelled alone.

  9. I smiled at the personalized ads knowing she doesn't go out. That Hulu experience is refining.

  10. Wow, this was very different from all the others I've read tonight. Pleased to meet you. Why on earth did I keep seeing the IKEA store in my head? I think it's Swedish too. I love it. This was so well-done. You really have some solid writing.

  11. @John, I think the truly scary thing will be when watching personalized ads in the company of other people. I'm not sure I want people asking why would they personalize _that_ ad for you :)

    @Carrie, Thanks. I'm impressed that you picked up on the Swedish references.

  12. Lovely story, but personally I really dislike Lena. If somebody did that to me I'd never speak to them again.

  13. @Kari, thank-you. Lena reminds me a lot of John Wayne's character tossing his son in the river to swim. I'm not trying to make excuses for her, I didn't think much of John Wayne's actions.

  14. A true friend wouldn't judge this way. I would love to hear the rest of this story. The characters are so interesting. Cool bubble car references. I love finding out about things and then creating stories around them. Great job on that and excellent wrting.-Tiffany

  15. I really like the imagery of candles outside in the winter. But then, I'm a sucker for candles. And snow, heh.

    I'm thorn between agreeing with Lena's approach (except for leaving her friend alone with an unknown guy) and thinking she's a jerk for being so radical, even if her intentions are good though.

    This means that your writing touched me, so I forgive Lena. ;)

  16. @Tiffany, Thank's for stopping by. It is always nice finding kindred spirits who create stories from what they find around them.

    @Mari, It is good to hear from you. One of Stockholm's saving graces in the deep dark of winter is their candles. (Not sure about the snow though... especially this last year). Thank-you, that is a great compliment.

  17. Living life in a bubble to riding home in one. While some things change, others remain the same. I like the way you depicted how empty shells we can become if technology rules our lives.

  18. i want a bubble car :) heh, but i love the way your car becomes a sort of metaphor for Mirjam's life really too. Great story!

  19. @Stephen, I'm glad you enjoyed that touch.

    @AS, Thanks. Did you catch the reference that they're making a prototype that combines the Segway's balance system with a car that can drive itself. I want one of those too!

  20. You know, we were *supposed* to have hovercars by now! I want a fully automated bubble car! *pout*

    Nicely written. Loved the beanie propeller hat. :)

  21. @ganymeder, I agree if they give me an automated bubble car than I'll overlook the lack of hovercars. Thanks.