The Identity Operator


by Soren James


Anna Jella-Kews kicked at the roof of her mouth. She kicked again and again until a hatch opened and she was allowed a place in her own brain. There she hurriedly searched for a sense of self – edging past the galleries and galleries of images accrued from masses and masses of glossy ads that daily drifted through her eyes.

Sliding round the corner of a Wonderbra ad, Anna saw, glowing in the corner, a small Tupperware box. This was exactly what she was looking for. She grabbed it, slid back through the galleries, then abseiled back down onto her now dry tongue.

Leaping from her mouth, she found herself again sitting at a table in Macky-D’s with her old gang of friends. “I’ve got it.” She said. “Look.” She presented the unopened Tupperware box to the others. They all stared silently at Anna.

A Macky-D employee, who’d been sweeping around a nearby bin, came over to inform her she couldn’t bring her own food in.

“It ain’t food! It’s my sense of self. Stupid!” said Anna.

“You can’t bring anything of your own in here. Or you’ll be asked to leave.”

“I told you, it’s not food! I’m not even hungry, idiot.”

“Staff don’t have to tolerate aggression. Please leave.” He stood straight, holding his broom as if it were a trusty spear.

“But –”

“I’ll call security if you don’t leave.”

“Fine.” Anna picked up the lunch box, then addressed those at the table to say, “Who’s coming with me?”

The others looked down toward their half eaten meals, then sheepishly at one another. From the five expected to respond, there were two shrugs and one “Dunno.”

Anna stormed out, whispering “Idiots,” beneath her breath.

She sauntered over to the park, and sat lonely and dejected on a bench. She thought about crying, but stopped and looked at the glowing plastic box in her lap, sure that all was okay as she had a sense of self.

“Don’t open that,” said a raspy voice.

“What? Why? Who are you?”

“The angry troll who lived under the bench.”

“Lived? You mean lives – unless you’re dead.”

“I can’t live. I’m too angry. I’m an angry troll, you see.” Three-legged, thirty centimetres tall and wearing a purple plaid suit, the troll stepped from beneath the bench.

“You look alive,” said Anna.

“I look a lot of things. I look up your skirt.” The troll flashed his eyes at Anna.

“Why? What’s there?”

The troll pointed an aggressive finger. “You ask a lot of questions.”

“You pose a lot of questions – with those three legs of yours, and that ugly suit. AND, if you’re dead, why are you moving?”

“Anger’s good for keeping the blood circulating. Keeps one active.”

“I don’t like anger. It’s stupid.”

“Good – that’s an angry response. I want you to stick with that and . . .”

Distracted by a passing aeroplane, Anna’s attention was drawn up into the trees where she gazed at the gentle swaying of autumn leaves against an azure luminosity that seemed alive with . . .

“Interesting!” The troll interrupted loudly. “You’re not like the others.”

Slowly Anna’s attention drifted down from the sky, to ask, “What others?”

“The dead others. All the ones I’ve had to kill.”

“Sounds dull. . .You should go to Macky-D’s – they do a Laughy Meal.”

“You’re not going to ask why I’ve had to kill all the others?”

She screwed up her face in disgust. “I’m not asking. Why you asking me?”

“Most people are curious. They take it as a threat to their very existence.”

Wide-eyed and interested, Anna asked, “I have a very existence?”

“Yes. You should be scared for it. I can take it away.”

Remembering the Tupperware box, Anna discretely slid it behind her back.

“What’s that you’ve got there? That glowing box, what’s that?”

“Nothing. It’s not anything. Oh, please don’t kill me mister. I’m frightened for my life.”

“That’s more like it,” said the troll, pleasantly surprised. “But I’m still curious what’s in the box. It’s not a sense of self, is it?”

“No. It’s a take-away pizza. I took it away from a shop over there.” Anna pointed in a direction.

“The furniture shop?”

“Behind that.”

The troll nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, a couple of miles in that direction there is a pizza shop. You must mean that?”

“I do.”

“It’s funny. You don’t seem scared for your life.”

“Should I be?”

“Most are.” The troll leapt up onto the bench and sat down next to the girl. “What’s wrong? Don’t you value it?”

“Well . . . I don’t even know what it is. What is life?”

“It’s all of this.” The troll gestured grandly with his tiny arms. “Everything going on, and everything you feel. It’s a loose term for the whole show.” The troll then lifted one leg and began licking its crotch. After a few moments of obsessive lapping, the troll looked up from the now damp patch on its purple three-legged trousers, to continue: “Have you thought of killing yourself? Only, you’d save me some time.”

“What’s ‘killing yourself’? It sounds familiar. Adults say I’m doing that when I go to Macky-D’s.”

“Proper killing yourself is putting your head in the oven, or jumping in front of a truck.”

“Oh, yeah! I’ve done that loads! I threw myself under a truck first thing this morning. I was folded in two and had half my head scraped off on the road.”

The troll leaned around the girl to check the other half of her head was there, then said, “You seem fine.”

“It keeps growing back. Everything does. The other day I jumped into a threshing machine. I didn’t even know what a threshing machine was, but I got to find out – first hand. It was exciting – all that ripping and tearing. Of course, I was in about a billion bits after that, but I still grew all back together again. Like this.” Anna gestured down her slender body, her hand ending its elegant gesture over the naked thighs that issued forth from her dress.

The troll stared, analysing the smoothness of those legs, those parallel mounds of fleshy goodness that . . .

“Have you stopped talking to me?” Anna said finally.

“Oh, yes, so. Erm. You want to kill yourself, is that right? No. You want me to kill you? I can’t remember. What were we talking about?”

“I was telling you how I grow back, no matter what I do. It’s like I’m not really real or something. But nobody believes me when I mention these things. Mum says I’m mad. But she has about ten boyfriends a month. I think that’s mad. Dad’s in finance, but I don’t get to see him much, he’s too busy to . . .”

“Yeah, yeah. I don’t want your biography. I want your life.”

“But I don’t even know what a life is. How can you take it if I don’t know what it is?”

I know what it is. Just trust me, and I’ll take it.” The troll’s gaze slipped down her body to rest once again on those . . . dark . . . brown . . . thighs . . .

“You not talking to me again?”

“Uh, what? Yeah, erm. Would you like to come under the bench with me?”

Anna leant forward to gaze beneath the bench at the discarded butts and assorted bits of rubbish. “No. It’s dirty.”

“It’s not, I swear. There’s a portal down there that leads to a very clean place. It’s my place. You’ll like it. There’s . . . pizza and stuff down there. All in Tupperware boxes, just how you like it.”

“I don’t like pizza. Especially not in Tupperware.”

The troll inched toward her on the bench. “What do you like, then?”

“Macky-D’s?”

“Yeah, I’ve got loads of them down there. Have as many as you want.”

“It’s not a thing, it’s a place. Actually, no, it’s a lifestyle.”

Your life?” The troll inched in closer again.

Anna frowned, vacantly. “I guess. What else is there?”

The troll gazed again at Anna’s legs, as dappled sunlight played in her lap. “I can show you something else. Something more fun. But you have to trust me. Can you do that?” The troll ran a crooked finger up her thigh.

Flinching, Anna grabbed the Tupperware box from behind her to hit the troll over the head. The lunch box shattered, dissipating its light in the autumn air.

“What the fuck?” Anna stood up shouting. “That was my sense of self. I only just got that – in Macky-D’s. What do I do now? Fucking idiot!”

Scared, the troll scuttled under the bench and disappeared there.

Anna slumped down, confused.

“Are you okay?” Asked a woman, from a bench opposite. “I saw you on your own there. You seem quite agitated. And you’ve scared that dog off. What’s wrong?”

Shocked to be asked about herself, Anna felt choked for words. She tried to say something, but her mouth was dry and her throat constricted. Seconds later she found herself crying.

The woman sat next to her, and reached out to place a reassuring hand on her back, but Anna flinched.

“It’s okay, honey,” said the woman. “I won’t hurt you.”

Anna cried harder, then between sniffles, said, “I . . . I don’t know who I am. I don’t know what to do. What am I?”

“You have an entire lifetime to ignore questions like that. Why don’t you just start simply. What do you want right now?”

“To find myself.” Anna kicked at the roof of her mouth, again and again, until a hatch opened and she was allowed a place in her own brain. There she hurriedly searched for a sense of self. Finding only a glitching mechanism and a broken dog, she said, “Oh, there I am.”