Freda dangles her arm into the cot. She strokes the cotton thin hair of her new-born and watches its effect in her window. With each stroke, her own face, milk white and blurred is shown on the screen. "I'm going downstairs now. I'll check on you later," she says. She switches on the musical mobile and the images in the baby's screen dance with colour.
Downstairs Jude lies on the settee with his feet on the table. He's reading another book. As Freda sits beside him, she sees the words in his window. They flash up and dissolve as he thinks them. "Ella's seeing my face more clearly. She's even worked out the colour of my eyes," she says. Jude rests the book on his stomach so that he doesn't cover his window. It would be illegal, even in his own living room, if he were to intentionally cover it.
"I haven't seen my face yet," he says, looking at his wife's window. He sees his feet on the table and the colour of the background is red. Red is bad. Red is anger. He takes his feet from the table and the image dissipates.
"Don't worry, it's just because I'm here with her all day. You should spend more time with her. She'll soon pick up your face." Jude nods and takes to his book so that the words will camouflage his irritation. "I'll do you some lunch for work. Beef okay?" says Freda. She doesn't wait for an answer. Jude only puts his book down when it's time to leave. He slips it onto the shelf and thinks about putting his jacket on. Freda watches as he folds up his sleeves and brushes down his trousers. The images in his window echo each movement. Brush. Tuck. Fold. Anything other than think what he really thinks. Freda knows he is an expert at masking. To anyone else, Jude would be a boring man. Thinking only of his books and his work. But Freda knows the truth. Or at least she would, if he'd let his thoughts slip. But that only happened once. The black-haired girl with the creamy face and the big lips.
"See you later, love." Jude kisses his wife on the cheek and leaves for work. He forgets the beef.
Freda wakes the baby after an hour. When the house cleans itself and the clothes are put away, there is nothing to do. She puts the baby in her pram and takes her to the park. She's not old enough to go on the rides, but the sound of other children playing sparks curious pictures in the baby's thoughts. She sits on the wooden bench next to the swings with Ella in her arms. Three children chase each other around the roundabout as their parents watch from the gates. Freda sees her image in their windows as they chat. "Mind if I sit here?" asks a voice. Freda looks to the man now blocking her view of the other parents.
"Sure." The man takes a seat next to her. His smile crinkles the corners of his blue eyes. Freda sees this and hopes her response doesn't show in her window.
"That one's mine," he says, pointing to the blonde child on the roundabout.
"This one's mine," Freda nods to Ella.
"She's not very old, is she?"
"She's five weeks tomorrow."
"She's a beauty."
"She's a nightmare when she wants to be."
The man laughs and extends his hand. "I'm Josef," he says. Freda moves her hand from underneath her daughter. She wipes it in her trousers and hopes the dampness isn't Ella wee. "I'm Freda." Josef laughs as they shake hands. When they're finished he puts his palm to his face, sniffs and wrinkles his nose. He winks and Freda laughs.
"Do you want to come on the swings?" he says.
"Me and you? We'd look a bit silly." Josef stands and flexes his fingers.
"Would it matter?" He walks to the swings and chooses the red one. The chains clink as he sits down. "Come on! I'm sure that baby would love to watch," he says. Freda puts Ella in her pram and sets her before the swings and takes the yellow one. "That's the way. Now, shall we see who can go the highest?"
"Don't push your luck."
"Trust me. It'll help clear your mind."
"I don't have anything on my mind." Freda looks down to her window. She wears it as a necklace. Today it's in the purple case to match her clothes.
"You were thinking about a woman. Black hair. Sound familiar?"
"That's nothing" She says, knowing there’s no point hiding the pinkness of her cheeks. She knows the little screen at her breast betrays her more than her blood ever could.
"Since the windows became mandatory, I've come here every week. When you're swinging, it doesn't matter what you're thinking. No one can see." Freda kicks out her legs and brings them back. Each time she swings forward the wind hits her with its grass scent. "See, now isn't that nice?" says Josef, trying to match her height. "You can say whatever you want and I'll never see what you're really thinking!"
"You mean we can lie?" Josef nods.
"Go for it."
"The sky is purple."
"The oceans are green."
"I love getting up five times a night to feed the baby."
"I love fighting with my ex-wife."
"I love wearing this stupid window."
"I love paying for this stupid window." The wind chokes Freda's laughter as she tries to slow her swing. She comes to a stop, panting. "You're right. That was fun," she says. Josef slaps the ground with his feet as he stops his swing. "You see? Who needs thought doctors or counsellors when we can just swing ourselves free?" Freda pulls Ella's pram closer. "Did you enjoy that too, little beauty?" says Josef. As he looks into the pram his eyes appear in the baby’s window. clear. "She must like you," says Freda, "she's not picked up many people's faces yet."
"What's not to like?" says Josef. Freda tries to think of something but she can't. And then he ruins it. It's just a glimpse. A common slip of the thought. But she sees it in Josef’s window. It's her, only she has no clothes on. Her head is tilted back while Josef, also missing his clothes, has his lips to her neck. He's about to move against her when Freda stands.
"I've got to get back," she says. The image melts as Josef reaches out to stop her. But she's already pushing Ella along the grass. Already near the gates.
Jude is home early. Freda hears the front door click shut in the hallway. For a while Jude doesn't appear but she can hear him pacing the carpet. Finally, he slips into the room. "You're early," she says, regarding his pallid expression. She doesn't wait for him to answer. She looks to his window instead. There she finds an image of Jude's boss.
"I got fired."
"Unprofessional thoughts." Jude shrugs.
"What were you thinking? Was it about that woman?" A picture of the dark-haired girl flashes on Jude's window and dissolves almost immediately.
"We were in a meeting. I was bored. I didn't realise I was day-daydreaming," he says, "It can happen to anyone."
"You're usually so guarded," she says, allowing her contempt to harden the words.
"I was dreaming about you. We were in my office. Then the boss walked in and caught us. So we had to get rid of him. Apparently I imagined all sorts. Live burials. Guns." Freda watches as the dream plays out in his window. The two of them embracing in his office. Laughing and conspiring. It reminds her of the fun they had before the baby. Before they turned away while talking to each other.
"You were lucky they didn't accuse you of irrational or pre-meditated thoughts. You have to be more careful."
"They almost did. The police came to the office and interviewed me. They put the thoughts on file."
"Is that the end of it?"
"No. I have to report weekly. If I think about killing him at least once a day, they'll charge me."
"It's the first time it's happened. I guess I'm just distracted lately. What with the baby and all."
"I wish you would just talk to me about it."
"What's the point? It's all here," he says, flicking his screen.
"I'd rather not talk to a screen. I'd rather talk to my husband." She takes Jude's hand and her face appears in his screen. Elegant and soft. Her lips redder and her eyes darker. A more beautiful image than the real Freda. She has never known if the way he sees her is a compliment. "We could go out and do something silly. Eat loads of ice-cream or play on the kid's swings." Freda knew it was coming the moment she began her sentence. She was already seeing his face and so she knew her husband would too.
"Who was that?" says Jude.
"Just some guy at the park today. He wanted to see the baby, is all."
"Why were you on the swings with him?" Panic, hot and thick claws its way to Freda's chest. She feels it coming. Any moment now the image of the two of them together, how Josef had seen them, naked and happy, was going to fill her mind. And there would be nothing she could do to convince him it wasn't real. She could lose him. As so many others have lost because they couldn't explain their thoughts.
"What's happened?" Jude looks at his wife's window and then inspects his own.
"They're blank?" Freda taps the black screen. Jude removes his from the cavity in his shirt and shakes it.
"Can you feel anything?" Freda closes her eyes and searches for the gentle electric pressure she's grown up with. The minute crackling of the waves between her and the window.
"The network can't be down?" says Jude, "that's not happened before."
"I can't feel it. The link has gone."
"Put the news on." On the television, the news-reader is a dark woman with green eyes. She sits at her desk, hands to her sides as she's supposed to do, to reveal her screen. But where there should be the words, there is nothing. She speaks but there is no thought to accompany it. In the real world this would be a crime. Speech without thought translation. It's in the Magna Carta. A person cannot present themselves to another person without the truth of their intentions. How else would a person know if they're in danger?
"’There is a temporary disruption in the Sensus network. You are required to remain calm,’" is all the news-reader says. Jude picks at the skin around his nails.
"What are we supposed to do? Stop talking to each other?" Freda puts her hand over her husband's.
"Let's just take them off for a few minutes." She grasps the chain of the necklace and slips the window over her head. She holds it, still from the heat of her body.
"I should clean the screen soon. They'll only lock me up for that otherwise," she says. They place their windows on the table. It's more than a metre from them, a clear violation of law. They're smiling.
"Who was that guy at the park?" says Jude. Freda lets out a sigh and stretches her back.
"We chatted about Ella. He has a baby too. He just wanted to know what was normal at her age. You know, normal thoughts. The benches were full. We sat on the swings," she says, surprised how quickly the lie came. In her mind, she is free to see those blue eyes and the way they crinkled as he smiled.
"I'm sorry for being so vacant lately. I've been worried about money. We'll get by," says Jude, stroking his wife's arm. Freda feels herself relax. Without the screen, his touch 11 is mysterious. It could be nurturing. It could be a lie. Whichever one it is will be Freda's choice. "I'll get another job soon. Don't worry," says Jude.
"I'm not worried." They sit in silence. Real silence, enjoying each other and the freedom to think. But then the six minutes are over and the network re-boots. A sound, loud and painful rings from the windows. They both make a grab for them before their two minute warning alerts the authority. The sound wakes Ella whose cries echo down the stairs. Freda hangs her window around her neck, feeling the tingle of electric over her skin. As Jude clips his back onto his shirt, images begin to dance in the screen. "I'll go and get the baby. She's probably terrified," he says.
"I'll get her some milk." Freda smiles and pretends she didn't see the black-haired woman in her husband's thoughts. She ignores how she had been replaced in the dream. How it was her in the office. Her laughing as they dispatched of his boss. Her and not Freda. Instead, she thinks about the swings.
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