Being liked is more important than most would like to admit, and being disliked even more so. The way others perceive you says a lot about who you are and many times what others think of you too. A single disapproval could be cataclysmic depending on the circumstance – it could cause a domino fall of bandwagon hatred that leaves you feeling unseen and unheard and maybe even worse.
And even on Debra Jones’s best days, these were the kinds of things that wracked her mind almost every morning. Most days it wasn’t a problem. Debra was likable, attractive, and known as one of the bubbliest people around. But on one morning in particular, the mirror seemed to mock Debra, pointing out her every flaw of which she had few. Each freckle, each blemish, and especially the way the tip of her nose curved off to the left seemed extenuated as if holding their individual spotlights in the mirror’s reflection. For a rare morning, the outgoing Debra Jones wanted nothing more than to curl into a ball and hide under the covers all day. But a reclusive day would do no wonders for her reputation. She rolled her eyes at the unsightly reflection and shook her head as if the feeling would fall off her shimmying shoulders. Debra pulled at her nose with two fingers, pinched her cheeks and feigned a smile. But no, that one certainly wouldn’t do; something about it was off. She tried again, dropping her smile and raising it again. This time, she engaged her cheeks more, made sure her eyes gleamed back. It was the kind of smile bright enough to make the lowliest onlooker feel special. That was the one – the one that would win her likes.
“Today’s a beautiful day,” she told her reflection. “Today’s a beautiful day full of possibilities. Today’s a beautiful day full of wonderful possibilities.” Debra repeated this over and over to herself until she herself believed it. And by the twentieth repetition, when the words no longer meant anything and the light drained from her soul, she decided convincing herself was fruitless but that she’d be able to fake it all the same – a calculated risk.
Debra slung her work bag over her shoulder and across her body, strapped on her WorldLens glasses with the lime green frames to match her top, then headed out the door for another beautiful day full of wonderful possibilities.
“Hey, Johnathan!” Debra called out to her neighbor who was picking at his tooth while reading the day’s sports section. He stuck his nose over the paper and shot a smile back and Debra heard the ding of his like caressing her ears. It wouldn’t be a great day, but starting off with a like would sure make things better.
She continued down the street until she saw Charles of Charles’s Bakery sticking his head out the front door peering for potential guests. Debra greeted him too with a beaming smile and a theatrical wave and he gave back his best Debra Jones impression. Another like dinged in her ear. With each arriving like, she felt the color return to her skin and the bubbliness return to her gut. Perhaps it wouldn’t be such a bad day after all.
Then she saw Mary Green looking stressed on the phone – Mary wasn’t the easiest to get along with and was sometimes unpredictable, but she could provide a high-valued like if you buttered her up enough. So Debra did what she knew best, approaching Mary with open, jazzy arms all the way out to her fingers and put on an exaggerated grin as if she were greeting a long-lost best friend. Debra even uttered a welcoming shriek of contrived excitement for good measure. Mary pointed at the phone pushed up against her ear and sent back a half smile, then rolled her eyes and shot herself in the temple with a finger gun. Debra wasn’t sure such negativity deserved a like, but Mary wouldn’t give without receiving so she sent one Mary’s way. Another like soon chimed in her ears. Three already – Debra felt like she was standing a few inches taller already.
But suddenly, Debra’s heels clicked to a stop near the street corner. She saw a man or at least the silhouette of one, huddled under an awning and presumably shivering. But it was hard to tell if he was shivering or even if he was a man at all since he’d been snowed-out. Through the WorldLens, he appeared as a grainy mess of black and white pixels of various shades – the same way you’d see that crackling snowy static come through a television – the kind you’d want to turn away from as quickly as possible due to how jarring it’d be to look at. She hadn’t seen a snowed-out person in a while. They tended to move out of the city after getting snowed. The dream was over once that happened. You’d never make it anywhere, never mind in a city. More than likely you’d never again get to speak to your friends or your family again or even a total stranger. You’d never be seen or heard from, reduced to nothing more than a humming blob of grainy pixels.
A snowed person was the consequence of one too many dislikes. It’s what happened to a man who’d angered the wrong crowds, who’d carried his negative attitude too long. Debra wasn’t feeling particularly up to the WorldLens lifestyle when she woke up that morning, but seeing the buzzing static image of that curled up ball of a man was incentive enough for her to continue on the way she knew how, no matter how fake each smile and greeting might be.
A passerby shot her a worried glance for focusing on the snowed man a little too long. This was followed by a low ding in her ear: the first dislike of the day. She stared at the man and offered him a smile – a horrifyingly maniacal smile, but a smile nonetheless.
When Debra stepped into the office, Nancy Fredricks was passing by in one of the ugliest dresses Debra had ever seen. It made her stop with almost the same abruptness and force she had when she saw the snowed-out man at the street corner. The material was red and purple with a paisley pattern and seemed to be made out of…that couldn’t be denim. It was unsettling, nearly offensive. And when Nancy caught Debra gawking and even looking like she was about to puke, Debra squeezed her eyes shut then opened them again, returning with another one of her manufactured smiles and this time being sure not to look at that dress. “Got something to say, Debra?” Nancy snapped.
Debra shook her head, but it took a moment to come up with the right words to compliment her smile. “N-no. It’s just your dress…it’s…”
“It’s what?” Nancy said. She kicked a heel forward as if to flaunt that hideous outfit.
“It’s…” Debra tilted her head and gave a closed-lip grin this time. She neglected her eyes’ engagement and her cheeks’ brightness this time, slipping enough to allow the expression come across as patronizing. “It’s…lovely,” Debra finished.
Nancy scowled at her and shook her head. As Nancy continued on her way, that low ding came in Debra’s ear again. The sound made her wince this time and even audibly grunt in frustration. And as Paul passed by and heard the grunt, the baritone kazoo of yet another dislike rang through her ears.
Two back-to-back dislikes? Such a thing was more than unprecedented for someone like Debra Jones. She took pride in her favorability score – it was almost her whole life. And when those dislikes dinged in her head she remembered that snowed-out man and how lonely he was on the street corner: so, so lonely.
Debra gulped in a deep breath out and tried to convince herself once more that the day had only begun and there was plenty of room for improvement. “Today’s a beautiful day full of wonderful possibilities.”
“Sorry?” Carl in marketing said from the nearby desk.
Debra whipped around, her hair spinning like a ballerina on the way. She looked him up and down with eyes wide enough to crease the forehead of even Debra Jones and her skincare routine. She wasn’t quite sure for what he was asking clarification. I said that in my head, didn’t I? Debra thought. But as she watched his twisted expression grow more concerned by the second, she quickly realized she’d said it out loud. “I didn’t say anything,” she said breathily.
“No,” Carl said. “You definitely did. Were you talking to yourself? Are you feeling okay, Deb?”
“Yes,” Debra said through unintentionally gritted teeth. “Of course I’m okay. I’m excellent, in fact.” With each word that poured out from her lips, her head seemed to shake more. It was like years of anger were seeping from her skin and everyone around her could see it clearly. She was tired – tired of the acting, tired of the dislikes and even tired of the likes. But it wouldn’t all end just because she wanted it to. Carl shook his head and dipped his nose into his phone. He tapped it and another low ding rang off in Debra’s ear.
She winced again and let out a light scream. She wobbled on her heels, trying to steady herself with a wide stance – she couldn’t believe she’d let out such a harsh sound in public. Then came another ding and then another. They rang out like a symphony of terror. And somehow the dislikes gave her more distress than the likes raised her mood. She pivoted this way and that to see everyone in the office staring at her and tapping on their phones. One, two, three dislikes. Four, five – the numbers racked up until thirty and maybe even forty dislikes rolled through her ears. They sounded like screeches: nails against a chalkboard, the shrill shrieks of the tortured. The longer she stood shell-shocked, the more dislikes cascaded upon her eardrums.
She couldn’t take it anymore.
Debra turned back the way she came and sprinted towards the door. “What’s up with her,” someone mumbled. The mumbles grew louder until they pierced the threshold of full-on conversations she could hear as clearly as she could breathe. Some laughed at her too. She wanted to scream at them. She wanted to drop to her knees and cry. But none of this was possible – not here. The dislikes fell like a carpet-bombing raining down exclusively on her ears.
Debra tripped on her way out, caught herself, then threw her body into the door to send it flying open and…a thwack on the other side. She turned to face the door, then pushed hard on it again. It didn’t budge. A scraping came from the door this time – like it was smashing up against another glass panel. Debra pushed it once more to the same result, then scanned the door up and down until – a child knocked from his bike with a gaping scrape on his knee. He looked up at Debra in shock, holding the gashed knee with both hands. When she looked back to him she felt not remorse or even guilt, but panic. Another ding rang through her ears and her favorability dropped again. Another from behind her. Then a few more from in front. Everyone who’d seen the incident seemed to have something to say. And a lot of people saw it. “No, no,” she protested, spinning back and forth. “It’s not what it looks like. Really.” The dings came in again and again in an onslaught on her ears. “Please, come on,” she continued. “Please stop. I get it. I get it.” But the dislikes wouldn’t stop. And from a rough estimate in her head, netting the few positive and many negative dings she knew she was in a great deal of trouble. She had to think fast – find a way to turn the tides. But as the helpless child stared at her and his mother eventually dragged him away from the unfavorable Debra Jones, the dislikes poured in with even more menace. “Stop. Please,” she pleaded. Still, the onslaught continued. She whipped around toward a man pointing his phone her way who stood only a few feet away. She placed two palms on his chest and pushed screaming, “Fucking stop!” With both hands occupied by his phone, the man stumbled backwards, flailing his arms searching hopelessly for something to grab. In what seemed like slow motion, he wobbled further and further backwards until his heel slipped off the curb and in an instant he was gone.
A spray of blood misted through the air and as soon as he’d fell into the road he was vanquished – reduced to chunks of beefy flesh dispersing over the street. Then each piece of what was once that man fell individually like thwacking bits of hail spattering against the cement. And once again, all Debra could think about was the ticking in her ears and the snowed-out man from the corner. She looked down at her hands and saw their image flicker as the dings rained in even harder than before. Debra grabbed at her ears and pushed her fingers into them although she knew this wouldn’t help. The pinging grew louder and higher pitched until suddenly, all at once it stopped.
Debra opened her eyes and slowly removed her fingers from her ears, not trusting the blissful silence. She looked around at the passerbys and they seemed to, for the first time in a long time, discount her entirely. They didn’t send her likes nor dislikes and in fact, they hardly looked at her at all. Then Debra raised a hand in front of her face and her jaw dropped in unmitigated horror. It shook and glowed in that black and white pixelated hue. She looked down at her top and her strapped-on bag and saw the same – she’d been snowed. And when she pointed her head toward the sky and tried to scream, nothing came out but a static hum.