Before Scott woke up on Wednesday morning, he dreamed of Tara. And, like most nights he dreamed of Tara, Scott woke half-hard. He stretched luxuriously, enjoying the gentle tension of the sheets, but he would not complete the indignity. Many followers of Tara preached that love of the body was as pure as any other worship, but Scott found it vulgar and uncouth. Love for Tara transcended the physical, it was a more pure form of love.
That morning he teased himself, browsing news sites with pretense of watching the weather and social climate. He was in fact playing a game with himself, seeing how many clicks it took to get to Tara. He went from weather to sports to a pop piece about a soccer player marrying a model, who had once starred in an avant-garde film by a certain director, whose latest film would be about whales. Tara had loved whales and papered her adolescent room with them. Scott spent the rest of the morning happily browsing the various Tara webrings, snapping up every scrap of news. Tara had ordered out recently, from a burger joint Scott decided to patronize that afternoon. Sifters of Tara’s garbage found the regular assortment of maxi pads, no more scares like the pregnancy test found last month. Scott scoffed at their clumsy prying, but acknowledged that he found their info useful.
In the car to work, he switched on the scrambler that let him hear fellow Tarist’s stations. TRRA reported another police crackdown of a Tarist squat on Maple and Kilkenny, a block down from Tara’s current dwelling. Scott had played with the idea of joining other Tarists long ago, but realized he preferred to worship on his own. GRVS took callers describing their favorite Tara moments. An easy first was the press conference which had been Tara’s last public appearance. A construction worker shared Scott’s favorite moment, the time a photographer had caught her reading A Tale of Two Cities on the balcony. Scott had the photo and the book framed in his bedroom. One crank simply screamed “you’re sick!” into the phone until the host hung up. The guest host shot down caller theories that such calls came from Tara herself, there were plenty of young women jealous of Tara’s attention. TARA, the top rated station, called for a moment of silence for this day in history. Ten years ago, Tara had been revealed to them all.
Scott remembered blissfully the exact moment he’d opened the Times and the headline screamed back “ARE YOU THINKING OF THIS GIRL? THOUSANDS ARE.” The phrases “memetic virus” and “idée fixe” stuck out from the rest of the text, but the article rapidly diminished in importance as Scott found himself drawn back to the photo. He had never seen a more perfect photo. It captured the essence of Tara on flat paper, which was as close as most of them would get. The newspaper hastily issued a retraction later that day, but not before thousands of readers saw it and fell in love with Tara Grieves, Scott included.
Another crank caller snidely asked the host to describe Tara’s features.
“You see, it’s people like that,” the host explained, “that just don’t get it. Tara transcends simple physical form. Tara is beautiful, inside and out.”
Scott, like most people, only had a pleasant blur of her face inside his head. No matter how he tried, a few seconds after looking at a picture of Tara, he could no longer place her facial features.
The station led its listeners in the typical wellness prayer for Tara as Scott pulled into work.
Tim, the associate manager, blanched. “Scott. I-I thought you were on–religious leave?”
Scott palmed his back good-naturedly. “Just here to say ‘hi’ Timothy.” He handed Tim his collection of software and a pamphlet on Tara. To Janis he gave his audio books and another pamphlet. Garcia got his electric shaver, Frank his signed copy of a crime novel, Yulia his mother’s antique pins. Tucked within his gifts like little air fresheners were pamphlets and more pamphlets. He caught their worried, sorrowful gazes, knowing internally that they were still earthbound and couldn’t imagine the pleasure of Tarism.
Jeff the manager stopped him in the hall. “You know you’re not allowed to pass your shit out anymore, Scott.”
Scott held up his pile. “Yeah, it’s cool. I just had a few more things to give away.”
Jeff barred the way. “No, it is not, in fact, cool. Get the fuck out of here, moonie.”
Scott shrugged and let the pile drop from his arms. Whispers trailed out after him: “–sign of suicide? I mean, getting rid of all your possessions–” He didn’t hold it against them, it was an easy mistake to make. He wasn’t killing himself, he was shedding his old life.
Scott drove for hours. He stopped at the burger joint on the way. The fries were saltless and pasty, the burger tasted of nothing but the bun, but he was happy. When he finally made the turn onto Kilkenny, it was as if he had uncuffed a wrist. Some pressure he hadn’t even known was there eased up inside his skull, and Scott parked, blissfully uncaring of whether it was a parking space or not.
Yesterday, word had gotten out that security had changed shifts in Tara’s apartment block, which was empty except for her few rooms at the very top floor. The new guard was a transfer from Quantico, and had never been on containment detail before. All Tara’s guards worked with hour-long overlaps, so there would be a time in the afternoon where only the inexperienced would stand between the Tarists and she.
Scott was half-hard as he walked up to the building, but he brandished it with pride. These were his people, and many of them were in varying states of excitement. At least he still had on pants.
The crowd congregated around an obese man who wore Tara’s outfit from August 11, two years ago. His body had been wedged into a pink fitted t-shirt, jean shorts straining at his girth. With a megaphone fashioned from a Tara poster, he lead the group in an upbeat chant.
Scott clandestinely maneuvered around the back of the crowd and around the building. A Tarist had been killed some months ago trying to ascend the garbage chute, but Scott had it on good authority that the fire stairs accessed a window that did not latch. He found, with some frustration, that others had acted on the tip. The line was longer than Splash Mountain. Finally he ascended the fire escape, pulse pounding, in mind of the tale of Rapunzel. He would call Tara from her ivory tower, show her she was loved. The others didn’t matter, for surely she would see that he and he alone loved her correctly.
Once inside, it was only matter of following the press of bodies, letting himself be bobbed along on a stream of humanity. The crush of the crowd around the apartment door made getting to the front no easy task; he had to liberally apply his teeth and elbows to attain a front row seat. An immediate hush fell on the people when they heard that most promising of sounds: a deadbolt sliding back.
The young woman stepped out of the apartment, purse clutched under one arm. She was veiled with an opaque white cloth that draped all the way down to her skinny jeans. She froze, and a Tarist took the opportunity to slam the door shut behind her and bar it with his body. There was the sound of a summer wind as all Tarist took a deep intake of breath through their noses. Scott found vanilla and honeysuckle, as well as an underlying note of sebum and pesto sauce.
She struck out a hand. “Oh God, don’t! Don’t! What is wrong with you people?!”
There was a mixture of yells and murmurs as people assured her of love, their love, undying.
She flicked out a tiny pocket knife. “Get away! Please, just leave me alone! It’s not my fault!”
One intrepid soul snagged the veil from her face, and a vacuum formed as the Tarists breathed a disappointed sigh in unison. The girl with snub nose and hazel eyes staring back at them was not Tara. Disappointment ossified in the pit of Scott’s stomach. He turned and walked, unmoved by the wet crunches of the melee behind him. He stepped over a body wearing a security guard’s uniform and went back the way he came.
His faith had been tested. Had he jumped too soon? Loved too cheaply? Was he no different than these nuts?
Scott’s car had been towed so he walked until dark. Tara had not been there, an implicit lie if not an outright lie. The house had been guarded as if she herself had been in there, a false flag.
Scott had a sudden revelation as he ducked into an alley to avoid the lights of a police car.
It had been a test. He had not passed, but he had not failed either, had he? He had not taken part in destroying the false Tara, as those of more superficial faith had done. Tara had tested his love, but had it been diminished? Scott realized it had only whet his hunger to see her. Now he knew that Tara called to him and him exclusively, testing his mettle above those of his brothers and sisters.
An old crone in Tara’s bathrobe (September, five years ago) opened the door of an abandoned brick factory to him.
Scott smiled at the rabble within. “Children.”
He knew the way forward. He loved Tara.