The Picture of Dorian Gray on Zoom

At first, staring at oneself didn’t elicit any “particular” response. Neither outright disgust, nor pronounced satisfaction with his physical appearance. Resdon knew that it wasn’t a man’s “place” to be overly concerned with his looks. That breed of insecurity was a woman’s misfortune, and he would have been happy to leave it with them–were it not for the phenomenon of Zoom.

Sodding Zoom. The “videoconferencing” (as though that flowery term should be used to describe the rather banal lack of decision-making that seemed to go on during these horrendous, privacy-infiltrated minutes that, once again, could have simply been an email) software that became an overnight sensation when all of this shit went down. It was almost as though the Zoom people had “just happened” to know a pandemic would hit when they went public in 2019–having the miraculous foresight to apprehend how valuable such software would be to the working from home craze.

Whatever corporate conspiracy was afoot, Resdon, like everyone else, couldn’t fight that this medium was going to be a major part of his day-to-day for the foreseeable future. Before the software entered his life and lexicon, however, he had once been at least vaguely pleased with his countenance. Even went so far as to occasionally feel distinguished enough to be called “dapper.” He knew why that was, of course. And at his age, which he never revealed to anyone, he should really look far worse. The mirror never reflected the signs of what ought to have been his decrepitude back to him, showed him only the vital, baby-faced youth he had been assured long ago would forever remain.

But whenever this deal was struck, it was, indeed, an epoch that couldn’t have foreseen the type of technology that might brim forth in order to create “other” (read: more genuine) reflections. In this instance, videoconferencing software. Now known only as the brand name vocab word of Zoom (not since Band-Aid had a brand been able to transcend into such a catch-all term for a particular service). Even Resdon himself did not predict that its existence might be able to reveal his true sin-pocked, vile and wrinkled identity. And, that first day of a government-mandated working from home policy, as he made his usual pot of morning coffee in his state-of-the-art kitchen somewhere in Atherton, where his high-profile, high-powered profession had afforded him this sanctuary, he hadn’t the foggiest notion of how much his world was about to be shattered, his image of himself utterly decimated.

Upon entering his inaugural Zoom conference–with international clients included in the meeting for added stress–Resdon practically choked in horror. It was so obvious to the others that they felt obliged to ask him what was wrong. Couldn’t they see what he was seeing? A scaly, wretched, utterly perverse interpretation of a human that would make a zombie look like a beauty pageant contender. Not wanting to call attention to what he was viewing in that square box where his real likeness was mocking him on the screen, he tried to gauge if they, in fact, were still “viddying” his ersatz shell.

“Um, no. Everything’s fine,” he offered. “I might look a little pale as I’m just feeling a bit under the weather–it’s not Covid though.”

The international clients tittered while his boss arched his brow and regarded his “outburst” warily before remarking, “Right then. Well, if you’re okay, why don’t we get down to business?”

So they really couldn’t see what he was seeing on the screen. Technically, his Faustian pact was still being upheld. Even if he was forced to look at his real self whenever he was on Zoom (which was for large chunks of the day), it didn’t mean that other people were able to–and that was always what had ultimately counted to him. Or so he had previously thought before being presented with this brutal vision of his person all day, every day while staring at the screen that served as his twenty-first century picture of Dorian Gray. Except, in this case, it was Resdon Millay.

It was all he could do sometimes not to touch his face and try to peel at the flaking, papery greenish skin that was flapping at him, begging him to pull it off. But what would his co-workers and clients think of such odd behavior? Every so often he would catch himself starting to lift his hand to his cheek to do it, only to see his internal reflection do the same on the screen. He would then stop himself and play it off as a bizarre tic that hopefully no one would feel obliged to acknowledge.

In truth, no one seemed to acknowledge much of anything on Zoom, all of them appearing to do their best not to look as though they weren’t simply staring at themselves rather than attempting to be engaged with whoever was on the other side of the “conference.”

As months and months of this insufferable working method went on, reports of cosmetic surgery being on the upswing thanks to everyone being “obliged” to stare at their “video chat self” all at once made Resdon feel entirely human again. He wasn’t alone in loathing his appearance. In willing to do whatever it would take to secure some semblance of youth and perfection again–even at a time when all funds ought to have been put aside in savings considering the inevitable economic decline that was only mounting.

Yet what was initially comforting about this trend suddenly became an extreme source of sadness to Resdon, who realized the plastic surgeons wouldn’t be able to “fix” him if they couldn’t see the problems of his body and face that were glaring to him every day on Zoom. There is no fixing one’s husk, after all, when there’s no soul inside. And then he wondered if maybe everyone else boxed into those squares on Zoom could see what they really looked like as well–and perhaps that was the true core of the boon to the cosmetic industry.

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