On the terrible shore of loneliness and LaCroix, she pressed her thumb to the red flame on her rectangle phone and watched the screen glow to life, a lighthouse in a sea of despair meant to lure her to sinewy safety or a savage and charmless rock.
From her living room, four stories above the cantankerous city that honked and swore its way into her very ribcage, Violet stretched her kind and smart legs across the coffee table and sighed in the way that only an exhausted and jaded single-lite could — routinely.
She swiped thoughtfully at first and with intent, letting the poorly-lit selfies and romantic slurs (Be as pretty as you are smart, Impress me and Satisfaction is death) dent the surface of her brain.
Swiping with fever and fervor through a sea of endless faces, she knew he was there, the one, trapped in this dumb, dumb, stupid, dumb rectangle phone. Her thumb and forefinger traced miles to find him, and then, like winter melting into spring, there he was: Mikael. A vegetarian veterinarian who likes to travel and claims he’s funny and sarcastic but not everyone gets him — 6’4’’ because that seems to be important.
Right she swiped and the screen went black, bonked their heads together to signal that yes, they’d chosen each other. Mikael, she thought. Mikael.
She composed a message, carefully considering his pictures — him holding a labradoodle, flanked by friends shouting at sports, wearing Patagonia beside a tree — and tried to knit her heart together with his through a single message when his arrived.
With expectations ballooning, Violet read her soon-to-be love’s words or, rather, his word: “Hey.”
A needle, sharp to her hope yet pointless beyond its width. Immediately she withdrew to the kitchen and ate a steak she grilled her goddamn self.
The train platform smelled of grease and sun, the summer day collapsing around the city like a wet paper bag. All around her were men and women, women and men, and dogs barking for more mail in the distance.
“I’m sorry,” a man-voice said, a hand touching her elbow. “But do I know you? You look so familiar.”
Violet turned to take in the man’s full posture, noticing the gray of his suit pants and jacket and thinking how hot he must be, boiling in this vengeful sun with his arms and legs covered evenly and doubly in some places.
She brought her pale wrist to her brow for shade, imagining the word lady as she did so and took her deliberate time to reply. “Unlike friends or acquaintances we have not met,” she said. “But I understand why you would believe you had seen my face and the reason is you have, and I’ve seen yours, and we chose not to choose each other.”
He turned his noble head to the side and laughed. “Ha! Of course. So many faces that slide by my eyes each day, the ghosts of almost lovers, the coffees and ice creams and drink-grabbings that never were — don’t you find it exhausting, terrifying even, the endlessness of it?”
“Of course,” she said, shifting from foot to foot and her handbag too, lady, lady. “But what else are we to do?”
“Well, we are conversing now,” he said. “Perhaps this is how it should be done, in person on a train platform, rather than through rectangle phones where our skins grow as thin as the glass screens upon which we type.”
“Yes, but the only reason this conversation was struck was for recognition of my face and, without that, would we even be talking?”
His laughter swept both their minds to one side and then the other. “True, true — when you’re not wrong, you’re right.” He appeared sad to her, his face no longer the shine of a peach but of a rotting clam that has learned its life was fished for naught.
The date began simply enough, with her arriving on time and him too, she was impressed to see, for this was not always the case. In fact, a rare and special treat, like breakfast for dinner or a goldfish that lives to see a year.
Speaking of breakfast, that wasn’t quite what they were having on Halsted but almost — a cousin of breakfast, so brunch.
“Hello,” he said as he stood over the table pointing to a chair. “That for me? LOL.” Out loud he said it, the word LOL, not a word at all but an acronym lying about being a word.
Was this a joke, she wondered, this saying of LOL and perhaps he knew it was a joke and that she would get it, for jokes are meant to be that way — shared and gotten.
“Ha!” she said, “Ha, ha! That’s funny, you’re funny,” she assured him, and cleared her throat, standing to deliver a quick hug. She always did this, no matter whom the he was because the premise here was that they would determine if their souls were meant to be together, and where better to start than with a hug?
What she hoped to feel: something, anything that made her realize this was the hug that would hold her always. A hug that meant summer barbecues, friends’ weddings, days in dog parks, and an emergency contact number that belonged not to her parents.
What she felt: nothing, and as he spoke more nothing perched, nested, laid eggs, and caught the avian flu inside her. She smiled to the beat of his drum because he was a musician and had brought his drum, and she listened as oblivion and awful rhythm rained down upon him.
Thank heavens for pancakes and frittatas, so the drum could be retired beneath the table. “I’ve long known I was special,” he said, stupidly. “People have always told me how special I was and they continue to do so now and I’m sure they will do so always because I am special and great — the greatest, in fact!”
Milky egg wobbled on the edge of his fork as he directed praise toward himself. Jump, she thought at the egg. Save yourself from his tireless jowls. He smiled at the special words he spoke, quite pleased while looking at Violet. “What do you think of me?” he asked, the answer he would hear already etched into his middle ear.
Feeling parched and nauseous, she sipped her water and thought about canaries. She wished she had one now so she could place it on the table and see how long it took for the canary to die inside, allowing Violet to just barely save herself. How selfish and terrible, she thought, yet still found the idea appealing.
With ashen breath, she responded that she felt as ill as his drum skills, which he took as a compliment and promptly left her with the check because, he said, he dealt in talents and not dollar bills and had already contributed much too much.
She has considered more faces of men while on the toilet than upon, at, or in any other location, swiping left, right, left again. Can one be both flusher and flushed? she wondered. The truth is that this happens every time one says no to another and another says no to the one, but no one — neither the one nor the another — ever knows. Flush, flush.
With grate of metal lock and creak of fatigued hinge, she strode from stall to sink and began to wash her hands. Wringing water and viruses from her wrists, her rectangle phone buzzed on the counter, a bumblebee gathering pollen and hinting at the potential of something sweet, filling, nourishing, absolute.
It was a match with a man named Kevin — a man named Kevin who could perhaps help her survive the long, long winters accustomed to which she’d grown but would grow accustomed to no more, for sometimes shrinking is the greatest growth one can gift to oneself.
A second buzz announced the arrival of Kevin’s message, landing graceful and prompt, the words she’d been waiting for, a vacuum sweeper to extract the loneliness from within — speak now, sweet Kevin, and remove all clouds of doubt.
A tender message to serve as both beginning and end.