Journal #19 (which involves said man and sexting, starved cats and sand castles)

I’m still on Tinder though I don’t still feel the need to be on Tinder. My need for Tinder fades because I think I’ve already met someone, someone I already knew. I’m talking about Mags. She hasn’t yet let me kiss her, she rarely responds to my texts. At work she ignores me and then she doesn’t. I try to control her but I can’t control her. She won’t allow herself to be controlled.

One moment I’ll give up and swear her off, then she’ll talk to me and I’ll pretend I never did. All the while I’m on Tinder, though not out of desperation. It’s the best of distractions when I’m bitter, when I’m ecstatic, when all I can think about is Mags.

I study Tommy’s Tinder profile. I pour through his messages, his opening lines. Whenever I match with someone new, I always ask Tommy what I should say. I no longer ask Brian what he’d say, his ideas of romance aren’t romance, his ideas are something carnal. Brian doesn’t know the meaning of desperation, he’s never really had to try. But Tommy, he’s a genius, a true poet. Here are some of his best opening lines, his greatest hits. In compiling this list I’ve considered frequency of use, frequency of success, originality, and ballsiness.

  1. hii
  2. your beard is best aha I like your beard. I want a beard like yours but I can’t grow a beard like yours can you show me how to grow a beard like yours… i want to get lost in your beard
  3. HI!

I read the conversations these openers turn into and I see the fluid, grammarlessness of his banter, how little he thinks of any of this. How desperately I must learn this! I need to let go. I need to try and be Tommy.

But when I try to be Tommy I freeze. When I try to be me I hate myself. There’s a definitive tone to his messages and it’s awhile before I figure it out—it sounds like he’s drunk without being drunk.

I’ll play that character. I’ll pretend to be drunk.

A late night, a match! I ask Tommy for an opening line. He goes with his tried and true hi with two i‘s. I take it from there. I roll with it. The conversation in its entirety is as follows. I’ve added commentary for your understanding.

~You matched with Angela on 5/1/16~

ME: hii

ANGELA: hey there*

*This clocks in at 53 minutes later.

ME: There hello

Can I ask you a question

ANGELA: Go ahead

ME: What are you doing do you like cardigans do you know what you are doing right now

ANGELA: what in the world

ME: Im wearing a cardigan and feel a little self insecure about it

ANGELA: haha cardigans are cool

Dont be insecure

ME: what are you doing

ANGELA: chillin in my bed

ME: me too* would you want to chill by a pond

*It’s important for me to note here that I’m not chilling in my bed, and I doubt that she is. At the moment I’m at my desk, sweating profusely over my phone wondering why this is so easy, why this is so hard, why I must sound like a drunk for her to respond like this. Because she’s responding fast, she seems interested despite the distance, despite or because of it. I imagine she’s alone, possibly with a friend, but she’s stuck in this Tinder web that she herself has spun. She’s stuck in the center and she’s the spider tugging on all the strands and everyone is stuck. I’m stuck on the very perimeter and I try to tug back. I’m not sure if she feels my vibrations.

ANGELA: not right now

ME: probably a solid idea

Id need more than a cardigan

ANGELA: haha a coat?

ME: a coat.. theres an idea for pond weather

why are you awake

ANGELA: Tinder is just so enticing

ME: isn’t it? Just a disaster you can’t stop watching I love it

ANGELA: Hahahaha!

Thats a perfect way to describe it*

*At this point I show Brian my phone as if to say: look how well I’m doing, she laughs at my funny! Brian just rolls his eyes and says, “Christ she’s dumb.” I’m not sure who should be more insulted, Angela or myself.

ME: Scale one to 11.. How much of a disaster am I

ANGELA: 12 off the charts

ME: I’m so proud

ANGELA: There ya go

ME: Long as you can’t turn away form this cardigan wreck I’m happy

ANGELA: Oh I can’t

ME: who goes to bed in a cardigan anyway. I’m not even horny*

*I am horny. This is my attempt at a power play.

ANGELA: haha honestly its comfy and damn your still on here?

ME: Are you implying that you are?

ANGELA: Aren’t we all

ME: well shit*

*This is where I crack, this is where I fall apart.

ME: well shit I was perfectly unhorny and at peace and now shit

ANGELA: really that’s all it takes?

ME: I don’t know I mean maybe? I had this image of you not horny and now this image is gone and I won’t be able to sleep this is a true disaster

I don’t get a response for some time. When compared to her usual rapid response, it feels like forever. Instead of sitting there, I have myself a cold shower. When I exit, dripping chill and shivering, I find this waiting for me—

ANGELA: Touch yourself, problem solved

It’s awhile before I respond. I wonder if this is her way of ending the conversation or her way of beginning something else*

*Sexting, I speak of sexting**.

**Sexting is defined by Wikipedia as “sending and receiving sexually explicit messages primarily between mobile phones. The term was first popularized in the early 21st century, and is a portmanteau of sex and texting, where the latter is meant in the wide sense of sending a text possibly with images. In August 2012, the word ‘sexting’ was listed for the first time in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

Though my drive is gone, as the shower emptied everything from me, I respond with—

ME: I’m touching myself now 😉

I never hear from her again.

I try this same drunken strategy with others but it doesn’t work. There is an inherent problem with this strategy: if I continue to sound drunk come morning I appear to have a problem. It’s a problem.

But Tommy, he does this with such style, with such grace. He takes a pull from a Rainier. He tosses the can aside, gets back on his Tinder. It’s nine in the morning. It’s not until I take out the recycling the following week that I see Tommy does have a problem, that his poetics aren’t pretend. To him this isn’t a strategy. This is just him.

Brian and Tommy still go on Tinder but they go always on together. I get the feeling it’s some game between the two of them, some power play, some sexual fantasy charged with jealousy. They never meet up with their matches. I see them sabotage themselves, lose interest in a conversation just as it gets interesting.

“We’ve gotten really bad at this non-monogamy thing,” says Tommy one afternoon.

Brian only laughs, but it’s a forced laugh, I’m not sure what it means. There’s some unknown knowing in his eyes. I fear that he actually loves Tommy, but I know he doesn’t. He couldn’t.

You might remember Chase from 19 posts ago, the first guy that Brian meets up with from Tinder—well before the era of Tommy. Well, Chase has been texting Brian a lot lately, and though it’s clear that Brian is reluctant to meet up with Chase, Brian eventually agrees. He lets Tommy stay in the tent on our lawn while he goes off to spend the night with Chase. I see Tommy in my mind’s eye, staring up at the ceiling of the tent and I know exactly how that feels. That crushing loneliness one feels without Brian.

But Brian comes home less than two hours later, definitely unfucked, and rejoins Tommy in the tent, tells Tommy he couldn’t do it. I don’t know how that must feel, what that relief must feel like.

The story with Chase isn’t over. Chase invites both Brian and Tommy over for a threesome. Brian and Tommy go over and the three of them have some.

Now the story with Chase is over.

But nothing else is. Nothing is ever over. I’m still waiting on Mags for something though I don’t know exactly what it is I’m waiting for. Then I know. Mags agrees to come over. She comes over at night and the wind is howling. The trees are pretending to be the sea. Outside of Brian’s tent on the night of their threesome, I’m holding Mags in my arms and I’m holding her tight and still she won’t let me kiss her. I kiss her forehead and she says nothing.

“It’s cold,” I say.

Mags nods.

Now we’re lying on the silky floor of Brian’s tent where Tommy lives and sleeps. It smells like sweat and fish, it smells like sex dungeon. Both of us pretend not to notice. The wind rips over the pastures to the west and hits the tent at such a force, the tent fabric ripples like spacetime. It’s freezing. We burrow deep into each other. I ask Mags if I can kiss her now—on the lips I mean—and she stays silent for a long time. She doesn’t move.

I push myself away from her just enough to ask her what’s wrong. She shakes her head, tries to pull me back in so I can’t look at her. I don’t let her control me. I won’t let her pull me back in.

Finally, she rolls her eyes into mine. She finally looks at me.

“When I said I’d come over, did you think you were going to sleep with me?”

“I— you haven’t let me kiss you. Sleeping with you hadn’t even crossed my mind.”

She blinks twice.

“I don’t want anything resembling anything even remotely resembling any semblance of a relationship,” she says.

“We don’t need to label.”

“Casual,” she says.

“Sure.”

“Friends,” she says.

“Yes.”

“I don’t want to lose you as a friend.”

“Right,” I say. And I roll away from her, stare at the ceiling of the tent as the wind tears over it. A thought is bothering me but I don’t know what it is. I try to put words to the thought.

“Define casual,” I say.

She sighs. “Like, I don’t know. We don’t text.”

“Okay.”

“And I don’t know, I can disappear for weeks at a time without you getting mad.”

“Okay.”

“I don’t want expectations.”

“I don’t expect anything.”

“I’m not ready for another relationship.”

“I know.”

We’re silent for a long time. The wind dies a little but a slow rain patters the outside of the tent, slides down it’s fabric. Everything still smells of sex.

“I’m cold,” she says.

“I know.”

“Are you upset?”

“No.”

“So, casual?”

“Casual.”

In the rain we walk back toward the main house. She takes my hand in hers and she squeezes. All of a sudden she is smiling and this makes me smile. There’s a skip now in her step and in the long grass I try to keep up. We don’t enter the cottage, we enter the main house where the landlords live but are currently on vacation and whose cats I’m supposed to be housesitting. Entering the house, the cats meow and claw at us, starved looks in their eyes. They hiss at each other. The litter box is full and the food bowls empty. We go straight for the couch. The cats follow us. It only takes a remote to light the fireplace.

She still doesn’t let me kiss her, not on the lips anyway, but she doesn’t protest my hand moving up her shirt. She even lifts her shirt, takes it off, unclips her bra without saying a thing. I kiss her breast. I kiss her other breast. I kiss the places in between. I kiss her stomach. She has a tattoo of the little dipper peeking up from her panties. On first glance it looks like a spattering of moles. I kiss that too.

The wind roars outside and the rain smacks against the windows. The fire inside warms everything. The cats circle the couch, eyeing us both with ravenous eyes.

We breathe on each other. We rub on each other. Still she won’t let me kiss her lips. She flips me over and straddles me. Jeans scraping on jeans. Her hands on my shoulders holding me down. Her hips gliding. Secretly, discreetly, I release into my pants. The feeling starts deep, the sensation congeals to a sharp point, then a flood comes creating a swamp in the places below. I’m glad I wore two pairs of underwear today. She keeps going, she doesn’t know.

The cats know. They hop on the couch as I try and catch my breath.

“Are you okay?” she asks.

“Yes,” I breathe. And I lean up to try and kiss her. To make the feeling mean something. She doesn’t let me kiss her. I feel empty, destroyed. She leaves at five in the morning.

On my mat back in the cottage, alone, morning light seeps in through the cracks. Outside, leftover rain drips from the gutters. I text Brian one word—

fuck

All I can think about is her breasts, making sand castles with her breasts, cupping them and letting go, letting them fall away into the sea of her skin.

Her eyes looking up at me, me looking at her, and she asks me—

“What is it?”

“Nothing.”

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I like looking at you.”

“Oh,” she says. “It’s not normal.”

“Looking at you?”

“Not like that.”

“Oh.”

So I look at her breasts.

I put my hands on her breasts.

I make sand castles, knowing full well the impermanence of sand castles.

😑🌅😐

join man next week for journal #20 (in which a raccoon nighttime…)

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Journal #18 (in which said man and the lilac girl search for lilacs in the night)

The storm shatters itself against the windows. The trees shriek in the wind. Entering the cottage, I’m drenched. Brian is holed up under the desk, spooning Tommy. He looks at me, knows immediately that something is up.

“What’s up?” he asks me, which is good because it means he can’t see it in my eyes—the shame of it. I slip off my shoes, sprawl myself against the carpet. I tell Brian everything, just what exactly had transpired with Mags in the back of my minivan.

“It just happened,” I say to him.

“Sounds like you lured a child into your van with candy.”

“She’s a grown woman.”

“She’s a child.”

“She’s 18,” I say.

“18? Jesus, I thought she was 20. She’s a child.”

I don’t respond.

“You’re weak.”

This statement is not news. I am a weak man. We both know this, everyone knows this. Mags knows this. She knew this when she climbed into the back of my minivan, gave me the back massage, awakened the beast.

All the while Tommy just lies there and listens to me recount the tale, this young lady of 18 in the back of my minivan. Every time the number 18 pops up, his eyes widen, his cheek propped up against his tattooed fist.

“Mags,” Brian says. “Mags.”

“Mags,” I say.

“It makes sense. Mags. Yeah, I see it. Of course it would’ve been Mags. I guess it was always Mags.”

There was a time when I would complain about Mags, the way she just talks at you, the way she butts into any conversation and turns it into her conversation. The way she follows you around the store—gabgabgabgabgabgab—it’s exhausting. How clear it was when Brian would work a shift at the Bellingham location, that Mags would treat him like her token trans friend. She’d say, “I’m just so glad you’re alive, you know? I’m just so glad you’re still alive.”

“Yeah, sure,” Brian would say. “Sure thing.” And that would be his contribution to that conversation. And now Brian, as he sits here digesting the information I’ve thrown at him, decides that yes, of course Mags and I were meant for one another, of course I’d make a decision to walk willingly into this storm. There is something so truly vulnerable, so lovable, about someone so unlikable.

Brian chuckles. “Mags,” he says. And thats the end of that conversation.

Mags and I, we’re in the parking lot again and Mags lingers near the back of my minivan, our something of a conversation at a pause, an impasse, and I become suddenly self-conscious of the fact that I have no candy cigarettes to offer her this time, self-conscious of the fact that if I did, this would be how I’d lure her into the bed of my minivan. Brian’s words, they ruin so much. Brian ruins everything. I can’t get him out of my head as Mags asks a question I do not hear.

“What?”

“Do you want to go for a walk?”

“Yes,” I say, too fast.

There is a trail that leads from the bookstore parking lot down to the water and the promenade that reaches out parallel to the beach. The sky is dark now, a deep navy blue. The air feels like lukewarm water. There’s something about the air that feels stagnant. There’s something about my mind that feels festered, rotten, rotting, something deranged. I’m not sure if it’s okay for me to touch her, to take her by the hand, make terrible decisions.

I don’t take her by the hand, but I follow her blindly. I follow her like a dog. She’s wearing that summer dress again, floral prints, and her legs are like milk poured into night, into skin, though the lights on the walkway bathe them in a low yellow glow. The tide is low and smells like sulphur. She’s talking about something, could be anything. With no room to get a word in, this has become a spectator sport. No participation required.

Every now and again I’ll say something and she’ll laugh and I won’t know why. Her laugh, that shrill pitch stays with you because tonight there is no wind to carry it away. It lingers like a ringing in your ears. I fall back, hands stuffed in pockets to adjust a certain throbbing discomfort.

“Everything okay?”

I tell her that it is.

We’re at the point now where the walk ends, though it’s only half over because we still need to walk back. There is a little beach here and the water laps at the sand, though not really—it seems lethargic tonight, doesn’t really care about romance.

“Do you smell that?” she asks.

“The eggs?” I think she’s talking about the smell of low tide.

“No.” She pushes my arm, flirtatious. “No.” She sniffs the air. “That. That smell.”

I sniff the air. I only smell eggs. Dead eggs. Rotten ones. “No,” I say, “I don’t smell anything.”

“There’s a lilac tree somewhere around here, I just know it.” And she skips off, looking for said lilac tree, stopping only to sniff with her little sniffing nose. I follow her because I would follow this girl anywhere. I would follow her to the end.

“I swear we’re getting closer,” she says. “It’s somewhere around here, it must be.” She goes on to explain the smell of a lilac tree (sweet not sexy, spicy without stinging the nostrils), what a lilac tree looks like, what it feels like against your inner thighs as you climb it.

Though I’m prepared to search forever, Mags gives up, defeated. We don’t find the lilac tree. I’m afraid to tell her that I think it was only you, your shampoo or deodorant or perfume or whatever florality wafts off your skin. You were only following yourself, and I was following you.

We’re walking back down the promenade and neither of us are talking. I can tell she’s frustrated that we couldn’t find the tree. Neither of us know that in a few weeks’ time, when Mags finally agrees to come back to the cottage, she finds a lilac tree just outside the front porch.

“I didn’t know you had a lilac tree at your house,” she’ll say.

I’ll tell her that I didn’t know either, I really had no idea. My body will be bursting with the meaning of it all, the coincidence of it all, how there is no such thing as coincidence, no such mythology as chance. We’re connected, you and me.

We’re still on the promenade though, the black water below us like spilled ink. We sit on a bench that overlooks these waters and we sit there in silence. There’s a gap between us, I’m too terrified to fill it. The bench is in memory of two dead people neither of us have met, neither of us have heard of until now.

I open my mouth to say something, she opens her mouth to say something, neither of us say anything. My phone vibrates against my thigh. There is really only one person it could be.

“Hey Brian,” I say into my phone.

“What’s going on? Where are you?”

I glance at Mags, who glances at me. “Mags,” I say. “I’m with Mags.”

Brian laughs, his loud laugh that I know carries beyond me and my phone. “Making poor decisions, are we?”

“The worst kinds of decisions,” I say.

“Hey!” Mags screams and gives me a push before getting up. “So I’m a bad decision, huh?”

“No,” I say as I put the phone to my chest, a hopeless attempt to stifle Brian’s laughter. “You’re a great decision, the best of decisions. Top-tier.”

She skips away from me down the boardwalk. I turn toward her, my arm resting on the back of the empty side of the bench. “Mags! Mags, come back here. You’re the best. The top one percent!” And I know that means everything to her because she’s already turning around, making her way back toward the bench. She falls into me, under my propped up arm, and she nudges right up against my chest. I almost drop my phone. I feel her. I feel her breath before it leaves her lungs.

“Anyway,” says Brian in my phone,” I’m at the cottage now, because I thought you’d be at the cottage. I needed a break from Tommy and set him up at a campsite elsewhere for the night. I was assuming you’d be home. I hoped we could talk.”

“I’m not home.”

“I know, I assumed you would be though.”

“I know.”

Long after the phone call ends, I thank Brian for the phone call, for without said phone call Mags wouldn’t be nudged up against me now, both of us breathing into each other, my fingers skating the ice of her upper arm. We stare at nothing for some time.

Ripples approach us from the far nothing. An impossible shadow under the dark. I feel we’re being watched. “Hey,” I say. “Hey, let’s keep moving. It’s getting cold.”

Back in the parking lot, leaning against her car, we hold each other tight, holding off the temperature that continues to drop. Mags with nothing more on than that light summer dress. I couldn’t squeeze her tighter if I tried. She could squeeze me tighter but she doesn’t. Her arms are loose across the back of my neck.

“Would it be too much if I kissed you?” I ask.

She backs away a smidgen, her big eyes gazing into mine and full of water and the secrets waters tend to keep. Buried bodies. Creatures of the deep. Shipwrecks. She pulls herself back in, tighter than she had before, and rests her chin on my shoulder where my lips are a far cry from hers.

“What is it?” I ask and I feel her chin swivel, shaking the rest of her head. There’s rain on my back, but only on my back. Mags doesn’t mention it, she doesn’t mention anything. She holds me tighter, she leans into me. My hip digs into her car door.

“So just to be clear, I shouldn’t kiss you right now?”

She nods on my shoulder.

“Yes, meaning no I shouldn’t?”

She nods again.

“It’s okay,” I say. “I can wait.” And in retrospect I’ll know this was the worst thing I could’ve said, because in retrospect I’ll know how uncomfortable this patience of mine made her.

Mags says she should go. I don’t let go. We don’t go.

Mags says she should go. I let go. She doesn’t let go. We don’t go.

When she does pull away, she pulls herself back in because pulling away gives my lips an opening. Her lips are right there, out in the open. Then they’re not.

It’s probably 2:30 in the morning when she finally lets go.

I back away from her car as she gets in, starts the engine. I watch as she rolls away, the flickering of her taillights disappearing into the dark. I smell of lilacs.

When I get back to the cottage, there’s a text from Mags which reads—

Goodnight 🙂

I stare at that text a long while before I realize why it makes me so uncomfortable, and when I do it hits me hard. It’s the smile. That stiff yellow smile. The smile feels off, false, a fake, because that night on our walk along the waters, I don’t remember her smiling once.

🌊😔

join man next week for journal #19 (which involves the things that happen on the night of someone else’s threesome)

Journal #17 (in which a beast is awakened)

“That’s super inappropriate behavior,” Brian says to me after I tell him about the gentle caresses at work, her head propped up against my shoulder after we lock the doors, as I count the tills.

“So was swiping right on a coworker,” I say.

Brian waves that one off, sitting crosslegged there on the floor.

Tommy is steps away in the “kitchen,” pushing around diced potatoes with a spatula. The cast iron pan smokes. A desk fan sprays said smoke out the window, into the black. Tommy wears an apron over an otherwise bare chest, an Indiana Jones style fedora sitting loose atop his head. As usual, lipstick is smeared across his lips though this time it’s a pale shade of blue. He swishes toward me, hands me a plate heaped with midnight breakfast, scrambled eggs and cayenne potatoes, and pours me a glass of orange juice. I swallow my pride and say thank you.

The way Brian and Tommy eat next to each other on the floor, it’s too sexual, I can barely swallow. They can’t take their eyes off one another. They feed each other potatoes, chew their eggs for the other, transfer with open mouth kisses like birds.

In the morning, as I cross the gravel drive toward my car, I see Tommy out in the fields making phone calls to no one. He’ll dial a number, let it ring, crouch low and touch the earth. Pressing his ear to the dirt, it looks like he’s tracking something, some beast.

There’s an incessant buzzing in my ears. I wonder if he hears it too.

I pull out of the drive. The last thing I see is Tommy scampering toward the wood. The wood. My heart hammers.

It’s a relief to be back at work, watching Mags and waiting for her to mention our match on Tinder. On her break, sandwich in one hand, phone in the other, she swipes, she swipes, she keeps on swiping. I forget how buried I must be under other men—maybe she didn’t even realize that was me. Aside from the now frequent caressing and head rests, Mags treats me exactly the same. She never mentions Tinder.

Her eyes, more often than not, are red and puffy and tired. Bloodshot. Then one day, they’re not. She’s unusually bouncy, wearing this floral summer dress in Spring, and that’s the day she stops touching me. I could never take my eyes off her before but now it’s painful to. Her unveiled pale thighs and calves, smooth to the imagined touch.

She talks at me, never pausing long enough for a response which is good because I have nothing to say. My mouth is too sticky, too dry.

I wait for her to press up against me, for her fingers to graze my back but they don’t and I fear they never will again—her eyes are too clear, too awake, too conscious of what her fingers can and cannot do, what they should’ve never been doing in the first place.

A tension in my neck. It’s a slow night at the bookstore and Mags stands by the registers. Her dress hangs high, flutters when she steps back and I almost see things. I roll my skull over my shoulders, stretching and possibly tearing the web of muscle there. I groan, I rub the back of my neck. I groan louder so Mags can hear me.

“Ugh, I need a back massage,” I say in the most casual, unassuming way possible. I raise my arms above my head, arch my spine. It’s a cool beat before she speaks.

“If we weren’t here,” she says, “I’d give you a back massage.”

I swallow. I’m not sure I really expected her to take the bait on that one.

“You can give me a back massage,” I say, sweating.

“Not here.”

“No. Not here.”

Her cheeks flush pink and in her widening eyes I see the machinations of her mind backpedaling, as if she only now realizes whats being implied. But they can’t take back what’s already been said. Tears well up there and she turns away from me.

“I’m tired,” she says.

“I know.”

Back at the cottage, Tommy still searches the wood. I see him out there among the trees, drenched in the moon. He’s crouched on all fours with his eyes closed and he doesn’t move. Then he sniffs the air twice in rapid succession and his eyes shoot open. I try to sleep but I can’t.

When I ask Brian what he’s doing out there, Brian only shrugs.

Still, the buzzing in my ears.

In the parking lot outside the bookstore, I lean against the back of my minivan, a candy cigarette hanging from my lips, the kind we sell behind the counter. I lean there casually in wait, looking like some millennial James Dean with a salt breeze in my face and an uncharacteristic calm in my eyes.

Her voice on the wind. She’s just now locking up with the others. I chew on one end of the cigarette, take it out and flick it as if I were ashing ash. I place it back between my lips and pretend I don’t hear her coming my way. I pretend I don’t hear her little steps or smell her lilac smell, though when she says, “Hey you,” I’m truly startled, because she stole my line.

“Hey,” I choke, “you.”

I look into her. Her eyes are clear and her hair reflects the moon. The clarity of her eyes, I’m not sure this clarity is to my advantage.

“What have you got there?” she asks, saddling up next to me. I pull out my box of candy cigarettes and slip her one. She places it between her lips and leans against me, against the minivan. The two of us stand there, staring out at the bay from the parking lot, and from the corner of my eye I see her cigarette tremble. It’s not that cold. We’re looking pretty cool though, the two of us standing there.

“Wanna see something?” I ask her.

She nods, the cigarette nodding with her.

I open the back of the minivan, revealing the full-size mattress I have stuffed back there in place of the bucket and back seats.

“It’s beautiful,” she says to me.

I nod. “I had to take the backseats out when I first moved up here, to fit all my stuff.” As for the mattress, I explain, the cottage is too small to accommodate such a luxury.

“It’s beautiful,” she says again, now sucking on the cigarette end. She hops up onto the edge of the mattress, and I sit there beside her, our legs dangling out the back. Rolling my head over my shoulders, I once again rub the back of my neck.

“Sore?”

I nod.

“Here,” she says, and scoots behind. Her legs straddle me and her chest presses briefly against my back. I feel her breath on my ears. She starts at my shoulders and works her way down, kneading the emaciated muscle of my back. The way she presses down, digs in, I feel stale blood released and reintroduced into my bloodstream. A rocking calm takes me, her fingers massaging me into a state of rhythmic stillness, nodding with the waves of some sea. Her fingers grow more violent, press in deeper, scrape bone. And I’m not stupid, I know a storm is coming. Under the waters something stirs, some beast with nine eyes and the surface roils with its awakening. My inside sky has gone a pale shade of black and I fear for my life because I’m blind to what’s coming, because it’s only a girl and she’s numbing this very fear from my bones, the healthy kind of fear thats supposed to tell you when it’s time to flee, time to fly when the sirens sound, scream that the beast is coming. You can tell by the towering tsunami that precedes it, black against the sky, blotting out the stars.

A spit of rain against the windows.

A slow patter, a steady fall turning the ground a darker shade of everything.

Now it’s pouring.

“How does it feel?” she asks me.

“Good.”

“Not too hard?”

“You can go harder.”

I try to keep my back firm as she presses in, but I can’t stop from rocking, the bobbing of my head.

“Would it be easier,” I ask, “if I were to lie down?”

Her kneading slows, her fingers back away. I realize now how raw my back is, how much it hurts without her touch, because of it.

“Not tonight,” she says.

“K,” I say.

“Not yet,” she says.

My heart sputters at that—the ‘yet.’

She scoots back next to me, drops her head onto my shoulder. A curtain of rain cascades over the open door, separates us from whats beyond.

I think I hear it, that silence that comes before. I picture the tide suck itself back, exposing the reefs and the sea creatures too slow to find cover. The shadow, I believe I see it through the rain, rise and hulk into the sky. Over the sound of shattering drops, I’m sure of it, I hear it’s roar.

“Did you hear that?” I ask Mags.

“Hear what?”

Listening to her breaths, I say nothing. My mind retreats into itself.

Tommy found the phone last night. He found Brian’s phone buried in a ditch out back in the woods behind the cottage. Six feet deep, he said it was. None of us know how it got there. I sure as hell don’t know, I told them repeatedly. But the way Brian looked at me, still looks at me, I suspect that Brian knows. I still see him tucking his phone into his pocket, not even bothering to clear the dirt still caked to its screen.

😰

join man next week for journal #18 (in which said man and the lilac girl go searching for lilacs in the night)

Journal #16 (in which the earth beneath said man vibrates, violently)

I wake to the world vibrating. The earth quivering violently beneath me. In the next room I hear pots fall from the counters, books off the shelves. I hear Brian scream. Jolting up from my mat, I search for something to hide beneath, somewhere to protect myself from this. The room is so bare, really, there is nowhere to cower.

I stumble into the next room, keeping myself steady against the vigorous vibration of the floor. Is this it—the Big One? Or something deeper. The dawn of the living Tinder. I buried you, I swear. In the next room the ground is unmoving, but Brian is manic. Turning over tables and chairs and throwing out books, emptying drawers. He looks to me, his yes yellow and full of dust.

“You. Where? Have you seen my phone?” His hands are trembling. So are his breasts.

“Your phone.”

“My phone. Have you seen it?”

“No.”

I turn around, back to my mat in the corner where the ground still trembles with a low hum, where my pillow seems to be the epicenter of all this. Listening to the crash of everything in the next room, I carefully reach under my pillow. My fingers touch a phone.

My phone, clean. My phone, alive.

My phone, vibrating.

Flashes of the night. Dirt and shovel, gritty hands. A phone put to sleep, six feet under. The wrong man died last night. The wrong King put to his death. Brian, he won’t find his phone, not in there. I say nothing.

I look to my own phone. A survivor. Several notifications from Tinder. I scroll through them. My heart races, my palms grow sweaty. I thought I was done with this. Tinder informs me: you’ve been super liked.

Me. I’ve been super liked. Me, Super Liked!

An hour passes before I realize I’m reading the same line over and over again. Finally, I unlock my phone. Open the Tinder account that I thought was dead. It lives, thrives even.

When you receive a Super Like, it doesn’t place the person who Super Liked you at the top of the deck. You must swipe through other prospective mates first. I swipe. I swipe. I swipe again. Three cards down, I see the card highlighted blue that indicates the Super Like. Swipe. Swipe. Super Like.

My heart stops. My neck, paralyzed.

She’s terrifying.

Her hair is dyed red, her nose and lips and eyebrows all pierced. She’s a couple years older than me. Her name is Robin but her friends call her Bob. She cuts her hair like Brian cuts his hair. In one photo she wears a Batman onesie. In another she stands next to a bearded man with a knife. He wears the same onesie.

Later, when I ask Brian why someone like that would Super Like someone like me, he tells me that I’m their type, that they like the quiet ones. This Robin, she wanted to eat you alive, he says. She wanted to dominate.

But in the moment, I swipe her right because I’m flattered, because I’m curious, because I have nothing better to do.

She messages me immediately—

How goes it, sir?

I look at her profile again. It says she’s 12 miles away.

I return to the message, deliberate on what to send. What I send is this—

Goes well. Sun’s out, I’ve been super liked, I have no complaints. And you? (with super cool, casual undertones)

An immediate response—

Well, I missed most of the Sun due to work, but I’m off now, so I also have no complaints 😉

My god, I’m incapable of communicating this fast. I look once again at her profile. She’s now 3 miles away.

1 mile away.

Less than a mile away.

I put down my phone, look out the window. I bolt to the next room, look out that window too. Looking for red hair in the woods, in the reeds, in the pond. Nothing. Trembling fingers, I take out my phone. Using Tinder to triangulate my location, I fear she’ll find me before I respond. I type fast—

I type something about the weather, how the weather looks next week too, that it looks good.

To which I get no response. I wait there, heart hammering, searching the green outside for that splash of red. I wait. I look at my phone.

1 mile away.

3 miles away.

20 miles.

I never get a response, probably because I was talking about the weather.

In the living room/office/kitchen/entryway, Brian puts books back on the shelves, pots back on the counter. Both of us are trembling.

“Find your phone?” I ask.

Brian shakes his head. “What’s wrong with you?”

I shake my head.

I don’t yet tell him about the Super Like. The Super Like isn’t that important, nor the vanished possibility of my getting laid that night had the weather not been so nice and worth mentioning. What is important is what happens next. Because now I’m swiping again, now I’m getting used to the rejection. I don’t care, I just don’t care. Swipe swipe swipe. Wandering outside, eyes on my phone, swipe swipe, I don’t care.

Then there she is. I’m sitting on the porch now and well damn it, there she is. I stop swiping, I stare at her face on the screen.

“Brian!”

No answer.

“Brian!”

I get up, go inside. Brian is stretched out across the carpet, reading a book. Tommy is somewhere outside, roaming the fields, prowling the grass and talking with the chickens and cats and wild things, because that is what Tommy does. “It’s Mags,” I say to Brian.

Brian barely looks up from his book. It’s probably something by David Foster Wallace.

“It’s Mags,” I say again.

I show Brian my phone and he sees that yes, it is Mags. Mags with her dog in the snow and her blond hair of almost the same color. She looks different because she’s not wearing glasses. She always wears glasses at work. She also usually wears sweatpants, the tight formfitting kind with words across the butt. I never read them because I’m afraid. I never read them because there are cameras. I never read them because she is only 18. But at night, under my sheets I imagine what those words must say and what it would mean if the words weren’t there—by that I mean if the sweatpants weren’t there.

Mags doesn’t like it when I call her Mags but I still call her Mags. I don’t remember what her full name is. Something longer. Do you remember the coworker who caressed my back, way back in Journal #3, the one who smelled of lilacs and collapsed my knees?

That touch.

I’m gaping at my phone, at my Tinder, at Mags and her eyes without glasses, staring back up at me.

“What are you going to do?” Brian asks. “You’re going to swipe her right, right?”

“Should I? I was going to swipe her left, because, I mean, sexual harassment.”

“But, I mean, you’re going to swipe her right, right? It’s Mags. I mean… the Mags.”

And he makes an excellent point. It is the Mags.

Brian takes my phone from me, and he scrolls though her photos, reads her bio and laughs. “Aw she really worked hard on this one, you can tell. You need to swipe her right.” He hands the phone back to me, and I’m surprised he didn’t swipe right for me. I thought he was going to swipe right for me, that’s why I let him take it from me so easily.

“I shouldn’t,” I say.

“You should.”

“Sexual harassment,” I say.

“You’re not at work.”

“She might be.”

“It would be sexual harassment not to swipe her right. It’s Mags.”

It’s Mags. I walk back to the porch, sit down and lay my phone in my lap. I see Tommy out there, searching the fields, the trees, sniffing the dirt for God knows what. If Brian can find that on Tinder, I can find someone too.

I close my eyes, I swipe right.

Nothing happens. It’s not a match.

My heart feels weird.

The next day at work, Mags is working too. I watch her, I try to read her movements, her eyes, if her eyes are looking at me when I’m not looking at her, but it’s hard to tell because I’m not looking at her when I’m not looking at her. Also, most of the time I’m looking at her. Her hair is just short of shoulder length, white as starlight and yet it has streaks of something brighter. Behind her glasses her eyes are a pale blue. Have those eyes come across me on Tinder? Has she even been on Tinder recently?

Still, I think of that touch of hers. Sometimes when I see her coming I grab a book, any book, only to shelve it, only to turn away from her in the hopes her finger will once again graze that valley, make me weak to that lilac breeze.

She wouldn’t swipe me left, would she?

She’s awful at her job, worse even than me. She makes me feel like a good worker, top tier. She comes to me sometimes and complains there is nothing to do. I look at the books that need to be shelved, the shelves that need to be straightened, the stairs that need to be swept and I look her in the eyes and believe myself when I say—

“You’re right, there’s nothing to do.”

She scoots a stool into the YA section and opens a book and reads, her little chin propped up on her little fist. I then do the things that were the nothings left to be done. Shelve the books, straighten the shelves, sweep the stairs. All the while I’m watching her, wondering if she’s seen me on her phone with my shirt off, one claw out, in front of a fireplace on three of my fours.

My stomach roils with these thoughts, gives me diarrhea. Soupy poopy as Mags would call it.

It takes a few days for the match to come—

CONGRATULATIONS YOU HAVE A NEW MATCH!

—and yes, it is Mags. I see it in the morning, though it happened sometime in the night, somewhere between 3:19 and 3:20 am. I turn off my phone. I don’t message her.

That day I watch her more closely than usual. Her eyes are red, her sockets are swollen, she’s worse at her job than usual. I see her shelve a fiction book in the mystery section. In the mystery section! Later, I hear someone crying in the bathroom. Mags is nowhere to be seen. When Mags reappears and the bathroom is empty, I say nothing. The bathroom is wet with rain. I mop up the puddles.

I follow her at a distance. I wait for her to say something, anything, about our match on Tinder. She never says anything. She keeps sniffing. Her sinuses sound awful. It’s unattractive.

It’s after closing and the lights are off and I’m counting the cash in the registers when I sense her approach. That lonely lilac breeze. Then it’s still. Warm, stagnant air. I feel a hand slide down my lower back, a light body press up against me, a heavy head resting on my shoulder. Tears that smell of salt. Blond hair that smells of trees.

😥

join man next week for journal #17 (in which a beast is awakened)