Here & Where
At our weekly Wednesday dinner, Ruby and I burnt the fish and began her pursuit of moving on. I helped Ruby choose her best photos and rearrange the sentences of her biography into a more appealing order. Draw people in with the dancing, I said. Don’t mention the wax museum in your living room until you’re certain they believe in you. I was confident that Ruby would find someone. She had a decently arranged face and knew how to nod in the right parts of the conversation. We practiced together.
At work the next morning, I looked across the cubicle and noticed Sarah, the accountant, was gone, as was all her stuff: desk cleared out, spotless and shiny. Maybe I was misremembering her desk’s location, I thought. She had been working here six months, but we had only really spoken twice, both times about the coffee maker.
I was only even thinking of her because I had seen her during my Tinder expedition the night before and had spent a long time thinking about which way to go. Upon perusing her pictures and considering all the theoreticals, I had decided that her large green eyes looked at the camera too longingly to interest me. I wanted to look again, to make sure. When I asked my supervisor if Sarah had moved cubicles, he wrinkled his eyebrows and looked at me blankly, itching behind his ear. “Who’s Sarah?”
As I walked back to my cubicle, I scratched my head, trying to think if I had misremembered her name. Sylvia? Cheryl? Who could I have been thinking of? Maybe I was confused. I barely knew Sarah. Probably, I had imagined her. There was no one.
On my lunch break, I swiped a little and chatted with a new match, Delilah, who made sure to let me know she was wearing her best underwear and looking for someone who would warm her up. I told her I made excellent minestrone and swiped some more. All the possibilities were possible.
I swiped some more sitting on the train, barely looking, staring instead at the one empty, orange and shining seat between the goers. The profiles today were all Snapchat filter selfies and delight at small dogs. There was Ruby, one mile away! I swiped left just to make sure the boundaries of our friendship remained clear (the profile was excellent, I admired my handiwork!). I passed on others. At a certain point everyone starts to look familiar. Fingerprints and more fingerprints moving across the screen.
Later, I texted Ruby to ask how it was going, including many exclamation points and several emojis. I didn’t hear back. For a second, I got worried she was in love with me and had somehow realized my rejection, but the feeling passed. Then, distraught as I was at her lack of communication, I worried that I was in love with her, but that feeling passed as well.
Ruby did not return my texts or calls checking in about our weekly dinner. In fact, her number had no voicemail message. A couple days later, I went to her apartment to check in on her and a stranger answered the door. I balled up my fists, ready to combat this potential intruder, but calmly asked for Ruby as a start.
“There isn’t a Ruby here,” said this pile of long red hair and freckles, bothered.
“What do you mean?” I said. “This is her apartment.” Red hair rolled her eyes.
“I’ve lived here by myself for three years. Maybe you have the wrong apartment.” She emphasized the by myself, and perhaps I was projecting, but she seemed unhinged in aloneness, staring past me and out the window. I peeked in and saw Ruby’s pink lamp and silver rug. This was definitely her apartment, 2B. I opened my mouth to question, but red hair saw the alarm in my eyes and drew back.
“Good luck,” she said, and the door closed. I looked in my phone again, and her contact was no longer there. I looked at my email, and I had no emails from her. I could not even find her email address.
I called Ruby’s mother on the way home, but the woman who picked up sounded different and confused. I could barely hear her over the static, but she told me she had no daughters, only sons who she would never in a million years name after jewels. “How did you get this number?” She asked, and I clicked the phone off.
As I walked, the afternoon suggested things to me. Look up towards the sun. Skim the brick wall. Turn right. As I passed the grocery store, I bumped into one of my recent matches, and we exchanged the most vague pleasantries.
Upon the loss of Ruby, I went into a kind of manic swiping state, desperate to find someone new if not a clear replacement for my friend. I kept going and kept going and kept wanting and wanting more people to say yes and to say no to. I’ve made mistakes. Don’t say everyone has, it isn’t useful to me. I was in such a state. I was concerned for my brain, for suddenly all of my friends and acquaintances were disappearing. Where might they have gone? I almost expected to see her on there, as Ruby or going by some other name, but found only more generic strangers.
Attempting to fill the void, I went on dates with some new matches. The first was with a girl named Lavender, whose skin was so white all her veins shone through, translucent and blue. Upon arrival she watered the plants at the table from her own glass and called me dear sir several times. This alarmed me so greatly, I plead stomach ache after the first drink and ran all the way home. In my bed I went on the app and deleted her. So simply she was gone.
In bed on a Friday night, face hidden under piles of blankets, deliriously swiping left, I saw her. Willowfred, my favorite barista. She came upon the screen so fast in a blur of grass and sunlight and a floppy hat. I was in a saying no phase. I swiped left in the moment before I connected the dots, and she was gone before I could realize. Oh no. She made such a beautiful café au lait. I remembered Ruby. I even thought of Sarah. What would this mean? Who was real, and how could I know for sure?
The next morning I rushed over to Willowfred’s place of employment, The Bean. I cut the line and looked all around. I yelled at the baristas. “Where is Willowfred? I am in urgent need of her company! Also, may I please have some coffee?”
The baristas looked scared. I felt affirmed, since I was also scared. “Sir,” said the small and wiry one, looking at me through thick green frames. “Who are you looking for?”
“Your Willowfred. Willowfred who works here.” My voice had a crack in it. I thought maybe I could will her back, staring them down, awaiting her appearance. “Is she not working today? She’s always here.”
How much I wanted her to appear! How much I began to know she wouldn’t. Everyone looked confused. I turned and walked out the door, took a big gulp of air. Were the streets emptier? To my searching ear I noticed a quieting of the cacophony of sentences beginning and ending, some upticks in pauses between breaths.
A few days later, I woke up and went on the app with my coffee, the morning ritual. There is no one new in your area, the app told me. Right or left, I could not see. There was no one remaining to decide on. I did not know what to do with my hands. I laced them together in my lap, noticing how they fit together so exactly and so warm. Both hands being held.
Who gave me this power? I had not asked for it. I did not want it. When I swiped, I didn’t mean to end them with one finger on my smartphone. I only intended to suggest they take their pursuits for virtual affirmation elsewhere. I missed Ruby and Delilah, and even Sarah and Lavender, all that could have been and wasn’t. Willowfred. I wanted to find them, who they were and where they had gone. I couldn’t conceptualize the possibility that they might not have gone anywhere in particular, that their lives were simply no longer touching mine. The streets and every room were full of ghosts.
That evening, I bought an old fashioned for myself at the bar and sipped it and looked around. When I was sufficiently drunk, I ran home. I put the key in the door and turned the lock. I went to the kitchen and ate a piece of dry toast. The stairs creaked. I brushed my teeth. I made my bed, folded the blue covers neatly over each other, fluffed my pillows, and climbed into the blankets. I made a pile of dark and warm. Then, I opened my phone and began to delete my profile, piece by piece.
I deleted a picture, and one of my arms began to shimmer, translucent and no longer useful. I gasped. At first I was nervous, but the feeling passed, as all the loves had. I wanted to know where I might go. With each picture deleted, my body became more and more see-through. I was as clear and reflective as a mirror. You could see the world through me. I deleted the first sentence of my biography and felt my new translucent body flatten into two dimensions. I shimmered at all my points and angles. I felt my voice rise out of me and diffuse through the air, my name repeating softer and softer until I could not hear it anymore.