possibility of success in black-and-white
Lou didn’t text very frequently, no, but, Pat explained to a friend over after-work micheladas:
“We haven’t spent much time together, either. So I can’t complain, she doesn't owe me anything.”
“What? I feel like I’ve been hearing about this one for a while.”
“Yeah, but still, we haven’t actually been in person, like physically together, that much.” Pat flattened her straw and pushed it between her two front teeth, like she did when she was a kid and wanted to replicate the cutesy gaps her friends had from their expanders. “I guess I wish it wasn’t like that.”
“You should’ve just said that. I thought women were supposed to be more… needy? Especially together. Quick-moving”
“I wouldn’t know.”
“I didn’t mean to make you insecure. I’ve only had dick, too.”
By the time she got back to her sublet the hot sauce in the drinks had pooled into that familiar weight at the bottom of her stomach. She asked Lou to come over via iMessage as she pissed with the door open. Pat knew that a post-midnight text disregarded her needs. Sleep, for one: her job, a paralegal at her parent’s firm (and so, she felt, unearned) robbed her of the hours between nine and five. Meanwhile Lou, an actress, went on the few auditions available in a city whose arts sector had been defunded, a lack of opportunity that blunted her sense of purpose, but gave her any hours she pleased to sleep. There was a bullheaded possibility in their combination: Pat could argue her way into a good performance from Lou, and then, together, they’d present as real girls, in a real world. Like Pat wrote in all the cover letters she’d sent into the void, before her parents took pity on her, she would be eager for the opportunity to walk Lou off life’s humiliating carousel—march her, triumphant, away from all that disappointment.
comfort / closeness
Pat told herself that most would mind things ending over text like this, but she didn’t. Most days of their n months could be summed up by the danger of wet hands on phones—of Pat living against a desire for more closeness, restraining herself from pushing. “n” could be four, if you counted that month-and-a-halfish during which their “dates” consisted of someone, usually Lou, taking an Uber to the other’s, usually Pat’s, place. Regardless of the traveler and their destination, Pat would pay. She supposed that they weren’t dating then, just taking comfort in each other. So “n” could also be around two. Two months after they’d had that conversation, the what’s happening here, that felt both over before it began and like it never concluded.
studied, or better left
“I can’t wait to see you”—Pat read it over and over while she waited for her work laptop to restart. It was broken, but she wasn’t going to ask her parents for a new one, and the loading bar that crawled across the screen gave her time to get her bearings. She had gone days without hearing from Lou, and the arrival of this message nearly shut down her body. Pat’s heart beat fast but weak. Her limbs went numb from the second joint down, her hand limp on the trackpad. She’d never tell anyone about this feeling. She wasn’t sure she’d want to hear their diagnosis; she was pretty sure there’d be one. The options were immaturity, traces of preteen crush jitters, or psychological disease, like the kind she might read about in one of her parent’s 1970s pseudoscience books. In other words, she was either hopelessly infantile or sick. This had happened before: her past pursuits became one shape when stacked. But this time she would beat back whatever paralyzed her in the face of intimacy. Pat had gone in trying to measure spontaneity against clear-headed rationale. She had been determined to get to Lou and determined that Lou was going to get to her. Their connection (especially the sex) contradicted its origins. That they met online wasn’t to be talked about except to be spat on: the nights they spent were too intense to subtend the tacky piece of context that was the app.
Those nights had been so intense precisely because they unfolded over the flat, gamelike space created by unshared lives and unmeshed context. They’d been Player 1 and Player 2, each with a preordained amount of lesbian XP (leaving Pat scrambling to catch up) and a handful of traits to demarcate their avatars from others available for pairing. They’d taken those presets with them, keeping their interactions on a separate plane, climate-controlled and elevated from reality. They’d done it with drugs, they’d done it with sleep deprivation (sometimes Pat had fallen asleep with Lou’s fingers inside of her), and they’d done it after building up an unsustainable amount of tension between each meetings. After bouts of misunderstandings marked by flighty communication, the perennial draw of the six-by-four bed each time they managed to corner each other had drawn a chemical bath of relief that washed, fizzy, over Pat’s eyelids and trickled down the backs of her knees. You don’t hate me, you wanted to see me after all.
us versus the world, but we want what they have
The ugly exposure of the truth wasn’t dissimilar from the time Pat repaired a leather clog with polyurethane glue, not realizing that it would expand into lumpish, foamy bulbs when dry. Instead of their relationship building up from there, its trajectory got more and more confused. They talked about love frequently, but only the concept, not in reference to whatever they had had. At some point, Pat saw, the arc of this relationship had aligned with all the rest.
only one taste of fruit
Pat walked through the park, chewing gum instead of her fingernails, then froze as her eyes alighted on a grey cylindrical bag. Lou was with her father. Pat recognized him from the times they’d scrolled past his face to find some other memory of Lou’s on her camera roll, visual presentations with little context, a PowerPoint process of getting to know each other.
Lou claimed she hadn’t seen Pat. Pat wondered if Lou was unwilling to test the bond they’d created in the dead of night—thought that maybe Lou wouldn’t have acknowledged her had Pat not lifted a hand and beamed. But they’d ended up here, at dinner with Lou’s father, Lou thumbing Pat’s knee under the table. Pat had always feared that she and Lou wouldn’t know what to do with each other in the light of day: that their story would atrophy upon exposure. But this event Pat could take as triumph—proof of some impact she’d made in another’s life.
Dinner had quickly become a mistake. Pat panicked through her hangover. Lou’s father ordered a plate of bruschetta with smoked cheese, mushrooms and a few, scattered orange slices, naked jewels without their rinds.
“What was your event? Lou said you ran track in college. I ran the 800—was a totally mental game, you had to be a goddamned monk.”
Pat chewed on her semi-circles. She’d lied to his daughter. She hadn’t sublimated her self-doubt into athletics at university: she had instead spent her time in the library reading anthologies, collections, cultural surveys. Her range had been broad, not deep. Pat had used college to extend her childhood for four years, had let university spit her out onto the beach of thought, where she’d strolled up and down, picking up wet, shining rocks whose fleshy tones dried into something dull and wanting.
“I was on a relay team of sprinters,” she ended up saying.
radar, scan on
She hadn’t run, anyway. But that’s what she had told Lou because it was less shameful than admitting that her development had consisted of an ever-inwards turn. She’d fed Lou the morsels of the activities her mind had been too hostile to allow: all forms of movement, both intellectual and physical. Debate teams and 5Ks and community greenhouses and three-dimensional printers. Pat told these stories to Lou’s hairline until she’d fallen asleep on her chest. She had served it as truth so long that she could almost forget it wasn’t. Now Lou was ending things, and Pat hadn’t even considered that their relationship could dissolve before her story did—she hadn’t done anything wrong, and so even this collapse hadn’t been something done, completed, or even chosen. Like everything else, it had happened without her. At least there was a comforting thematic neatness to Pat and Lou’s series of events: they had begun online, and now they were disappearing in the same space. Not even a stitch needed to close the gap. It would all be fine. That was the problem.
this story is nothing new
Bessie is a writer, caretaker, and arts worker living in Brooklyn with their pet snake and organising with their fellow tenants