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J: When did you move here?
422. The bottom of the ad read: “Taylor Swift fans & pervs not welcomed.” It was written in blue glitter pen and the number was from out of state, but after two rings she picked up.
“Who is this?” I could smell her apprehension through the phone.
“I’m calling about the spare room?”
Seven days later I was on the motorway, rummaging through the boxes in the backseat to find a tin of granola. I thrust handfuls of clusters in my mouth, letting the crunch against my teeth fill the silence. The aux cord was broken.
It was dark outside when I arrived except for the fairy lights in the living room window. I could see her, standing at the kitchen counter, watching the driveway like an expectant housewife. Honey, I’m home – I waved, only to realize she was blinded by my headlights.
I got out of the car and took off my shoes, feeling the synthetic grass fibres tickle my feet. Home. I took a photo on my phone, capturing her exposed shadow.
J: What’s your number?
626. Double 0, seven. That’s how many sample sizes I need to get when I drive to La La Land. There used to be a time when doing basic bitch jobs was reserved for the basic bitches, but these days I’ll take what I can get. Do it for the money, do it for the followers, do it for the free gasoline and cocaine.
I take a photo of a billboard and hashtag it with #authentic.
J: Where do you like to drink your coffee?
712. Today is going to be a good day, that’s what I tell myself. The vision board above my shoe rack stares blankly back at me. My jeans carry battle wounds from ketchup bottles and salted caramel milkshakes. Weekends were created for duvets and fleece socks, not for comparing who is who and what is what.
But I go anyway, out the door and down the street to the barista who leaves a deformed foam heart in my almond milk latte – I’ll caption it with: he loves me, he loves me not.
J: Have you got a boyfriend?
969. His name is Jay and he’s into skateboarding. He reminds me of an overgrown child because of the way he mocks every person he meets. According to Jay, my mother is obnoxious. According to Jay, my roommate sounds like Meryl Streep. According to Jay, there’s a 30% chance we’re all going to die in a nuclear disaster. Even though he voted for Hillary he says things like: “The Trump effect has fueled an artistic uprising.”
One of our friends captured him smiling into my hair whilst I looked whimsically towards the ocean through the car window. We look so peaceful, he says it’ll do a lot for my image. I realize my image relies on Jay and his conspiracy theories, most of which are referenced by Wikipedia.
J: Are you a natural redhead?
1,334. At the hairdressers, I asked for the red. Nothing brighter, nothing less. He hated redheads, said it was like living in a foreign country without bothering to learn the native tongue.
The paycheck is for the head massage and the dry biscuits but most of all it’s for the therapy and snip of scissor hands. Mend your broken heart with dye, paint the cracks red to hide the black.
I take a photo to prove I’m fluent and Jay comments with a fire emoji.
J: You and your friends are so pretty.
3,506. Wake up, shower, Charlotte Tilbury lip liner. It’s half six and I’m meant to go to a birthday dinner.
My friend texts me: “Heyyy are you ready?”
I reply: “Running 5 mins behind, meet u there!”
Forty-three minutes late but everyone is delighted by my arrival. There are eleven attempts made at the same photo, with five different phones and six angles. Everyone switches their air-drop on and we exchange pixels like synchronized swimmers tapping fingers on glass.
The rest of the evening is spent discussing the semantics of who posts when and using which editing app. I tag the restaurant but I don’t tip.
J: Where are you going tonight? Maybe we can meet up.
5,055. “Is everything okay?” She yells in my ear because the DJ is blasting a throwback remix of Lana Del Ray. It sounds terrible. I have a headache, but I smile, nod and sip my Red Bull.
I order my Uber and simultaneously film myself dancing to the last few seconds of the set. My ex-roomie replies to the story: “OMG, I LOVE that song!” I look down, I’m wearing that blue dress I stole from her closet.
It’s time to go so I wave goodbye to the promoter and his friends. They look hungrily back at me – I pause. I want to ask if they know the taste of my name on their tongues.
J: You haven’t posted in a while, do you want to talk?
9,999. Ding, ding, ding. I turn it on silent mode, airplane mode, out the window mode. I email my ex-boyfriend, I sit in the middle of the night in front of the blue computer screen and press the refresh button. I sleep in the bathtub.
I turn my phone back on. The notifications flood through the gates like waves crashing against the shore. I let the tide swoop me under, filling my mouth with salt water.
J: Was this what you always wanted?
15,050. We’re at a music festival when someone recognizes me.
“Aren’t you Jay’s ex?”
I snort, and my friend places a protective hand on my shoulder: “Sorry, she doesn’t want to talk about Jay.”
When the teenage girl submerges herself into the crowd, my friend turns to my despondent eyes: “Do you want a bump?”
No, not particularly. Also, I wouldn’t have minded talking about Jay. We were together in an artificial sense. I could have explained that to the anonymous fan. I could have shown her that we’d exchanged maybe twenty text messages – max, before the read receipts were switched off. I could have produced evidence that I was only tagged in three pictures before a blonde girl wearing a palette of pastels outperformed me in the role of a lifetime. She had more followers, of course.
“Sure,” I say. “Let’s go,” I say.
J: When can we talk?
27,101. Sometimes I eat, sometime I sleep. Sometimes I don’t do either. After the break in, I don’t trust the doorman. He gives me parcels with a brute force, as if I instigated the unwarranted attention by simply breathing his patchouli-scented air. He unfollowed me, I tracked his movements like a hunter following disappearing bear tracks in the snow.
I used to pick up the double 0’s in shops with trendy names like “Crush” and “Glow”, but now they send me double 0’s as if my limbs were crafted out of plastic and I’m the mannequin in their virtual store.
My landline rings. I jump. I don’t want to talk.
J: Are you getting these?
???. I lost my phone. Well, I didn’t lose it. I lost it on purpose. It’s not freeing, like the list-icles promising the benefits of embarking on a social-media cleanse. It’s anxiety-inducing, because I’m uncertain of where and when and who I’ll bump into.
I sit in the old coffee shop and watch the barista watching me. Can he see my eyes through the thick-rimmed glasses? Can he see the wisps of fading flames peeking out from underneath the hat? I walk home, and I can feel him tracing my footsteps until there’s nothing left apart from a deformed heart in the dregs of an empty coffee cup.
Jay moved to New York with pastel girl, they own a Bull Mastiff.
321. I’m starting again. No one can find me here, I’ve made sure to clear the trashcan. I’m permanently deleted from your iCloud memory. The social media cleanse wasn’t freeing, but this is. The low numbers, the expanse of land that hasn’t been documented and reduced to becoming the backdrop of our glamorous lives. If the names of these places don’t have their own geo-tags, do they exist at all? It’s only a matter of time until they’re discovered but by then I’ll be gone, finding someplace new to call nowhere again.
321. At the post office I send a letter with no return address. I muster the willpower to check the numbers. Nothing.
322. How? I want to scream, yell, curse. My mouth opens but no sound comes out because I am paralyzed in a world I soon won’t exist in.
J: I found you.
322. My worst nightmare, I wake up in cold sweat. The blinds are shut but there’s a rapid rap at the door. I check the clock, it flashes back at me, it’s time for the world to be still. I pull the sheet over my head and for the first time in years my cheeks glisten with tears.
322. If I sprint, it’ll take me forty seconds to reach the car. Maybe more, I haven’t eaten since Tuesday. My sunglasses hide my face but when I open the motel door the sun blinds me and I stumble out in a daze. It takes me sixty-five seconds, I know because I count the thuds in my chest.
???. There is no service on the road just a billboard that says: Don’t text and drive.
322. Clouds in the sky keep me occupied, I trace their shapes with my tongue. I wonder why he never replied to my email. I wonder if someone is thinking of me. I bite at my cuticles for sustenance till the steering wheel is streaked in thin lines of red.
322. The gas station attendant barely looks up from his phone when I walk in. He sees the ghosts of girls breeze through his revolving door like clockwork.
“Bathroom is out back,” he grunts.
322. Knock, knock.
“One second,” I shout, “I’m nearly done.”
The phone signal is slow but I refresh the page. Greeted by nothing. I can exhale. I’m safe.
It’s still at 322, no new Instagram followers today. How did he know my username? Something catches my eye, I zoom in on the last thing I posted. The snapshot of my car on the curb by the post office in the nameless town, it shows a glimpse of the number plate.
The door opens.
0. He found me.