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February 19, 2018 | Fiction


Emily Smith

Voiceless photo

The photo I'm about to share is a sandwich, on a big brioche bun, cheese dripping out the sides, and juicy roast beef, beet red and bloody, two inches thick. I stick in two toothpicks, with blue cellophane wrapping at the tips. I slice the sandwich in half and separate it onto two matching plates, set a wineglass next to each. I fill the glasses tastefully about a quarter of the way up with a thin red that catches the light. It’s all set beside my window, which I’ve laced with my blue checkered curtain, to match the cellophane.

The hearts roll in slowly at first. It took me a while to endure the first few excruciating minutes, to not immediately delete when no hearts came. I would spend all day preparing the shot, getting every detail in place, butterflies in my stomach when I hit Share, and then before even a minute was up: delete. Nothing was good enough. But then I had no shares, so much work and no shares! So I started cutting. Nothing dramatic, just small slices on my leg, sometimes my upper arm, something to do with the shame besides delete delete delete. I learned the trick on a dark channel somewhere but I don’t need it anymore. Now I just wait. Now I know the hearts will come.

I pour the wine back in the bottle and cork it. Scrape the disgusting meat out from the sandwich, throw it into the bin, and slice the bread into eight pieces. Three for lunch, five for dinner. Some cheese drips onto my futon. Well, the dirty old sheet covering my futon. I throw this disgusting sheet on whenever I’m not shooting so I don’t have to worry about getting my colorful covers dirty.

My friends comment that they wish they were here enjoying my delicious sandwich with me and I tell them I do, too. I don’t mean I wish they were here here, of course, and they don’t mean that either. They mean they wish they were in my world. I heart their comments so they know I’m grateful.

Tayla posts a picture of the beach. Her toes are the only part of her body in the photo and they’re a shiny red. She has pretty toes, chubby and round like a baby’s. She wears a ring on one, which I think is silly but it works with the photo, a stripe of gold against the dark blue water. I’m sure it’s already off her toe by now. She’s in Mexico because she shares Travel. I share Food, obviously. I tell her that her feet look cute and I mean it, which is cool. I tell her I like her toe ring, too.

My mom messages me Hello, asks how I’m doing. She refuses to get updates from me. She refuses to get updates from anyone.

Time for work. I move to the floor. I like to separate my work life from my personal life. I start to type. I’m the third most effective agent at the company according to my points. I want to be the first, of course, so I type faster. My first client is complaining that the Worker never came. He went out to the park again that evening, and the dog crap was still there, which, of course, is unacceptable. I apologize to him in a very friendly way without being too wordy. I assure my client that he did nothing wrong. I deduct points from the ineffective Worker. I send a new one to pick up his dog’s mess. 42 seconds. I’m very good.

The men who type in are always disappointed. They wouldn’t waste their money contacting us otherwise. Not that it costs money to contact us, that would be ridiculous, but the time they spend typing could be spent on anything else, even just two minutes of typing, even typing on the toilet, is keeping them from doing something else, like thinking, according to our handbook. All our clients live by the water. If I get enough followers I can move to the water.

I answer a few more messages while I think about the setting for tonight’s dinner. I’ve planted flowers in my window box for nights like tonight when I want to do something extra special. If I angle it just right it looks like I’m in a garden, like a garden dinner. But no wine tonight, tonight I will make cocktails! It occurs to me as I’m customizing the standard response about litter box cleanup--yes we do it, but you have to be home and that’s not all: you can even sign up for our daily, weekly, or monthly plan!--that I have Club soda and limes and I will make little umbrella things and put them in my antique mason jars. The cool thing about cocktails is that you don’t need liquor, and that’s the most expensive part. Clear bubbly liquid is clear bubbly liquid. Wine is trickier, of course.

The sun is setting and the sky is a mix of purple and bright pink, deeper tonight than usual. I take my break to scramble to the rooftop. I snap a shot of sky and sky alone. I’ll use this for background another night, when everything feels dark, like it usually does. If I share it now no one will care, we all see the same dumb sky in Midland.

Rainer asks how lunch was and I tell her that it was out of this world, that there is nothing like red meat. It’s true, I love red meat. But I can’t eat it. Then I’d just be a fat person posting her fat food and no one wants to see that. All my followers would leave, embarrassed for me, hoping I got healthy. But everyone loves watching a tiny girl eat fat food. That’s the trick that will get me to the water--the best Makers create the unattainable. Right now I’m a hundred and seven pounds, the same weight I was when I was twelve. It’s taken me three years to get to twelve. I was stuck at fourteen, for like, ever.

I’m twenty-seven on my profile. Technically I’ve been alive for thirty-one years but my dad got really sick as soon as I graduated college and I had to spend four years at my parents house taking care of him day in and day out and of course I couldn’t post a thing, so those years don’t count. My goal is to be at the water by the time I’m thirty.

I’ve completed 200 responses. Done with work. 3 hours and 51 minutes! A new personal best that will hopefully move me to second place. I click the little box to confirm and my account is replenished with points for shopping later tonight. I prefer shopping before bed, when I’m all tucked into the futon. I have a better sense of what’s missing when everything is done and I can read my comments in peace.

I unroll my yoga mat and take an antique candle out from the cupboard. I choose a pale green. Old timey things get the most hearts so candles are key. The hardest part of being a Maker, I’ve found, is progress. Every share needs to be a little bit better than the last. Not much, you don’t want to surprise followers, just enough to make them feel like they’re on a journey. If I stay stagnant, then my world, no matter how beautiful, will become irrelevant. The hardest part is to always be making progress.

I’ve painted the corner of my wall a mustard yellow tonight because I like that combination--pale green and mustard yellow. The yoga mat I’ve picked is grey. I turn down the lights and position the candle next to the mat. A restorative evening, I write.

I blow out the candle before it burns too much and put it back in the cupboard with the others. Every fourth share, I do something not food related so my followers can learn a little more about me. I turn the lights back on, as high as they go, a gruesome bright, and shut the blinds. I roll up the grey mat and throw it in the corner with the others. Time for my exercises. The video is ruthless. Every day it seems as if my body is a little harder to move, today I can barely get off the futon, or lift my arm up to my head. A large man who doesn’t quit is screaming at me to get down then get up, to hold it and then push it. You can’t stay twelve by doing yoga.

Naylen messages me and I jump at an excuse to stop the video. He saw the sandwich and he loves it. I knew he would.

Naylen posts Music and I heart all of his shares. I listened to it once and it was good, and all his descriptions sound good, and he’s my boyfriend. Friday Naylen and I are doing A Day At The Lake. The Lake is my second fav. My first fav is Picnic In The Park but we did that last week. If I’m honest, I’m afraid Naylen will hit fifteen-thousand followers before I do, move to the water, and then I’ll have to find someone new to go to The Wall with.

I am sweaty and tired, the room is kind of spinning, which has been happening more these days. I take a deep breath on the futon. I’m ready to begin getting the garden together when I hear a sound, like a ball is bouncing. It’s coming from the direction of the door. Like a ball is bouncing against my door. I sit completely still to make sure it’s not coming from the screen. My shopping list already came today, this morning, and anyway the Bot would never hit my door. It happens again, the sound.

My body freezes. There are fourteen Makers in the building and no one would dare come to my door. We all have our own rooms. Each one is the same: one window, a stove, a fridge in one corner and a sink in the other, and a small bathroom in the back. I have lived here for four years because it’s perfect. I’ve only seen two people, both by accident when I was on my way to visit my mom so that she knew I was OK. Since she doesn’t see my shares and she doesn’t trust my messages, I have to take the two hour pod once a year to her house and speak. She says speaking is good for me and I try not to laugh.

Another knock. I am under attack.

“Hello?” I ask, and my voice bounces around the empty walls of my apartment like a pinball. It sounds like a recording, like it should be coming from the screen, and I swallow the “o” to make it stop.

“Kanya, I need to come in.” His voice is as solid as a rock, as if he has been speaking all day long.

“Who are you?” I ask.

“A follower,” the voice says and I feel my heart stop beating, my breath catch in my throat.

The day I hit one thousand followers I cried. Making it to the water, for the first time, felt possible. Now I had seven thousand, almost halfway to being eligible.

“Why are you here?” I ask. I wish I could mute the room so I don’t have to keep hearing myself. “If you tell me your name I will follow you back,” I offer, generously.

“I want to have dinner with you.”

“No dinner tonight,” I say and as I do my stomach twists. I move slowly away from the door, towards the futon, and pull the dirty sheet over my body.

The sky through the window is grey now, the purples only last a few minutes these days. All I wanted was to create beauty, I think, curled into the sagging cushion of my futon. To erase the ugliness.

He breaks down my door. My screen is yanked from my body. Snaps, one after the next. What comes out of me is the cry of an unknown animal, it floods the empty room. I will never see the water.


I close my eyes as tight as they will go. The world faded into a twisted black before they arrived. When I woke the lights were bright and the doctor was hovering above me. I was covered in blankets and tubes were transporting liquids into my body and food into my mouth. I want my pills.

My brother told my mother was how she found out, how they found me.

We are bringing you back to life Kanya, my mom whispers from the side of my bed. She thinks I can’t hear her because my eyes are still shut. We are bringing you back to life, my poor mom says over and over again.

I imagine a photo of my spotted stained futon, ripping at the sides and sloping in the middle. My dirty white wall lined with different colored paint cans, each corner a different shade and layered a thousands times, a new one for every meal, the dribbles of missed marks splattered on my old grey carpet. My garbage full of red meat from this afternoon and fettucini from last night and even, from this morning, that delicious raspberry tart with the lemon lavender glaze that was really just glue with food coloring in it because how on Earth do you make lemon lavender glaze.


image: Aaron Burch