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The Ball Dropped, Honey! photo

Oh, absolutely a mistake to have given the wealthy Protein Bar Daddy my number. A group of us are in a Massachusetts rental, big and drafty, to celebrate a birthday and to bring in the New Year. The winter here is a very real thing, it is a force. We walk the rooms, explore, and I can’t get warm. I look my clothes over and they are thin stupid choices. When I was packing I was thinking someone would be looking, that someone would want to feel the flimsy fabrics. The cellphone reception is bad, there's a landline and the WiFi is spotty. Protein Bar Daddy finds a way. Text messages come through in heaps. The signal's occasional, fatal effort to transmit. He finds me because he wants to.

I have a few of them now, the chiseled torsos from the great lonely void, men who bark orders at me. What was I hoping for? Company, a little talking to. I’m a newly single girl, graceless when I flirt over the phone. Now my photo is on the internet: unwashed hair, crouching with fruit abundant in my arms, a hole in my leggings. My ex-boyfriend has my old white leather couch, that motherfucker. I wish it wouldn’t make me weep.

They all like to write me, Good Morning ;) These funny daddies. They refuse to give me their names, they refuse my questions. My stupid little narrative splashes. The daddies refuse anything that does not entail being asked permission. Better that I ask for direction, better I seek guidance. They like my disobedience or they don't. Moody men. They like to advise on financial matters, the practical things. They like the tiny corners of my squirming.

I want to know about the protein bar ingredients and how it’s selling and did I eat it before and does he eat it still. I want to know if it is true, any of it.

I had to get a burner number like a Bond Girl, I had to hide the Google Voice app in the Money folder on my phone. There’s no mystery there, just shame. Protein Bar Daddy clarifies in a voicemail, Only mister, okay? Mister or Daddy. You'll learn. You'll understand why this is so important. Okay baby girl? Okay, my little girl? It’s all a very serious business and I am very stupid about it, laughing when I should be nodding, fear in my throat. He likes my inexperience. I don’t mind, he tells me. I don’t mind if you’re willing to listen. If you’ll work hard for me. I said I was a Daniella, a sleazy acrylic heel of a name.

The first thing is Protein Daddy would like for me to think of my phone as a collar. Do not remove the collar. Do not miss his calls. Do not, do not, do not.

Cooking makes me feel of service. Good in my helpfulness. There are twelve of us in this big old house, most coupled like the great ark. Except there’s me and two more jagged edges. We’re all three of us bunking in the attic, where the heat travels. My socializing is confined to the kitchen where I fuss over ratatouille. We are discussing the trip into town where there is a bookstore and a shop that sells costumes. My sweater is yolk yellow; I praise myself in silence for remembering to pack the good Earl Grey, here in Lipton land, and delay my boozing so maybe I won’t ruin the ratatouille.

Are these the kinds of details Protein Bar Daddy wants to hear when he texts to ask, How is my little princess spending her afternoon? The clock has started I only have ten minutes to reply, collar-clad.

Every time I open the Google Voice app there’s a man wagging his finger at me, tisking. Protein Bar Daddy wants to know where the photos of my panties are. This is a demand, this is not a drill; photo after photo of panties. I try to crumple them in my hand, I try to take a tasteful triangle, hook them around my ankle, my big toe. I try and try but how can he be happy if I am not? The photos are punishment—punishment accumulating—because I am one forgetful bunny with the phone. He's gone to Vermont to ski for the new year. He's with friends but he wants my head in his lap. Do I ski? What am I good at? Tell daddy, he wants you to feel seen. It’s not ratatouille, I confess.

My ex-boyfriend he has my marble cheeseboard and my nice party tumblers too, he has my cotton sheets and my faux fur coat in our old closet. Every morning for the dreaded daily meditations I have to find my hurt, scan my body, Operation. I’ll come after it with a knife when I can.

No matter, I can have a little fun. We're at a limp New Year’s Eve party at the only bar in town. Locals, young and all of them ignoring the weather. Snow for hours now. Protein Bar Daddy wants to know: What kind of dress is my little angel wearing to the party? Will she kiss someone and think of her Mister?

My ex-boyfriend calls and sends me outside because of the noise. We are speaking again because he tattooed a woman's face obscured by a knife in my honor. How long will it take me to find the poison in that gesture?

It's so cold it hurts to open my mouth so he struggles to understand my voice fraying. He asks about the house and the weather and then New Year’s resolutions. He has none. He hates this holiday. This is all supposed to be for me. This calling, this asking. The cold is shocking. He thinks the solution to our problem is the approach to communication. We can coax love back in with careful talking, mindful listening. He thanks me for shelling out the fifty dollars to take the Myers Briggs test. For sending him the results. It is showing him things about me, the data. It means a lot. We hang up and already it is difficult to recall the conversation. He’s extroverted, a judger, a thinker.

Inside, the bartender smiles at my blue mouth. The ball dropped, honey! He seems like a nice man, he pours me the champagne flute I paid for with admission. Welcome to a new you. In the bathroom mirror I try and rub blood back into my lips. Protein Bar Daddy has sent a photo of his hand gripping his belt buckle, the button of his slacks undone. He wrote, Don't let Daddy find out. It is difficult to be honest with myself.

What is missing? You've upset Daddy. All you do is upset Daddy. Some man elsewhere calls to purr into the well of my voicemail. He mixes my hair color and my eye color with some other Little Angel. Give me a break.

In the morning when I am new and reborn I make us all pancakes and some are truly beautiful. I use up all the butter, I make coffee again and again. I speak to my mother and we check off our traditions, (Yes I wore new underwear, Yes I made a small and silent wish, Yes I looked up at the new year’s sky, Yes I am thinking positive this morning, channeling the color orange). I send her kisses over the phone.

Protein Bar Daddy calls even after his commands have not been met. What's wrong? He pleads into silence, pivots and sends instructions. Instructs to shower and to masturbate at work and to call then and to kiss a woman in a restaurant and to put my hands between my legs beneath a long coat on a crowded train find a station with reception and call when you do tell me what your fingers feel like talk to me. A ball of yarn for a kitten to bat at. Is that it?

How do they know? They pick me out. These floating suited torsos send their phone number on a lonely app and write, don't hide, you've been seen. These funny little daddies with their manicured hands and sonorous voices come to my rescue. How could they know? They're under a tiny thumb.