There’s that familiar pull, when they climb up. You’d think she could easily sense the fluctuations — estimate the weight for each, like a carnival guesser — but it’s so subtle, in her mind. Almost indistinguishable.
They send her missives in response to her remarkably detailed profile:
Hi how’s your day?
Hey hows yr weekend?
How is your week so far?
How are u spending this hot Sunday?
The tower has cross-ventilation; she barely even needs the AC in the summers. Her actual electricity use is nominal — the bills are mostly delivery charges. On Sundays, in the damp cool of the tower’s smooth stones, she reads murder mysteries. She’s taken up knitting. Sometimes strands of her hair get mixed up into the marled heather yarn, the charcoal glossed with hints of gold.
She started Portuguese lessons online. Why are you learning a language?, the site asked. Family & friends. School. Travel. Job opportunities. Culture. Brain Training. Other. She hovered over Travel, but she doesn’t even have a passport. Other, she decided. Casual, Regular, Serious, or Intense?, the site wanted to know. She’d liked to think Serious, or at the very least Regular; she objects to Intense, as a word. But she considered the diph- and triph-thongs, the nasal vowels. Casual, if she’s being honest. The five minutes a day always slip away from her, and she’s forever stuck at “sou uma mulher.” “Eu sou um homem.” “Olá. E aí?”
You have a gorgeous smile.
That hair tho
Hey there you have such a pretty smile good morning
What are you doing up so late beautiful lol?
A few nights a week, she likes to stay up too late. She wonders what the light leaking out of her tower’s arrow loops and windows looks like from afar, as someone lies in bed and stares out their own window, or walks their dog, or can see the rectangular glimmer of her light reflected on their flatscreens as they’re asked Are you still watching?, and they select Continue, and binge some more.
Hey I think we have a lot in common let’s connect—-52% match according to the app. She scrolled through the 29387345093020 questions he’s answered, to see what they might have in common. He’s feminist only to some extent. Believed creationism should be taught alongside evolution. Knew it’s best if men are the head of households.
She’s unsure if answering the questions to get better matches is a waste of time or not. One prompt: This is the saddest song ever written. She thought of “Marie,” and how Marie follows her man. How they live under a bridge because he can’t find a job — like trolls, minus the territorial gobbling up of strangers. How his harmonica gets stolen when he’s drunk with shame, so he can’t even busk anymore. How she can’t run and hop a train with him, heavier every day with their child. How Marie just gives up and dies one cold morning, under that bridge. She knows Marie knew love — intimately, intensely — and so is the saddest woman ever.
Actually, one messaged her, the saddest song is by Townes van Zandt but it isn’t Marie it is Waiting Around to Die. Marie is also sad though. She looked through his answers, but already knew what she’d find: Mansplaining is only sometimes a thing.
There’s no witch any more — no debt to pay for her mother’s purpled cravings. In theory, she decides who crawls up in the dark of the night. She had a security camera installed to try and mitigate cat-fishing. She pops the minipill every day, between 8 and 11 AM. Counts how many times before they pretend to ignore the condom laid out on the nightstand (the record is seven).
How do you do with pain?, one asked her.
She took a while with that, rolled it around in her hands. Tickled the knots that formed because she forgot to condition. Her scalp ached in anticipation of the heaviness, the gravity and friction and tensile strength.
I think just fine, she replied.
Yes, she wrote again: just fine.
Bethany Holmstrom is an English professor at LaGuardia Community College, CUNY. Originally from rural Appalachia, she now lives in Brooklyn. Her work appears in Appalachian Review, The Molotov Cocktail, and MoonPark Review.
image: Megan Ní