You access your map; your house is the blinking blue dot at the center. The map has adapted to your search history and shows your three favorite take-out places: Gio’s for pizza, Leaf for pho, and Thai Garden for noodles. It shows the law office where you work, where your sweater dresses and used books are delivered. It shows the blue route from the Laundromat to Amanda’s apartment, where you watch HBO and fold your clothes.
You stand on the virtual street and examine the yellow house James and his roommate rent. You can see the front porch with the couch where he smokes and the spiders nest. His car is parked in the driveway, its license plate blurred. You wonder what he was doing inside the house the moment the camera passed by. It was summer, from the looks of the grass. And you think it was a Monday morning because of all the still-full trashcans pulled to the curb.
You met him a few months later, on a Saturday night— the kind of Saturday night where you and Amanda stomped up the 4th Street hill in boots to your knees and eyes outlined in black. Four bars later, you tripped back down the hill, looking for greasy food. James was smoking outside the taco joint, the one that isn’t on your map because you’ve never searched for it; you only find it when your vision is blurry and your wallet near empty.
James looked a decade younger than the men you date. He wore university t-shirts with cigarette burns and baggy sweatpants low on his narrow hips. He had round cheeks and the confident grin of a boy who has never had to find a full time job with benefits, who has never been dumped for someone prettier, who has never been told sweatpants aren’t for public consumption. If it had been any other night, he would have gone for Amanda first, with her pink-tipped hair and sequined skirt. But Amanda needed to pee and you wanted a cigarette. You never smoke, except on nights like these.
James lit the cigarette for you, like in the movies, his hands right by your mouth, cupped so you could see that they were scabbed and scraped along the knuckles. You asked what happened, and he told you he fought his brother. You raised your eyebrows at this but didn’t ask for details.
You said goodbye to Amanda and walked with James to another bar and then to his house where you ate cold rotisserie chicken and smoked pot. You only remember one thing he said that night: I like royal blue. You said you did too, though you’re actually more of an earth tones person. You can’t remember the sex, or you’ve confused it with more recent sex under that ratty black comforter.
You used the map on your phone to get home in the morning. He offered a ride, but you told him that you wanted to walk the alcohol off. Plus, you didn’t want him to know where you live, not yet. You fed your cat, drank tea, and climbed under your downy duvet to sleep it off.
He texted later that he liked how sophisticated you were, that it was refreshing to hang out with someone who had her life together. You texted back that you weren’t that old.
He asked you on dates; he seemed to think that’s what he was supposed to do. Still wary, you met him out, adding to your search history, mapping his tastes: WingSpot, Giant Pretzel, Bubba Burger.
James finally told you about his older brother, who is younger than you. He described the fight they had on his front porch. How they rolled this way and that, how their bodies plotted a course from the cracked cement planter to the sagging couch to the brick column. The brother tore the window screen with a tree branch he swung like they were two boys playing pirate. You asked why they fought. Because he doesn’t get me, he said. He doesn’t respect my dreams.
When you finally gave him your address, you imagined him entering it into his own map, dropping a red pin, so he could find you from wherever he was. You liked that idea now. Around him, you didn’t need to think about electric bills or repaying your grad school loans or submitting your manuscript to the umpteenth contest. You were his age again, before any of that mattered. You spent hours lost in a pot cloud, watching TV without guilt. The sex made you feel younger too: inexpert, sloppy, fingers and mouths misdirected, too fast or too hard. But always, somehow, beautiful.
One night, teeth against your neck, he said that he loved you. You pretended not to hear, though maybe you loved him too, a wagging puppy love, a love that made you flush when your phone screen lit with his name. But the next day at your desk, you spent hours convincing yourself it could never work, that he was too young, too far away from making decisions about careers and relationships and family, about which web-like city to make his home. You couldn’t sit on his couch watching him play zombie video games forever. So you ended it: we’re just in two different places, you said.
You wonder if he has started seeing someone else, someone closer to his age, someone who lives on student loans and part-time paychecks. You wonder what you’ll see if you drive by his house: another car parked behind his? Lipstick-stained cigarette butts littering the stairs? You don’t drive by. You prefer to look at the map, at the summer morning. At the fresh cut grass. At the neighbors wheeling their cans to the curb. You prefer zooming in on the window screen, not yet torn, the metal fibers still intersecting neatly. The room beyond never visible.
Natalie Lund is a third-year fiction candidate in Purdue’s MFA program and the fiction editor of Sycamore Review. Before attending Purdue, she taught English and Texas History at a charter school in Houston, TX. She lives in Indiana with her dog, cat, and several uninvited spiders. Follow her on Twitter @nmlund.
–Art by Marta Bevacqua
–Art by Alphan Yýlmazmaden
–Art by Seamus Travers