Ann Lewis Hamilton
“I’m wearing pants.” That’s the first thing he says.
She’d stalked him on social media so she knew what he looked like. He’s cuter in motion though, a smile that curls up at the edges like a cartoon.
He stands up and looks down. “Well, not pants exactly. Shorts. That’s okay, right?”
“Shorts are fine. I’m wearing leggings, I’ve worn them like every day since this started. I wash them. Really.” She sticks her leg up in the air. Uh-oh, is he going to think she has fat legs? Has he stalked her on social media? Oh, man, he probably saw the photos from her trip to Zuma with her high school friends last summer, why did they have all those Moscow Mules and why did she post the photos, dumb dumb dumb. He’s probably totally regretting this blind date, who even has blind dates any more?
“I’m Chris,” he says, settling back into his chair. “I know you know that already. That my name is Chris. Because that’s what Barry told Elana, right, so this isn’t a surprise or anything. I’m talking too much, you can tell me to shut up or maybe you can pretend you dialed the wrong number.”
He smiles again and his goofiness makes her laugh out loud. “Elana told me you have a great sense of humor. I’m Katlyn, pleased to meet you, Chris.” She holds her hand in front of the camera and waits until he does the same. They pretend to shake. “Are there people who don’t wear pants?”
“You mean when they’re doing this or on Zoom? Yeah, probably. I’m wearing what I’ve been wearing all day. No offense or anything.”
“Me, too,” Katlyn says, hoping her face doesn’t betray the lie. The lie of changing her clothes at least a dozen times. Spending way too much time on makeup, thinking about borrowing her roommate’s ring light.
“It’s going to be weird to go back,” he says. “I was working in an office before all this and we could wear jeans, but no t-shirts. I wore khakis a lot. Now – I’m used to shorts.”
“Are you working now?” She hopes she doesn’t sound judgmental. About half her friends are looking for full-time work. It’s tough – a year out of college, finding a job in the middle of a pandemic. She thanks her lucky stars every night she’d started a job six months before the quarantine locked everything down.
“I’m doing some production accounting – but I’d been thinking about law school. Now... who knows?”
Katlyn nods. “Yep. I was happy being back in L.A., wow, I’m going to work at this little talent agency and maybe I’ll be an agent one day, at a big place, like CAA.” She sighs. “Who knows?”
“You have pretty eyes,” he says. “They’re blue, right?” He moves closer to the camera on his computer.
“Blue grey. Do you think we’re going to go back, I mean, soon? Sometimes I worry it’s always going to be like this.”
He takes a sip from his water bottle. “I don’t know how soon, but I’m sure things will be back to normal. Unless it’s an alien invasion and they’re taking over the world. That would really suck.”
He’s funny. And smart and cute. Does he smell good? Suppose they continue to date on FaceTime and the quarantine continues and they meet for picnics and cocktails, but they maintain social distancing and so she’s never close enough to smell him. And they fall in love and the quarantine ends and they’re together, face to face, and he smells like… bacon.
Or old eggs. Or socks. Or he’s one of those guys who doesn’t use deodorant to save the environment so he smells like b.o.
“Did I lose you?” he’s saying and she realizes she’s dropped out of the conversation.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around the weirdness of this. Elana says you have a couple roommates.”
“Yeah, Jeff and Dave. They’re cool. Dave makes me a little nervous sometimes – he thinks the mask stuff is government control and we shouldn’t be breathing in our own CO2.”
“One of my roommates says masks destroy your immune system. People are weird.”
He laughs. “People are really weird. Is that a System of a Down poster?”
He’s looking at her room. “My big brother gave it to me. He was totally into metal. It’s sort of a joke.”
“You strike me more as a Taylor Swift fan.”
She mock gags. “I have to end this call, I thought we were really connecting – Taylor Swift? That’s the meanest thing anybody ever said to me.”
He’s teasing and she knows he’s teasing. This is going well, this is going very well.
“What posters do you have?” She looks at his room. Pale green walls, a bookshelf behind him. The edge of a poster. “I see it, cool, BTS.”
He clutches his chest and falls to the floor. Sits up quickly. “Actually it might be fun to go to a K-Pop concert. Except for all the screaming tweens.”
“We’d probably be screaming, too. Let’s do it. When the quarantine is over.” Whoa, is she asking him on a date?
She checks out his book shelf. Sees Stephen King, Jon Krakauer, a Harry Potter collection. Excellent. Some textbooks, a few baseballs, a single white sock, a box of animal crackers, a hairbrush.
“I used to eat animal crackers,” she says.
His face changes. “What you mean?”
“The crackers, my grandmother used to get them for me.” She points to his shelf. “It’s so cute, the box.”
He grabs the box and pulls it down. “That wasn’t supposed to be there. Sorry.”
“You’re going to hoard your animal crackers? Is it a thing, like toilet paper and disinfecting wipes?”
“No, not like that.” He won’t look at the camera.
“Hey, I didn’t mean to get snoopy or anything. I promise I won’t take your crackers.”
“They’re not crackers,” he says. His face is serious. “My girlfriend, this girl I was dating…” A long pause. “She died. Her parents scattered most of her ashes, but they gave some to me. So they’re in the box. Of animal crackers. She loved them, she loved circuses and zoos, she was old fashioned, it was kind of nice. She liked the camels the best.”
Shit, shit, he seemed so normal and nice and funny and he’s a fucking crazy guy who has his dead girlfriend’s ashes in an animal cracker box. Who does that? How did she die? He probably murdered her. Danger danger, get out now. But he seemed so nice.
Except he’s going to kill her, he’s a serial killer and didn’t Elana know she was setting her up with a killer, thanks for nothing, Elana.
He’s watching her. Not talking. Probably thinking about how he’s going to end her life. Strangulation? Something clever like poisoned berries in her komboucha?
“Um,” she says. “Maybe I should… ” What excuse is she going to come up with to end the call? Wash her hair, call the police?
And he grins again. “Kidding,” he says. “Just wanted to see if you’d fall for it. It’s so much fun to goof on people. Ha ha, the look on your face – it was fantastic.”
“Fantastic,” she says. Fantastically strange like everything these days. Living in quarantine, dating online, nobody knows anything, maybe it is an alien invasion.
He’s got that maybe I’m a killer/maybe not smile again. She smiles back, but she’s mentally chopping him up in her mouth like a cracker, biting him over and over again until he turns into crumbs.
Ann Lewis Hamilton is a writer living in California.