Smoking cigarettes and eating sadness, breakfast for the lonely. It's too early to masturbate. And masturbating is more depressing than clinical depression at my age. It's a young man's game. It's Saturday, no work to occupy my mind, so I open the laptop and land on Tinder.
Desperate faces and desperate bios. The lost looking for love or sex or something other than staring at the ceiling every night. A diversion from the monotony of being alone. I feel them. I am them. The divorce was three years ago, but here I am swiping on faces of ghosts early in the morning. Moving on as my therapist would repeat at every session. There's another Jennifer out there, but you have to be willing to try, to put yourself out there, she'd say. She was right. Porn wasn't the solution, neither was total isolation and self-pity. I swiped away.
A match. A brunette who went by the handle Smoke Girl. Her bio was interesting. She liked art and sports and fine dining and Russian literature. I didn't necessarily like any of those things, but her anonymity pulled me in. No real name. Just one picture. No mention of kids or a job. Just Smoke Girl. I assume she meant cigarettes which was cool because I smoked. Not a popular choice for most women I've talked with online. I sent her a message. She replied quickly. We exchanged innocent information about one another. Me revealing more than her. She did have a name, Mary. We chatted for hours and set up a date at a steak joint for the next day.
At the restaurant, my main goal is to not screw this up. I pepper her with questions, but she dodges most of them. I tell lame jokes that she fake-laughs at. The conversation quiets as we indulge in beef and onion rings and craft beer. I'm running out of things to say.
"Tell me something about you that you keep private from your bio, from most friends. Something you only tell those closest to you," I ask.
Her smile is like a bullet tearing through me. "Can you keep a secret? Can I trust you, Jason?"
"Yes and yes. My lips are sealed." I smile back at her.
"Pay the tab and meet me outside behind the place."
I do as I'm told. She's waiting for me.
"I'm only doing this because I'm half-drunk," she says. Mary snaps her fingers and everything changes in an instant. She is not there anymore. Instead, there is a body of thick, grey smoke. Eyes and mouth as dark as nightfall. Her hair flows like a smoldering waterfall. I'm awestruck. It's the craziest and most beautiful thing I've ever seen.
"What do you think?"
I think I want to get down on my knees and propose. "I think you are wonderful. Thank you for showing me your real self. Have you always had this ability?”
“Since I was a kid. When my parents were fighting, I’d go outside, snap my fingers, and ride the wind over ponds and state parks, and affluent neighborhoods. But I always came back home because life as a wisp of smoke is friendless and empty. Plus I missed them after awhile. What about you? Any cool traits?"
I have nothing for her. I'm an average man standing across from an extraordinary woman. "Nothing to speak of. Nothing like you."
She frowns. "That's too bad. I’ll never find someone like me.” The wind picks up and she begins to disperse in the cool air. "Bye, Jason." And then she disappears.
The next night I send her multiple messages but she doesn’t respond. Why would she? I'm a nobody who jerks off three days a week and has no slick attributes. I'm ordinary and boring and lonely.
I light a cigarette and hot-box it, blowing all the smoke in a glass jar. I put a lid on it. I pretend it's Mary or Smoke Girl or whatever she wants to call herself. Sometimes I stick my hand in there and pretend like I'm touching her. But she eludes my grip, escaping into my living room, hovering, taunting me. I try and catch the smoke. I fail. She is gone. Jennifer is gone. My heart is gone. I start swiping again.
Chris Milam lives in Middletown, Ohio. His stories have appeared in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Molotov Cocktail, and elsewhere. You can find him on Twitter @Blukris.