by Sam French
Eleanor had been having a bad night. She had just come home from the hundredth blind date that ended nowhere. Where were all the nice men? The ones that would like her for her? The ones that would be interesting and sincere? Her sister kept saying the same things over and over again: “You’re a catch,” “There are more fish in the sea,” “You’ve just got to keep trying.” But it didn’t matter. Eleanor was starting to lose hope. But she wanted to try one last thing. One last shot to find her soulmate. It was time for Eleanor to try: “OpenBook.” Eleanor didn’t know it, but her life was about to---
With an angry grunt, Richards turned off the Visplay. Fucking commercials. Eleanor was probably a lesbian anyway. Or just an actress. She was pretty so she was either getting paid to say she was single or else she secretly liked women. Typical. Stop. Richards breathed deeply. Ugly thoughts are for ugly people. That’s the mantra his life coach kept telling him. Ugly thoughts are for ugly people and don’t get mad, get goal-oriented. But it was difficult, Richards thought. (Hence the life coach.) He poured a glass of red wine and forgave Eleanor.
The truth was that he was afraid to hear the rest of the commercial. He assumed it would end in happily-ever-after which he would laugh at, grunt at, and then spend the rest of the night wondering “what if?” What if? He was thirty-seven years old and his apartment kept getting bigger, and his tie collection kept getting bigger, and his bottles of scotch kept getting bigger, but every thing still felt very small. Like Eleanor, he had tried blind dates. He had tried applications on his vipad. He had gone through a period of divine romantic inspiration where he had a pen pal from Nicaragua but that ended badly. Predictably badly, his sister would tell him. Fucking ad men, they get everything right, even the looming presence of “the sister.” Fucking Eleanor and the fucking twenty three year old twat who wrote her into existence, knowing exactly how it would piss off Richards, but not caring, because he was probably going to do lines off his girlfriend at a club after turning in the latest OpenBook copy.
Richards hated being lonely but he also hated being targeted by strangers, by commercials on the Visplay. So he had once oogled single’s flag football. Now, in between his late night shows, he would forever have to have his loneliness reaffirmed to him in the form of a pretty woman trying to sell him OpenBook? Fuck no. Richards would just go to sleep instead. He poured himself a large, large glass of scotch and he downed it quickly. He got into his very large bed. Don’t get mad, get goal-oriented. “Tonight my goal is to have a dream where me and Eleanor have crazy sex.” He fell asleep with a grin.
Richards woke up early the next morning and walked to the tech store to buy an OpenBook. The decision came to him in his sleep, instead of the desired dreams. He knew he couldn’t tell his life-coach about the entire incident unless the story ended with him at least trying one out. That was another favorite of the life-coach, Trying is better than asking. Richards didn’t want to tell his life coach that that didn’t really make any sense. So he went to the tech store. On the street he made eye contact with everyone, daring them to laugh.
He was immediately greeted by a prick who was at most 15 years old. All these tech stores were the same, though, because no one could legitimately understand all the technology they were selling unless they were fucking 15 years old. Richards smiled to the Tween and said, “I’m thinking of purchasing an OpenBook.” The Tween smiled back and you would have thought Richards had told him he had just been diagnosed with ass cancer. “This way, sir.” Down a few aisles they went, until they arrived at the OpenBook display, which was sickeningly pink. Even more sickening, there were eight or nine other Richards mulling about, considering purchasing OpenBooks. Men and women Richards. Richards thought to himself that maybe he could just say hi to one of them and get married on the spot (Tween could officiate) but he didn’t feel like being such a maverick today. He wanted to stall, though, for no reason at all, other than maybe he was hoping that something would stop him from purchasing it. “So what’s the deal with these OpenBook things?”
“Well,” the Tween puffed out his chest, “OpenBook isn’t just a dating app, it’s the next step in Human Evolution.”
He paused, proudly, as if he had just delivered the Gettysburg address. When no ovation came, he continued.
“It’s one of the more new and exciting products in the cyber-dating field. Designed for customers who are tired of superficial trysts and flings, OpenBook promises previously unreached levels of intimacy. Tired of looking for one night stands, but want to start looking for the one?OpenBook is for you.”
Richards rolled his eyes. His life coach would love the Tween.
“It works very simple. In shape, size, and all other outward appearances, OpenBook is just like any book—a diary for example. And that’s exactly how you should use it. Every night, just before bed, write in your OpenBook like it’s your diary. Share your secrets with it. Share your dreams. Let your OpenBook see the real you. And as you fill its pages—which are actually highly-sensitive data gatherers—OpenBook’s cupids will be analyzing your deepest thoughts to match you with another OpenBooker. Once a match is found, which never takes more than 10 days (an OpenBook guarantee or your money back), your match’s entries will begin to appear in response to yours and a dialogue will begin. So far, OpenBook has helped 98% of its customers—a staggering 4,000,032 lonely souls—find true love.”
“How much are they paying you to say that? Like to say it exactly that way? Like with that exact tone and verbiage?”
“Never mind. I’ll take it.”
Richards walked out of the tech store feeling pretty smug but also a little embarrassed.
He met up with his sister for lunch. He had gone to another store and bought a random product that necessitated a bigger bag so that he could slip the tech store bag inside of it. He wasn’t in the mood to field questions and besides she could always tell when he was lying or, more often, evading the full extent of the truth. They sipped mimosas in a pseudo-classy way and she told him a funny story that she had heard from a friend of a friend. Richards didn’t mention that he hated the term friend of a friend. He went to the movies after and then went home and made a crummy dinner. He was in a pair of new flannel pajamas (a gift from a friend of a friend) when he finally opened up the box from the tech store.
The OpenBook did look like a real book (or at least what he remembered books to look like) and it fit very comfortably in his hand. He lay in bed holding it for a while, maybe even for an entire hour, feeling all the different ways he could be comfortable with it. Only after he had settled down on his left side, propped up on his elbow, did he actually turn the cover. The “pages” were blank and if you paid even the slightest bit of attention you could sense that they were glowing a bit too much to be just paper, and if you held them up to your face they felt disconcertingly warm. What was the term the Tween had used? Data gatherers? Richards briefly pondered why, in this ever-growing tech world, some things had to have the most clever, cutesy names imaginable (Visplay, Protokis, Dittols) but other things were allowed to just be what they actually were. He didn’t know what he should write so he started with that and it turned into a sort of awkward manifesto. Richards knew exactly what his life coach would say to that. His life coach would have said, “Now you’re thirty-seven. Before you wrote that, you could have been any age you wanted to be. Remember, age is just potential until you act upon it.” Asshole. Richards continued writing about his life coach. It felt good to let some steam off of him but he also very much doubted this was going to help him find his soul-mate. He finished his entry by talking about his sister a little bit. About how she worried about him. He told a story about when they were little kids and she taught him which insects you were allowed to catch and about when you had to let them go. He looked at his clock and was surprised to see that two hours had gone by. He closed the book and went to bed.
The next morning was Sunday so Richards baked in the sunlight filtering into his room for an hour before getting up. His coffee tasted sweet with breakfast. There was nothing of note in the newspaper and he finished the crossword puzzle with (10 letters, starts with ex, “effectiveness”) expedience. He poured himself another cup of coffee. When he went outside that day, no one noticed him but in a reaffirming way like the way no one notices gravity. Before dinner, Richards called his sister and asked if she remembered teaching him about fireflies? They floated like bright dust. “You’re talking like you talk on New Years, David.”
Skipping scotch entirely, David went to his bedroom with the OpenBook. He wrote for a brief period of time about his day which was unremarkable. He turned his light off to try to fall asleep. Soon, the light was back on and he took the OpenBook out for another entry.
When I was young I could never sleep. I worried about tests and hurricanes. The future was full of them. I would read books until I had to go to sleep. Cheap paperbacks my mom had grabbed for me at the grocery store about adventurers who would never worry about tests and hurricanes. I would read them as long as I could but my mom always turned the lights off and made me close the book. On bad nights, bad nights when I really couldn’t sleep when it wasn’t an issue of trying, I would lie there with my eyes closed and pretend I was a character in the book. Sometimes I would be in a prison, planning my escape. Sometimes I was burrowed deep underground, preparing for a seismic attack on the surface dwellers. It was a stupid game but it was always easier for David the hero to drift into sleep than it was for David the boy. I told that to my mom and she smiled and said I should be a writer. I realized much later that I guess I don’t have the talent for it. I grew up that way, though, fighting my insomnia with my imagination.
The first time I had sex was a disaster. I was in college and I went to her bedroom drunk one night. After it, lying in her bed, the shadows seemed strange and I couldn’t sleep again. Next to me, the girl, Carla, was sleeping. Her breasts rose and fell. Hours went by I think but I could also be wrong I guess. I started to panic. It had been years since I couldn’t sleep and it had been years since I used my imagination. But I decided to try. I closed my eyes and imagined that the blanket was a disguise. A horrible monster was searching for me. I mouthed its name and banished it. But I guess the girl had woken up and she heard me and she laughed at me. I didn’t sleep at all that night and I never saw her again. I’ve never told someone that story.
It happens often now, that I can’t sleep. My room is too cold and lonely. Scotch helps sometime but it gets weaker every night and some nights it is not enough. I hope you, whoever you are, will not mind that I failed to become a writer. I hope you will not mind that I toss and turn. Mostly, though, I hope that you will not mind that at night, sometimes, I have to pretend I am a hero. I have to pretend that we are on an adventure. Tonight, I will imagine that I am coming to rescue you. But, probably, wherever you are, you are coming to rescue me.
He closed the book and turned off the light and, eventually, fell asleep.
The next morning he was embarrassed but there was no way to delete the entry. His life coach didn’t answer his phone. The toast was burning when he unplugged the toaster. There were no sparks. Anywhere. Not in the socket - not in the air. Fireflies had become extinct in the last ten years—the air was too thick for their light and they couldn’t find each other to mate without it. Richards felt so heavy that morning even though the release of secrets was usually associated with lightness. Carla had laughed at him and that was probably the first time he had ever felt alone. What was the word the Tween had used? Cupids? They would probably be laughing at him, passing around his entry, giving up hope (like his mom already had and maybe even like his sister had, already). He tried his life coach one more time.
Richards had a roof in his building that he very rarely went out on. It was high, a little too high to be honest, and it always seemed populated by a young and rowdy crowd. That night, though, Richards decided to walk out onto it with his OpenBook in his arms. He trudged up the flights of stairs and put his shoulder into the heavy metal door at the top. It swung open and the city danced, seemingly miles away in the light fog, like a million fireflies. Richards didn’t notice, though. The roof was empty tonight. The youthful army must still be out. He peered over the edge and he couldn’t see the ground, but he imagined the street crawling with them. People laughing. People holding hands so they didn’t lose each other in the fog. Richards smiled a rare smile. He sat down near the edge of the roof. The OpenBook dangled in his left hand, its cover page swinging slowly in a breeze. It slipped very softly through his fingers but he held tightly at its end. Richards put it in his lap and began to write again.
I’m sorry for writing that last night.
The fog was very thick and if he held his arm out, the OpenBook began to disappear in it. Suddenly, though, it vibrated and, beneath his black entry, red letters began to appear.
Why are you sorry? I thought it was a sort of beautiful thing about you. I’m glad I know that about you now.
The city danced, seemingly miles away in the light fog, like a million fireflies.
Sam French is a writer and director located in Brooklyn. Originally from Florida, he is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University. His plays have been produced in Pittsburgh, Florida, Martha’s Vineyard, and New York. His short story "A Love Letter to the Boys of Summer" won the Adamson Award for Fiction at CMU. Sam was named a top 20 artist under 25 in the Tampa area by Creative Loafing magazine and has two one-acts published by Baker’s Plays.