The app delivers one match. There are three photos. In the one she likes, he is standing on a sidewalk under a tree with the sun breaking through the leaves. The light hits the bridge of his nose and she recalls how this was the place she most liked to kiss him. That one tender spot.
The others she’s less fond of – but this one, yes, the pale skin, a certain curl of the lip, an arrogance of expression. And she tells herself she is not looking for someone like him, but she had shuffled the profiles right to left, “Not him, not him,” as if her brain had stuck on one card in the deck, hinged onto a moment months ago and refused to relent.
They message all week. His name is Royal. The first time they chat, she is in her hallway, near the door. Alex had stood in that same spot and he put his hands on her waist. “I’ll text you from the road,” he’d said, and she tried to take one last look at him.
Royal tells her he has a Rothko print in his bathroom. She sends him a photo of the Klimt her mother hung across from her sink, the orientation upset so that it is vertical, a woman standing or falling.
I like you, he writes.
You remind me of me.
This goes on, night and day, until they are both convinced. They are similar in almost every way. And it is not simply a projection; it is as if he is in her life when he is still outside out it. As if they have imagined each other perfectly. Her heart unfurls as if opening the fingers of a closed fist.
And that is how this first warm day feels on her face. Like the opening up of something she had not known existed. She is on her way to meet Royal for the first time, and she walks by Alex’s work – she’s not conscious of her mistake until she realizes she is staring at his car.
She looks down at her shoes and she thinks again about that last time with him. A feeling of terror and also of awe. How he sat with his legs wide as he put on his shoes and he smiled and pulled hard on the laces. She could watch him for hours doing only this. And this was love, and she had not known it before this time. Involuntary and insane.
She chooses a bench near the entrance of the park. Tells herself she’s being cautious. A half hour passes, then another. The sun starts its descent across the sky. Those who approach become shadows but none of them are him.
She rises and buttons her coat. Walks toward the lake like a magnet pulled south, turning, circling blocks, walking against the rising breeze as she rounds grey corners and sees no one. Tracing a grid that keeps leading her back to the water’s edge, squares and squares that join and then break apart in her mind.
How is it that a lover becomes real? How does it happen that what we most desperately crave starts to feel like a thing we can hold in our hands, blow away with sweet breath –
She missed the headline, of course: *App experiment raises ethical questions.* She might not have seen it if she’d known what to look for. It spiked on Twitter for a few hours in the lazy mid-afternoon, spawned a hashtag, and, like a whisper or a dream, was gone.
In the harbour, chunks of ice float like shards of diamonds, come from far out – blown clean across from the other side by the wind that does what it wants and answers to no one.