Daphne hated sunny days. Those slow, sprawling sun-laced days, faded as the golden musky pages of an old, cracking book. The shadows long and never really dark, the light coming through the beige linen curtains white and the breeze that played with them not carrying any sound. Such days made her sad. They made her lonely.
Rather, they reminded her of her loneliness, of her sadness.
Of course she had his number memorized. Of course, by now. She had it memorized, even though there wasn’t any need. No need to remember anyone’s number, anymore. Still, she had it memorized. She would marvel sometimes at how easy it was to memorize, how easily its peculiar rhythm, its even cadence lent itself to be so comfortably, seamlessly embedded in her mind. Maybe it had nothing to do with the numbers themselves. Maybe it had everything to do with him.
He who made the sun-laced, sepia-stained days unbearable. Unbearable because he seemed not to exist in them. Because he only talked to her at night. And how she loved the nights. But not just because of him. She’d always loved the nights.
Night was quiet, night was close. She didn’t feel like she was missing out at night, because everyone was asleep. She might even say that everyone was missing out what she was partaking of. She could lie in bed looking out her window, or she could go for a walk. A walk in the wild magical openness, the navy twinkling rush of a cool breeze that carried with it an echo as of a surging river, an echo of something that wouldn’t ever harm her. Night made surreal by cascading sleep whose tendrils laced out slowly toward her eyes, until finally, inevitably seizing them, her. And then she would join everyone else in slumber.
Night was lavender, it was endless, a meandering moment. Night was quiet and lonely yet calm as a roaming, languorous field stretching out to meet the horizon, the end of the world, hidden beneath a mantle of snow, a haggard tree standing defiantly in the centre its gnarled, naked branches yawning up to the shimmering wide sky that made the field glow silver and blue — but that naked, bent tree stands far away, it wouldn’t ever harm her.
Unlike the picture he sent her of his dick.
What he’d brought to the good night was excitement, the rush of flirtation, the deft wordplay that anticipated sex, was almost like sex, but not sex right now. When he texted her at 2 a.m. she didn’t mind — her heart began to race, her palms became clammy. She used to be calm at night, she could think, sometimes she might even say she was happy. Now she was all that and excited. How great she felt.
She found herself with something to look forward to — not just the texts, the opportunity to talk with him, that the night brought with it, but also the near, hopefully not-too-distant future. She found herself getting hopeful, weaving happy stories modelled on those almost commonplace, banal ones her friends in relationships shared with her, posted about on Facebook, demonstrated on Instagram. She became hopeful for what she’d thought was a fulfilled life, something she’d given up even fantasizing about.
Until, that is, he sent her the picture of his dick.
She was already feeling down that night — beat up, sore in the head. It was the long commute out of the city. It was the B- she’d received on her Philosophy term paper — on Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan and language and social contracts. She didn’t believe she deserved the grade, but her professor, with his wild grey hair and booming, berating voice that at every class parapeted the room against any latecomers, was too intimidating. She worried he’d yell at her, she worried she wouldn’t be able to defend herself against his loud wall of big words and convoluted questions she’d be too afraid to understand enough to answer.
So she was feeling sad. The thoughts — those bullying thoughts that told her she wouldn’t amount to anything, that she ought to just give up, that she didn’t and wouldn’t ever matter, thoughts that hadn’t bludgeoned her for a while, since, on account of him, who distracted her mind with hopefulness — were back and strong, overwhelming, storming.
She put on a sad Sufjan Stevens song because she wanted to wallow. She wanted to cry and to make herself feel her pain fully. She played a song like big, twinkling sounds echoing in an empty room. Resounding gently and immensely, not ricocheting. And when the echoes died all she was left feeling was a profound loneliness, a despairing sadness at her being left out, left behind, even though it was night. Another Sufjan Stevens song followed upon the last — a song like a wraith, like a chorus of witches, like a portentous grey-blue shimmering smoke that when it dispersed, when the song ended, left behind a sallow beige. She wept.
And then her phone buzzed.
It was him and her heart leapt up into her throat. Every time her phone buzzed with a message from him a curious joy crackled and sparked through her. It was as if nothing else mattered. At least for the moment. He filled her mind.
He hadn’t at first had that effect on her. At the bar Miranda brought her to late September — to cheer her up because she’d been sad because she felt overwhelmed and overtaken by the workload she hadn’t anticipated would come with switching over from English to Philosophy in her third year of undergrad — he was with a friend who stood nearer to her and whose face she first noticed. Noticed because it was pretty, so classically pretty. He looked like Gene Kelly and she couldn’t stop looking at him and then he, noticing her gaze, said hello to Miranda and her. Miranda said hello back. The Gene Kelly-looking friend wasn’t interested in Daphne, he wanted to get to know Miranda, who wasn’t interested but who humoured him so that his friend wouldn’t leave — because she knew he would be a good distraction for her friend.
He, the friend. He didn’t look like Gene Kelly and he was very quiet at first. He slowly, almost cautiously, moved closer to Daphne, and then he asked her what her name was — placing his face right at her ear. She looked up at him — he was so tall and his shoulders so wide and strong beneath his chunky red-and-white striped wool sweater — and told him her name and then asked for his. They started talking. She told him she was studying Philosophy, right here in the city, and he told her that he liked Philosophy even though he hadn’t studied it in school. Was he not in school anymore? He said no, he’d graduated two years ago and now worked in advertising.
“Like in Mad Men?” she asked, and he laughed and said it wasn’t like in Mad Men.
And then she drank too much and then he asked for her number — in case, he said, he wanted to talk more about Philosophy with her. She gave it to him and he laughed and asked her if the number she’d given him would send him to the rejection hotline. She didn’t pick up on the joke dancing in his eyes, and earnestly brought Miranda over and made her confirm the number. And then he told her it was a joke. She laughed, nervously.
She’d forgotten her earlier, all-consuming, very serious sadness.
It was curious how filled with joy he made her. She could be having the worst day — a day cold and lonely and grey, beginning as hopeless as the bottom of a frozen lake, when she’d plead with herself to get up and out of bed, telling herself like some broken old wind-up toy that everything will be okay — but then her phone would buzz, sometimes at 10 p.m., sometimes at 12 a.m., and she’d feel her face get hot, her heartbeat quicken. She’d have no time to listen to the thoughts nagging her with her hopelessness because she’d be thinking of the right, most witty thing to say.
Maybe it had nothing to do with him specifically, but everything to do with him generally — he was a good distraction. Still, it was curious how filled with joy he made her, because it made her hopeful, momentarily, because it was tragic.
Even pathetic. Because he sent her the picture of his dick.
It had been two months since that night in late September at the bar and they’d not seen each other since, for this or that reason. “Bonjour,” he said at 11:46 p.m., because it was less boring than the usual “Hello,” because there were only so many ways to say hello.
She said “Hello!” because the exclamation mark intimated that she was in a good mood, that she was not angry or upset — even though she was upset, but anyway she’d forgotten about that — that it was okay to proceed with levity.
And so it began, the witty back and forth, the two hours somehow so speedily lost in the exchange of picayune words that were important because they were between them — perhaps fodder for future laughs, the labour of creating future inside jokes.
And then he said at 1:48 a.m. that he wished she was with him right now. And because she was a fool or maybe just naive she thought he was being romantic, so she said she wished she was with him, too. And then he said, “Oh, all the things I’d do,” tacking on to the end the winking emoji.
“Oh,” she replied. And then he began describing to her all the things that he would do to her and she didn’t know what to say. She felt her face blushing hot, heat rising from her chest, sweat under her arms. She felt embarrassed and didn’t know what she should say. She wanted him to stop, so she said, “Stop.”
“Why?” he said. She didn’t really know why, so she began to feel guilty — she thought maybe she owed it to him, after all this time talking, to continue the talk. But she didn’t want to.
“Never mind,” she said, not knowing herself what not to mind.
He asked her if she wanted to see what he was doing. And when she didn’t respond, he sent her the picture of his dick. She didn’t know what she was supposed to do with it. So she asked him what she ought to do with it and he said that maybe she ought to send him a picture of herself.
“Of my face?” she asked, knowing that that wasn’t what he meant.
And of course he said “No.” And of course he said “Your tits.”
“No,” she said.
And then he asked her why she was being this way. And then he said, “Isn’t this what you want? We’ve just been talking for the past two fucking months.” She wanted to cry. “I fucking wasted my time, didn’t I,” he said after she hadn’t said anything for ten minutes.
And so at 2:05 a.m. she deleted the conversation and his number off her phone. She thought about calling Miranda, but it was too late, she’d be asleep. So she buried her face in her pillow and cried, swimming sore and swollen in her hopeless thoughts.
Somewhere in her mind, echoing grandly but small as a whisper, as a Sufjan Stevens song, was a thought repeating, infinitely looping, the end endlessly calling back to the beginning, like a broken wind-up toy: his number that had so swiftly buried itself in Daphne’s memory.
Alisha Mughal's work has appeared in Queen Mob's Teahouse, The Nottingham Review, and Bad Pony Magazine. She has a BA in Philosophy from the University of Toronto, and she currently resides in Ontario, Canada. She was born in Pakistan.