Words ||Katelyn Free
Bitter Aperol burns my throat as I clumsily splutter and choke on my cocktail. Trying to cling to the scraps of oxygen in my lungs not currently drowning in Italian liquor, I dip my head down, hair obscuring my face as I gasp for air. Somewhat composed I fling my head back up, square my shoulders and smile. With an aloof eye roll I joke, “Can’t take me anywhere”.
Excellent save. Well played. Until I realise…I’m in my apartment. I have been for six weeks. And technically my date, now staring at me with a mix of revulsion and confusion through my slightly pixelated laptop screen, has in fact not taken me anywhere. And probably never will now.
The urge to hang up the call and write it off as another failed virtual date presses against my insides. My stomach twists and squeezes at the possibility of clicking that little red circle and ending my misery. But the thought of spending another evening alone in my grotty apartment bathtub taking shots of expired vodka sends stomach bile up my throat. I press on.
“So, uh, you go to Macquarie too right?”
“Yeah” he sighs, taking a long swig from his tinny, “…it’s more of a safety net though, I’m definitely more of a USyd type so I’m going to transfer next semester.”
“Cause, who really wants to have Macquarie on their resume?”
A fair point. I can’t argue.
“So why didn’t you go there in the first place?”
“Cause I was just too intelligent for the HSC markers so they gave me all bad marks and I got a rubbish ATAR.”
I try to stop my eyes from rolling into the back of my head and end up providing a kind of seizure-like expression that I imagine would be rather offensive to look at, even pixelated. I try to provide a sympathetic nod to temper the awkwardness rising between us and decide to go down a different route.
“What did you say you were studying again?”
“Ah right…and what are you planning to do with that?”
“Nothing. I’m going to transfer into med at USyd. I’ve got a credit average, so I should be sweet.”
I take a lengthy swig from my drink. The ill proportioned alcohol ratio instantly sends the pangs of an oncoming headache down my spine. Well. He’s a tad douchey, quite delusional and has what looks to be a patchy iso-moustache growing above his top lip – but there may be some redeemable qualities on the far away horizon. He did have a dog in his profile after all.
“I saw you had a dog as one of your profile photos, what kind of breed is it?”
“No idea, was my mate’s dog. I just know chicks froth dudes who like dogs and shit, so I figured it was a safe bet.”
Is nothing sacred anymore? It looks like drunkenness may be the only way to develop a shred of romance on this grainy FaceTime call, so I down the rest of my poorly made Aperol spritz. I position myself slightly closer to my webcam and do my best impression of a coy smile. My date seems torn between leaning closer and sinking further into his cracked leather one seater.
The longer our stilted conversation and substandard flirting goes on, the more my respect for cam girls increases. This would be a tough gig for your day to day. I feel like a weird door salesman flaunting my wares, but without any shred of tangible human warmth or connection. There’s no safety net for my date who will have to politely find an excuse to shoo me away before hastily shutting the door in my face. Or that he’ll feel awkward and guilty enough to just rifle through his wallet and find $20 to pay me off. He may be the archetypal guy I’d roll my eyes at and saunter away from in a bar. But that was when I had the affirming knowledge there would be plenty of other twenty-something boys around who wouldn’t be that picky at 12:57am on a Saturday night with cheap pub beer flowing through their veins.
Tonight, it’s just Ben, myself, and my swiftly dying hopes that maybe there could be some meaningful connection or sub-standard cybersex to be gleaned from this sad imitation of a date. By the time he mentions I have “pretty good tits”, not even the alcohol dulling my senses can muster a shred of sexual energy. I sigh and hover my cursor over the tempting red circle. I give his wispy moustache one more glance, then end the call.
Pulling my alcohol-numb limbs into bed, I open my phone. Scrolling through the new matches that have appeared over the last hour, I find the profile of ‘Ben’. Macquarie University, Nautica shirt and what looks like a bull terrier in his third photo. Perfect.
I craft a message, “Keen for a Facetime call sometime this week?”, hit send and close my phone.
The dream lives on.