翠菲: I hope this time you will respond to my comment. Your latest video transcends your last. The way you appear on screen, your thin body cloaked in black silk, your face calm, lips bright and red. You clutch a closed hand fan. You look at me and spread the fan in a smooth motion. Pictorial courtesans appear across the paper leaves. Arced along the edge sits a calligraphic message I cannot fully translate: something about touching the world from a home computer? Then you glide the fan through the air, still looking my way. I appreciate that. It starts the euphoric glow inside of me. You tap your fingernails on the fan, a lovely clacking, and then wave it once more in midair. The short video ends. Perhaps twenty or thirty seconds in total. I know you link to a website where I can purchase a longer video. But I do not wish to buy you or your love. We already have an intimate connection. Money would soil what we have. Please, 翠菲, respond. Since my previous comment, a few days ago, I now have more freedom in how I live my life. My girlfriend is gone, and we can be together. I am unsure of where you are in China, though googling your name indicates that you could be in Hong Kong or Macao. Here in Little Rock, I sometimes see women like you in the mall or jogging through Riverfront Park. Sometimes I see women like you in downtown restaurants. They play with their food: forks gently curling glistening spaghetti or teeth tugging on bread rolls. It’s all so tender, heartbreaking. I almost approached a young woman tonguing her ice cream the other day, but I thought you might disapprove. And I felt guilty. We have so much 翠菲, and still more to experience. I have made copies of all your ASMR playlists. I am glad you do not talk in your videos (that would be pandering to the whisper community!); I appreciate the video clips of you crinkling sheets of paper and running your wettened fingertip around the lip of a crystal glass tumbler. I try to ignore the endless likes and the baffling dislikes and the thousands of views. It should be just one: mine. Recently, though, I am unsure that is enough. I want to watch you in person. I can book a flight, just tell me to where. Or you can visit me. I can show you the Clinton Library (all those pages waiting to be turned!) and the Sculpture Garden (your nails tapping on all the stone and metal!). You can stay at my studio apartment. I will set out Jell-O and luxuriant moisturizer and Bristol paper with soft lead pencils and, of course, a hand fan. And you can re-create my favorite videos. I will watch you, in a mirror if you’d prefer. Just be near me, touch the world around you, show me what it can be.
Nathaniel: And here I am coming down from those edibles you sold me. Except that these CBD candies are in fact Flintstones Gummies. And the euphoria I felt earlier was actually my bowels contracting coupled with a rising sense of nausea radiating through my body. In my still-very-hungover state, I did wonder—if only for a moment—why the edibles were caveman- and dinosaur-shaped. But I needed to de-stress after last night, and I ate at least a dozen shortly after buying them from you. I had little choice. Jess ended it yesterday. And the subsequent Maker’s Mark and smokes hadn’t helped very much. In truth, after getting wasted, I’d had a wretched dream about drowning in a river, heavy stones in my pockets sinking me Virginia Woolf style, and I saw Jess on the far riverbank laughing as I slowly went under. Sometime in the night I woke up very cold, feverish, shivering from sweat. At first I thought I was wet from the river. In front of me stood a fading image of Jess watching me drown. It took a moment to piece together the dull gray space of my studio apartment. Eventually, I rose and went to the kitchen area. I warmed myself with a cup of reheated coffee then texted you about the edibles. I still have your reply: It’s fucking late. 20 for $100. No discounts. No layaway. No fucking around. You still owe me $10 for that LSD tab. So $110. Venmo me. Outside Canal Bar in 15. As you took almost an hour to arrive, I considered asking for a discount or maybe getting something harder. Maybe doxepin or amitriptyline. But I wanted to chill, ease myself into the coming morning. My ragged cough had made smoking weed a painful experience, especially after already dispatching a pack of Marlboro Lights. So when you appeared, chatting on your phone to some girl, I was ready to fuck you over, steal the edibles. But I’m a nice guy, Columbia-educated, with parents who teach at a liberal arts college in Connecticut. I grew up on the consumption of empathy-inducing literature. My developed Theory of Mind stemmed from exposure to Tolstoy and Austen and Keats and Achebe and Sei Shōnagon. Or so my parents always told me. Anyway I was too tired and sick to rob you, so I paid you that damn $110, and I snatched the baggie without ever closely examining the contents. I popped the first of the gummies on the Uber ride home. I enjoyed the soft gelatin texture, and had another, even offering the driver one. “You’ll enjoy it. It’ll take the edge off,” I said. He refused, so I ate his. When I got back to my studio in Crown Heights, I turned on the TV and found the infomercial channel. I muted the sound and watched two fiftyish women, pancaked in makeup, sell Helenite jewelry. Their pudgy fingers pointed to oversaturated green pendants and earrings and teardrop rings. Then the infomercial cut to footage of the Mount St. Helens eruption and a plume of dark volcanic dust rising into the sky. I watched that channel for hours, reliving the eruption over and over. I felt nothing, no pleasure, no sense of despair. My mind had cleared. It was just me and this superficially shiny gemstone. Then in the creep of morning light the gummy overdose took effect. And so here I am in my bathroom. I’ve been so eternally constipated, sitting here on the toilet while writing this text. The intensity of the pain is worsening—now a crescendo of sharp, stabbing pains in my gut. Nathaniel, I’ve been cursing your name, threatening to make you reenact 2 Girls 1 Cup by yourself, and I’d film it and then send it to your friends for them to make reaction videos. Then I’d upload them to YouTube and Vimeo and Dailymotion and share the videos with your parents, even your Peace Corp sister over in Lesotho. Then I’d send Jess a special copy of the original video, with a plinky piano soundtrack and janky credit sequence, and ask her to experience the pain of another—the dream, my dream, that drowning in the freezing dark water.