In the 1980s, the Talking Heads told us “you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife, and you may ask yourself ‘Well… how did I get here?’” While those days of unbridled material excess may be over, our modern times pose new problems for the confused and lovelorn.
This week, Kingston University MA student Joseph Pierson brings us a snapshot of life and love in the era of social media. ‘This Modern Love’ offers the cheeky voice of Anna on a typical afternoon as she contemplates her surroundings—and her love life.
This Modern Love
Anna sits in the corner by a potted spider-plant and orders a coffee. She’s brought her own food, a box of sushi from Tesco. She injects white rice with soy sauce from a tiny plastic fish.
Fuck me, she thinks, you’re so sophisticated.
She chuckles to herself. It’s November, bright and cold, a pink smudge across the sky. Giro day. She opens her notebook, a touch self-conscious, enjoying it anyway. Her coffee comes. The regulars, some of them, nod and say hi and Anna smiles back and every time (every time) she smiles back she thinks brightly of herself, you know, you have a really charming smile, Anna.
She sits here with a black Americano writing something, doodling, a scene or a sketch for a scene – It’s difficult to drive while blind drunk and fucked on crack – and a girl comes in, a girl she’s seen before. The girl is tall, she always has a cold, she’s wearing a loose-knit yellow cardigan over a series of tops and skinny black jeans. The barista at the counter bashes the coffee-scoop against the machine and says, “Skinny latte?”
The girl sits at the table in front of Anna. The music changes and the girl is joined by a boy dressed hipsterish and she half-stands and puts an arm around him and he kisses her cheek and sits. He raises a hand in a ‘no, thanks’ as the barista sets down a latte.
“For you?” he says.
Anna doodles in her notebook – That I managed it inspired in the police far less admiration and respect than I thought I was due – and she listens to the friends. She looks out the window and strokes the initials tattooed on the inside of her wrist.
The girl and the boy talk about a movie he saw and then about the cost of paint and the girl interrupts him, points a finger ceiling-ward.
“Look,” she says, “I’m going to ask. I don’t know why we’re not talking about this, and I know it’s kind of sad and pathetic, but—why’d you delete me from Facebook?”
Anna listens, pen poised.
The girl continues, “Yeah, I know it’s stupid. But, Jesus! What’s that about?”
“Alright,” says the boy, “I’ll answer that, but only so long as when I’ve answered it we carry on with the rest of our day and pretend I never did.”
Anna smiles, pen hovering over her last line – We appeared in court on Valentine’s Day, which had a certain indicative charm to it that I think we were both quite pleased with.
“Imagine you’re in love with someone,” he says. “I mean, this isn’t news to you, right? So imagine you’ve been in love with them for a long time. You’re friends, you’ve stayed friends. Through everything. And every morning you check your Facebook and you see pictures of this person enjoying their life, out with their partner. In pubs, at the theatre, holding hands, kissing, living their lives. Together. And part of you, a big part of you, loves this girl so much that you’re really pleased she’s happy. But another part of you… aches.”
The girl nods her head, she’s smiling, kind of sadly but they’re friends after all and she knows, she knows what this is.
“Bathroom,” she says.
Anna tips back the last of her coffee, gathers her stuff and she goes to the table and stops by the boy. The song changes, Talking Heads. He’s turning the girl’s latte with his fingers. He looks up, smiles.
Ana says, “I too am lovelorn. I know your pain.”
He nods his head and smiles as if to say, Yeah…
She puts a hand on his shoulder. “Don’t worry,” she says, “you’ll never, ever get over it.”
He laughs. “What’s your name?”
“Oh no,” she says. “Let’s not do that.”
“This modern love,” he says, and Anna shrugs and Talking Heads sing Same as it Ever Was and here the girl is, the love of his life. She comes out the loo twisting a scrap of two-ply toilet-roll up her nose.
Anna pats his shoulder and as she leaves she hears the girl say, “Who’s that?” and Anna thinks to herself, you really do have such a charming smile.
In such a short piece of fiction, Joseph does a remarkable job of creating sharp and memorable characters. We readers can’t help but feel that we’ve seen these people before, we know these people. We may even be Facebook friends with them—if they haven’t blocked us, that is.
Thanks for reading, and don’t forget to pop by next week for more great work!