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Vol. 1:  On Isolation

James Kramer

June is the Month to Reconnect

Short Story by James Kramer

People disconnect, even fulfilled and satisfied people. Sporadically moving further apart until one day the idea of a conversation seems allusively futile. Pungent somehow. Like curdled milk in your ear. I am not a fulfilled person. But I am also someone who does not need others. However, periodic emotional growth is important, Amy tells me. Demonstrable emotional growth.

June is a month simmering with possibility. Wild amounts of promise. It makes me want to improve in externally tangible ways. Amy hints at me needing this. Needing to do this for myself. This is a lie. If I don’t do this, I’ll lose her first before I have to worry about myself. This year I’ll show her that I am socially conscious and personable. June is the month I’ll reconnect with the world.

I fail at this with rapid success. Hours pissed away online. There are all sorts of ways to locate
people. I unfortunately don’t know many of them. I don’t understand how to digitally track people. Amy can do this. She does it really well. I tell her about someone and over dinner she plays with her phone, eating in slow, methodical bites. Distracted, but focused. Her thumb scrolls like a miniature detective. I mash together tomatoes and eggs and picture a tiny fedora over its nail. I laugh like an idiot.

By the end of the meal she knows everything about that person. She shows me photos of them posing in Madrid. Zooms in on their sunburn. She tells me where they work, if they are single. She plays videos of them with the sound off and smiles in a miniature way that scares me a bit. I cannot do these things. I haven’t developed the skills. No one taught me. When June is over I’ve largely failed at trying to improve myself through online stalking. But I have found Sam.

Sam lived close. His apartment was government subsidised. He shared a toilet and kitchen at the end of the hall. Had his own room, bed. The carpet consisted of baubles of purple, grey and brown, purple, grey and brown over and over until you felt like killing yourself. Upholstery suited to depression. Outside the street had a steady, chaotic sound. People charged past shouting. Later they’d return, muttering to themselves. His street attracted vendettas. Large dogs prowled restless and bored.

Sam couldn’t leave the apartment. At 22 he’d forgotten how to read faces.

I understand there’s a person there, he said. But I don’t know what it is they want. They can seem angry and sad and happy all at the same time. It fucks me up.

I went to buy Sam food. This is a good thing, I thought. I entered the corner store with confidence. I bought him a loaf of long-lasting white bread. I bought him oranges, peanut butter and six slices of a slimy looking ham. Someone had attacked the boiler in Sam’s kitchen. There were violent stains on the walls. I found a kettle and made coffee for us and sat on his chair, my knees around my head. He sat on the bed and looked at his coffee. Outside someone swore revenge. Sam put his spoon on the table. My hands smelt like a nursing home.

He’d been attacked at least twice. Other people had come up to him, but he couldn’t understand them. They had stood close. He’d felt them, next to him.

They could’ve just be talking, he said. Could’ve just been cunts.

Twice he’d been robbed. So I know what that was, he said. I could carry a knife,

but look at me.

They targeted the subsidised housing, waiting for tenants to emerge. People here all move a certain way. They shuffle, he said. We don’t walk.

Amy reminded me that I had a dinner party to go to. I went home and put on adult clothes. We took the bus together. I thought about asking her to loop arms with me. At the party, people smiled at humourless things. They said kind things about the food. Explored the virtues of Japanese strawberries.

Western consumers are essentially superficial, the woman next to me said. Ugly fruit is going to taste better, but supermarkets refuse to stock it because people won’t buy it.

I looked at her face. Everything was in the right sort of place. Her eyebrows expressed. I understood that when she smiled I was supposed to too. I tried hard to experience only confusion. I scrunched up my thoughts and made an internal whirring sort of noise.

I gave up.

You know, the Japanese have watermelons that are massaged by wagyu cows, I said.

She tightened her eyes. I couldn’t tell if she was angry or just frustrated. It felt like some sort of victory, not to know. I wanted to ask her exactly what it was that she was feeling at that precise moment.

It’s like a joke, I said. Only not funny.

She nodded and moved to another conversation. I looked across at Amy and made a mental note. Disappointment. Reassignment. Hunger?

How could that possibly work? Sam said as I handed him his coffee. Even if it did, what were you hoping to achieve?

Understand what it’s like, I guess.

It’s not a gimmick. I’m not an exercise.


And your jokes are dumb.

I cooked Amy dinner and sat opposite her and ate it. She absent mindedly mixed everything together on her plate until it consisted of a thick, gluey swamp. Things moved inside it independently.

Claire said that you were racist at the party last night.

Who’s Claire?

You said things about the Japanese.

I said things about watermelons. At most, you could say I was mean to Japanese cows.

Derogatory slurs…

Claire’s certifiably humourless.

She’s dry,

Masquerading as cardboard.

I think fundamentally you need to evaluate how you act in public scenarios.

I saw pair of antennae surface on her plate. They explored the air and then disappeared again.

I tried to look at Claire like the way Sam would.

Why would you even do that?

I don’t know.

You shouldn’t study him like that.

He said that too.

Displeased. Surprised. Bored. Amy’s list of recognisable expressions expanded. I thought how hard it would be to talk to someone while keeping a record of their expressions. I wanted to ask Sam about this.

I guess I just want to know what happened, I said eventually. Like how the same habits we had for years left him fucked up and me sort of ok? And then so if I’m doing well then shouldn’t I at least be happy, or feel good about it, or something?

This is you doing well?

I mean I hate my job and everyone I work with and my life seems now pretty much the way that it’s always going to be. But this is also sort of a good thing, isn’t it? And if that’s true then why does it make me feel lonely?

You’re lonely?

Amy’s face changed. I offered to clean up. I washed things. I rubbed her shoulders while she played on her phone. By the time she fell asleep, things were back to where they’d been if I’d learnt to stop speaking. A made a note to say less in the future. This didn’t exactly feel like demonstrable growth.

You’re careful with what you say, I told Sam. That’s important.

Aren’t you?

Not really.

I handed him a ham sandwich.

That’s the saddest looking thing in the world, he said.

Supermarkets, I said, used to sell processed meat in the shape of bear faces. Pink bear faces.
Nowadays people want artisanal flavours. Things are cured. Opportunities to experience regional delicacies.

The bears get to keep their faces.

If my face was one giant sausage bear face, could you tell?

You’re a fucking idiot.

Very true,

Sam picked at his crusts. Outside a man held a twenty-minute argument with a dog. The dog was large, condensed muscle. It sat and patiently waited for him to stop. The dog had very kind and thoughtful eyes that were also very tired with putting up with him. Sam and I sat by the window and watched through the curtain. Sam rolled cigarettes and looked for an ashtray.

Just use the carpet, I said. I mean, look at it.

I don’t live like that, he said.

The dog scratched behind its ear and waited for the man to stop. I asked Sam what I should buy him next time.

Anything but processed bear faces, he replied.

James Kramer lives between England and China. He's appeared in magazines like this one.

He owns a comfortable suit and wears it at @JamesAKramer1

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