Today we begin a week of fiction. Enjoy a new writer and story each day.
by Hannah Mcsween
It was the monotony of the thing, more than anything else.
It shouldn’t be monotonous. On the other end of the photos was an entire life. A human being who had been born, and at the very least been given a name. Maybe it was a family name, or a name inspired by a favorite dog. He had made it through the first years of life, gone to kindergarten, and learned shapes and colors. Maybe he had a best friend named Thaddeus (who knows, it was equally likely as Tom, or Fabio), close since the day they tried to stick Play-doh in an electric socket. He had slogged through the awkward emotional mess of middle school and successfully headed off to the minefield of the upper grades, Thaddeus taking the jock route while he dabbled in a little bit of everything.
Maybe he had a childhood dog that finally breathed its last during finals week of junior year, making the AP Government exam that much more unbearable. Maybe he stole the Biology classroom lizard and stuck it in Thaddeus’s locker one day as a prank, which tragically backfired since they had exactly five minutes between classes so Thaddeus didn’t check his locker for a week, and when he finally did, he was greeted with a wilted lizard that flopped like a Beanie Baby.
Maybe he had an older sister, whom he watched breeze through school before him, and he rebelled against her spotless reputation. Maybe she was the rebel, and he had to clean up after her as he invariably got all of the same teachers, who blanched slightly at his last name on their rosters. Maybe he had twelve younger siblings. Maybe his only sibling was a cat named Meow Meow, a true testament to his early childhood imagination.
It was to be hoped that he had goals and aspirations, something to stubbornly clench onto when the alarm went off in the morning, signaling the beginning of yet another day. Everyone at least has something. Maybe.
But goddammit if there wasn’t a fucking photo with a fish.
The part of her that tried to look for good in everyone, that thought everyone had a story to tell and just wanted someone to listen, felt guilty dismissing another person’s life story so easily. The other part of her was about to murder the next one who made a stupid joke about the Office and mentioned the name Pam anywhere within range.
The thing was, even for those who specifically stated their goal was “something casual,” – which hey, who doesn’t appreciate honesty – they had taken enough time to craft a public image of themselves. Sure, it was quick, and obviously not done with much attention to detail, but it was still there. It existed. And they always followed the same patterns. If it wasn’t a fish, it was a photo with Grandma Susan, or the “kid isn’t mine, it’s a niece,” so it was clear that at least a woman of some age existed in his presence at one time. In a way this made sense, like a visual Yelp review; drawing on generations of knowledge dispersal by word-of-mouth and hunter-gatherer instincts, they demonstrated their familial connections as a badge of belonging, of not being a complete asshole.
The posed photos with a lion or tiger were always mildly interesting. They were likely trying to create a “king of the jungle” vibe, but the frequency of the photo’s appearance, varying only slightly with the owner, rather deflated the effect. At least the big cats were cute.
No doubt some sort of clever analysis of the trends of humanity could be dredged from the data, the smiling group photos, the flower-crowned selfies, the black and gray portraits. Why hide in a group photo? Are you shy? Did you grow up reading Where’s Waldo and thought it was the Bible? Are you a secret agent deep under cover in a fraternity, but you still want to get laid? A philosopher might pontificate on the dichotomy of blasting your identity and relative location through the ether, while also wanting to preserve a modicum of privacy. A zoologist could observe the animal kingdom, and point to survival mechanism of camouflage, which also sometimes came in handy during mating rituals. She would get just a little bit irritated at having to guess which one was Mark, and refused to even go there.
No doubt she fell into the same patterns as everyone else. You needed the photo with some sort of academic background, demonstrating that you did in fact know how to at least spell. The sunny shot, to show you weren’t a vampire. The beach photo, which could go either way really. And then the photo with an animal, showcasing vaguely nurturing leanings and the fact that you weren’t a monster who ate puppies. There was a formula for a reason: stray too far from the formula and you either looked desperate or completely batshit.
Maybe the whole thing was emblematic of the continued desire for human connection, the need to feel wanted by another individual in the world. Maybe it was a fun game you played to distract yourself from the bigger life questions that couldn’t be dismissed with a flick of the thumb. Maybe it was about sex.
She swiped right.