by Duncan Birmingham
The plan was to meet at a coffee shop on Miracle Mile. He arrived early and was surprised to find her already there and looking more or less like her photos. They exchanged an awkward smile and an even more awkward hug. Thank god she was the right height, more or less.
They discussed their different travel routes to get this coffee shop, chosen because it was more or less midway between their residences, and then assured each other that they never, ever did things like this, i.e. used apps for dating.
Nora saw Gordon wince at the term ‘dating’ and she regretted using it. “Or whatever this is,” she clarified. Dating wasn’t something she’d been capable of lately either but she was trying to normalize what they were doing, or at least planning to do.
Gordon suggested they get right down to it. As per the app’s suggestion he had brought some items of Annabelle’s in his trunk. He also had some dialogue and scenarios he’d typed up in a saved email he now felt comfortable enough forwarding to her. Nora said she’d done the same and hoped Stevo’s clothes fit him. As she spoke Gordon held his phone close to her face to compare it with a screensaver photo of his ex, Annabell. It was a good a fit as he was going to find within the greater Los Angeles area.
Three days later they met at Gordon’s apartment downtown. Nora was dressed in the black spaghetti top and Capri pants Gordon gave her in the coffee shop parking lot. She’d gotten a French manicure and done the smokey-eye thing he’d had so much trouble articulating. He poured her a glass of rose with three ice cubes and she sat on the same corner of the futon Annabelle had. Nora knew her lines too. She was good and Gordon caught himself wondering if she had any acting experience.
It all proceeded much like that night three months ago except this time when Nora got to Annabelle’s part about there really being nothing more for them to say instead of Gordon countering that there was a lot more to say and that this was coming out of nowhere and they both just needed to take a step back and talk this through when they weren’t so rundown and tired and besides he’d already bought their plane tickets to his cousin’s wedding in Kauai and why would she do this because he was fucking crazy about her!
Instead of barreling through all that in a quivering voice while palming away hot tears, Gordon instead shrugged coolly, ordered Nora/Annabelle to remove her lime green panties and then had her right there on the futon.
Gordon had warned Nora that post-ravaging he would curtly ask her to leave his studio apartment, maybe even muttering something along the lines of “don’t let the door hit your ass on the way out” while he stretched out on his futon like a lion sunning itself after a big kill and clicked on the flatscreen as a way to get closure. But instead Gordon improvised, holding her tight as can be for hours, muttering “I love you so much” over and over into her blonde locks that smelled like the Creme de Coco he had instructed her to shampoo with.
Nora had done such a stellar job as Annabelle that Gordon had the jitters for his debut as Stevo. He never had a nickname before and the form-fitting v-necks, gold-colored crucifix and straw boater’s cap that were Stevo’s “signature look” made Gordon uncomfortable. Plus he was still growing out an itchy goatee.
As planned, Nora was making patty melts for lunch when Gordon as Stevo stumbled through the front door of her Mar Vista condo while spoiling his appetite with the last bite of a Filet-o-Fish sandwich. Gordon proceeded to strut around as instructed, chewing Nicotine gum and drinking cheap port out of a ceramic mug that read “Bikini Inspector.” The dialogue was challenging too. Off-color jokes, lots of railing against the government and cursing the cat. Nora would widen her eyes at him to remind him to diphthongize his vowels like Stevo’s northern Wisconsin patois.
During their ensuing argument in the kitchen Gordon broke it to Nora that “this dog won’t hunt anymore,” by which he meant their 8-year relationship. But before Gordon could recite any more of Stevo’s folksy dialogue, Nora slapped the Nicotine gum out of his port-stained mouth and kneed him in the groin. Already queasy from all the drinking and fried fish he was mildly allergic to, Gordon sunk to the peeling linoleum and sheltered his face from a storm of kicks, stomps and spit. He swallowed a mouthful of warm vomit just before Nora dropped to the floor to tug his Zumba pants down and place him inside of her.
For the next two weeks they crisscrossed the city, braving the traffic to visit each other’s respective residences, role-playing their scenarios before plunging into spasms of intercourse that left them spent, bruised, and in Gordon’s case, hyperventilating and nauseated.
And no one was more surprised than Gordon to find himself, whilst in casual conversations or on various chatboards, recommending with an uncharacteristic enthusiasm the Revenge Fuck app. It could not, obviously, last and that was the point. There’s only so many times you can cross your eyes, look down at a stranger naked except for your ex-girlfriend’s discontinued Rouge Noir lipstick and scream about how you were made for each and you’re never gonna ever, ever let her go, before it becomes something less than cathartic.
Diminishing returns aside, Gordon had a proverbial, even literal, spring in his step maybe due to Stevo’s penchant for hip-hop inspired Adidas high-tops. Gordon had adopted Stevo’s outfits and habits outside his trysts with Nora and found his coworkers admiring his boater’s hats and low-slung V-necks. He’d developed a taste for early morning slugs of port and a loyalty to the Wisconsin Badgers. He even found himself maybe preferring his days as Stevo with Nora more than his days as Gordon with Nora as Annabelle. But it was so hard to tell.
“Baby, how come your tartar sauce is never zingy like in these Filet-o-Fishes?!” Gordon throws open Nora’s condo’s front door that afternoon, his lines down pat and his accent worthy of Daniel Day-Lewis. It’s been a month and he’s beginning to think his fish allergy’s been cured.
But instead of coming out of the kitchen with a plate of patty melts, Nora hops up off the couch. Her hair is a disaster; her sundress half on/off. Before she can speak a goateed man about Gordon’s height, build, hair color and general complexion rises up behind her like a lazy shadow.
“What in the name of fuck?” The accent is unmistakable.
Gordon barely has time to take him in – boater’s hat and zebra-print Zubaz taut with erection – before the real Stevo rushes him. Gordon quickly learns Stevo is in much better shape than he could ever pretend to be. Dropping the last bite of his Fish-o-Filet, Gordon is thrown against the wall, socked in the kisser and this time when he sinks to the floor no one is hopping onto of him to tug down his pants and put him inside them.
Bleeding from his nose minutes later, Gordon retreats down Nora’s street towards his Prius. He holds the tote bag of Annabelle’s clothes that Nora thrust at him as Stevo called out from the bathroom that he wanted Gordon gone by the time he was done pissing.
“I’m sorry. You were a great Stevo – heartfelt and convincing,” Nora said, hastily ushering him out the front door. “But Stevo came back for his beer koozy and, well, we got to talking.”
Gordon didn’t blame her. She would have her hands full explaining to Stevo what his doppelgänger was doing eating his signature sandwich in the foyer like that. “An app?!” he’d heard Stevo yell incredulously as Gordon hurried own the exterior walkway.
On the sidewalk, Gordon stops to dab his bloody nose with the barely existent collar of his deep V-neck. He thinks of the last time he had a bloody nose. It was on a roller-coaster with Annabelle and her family in Buena Park. He was terrified, trying to look like he wasn’t but his body betrayed him. In the surprise photo taken during the ride and available as a souvenir as you exit for a jacked-up price, Annabelle and her family scream with glee while Gordon stares zombie-like, blood escaping down his nose. Chuckling, her father had bought refrigerator magnet-sized photos for the whole family. Annabelle had laughed too.
Walking down the street looking for his car, Gordon realizes he’s been too busy practicing dialects and drinking port to even check Annabelle’s social media the last week. He smiles and tastes the blood on his lips. As for the tote bag of Annabell’s belongings, he tosses it over a chainlink fence and into a scrubby lot then breaks into a wild run to avoid the temptation of retrieving it. Instead, he clutches the old boater’s cap to his head, lest his new accouterment blow off.
Duncan Birmingham is a writer and filmmaker in Los Angeles. His stories have appeared in Joyland, Storychord, Word Riot, Nerve and Opium among other places. Most recently he’s worked as a writer/executive producer on TV’s “Maron” and “Blunt Talk.”