At age 5, in the front yard, wearing only swimsuit bottoms and smears of red paint in her hair, Laura declared she would be an artist when she grew up. Her young parents, gen-xers, green and purple faded to streaks in their bleached hair, smiled at each other and applauded. Now, she works from home as an accountant for a regional marketing firm headquartered downtown. She is in the final year of her online MBA program.
The walls of Laura’s home office are painted a pastel grey so faint that sunlight coming through the window makes the walls look white. Her desk is modern with a glass top. She checks her phone, scrolling through social media and her text messages. She taps the little inbox icon to gaze at the unread email messages and begins to delete, swiping her finger to the left, as though flinging the emails away.
Laura returns to social media. People she knows are at the beach. Another is about to eat a sandwich made with a shiny, buttered bun and oozing with cheese. A former coworker she hasn’t seen in years just got engaged at Applebee’s, of all places. She sneers at the screen but hits ‘like’ under the closeup of a manicured hand wearing a new engagement ring. She takes a picture of her desk with a fresh mug of tea positioned next to her sleek, company-issued laptop and a triangle of sunshine from the window. “Working,” she captions it, #lovetea, #accountantslife, #whatsuplater. The post is immediately liked by a guy she met at a party last month. He comments with which bar he’s drinking at after work. Laura lays her phone face-down on her desk. She’ll think about it.
Her father complains during their weekly lunch dates about how much Laura checks her phone. Once, when Laura wasn’t listening to him, he reached over and slapped it right out of her hand. It somersaulted across the restaurant’s patio until it rested against the shoe of a man in a business meeting. They now follow each other on Instagram. She tries to see her father’s point of view but feels better knowing what’s going on. He argues that no one needs to know where everyone is and exactly what they’re doing every moment of the day but she disagrees.
These arguments always return to the day Laura’s mother stormed out of their house for the last time. A crocheted granny square bag swung from her mother’s fist as she yelled. A brightly flowered smock spilled from the unzipped top, unnoticed by her parents, scooped up by Laura. Afterwards, her father sat and slept on the couch for three days straight, alternately crying into a cushion and, worse, staring into the cold, sooty fireplace. When Laura gingerly tapped his hand to ask where her mother was he whispered, “I don’t know.” He claims no amount of text messages would have brought Laura’s mother back that day. Her mother tweets about yoga and lives on Maui now. Laura scans the account daily but doesn’t follow her.
When Laura was a teen, her father made her call him every time she arrived at or left a friend’s house. She still has her old flip phone in a dresser drawer, wrapped in her mother’s abandoned smock. The phone’s metallic surface wears a deep scratch from the end of her dalliance with her best friend’s boyfriend. They skipped classes together about once a week until the afternoon he ran a stop sign to make it back to school before the bell for last period. The impact from the truck that hit them flipped his car into a cornfield. Laura woke to the crunch of boots through the winter remnants of the harvest. A man’s voice cussed into the wind at the sight of two teens upside down, one struggled, the other would never move again. The contents of Laura’s purse were scattered on the ceiling of the car, the phone beyond her reach. When she heard the truck’s door slam shut she felt confused and desperate. The engine revved to life, then faded into the distance. The tear-blurred image of her own fingers stretched out to the scarred phone still appears in her nightmares sometimes.
When Laura has a family of her own, she plans to have them install tracking apps on their phones. She thinks about watching perfectly round dots moving about on a map. The idea makes her feel like her future family already exists in the palm of her hand, where they can be held securely forever. They’re pinpoints waiting to be located, a connection initiated on her phone. She thinks how satisfying that would be, to go into settings and slide some buttons to sync up these segments of her future, a partner and some children. She wishes for it to be that easy, to avoid conversations about the past or compromises about the future. Laura’s tea is cold. She picks up her phone and types a name into the search bar on Instagram. Her best friend from high school has posted a new video of her first child. The little girl is playing peek-a-boo with the camera by pulling a fluffy purple blanket over her large, brown eyes. Chubby baby fingers grip the satiny edge. “One, two, three.” The voice of Laura’s former friend sings, giggling. The child thrusts the blanket into her lap, squealing with laughter. The routine is repeated and the video ends when the girl leaps from the floor to hug her mother’s neck. Laura smiles. She wonders why the account isn’t set to private, thankful that it’s not.
Ashley Lewin is a writer originally from Nashville, Tennessee. Her writing can also be found in Sky Island Journal, Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, and The Citron Review. She taught college English after spending 15 years as a veterinary technician. She now writes and farms in Belen, New Mexico.