2019 Junior Division: 3rd Place
I flicked the stub of my cigarette onto the pile and walked away without a second look. The butt glowed softly in the dusk as I ground it into the pavement. A smoker this time, I mused with a sigh. A shame. Maybe this body would die from lung cancer or respiratory illness before I would do something to cause it myself. I was still trying to orient myself in what seemed to be the area just outside a public park’s bathroom. I studied the hands first. Lightly tanned, unwrinkled, dark painted nails, no ring of any sort. Pianist’s fingers.
Next course of action: feel for a phone. The plain black pants had nonfunctional pockets, so clearly this person preferred women’s clothes. A small leather backpack was slung over my shoulder. The phone tucked into the front pocket, caseless and black. I’d been having a string of bad luck lately, so this routine was well practised. First, turn it on. Check for a passcode. Fingerprint locks like this were preferable, of course, but plenty had number passcodes. In that case, I would just leave the phone off and use it as a mirror, get an idea of what I was working with. Going into the camera app, I discovered that this body had curly red hair, reminiscent of the Disney princess that one of my last go’s daughters loved. The eyes were a dark grey and had deep circles under them. From what I could tell, I wasn’t wearing any makeup.
The phone had about 4 missed calls from a ‘James’ with a single purple heart emoji. I put the phone to the ear and listened.
“Erin, babe, I know you said you’d be late to dinner, but do you know how long you’ll be? It’s getting awkward sitting here,” now James laughed, “but it’s no big deal. Love you. Bye!”
I suppose I was Erin now, and James was Australian. Was I Australian? Was I in Australia? A sigh escaped the lips. The messaging app revealed a bit about how Erin texted: good spelling, but somewhat lacking grammar, and occasional smiley faces. I typed something with as little words as possible to ask where we were meeting. Google Maps showed that yes, this was Australia, and I was in a park in Brisbane. It had been a while since I was last in Oz, I supposed. It was 6:14 PM.
As I waited for his reply, I thought back to this morning. Thought back to how I died. I was a 57-year-old elementary school principal in Nevada, speaking in a morning assembly at around 10. Stories about the shooting would probably be on the news. I hadn’t lost too much time, unlike the incident when I was dormant for 12 years after my first encounter with the bubonic plague. Her phone buzzed in my hand. The restaurant he named was relatively close according to Maps, but that raised the question of transport. Did I have a car? Well, I was a young person living in a large city, so maybe not. I didn’t know how to navigate the city’s public transport system, but I’d have to work it out. I rummaged in the bag for a wallet, and sure enough, there was a bus card tucked neatly inside one. I walked through the park, sky a darkening blue, following the directions through a city these feet already knew. Eventually, I found myself inside, seated across from an unfamiliar man that, presumably, this body already knew.
“So, how was work?” he asked, making me internally groan. The most challenging question right off the bat, since I didn’t know what my work now was.
“Pretty boring, actually. You know how it is,” I said, with a small, false smile. James studied me, or Erin, I supposed, and took stock of something off. There was a slight narrowing of his eyes. Had I gotten the vocabulary wrong? Held my posture inauthentically? Now, the waitress chose to appear.
“Have you decided what you’d like to order yet?” She asks, with a bland customer service smile.
“Ah, no. Still thinking,” I answer. James continues to stare at me over his menu. Am I vegan? Paleo? Gluten-free? Maybe I can feign that I’m not hungry until I gather some more knowledge. James smiles at me.
“Nothing you like? Your nose is doing that scrunchy thing again. I think that one sounds nice, don’t you?” He suggests, pointing a finger at a vegetarian pasta dish.
After a dinner filled with amusing, but stressful small talk, he led me to his car. Plenty of deductions I could try to make from that, but I didn’t feel like bothering. It was a small house, but a nice house. Obviously, a house where James and I… Erin lived together.
“Will you play something for me tonight while I finish my work, babe?” James asked, and I noticed the piano in the corner. I could play, of course. When you’ve been around as long as me, you pick up things like that, but I wasn’t sure I could play like Erin. It was getting late already.
“I’m really tired, so I might just go to bed?” I said, a little more tentatively than I meant to. He nodded in understanding and kissed me gently on the cheek.
I felt bad for James. He didn’t seem abusive or alcoholic, and nor did I, for a change. Lives where I was in relationships were always the most difficult. I couldn’t find these people’s partners attractive or deal with the way they treated me or cope with how I was supposed to treat them. I usually… ended them when I could. James was already so much nicer than most men I’d been forced together with. He deserved his Erin, not an unwilling thief like me. I knew what I’d have to do before this got too far, and began searching the medicine cabinet in preparation. Goodbye, Erin. I’m sorry, James.