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The train started moving, creaking annoyingly for the first couple minutes, going at about the speed of a ten-year-old learning to roller skate, before accelerating at the right pace to get them back home at a decent enough time, he figured. Cliff put his phone in his right pocket. He sat idle for a few seconds, and pulled it back out. Closed some tabs, put it back in his pocket. Shut his eyes twenty seconds, opened them, took his phone back out. He looked towards Kim, feigning casual, acting like he had to say something to her, like he just had a lightning bolt of a thought that caused immediate action. He had nothing to say or ask, really. He just wanted to see if she had fallen asleep yet. He felt like he had to play it cool and do meaningless little actions like this due to a paranoia that if she caught him looking her way, she would think that he was trying to hide something from her, that he was checking on her awake/asleep status in this sneaky way to make sure he could get away with whatever (which he was). She was asleep. He looked back to his phone. He opened a dating/“people meeting” app that he kept stored in the depths of his phone for several years, years before they ever met, the same app that assisted in them meeting in the first place. He didn’t pursue any women after he and Kim became a thing in April, as they had decided on monogamous type dealings early on. Still, he was hesitant to delete the collection of potential dates and profiles that he had acquired over the last couple years living in Brooklyn. He looked through pictures of people, mostly girls, all girls, that he matched with. He considered sending a few messages out, but like always, he advised himself against doing this, figuring it was the easiest way to get caught looking, not necessarily touching, but certainly looking, noting to himself each time he was tempted, that New York was pretty small, especially regarding social circles. Frequenting apps like this too often could make himself quite visible, maybe a little too visible for people in his, or more specifically Kim’s, social circles. But he did want to end it, didn’t he? Hypothetically, getting caught red-handed by one of her friends who happened to use the same app may cause a fight immediately, like right here on this train, which could fast-track his way out of this whole relationship, especially if she were to act all How-Could-You about it, giving him the perfect opportunity to pull the whole Well-We-Never-Discussed-Deleting-It-Now-Did-We card, leading to the I-Need-My-Space which would become I-Don’t-Know and then just no knowing at all. He decided to forget it for a moment. He put his phone back in his pocket and thought about how his phone was in his pocket.
There was a guy sitting in in the row directly in front of Cliff and Kim. He was alone. The seat to the left of him was occupied by a tote bag. They, as in Cliff and this guy, seemed to be about the same age, not very old, maybe young in comparison to a fifty-year-old, and certainly nothing of interest to say about either. He noticed that the man, sporting AirPods, was sending text messages on his phone. Cliff, who didn’t consider himself voyeuristic in a creepy way, rather a “Yeah, we could just go on a date at the park and people-watch if that sounds good to you, I just love to people-watch all day” type, was tall enough to lurch over the headrest on the man’s seat to read his incoming messages. He had already grown bored of being sneaky on his own phone. He hadn’t had a match in weeks.
The man was responding to a photo from a girl who he had named under his phone as Mary. It is safe to assume that the girl’s name is Mary, but it can never be ruled out as the truth. Cliff had changed names to other names before, just to hide identities of people (girls?) that he was not supposed to be talking to (in a moral sense, rather than from a legality standpoint). The photo was of a fire escape, with a slender nail-polished hand extended out from behind the phone, holding a mug of coffee, tea, water, something. She had written beneath the photo, “It’s so nice out. Can’t wait for you to get back here.” He studied the photo, for twenty seconds, more than enough time to study it. It was obviously this Mary taking a picture of what was in front of her, which was very little. The man could have potentially looked at the picture of the fire escape for an eternity, but thankfully another photo appeared, this time a photo of Mary, who by Cliff’s standards was very attractive. The picture was a mockup of what it would be like if you happened to be sitting in front of this slender blonde woman in a sports bra on her fire escape while she drinks her coffee water. Cliff wanted to sit in front of her in real life. He felt an immediate horniness from seeing the picture of her. He felt horniness often towards things that were not intended for him personally to be horny by, such as scrolling through a friend’s camera roll for potential intimate photos sent my girlfriends, ex-wives, etc. He didn’t consider himself a creepy voyeuristic type, no. The man saved the second picture to his phone for probably the same reason Cliff would. He started typing a response. He sent four texts. The first was some smiling little yellow men who had hearts for eyes. He sent four, so eight heart eyes total. The second one said, “Be there soon, love you so much,” and then following it was a text that said, “Oh, yeah,” and then a separate one that read, “One more thing, is there any chance you could send me your half for utilities this month? I paid it a few weeks ago.”
Cliff was a man who lacked the tact or confidence to engage in a fight with a significant other. If he a fight started, generally he found a way to get out of it, oftentimes leading to the end-all of the relationship altogether. He mentally smacked himself in the forehead at the sight of text number three and four. Couldn’t that message wait to get sent? It makes it look like you’re desperate and cheap, for one thing, Cliff thought, but also that you align money with love, or something like that. It was sure to start a problem with this beautiful Mary. He watched three periods at the bottom of the man’s screen. A text from Mary popped up that just read, “Anthony.” Then the three periods appeared again. Before her next text, Anthony, or who Cliff assumed was Anthony, responded with a “Yes?” And then a “What?” The three periods sat at the bottom-left corner of the screen. Cliff realized that he would be pretty visible if Anthony were to turn around, so he ducked for a few seconds, acting like he was adjusting his shoe. He pulled back his phone out for a moment, putting it back in, before resuming his little spy games. The three periods disappeared and a text from Mary popped up.
“After spending an entire week and a half apart and you not responding me for four days out of those twelve and the only thing you can think of, the first thing, out of not responding to me for all of that time, is that you need 25 dollars? Okay, Anthony. I understand how it is. I’ll send you however much you need. You complete asshole. How often have I paid for your coffees over the last several months? And didn’t I just Venmo you money so you could buy pills from somebody or something on your little Austin voyage? You dick.” This didn’t seem to invoke a response in Anthony. He read slow, it seemed. Moments later, a Venmo notification appeared on Antony’s phone.
“Mary paid you $30.00 - Here’s your 25 dollars plus 5 more for acting like a cheap asshole, regardless of circumstances that I’m, circumstances that exist due to you, every single time. Thank you so much fuckhead - You now have $30 in your Venmo account.”
Cliff watched as Anthony attempted to resolve things by sending back the 30 dollars to Mary’s account, with a note that read, “I’m sorry I brought it up here just take it for now or just don’t pay me ever then and I’ll just pay for all the bills from here on out how about that?” He looked at what he sent, Anthony, and Cliff too, and they both watched the screen go black while anticipating a response from Mary.
His screen lit up again. Venmo. “Mary paid you $36.00 - No, here, and money for the coffee u bought me (plus tip) at the airport (i drove)(and didn’t ask for gas money) You are really good at ruining my day Thanks baby i love you so much! - You now have $36.00 in your Venmo account.”
Cliff couldn’t help but think that the last part of that was sarcastic. He felt thrill and a little arousal at wondering what stupid mistake Anthony would make next. He sent Mary 50 dollars. “Number one I didn’t leave a tip when I bought you that so that dollar is yours, you don’t owe me anything let’s just forget it and you don’t have to pay for shit anymore I’ll just pay for everything f-”
Anthony hit an intangible wall on his phone, which took him twenty seconds to realize. Cliff watched him continue to type letters about as furious as somebody can type on a phone, but letters did not appear on the screen. There was a 200-character limit that Anthony was unaware of. Once he realized this, he sent it anyways, figuring it got the point across, ending on an unambiguous note, unless of course he was being sarcastic about not making Mary pay for anything anymore. He put his phone in his lap and reached for his AirPods. His movements, however minimal, caused Cliff to duck back into his seat. He watched him put the little buds into a little case, into a little fanny pack, which he tossed into his tote bag, the whole packaging system reminding Cliff of a Russian doll.
Phone lit up again. “Mary paid you $35.00 - How about we just leave it where we are you can stay in griffins shitty living room again and record your podcast that nobody will ever listen to, and who is Nicole by the way? I met a Nicole at Von K - You now have $35.00 in your Venmo account.” Well at least removed the one dollar, Cliff thought, from his not tipping the barista at the airport. Anthony started typing and got another one. “Mary paid you $60.00 - She was saying that she met you at a show in Bushwick, which how did that happen? The one you said you weren’t going to, right? The one you told me that you were going to a reading for some book that y - You now have $95.00 in your Venmo account.”
“Mary paid you $6.75 - I want to dive further into this Nicole situation but i guess you probably want your money first, this ones for the cold brew you got me before the movie we saw the night before your flight (no tip?)” - You now have $101.75 in your Venmo account.
And then another.
“Mary paid you $.50 - Didn’t disclose what the initial 60 dollars was for, which was the dinner you paid for before the movie. Just to be clear! I can take off however much the tip that you probably didn’t leave off of it. = You now have $102.25 in your Venmo account.
“Mary paid you $400.00 - “Figure I’ll pay you for the times i slept at your place before you moved into my place, just rounding up to a nice clean number! - You now have $502.25 in your Venmo account.”
Regardless of context, Anthony was making a nice chunk of change here. He sat. He put one hand on his head, indicating something, maybe nothing.
All fragmented due to the character limit, Cliff could only put together the words and syllables given to him from behind the headrest of Anthony’s chair. He watched him start to type, and then backspace some half-hearted apologetic type words, and then open his calculator, seeming to try to figure out the cost of the deposit she mentioned plus the 6-dollar coffee, and figuring out how much exactly she should pay her back. He put the phone away and took his AirPods back out, reversing the Russian doll effect. There were sighs and drawn breaths, and then he put his phone back into his pocket, neither sending nor receiving any money.
This conclusion was horse shit, Cliff thought. What was Anthony going to do, go to Mary’s (and Anthony’s, too, maybe?) and apologize and send her back the money and buy her a coffee without complaint, as if to say, I’m A Changed Guy? Why not just eep the money and transfer it into his bank account, and say Fuck Off at this point? Why not just take care of this situation here and now? “Anticlimactic” came to mind.
Cliff, having to surrender his position as secret supervisor of Cliff’s personal online money stash, slumped back in his chair, a little pouty. He pulled out his phone again and opened that dating app. He scrolled around and read profile bios and started at pictures for five to ten seconds each, pushing down a bunched-up area in his jeans. He was not hard, maybe having gotten a little physically aroused at the sight of Mary on her fire escape, and only then. If he did happen to get caught looking at pictures of ladies by anybody, he didn’t want the excess fabric in his crotch region to be correlated with his arousal, which had been all mental at this point on the train. If he was seen with a boner-looking-area and pictures of women on his phone, he did not want them to be seen as mutually exclusive.
Kim had woken up at some point, unbeknownst to him. Still burrowed in her pillow, she side-eyed quietly to her right, watching him peruse profiles of whoever, wherever they were. She had watched him do this before, several times. She figured this conversation could wait until they got home, at least. She figured to herself, this has gone on far too long with this lanky stupid motherfucker, but she already had pre-ordered some gifts for him for the upcoming holidays. The Conversation could wait until New Year’s, she thought. She closed her eyes again.