He sends her some cash every month, a small portion of his own meagre earnings that he draws from stocking shelves at a local supermarket.

He had met her online, in an anonymous chat room, and found that their interests were similar enough to turn over the ancient machinery in the basement of his brain that signaled soulmate potentiality. They exchanged photographs and he believed hers were real. Why wouldn’t they be: after all, he had sent genuine ones of his own—snaggle toothed and scraggle bearded. They never spoke on the phone. He was shy. “She” was clever.

This has gone on for a decade now. He refers to her as his girlfriend, and only to his trusted friends. But he gives his trust away carelessly. He is a fragile creature. Once, a stranger on the internet told him to go fuck himself and he collapsed from the stress of it. He spent several unaffordable days in the hospital and never fully recovered. Like a mole rat, he lives in a hole and curses his neighbors, and the only comfort he finds is in the imaginary world he has constructed for himself online. A virtual reality, if you will.

Meanwhile, in upstate New York, in the real world, a middle-aged man watches his bank account increase while his eldest son plays pretend with a failing artist who he will never meet.

2023.07.10 – 2023.12.15

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