Hello Adrianne. I stood behind you in line at the grocery store one day, and I love you.
At first, it was just happenstance. In fact, the potency of my mental wanderings left me not even noticing you until after I was already directly there. But when I looked up, I saw you, and that was enough. I got the feeling that you were superimposed on the surface of the rest of the world, for against the relative flatness of everything else, you had such depth. I studied your long dark locks first, flowing down the outside of your skull like limber silk before surrendering into loose curls at your shoulder blades. Each curl’s edge was traced, as if by an artist, with glistening gold. My eyes fell on your left cheek next. It protruded forward, in a way which made it seem like your jowls were hugging your lips. Your skin was so pale, as if protected by some presence, looking powdered like a doll’s timeless fiberglass features. It was the first time I thought that skin, skin itself, could be intelligent. I traced the landscape of your facial profile. Your forehead curved out from your hairline, and I could see how it would form perfect circles had it been continued infinitely. However it fell into a basin under your brow, the skin then lifting in a gradual incline to form a small nose, with the nostrils expanding and contracting in occasional unfinished flares. I felt like a microbial mountaineer, ascending and descending the various peaks and valleys of a perfected paradise. Your mouth was brazenly outlined by soft cedar lips. The curve of your nose fell above them so sharply, that if I were to have leapt from its peak, I felt that I may have fallen straight through them. The contour of your lower lip, as it dipped and arched back out into your chin, formed the graceful strokes of a calligrapher. Your skin was so tight, rounding at the base of the jaw and pulling through the neck.
Your head turned at the base of the neck, perhaps 100 degrees, to focus on something to my back right, just long enough so that I could behold the balance of your face in its entirety. Something in your mind must have noticed me, because the nearness caused your pupils to contract and snap over to me. I could see entire worlds in there, an island of chromatic ridges in a sclera sea of perfect white. I could see blues, forming the skies and oceans, interknit with greens, forming land and life. Then at the center, the iris of the darkest imaginable black. An abysmal black that stretched on forever. When I was met with your iris, the universe began to play itself backwards. Stars expanded out into pink and green nebulae, solar systems and galaxies spun backwards into spheres of debris, and heavy elements split back into hydrogen. Finally, all of creation contracted into an infinite point smaller than any atom, and ceased into absolute silence. Nothing was left except that deep, illimitable black.
Each corner of your mouth stretched slightly into a small, hesitant smile before turning away, and life and light began again. I watched as the strands of your hair entwined together around your shoulders, some falling this way, others falling that. As it descended, it expanded in volume as the curls took over in the same manner that prairie eventually gives way to thick forest. It climbed down your upper back, following the bend. The hair began to wane only as your lower back began to protrude out again to form your backside, which was not fully allowed to finish before revealing itself, only slightly, from behind the frayed base of your shorts. Your wrists fell only slightly below, extended from thin, soft arms. Your left hand and fingers lightly gripped the mouth of a bottle with only enough force as to prevent it from slipping through your grasp. It was a large pink bottle, resembling that of an exotic perfume before that of an alcoholic beverage.
I have always found it curious, how in this world, your identity is so closely linked with various strands of numbers. Phones, identification, bank accounts, registration, license plates, addresses, age, and so on. At birth, we are rather given a strand of letters which perhaps we feel that our identity is connected to, enough to respond to it being called and recognize that this name we were given is applicable to our being. Perhaps we feel like this name is more closely linked to our identity than any of our descriptive numbers. Perhaps any given Christopher in the world feels as if he is more naturally “Christopher” rather than perhaps “431-2801.” However, numbers do a far more efficient job at distinguishing one particular person from the next. One human being may have hundreds of streams of numbers, all doubtlessly unique, extending from his or her life at any given moment. Any one of which can be followed back, like a trail of breadcrumbs, straight back to their doorstep. I suppose I am grateful for this nature, for without it, I may have never seen you again, Adrianne.
According to the last census, there are 177,272 people residing in Mallowsfield, and one of them is you.
31.87, 5:34:27, 11, 3397
After returning your identification, Adrianne, the cashier scanned your bottle and sent it down the line. I saw the numbers clearly on the screen, the numbers of fate, so conveniently pointed in our direction. A bottle of distilled spirits, just like the one you were holding, carries a tax rate of 6.25%. The bottle rang up at $29.99, with a total tax of $1.88, making your purchase $31.87. There was a digital clock in the upper right of the screen, dividing the current time up by the hour, minute and second. At the instant the receipt began printing out, the clock told me that the current time was 5:34 in the evening, with 27 seconds. Directly underneath the time and date lain the words “Lane 11” in red boldface.
You slipped the bottle in a slender paper bag and turned to leave. You did not look at me again as I hoped you would. Rather your eyes stood up to focus on the exit as you turned, your right arm tugging at the bag and raising the bottle to your chest in a clutch. Your left arm swung back and forth in the gravity. Your legs were clearly exposed, so I could see the muscles through your tight skin, as they contracted and relaxed, absorbing the shock of each step as your heels took turns impacting the speckled beige tile. I watched the various components of your body work to propel you against friction and gravity until you had turned the corner and vanished, like an apparition or hallucination.
I returned to the store after bringing my groceries to my vehicle in the lot. I went up to customer service, and faced the associate. She was an older lady with a friendly face, short brown hair with highlights, and sunspots on her leathered skin. She thanked the man ahead of me with a smile as he left, and raised her brow as she faced her widened eyes toward me and lifted her chin, inviting me to the desk. She asked how she could help me, and I said I misplaced my receipt. I was in line just a few minutes ago, and have no idea what I could have done with it. I wondered aloud to her if there was any way that a secondary copy could be printed off. She said of course with a seemingly genuine excitability. When she asked for further details, I responded that I remembered the approximate time, amount, and terminal that I checked out at. It was that easy, and I attained a concrete artifact of our first meeting, Adrianne. In my hands, I held a fossil of your existence at a certain point in space at a certain point in time. Underneath the total, the receipt held the fact that you paid with a Visa card, with the last four digits being 3397. Yet below that, the words “Thank you, Adrianne W” met my eyes.
That is how I learned your name, Adrianne.
I must admit, I did not spend any time on social media before I met you, Adrianne. It was a bit out of my time, I’m afraid. However, I know that you younger people take part. In this age, I figured it would be far easier to find you using Facebook rather than searching through public records and the like. I was right.
I made a new email account and falsified a name, and just like that, I had access to probably 75% of the city of Mallowsfield. This town has 177,272 people in it, and with a name like “Adrianne,” it narrows it down quite drastically. There were only three listed by the time I finished your first name in the search bar, each with a headshot of the individual. This town has 177,272 people in it, and only one is named Adrianne Wilkinson. I hovered my cursor over your face for a while, tracing your jawline, stroking your brow. The dark hair framed your alabaster skin, making your piercing blue-green eyes all the more pungent. I combed my fingers through your hair with the mouse a few times, imagining how soft it must be on the webbing of my fingers. I tucked your bangs around the rim of your ear and fit them into the back groove where the ear meets the skull, continuing down to your neck before the picture cut off, and clicked. It seems I got excited prematurely, for very little was visible on your page. I attained a larger version of your profile picture, however it seems that most any content beyond that was hidden. I found out later that there are extensive privacy settings trying to separate us, Adrianne.
It took me a few tries before I got to Hannah Perry. She worked as a waitress at a diner called The Wallflower on Willow road, the commercial side of town. One thing I was able to salvage from your online presence was a handful of names on your friends list each time I refreshed the page. Not all of them were hidden, and many of them had their place of employment listed for any member of the public to see. I went to The Wallflower on a Saturday evening for dinner and managed to glance at the blueprint of the establishment laying on the hostess podium. “Hannah” was scribbled in light green dry-erase letters in section B2, along the East windows. The hostess was a younger girl, skinny, with a tattoo of vining roses crawling around her shoulder. I asked her if I could please have a booth next to the windows, extending my pointer finger toward section B2, and there she sat me.
I recognized Hannah immediately from the pictures. She had bright blonde hair, perfectly straight, and pulled back into a ponytail. She was tending to another table in B2 when she noticed that I was sat. She reappeared from behind the kitchen with a few glasses on a tray balanced in her palm. She placed them down at the other table and scurried over to greet me.
“I’m so sorry if you were waiting long!” She rummaged through her apron to extract a small black book to take down notes. I could clearly see her face now. It was almost dirt brown, due perhaps to a combination of tanning and foundation, which was applied so thickly across her face that I felt like I could chip it off in chunks with my fingernails. Her head was long and narrow, stretching down into a thin chin before diving into a black button-down blouse. Her eyes rose back to me, a bright brown met mine.
I formed a welcoming smile. “No, don’t worry. I just got here.” I nodded my head and pushed my face into an even larger smile.
“Oh good! Welcome to The Wallflower, my name is Hannah and I will be taking care of you this evening. Could I get you started with something to drink?” She welcomed me in with a genuine smile.
I turned my head back to the menu and ordered a cup of decaf and a plain cheeseburger. “Oh, and you said it was Hannah, right?” She nodded at me with an attentive smile. “I was planning on being here a while, that won’t stop you from being able to go home or anything would it?”
“Oh, not at all! We close at nine and I have the late shift, so you have until then. Take your time! Your order should be right out.” She hurriedly walked away to tend to other tables, and I pulled out that day’s newspaper.
Just before nine, I thanked Hannah, complimented her service excitedly and tipped her $10 on a $14 ticket in hopes of creating some feeling of obligation in the event I am faced with an unfortunate circumstance later in the evening. Through the diner’s windows, I watched her complete her closing work. I braced my car’s hood open, and waited.
She walked through the doors about twenty minutes later with another coworker.
“Hannah?” I called her name, and her head turned to face me as her steps grew slower. The two waitresses made their way over to me.
I told her that my car wouldn’t seem to start, and I feel badly for bothering her. I introduced myself to both of them as Mark, and thanked them for hearing me out.
“I was just wondering if you had a cell phone I could use to call my son, just real quick?” I made sure to appear upset and breathe heavily. Hannah shuffled through her pockets and handed me a thin, white phone with a pink jeweled case wrapping the sides and back.
“Oh, thank you so much, you are so sweet. I’ll have to call your boss in the morning and tell him how great you are. I’m so sorry.” She smiled and said she was glad to help. I focused quickly on the device, and tapped the button that said “contacts.” It helps that your name falls so high in the alphabet, Adrianne, for I found you, clicked on you, and committed your phone number to memory before more than a few seconds went by. I closed out of everything to return to the home screen. 742-1408. 742-1408.
“I’m so sorry, girls. I have one of those older phones, I have no idea how to work this. How do you dial?”
They giggled at each other and were eager to help an older man figure out the new world’s baffling technology, dialing a dead phone number at my instruction. I feigned a conversation relaying my situation to my imaginary son, and let the girls know that he was on his way, and thanked them for all of their help. They smiled and left. You have such nice friends, Adrianne. 742-1408. 742-1408.
2820 Mallard Way, Mallowsfield, NE 69811
Every housed person in the country has most, if not all, of the following things: utilities, phone service, DMV records, bank and credit history, perhaps television and internet services, and so on. All of these venues have valuable information, and friendly customer service associates willing to help distressed customers. There are only so many cellular service providers, Adrianne. Although I do hate guesswork, this was little more than simple mathematics. I began by calling the one with the largest customer base. I was at the grocery store where we first met, Adrianne, and the kind lady behind the customer service desk let me use the store phone to call for a taxi. Pressing this or that key when prompted, I eventually broke through to a human customer service representative, citing issues with my phone. The lady on the other end asked me to name off my phone number to pull up the account. 742-1408. 742-1408.
“Uh, you’re Adrianne?” the voice said with a curious suspicion.
“Well, I’m Adrian Wilkinson.”
“Oh!” The voice giggled in embarrassment. “I’m sorry sir! You are having an issue with your phone?”
I chuckled back and assured her it was an inconsequential mistake. I apologized if she was hearing any background noise, I was calling from my work phone and people seemed to be particularly noisy today. If it were the case that she had caller ID, that would explain why the displayed number was not 742-1408. If I were to make any mistakes in the future, even if they have the capabilities of reverse lookup, they would get the Neighborhood Food Market in the middle of Nebraska. “Well, I haven’t gotten my bill yet. Usually it would have been here a week or so ago. I was wondering what I owe on my account?”
“Of course, sir. Can you verify the last four digits of the card on the account?”
“Is it the Visa?”
“We are showing that you owe the typical $90 for the month of April Mr. Wilkinson, no extraneous charges.”
“Oh excellent,” I said with a relief. “You have the right address on file right? I didn’t get the bill.”
“We have 2820 Mallard Way, Mallowsfield, Nebraska 69811.”
Your mother has your hair, Adrianne. There are 177,272 people residing in Mallowsfield, and one of them is you.
There are digital maps everywhere, containing every street, road, and trail in the country. It is not difficult to find any given address anymore. There are so many services and technologies making modern life so much easier. I made my way to the west side of town, where Mallard Way stretches through about a half mile. They were nice houses under an umbrella of thriving canopies, with a well-known city park on one side. The unique four-digit numbers being repeatedly printed blatantly on the curb, mailboxes, and houses themselves were only a convenience at this point. I passed 2820 a couple times. It was too far separated from the park for that alibi to shroud me. However, I parked down the street and waited for two hours, with the excuse ready that I was simply lost had anyone shot me suspicious looks.
Two hours after I arrived, a newer SUV pulled into the driveway and came to a halt halfway up. An older man stepped from the vehicle. He was perhaps only a few years younger than me, placing him in his mid-forties. He had thick straight salt-and-pepper hair combed over to the left which bounced slightly as he stepped down the driveway toward the curb. He was wearing a light blue polo with a perfectly folded collar and light tan khaki pants, just short enough to allow me to see brown striped socks from underneath the hem whenever he bent slightly at the knee. Wrapping around his heel were a pair of dark brown tassel loafers which folded at the base of the metatarsals each time he extended the other foot for a step. He walked with confidence as he rounded to pop the door off of the mouth of the mailbox. He closed it and, shuffling through letters and junk mail, walked back up to the open door of the SUV and pulled it into the garage.
Only a few minutes later, a silver Volvo four-door pushed passed my car. It caught my attention and I watched as it rolled down another half-block to 2820. A middle-aged woman who was walking in the opposite direction stretched her cheeks into a child-like smile at the sight and waved ecstatically at the Volvo before it turned to climb the driveway’s incline and disappeared into the garage. A woman walked out of the garage, dark flowing hair which waved down her back. She turned her head and waved at the woman who was walking down the sidewalk. Adrianne, she had your thin arms. The two women met at the base of the driveway and conversed for a few minutes before separating. When they did, the walking woman continued in the direction she started and the other woman, walking with the same conviction that you do, returned to the house through the garage.
Obviously, I was looking at your parents’ house. After I watched for a few days consecutively, it also became clear that you did not live there. However, through the mail I did learn your parents’ names, and which insurance companies, utility providers, and cable services they probably used.
On the third day, I arrived earlier. That was the day that I realized you had a younger sister. There has been a car parked along the curb across the street from 2820 every night that I have watched. However, only when I arrived just before three in the afternoon did I actually see who owned that vehicle. In all honesty, there were cars all up and down that street parked on the side of the road- I hardly paid it any mind at first. It was an older dark red Volkswagen hatchback, maybe nine or ten years old. I hadn’t even realized it was missing that day until it pulled up into the exact spot it had occupied throughout the week. I watched as an adolescent girl exited and crossed the street toward your parents’ house. I began to focus intently as she walked up the driveway, and entered a code into the side panel, opening the garage door. She also had dark hair which rolled down her back, and the trademark Wilkinson thin arms. About a minute later, the lights in one of the upstairs windows flickered on. Unfortunately, I could not see anything other than the occasional shadow through the window due to the blinds remaining closed. But due to the length of time the room seemed to be occupied in the absence of anyone else, I concluded that it must be her room. I looked back at the Volkswagen and took note of the license plate number, which was V43 578.
There were plenty of other safer, less direct ways to find you, Adrianne. For example, any given city only has a handful of utility providers. Usually even fewer than they do cell phone carriers. Unless you have solar panels or a wind farm, your power comes from one of them. Better yet, most utility companies have implemented automated synthetic voices for their customer service line. Do you know how they organize their accounts Adrianne? By phone number. The voice tells me to enter your phone number using the keypad, and sometimes they even verify the account by reading back the associated name and address to the caller, all before I even have to talk to a real person. You can get away with listing your parents’ address with cell phone companies, store rewards cards, and even official documentation like driver’s licenses. But since it was coming directly from the utility company you set up your services with, it would be your real address no question. You had to use your current address, or they wouldn’t know where to provide services to.
I could have done something like that. But I decided that your sister could lead me to you more naturally.
04/14/1990, R23 990.
Throughout the next week, I learned things about your sister. She leaves the house around 7:50 in the morning to go to Mallowsfield High School, usually arriving at least a few minutes late. Monday through Friday, she gets out of school at three in the afternoon and usually goes home afterwards. Two or three times a week, she goes to a coffee shop or café with a friend. She works after school on Fridays and throughout the weekend at varying times at the mall on the West side of town. She is a checker at a clothing store called Maxwell’s. I found her name was Aubrey (Wilkinson I assume, as your biological parents seem to be together and that is the last name associated with every piece of mail arriving at the house) by glancing at her nametag when I went in there to look at socks when she was working.
However one day, I saw her in a supermarket purchasing a birthday card. I was very pleased when I found that it came from the “Sister” section. I grabbed a copy of the same card and got behind her in line.
“Hey, isn’t that something!” She turned quickly to face me, and followed my face from bottom to top a couple of times with her bright eyes, similar to yours. I held out the card with a smile, and pointed at her hand.
She glanced at my card, glanced at the one in her hand, and dropped her shoulders with a smile. “Oh,” she managed to let out with a larger exhale than was necessary for the word, almost in relief to have gotten an explanation for my confrontation of her.
I laughed it off. “I bet my sister is older than yours though! Are you the older sister or the younger sister?”
“Oh no, she’s older than me. She turns 22 next Wednesday.” She had such a young smile.
“Aren’t you a great sister to be getting her that! Are you planning anything big for her?”
“No, nothing big, we’re just going to hang out with her a little bit just like we do every year.”
“Well you tell her that she has a sweet little sister!” I smiled at her and she smiled back. The cashier scanned it through and gave her the total. She pulled a few dollars out of her back pocket and left the store, looking back at me with a shy wave on her way out. When it was my turn, I told the cashier I accidently forgot something, and that I would be right back. I left the store.
I left your parents’ house alone for nearly a week, until the next Wednesday. April 14th, 2012 is the next time I saw you, Adrianne. You were just as gorgeous, if not more so, as day one. It was not long before you arrived at the house. You drive a deep blue Ford four-door, perhaps of the year 2006, 2007, something around there. I drove directly by your house to get more details. License plate number R23 990. I kept driving in the direction you came from and parked at the edge of a road perpendicular to Mallard Way, but where I could still easily see your car parked. You came from the East, so once you leave, you will go back East. I waited.
Butler Apartment Complex, 3C, 435 Park Drive.
The rest is not important. In a nutshell, I followed you home. I kept my distance. If you were in the left lane, I stayed in the right lane. When we got to residential streets, I turned only just in time to see your taillights vanishing around the next corner. When you pulled into Butler Apartments, I would pull into a driveway across the street and watch you walk into the door labeled “3C.” I would call the apartment complex posing as an interested client, getting the name of the landlord so I could call back. I would ask the landlord to see a unit, which he was more than happy to oblige to. I would ask general questions about the complex, and learn that 3C is one of the small, one-bedroom units, eliminating most of the possibility of roommates. Pets, such as a loyal dog with a strong bite, were strictly not allowed. I would learn intimately the layout of your apartment during this session by asking to see a one-bedroom unit next. I would find your workplace and frequented businesses. I would be able to construct, with minimal error, your weekly schedule. Soon after, I would be able to finalize my plans to finally talk to you. I would later call you posing as your landlord, letting you know that there is someone coming to redo the caulking in the bathroom. You would open the door for me when I arrived right on time with a tool bag. There are 177,272 people residing in Mallowsfield, and one of them is you. This is how I have found you, Adrianne. The rest is not important. What matters now is that when I close the door behind me, I can turn to you, look you directly in your gorgeous blue-green eyes for the second time, and say:
“Hello Adrianne. I stood behind you in line at the grocery store one day, and I love you.”