by Kristen Keckler

 He’d talked her into texting him a photo. She might’ve just gone over, but his roommates were having a party, and it was pouring, the kind of Texas rain that turned boulevards into rivers. She’d been drinking, and he didn’t have a car. He missed her like crazy, so she relented, took a shower, shaved, polished, and in front of the mirror, holding her phone at arm’s length, sucking in her stomach, tried different poses as her cat watched. Later, he’d notice details she hadn’t—cigarette pack, picture frame, the birthmark above her right hip, like a lopsided heart.

She titled it “Lexi Lollipop,” hit send.    

It was her first sext, and she felt a rush. Her phone vibrated: “How many licks…?”

John was twenty-six—she, thirty-two. They were in that stage of couplehood when you wanted to trust so badly that your inhibitions were like those helium balloons you released as a kid, at camp or school. Six weeks sometimes felt like a few days—they were graduate fellows, busy with teaching and research—and other times like a few years, intimate and fated. She knew that he’d come of age in seedy punk bars, worshiped Derrida, was allergic to carrots, played Halo.

Then one afternoon, John showed up at her duplex. His fledgling beard made him look professorly despite the tattoos peeking under his sleeves.

He kissed her. “I lost my phone.” Paced, rubbing his chin. “Guess I’m out a couple hundred bucks.”

“You didn’t have insurance?” He shrugged.

“Wanna grab some Thai?”    

She drove him to hook up his old flip-top, and later, remembered he hadn’t had a lock on the Droid.

“You erased Lexi, right?”

“No. But it’s not like your face was in it,” he said, scraping up noodle bits with chopsticks. “Besides, it was an awesome textual artifact.”    

Later, he’d apologize, but she couldn’t get over how careless he’d been with her privacy, her career, her… selfhood. She imagined her torso floating around in “the cloud”—this cyber tornado—and passed around in porn chat rooms. She broke up with him, but he resisted, came around like a scolded beagle.

She changed her number, disconnected Facebook, graduated, got a job. Dated a biker-dude, a pharmaceutical rep, a lawyer. Occasionally, she’d see the photo superimposed inside her brain, and have to pull over, if driving, or pop a Xanax. Then she got into yoga. Found a therapist who made her talk about her father leaving when she was six.

After two years, she ran into John at a conference—he was presenting a paper on visual rhetoric. He was clean-shaven but had grown his hair. When they made plans for dinner, he pulled out his phone—same old flip-top.

They’d move to California, where he’d been offered a teaching gig. They’d get married. She’d have a baby girl, and one night, she’d catch her own reflection, the stretch marks stitched across her belly, her chafed and swollen breasts, and hold up her phone to the mirror.

Kristen Keckler’s essays, poems, and stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, Ecotone, Southeast Review, South Dakota Review, Prick of the Spindle, and other journals. She currently teaches English and creative writing at Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, New York.