Empty Page

by Russ

My continental summer was taken away not with the flourish of a French horn but the muted clap of a Dutch cowbell. One badly angled hockey stick and the only thing I was destined to know of Paris was its plaster.

I sat in my room and thought about them all. I thought about Dan holding court at a cafe on La Rambla; a bevy of brown-eyed senoritas hung on his exotic tales of growing up in the Triángulo de Ruibarbo. I thought of Max, eyes spinning in Amsterdam as he played canalside United Nations with three other versions of himself in four different languages. I thought of Emma, pressed up against the basin of a Berlin bathroom as Axel from Düsseldorf showed her “how wie do it in ze vaterland!’

I thought about Emma in lots of positions with lots of offensive European stereotypes. As the summer wore on I was effectively picturing the entire continent of Europe as a giant serpent coiled around her, relentlessly squeezing out any thoughts of me and injecting in God knows what to replace them. Which is silly, snakes either constrict or they bite, they don’t do both.

I want to say I didn’t realise how I felt about Emma until I saw her waiving from the taxi as they all left, but the truth is I’ve been obsessed with her all year. The hungover fumble we’d had the morning after her birthday had cemented what was already an unhealthy preoccupation into something that would inevitably leave me spending the rest of my life bitter and alone. At least this summer was good practice for that.

I closed her Instagram and reopened the empty page which I’d told myself would become the novel to fix all this. The cursor blinked like an expectant puppy waiting to be fed. So far, I’d written and deleted ‘She’ fourteen times before opening up a private browsing window and entering several search terms which would leave my mother impossibly disappointed. It was going well.

That’s when my phone began vibrating and Emma’s face smiled at me in flashes. I didn’t answer it at first, feeling somehow she’d caught me out and I needed to hide something before I let her see me. There was nothing to hide; nothing physical anyway.

‘Hi hi hi! How are you?!’ she was shouting and blowing kisses. Behind her were rocks bathed in sunlight and spray from crashing waves. She didn’t wait for me to answer. ‘We’re in Game of Thrones land. How cool is that?!’ She moved the camera to show me the walls of Dubrovnik and I instinctively swiped at the screen to try and get her face back. We’d watched the Red Wedding together that morning after her birthday. She’d giggled all the way through it.

‘I can’t stay because this call is super super expensive,’ she resumed yelling. ‘I just wanted to let you know we’re all thinking about you and we hope those lazy bones are healing quickly! We love you!’

And with that, I was looking at my home screen and wondering what she meant by ‘we’. I turned back to my empty page but the cursor was already heading for the tab of her Instagram.