A short fiction piece appearing in the 2022 Seattle Erotic Arts Festival (SEAF) and part of the SEAF 2022 Anthology. Dating during the isolation of the pandemic has been a challenge for many of us; in this piece I explore the story of a truly engaging and intimate connection formed entirely over video chat.
“Oh hello, Mr. Otis. Would you like me to check the packages for you?” Farrokh asked.
“Would you, Farrokh?” the old man replied with a smile, his eyes peeking out from behind his heavy scarf.
It was the same thing every morning. A few minutes before 8 a.m., heading outdoors to check the mail, then seeing old Mr. Otis, just like clockwork. After seeing him struggle to reach the shelf the first time, Farrokh had started timing his trips to the mailboxes to meet his elderly neighbor’s precise schedule. He was always dressed in the same enormous wool coat that likely came from a war that had ended before Farrokh was even born. A thick, woolen scarf covered almost the entirety of his tiny face. Above the scarf was a badly frayed wig that wouldn’t fool anyone, even Mr. Otis, but in between those layers of scarf and wig were a pair of bright, dark eyes that seemed to belong to a much younger face. Farrokh had a soft spot for the old man, not only because of his obvious need for help, but also for his cheerful countenance and how he remembered and pronounced his Parsi name correctly. Furthermore, it was one of the few instances of in-person social interaction he had during the ongoing quarantine.
“Looks like there is something for you,” Farrokh said, shuffling through the packages. “Seems like pills again.” He smiled, shaking them by his ear like a maraca. “Anything you want to share with me?”
Just then a truck rumbled by, and the old man looked confused. He tilted his head and brought one side closer to Farrokh.
“Could you repeat that please?” he asked. “My ears aren’t what they used to be.”
“Sure thing,” Farrokh said, and repeated the joke: “Any pills you want to share with me?” Between the scarf and the wig, he could see the telltale glint of a plastic cochlear implant behind his ear.
“Oh, I don’t think so, sonny,” Mr. Otis cackled. “It’s old people pills, and not the fun kind, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, I know what you mean,” Farrokh smiled at the familiar joke, and headed inside, holding the door open for the older man as he shuffled behind him. He bounded up the stairs to his unit, eager to get some kind of breakfast put together before a long day of video calls started again. Just as he got in the door, he heard his phone chime. Pulling it from his pocket, he saw it was from a dating app. “You’ve got a new match!” it proclaimed. At this point in the pandemic, Farrokh had become wary of these connections, as they had never been his preferred way to meet people, and somehow during this time of isolation the predictable cycle of raised hopes and inevitable disappointment was even more demoralizing than it had felt in the past. Still, when he opened the app to see the profile, he was instantly intrigued.
Her name was Eto, and every picture was an elaborate costume, each more fantastic than the last. In the first one she was an elf in a dark hoodie with an intricately carved bow. In the next, she was a bright-haired sorceress with an immense cauldron of bubbling liquid. In the third she was a vampire-like creature, her head completely smooth and giant fangs peeking out under her upper lip, decked out head to toe in tight black latex. Despite the fierce creatures of her cosplay, there was always a hint of a smile on her face that made him feel an immediate warmth toward her.
“Woah,” he said to himself, more excited than he’d been about a match for a while. He had been hoping for months that he might meet someone this way, so at least there would be one person he could be close with during the isolation of quarantine, but with match after match dissolving into lengthy exchanges of meaningless texts, he had begun to lose hope. He read through Eto’s profile, more excited at every line — she was a botanical geneticist, she loved poetry and old music, she was into dancing and karaoke. Yes, yes, and yes, he thought to himself. Then he saw the last line of her profile. “Because of the ongoing pandemic,” she had written, “I’m only interested in video calls for now.”
“UGGGGGGGH!” he yelled out loud. “This pandemic can go fuck itself RIGHT IN THE EAR!” He threw his phone across the room and onto the couch.
Immediately he heard the familiar messaging chime of the dating app and went to pick up his phone with a quizzical expression on his face. It seemed like an odd coincidence to have received a message just as he had thrown his phone.
“LOL, well that’s oddly specific,” Eto had written.
Feeling the blood rush to his face with embarrassment, he saw that his comment about the pandemic had been transcribed and sent to her moments earlier.
“OMG, sorry about that!!” he tapped out quickly. “I must have hit the microphone button by mistake, I didn’t mean to send that.”
“Oh, it’s okay,” she wrote back with a smiley face. “I totally understand, video calls are nothing like the real thing. I hear you.”
Now feeling defensive, Farrokh tapped back, “It’s just that all the text and video chats during the pandemic have never led to anything real, you know what I mean? So I’m just kind of wary of trying to connect over video.”
“I got you,” Eto responded instantly. “I have a proposition for you, though. I think video calls with me are a bit different from what you’re used to. Would you commit to having three calls with me, and no hard feelings on either side if it’s not working out for us?”
Farrokh thought for a moment. “Are you saying that after three calls you might consider getting together in person? That’s where I’d really like to get to.”
The phone fell silent for a minute, and Farrokh wondered if he had pushed too far. Then he saw the three dots appear on the screen, then disappear, then a pause, then more dots, then another pause. After what felt like an eternity, he saw her response.
“Um, no, I can’t commit to that, because of reasons. But I still think it will be worth your while,” ending with a blushing emoji.
Farrokh sighed. On the one hand, he couldn’t even imagine having any kind of flirty interaction over a video call, but on the other, Eto was extremely cute, and she seemed very interested in talking with him. Besides, what else did he have going on?
“Okay, Eto,” he wrote, “I’ll give it a try. Three calls.”
“Oh lovely!” she wrote back, punctuating her response with three hearts. “Let’s get our first call scheduled — maybe tomorrow morning, 7 a.m.?”
“Seven a.m.?” he thought, incredulously, already regretting his decision. “How about sometime in the evening instead?” he wrote.
“Unfortunately evenings won’t work for me,” she wrote, adding a sad emoji.
Having come this far, he decided he might as well keep going. “Okay. I just have to end a few minutes before 8, as I have an errand I have to do then,” thinking of his morning routine with Mr. Otis.
“No problem at all,” she wrote. “Looking forward to talking to you tomorrow,” she added, and ended the message with another heart.
“What am I getting myself into?” Farrokh said to himself, and sighed as he got ready for the day’s meetings. He went back through her photos and her profile, and had to admit that he was really taken with her, despite all of this subterfuge. “Well, why not?” he said out loud. “It’s not like I have other plans,” sliding his phone onto the desk.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, Farrokh was up at 6 a.m. During the pandemic, Farrokh had become accustomed to waking early, mostly due to meetings with the East Coast and Europe, so a 7 a.m. call wasn’t too far out of the ordinary. Still, he had no idea what he should wear for a 7 a.m. video date. He thought about dressing in costume, given the creative array of photos in Eto’s profile, but ultimately decided to play it safe and wear a casual shirt with an unusual, asymmetric collar — clearly not something generic or typical, but also formal enough to wear for the rest of the day at work, given his tight schedule. Taking a breath, he connected to the video session from the dating app.
Eto’s icon appeared, and he could hear a giggle as she fumbled with the camera settings. Suddenly she appeared on his screen dressed head to toe as an ear of corn, her hair a wig of tassles, and her legs in green tights poking out from a thick husk, the body a combination of golden, red, and black kernels, full and juicy as though it were the height of summer and not a bleak January morning. Her bare, narrow arms poked through oversized holes in each side, and she had a brilliant smile on her face.
Farrokh’s jaw dropped. Somehow it was simultaneously adorable, sexy, and a surprisingly accurate representation of corn. Immediately he regretted not wearing something more creative. “You’re… corn?” he said, with a smile.
“My name is Eto, actually, not corn,” she said, pretending to be offended. “And I’m actually a woman, merely dressed as corn.”
“Sorry… uh…” Farrokh stammered.
Eto laughed. “I’m just teasing you, silly. You want to know why I’m dressed as corn, don’t you, but you’re too shy to ask?”
“Um, yes?” Farrokh said with a faint smile.
“I have two sisters,” she continued, “so together we’re the three sisters. Corn, squash, and bean, you know?”
“Corn, squash, and bean?” Farrokh asked, quizzically.
“Oh!” she said in a delighted voice. “You don’t know about the three sisters! You see, in many native cultures of Turtle Island, what you call America, long before the colonist invasion, corn, squash, and bean were always grown together. Corn would grow tall and provide a deep network of roots to collect water for the other two; beans would use the corn as a scaffold and fix nitrogen into the soil for use by corn and squash; squash would grow low to the ground, repelling pests from the other two. Thus, the three sisters — wvnwv in the Mvskoke language — would all help each other grow as well as protect the land. The native people knew this and always grew the three together. Of course, that knowledge is all but lost now,” she said, the smile leaving her lips.
“That’s fascinating,” Farrokh said quickly, desperate to rescue the mood, “I had never heard about this. So, are you of native ancestry yourself?”
“Yes,” she said, smiling again, “my grandmother is full Mvskoke. So anyway, my sisters and I would always dress like this for festivals. At some point I guess they grew out of it, but I never did, so…now I have all the costumes,” she said with a bright laugh.
“Oh, that’s delightful,” Farrokh said, sincerely, “Is Eto a native name, then?”
“It is,” she said with delight. “It means leaf. It’s actually short for eto esse, which means ‘wood,’ but Eto is hard enough for people to say. My sisters both have plant names too. And how about your name? Is it pronounced Farrokh, like Farrokh Bulsara?”
He was astonished when she pronounced his name perfectly. “Yes,” he stammered, “I was actually named after Farrokh Bulsara. My parents were huge Queen fans and also wanted me to have a Parsi name like them, so this was a perfect compromise. Nothing as deep as your name, though.”
“Well, I love Queen as well, so I think it’s lovely,” Eto said. “So, now that we have that out of the way, shall we get started?”
“Oh!” Farrokh said, “Did you have a plan for this conversation?”
“Of course!” Eto said with a smile. “I only have three conversations with you to convince you this is a good idea, so I’d better use them well, right?”
“Fair enough,” Farrokh said. “So what’s the plan for today?”
“Well, we’re starting with corn, and corn is straight and tall — it’s obvious. You can see it from a mile away. So let’s start with the obvious stuff,” giving a sly little wink.
“The, uh, obvious stuff?” Farrokh asked, genuinely curious.
“And what’s more obvious during dating than…BODY PARTS!” she yelled.
Farrokh couldn’t help but let out a laugh. “Okaaaaaaaay?” he said.
“Right,” she continued, “each of us gets to pick a body part of the other person we want to see naked.”
“You mean right now?” he asked, a little turned on, but also a little taken aback.
“Well, I’m not going to be corn again tomorrow, silly — yes, right now!” she laughed. “You first. What body part would you like to see?”
Farrokh thought carefully to himself. He was already entranced by the lean contours of her tiny body that he could see in her profile photos, but of course he wanted to see more. At the same time, he didn’t want to be “that guy,” and decided to pick something safer. “I’d like to see your armpits,” he said softly.
“Oh! The aromatic axillae — that’s a lovely choice,” she said. Slowly, steadily, like the sun rising from the horizon, she lifted her arms to her sides and held them above her head to expose the smooth expanse of her underarms. Farrokh was mesmerized. “Would you like to sniff them, Farrokh?” she asked with a coy smile. Unable to resist, Farrokh nodded eagerly. “Well. That won’t work very well over the phone. But maybe I can show you what it’s like.” As slowly and hypnotically as she had moved her arms, she closed her eyes and turned her head slowly into one armpit and then the other, taking such deep breaths her whole body arched, smiling each time. Stopping for a moment, she let her tiny tongue dart out and lick from her armpit up through her upper arm.
Farrokh was getting very turned on. “Wow,” he said softly, under his breath, but the moment he did she dropped her arms and stared right into the camera, smiling.
“My turn,” she said, with a sly glint in her eye.
“Sure, uh, okay,” Farrokh said, caught off guard.
“I want to see…” she paused dramatically, looking away from the camera, and then snapped back to face him. “Your penis.”
Farrokh jumped back in his chair and Eto laughed, covering her mouth. “C’mon now,” she said, “a deal’s a deal, right?”
Farrokh paused for a minute, wondering if she was just doing this to take a screenshot and mock him later on social media, but given how sincerely she’d played her part in the game he felt like he should take a risk and trust her.
“All right,” he said, moving back from his camera and sliding off his pants unceremoniously. His shirt fell down to cover all but the very bottom edge of his single testicle.
“Well, now I can’t see anything!” Eto frowned. “I think you’re going to have to unbutton your shirt. Or just take it off, I don’t know, that would be all right with me,” she giggled.
Farrokh couldn’t help but laugh. He unbuttoned the top and slid it off his shoulders, exposing his entire body. Eto’s display earlier had left him turned on and he was still semi-erect.
“Ah, that’s better. Well, it looks like someone’s half-excited to see me,” she giggled.
Farrokh reddened. He was very comfortable being naked, but this suddenly felt judgmental, and he grabbed his shirt, about to cover himself again.
“No, no, don’t, please,” she said, in a surprisingly serious tone. “Can I ask you about your testicle? Was it cancer?”
“No, it was a developmental defect — the epididymis never fully descended, so then…”
“A torsion,” she interrupted, “and it choked off its own blood supply?”
“Yes,” he said, surprised, “that’s correct. How did you know?”
“Oh, I know a thing or two about torsions,” she said softly. “That must have been very painful.”
“It was,” Farrokh said, thinking back to that time. “I rarely think about it now. Really only the scar is left,” pointing to a thin horizontal line just above his penis.
“Oh will you look at that!” she said with delight, clapping her hands. “Your penis has shrunk down again, and now it’s nestling over your testicle like a mama duck protecting its egg. Still, there are so many small bodies in the world, for which I am afraid.”
“Mary Oliver!” Farrokh said, surprised both by the strangeness of her comment and the reference.
“Yes, Small Bodies,” Eto smiled. “Her work has meant so much to me in getting through the last few years. And I don’t mean to give you a hard time, I think you have a very lovely penis.”
“Uh, thank you?” Farrokh smiled quizzically. “Can I ask why you wanted to see it though?”
Eto laughed. “Well, it was really more about seeing what you would do with it. If you had started masturbating or thrusting it toward me that would have been a red flag.”
“Ew, have people done that?” he asked, frowning at the thought.
“Oh, that’s the least of it!” she laughed. “But I appreciate your getting naked for me. There is a softness to your body that I find very compelling. Like it would be very comfortable to curl up together with you under a blanket,” she said in a dreamy tone.
Farrokh smiled but felt a twinge of painful longing at this, knowing that Eto was only interested in video conversations for the time being. “But that’s not something you’d be open to, right?”
This time it was Eto who reddened. “No,” she said softly, looking down. “Not now.”
“That’s okay,” he said quickly, “This has already been more intimate and exciting than I expected it to be.”
“Well, I can see that,” she laughed again.
Farrokh smiled, happy to see her smiling again as well. Suddenly he looked at his watch and remembered Mr. Otis would be coming up to his mailbox in just a few minutes.
“Eto, I’m so sorry to be abrupt, but I really have to run,” he said hurriedly.
“Oh! I as well! Until tomorrow then, lovely naked one,” she said, making a small curtsey made even more adorable by her corn costume. “Same time?”
Farrokh blushed a bit at the compliment. “Until tomorrow,” he said, “Same time is perfect.” Looking at the clock, he raced to pull his clothes back on and get a coat so he could get there in time for Mr. Otis. He rushed out the door, down the stairs, and into the freezing morning, his hard breaths appearing as white clouds all around him as he scanned for Mr. Otis. After an unusually long wait for the punctual old man, Farrokh was getting mildly frustrated, but then saw his old friend shuffling up the walk.
“Well, hello there, Farrokh!” he cackled. “I almost forgot about the mail today!”
Mr. Otis’ cheap wig looked more askew than usual, and Farrokh felt a warm current of empathy for the struggles the older man must be living through. He considered how small a hardship the few extra seconds in the cold were for him in comparison.
“That’s no problem, Mr. Otis,” Farrokh said gently. “Let’s see what we’ve got. Hmm, looks like no packages at all — I guess you came out here for nothing!”
“Not for nothing, my young friend!” his eyes smiling brightly behind his scarf. “I got to see you, didn’t I?”
“Fair enough,” Farrokh laughed. “Let’s get ourselves back inside where it’s warm,” he continued, and they walked together into the building.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning Farrokh got up before his 6 a.m. alarm, surprised at how excited he was for the next call. This time he wanted to have an outfit that would match her “three sisters” theme. He was sure Eto would be showing up as a squash or bean plant, and he racked his brain for what might be compatible. After half an hour of trying fruitless options, he almost backed off to another casual outfit. Then, digging through an old box of costumes, he found what he was looking for — a peach colored bodysuit with dark horizontal stripes over the whole body. He found a similarly colored towel in his closet, folded it lengthwise, and using some safety pins, pinned it around his midsection just in time for the call to start.
Eto appeared on the screen in a bodysuit as well, but hers was a shiny green. A long green plastic tube coiled its way up her body and her around her narrow limbs, with large felt leaves branching off in all directions. It was clearly homemade, but all the more charming because of it.
“You’re bean today!” Farrokh said with a smile.
“Yes, yes I am! Ooooooh, and are you kafvnakv, the earthworm?” she cried in delight, clapping her hands.
“I am,” Farrokh said sheepishly, “I just wanted to find something that fit the theme, you know.”
“It’s perfect,” she said. “Kafvnakv is friend to all of the sisters, and intermingles and enriches the soil for all of us! Wow, I love it!”
Farrokh beamed, happy to see her enthusiastic reaction. “So what are we going to talk about today, bean?”
“Well,” Eto said, “bean fixes nitrogen beneath the earth, so all of its important work is underground. Today we’re going to talk about secrets: our kinks and fantasies.”
“Oh…” said Farrokh, his confidence melting away. “But you have to go first today, right?”
“Fair enough. Hmm, wellllll…this is going to sound a little weird,” shifting shyly in her chair. “But having poetry read to me really helps turn me on.”
“You mean, like, romantically turns you on, right?” Farrokh asked.
“Nooooo — sexually turns me on,” she said with a coy smile.
“Really?” Farrokh asked, genuinely surprised. “Like someone just reading poetry in a lecture hall would get you all excited?”
“Ha ha, no, not like that,” she laughed. “Well, maybe, in the right circumstances. But that’s not what I mean.” At this point she lifted her gaze to look directly at Farrokh through the screen. “I mean if you were holding my head in your lap, and reading one of my favorites, slowly and softly, matching your breath with mine, while I touched myself…” she closed her eyes dreamily as she continued. “Oh, that would definitely make me cum,” she continued, as a slight shudder passed through her body and the felt leaves fluttered slightly in response.
“Wow,” Farrokh said, again finding himself turned on in ways he didn’t expect. “That’s kind of incredible.”
“Well, what about you, kafvnakv?” Eto asked.
Farrokh thought for a moment about giving a generic answer but decided he might as well return the level of vulnerability she had been willing to share with him. Taking a deep breath and looking off to the side, he started saying, “Well sometimes, I like to have my bottom played with…”
“No no no, Farrokh, that will not do!” Eto exclaimed. Farrokh stopped for a second, stunned, not expecting her to have such a strong reaction to this.
“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to weird you out…”
“No, that’s not it at all,” Eto smiled. “I don’t want to hear about it in the abstract, while you look off to the side. I want you to look into the camera and tell me how you want me to play with your bottom.”
Farrokh reddened and said, “Uh…Okay…” not really sure how to continue.
“I’ll help. Let’s say I put on my strap-on,” she started, and as she saw his jaw drop at her statement, she continued, “Oh yes, I have a strap-on! And then I put in my favorite dildo — no wait — your favorite dildo, and we’re facing each other, body to body, on our knees. What would you want me to do?”
Farrokh was getting turned on to the point that he had to quickly adjust his pants. Eto noticed and smiled. “You can touch yourself while we’re talking, you know.”
“Really?” Farrokh said. “But yesterday you said you were glad I didn’t do something like that.”
“Yes, but now I’m asking you,” she said sweetly. “Besides,” she continued with a sly grin, “I already am.”
Farrokh suddenly realized what she had been doing with the rhythmic motions of her arm. Cautiously he slid down his pants and lightly stroked his cock, already hard in his hand.
He took a breath and began, “I…I would straddle you, holding onto your shoulders…”
“Mmmm-hmmm,” she hummed, smiling, again closing her eyes at the thought, “and then?”
“And I’d slowly, really slowly, start lowering myself onto your cock, just a little bit at a time…”
“Oh, my cock, yes, I like the way you say that,” she said, breathing harder.
“Until I could take the whole thing inside myself,” Farrokh was talking and breathing faster now, “and then I’d lower myself until we were skin to skin, all along our bodies…”
“Oh, yes, Farrokh, that sounds very nice…” she said, now rocking back and forth toward the camera. “And then?”
“And then…” Farrokh said, taking a pause, “You do not have to be good.”
“Oooooh?” she said, nodding slowly, her eyes widening.
“You do not have to walk a hundred miles through the desert, repenting,” he continued.
“No,” she said quietly, “I do not…”
“You simply have to let the soft animal of your body,” he said, more quietly now.
Her mouth was open, staring at him intently, her look pleading for him to continue. “The soft animal of my body…” she repeated between breaths.
“Love what it loves,” he said, as she mouthed the words along with him, then closing her eyes and leaning back, her whole body relaxed.
“Oh,” she said, “Oh I was not expecting that, kafvnafv.”
Farrokh felt the warm, thick wetness of his cum sliding down his hand. He had not expected that either. “I took a chance that more Mary Oliver might, um, resonate with you,” he said shyly.
“That it did, Farrokh, that it did,” she said, returning back to an upright position. “You know, there’s something else I have to tell you…”
His eyes were wide, wondering what intimate secret she might be about to share. “Yes?” he said expectantly.
“You’re going to be late for your meeting, kafvnafv!” she laughed.
Looking at the clock he realized she was right. “Oh, you’re right, um, same time tomorrow then?” he asked eagerly.
“Sounds like someone’s excited about our next chat,” she smiled. “Well, I am too. Yes, same time tomorrow.”
Farrokh rushed to clean himself up and managed to get his heart rate and breath under control, after which he once again had to race downstairs to get there in time for Mr. Otis.
Breathing heavily, he saw Mr. Otis was already waiting at the mailboxes.
“You’re late, my young friend,” Mr. Otis said cheerfully.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Otis,” Farrokh heaved, “So many meetings today.”
“That’s all right, quite all right, Farrokh,” Mr. Otis said, his bright eyes smiling behind his scarf.
“Looks like there is a package for you today,” Farrokh said, reaching for it from the top shelf. Shaking it, he heard the familiar sound. “Looks like it’s pills again.”
“I sure wish instead of these boring pills I could get some sexy beans like some of my neighbors,” he said with a wink.
Farrokh’s eyes widened as his face turned completely red. The walls of the building were paper thin and Mr. Otis must have heard…everything. He was absolutely horrified.
“Uh, I’m sorry Mr. Otis, that you had to hear, uh…” Farrokh said, backing away, then turned and ran back to his apartment, slamming the door behind him. He had heard plenty of his neighbors’ calls through the wall, word for word, so it was no surprise. How could he have been so careless as to not lower his voice for that kind of conversation?
Farrokh resolved to tell Eto the next morning that no matter how much those calls turned them on, he just couldn’t do them anymore. It was a shame, too, as he was more turned on than he ever thought he could be from a video call. He just couldn’t risk it — if Mr. Otis could hear him, it meant other people could too, and if the new building manager found out, who knows what could happen. Shaking his head at the situation, he sat down to immerse himself in his work and forget about the whole situation as much as he could.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The next morning, Farrokh got on the call early, this time back to his work clothes, anxious about breaking the news to Eto, afraid that she would feel like he had led her on, only to abandon her.
Eto appeared right at 7 a.m., smiling brightly in her most adorable outfit yet — a plump summer squash that started at her shoulders as a narrow camisole and widened to ridiculous, squash-like proportions. Her narrow shoulders held up the costume by its spaghetti straps, and a fabulous leaf-green wig covered her ears and flowed down to the dress on all sides with long, soft, green rivulets. Farrokh had to take a breath, as he was getting turned on already; he had to end this quickly.
“Eto, I need to say something,” he said awkwardly.
“What is it?” she asked, noting the urgency in his voice.
“I can’t do this anymore,” he said. “I-I mean I’ll do today’s call as promised, but I can’t have these kinds of calls anymore.”
“But why, Farrokh?” she said, the hurt clear in her eyes. “I thought we were doing so well!”
“It’s just this stupid building,” he said hurriedly. “The walls are really thin, and I think people overheard our call yesterday, you know when we were…”
“Having phone sex?” she giggled.
“It’s not funny!” he said quickly, his face turning red. “I don’t want to get thrown out of this building — I haven’t had the best relationship with the building management and they’re not going to like this if someone complains.”
“Wait, wait, wait,” she said, holding up her finger, closing her eyes, and taking a deep breath. The she opened them to say, “Was someone talking to you about sexy beans?” she intoned, in a perfect imitation of Mr. Otis.
“Wait, how did you…what???” he asked, completely dumbfounded.
“Hang on,” she said with a giggle, leaned down out of the frame, and got back up wearing the old scarf and terrible wig Farrokh was all too familiar with, her lovely eyes twinkling.
“Wait, you’re Mr. Otis?” he said, his eyes widening in disbelief.
“Well, Miss Otis, if you please,” she said, laughing, and then again in the familiar voice, “Eto Esse Otis, at your service,” as she made a theatrical bow.
“Oh wow — so the old man getup, the hearing aids, the shuffling walk, it’s all a big act?” Farrokh asked, relieved but still very confused about what was happening.
“No Farrokh,” she said quietly, suddenly serious. “It’s not an act.” With slow, deliberate movements, she pulled off her wig and scarf to reveal her completely bald head. She then let each strap of the squash roll of her shoulders and let the entire thing slide down, revealing her tiny frame, and a massive scar going down the centerline of her body, from above her navel to her mons pubis. “It’s cancer. Well, first it was an ovarian torsion — that’s when I learned all about torsions. They thought that was it, but when they went in, they found cancer. A lot of cancer. They took out what they could with surgery and I’ve been in chemo since this summer. And as if the vomiting, weakness, hair loss, and pain weren’t enough, it turns out the kind of chemo they use for ovarian cancer causes hearing loss — it’s called ototaxia. Thus, my implants,” she said, pointing to the plastic cochlear implant he had seen so many times in the mornings by the mailbox.
“Oh my god,” Farrokh said, covering his mouth, shuddering to think of what she had been going through.
She smiled weakly. “So, when I moved into this building to be closer to the hospital, I couldn’t stand the thought of people seeing me this way — I just didn’t want to interact with anyone. I picked up that whole old man outfit from thrift stores because that’s how I felt, like an old man who could barely walk out to the mailbox, and I figured people would just ignore an old man — like people always do. And pretty much everyone did. That is, until you saw me one morning.”
“Oh I’m sorry…” Farrokh stammered.
“Don’t be sorry, Farrokh,” she said gently. “You were so kind, and so sincere. You stopped to talk to me, to help me, when no one else did. I didn’t expect or want help, but your kindness and gentleness really touched me. You always had a pleasant word for me, and if I had a hard time getting to the mailbox, you always waited for me, even in the dead of winter. It melted my heart.”
“I had no idea,” Farrokh said softly.
“I know, silly,” Eto smiled. “I knew I wanted to meet you. But if I introduced myself in person it could get really awkward about why I couldn’t see you. I knew you were on this dating app, so I made a profile with some of my favorite cosplay outfits that covered up all of my scars and ports.”
“But how did you know which dating app I was on?” Farrokh asked.
“Well, the walls are pretty thin — I’ve heard you complain about this one plenty of times to your friends,” she laughed.
“Wait, so you’re my neighbor?” he asked, incredulous.
“I’m right downstairs!” she said brightly, tossing a ball up to the ceiling so Farrokh could hear the soft thunk from below.
“So then we can get together in person, this is wonderful!” Farrokh said brightly.
“No, Farrokh,” she said grimly, casting her eyes down and bringing her knees up to her body, looking away from the camera. “My immune system is fucked. I can’t see anyone. The only time I leave my apartment is to go to the mailboxes or the hospital, and I’m wearing multiple masks underneath my scarf when I do that. Not until my chemo is over — and that’s at least three months. Besides, I’m so weak right now, I can’t even be on calls for more than an hour before I completely tire out. It could be a year before I’m back to full strength, and that’s only if the cancer’s in remission.”
“Oh…” Farrokh said, his face falling.
“Yeah,” she said, a note of bitterness in her voice. She hugged her knees to herself, still looking away from the camera. “So there you have it. I’m just a bald girl with cancer who wanted to talk to a cute boy. So now you know, and I guess we don’t need to continue this charade any further.”
“Well hang on,” he said, blinking as he searched rapidly for a way to save the connection. “I’m tall like corn, right?”
“What?” she said, looking up at him.
“I mean, at the mailboxes, I’m tall like corn, and can reach your packages. So, you’re like bean, then, and you can use me for support, right?”
“Okaaaaaay,” she said, her voice brightening just a little, “But how is bean helping you? This bean doesn’t want to be a parasite,” she said, her voice turning bitter again.
“Because of the underground,” he said, more firm in his footing, and smiling now. “You help me unlock fantasies like you did yesterday — I’ve never felt something that intense over video, or maybe ever, before.”
“Oh, well, then, now we’re getting somewhere,” she said, smiling again. “But what about squash?”
“Oh, uh…” Farrokh racked his brain trying to come up with something. “Well maybe Mr. Otis is squash!”
“Mr. Otis!!” Eto was laughing out loud now. “But Mr. Otis is me!”
“Well, uh, squash covers the ground, right, protecting the soil from pests, right?” he continued.
“Yes…?” she said quizzically.
“Well Mr. Otis is the one that goes out into the cold and gets the pills you need, protecting you, right?” he continued.
“Hahaha,” she laughed, “That’s a stretch, but I’ll allow it. You’ve clearly been reading up on the three sisters. I would have expected nothing less from you.”
“I have,” Farrokh said brightly, “Wikipedia is my friend.”
“But Farrokh,” Eto said, serious again. “Are you really willing to wait that long? And who knows what’s going to happen with this cancer…”
“Yes, Eto, some things are worth waiting for, even if they’re not certain, even if they’re very slow,” Farrokh said, and pausing, continued with a smile. “Our vegetable love should grow / Vaster than empires, but more slow,” he said, placing particular emphasis on the word ‘vegetable.’
“Oooh,” she said, smiling again, “Andrew Marvell, taking it so old school, yet so very apt.” She gestured to the squash, bean, and corn costumes around her before continuing again. “But quoting poetry to me, you know what that can do — aren’t you afraid old Mr. Otis will hear you?”
“Fuck Mr. Otis,” Farrokh said with a laugh.
Eto laughed. “Well, if things go our way, Farrokh, maybe someday that just might be possible. Until then, shall we say, same time, tomorrow morning?”
“Indeed, Eto, same time sounds perfect,” he said with a smile as they both ended the call.