by Angela Caravan I saw the ad for pen pals at least a few times a day. A clean-cut, governmental-looking placement with soft tinkling piano music. It popped in and out of my Instagram feed or followed me on websites. Find a friend on the other side. You may have more in common than you think. That evening, it twinkled in and out of my vision on the TV as I sautéed onions for dinner. I couldn’t be bothered to skip the ads and soon, I found myself humming the song, “A friend from the other side, ooo… ooo… we could get to know each other.” I couldn’t tell if they had hired someone to write the song for this in particular, or if they had just hunted down some indie soft rock about long distance friendship. The image on the screen was of people happily texting on their phones or showing their loved ones something that had popped up. The text at the end was placed over a wide shot of space. It seemed easy, lighthearted. Not any kind of real commitment at all. Simpler than other in-person friendships, even. I started to daydream as I cooked, visualizing my phone alight with messages from my new best friend from another planet. Someone I could talk to about anything. I’d tell them what I was cooking that day, and I’d say goodnight to them before bed. They’d tell me when they were feeling stressed and when they got a promotion at work. They’d describe to me the special meal they bought in celebration. I plated my own veggies and tofu in a thoughtful arrangement just thinking about it. Someone to share things with, that’s all it was. It didn’t have to be more than that. I ate my meal on the sofa while watching the last half of a soapy teen drama. My mind drifted between the dialogue, wondering about the ad again. It was kind of embarrassing to think about it. I didn’t know anyone else who was doing it. The few times it had come up in conversation at work, the response was always, “I don’t know… seems a bit weird to me that it’s all through the government,” or, “I wouldn’t even know what to talk about. Seems stressful.” Nobody seemed to be going for it, despite the ad touting, “over 500,000 connected.” I decided to open up the form and have a look, just to see what the commitment would require. I navigated to the webpage and was a little thrown back to see a simple form with just a name and phone number field. The page also informed me that all messages would be translated as received through an automated program I scooped up my last bits of tofu, put down my bowl, and filled it out. It was an immediate relief to have made some kind of decision about the matter, and I pulled my focus back to the show. Not two minutes later, there was a buzz on my phone. A message from an odd, short number just said, “You have been connected with TEMA.” I didn’t respond. I thought it best for them to go first. And soon enough, they did. Hello Hi You’re Lana? I’m Tema. yep hi tema What is it like up there? what do you mean? like on Earth? Yes. i don’t know any different i suppose Well, maybe you will after we talk. yeah maybe I don’t even know what to ask. It’s so weird. I wish I could just show you, but I guess thats not part of the rules. yeah, why is that? it seems kind of weird I think it takes a lot of data. Easier to limit it to text for this many people, across this distance. i guess that makes sense Maybe they don’t want to overwhelm us. There was a bit of pause for a while as we both figured out where to go from there. But after a few minutes, my phone lit up again. I could describe something to you? Something small, to start. ok. how about… your shoe. or whatever it is you wear on your feet There was another long pause, but I saw the dots moving. They were typing something long. On my foot is a soft material. I wear these when I am inside. There are different coverings when I go outside. These inside foot covers are light and flexible. They are made from a material that was created in a factory, but that is meant to seem similar to a material that is made from a plant. I can take them on and off very easily because they are soft. When I touch the material, it compresses in my hand because it is fluffy. I can squish it together and feel the texture of the material more closely. When I squish it, I can feel how the pieces of the material hold it together. How there are some parts that are not so soft hidden under the soft parts so you can hardly tell that is what is really holding it together. I am wearing these on my feet because it is cold outside and because it is generally socially acceptable when you are inside. I don’t feel them on my feet most of the time, even though they are soft. The softness is what allows me to not feel them. But now, as I think about them, I do feel them. They are pressing against my foot on all sides and I almost, now, feel an impulse to take them off. I reached down and touched my sock as I read this long paragraph, scrolling to catch it all. I felt the fabric between my fingers and how it was soft but also thin. Not plushy, as I imagined theirs to be. I had not felt it on my foot as well, until now. I squished the fabric beneath my fingers, touching the firm elastic underneath, and felt very small.
Angela Caravan is a settler on unceded Coast Salish territory (Vancouver, BC), and writes both poetry and fiction. She is the author of the micro-chapbook Landing (post ghost press). Her work has also appeared in Broken Pencil, Pulp Literature, Sad Mag, and more. She is the editor of the Decameron Writing Series and the publisher at Bell Press. You can find her on Twitter at @a_caravan or at her website angelacaravan.com.