This Magazine

Progressive politics, ideas & culture

January-February 2024


Alana Dunlop

A collage depicts bleach being poured into soup, two women about to kiss, a DIY tattoo setup, and other shenanigans

It’s actually pretty hard to construct a good lie. I learned this when I was sitting in a beige hospital chair, my skinny arm outstretched, purple at the spot where the wiry IV cord met my skin. I was in one of those Phase 0 studies for money, the kind where you have to stop smoking and drinking for a month in order to pass the health check. They were testing an antiviral drug, letting it bubble through my body, even though it had only been tried on rats previously. When you’re sitting around waiting for a reaction to happen, you can’t help thinking up lies. I’m a pilot. I’m good at crosswords. I like the same music as you. I feel like a stable human being.

Bridget sat in the chair across from me. “I don’t believe you,” she said. She had a purple cast that glowed in the dark. I wondered how she was eligible for this study with a broken limb. She struck me as the type of girl to worm her way into anything; she was short, and blonde, with bleached eyebrows and big boobs that I was jealous of. We got bored in the hospital, Bridget and I. It was a week-long study, and the dog- faced nurse wouldn’t let us look at our phones because it would “mess up the EKG.” I couldn’t figure out what heart-leaping content she thought we were consuming. All we got to do was walk around the research wing of the hospital, which looked so new it could have been a plastic reconstruction of a hospital, enlarged to life-sized. The other option was to write in the grey striped notebook that Bridget stole from the hospital gift shop, but I couldn’t write, it was like the antiviral drug was chipping away at my brain. Most of the time we just opted to sit and stare at each other. She was beautiful and I didn’t mind.

Bridget started telling me more and more about herself. As she talked she scrunched her nose so it wrinkled like a sea shell. Her dad was a multimillionaire. He made all his money from a multi-level marketing scheme for weight-loss milkshakes, and then he bought an island in the Atlantic Ocean. He met his second wife in Terminal 1 of Chicago O’Hare on a 24-hour layover to Berlin. Her dad doesn’t talk to her anymore because she shared an article about a lawsuit against his company on Facebook. She had played soccer all her life and realized she was gay when a girl tackled her and held her down by her ponytail. One time when she was 12 she spat in a boy’s eye after he tried to grope her. A known sex offender had once driven her to the gas station. All her cool artist friends called her Hands, because she’s really ambidextrous. She needed the money from this study to revive her band Bareback’s career after they had lost all their equipment in a fire.

I’d never met anyone so exciting. She stretched her body across the chair, her pale stomach twisting and bending like a snake. Her eyelashes were orange and long, streaking the window when she pressed her face against it to see the sunset. When she laughed her bellybutton blinked, like it was laughing too.

When Bridget and I finished the study, the dog-faced nurse scowled at us and gave us our clothes back in Pharmaprix plastic bags. We walked out the squeaky glass hospital doors and Bridget turned to me and asked to move in, just for a bit, until she could find a suitable van. I still lived with my ex- girlfriend. We were civil, but often the atmosphere was tense, the air prickly and heavy, like at any moment lightning could rip through the apartment. I tried my best not to eavesdrop on her conversations with her online therapist, whose crackly voice carried through the thin wall between our rooms. I was saving up to move out, and not just out of the apartment but abroad, I wanted to go to Ireland, I wanted to go to grad school for writing. But when Bridget asked me, I said yes. You can’t say no to Bridget.

Bridget was messy. She left half-eaten bowls of pasta, crusted with red sauce, all over the living room. She sang loudly and slightly off-key at all hours of the day. She slept like a skydiver, all her limbs flailing out, spanning the couch like she was perpetually in a state of free-fall. She became interested in tattooing and ordered a needle on Amazon, piled the living room with sketches and bottles of ink. My skin was always sore because I let her tattoo me. It felt good when she clutched my arm in her bony hand. My ex-girlfriend, sighing while eyeing the disaster in our living room, called her Behemoth Bridget.

Sometimes I felt like she was trying to take over my life. She wore my clothes. She started talking the same way I did, mimicking my Ontarian accent, popping “like” and “literally” into all her sentences. I even caught Bridget telling my ex a story that I had told her during the study, a story about me, except she pretended that it was her story, that the events had happened to her. I pointed it out, but Bridget was so animated, so convincing, that my ex believed her more. So when Bridget tattooed on herself the same tattoo she’d given me, a crooked black heart on her hipbone, then showed it to me proudly, exclaiming “I did mine even better than I did yours!” I told her it looked like shit. She asked me for money to get it removed, since she spent all of hers on the tattoo gun. For the first time since I’d met her, I told her no, and I watched her face contort with defeat, like a crumpled bedsheet.

I was preparing for a new study when I caught Bridget with my ex. I was eating healthy, vaping instead of smoking, drinking water, not writing but thinking about it. I came home from a run and heard Bridget whimpering, a high-pitched squeak, and I knew she was having sex with my ex on the same bed I used to, and I knew she was doing it to bug me. I heard my ex yell, cartoonishly: “Bridget, you’re so emotionally mature and great at hooking up!” I was sure Bridget had told her to say that. Later that day, I pushed my ear to the wall and heard my ex telling her online therapist that it was so easy to be with Bridget, easy in a way it never was with me. Bridget was fun, and uninhibited, and she didn’t ask for much. “But she’s very giving in bed,” my ex added, giggling. That’s when I decided I was done.

I told Bridget she had two weeks to find a new place to live. She stuck her tongue out at me. The next two weeks were punctuated with Behemoth Bridget pouring bleach in my cereal, Behemoth Bridget leaving her socks on my pillow, Behemoth Bridget calling me a cunt, Behemoth Bridget hanging sausages on strings from the ceiling, Behemoth Bridget burning holes in the walls with a Zippo lighter, Behemoth Bridget screaming because Bareback was booking gigs, Behemoth Bridget leaning in close to my face, telling me to kiss her, and then jumping away when my lips were so close to touching hers. Then laughing at the desire and the dread plastered across my face.

I was fed up and decided to Google her. Bridget Bartholomew. She was from Kelowna, B.C. She didn’t cover her tracks. Her dad was looking for her. He had never been to Chicago. Bareback released an Instagram statement claiming they don’t know and have never known Bridget Bartholomew. Nothing of Bridget Bartholomew’s had ever burned. She had

a court date in two weeks for grand theft auto. In pixelated newspaper photos, Bridget Bartholomew is captured on a security camera, popping the door off a chrome Mitsubishi and going for a joyride. Watching her sprawled out on the couch, orange eyelashes draped on her cheeks, I didn’t know whether I loved her or hated her. I sent her dad a Facebook message before I could think twice. I dropped a pin so he would know exactly where to find her.

Behemoth Bridget left my apartment in a cop car. I thought she would put up a fight, kick and scream, scratch at the officers’ eyeballs, but she was silent, glowering at me from the window. I watched the car disappear over the Van Horne bridge, its red and blue lights blurring into the glow of duplexes in the distance. I didn’t know it at the time, but she had my credit card in the back pocket of her jeans. The whole way back to Michigan, where she would go to reunite with her dad and await her trial, she was tapping viciously on her cracked iPhone screen, her nails clicking against the glass, buying things I couldn’t afford: a VacPack machine, a $1,000 men’s razor, a 100-year-old bottle of wine. She bid on Liz Phair’s underwear on eBay and won. She donated $200 apiece to random right-wing political campaigns, and I was spammed with emails from a mayor in Florida thanking me profusely. She bought a star in Orion’s Belt and named it after me, texted me a photo of the certificate. She sealed my fate for me: my credit score plummeted. I couldn’t move out. My ex and I stayed living together, stewing in the sour air of her absence. She did all this, I imagine, with a soft smile on her face, thumbing the embossed letters on the card which spelled out my name.

I think about Bridget sometimes, imagine kissing her lips, running my fingers from her forehead to the split ends at the bottom of her hair. I imagine what I’d say to her, if I were to call her and reach her in Michigan or jail or in some other girl’s apartment. I’ve thought about it constantly, sifted through all the lies, jotted them down in the grey striped notebook she gave me, started to form sentences, alternative realities, positioned myself inside them, tried to explain the complete destruction of my life, the debt, the times I’ve cried on the phone to sympathetic but useless Toronto-Dominion Bank employees, the times my pen ran out of ink in my hurried longing to understand her. I’ve finally figured it out. I would say: “Listen, you are a mean, bitter girl,” then pause for dramatic effect, “but that was a brilliant story.”

Alana Dunlop is a writer, poet, and McGill University graduate, born and raised in small-town Ontario. Her work has been published in Contemporary Verse 2, Yolk Literary, Open Book, and PACE Magazine, among others. Her debut poetry chapbook Feels Good, Doesn’t Hurt was recently published by Cactus Press. She is currently working on a short story collection exploring queer subcultures in Montreal, generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts.

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