Sean Gandert


Sean Gandert is the author of Lost in Arcadia and the forthcoming novel American Saint.

Screen Watching

The first time Karl saw Andrea Dimas was at the Century Rio 24 movie theater on April 18, 2011. He was out with Austin, Jesse, and Jesse's fiancé Victoria, and it was easy for him to pull up the exact date because he'd kept the ticket stub, as he did for every movie he saw. He'd been keeping them since middle school, ticket stubs for movies, concerts, events of any sort, organized by type and chronology in one of several binders taking up almost a row on his bookshelf. Aside from when he carefully slipped them into the scrapbooking binders' plastic sleeves, Karl never looked at them, but despite this their accumulation felt important. They offered concrete evidence of who he was, what he'd accomplished. More usefully, he also had the stubs listed on a spreadsheet, with annotations in case he needed to recall the specifics of an experience. Under that day's listing for the movie Titans, he'd written, "So-so picture, but trailer for Heroine looks exciting."

After the flick, they stopped by the Frontier for enchiladas and soda, accompanied by a discussion of plot holes and how closely the movie had stuck to Greek mythology, though none of this made it onto Karl's computer. Another thing it failed to note was that the trailer for Heroine wouldn't leave his head, that it haunted Karl's dreams for the next week. Heroine was adapted from a YA series about a world where certain teenagers learned they had superpowers and used these to either create or stop a dystopic new world order. The specifics, in the trailer at least, were vague to the point of unimportance. What wasn't was Andrea Dimas' beauty and poise, the lead actress who at 22-years-old was already being trusted with this multi-million (or possibly billion) dollar franchise. Karl couldn't even say what about her had him transfixed. She was pretty, but so was the lead actress in Titans, so was the lead in every movie. Her dark brown locks and babyish face were only minutely different from half a dozen other models and actresses, even in the same trailer. But from the moment he saw her on that 72-foot screen, Karl knew Andrea was what he'd always wanted women to look like, act like, be like. At least, the character she played was.

After seeing that trailer, Karl hunted down the one movie Andrea had acted in as a lead before then, an indie drama called Split Down the Middle that won awards and accolades at Sundance but was not one of the 57 movies he'd managed to see during 2011. From James Bond to Spider-Man, Karl had always liked action, movies where men risked their lives through car chases and exploding buildings to get the girl and save the world. Split Down the Middle, with its characters working jobs even more boring than Karl's own receptional drudgery, hadn't seemed like his type of thing. And while that turned out to be true, Andrea Dimas was spectacular in it. Powerful yet vulnerable, tough yet feminine, she made the movie and its tedious family drama something he watched over and over again. Karl put it on in the background at least several times a week, often muted so he didn't have to hear as Andrea tried to keep her screaming family from breaking apart. It was perfect background viewing while playing through an MMO raid or heating up dinner. Andrea Dimas should've won the Oscar for it, she'd been robbed.

When Heroine's release date finally approached, he asked Austin, Jesse, and Cisco, guys he'd known since middle school or earlier and who'd stayed in Albuquerque like he had, whether they wanted to catch a screening. Karl wasn't surprised the answer was no, since they liked the same sort of flicks he did, and while Heroine clearly had fight scenes and an impressive CGI budget, it was a "girl movie." It felt odd walking into the theater alone, his hands filled with a free oversized popcorn bucket and 72 oz. soda (courtesy of Cinemark's rewards program) as if he had someone to share them with. Everyone else in the audience was a group of loud friends or a couple snuggling together across a plastic armrest, and looking around the theater before trailers started he felt antisocial and a little bit ashamed. But Heroine would be better this way. Not knowing anyone else in the theater meant he could lose himself in the picture; he wouldn't have to control himself or feel self-conscious about the emotions it might stir in him. His communion with the screen, with Andrea Dimas, would be unmediated, untainted.

Karl was not disappointed. If anything, Andrea was even better here than in Split Down the Middle. and her role as the superhero whose choices would determine the fate of the entire world (over the course of the next three sequels) was more fitting to her talents, her utter specialness in a world of bland dopes like himself, than a prestige drama. He couldn't explain why, but Heroine seemed like a message directly from her to him. Over the next month he watched Heroine four more times and then, when it looked like it was going to move out of Rio's biggest 3-D IMAX  theater to make way for newer releases, he spent an entire Saturday in the theater, walking in with the matinee and staying until the last credits rolled at 12:20 AM. The movie wasn't perfect, he understood that, would've insisted on its flaws were anyone to ask him about it. But Andrea? In almost every frame her shoulder-length hair glistened in the light, swaying past her mischievous smile and intelligent eyes as she made the tough-but-ultimately-right choice in each situation, never losing her humanity despite the horrors she faced. Andrea very well might be perfect, or at least as close to perfect as any human being could come.

During the months between Heroine's theatrical and home video releases, Karl founded a website focused on Andrea Dimas. He collected all of the press and promotional stills for her movies and scanned every photograph of her that appeared in magazines. He kept his eyes peeled for announcements of her public appearances and then ripped videos of these from television, posting them on the site. His website would be the ultimate Andrea Dimas fan page, not just some creepy image board to lech about another beautiful Hollywood starlet, but a place for fans like him, the few who understood how special Andrea was.

The website had no problem attracting traffic. This wasn't entirely unexpected, since Andrea was a movie star, the movie star. Still, it felt good to know his site was, by nearly all accounts, the best one focused on her, in fact one of the best focused on any individual actor. He was respected by her other fans as an authority on the subject, and their own rips and photo submissions made it much easier to keep the site up to date. The forum soon eclipsed the rest of the site in importance, finally giving him someone else to talk with about Andrea, from thoughts on her latest red carpet dress to speculation about future projects to arguing about who she should date next. While forum topics rarely strayed far from Andrea, after hundreds of posts back and forth he began to know the site's regulars almost as well as he knew his old friends. Karl could tell whether a post was written by xiX0R or Bob~McFred without having to read their username. The forum's community grew from a couple hundred to more than a thousand within the month.

As his website and interest in Andrea grew, Karl stopped seeing the guys as frequently as before. For some reason he didn't want to tell them about her, to even mention her name in front of them. Karl found himself turning down invitations to meet Cisco and Jesse at the Marble Taproom and Gecko's, he even began opting out of their weekly flick. He didn't feel bad about these absences though, because his relationship with Andrea was real, too, and it had expanded past those first two films and into Overworld, The Head and the Heart, Heroines, Overworld: Beyond, The Last Heroines Part I, American Dream, and The City Sleeps at Night. Andrea's roles were always a version of herself, a new facet that helped him understand her complex yet indestructible spirit. This wasn't a limitation of her acting ability like some trolls online claimed, rather it was a recognition by directors and producers that what people wanted to see was Andrea herself—she didn't disappear into roles, she brought them to life.

After hitting 10,000 pictures of Andrea on the website, Karl began organizing them in spreadsheets. Andrea on runways. Andrea in posed stills. Andrea caught candidly (his favorite set). Andrea in black dresses, her laughing, her smiling. With some assistance from TS~Gromald, a forum regular with programming expertise, he made the entire archive cross-referenceable by these various criteria. Soon after the updated galleries went live,—he'd managed to nab this url so early that the actress's own publicity site was relegated to—achieved a milestone: over one million unique visitors in a single month. By this point the website was Karl's main focus on weekends and most evenings. Before starting it, he would've assumed there wasn't enough news about a single actress to fill all of this time, nor any star more important than meeting up with the guys or making it to Jesse's wedding (though out of guilt Karl had spent an extravagant amount on their wedding gift), but between paparazzies and rumors and romantic dalliances, keeping up with her coverage was an endless task. It wasn't Karl's fault Jesse and Victoria's wedding was up in the Jemez mountains rather than somewhere with a decent internet connection.

When Bradley Deakins cheated on Andrea, Karl sold every Deakins flick he owned back to Hastings. Deakins was trash, pure and simple, and Karl felt guilty for not destroying the discs, especially after the clerk told him how little the store was willing to exchange them for. When Karl returned home with a couple used movies and a Junior Mints in exchange for the seven he'd sold, there was a new topic in the forum that confirmed Karl's fears about being away from the site. In it, the user Tenebrous_Zedz doxed Andrea, revealing her phone number, email address, home address. Tenebrous_Zedz stopped short of posting passwords and bank account numbers, and because of this claimed the doxing was "friendly," but clearly he'd gone far across the line. 

Completely pissed off, Karl opened his site's admin tool, unable to shake the feeling that in some way he'd facilitated this violation. He pulled up the specific post to delete it, but paused for a moment first to copy-and-paste all of its information into another document. Just in case. The important thing was that it didn't get into the wrong hands, it shouldn't matter whether Karl had it or not. He felt vindicated banning Tenebrous_Zedz, a surge of adrenaline rushing through his body as his index finger pressed down and his mouse made a satisfying click.

The banning proved controversial, and some members of the site protested Karl's "censorship." After two days of contemplation about the whole scandal while the site's users argued about the morality of both what Karl and Tenebrous_Zedz had done, Karl allowed Tenebrous_Zedz back, who explained, "I just thought other Andrea fans would be interested. Information should be free, what's wrong with that?"

Now Karl saw the forum in a different light. It was obvious many visitors, even forum regulars, weren't like him. Their interests in Andrea were puerile and objectifying. It was even possible he'd been guilty of this himself at times, though if so he was long past that now. Andrea was not just some masturbation fodder but a person with her own ideas and interests, a three-dimensional human worthy of respect and privacy—perhaps more worthy than anyone else. He had a theory, one he was too embarrassed to even write on the forum, that Andrea's physical beauty was an outer manifestation of her soul. He hadn't even believed in souls before her, but now there seemed like no other explanation.

Bradley Deakins wasn't the only man unworthy of her—after all, who was? Every few weeks Andrea was photographed on the arm of another leading man, and while Jeeves1981 and Wolf^^King might make jokes about this, to Karl it made sense. She was searching for someone as luminous as she was, and unfortunately they simply didn't exist. He wasn't nearly so presumptuous as to think he should be with her, to even be in her presence, but dealing with these philistines, these so-called Andrea Dimas fans, gave him the desire to go one step further and contact her. He needed to tell her how special she was, not just in general but in a way specific to him and his own life. Karl maintained the website, and kept in constant contact with a few members who seemed to understand Andrea the way he did, but he didn't post on the forums nearly as often as before. Instead, he began writing her.

Karl's first letter was short. "Dear Andrea Dimas," it said. "I'm a huge fan of your work and I just wanted to let you know how much your acting means to me. Yours, Karl Mondragon." He wanted to say more, so much more, but anything else seemed intrusive. Even that small message went through a dozen drafts before Karl discovered a way of expressing himself as truthfully yet inoffensively as possible. The last part of the letter, the valediction, took him forever. "Sincerely" was too formal and strange, "Best" too casual, "Yours Truly" too earnest. He desperately wanted to write love. Karl felt more connection with Andrea than he had with any of the women he'd dated in high school or college, even more than with Molly Lewis, who he'd spent two years with after graduation, Molly Lewis who he'd lived with and woken up next to every morning until she told him she was afraid their relationship wasn't headed anywhere and that she needed "more in life than he could offer." But Karl knew love wasn't what you should say when first greeting someone, that in this context it was strangely poisonous. The letter finally perfect, he mailed it off to the address he'd learned from Tenebrous_Zedz.

Karl told himself not to expect a response, because Andrea had more important things to do with her time than to answer every fawning fan letter. Admittedly, fans weren't supposed to know where she lived, but there was no way he was the only one with this information—probably half the forum had it saved on their hard drives before he'd removed the post. Andrea must receive hundreds, perhaps thousands of letters each week, so the idea that she'd respond to any of them was ludicrous. A month later, though, Karl found he was still hurt about never receiving so much as a "Thank you" headshot in return. It seemed odd, because Andrea was always so gracious on television, so willing to go out of her way for fans whether that meant waving to them from a red carpet or taking a selfie when asked on the street. Maybe his first letter had gone unnoticed, or perhaps it had been lost in the mail and never even reached her. There was no way to find out where it had ended up, and he still felt the need for Andrea to read it, to understand that she had touched him personally. The only choice was to send her another letter.

For the second letter, Karl printed out another copy of the first and sent it again. Simply tucking this one in its envelope, licking the sweet glue on its seal, and lifting his mailbox's red flag straight into the air had a magic perhaps even stronger than the first time. While Karl reassured himself again that he shouldn't become too invested in a response, he also felt his persistence should pay off. A week later he sent another one, just in case.

While waiting, Karl refocused on his job as an "office assistant" at a dental clinic, which was a fancy way of saying receptionist. He stayed late, and gave more of a damn about all the stupid little requests that filled up his days than he had since realizing only a few months into the job how little he could do without anyone noticing. He tried to be an ideal employee, smiling and answering the phone for reservations in a chipper voice, talking patients into x-rays (the real moneymaker for the clinic) as if he thought it mattered. This didn't last, though, as his anxiety about the letters only grew. 10 weeks after sending the third letter, he called in sick and spent the day back on his recently neglected website, updating its pictures and videos, responding to forum requests, and immersing himself in Andrea's world again. When Jesse texted him for the first time in weeks, maybe even months, asking if Karl wanted to meet up at Marble or the catch new Chris Pratt flick, Karl told him he was so sick he couldn't make it out to the theater.

The letters Karl sent were no longer restrained. Maybe that was the problem, maybe his letters had been lost among the rest because they said nothing unique, His new letters were long and rambling, half diary and half commentary on her latest movie or talk show appearance. His eighth letter began:


Dear Andrea

Last night I decided to watch American Dream again and it was the craziest thing because you looked amazing in it just fantastic, especially in the second scene where your wearing that long blue dress that's like an ocean swimming from your shoulders down onto the ground, especially when the wind comes up and it's like woosh, flowing all about you and you give Blake MacDonald that little smile, you know the one, the same one you gave in the second Heroine movie only here I thought it made more sense because the screenwriters weren't just trying to jam it in. But yeah the reason why I was watching American Dream was because I wanted to dream about you, and it happened, it really did and even though I know we don't control our dreams I still think maybe the movie had something to do with it. And in the dream you were sitting there, across from my mother at the dental office and Dr. Miller, who's awful because he's the only one there who makes you call him Doctor  . . .


He signed them "Love, Karl," because he was done playing coy, it was time for complete honesty. Some people might be judgmental or even afraid of these letters. Andrea, though, would understand that they weren't aggressive, he just wanted to open up some sort of dialogue with her. It felt like she was always speaking directly to him, whether in magazine interviews or movie monologues, that her jokes and catchphrases were meant specifically for his ears. Now, he felt like they were almost having a conversation. Karl sent off the next letter before the last one could have possibly arrived. They bulged past the capacity of business envelopes and soon required manila envelopes and a row of stamps; word counts inflated from 500 to 5,000.

No response came. At the end of a long day at work, a dental hygienist noticed Karl writing a letter on his Hansen Dental Office company computer. Fortunately, she seemed to think it was just an ordinary email, not a fan letter, though he was still embarrassed about the truth being so nearly uncovered—he'd always been careful not to check his website on the office computer, restricting that to his phone while at work. The next day he and the other three assistants received emails detailing that office time was not to be used for personal communications. Karl spent one last feverish night writing a message so long he ran out of ink halfway through printing, then shoved it into an envelope marked with two rows of Spider-Man forever stamps on his way out the door. On the drive over to a groggy day of work, he made himself promise not to write any more to Andrea. She still wasn't answering, and he needed to move on.

Without the letters, Karl's life felt dull, almost pointless. Maintaining the website was a slog, especially since the forum was no longer much of a community and more a group of savages writing fanfiction about nipple slips. Work was even worse, and for the first time since starting at Hansen's Karl wondered why he stayed there, in a position he'd stumbled into right after college that was supposed to be temporary but ended up the only job he'd had as an adult. Looking at Craigslist, though, nothing he was qualified for sounded any better. When the weekend finally arrived, he texted the guys, asking if they had any interest in hitting up the new X-Men movie or heading to La Cumbre, but after an hour sitting at the bar, listening to his friends tell the same stories they'd been telling since high school, he was bored there too. Karl spent the rest of the weekend mostly in bed.

The following Tuesday, one of the other office assistants announced she was newly engaged and, with that, put in her two weeks. She explained that her fiance was moving to Los Angeles and she was going with him. As she showed off her ring to the office, with even Dr. Miller congratulating her on the good news, Karl realized he'd been going about this all wrong. In order to get noticed he needed a grand gesture, to send Andrea something she couldn't ignore.

Karl spent the next week browsing jewelry on Etsy. Nothing was good enough, so he began making clandestine trips to jewelry stores around town, awkwardly pretending it was for his girlfriend when store clerks began asking too many questions. He already knew her taste in jewelry from the thousands of pictures he'd compiled, and he wanted a necklace to compliment the long, blue or black gowns she preferred for events. Maybe, if he chose just right, one day he would see her wearing his necklace, his perfect gift, on screen. No one else would know it was from him, that she was grateful to this unknown gift giver and wished to acknowledge this by wearing it in public. That would be all the thanks he'd ask from her.

The necklace he picked out was $11,995 from a store in Old Town. It had a gold chain and was set with sapphires, a simple design of interlocking bands he thought would look elegant resting above the curves of her neck and chest. This was a small compromise, as he'd found one he thought was slightly superior for $43,500 in Santa Fe, almost the same but with a different curve to the pendant and larger, purportedly better cut sapphires (he was no expert). But Karl stopped himself from heading down that direction because its price was more than he earned in a year. $12,000 was already a hefty sum, far more than his life's savings, a Bank of America checking account holding $4,212 he'd been slowly adding to since college. But after deciding against the more expensive necklace, Karl was determined not to compromise again. Andrea would be sent the necklace she deserved, the necklace that represented how he felt far better than any of those letters had.

Karl sold for $1,500 to a member of the forum with the username InsatiableGravy and whose real name turned out to be, coincidentally, Carl. More importantly, he no longer needed to pay hosting and bandwidth fees. But that wasn't nearly enough, so Karl sold his car on Craigslist for an additional $1,600 before beginning the hunt for part time work.

After a month of searching, he interviewed for a cashier position at T.J. Maxx. Karl spoke in awkward, halting phrases during his interview with an older male manager wearing khakis and a threadbare button-down shirt. The manager looked on the verge of falling asleep throughout their interview, but to Karl's surprise he still managed to get hired. He worked 16 tedious and exhausting hours there every weekend (plus an hour bus ride each way). Karl kept this job secret from both the dental office and his friends, not that he'd seen them for a while. The T.J. Maxx he worked at was on the west side of the Rio Grande, far from where he lived. When Austin did in fact wander in during Karl's second weekend, he took an early lunch break and then hid in the bathroom. He didn't want his friend asking about why he needed the money, especially since Austin was one of those guys who, if he was concerned enough, might talk to Karl's mother.

Four months later, Karl had enough saved up to make the purchase and put in his two-week’s notice. He anxiously waited for his final paycheck to be deposited, then rushed to the jewelry store where he was thrilled to find the necklace was still for sale. At home, he opened its black felt box and laid its 18-karat gold chain onto his stained particle board coffee table. Sapphires gleamed off the dim light of his TV set, muted on the other side of the room. He fastened it around his neck and looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. He took a picture of himself wearing it with his phone and nuzzled its cold, heavy pendant against his scratchy ten-day-old beard. He compared it to the photos he'd taken of it in the jewelry store and the image he'd photoshopped of Andrea wearing it around her own neck. The necklace did not disappoint.

During the next week, Karl only took it off for showers. It had the aura of Andrea about it, even though she was yet to wear it herself, and that more than made up for the extra hours he'd put in, the months of unrelenting exhaustion. Despite reluctance about packing it up and sending it out, eventually he forced himself to do so. He wrapped the black felt box in bubble wrap and placed it inside a larger cardboard box, addressing the package with a label printed from his computer so there could be no mistakes. He paid extra at the post office for insurance and tracking, feeling, as he dropped it into the bin, as if he were sending a piece of himself through the mail.

He slept restlessly for the next few nights. He stayed away from the forums, but the first thing he did after arriving home from work was to check out the latest photos of her, paying particular attention to the necklaces she wore, all of which seemed vastly inferior to the one he'd sent. Five days later at 2:13 PM, a time Karl carefully recorded in his Andrea Dimas spreadsheet, Karl's phone buzzed, notifying him of an email stating her assistant had signed for the package. Karl rushed to the office restroom while ignoring a strange look from the head assistant—it seemed like he'd been giving a lot of those looks lately, but since he hadn't actually offered Karl any sort of reprimand, Karl had been pretending he didn't notice. He locked himself into the bathroom stall and read over the full email several times, even though it was just official USPS language. He teared up, then dried his eyes with toilet paper. This wasn't like the letters, this time he knew his token of affection had entered her house. It might be years before she wore it, but it seemed inevitable that she would. That was all that mattered.

Something about knowing her assistant accepted the necklace made him feel almost like she'd already worn it—after all, there was no way of knowing she hadn't. Perhaps she wore it when she was alone, or privately with friends. Maybe she was simply looking for the right outfit to match its beauty. After Hansen's cut him back to part time, Karl found himself spending what used to be his work days arguing with the idiots posting on general celebrity websites, many of whom hated Andrea, saying she was stuck-up and kind of dumb as if they had any idea about anything about her. These flame wars were so emotionally draining he was glad not to be at work for more than 20 hours a week, even if it meant he no longer had health benefits. And the economy was bad, everyone knew that, so they'd just needed to cut back the hours of a few employees, it was nothing personal. Sometimes he wondered what his friends were doing, and went onto Facebook to see pictures from Jesse's wedding or Austin's recent camping trip with some girl Karl had never met. It looked like Jesse's wife Victoria was pregnant, but it seemed more awkward to say congratulations about this when it was no longer news than to stay silent. Not telling him about this had just been an oversight because of how busy Jesse had been with the wedding and the pregnancy and—also learned from Facebook—the new job. Sometimes life became so busy you didn't have time for friends, he understood that better than anyone.

Almost six months after the package arrived, Karl sat down to watch an episode of Conan on which Andrea Dimas was the first guest. He'd sat through hundreds of interviews just like this ever since that first trailer, but they'd become more exciting than ever. The moment when she appeared from backstage wasn't just the entrance of the world's most radiant woman, it held the possibility of finally seeing her wear the necklace.

When Andrea entered, she wore a form-fitting blue dress that went just below her knees. The dress's neckline was low, and she wore a golden necklace that he paused his TiVo to look at, not that he thought it would be the one he'd given her. He hoped, and also sort of assumed, it would be revealed at the Oscars or some similarly prestigious event, somewhere that a reporter would ask about it and she'd explain to the cameras how she'd received it in the mail from a very devoted fan. It didn't take more than a moment with the screen paused to see that it wasn't his one, it was a cheaper thing, a choker not nearly as suited to Andrea as the one he'd sent, though still attractive enough when fastened around a neck like hers. Karl restarted the video and enjoyed the banter between her and the host, the jokes they told and a small clip from the upcoming Superwoman film set for release the following week.

When Conan returned from commercials, Andrea and Conan O'Brien were laughing about something and Karl enjoyed seeing her so happy, so casual. Their mics came back on and they snapped into professional entertainer mode.

"So Andrea," said Conan, leaning closer to her. "Let's talk about some of your fans."

"Do we have to?" Andrea responded. The audience laughed and Karl did, too.

"I suppose we don't have to… but I've just heard things. Heard that you have a particularly crazy fanbase."

"I don't know if crazy's the right word," said Andrea.

"What would you say is the right word?"

"...OK, maybe you're right. Let's just go with crazy." The audience laughed again.

"You heard it here first, folks: bat*** ***** crazy," said Conan, the program bleeping out his curses. The audience laughed, and Conan said to his producer. "We can't say that here, can we?"

His producer shook his head no.

"Such language from a young actress," said Conan. "In any case, what are some of the crazier things your fans have done?"

"Well most of my fans are nice, it's just the few—"

"—bat*** **** crazy ones,"

"Yes, those ones. Like, if you see me in public, I'll be nice to you, but I just get really frightened for my privacy."

"Not like me," said Conan. "I'll pay people to invade my privacy." The audience laughed as Conan pretended he was serious. "So like what sort of thing do they do?"

"Well I get a lot of letters at my house. Not through my agent, not through anything else, but actually at my house. And I'm like… I don't know what's in these. Is there anthrax in them? Is there something else?"

"Umm… is there anthrax in them?" The audience laughed and Conan turned to the camera directly. "Don't laugh at that, it's a serious concern." They laughed again.

"Well that's the thing, right? I don't really know, and I just… I don't want to encourage this, I don't want to hear from fans at home. I just want to be able to turn all of that off when I'm there."

"So what's the craziest thing they've sent you. Or I guess the bat**** ***** craziest thing they've sent you?"

"Well mostly it's just letters and teddy bears and things like that," said Andrea. "But a little while ago I received this necklace in the mail and it was like this beautiful thing, gold and sapphires and just beautiful, and I didn't know what to do with it, because normally I just throw all that stuff out. So I hesitated, this once, but then I was like, 'I've gotta stick by my rules,' you know? So I had my assistant throw it out, too."

Karl put his head down on his couch. He couldn't watch anymore, it was too painful. But they kept talking.

"You didn't happen to…" said Conan. "Throw it away backstage, did you? Not that I have a friend who works at a pawnshop or anything..." The audience laughed.

"No, I just told her to throw it away. I assume it's off in a dump somewhere," said Andrea.

"Well you probably did the right thing. It may have looked like a priceless golden necklace, but it was probably still made out of anthrax."

"Exactly. I mean, you never know."

Conan thanked Andrea Dimas for being there and asked her to come back again as soon as she could, "You were a delight, an absolute delight." Karl still couldn't watch, though he could imagine the smile she gave him in return, the way her eyes twinkled under the studio's high-wattage lights. His head felt like it was a thousand pounds and he couldn't lift it off the sofa. The program continued in the background and Karl didn't change positions for the next few hours as the television set droned on, airing reruns for programs cancelled a decade ago interspersed with spokespeople telling him to try a new drug, which treated depression but had a minute and a half of possible side effects up to and including sudden death. At some point he fell asleep, and when he awoke there were a few beautiful moments when he thought this had all been a dream. Then it was real all over again.

He cancelled work the next day, saying he was horribly sick, and stayed on the couch, watching television and crying. It didn't matter what was on.

After Karl cancelled work for a third day, the head office assistant said, "That's not a problem, but what exactly is wrong? Can we expect you back anytime soon?" Karl said he thought it was a flu but it didn't seem to be going away. He claimed to have a doctor's appointment the next day, and the head office assistant wished him to get better soon. When Karl still hadn't returned to work two weeks later, and stopped answering calls from the office (he was considering cancelling his phone service entirely, given how expensive it was), he received an email notifying him of his termination.


A decade later, Karl thought of that period as his lost year, though it lasted far longer than a year and still stood out in his head more vibrantly than most of his life since then. After prodding from his mother, Karl returned to school, and now he worked as a nurse at Presbyterian Hospital. Two years after starting the job, he'd met another nurse, Miranda, and eventually they got married, with a combination ceremony and reception at a Hyatt offering a decent package rate for both. The event had been relatively subdued, probably because they hadn't opted for an open bar, but Miranda didn't really like noise or drunkenness and she'd assured Karl that her dress had been perfect, so he was content with how it all turned out. Now she was pregnant with their first child.

When Miranda asked Karl if he had any thoughts about their daughter's name, he said no, he didn't care. But when she suggested Andrea, he asked that she think of something, literally anything else. Miranda said she'd always liked the name, but ok, it wasn't a big deal. How about Stephanie? He agreed, and six weeks later she gave birth to Stephanie Mondragon.

Karl met up regularly with Austin, Jesse, and Cisco again, though it was only once a month or so, and rarely could everyone make it. They sat in a booth at the back of Marble and talked about movies or old times, nothing of any importance. Still, Karl had begun summarizing their conversations in a spreadsheet, which somehow imbued these evenings with importance, though he didn't know why. They rarely went to the theater anymore, but when they did, he still kept the ticket stubs.


© The Acentos Review 2018