The Book of Faces

Delaney Allen.

What’s on your mind?

In the beginning, Jordan Shell joins and you think, well, that’s good, and so you like this. Then you get his friend request. Do you want to be his friend? Don’t you want to be his friend? You remember that weird crush and the creepiness, but in a fit of generosity you accept.

Marybeth Sand wonders to the world if it is really only Tuesday. Seventeen people like this. Caroline Dwarf says: Indeed it is the second day, but do not fret! The day of rest approaches.

Kaylee Currant says: GRRRR. One person likes this.

Juan-Juan Lucre presents a map of his run! Pedro Labrador and thirty-eight others like this.

Sarah Cave posts a picture of a sad face she has drawn with green ink upon her pale thigh. No one likes this. And now Sarah Cave comments upon herself: Sour grapes, she says.

Jordan Shell is friends with Amy Lichen. You like this. How adult of them! That relationship was a disaster! Are they still close? Hard to say. There are no degrees of separation in the Book; everyone is equidistant, the thick rotundity of the world smitten flat. The net is thin and wide. It catches you up.

Lucas Candle gives a shout-out to Lucinda Candle, the most beautiful wife in the world. He proves his claim with a doctored photograph: poor Lucinda smiles, bland even in sepia tones. New to the Book, overeager, Jordan Shell likes this.

Cindy Cinder rants about Republicans. See all forty-three comments. Some say what’d you expect, others say what you’d expect, and still others rant in counterpoint to Cindy. Pedro Labrador joins in from the right, calls everyone followers, sheep, blind. Cindy declines to shut Pedro down (freedom of speech, y’all!) and enters into a debate with him that takes up the last twenty-seven comments. You read them all, including Cindy’s last word, whatever.

Sean Shadowen looks good with a tan. So say eighty-some people in various ways, with variable punctuation. And you like this and your liking is but a drop in the bucket. Because Lydia Juniper likes this. And Russell Drift likes this. And Peter and Jasmine and Emily and Rose. And verily, you all like this. You do.

Take this quiz to find what race you really are.

Sarah Cave moans, a cry in the blue ether: I have to leave this book! Good pun, Sarah Cave! But this Book doesn’t have any leaves, it’s just a scroll, you consider commenting, and then don’t because no one else likes this. And now Sarah Cave deactivates her account. Silly twat! You shake your head and laugh out loud, free because you’re invisible.

Two posts below, Anne Swizzler makes a mess of self-promotion, every thought she has ever had about her successes splattered to the world for their perusal and approval. Her most recent post is an interview she gave to a medium-famous media outlet. “Go ahead, Anne,” you mouth as you like and then quickly unlike this. You like this, unlike this, you think on your soul, finally you click Like, and then Home.

And now Jordan Shell is burrowing quietly through the pages of the Book, smearing a spotty trail of likes across extant pix. He is blossoming from lurker to user, flitting over the feed, dropping thumbs-up on every new post. What is his deal again? You type and you scroll and you click and you peer. His picture is highly deceptive. How many people he’s befriended already! How does he have the time, with that fancy new job?

And here is a list of pictures that will make you laugh.

Sarah Cave is back on the Book! What is her deal again? You visit her wall and read the inscriptions. And these are the tribes of Sarah Cave. Of the tribe of family, David and Lilith of Cave. Of the tribe of work, Carol of Glitter, friend of Juan-Juan of Lucre. Of the tribe of school, Brendan of Glass, friend of Jordan of Shell, friend of Amy of Lichen, a friend of yours.

It’s somebody’s birthday! It’s somebody else’s birthday!

Brendan K. Glass goes mad with deictics: this, he says, This, and then THIS! This is contagious, it is apparent, all of his friends are now thissing back at him. And you open this link, then This one, then THIS, but you have forgotten that your laptop is muted. The mouths mouth blindly, a million tongues clicking, and a million fingers, and the commentators excoriate in tandem.

Jordan Shell is friends with Amy Lichen! Again?! Well, okay. You like this. You see a post from X. Wait, what?! He’s married?! A stab to the heart, a prick in the eye, what a tramp, what a slut, what a dress! A commiseration blinks in your inbox. No, I know, I knew, you cry.

And now Jordan Shell is crowdsourcing—how resourceful! Such humble-braggery!—for a new research project on detective fiction, psychoanalysis, and Catholicism. You open the thread with a wince. One hundred and eighty-one comments, a community of likes, thumbs-up sprouting like seedlings, everyone but you hanging in the garden. Babble on! you think bitterly and like this.

A badge flicks on in the menu. It’s a new color and shape but you recognize that something has happened. Your heart auto-leaps and you click but it’s just Sarah Cave—again? Again!—eeyoring all over herself. That stupid girl should really just quit. You scroll her up and away.

And Marybeth Sand says: What do we want? Time travel! When do we want it? Irrelevant!

Leila Tulip adds a pithy gloss to an article, and thusly promotes the old striving friend who wrote it. Thirty-two people like, but do not bother to read, this. George Dolphin, ingratiating, likes this.

Jordan Shell
Yesterday at 4:08pm
my dad’s not doing so well

Lucinda Candle
23 minutes ago
sad face

Desiree Birch
9 minutes ago
sorry, shellster! sending my warmest wishes . . .

Sarah Cave
2 minutes ago
yeah, me neither.

Anne Swizzler is practically famous now, which makes her like everyone else. She has two pages devoted to her successes, as if they too had faces and inclinations. Everything has a page in the Book. Objects and ideas and events. Am I freedom or money or the way things are?

You wonder idly if Sarah Cave will kill herself and what her wall will look like and what if you clicked thumbs-up by accident? You shudder.

And here is a book cut into a sculpture. And here is the gene for sarcasm. And here is a machine that turns itself off. And here is a stone sculpture of a book. And here is the invisible hand of the market. And here is a petition against profiling. And here is the profile of a petitioner.

Take this quiz to find out how you would kill yourself.

Amy Lichen is in a new relationship. How gauche to post!

And now, put in mind of your newly married X, you go to his home page. His new bride blushes—not really, with makeup—but look at that off-kilter grin! You turn to her profile and peck futilely at the links but there is nothing for you to see. She is not your friend. Her life and photos and whatever is on her mind are all locked away, private. You reexamine your sole piece of data, the picture. You zoom in. She’s . . . pretty.

To eclipse the last X, you decide to run through the gamut of exes. You click and click again, opening six pages of the Book, each of your former loves in separate windows, the compartments of your train to disaster. Click. This one’s as boring as ever. Click. The skin of your teeth! Click. This one will always be beautiful. Click. This one has a new girlfriend. You scoff at her cats and her typos, her tendency to lol, but the wound of his parting still smarts. Click. This one still loves you, of THIS you are sure, except wait, that picture’s new, who’s this woman? Her eyes are brown like yours, and all lit up with love—that is a picture he took, you can just feel it. What’s on your mind?

You close all the pages except Amy Lichen’s. You’re about to close it when you see a comment bloom beneath her post, then vanish. It was Jordan Shell, and what he wrote, and then unwrote, has you gasping.

so glad to see your doing well, amy. meanwhile, my dad’s fucking dead and i’m so fucking alone how could you do this?

Maybe you read wrong, the comment is gone, oh wow, Jordan must have deleted it. He clearly typed it fast, perhaps impulsively (hence the typo), and erased it. But you saw the writing on the wall! What should you do? What’s on your mind? You take a deep breath and you clear the clutter of judgment crowding your heart and you message Jordan Shell with your sympathies.

You refresh the page. Amy Lichen’s wall is untouched and you wonder if you imagined her ex-boyfriend’s comment. Refresh. You diddle around the pages but you give up eventually. Your life isn’t virtual, after all. There is a night and a morning and:

Jordan Shell
Yesterday at 4:08am
R. I. P. George Sycamore Shell

Click. A photo of a man, gray-haired and gentle-faced; you see the resemblance in the nose, the one Jordan has obscured in his deceptively attractive profile picture. Below the announcement of grief, there is a shower of likes as if, piled altogether, all the thumbs could make up a human. There are hundreds of comments, you see as you scroll, your eyes catching on the many “dad”s.

Yup. Amy Lichen has liked this. You read her condolences—they are warm with the warmth of the girl who’s moved on—and then you notice that Jordan has replied to Amy, Amy alone, an actual conversation within the crowd of commiseration. Their comments to each other grow exponentially, in size and in feeling, and then shut down with Jordan’s curt “inbox me.”

You check your own inbox and feel slighted to see no reply from Jordan to your sympathy message. But now you click on Brendan K. Glass’s fresh links, thumbs-upping like a flirty hitchhiker. And you’re laughing, who cares about some guy’s dad, and you feel bad but you’re alone so not that bad.

We make a joke of nearly everything and that is our hope and our doom.

Oh shut up, Sarah Cave! No one that pretentious could really be suicidal, you reassure yourself.

Livid about the ever-changing rules of the Book, people proclaim their right to privacy. Everyone likes this! But now Lionel Tint disillusions you about your actual right to privacy. You say you wish you could like this twice. Oh, this world of simile: joining like things, liking, likening!

Jordan Shell too is back with a frenzy of links. You consider hiding him, he’s starting to irk you, but you don’t because you know he’s still in mourning for his dad. Amy Lichen has liked all his posts and her new relationship status has suddenly vanished.

Look at this list of things that will make you cry!

You like Anne Swizzler’s latest post but whatever is in your heart is the opposite of “liking.” Her event page is chaos but even in the swirl of congratulation, you spot your X’s name. He’s going and he’s bringing his Plus One. God, should you go? Sarah Cave is invited, she says she’ll be there with bells on. Despite your own anxious sadness, you pity her.

Maudlin and dawdling on your events page, you click on a link. Jordan Shell is insane! He’s just invited everyone to a home screening of Suspiria! Brendan Glass acutely notes: “dude, didn’t your dad just die? i’m totally in either way but . . .” to which Jordan Shell replies: “a room full of barbed wire. that’s all I’m going to say.” You click and you scroll and you decide not to go. You dislike horror films. Amy Lichen likes this in absentia, and six others besides. Indeed, it’s a slew of regrets. Eeesh, you wince, then click, click away. There’s no place like home page. Sigh.

A storm is coming. A wave is crashing. A flower is growing. A baby is growing. The sun sets. And the sun sets. And the sun sets. And every once in a while, the sun also rises.

Brendan K. Glass posts a video. It is a band he once loved and still loves. This seems meaningful—you love this band too!—but no, many others have fluttered to like this, as if the Book were an old yearbook, or the hand-scrawled tracklist to a mixtape.

Jordan Shell posts his current location and when you click on the map, you see that it is next to Amy Lichen’s apartment. Or it is. You sit up. It is Amy Lichen’s. How is this possible? You shake your head, you laugh out loud. Those poor sods, but it’s their business, you guess.

Juan-Juan Lucre just ran a 10K! Filthy Lucre! Is there anybody at all who does not like this?

Sarah Cave says something about time traveling to steal her own updates, hashtag self-hatred, hashtag deja-vu. No one likes this.

And now Amy Lichen writes a message to her friends of friends. What is her deal again? You visit her wall and read the inscriptions. These are the tribes of Amy Lichen. Of the tribe of social capital, Anne of Swizzler. Of the tribe of obligation, Lucas and his wife Lucinda of Candle. Of the tribe of love, Oliver of Wood. Of the tribe of obligation derived from love, Jordan of Shell.

Amy Lichen’s message is inappropriate. She asks for the circle to close around Jordan, to keep him safe, to keep him contained. But she wants to extricate herself at the same time, like the finger you pull out of the knot you tie in the neck of an inflated balloon. Amy says Jordan’s been living with her because he can’t be alone right now, he’s in mourning for his dad. But she has to fly out of town for a family vacay to a tropical place over Thanksgiving break. Can he crash with someone else?

You envy the vacay and so you like this. Others make their excuses and the commentary becomes a round, like a song one sings at Christmas: I’m sorry I can’t, I can’t but I wish, I wish I could but I’m sorry, I wish you the best, best of luck finding, I hope, I hope, I’m sorry, I hope. You say nothing. What can you say? Your hands are tied, your hands are busy, your feet are made of clay.

And now Catarina Tint has made a profile just for her baby. You like this, fine, one ought to separate oneself from one’s baby. But then you click and you see that Catarina Tint—or maybe her drippy husband, Lionel—is posting updates for the illiterate lump. Burp. Gasp! Oops! Ick.

Brendan K. Glass appears in your inbox and you find yourself suddenly twitterpated.

hey dude, kind of worried about Jordan. you got a second to talk to him?

You read this and slouch down, disappointed. Um, no, what?! No. You reply with great charm that Amy Lichen certainly seems to have it covered but why?

well, his dad died and his brother just offed himself?

You stare at the screen. You do not reply. The feeling in you that this message sets off only settles in when you’ve closed the Book of Faces, closed the Book of Mac, and lain down on your bed, your foot propelling wildly against the frame, then slowing until its rhythm matches the lightning-bug pulse from your laptop, the glowing blue beat of its life without you.

The next day you open the Book. What’s on your mind? You turn to Jordan Shell’s wall. His brother left a suicide note about being gay, which Jordan Shell has transcribed exactly, preserving the errors with [sic]s. The [sic]s seem tender—a transcription of fraternal ribbing—rather than condescending. The commentators below the post nod, their wordless likes bobbing silent as poppies. As you reread the post, it dilates inward like a reverse mushroom cloud, and you think: how deeply, how cruelly personal. The prose is so detailed it’s like you can walk right into it, and so you do, and look up.

And now you can see the darkness slashed with light coming from the spaces between the barn’s wooden planks. And you can hear the creaking of the place and the shuffling of the animals within it, and the windiness and shudder of a building with shifty walls. And you can smell the natural fibers—straw, wood, rope—and you can sense the weight before you of a hanging thing, a thing nearly lost to gravity: Jordan Shell’s brother. The clothes of a rube, an unpleasant chin, small eyes blunted with being secretly gay for so long.

You step away, consider. Your eyes return to you, and with them your screen. You suddenly see the advertisements surrounding everything. They are shining and legion. Your fingers are uncontrollably scrolling. It seems that, for such a dark story, the post is remarkably relatable. All its major points could be blue and underlined: “gay” linking to Tim Marmalade’s stream of angry links, “suicide” to Sarah Cave, “painkillers” to Lucinda Candle. This kind of thing happens, just not all at once, not together.

Miriam Web offers to befriend you. Gosh, you haven’t heard from her in ages! And you accept and you catch up on her life and it makes you smile—how lovely!—and you almost write one of those nostalgic-in-the-moment posts about how the Book really does reunite us and save time!

Oh, but what about Jordan Shell? You type and delete, do and undo, post and edit. False starts, drafts, but there’s no inky webs of crossouts, no blistering of the page from eraser marks. Now there is just a renewed blinking blank where you might type. Or not type. Re-do! Do-over! Ctrl-Z!

Take this quiz to find out what kind of a person you are.

Catarina Tint posts a picture of a picture: it is her baby frowning at a screen filled with its own face. You’re tipsy and witty and on the subway alone so you like this and then comment with gin-thickened fingers: “An early introduction to the infinite regress.” Your phone autocorrects you—don’t you mean “regrets”?—and it’s sent before you can stop it. As the train dips into a tunnel, the screen freezes, the wheel that looks like an overhead fan spinning and spinning. Your phone heats your palm so you put it away. By the time you get home, you’ve forgotten the typo.

Jordan Shell has been posting strange things. His wall is littered with long URLs with jumbled sequences like cartoon curse words. Links to Faulkner and Hammett and Freud and Versace.

Everyone’s profile is black. And then blue. And then pink and then green and then equals sign.

Amy Lichen posts a picture from her vacay. It’s a shot of her feet, a Lilliputian array of toes with tangerine faces, backed by azure water, blank sand. Seventy-seven people like this. Wish I was till here, Amy Lichen says wistfully. Then *still, she adds, and you like this.

Jordan Shell just posts the letters R. I. P. over and over, making of his wall a nameless graveyard. And he posts new old-looking photos, but instead of the usual—mandalas of snail trails or mosaics of leaf-shredded sunlight—it’s a bevy of pictures of Jordan Shell. Gaunt with melancholy, his nose an error, his lanky fingers wrapped around a purplish cocktail. He seems alone in the pictures, but who’s taking them then? Are they selfies? Are you obsessed? Tell me. Tell me. What’s on your mind?

A red badge flicks on. Click. A message from Sarah Cave, subject line in all caps: IS HE FAKING IT? You roll your eyes. Pornspam. How can a dude even fake it? You delete it without reading it.

Jordan Shell
23 minutes ago
Mother died today.

No comment.

No comment.

And now here comes the crowd. A swarm, the letters of words like the legs of insects. The comments begin to double, as though coming in twos: each one accompanied by Jordan Shell’s comment on the comment. I’m so sorry, yeah, I wish, I know, I wish, it happened really fast, I’m sorry, overdose, all my sympathy, pills, with sympathy, I’m at a loss, your loss, sympathy with you, I hope, I’m trying, I hope, yeah, in my thoughts, thanks, I’m so sorry, I hope.

And everyone is too lazy to scroll so Jordan Shell explains again and again (accident, painkillers) and even as he types, there come others. Here comes also another to recall the dead father. Here comes also another to recall the hanged son. Here comes also another, another. You see the flood of them rise, and you stand and crack your window, then you grip your head and sit down again, staggered.

And when all of Jordan Shell’s tribes are fully apprised of the threefold misfortune that has befallen him, they come, each and every one, from their home pages. Catarina the ballerina, and George the writer, and Juan-Juan the psychiatrist, and Russell the curator, and Kaylee the documentarian, and Brendan the secretary, and Sean the musician, and Meghan the law student, and Amy the grad student, and Caroline the unemployed, and Sarah the life coach, and Lydia the manicurist. They make an appointment together to come to mourn with him and to comfort him.

And their eyes cluster onto his home page but they know him not, for this kind of devastation is nearly unthinkable without a flood or a fire or a bomb, and so their fingers scurry to type and click and make amends across the world wide web. And now you are with them in their weeping and rue, and in the sprinkling of words and icons across him, until you have all made a veritable constellation of grief. And so you all sit with him there for seven days and seven nights and your presence requires language, and so you douse him in it: for you see that his grief is immense.

Unbelievable! says Sarah Cave, unaccountably.

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It occurs to you to check Amy Lichen’s home page. You’ve missed a calamity of chatter there:

You guys. Restraining orders: too much? sometimes necessary?
View 46 more comments.
Do you know how many are issued a day on this campus alone?
It really depends. It can be a real hassle, trust me.
OMG, Amy are you okay?
^ Well, Nigel, or whoever you are, it sounds like you’ve never WWF (walked while female) if you think a restraining order is some kind of imposition on your rights as a human being to set eyes on . . .
Any legal opinions?
Lol, bad day at the library, Amy?
I had a hard time getting mine renewed cuz you have to go to court like every two weeks but luckily the Asshole Who Shall Remain Unnamed left the state before . . .

Holy. Click. Yup. Jordan Shell is no longer friends with Amy Lichen. You cannot believe a loss like Jordan Shell’s. Sometimes you find yourself staring at his picture in wonder, your breath taken. His whole entire family. Gone. You shake your head, thinking on the word restraint, thinking on Amy Lichen’s soul, how her full lip arches and twitches like a cat’s spine when she’s nervous. How ruthless! Of course he’s a little out of bounds right now! A restraining order? Come on!

Then again, as you scroll through Jordan Shell’s erratic, cloying posts, you feel a slight disgust for him. A fly of disdain in the ointment of your pity.

You are all fired, Kaylee Currant says. Seventy-five people like this, even though they are fired.

You learn such interesting things as an avid reader of the obituaries, says Sarah Cave, morbidly.

Amy Lichen sends you a personal message. You roll your eyes but open it, of course. Amy Lichen asks how you are. She informs you that to maintain a restraining order past a certain period of time requires a court appearance. She asks you to testify. Against Jordan Shell. About his instability. Because of the crush, the creepiness, that one time he broke the cell phone between his shoe and the pavement while you all watched in horror. A restraining order? Against Jordan Shell? The man who lost his whole family in one fell swoop? This is unkind. This is to kick a man when he’s down, to look a mourning man in the mouth. Amy Lichen with her hair like piss on snow. What’s on your mind? The reply in your head is scathing. The reply that tipples from your fingers is withering.

Why don’t kleptomaniacs get puns? Because they take everything literally.

You are laughing on the floor in the dark, sitting cross-legged before the cool blue light of the Book. You see a red badge; a new message; your heart sinks; what if it’s from Amy Lichen; your heart rises—it’s not her!—then rises even higher; it’s Brendan K. Glass. Click.

no one died. Jordan made the whole. thing. up. jesus, is this what happens when amy lichen rejects

You stop reading then because in a flash, Brendan’s words are covered up by your memory of the message you missed, that pornspam you deleted on arrival: IS HE FAKING IT?

You sit. You sit in the dark, lit by your angel screen. You sit for so long the screen dims, then saves itself with colorful gyres, then blacks out altogether. Its afterimage hovers squarely before you in the dark. And now you whisk a finger across the mouse pad, across its skin, as if wiping a droplet from a cheek. The Book flutters awake. Tell me. Tell me. What’s on your mind?

And you write in the Book for the first time in ages.

My god, how did we not know?

And poor, sweet, misunderstood Amy Lichen likes this. And Karol Picadillo likes this. And Leila Tulip likes this. And Catarina Tint likes this. And George Dolphin likes this. And Lucas Candle likes this. And Desiree Birch likes this. And Brendan K. Glass likes this. And Sean Shadowen likes this. And Meghan Seed likes this. And Russell Drift likes this. And Lydia Juniper likes this. And Kaylee Currant likes this. And Miriam Web likes this. And Caroline Dwarf likes this. And Cindy Cinder likes this. And Juan-Juan Lucre likes this. And Louis Quint-Justice likes this. And Pedro Labrador likes this. And Anne Swizzler likes this. And Lucinda Candle likes this.

And Sarah Cave says, I knew.

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