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by GJ Hart

It’s speed date night at the Frog and Radiator and Jeff is sitting opposite a drunk insolvency accountant, trying to score big by channelling a coke-sniffing ex golf pro with IBS and a liking for all things feet. It doesn’t work, she falls sideways and he runs home, curls up on his swivel chair and stares at his crotch like a cat stares at the gap between the fridge freezer and the kitchen sink.

Jeff’s been rejected more times than he can forget: from the potted mews of Peckham, to apaatos in Matsudo, the return tickets sit in his breast pocket like flattened hearts. Later, collating his data, the agency’s algorithms crunch and smoke. He is, by turns, morbidly obsequious and coldly dismissive; he enjoys sailing but is terrified of water, and despite being a fantastic cook is only capable, due to a crippling phobia, of eating alone.

Fearing the revenue stream generated by Jeff might be going a bit Manon des Sources, and having just ordered a new orange room and hair plugs, the agency’s owner launches the emergency email. The message lands in his spam box, but Jeff fishes it out and scrapes away the filth. The instructions are unequivocal: He must arrive wrapped entirely in insulating tape, wear good quality running shoes, a butt-plug and at all times refrain from engaging in anything other than peripheral eye contact. On meeting, he must not smile or talk; this will be interpreted as provocative and likely end in his death. He will be given a special number to ring if, at any time, any part of his date turns purple.

And so Jeff finds himself in an empty aircraft hangar, at the centre of an abandoned airbase slow dancing to industrial techno with a man in a welder’s mask and a tin foil lounge suit. He wishes he was shoplifting or on the bowl, or listening to her last voice mail and wondering why he’s more stunned by his inability to cry. While taking a drag on the hand sanitiser he keeps in his tech pocket, he gets a text saying he’s been involved in an accident. He starts, as if waking at the wheel, just as something blows and every password he’s ever memorised vanishes like easy credit.

GJ Hart currently lives and works in Brixton, London, and is published and forthcoming in The Harpoon Review, Jersey Devil Press, 99 Pine Street, Apocrypha and Abstractions, The Jellyfish Review, Foliate Oak, The Eunoia Review and others. He can be found arguing with himself over @gj_hart.