FICTION – Tabloid Totems by Ursula Villarreal-Moura

Your guilty pleasure for the past decade has been reading tabloids online. Splashed across your desktop screen, astronomically scaled photographs of popular and burnt out celebrities. Since you can remember, a particular blonde male model has reminded you of your ex-boyfriend, also a model but tall and Japanese. Except for their feathered eyebrows and similar clothing campaigns, the men are incongruent. Yet to you, they are interchangeable like quickly scribbled fives and s’s. 


One November they appear in the same section of The New York Times. The blonde man models quixotic cologne; your ex poses pensively with platinum cufflinks. Flipping back and forth between the ads, you can’t decide which man is yours. After a quiet hour of scrutiny you ball up the paper and toss it in a public trashcan. Three blocks down Columbus Avenue, you buy a fresh copy of the newspaper you just discarded. A throbbing tightness spreads across the bridge of your nose as you realize you will never own them, only facsimiles of their silhouettes. 


The reasons for your break up with the model blur more with each season. You text your close friend and asks why you did it. It was years ago and you doubt your motives and loathe your friends for not advising you to stick it out. Regret engulfs you like a heavy winter coat. He was dragging you both down, your friend replies. Another green bubble of text appears: Don’t forget the problems. These oblique answers annoy you. You wonder if your ex misses you, if he saved the birthday cards you penned him, and if so,which ones.

In Paris a deranged fan assaults the blonde model in front of a café. His bruised face, gigantic and unrecognizable, graces your desktop monitor. From work you Skype your mother in hysterics. You won’t believe what happened, you sob. The model’s face resembles a navy slab of meat, his eyelids swollen shut. The police arrived too late to save his magazine features. With hyphenated exhales you utter the blonde model’s name over and overYou don’t even know him, your mother fumes. In your mind you add the word“anymore,” because for years you’ve followed his photographs, and for quite some time you fell asleep next to, and dreamt of growing old with, someone like him.

Ursula Villarreal-Moura’s writing has appeared in CutBank, New South, DOGZPLOT, NANO Fiction, Sundog Lit, and Washington Square, among others. Her nonfiction has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and one of her short stories was longlisted for Best American Short Stories 2015.

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