There was once a man who had a love. And this love lived somewhere far away from his small corner of the world (a place called Pilgrim’s Paradise, Demoines City). Now the only way this man knew about his love was through the internet. They had met and talked on the internet for a few weeks, and in that way he’d gotten to know about the existence of a GoldenBough49. He knew she was around most days after 5:30 pm to talk to, and he knew she was a real person and not a robot. But to tell you the truth, he didn’t know much else. He didn’t know what her real name was, or her job, or how old she was, or even if she was a girl. He just figured with a name like GoldenBough49, well—it was a safe bet. He thought it was rude to ask, especially this late in the game—they had been talking for 7 months now.
The thing was, there wasn’t a lot else that they couldn’t talk about. GoldenBough knew about everything, had read everything. She knew several languages. She knew random facts about just about every topic under the sun. And while the man knew that, it being the internet, she could have just been going on Wikipedia, he still felt that the ease with which she could relate all these details and still carry on a conversation spoke well of her. Either she was a true genius, or a great multi-tasker. And frankly, he’d take her either way. He felt so stimulated when they spoke. She was really the only person he could speak to.
In Pilgrim’s Paradise he worked as a tailor’s apprentice, sewing the buttons onto shirts and making small alterations and such. He got shy with customers and so didn’t like to talk much. Nobody knew a whole lot about him. They figured he kept to himself, and they respected that. He was on his phone just about every spare minute of his life, and most of those minutes were spent talking with, or leaving messages for, GoldenBough.
Now came the time—as was inevitable—when GoldenBough wasn’t content with just talking to our young man online. She wanted a real conversation. On the phone. And she made it clear she would settle for nothing less. So our man of course got very shaken up at the thought of this. He didn’t know if he was ready to hear her voice, to know what she sounded like, to hear her rattle off those crazy facts so quickly over the phone, and for her to listen to him on the other line, stammering and stuttering and just being a full on mess. For he was a king online—self-assured, quick-witted, sharp-tongued. In life he was a stooge.
Or so he thought. He didn’t think too highly of himself, even factoring in his internet prowess. And the thought that GoldenBough might hear his voice and be repulsed, or listen to his conversation and decide he wasn’t so interesting after all—well, this was more than he could bear.
But he couldn’t tell GoldenBough no, because, then he’d have to explain. So he tried to figure out a way he could give her what she wanted without giving himself away.
Now this man had one friend in the town, a rather flashy fellow named Antonio, who, despite his good looks and charm, had never left his hometown of Pilgrim’s Paradise. Most folks thought this was because of Antonio’s vanity. “He’d rather be a big fish in a small pond,” folks said, “than a normal fish in a big pond.” It made sense. Antonio was without a doubt the most handsome man in Pilgrim’s Paradise. And there was only one woman just as handsome as he was. This was Claire Parsons. She and Antonio had been engaged ever since people could remember.
Our young man would often spend his nights at their house. Claire would cook them dinner, and Antonio would regale them with tales of his job as a Bank of America clerk on Main street downtown. Oh, the characters he met there! He told of all types, all kinds of people in financial straights, making odd requests, and asking him why they didn’t carry lollipops in the foyer.
“And I told ‘em, this isn’t a candy store! This isn’t some hick, one-branch bank! This is a multi-global corporation!” Said Antonio, red in the face from wine and leaning back in his chair.
This was one night in particular, when the young man had come over for dinner with a specific request in mind.
“Now how are things at the tailor’s, Adam?” Asked Antonio. “Anything interesting?”
“Oh, no.” Said Adam. “No, not at all.”
Adam had never told Antonio and Claire that his entire life was spent on the internet. But they had guessed as much. It was only a few days before when Claire, getting into bed with Antonio, had sat up right before falling asleep and asked, “How many times a day do you think Adam looks at porn?”
“Well I’m sure,” Said Claire now, bringing out the mashed potatoes, “that things will get more exciting soon.”
“They sure will.” Said Antonio. “The fair’s next Sunday. I imagine all the girls will be coming in to get their alterations done.”
“Sure.” Said Adam.
“Are you going to the fair?” Asked Claire.
“No.” Said Adam.
“Oh, now why’s that?” Said Antonio. “I’m sure me and Claire would like you to come. Why we’d just love it.”
“That’s right, we would!” Said Claire.
“I think I’m going to be busy that night.” Said Adam, who was never much good at excuses.
“It’s a whole week away! Surely you can get some time off.”
“I think I’m going to be busy that whole week.” Said Adam.
After dinner, Claire was cleaning the plates off the table and Antonio invited his friend outside for a cigarette.
“Look, you’ve been acting a little low.” Said Antonio. “Now what’s the matter? You can tell me, whatever it is. I’ll keep it quiet.”
Adam hung his head and wondered if he should tell his friend. There wasn’t any reason why he shouldn’t trust him, but he didn’t.
“Alright. Well, you’ll tell me when you want to. I ain’t gonna push it.”
Adam was silent still. Then at once he blurted out:
“I’m in love!”
The confession shocked both men with its suddenness, the sheer force with which it had come hurtling out of Adam’s body.
“Well!” Antonio said. “Well, is that all? Who’s the girl?”
Adam was silent once more.
“Oh dear.” Said Antonio. “It’s not a boy is it? Or…an animal?”
“No!” Said Adam. “It’s…”
“It’s…” Adam heaved a deep sigh. He sat down on the porch steps. “I’ve never met her.” He said.
“Oh.” Said Antonio. “Ohhh. Well, I see. Once of those Tinder things, is it? Well you’ve talked to her, I guess?”
“It’s not Tinder.” Said Adam sullenly. “I’ve talked to her. Yes. That’s what’s gotten me into this mess.”
“Why, what mess is that?” Said Antonio. “I bet you whatever it is, it’s not the type that can’t be fixed.”
Antonio sat down on the porch steps with his friend while he explained the situation. And he sat and shook his head sympathetically throughout, showing just how much he understood. And when it was over, he stood up.
“Well, my friend. As far as I see it, there’s only one thing we can do about this.”
The next day, Antonio logged into his friend’s account. He left a message for GoldenBough49 that read as follows:
“Now see here I don’t know who you think you are, but you’ve toyed with my friend long enough. Adam is a simple guy and he’s gullible, so I’m telling you now the jig is up. The buck stops here. Don’t you be fooling with his emotions, because he is a sensitive fellow and maybe people like you who have all the time in the world to spend making fun of people on the internet don’t understand what that means, but to people around here, where I come from, we take folks’ feelings into highest account, so if I were you I’d think twice before continuing this correspondence with my friend any further, or you’ll have me answer to.
Antonio Partridge, Esq.”
Adam hadn’t been told what his friend was going to do. All Antonio had said was that he was going to “fix it”, and fix it he did, good and proper. Adam waited that night to hear back from GoldenBough. Usually not 45 minutes would pass without some kind of a word from her, even if it was a ‘how are you’ or some link to a stupid Atlantic article. But today she was silent. He began to be fearful. What had his friend done?
“Relax,” said Antonio the next day. “I did the right thing, my friend. She won’t bother you again.”
“What did you do?” Said Adam. “And what do you mean she won’t bother me?”
“Oh, that old catfish. I set her straight. Told her off, and what’s more, told her if she ever messed with your heart again, she’d have me to answer to.”
Adam nearly fainted at this.
“But I…that wasn’t…I didn’t…how?”
“Oh relax,” said Antonio. “I promise it’s for the best. You’ll find a real girl. In real life. Hell, for all we know, she wasn’t even a girl at all!”
Now Adam could not control his emotions at this point. He was incensed. He ran out of his shop and into the empty building behind, which its owner had been trying to rent out since 1987, and sat down in the dusty abandoned office building and broke down. He couldn’t believe this betrayal. What was worse, he couldn’t believe he had ever trusted Antonio. What had led him to do such a thing? Why, the two of them were different as night and day. Of course Antonio wouldn’t have understood what he had with GoldenBough. And now he’d never get it back.
All night long Adam lay awake, wondering how on earth he could set things right. He had to make it right again between them. He simply couldn’t live if he didn’t. The next morning, he went to the one other person in town he could talk to and asked her advice.
“Oh, well why you’d do that, Adam?” Said Claire when he told her. “Of course Tony doesn’t know about these things. He’s an idiot.” She blushed. “I mean…he’s doesn’t have an understanding of certain…subtleties of life.”
“I just don’t know what to do.” Adam said mournfully.
Claire glanced at the crumpled figure in the chair across. A pleasant burst of pity rose in her chest.
“You really love this girl?” She said.
Adam looked up.
“More than anything.”
“Well then.” Said Claire. “I know just what we’ll do.”
That night, Claire wrote to GoldenBough, again under Adam’s name.
That rude message you received a few days ago was from my fiancée. I really can’t apologize enough—he doesn’t understand these things. I think, from what I’ve heard of you, that you’re a very lovely person and there’s no one who would make a finer match for our Adam, who we’re so excited to see has found someone. We really couldn’t be happier. But my fiancée he is—well, he’s not of a very trusting nature. So I must apologize. But I want you to know that Adam is kind and wonderful, and if you ever did choose to meet him—say, next week at our town fair—why, we’d welcome you with open arms, and I’m sure it would make Adam very happy. Please do consider it.
Now a day passed, and GoldenBough had not replied. Two days passed. Three.
Adam knew what was in his future. He could see it all too clearly. He had been rejected by GoldenBough even before he’d had a chance to prove himself. Even before she’d had a chance to reject him due to his stuttering and stammering and general insipidness, she had been scared off by the pack of hyenas he’d had the bad sense to call his friends. He wondered about this. Who was to be blamed? Certainly himself, for having entrusted his great secret to the care of such fools as Claire and Tony in the first place. But also GoldenBough, who was so easily scared off, so easily convinced to sever ties with the one she’d claimed to care about the most. He could not understand it. How does one person treat another like that?
For a number of days he stayed in bed. He didn’t bother to come to work. It was true that the orders were piling up around him—young women who wanted their dresses fitted for the fair, which was in about three days now—but he didn’t care about that. He couldn’t face life anymore. Not without GoldenBough.
After a few days of this, Adam’s employer, the tailor, had had just about enough. He came to the young man’s house (which was always left open), stormed up the stairs, pulled the covers off the bed and cried,
“Adam Horowitz for the love of God you’ve got work to do!”
Adam simply moaned and pulled the covers back over himself.
“Now what on earth is it?” Said the Tailor. “Are you lookin’ to be out of a job?”
Adam mumbled something from beneath the covers.
“Boy, I can’t hear you!” Cried the tailor. “Speak up!”
“I said,” Adam said, peeking out of the bed, “I’m sick.”
“Boy you don’t look sick to me. Why, from the looks of it, you’ve been lyin’ abed all these days watchin’ Netflix and jackin’ into a hanky. Now it’s not right, and it ain’t healthy. You’re comin’ with me.”
The tailor tried to drag Adam out of bed, but he put up a strong fight. At last the tailor gave up and, sitting on the edge of the bed, asked,
“Now boy what’s the matter? You can tell me now, I’m your friend.”
Adam sighed deeply and, all out of strength, related the whole story.
“Well.” Said the tailor when it was done. “That is a pickle. I sure don’t know why those friends of yours went and did those things. Seems to me they ain’t friends at all. Now, why don’t you let me have a try. I’m good at these things.”
Adam figured he had nothing at all to lose.
That same day, the tailor wrote to GoldenBough49:
I hear you have been run around the bend a bit by my young apprentice’s rather stupid friends. Well, I just want to tell you, we in Pilgrim’s Paradise are not that sort of folk. Why, we’re protective of our own, sure, and who wouldn’t be. But you know, I’m sure if our Adam says you’re a nice girl, then by God, you’re a nice girl. And we’d love to see you at the fair next Sunday. You’d make our Adam mighty happy if you did. He’s just crazy about you.
“Alright.” Said the tailor, closing the laptop. “Now will you come back to work?”
For the next few days leading up to the fair, Adam was consumed by preparations. He was grateful for this. He sewed and stitched and embellished and took in, and he was happy his hands had something to do to distract him from checking his phone every five minutes. At this point he had so little hope left that GoldenBough would ever contact him again that he figured he might as well try to keep on with life as it had been before, even in the knowledge that whatever life he would have now would be a mere charade without her. It didn’t matter. Suffering, he knew now, was the only reality.
It was the day before the fair when a woman came into the shop that Adam had never seen before. She was tall and of indeterminate age, and wore clothes that Adam had never seen anyone wear. It was almost like she was walking around in a giant, fashionable trash bag.
She’d come into the shop late that Saturday, as they were closing.
“Oh my,” she said, “I hope I’m not too late?”
“Why,” Adam said, “no,…I mean, that all depends on what you’d like to do.”The woman reached into her bag and pulled out a pair of gloves.
“I’d like to have these re-sewn.” She said. “They’re an heirloom.”
Adam looked at the gloves laying flat on the counter. They were the palest lavender color, and lambskin. He’d never see such fine craftsmanship. He reached out his hands to touch them, and as he did he saw the two layers are the end of the fingers were disconnected. The stitching had come completely undone.
“Oh my.” He said.
“Yes.” Said the woman. “I’m afraid they’re nearly past repair.”
“Yes, yes.” Said Adam in a hushed tone. “I’m glad you came to me. Very glad.”
Adam placed his hand on the counter, palm-upward, and gently slipped the glove onto his hand, taking infinite care not to be too sudden, afraid too rough a touch might cause them to shatter like glass.
“I will see to this straightaway.” He said, retreating into the back room.
“Oh but—” Said the woman, “you close in ten minutes! Surely there’s not enough time to—I can bring them back tomorrow, you don’t need to begin tonight.”
“But surely you’ll want them for the fair tomorrow?” Said Adam.
The woman looked at him blankly.
“What fair?” She said. “I’m from out of town, you see, and I’m only here for a few days.”
“I see.” Said Adam. He lingered in the doorway a moment. “Nevertheless. I shall take care of these this very night. It’s not as if,” he sighed, “I have anything else to do.”
This moved the woman deeply. She had seen a certain sadness in Adam from the moment she laid eyes on him. She felt that it was somehow her fault, that by placing the gloves in his hand, she had brought this sadness to the surface.
“But there must be something I can do!” She said.
“Well, yes.” Said Adam. “You’ll pay me when it’s done.”
“Yes but I mean,” said the woman, “more than that. Can’t I—sit with you awhile?”
“I don’t see why you’d want to.” He said. “But then, I don’t see why you shouldn’t.”
The woman smiled again, and followed him into the back room.
For a number of hours they sat and talked. The woman did most of the talking while Adam was content to sew, running the needle and thread through the delicate holes of the gloves’ outer edges, merging the two parts into one. The woman spoke of many things and found Adam a mindful and sympathetic listener. And Adam was glad to have company during this task that had almost, in the time he’d come to know the gloves, taken on a religious significance for him.
“Those gloves,” the woman said at one point, “belonged to my grandmother.”
“I guessed as much.” Said Adam. “There’s no craftsmanship as fine these days.”
At around one in the morning, he had finished. He presented the woman with her gloves, which were as flawlessly repaired as if they had never at any point come undone.
“Well.” Said Adam. “Thank you for the…company.”
“I should be thanking you.” Said the woman. “Such elegant work. Your talents are wasted here.” She looked the gloves over, handled them roughly—Adam disapproved. “Have you ever thought of moving to the city?”
“The city?” Said Adam. “No, I don’t think that’s for me.”
“Are you sure.” Said the woman. “You could make a killing.”
“Perhaps.” Said Adam. “But I don’t wish to.”
In the dark of the early morning, the woman bid Adam goodnight, but not without promising that she would attend the fair that day.
“It seems a shame,” Adam says, “for you to miss it—being in town only one day, and all.”
“Will you be there?” She asked.
“Maybe.” He said. “Will you be wearing your gloves?”
In the afternoon, Claire and Antonio waited for Adam by the Funnel Cake stand.
“Where the hell is he.” Said Antonio, checking his watch. “He said he’d be here 20 minutes ago.”
“Oh, be patient, Tony!” Said Claire. “I’m sure he’s coming along.”
The tailor passed them by a moment later.
“Say—say have you seen our friend?” Said Antonio.
“What friend?” Said the tailor.
“Adam.” Said Claire.
“Why—not since he closed up shop last night. Saw him with a lady.” The tailor smiled toothily. “Mighty pretty, too. From the city.”
Claire and Antonio looked at each other.
“It can’t be—”
“But if it is—”
“I’ll break every bone in her body!” Said Antonio, growing strangely emotional.
“Oh you will not!” Said Claire. “Not if I get there first!”
“Why what’s the matter with the two of you?” Said the tailor. “For Pete’s sake, pull yourself together.”
“How can we!” Said Claire. “He’s in the clutches of that…that beast!”
Claire explained the whole story. And when it was done, the tailor snapped his fingers in the air.
“I knew it!” He said. “I knew nothing good would come of it! I never should have stepped in.”
“Stepped in?” Said Claire.
“I wrote that woman. Invited her here. Shouldn’t ‘a done it.”
“You invited her here?” Said Antonio. “Oh God in heaven! She’ll eat him alive!”
“She’ll do no such thing.” Said the tailor. “But we best keep an eye out.”
At that moment, the three of them turned to see the figure of Adam, dressed in his finest three-piece suit, escorting an elegant woman through the fairgrounds. The three of them let out a collective gasp.
“Well if I’ve ever seen such a brazen hussy!” Said Claire.
“You said it!” Said Antonio.
“We’ll follow ‘em.” Said the tailor.
And so they did. They followed the two of them at a close distance as they weaved through the fairgrounds, talking steadily, politely. They went through the crowd never once losing sight of each other, never showing any interest in the fair’s offerings, completely absorbed in the company of one another.
“I don’t like the look of it.” Said the tailor.
At last they came to a secluded spot. Adam sat down. The woman sat beside him. She put out her hand. Adam lowered himself to the ground. He got on one knee.
“Stop!” Cried Antonio, breaking their cover. “For the love of God, stop that woman!”
Claire and the tailor followed suit, emerging from the bushes where they’d been hid.
Adam sprang up, looking peeved.
“What the hell is this!”
“You can’t marry her!” Said Claire.
“She’s a cheat!” Said Antonio.
“She’s from the internet!” Said the tailor.
Adam was at a loss for words. So was the woman.
“I don’t know,” said Adam slowly, “what you’re talking about.”
“You were about to propose!” Said Antonio. “We saw you, down on one knee!”
Adam laughed at this.
“You can’t be serious.”
“We saw you!”
“Oh,” he sighed, “oh you poor, well-meaning people. You couldn’t be further wrong.”
Claire and the tailor looked at each other.
“Well what were you doing on the ground!” Antonio said.
“Inspecting the lady’s gloves,” said Adam, casting a downturned eye upon the gloves in question. “Aren’t they beautiful.”
“Well…” said Claire, “well yes, I suppose they are, but—”
“I have to apologize for these people.” Said Adam. “They are my friends.”
“No need.” Said the woman. “I have some explaining to do myself—”
Adam motioned for her to remain seated.
“No.” He said. “Don’t bother, please. You see, I should have told you. A week ago, I was in love.”
The woman looked confused.
“But no longer?” She said.
“Well, I am still. Yes.” Said Adam. “But no longer with the same object.”
Claire and Antonio looked at each other.
“Is this not GoldenBough49?” They said, looking at the woman.
“Oh please. You can’t be serious. You assume that my little internet romance could ever possibly match the living, breathing woman you see here before me? The very model of earthly perfection that sits here now, in the flesh, speaking and laughing and displaying her completely wonderful taste in gloves?”
“Um…” Said the woman, “if I could interrupt—”
“Why it’s nonsense! This woman has no more to do with that figment of the imagination than I have to do with Caesar!”
“Um—” The woman said.
“No!” Said Adam. “This woman is real. She is elegant. She is alive. And it is because of her that I can tell you my heart has escaped that dreadful death-blow that threatened so lately to overcome it.” He said, bending down, “for I am in love now, for the first time, with a worthy object.”
Everyone stood speechless. Adam turned to the woman. He raised her hand to his lips, and kissed it.
“Madame, your gloves,” he said. “have won my heart. And I ask your permission for me to ask their hand in marriage.”
The woman paused, cleared her throat, and adjusted her collar, which was choking her.
“By all means.” She said hoarsely.
Claire fell against Antonio, overcome with emotion. The tailor clapped his hands and said he couldn’t have wished for a more blessed union under heaven.
The woman went back to the city, leaving her gloves behind. She could do nothing more for them now.
The wedding was set for the Spring. It was only two months later that the woman received the invitation. She opened the engraved envelope, fixed the card to the refrigerator with a magnet, and poured herself a stiff drink before going back on the Internet.
HENRY GIARDINA is a writer based in Los Angeles. His work has appeared in The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, and The Paris Review. He is a 2016 MacDowell Fellow.