Nathan Blanchard is an MFA candidate in the creative writing program at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. His work has appeared in Epigraph, Atticus Review, District Lines, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He enjoys eating at Mexican restaurants with his wife.
Marlene invented a search engine that allowed users to experience what they’d searched. Not just physical experience but emotional too. So like if you searched for cherry blossoms and clicked on the first few hits you’d get a noseful of cherry blossoms and a jolt of happy. The further down the list of hits the fainter the resemblance of cherry blossoms. So like the thirty-sixth search result for melancholy will not make you
feel all that sad and the fifty-second result for comedy isn’t funny. It just isn’t. I searched for roller coaster and my tummy fluttered. You searched for romance and your tummy fluttered. Marlene searched for public speaking and her tummy fluttered. Joyner searched for bravery and we never saw him again. But nobody searched for death because we’re too nervous that we don’t want to know.
Because no matter how brave with the face paint and mantras, how nervous with the jitters and butterflies, how witty with the punchlines and wisecracks, how saturnine with the blues and the news, how in love with love and lust, we die. No matter if we build the sexiest skyscrapers, raise the purest children, grow the healthiest bottle of whiskey, film the loudest and flashiest blockbuster, which has the universal appeal to sell large in global markets and not just here at home; no matter if we scribe the holiest tenets, follow the exercise regimen and dietary boundaries, sleep and rise at the same time daily, win the most fuckable partner and crown ourselves the CEOs of whatever-we-sold, we die. Like the dodo’s song, like the brick & mortar, like the U.S.S.R., like the mother of your mother of your mother you motherfucker, we die.
So the whole death-thing that lurks behind everyone’s synaptic excuses explains why Marlene’s search engine was mainly used for searches like fucking Kate Upton doggystyle while Miranda Kerr and Blake Lively go at it below Kate’s knees. Or Channing Tatum slowly removing a tuxedo while Ryan Gosling licks the crook of my neck between moist whispers. Or winning the mega millions. Or adulthood Urbach-Wiethe disease. Or heroin. Or being President. Or childhood.
But you and me and Marlene, having felt the sweet-spot homers, the teenage late-nights, the whale’s loneliness, perfection, your father living to old age, finding a cure, jazz for the first time, the jitterbug, we searched for infinity, for certainty, for heroics. We were satisfied with philosophy. Others wanted specifics.
Geraldine, who after a hysterectomy never had children, searched for motherhood and we never saw her dry-eyed again. Steven, who lost his legs and genitals at the age of nineteen—still a virgin—from an IED blast in Karbala, searched for eros, and then he never looked us in the eye again. Elaine, who spent her life breeding poodles and youtubing her cats, who if Marlene had also invented a loneliness gauge would have been in the top 1 percent, globally, whose record for consecutive years spent without human touch was a world record at fourteen (it was finally broken when a grocery store cashier grazed her palm with his fingertips as he gave her change, receipt, coupons), searched for the feeling of being a poodle, a loved poodle. Millions of us searched and felt for everything we were denied. Others even started searching for traumatic events like waterboarding and childhood molestation.
The whole world felt everything it’d been denied. We knew none of us would ever be denied death—maybe that’s another reason we didn’t search for it. So but then one day Joyner returned from his bravery walkabout having spent months expanding the edges of courage like the universe expands its light. He searched for death. And when he opened his eyes, you and me and Marlene were there. With the quietness of a falling star and the horror of without-a-net, his clenched jaw betrayed something we didn’t want to know.
Marlene’s List of the 15 Most Searched Phrases in the USA:
1. having a vagina
2. falling in love
3. having a penis
4. being famous
6. sleeping for twenty-four hours
7. being born
8. jumping from an airplane
9. being loved
10. parental approval
11. being crucified
12. getting the promotion
13. being the richest person in the world
14. being black
15. the funniest joke ever