TV Girls by Dana Diehl
The TV girls are twenty-five in number and looking for love. The TV girls believe they can find love on national television. We watch them stiletto out of stretch limos, and we can read their backstories in the lengths of their hems, in the thickness of their heels. “A” has a secret ex-fiancé who will appear on set during week four; “B” was adopted and has a fear of people leaving her when she loves them most; “C” killed a man in Afghanistan with a hand grenade; “D” is only half Brazilian; “E” has a pink, scar-less stump where her left arm should be; “F” is thirty-two and has been a bridesmaid in each of her five younger sisters’ weddings, the kind of girl who has probably fucked at least two groomsmen in church bathrooms, one who was married. The TV girls stiletto out of stretch limos in slinky cocktail dresses, tags still attached and tucked against flesh, and lipstick in shades of mauve, berry, apricot. When the TV girls see their potential husband, they squeal gorgeous. They squeal super-hot, check out those adorable cheekbones, which we know is code for he’s attractive, but not so attractive we’ll have to worry about him straying. The TV girls think this might, in a couple of weeks, be a reason to love him. The TV girls love each other. The TV girls hate each other. The TV girls love their TV mansion. The TV girls tell us they’re ready to rappel down skyscrapers for love. They’re willing to do the Polar Bear Plunge, ready to bungee jump off the Golden Gate, swim with hammerhead sharks for the sake of love. The TV girls tell their potential husband, “I’m here for the right reasons.” They tell him, “I’ve never felt this was about anyone.” Some TV girls fail as TV girls. “C” goes home because she was having nightmares about the man she killed, the way his big, sweat-stained Pirates Jersey hung below his thighs, making him look like a child, and the way the blood spilled out of his belly like broth, and the way he didn’t die as quickly as she thought he would. “B” goes home because she gets drunk on Chardonnay in the hot tub and punches “E” in the neck. When “C” and “B” go home, they cease to exist. We’re all happy when “D’ makes it to week six, because she’s exotic and thank god potential-husband isn’t racist. Potential husband is a good man, a man with a southern upbringing. We’re all happy when “E” makes it to week seven, because she’s really pretty despite the one-arm thing and she’s not actually competition, not really. The TV girls are five in number. The TV girls no longer think about “G’”s lips, or “H”’s lips, or “I”’s lips, or “J”’s lips on their potential husband’s lips when they’re kissing him in the pool, at night, the water goosepimpling their thighs, the mics hidden under their bikini straps pebbling bruises into their shoulders. They no longer think about the awkward silences during their rooftop dates, because when that episode airs, the editor will hide the silences under rising piano music, and that’s the version we will see and remember, not the version where she tells a joke and he doesn’t laugh, the version with the whir of camera equipment and the tiny, cold tap of a spoon against a plate. The TV girls take their potential husband to their hometowns, and we place bets on who will have the craziest family. We pray for crazy families. The TV girls take potential-husband to Austin, Atlanta, Orange Country, Scottsdale, a farm in Oklahoma. The fathers give potential-husband their blessings, or they don’t give him their blessings. The TV girls say I love you, or they don’t say I love you. Each TV girl says, he’s really, really the one. Three TV girls remain. “D” learns that potential-husband will never move to Oklahoma, that he wasn’t really into her farm, and considers packing her bags. We say, “Hell yeah, girl.” We say. “Kick him to the curb!” But really, we’re thinking, stay stay stay, because when a TV girl leaves, she’s gone. Because to leave is to fizzle, and what we want to see is the erupt, the split, the crying-on-tiled-floor. We learn through the tabloids that “F’ used to be a stripper. She stripped for truckers and frat boys at a bar off Route 80 in Pennsylvania, and we can picture it, skin against pole, sequined bra pressing scale patterns into skin. Potential-husband says he doesn’t care what “F” did in her past, and we’re disappointed, because if he shamed her, we could shame her too. The TV girls fly to the Bahamas. Two girls left. We realize we’re waiting for something to go wrong. We’re waiting for the camera assistant to drop a light into “A”’s plate of cordon bleu. Waiting for a nip-slip. Waiting for the fuck that the editors forget to bleep. Why doesn’t the roof cave in? The TV girls are tan and flat-stomached and sad and hopeful in their bikinis and their shear dresses, barefooting down empty beaches, plucking blushing guavas from bowed tree limbs. Tomorrow they will be engaged or not engaged. Tomorrow, they will be carried off on the back of an elephant, or escorted to a limousine, but we can’t see past the door of the fantasy suite. The TV girls curl mascara into their lashes, and we want the mascara to run. The TV girls’ sweat pixels on our screens, and we wish we could taste it.
Dana Diehl's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Booth, Passages North, and New South. Her first short story collection is forthcoming from Jellyfish Highway Press in late 2016.