I’ve got the day off work today. I bounce downstairs to check on the dough that I’ve left to rise overnight in a metal bowl. It’s risen to triple its initial size and I poke my fingers into it, leaving sticky craters. Coating my hands in flour, I ease it out and onto a baking tray for the second rise. I wanted to make my own sourdough starter way before the pandemic but I don’t have an oven at university and now I’m living out my middle-class dreams. I love the weird alchemy of fermentation powered by wild yeasts from the kitchen air. A mix of gross and ancient and yummy.
Breakfast is a bagel with banana and peanut butter and coffee, which I munch whilst looking at the garden, where crows pick over chopped-up worms from the newly mown half of the lawn.
I’m feeling a bit frantic and tired, my period was meant to have come days ago and I can feel my body is heavy and frustrated but also kind of electric. These sugar daddies keep following me on Instagram and I don’t know why. My account is aimed at a totally different demographic, namely my friends in their 20s and anyone else that likes weird videos of flowers bobbing about in the wind and photos of vegetables boiling. Last night I figured I should give them a chance since I am feeling stressed about money and I don’t mind talking to people. I reply ‘Hello!’ to a message that says ‘Hey’. He asks how I am, and I say that I’m good but tired, he says he’s just been sick and includes two emojis, the throwing up one and the green-faced one. Interesting move. Not exactly sensual.
I tell him how old I am when he asks. He’s ten years older and lives in the US. I request to follow his account and check over all the photos to see if they’re all of the same guy or whether I’m being obviously catfished. He’s kind of hot. There’s a cool tattoo of a lipstick stain on his chest.
I walk my dog towards our usual park. There’s a little pick-up truck from the council, parked in the middle of the field, with a couple of cyclists chatting to a fluorescent-jacketed worker, and two people combing through the long grasses by the fence. The whole scenario has the slightly furtive tense atmosphere of a search and rescue mission. I wonder briefly if something terrible has happened. My dog chases the ball and then we sit on the damp grass. Can I really commit to this? Can I be…a sugar baby? I ask the guy what he expects from his ‘sugar babies’, why he’s a daddy, who did his tattoos. He says I ask a lot of questions. He says he’s single, he’s unmarried, he doesn’t want a relationship. He wants me to make him happy, cheer him up when he’s lonely and can’t sleep, send him nudes if I can, and be honest.
I walk my dog to the other park down the road and think it over. Everything is happening so fast! This morning I was just making bread and now I’m gonna be a sugar baby! Nudes! Should I get a nipple piercing to be more exciting in photos? Could I get him to pay for it? I remember stories about people breastfeeding with nipple piercings and the milk spurting out in multiple jets. I don’t want kids anyway, I reason.
In the other park there’s the sound of drumming coming from somewhere in the distance, and a few people scattered around on the grass. I message my prospective daddy saying that the time difference means at least that I will probably be awake when he can’t sleep. Images flit across my mind of the two of us in some luxury hotel, then buying Chanel heels together in my size. Panic! I can’t walk in heels! I better get practising.
My dog’s ball gets lost in some nettles and as we search for it, I stumble across a blackberry bush with the first berries of the season. Most of them are still green but I find a couple of deep purple gems that slide tartly down my throat. I would way rather have a sugar mom, but sadly no sugar mommys have messaged me. I ask a couple of my friends for advice.
My friend who studies Law says it’s not a good or particularly safe plan. I imagine the stress of having to message a laconic insomniac textiles dealer whilst trying to write essays, be a good friend, apply for jobs and prevent the resurgence of depression come autumn. Messaging him could feel fun and powerful on a spaced-out free day like this, but if he starts asking me for nudes and all I have is my family or student bathroom, ratty pants and two very non-pierced nipples, it might feel a bit grim. Having said that, this would be a great adventure to write about in a novel. I feel slightly turned on and very confused.
My sister wanted me to be out of the house during her therapy session because the wall between our bedrooms is too thin for proper privacy, but now the hour is up, so I wander back home with the dog. I’ve started calling this guy ‘Marcus’ in my head. (I can’t tell from his username what his name is.) I don’t want Marcus to be lonely! His messages are a bit boring but he seems nice and no one likes not being able to sleep.
When I’m home I go to wash my hands (twenty seconds, lathering between my knuckles and under my nails) and pee. My period has started. I hate wearing sanitary pads but I’m not sure if it’s ok to use a mooncup without boiling it and am feeling lazy so stick a pad in my pants anyway.
I’m hungry and so is my sister, so we whip up a tofu scramble, one of the first lunches we’ve shared in ages as she’s normally asleep till late afternoon. She chats nonstop about her favourite tv shows and how her friends are doing. It’s nice. I eat my tofu with another bagel and some tahini mixed with water and oil and vinegar over some chopped cucumber and tomato. Lots of ground black pepper and salt on top.
My whole body feels so nourished and ready to bleed out another month of womb lining. I lie on my bed with the windows open like a beached and loving whale. My head is spinning but I reach for my phone to see how the group chat is doing. Someone’s by the sea climbing, another friend is looking after her boyfriend who’s got a migraine. No one thinks Plan Sugar Daddy is a good idea, even my friend who’s usually always up for pranks and weird decisions. Even I’ve gone off it, because it’s a real professional job complete with the need for talents and experience and confidence articulating and maintaining boundaries and clarity which I don’t feel energetic or experienced enough to even begin to navigate. I am so content and buoyant with a belly full of food and a head full of listening to my sister sounding sparklier than she has in ages.
The sourdough has risen again in the baking tray, but this time outwards. It looks like a disastrous thick floppy pancake but I manage to contort it into something resembling a huge flat pebble and shove it into the oven.
I reach for my phone again and message Marcus saying he’s clearly lovely but this isn’t for me and I don’t want to do stuff like this on Instagram. He replies saying ok, but we can talk on WhatsApp instead. That’s not the point, Marcus, I shake my head affectionately. In another world, Marcus, where I’m a cool competent experienced sugar baby. I block him and pass some time scrolling on Instagram.
I read the preface to Edward W. Said’s Orientalism and screenshot some of the most powerful and resonant points. He talks about ‘the enormously encouraging democratic field of cyberspace, open to all users in ways undreamed of’, and ‘the fragmented knowledge viable on the internet’ which ‘distract[s]’ students. I feel uncomfortably seen and go make a cup of tea to absorb things. The bread is hot and ready and when I knock on its crust it makes a lovely hollow noise. Mum grabs a slice before her next work call and I feel proud.
Dad makes salad for dinner which we mop up with the bread, then in a flurry of trying to tidy my room and get rid of old annoying books, I pass an hour typing books’ barcodes into a website that offers to buy old books. I make just under a tenner from a special edition of The Handmaid’s Tale (a book I hate), some academic books and a copy of Mood Indigo which I never managed to finish because the idea of a lily growing in someone’s lung made me feel a bit sick, even though the gorgeous Audrey Tautou starred in the film and features appealingly on the book’s cover. I am tired and sweaty but semi-victorious. I’ve made enough money to cover half the cost of a copy of Annie John by Jamaica Kincaid, and Salt by Earl Lovelace, which I order from the amazing New Beacon Books online store.
I’m exhausted and sweaty from throwing old books about and arguing with my dad who wants me to keep them all, and offers to build a new bookcase for them on the hallway, where there’s definitely not enough room for a new bookcase. I take a shower and rinse my hair, then wander downstairs for a cup of tea, cold raspberries and biscuits. Mum and I watch the lightning together, then I brush my teeth. I’ve just started putting my phone on airplane mode to try and stop myself from compulsively checking it every time I wake up. It’s been working so far. I fall asleep with both windows open feeling finally calm.