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Expletives stormed through my mind as I nearly spat the boiling liquid from my mouth. I was never quite a morning person, so it certainly wasn’t the first time that I found myself absentmindedly drinking my coffee before it had cooled enough. But, at least I was now fully awake. My eyes drifted to the clock, which read just minutes until noon. So much for not being a morning person, I wasn’t even a noon person.

‘Maybe that’s why she left..’

I tried to force that line of thought out of my mind as soon as it started. After all, Dr. Cathy had told me that the first step to healing was accepting what had happened. I took a deep breath, cringing in pain as my still sore tongue hit the roof of my mouth. I decided to walk to the office with my mouth wide open, hoping that the cold winter air would sooth the burning. It would have to do in any case, because there was no way I could afford a visit to the emergency room.

Thankfully, the cold air seemed to do the trick, as I was able to take a sip of my coffee without keeling over by the time I had sat down  at the desk. My office, as I liked to call it, consisted of little more than a dining room table with a laptop on it, but it got the job done. But, as I threw a thick sweater over me, I lamented the fact that the job didn’t pay enough for me to turn on the heat for more than a few hours a day. On the bright side though, this year I was able to afford a sweater that suited me just fine.

I cracked my knuckles and got to work. But, I suppose I should first explain what that entailed. I had been fired from my job at the department store when I showed up to work drunk every day for a week following the divorce. It was just six weeks after that when he had first contacted me. I was checking my email like I did all day, every day, hoping to get a reply from one of my many job applications. I never expected to get accepted for a job I never applied to, but I guess things work out in mysterious ways sometimes.

The email was brief. The sender linked to review on Amazon I had written a few weeks earlier as a joke. It was fairly low brow humor, I’ll admit, making fun of a shirt with the design printed on the back. But, it seemed to catch their eye as they claimed that they would pay me for every funny review I wrote on Amazon and sent them the link to.

Now, at first, I thought it was a joke. Who wouldn’t? But as I found myself staring at an empty inbox for the rest of the day, I figured I would play along, if just to keep myself busy in an oh-so-empty house. I searched for a while and settled on an expensive watch that was listed as being waterproof at up to 1000 meters and stared at the screen for almost an hour before I came up with this gem:

“4 stars. My pet whale says it exceeds the rated depth and works even at 1500m, but the band is too small, considering he’s a whale and all, so 1 star off for that.”

In my defense, I was in a dark place, but I figured that it would suffice for a joke reply to that email. So, I grabbed the link and did a simple reply, as if I were serious about the entire thing. In a strange way, once I was done, I felt some form of satisfaction in knowing that I had done something that day. It was more than I had done the day before, at any rate. And so, I went to bed, expecting nothing to come of it.

But when I awoke the next morning, I had gotten one that read just:

“Noted and valued at $10. But, you can do better. I expect great things from you. Keep the reviews coming. Payment will follow shortly.”

I chuckled, wondering just far the person on the other end was going to take this. I spent the rest of the day cranking out a few more reviews including a baseball bat for monkeys and a princess dress for otters. At the end of the day, I sent them out and went to bed, feeling as though I had begun to make my way out the oppressing bleakness that had dominated me since Diana had left.

The next day, I awoke to another such email:

“Noted and valued at $23. In the future, please keep it to one review per email.”

And I suppose that’s the story of how I got hired to write funny Amazon reviews for a living. On the 17th day of writing reviews, and every 17th day after that, I awoke to found money transferred to my bank account to the tune of exactly how much I had “earned” writing reviews since the last payment. The absurdity of the entire thing even kept me from questioning how this mysterious benefactor had gotten ahold of my bank account. I guess some things will remain mysteries.

But, back to the present. I had spent the last hour staring at the screen. It had been almost 18 months since that first email, and I was running out of things to review. Thankfully, my benefactor rewarded quality much more highly than quantity. Unfunny reviews often got me a $10 or even less, but my quality work sometimes even netted me $300 for a single review. I decided to call myself a comedian to try and avoid explaining the situation to my parents. They were confused, but I was earning enough to get by so they let it be.

Diana though, was another matter. She had married “up” in just 7 months after our divorce. She frequently drove past my house in her fancy new Porsche, wearing clothes that cost as much as my car, on her way to pick up her stepchildren from football practice. As my mind drifted to thoughts of her and the past gone by, I instinctively clicked through to her Facebook profile. I remembered very clearly what Dr. Cathy had said about viewing her profile, but I couldn’t help myself sometimes.

So, I looked. ‘Just a peek’ I told myself, trying to justify what I knew to be a horrible mistake. I was unsurprised to find that she had updated her profile picture, as she had done so five times that month. I clicked the thumbnail, bracing myself internally for the shock and pain I knew I was about to feel.

It was easier this time, at first anyway. She was alone in this picture. Her last few had been of Todd, and the one before those was a family picture with her stepkids. That one hurt. That one really hurt. But, as I stared vacantly at this new picture, one thing stood out to me. It wasn’t her hair, which she hadn’t worn that way since our first date during college. It wasn’t her dress either, which revealed more than I had seen in the last three years of our marriage.

It was her smile. I could never forget that smile. It was what first led me to walk up to her and introduce myself at a math class we both took. I couldn’t even remember the difference between integration and differentiation if you put a gun to my head, but I will always remember that smile.

And it may well be the death of me. When last had I seen that smile in person? It surely wasn’t at the courthouse when the divorce was finalized, I had buried my face in my hands that day. And it surely wasn’t anytime in the last five years of our almost-six-year marriage. As I scoured my mind for a single memory of her smile after the accident, I could come up with only an “almost”.

It was one night, when money wasn’t so tight and things were looking up. I had gotten myself drunk, as I tended to do more and more as our marriage progressed. But that night was different. I genuinely believed myself to be Michael Jackson, and I clearly remember a smirk forming on her face as I tried to drunkenly sing Thriller in our living room. But, I also remember that smirk being wiped off her face as quickly as retched out my dinner onto the carpet.

No. No. I can’t relive this. I grabbed my still hot cup of coffee and gulped it down, not caring about burning my throat or tongue. I cared only about ripping that sensation from my mind. It had taken me an entire 14 months of trying and failing to get and stay sober, but it wasn’t enough to save my relationship. And despite the fact that she left, I was not about to let all that effort go to waste now. I knew Frank from the group would be proud of me as I gulped down the steaming coffee and the pain reminded me of the pain that came when I drank.

I would not walk that road again. As I tried to calm myself and rebuild my composure, I realized I had not yet closed off the tab with her profile open. But, I had found some strength in me, and quickly found the close tab button. However, I hesitated for a minute before doing so. There was another eye catching thing in that photo. Her phone, a brand new iPhone, was in the picture and it was draped in an interesting case. I quickly recognised it to be a festive Christmas themed case, with the holidays just about started it wasn’t a surprise. But, what was a surprise was the image that I saw with half the case covered by her hands.

There was my review for the day. I quickly searched Amazon, a skill I had honed tightly, for the case. My advanced searching techniques turned it up after only two tried, surprising even me. I quickly pulled up the listing and ordered one right away. This was going to be a strong review, and my benefactor paid a bonus for “Verified Purchase” reviews.

I quickly saved her profile picture and cropped it to show just the phone. Pictures added even more to my review’s worth in the eyes of my benefactor. I was pulling out all the stops today. I drafted multiple reviews and walked over to a mirror where I read them to myself, trying to ignore my disheveled facial hair. It was a technique I developed to single out the funniest review of a particular product.

In the end, I settled on a short and simple review:

“haha it’s pepe”

I smiled at my reflection, reminding myself that there were more smiles to live for than hers. I ran over to my laptop and quickly posted my review. In one practised motion, I drafted an email with the link to the review and sent it over to my benefactor, confident that I had a shot at breaking my record single payout with this stroke of genius.

I laid back in my chair, content with my work for the day. A quick look at the calendar revealed that it was almost time for my weekly meeting with Dr. Cathy. As I quickly tried to shave and make myself look presentable, I decided that I would pay a visit to Frank’s grave as well. He would be proud of how far I had made it in the six months since his death.

And, as I washed the shaving cream off and stared at the face in the mirror, I felt like everything would be alright.

That’s when I noticed a familiar phone case on the counter behind me.

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