Cardboard Cutout

By Craig Jonathan Reekie

After Jessica’s told, unfortunately, she’s come 3rd in a Virgin Mary lookalike contest she cycles home to check her online banking. She hopes she’s just got enough for the train fare to the studio tomorrow. Let’s hope.

Jessica turns her bedroom inside out. She stretches deeper under the drawers, the wooded edge stinging her skin. Couldn’t… quite, get, that, thing. What was it? She gets the vacuum out. Bingo. It isn’t the card reader; it’s a USB memory stick. It appears so withered covered in gum and dirt. Jessica giggles as she plugs in the USB. Will it work.

She skims through the files. Oh my, they’re over ten years old. Can you imagine the type if it were yours. Well at the time these files seemed like worth saving alas now, what were they but artefacts of a distant life?

Poorly pixelated photos on a webcam, biology essays from high school, a folder of celebrities she once idolised. Logs of MSN conversations, masterpieces she’d made on MS paint. All meaningless debris, but ten years ago, must have meant something to be saved.

Jessica finds a file that raises her eyebrows. It’s a large image that she used to order a life-sized cardboard cutout of herself. She vaguely remembers the arguments with Harry that caused them to break-up over it. What ever did happened to that guy?

“You can’t get a cardboard cut out of yourself, that’s so narcissistic.” She remembers Harry shouting.

Why couldn’t she get one? Could only movie stars, security guards or businessmen have them? Why couldn’t a normal girl from Wales do it? It could immortalise her in that time. She could take photos with it. Well she ordered one. Why not, it’s only for fun, after all.

From then with Harry it was straight downhill, he broke up with her before the cutout arrived. She reflects on how broken hearted she was at the time, but now — well she couldn’t care less. She had no idea where Harry went, he was probably locked in a mortgage with kids and a loveless marriage. Poor guy, Jessica thinks.

Jessica wakes up to a call from the television producer. Yes, she’s coming, calm yourself a bit. She boards the train. The train whizzes through this pretty countryside, but bushes keep appearing by the time she manages to snap it with her camera phone. Maybe next time.

Jessica arrives at the studio. She’s rushed into make-up. Ready. She does a microphone check and before she knows it 4 cameras are focused on her and the lights pressurise her.

A TV-runner comes out and explains to Jessica what will happen.

“What? I never got told they’d be here.” Jessica says.

The presenter, who looks like Jessica but more reflective and tanned, waves her hands around and faces the camera, 10, 9, 8, 7,6, 5, 4… The red light appears on the camera. Jessica thinks of those files she discovered on the USB.

“Hi and welcome to our new show ‘Why I deleted You… Live.’ Where our contestant will be able to hear reasons and question why they were deleted from social media live on air with the chance to win prizes and maybe even get revenge. Let’s meet our first contestant, Jessica Matthews from Swansea who works as a bike courier.”

Jessica looks at one of the cameras but forgets to smile.

The presenter walks over and sits next to Jessica. Oh shit. It’s really happening.

“Remember to tweet us in your experiences during the show.” The presenter says.

Two people come out and explain why they deleted Jessica. The first is a girl from high school who got annoyed by her political posts and the other is an old acquaintance from university who didn’t like it when Jessica boasted about her good grades online. What a hipster. No prizes won but Jessica begins to enjoy the experience.

“Ok, let’s get our final deletion up. Are you ready Jessica?” The presenter says

“As ready as I’ll ever… Yes I’m ready.: Jessica says.

“This person who deleted you is now behind the curtain. There number one reason for deleting you was because they thought you were too narcissistic.” The audience groans. “You once did something they couldn’t forgive you for. Here are three clues on who it could be.”

“Is it… Is it Harry?” Jessica says.

“Let me just finish the clues.” The presenter says.

“Is it Harry?”

The presenter puts their hand to their ear to consult with the control room. There’s a few seconds of confusion then confetti falls from the roof and dancers come out doing really high kicks.

“It’s Harry! Congratulations you’ve won a sports car.” The presenter says.

Sports car? What was Jessica going to do with a sports car? She couldn’t drive and even if she did she believed in saving the environment so didn’t want to learn.

The rest of the show plays out and Harry explains that Jessica was a bad girlfriend. He reveals some humiliating secrets and Jessica becomes increasingly livid.

“There was a time where she locked me out because I forgot to feed her goldfish.” Harry says.

Jessica rips her microphone and off she goes. How dare Harry say those things on live television. Jessica misses her chance of revenge on the set so the show continues and Harry’s gunged live. The audience love it.

Jessica sells the sports car, goes on a short holiday and then hires a private investigator to find out where Harry lives. She was right. He’s married with a semi-dethatched and two kids. Jessica decides to send a cardboard cutout of herself. She gets slightly carried away with the notion, so for the next 28 months she sends a different cutout of herself to Harry.

Until one morning, she receives a drunken voicemail from the private investigator saying that Harry’s wife is cheating on him with them. That night, working in the rain she decides to go to Harry’s house. It wasn’t far from her last delivery. She cycles slowly. The leaves are so huge and look liked they are stuck to the ground.

Jessica rings the bell, a rush of a new feeling tingles up from her feet.

Harry answers in a hat, because it was national ‘wear a hat day’ after all.

“Is your wife home?”


“Can I come in?”

“I’m not sure if that’d be approp…”

Harry’s two little boys, 4 and 6, snap a sight of Jessica and start pointing and giggling.

“It’s the special lady, it’s special lady, special lady basement, haha, lady.” His kids say.

Jessica puts her foot in the door. “I need to tell you something.”

Harry shows her down to the basement where the 28 cardboard cutouts of Jessica stood. All in there peculiar poses and outfits; winning basketball shot by alien, farmer star jump, frightened by loneliness, you-can-trust-me, all those weird poses she took and sent. All surrounded her.

“Is there a word for things they don’t have words for yet?” Jessica says.

“I’m not sure what you mean?”

They both look at the 28 cutouts, peaking out is a 29th, she squints and sees the cardboard cutout from ten years ago. What was that doing there? Had Harry…

“You look so different from then.” Harry says.

Jessica feels stuck in a place between guilt for sending so many cutouts and wanting to tell Harry about his wife’s adultery, She remained there still and couldn’t move her lips, staring at versions of herself. If only she could deconstruct the terror of existence with this. It was an empty, detached, hopeless, static stagnation — you’ve guessed it. There’s not many feelings like it.

Jessica feels like she’s become, an actual cardboard cutout of herself.