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. 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, scarless stump where her left arm would 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 cornered at least two groomsmen in church bathrooms, one of whom was married. The TV girls stiletto out of stretch limos in slinky cocktail dresses, the tags still attached and tucked under hems. They wear lipstick in shades of mauve, berry, apricot. When the TV girls see 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, bungee jump off the Golden Gate, swim with hammerhead sharks for the sake of love. The TV girls tell Potential Husband, I’m here for the right reasons. They tell him, I’ve never felt this way 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, or I’s, or J’s on 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 and 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. That’s the version we will see and remember, not the one where she tells a joke and he doesn’t laugh, the one with the whir of camera equipment and the tiny, cold tap of a spoon against a plate. The TV girls take Potential Husband to their hometowns — Austin, Atlanta, Scottsdale, Orange County, a farm in Oklahoma — and we place bets on who will have the craziest family. We pray for crazy families. 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 Potential Husband will never move to Oklahoma. He wasn’t really into her farm, after all. She 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. To leave is to fizzle, and what we want to see is the eruption, the split, the crying on the 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 then we could, too. The TV girls fly to Thailand. 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. The TV girls are tan and flat-stomached and sad and hopeful in their bikinis and sheer 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 it to run. The TV girls sweat pixels on our screens, and we wish we could taste it.
Dana Diehl is the author of Our Dreams Might Align (2016), which is now available in rerelease from Splice UK. She earned her BA in Creative Writing at Susquehanna University and her MFA in Fiction at Arizona State University. Her work has appeared in Passages North, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, and elsewhere. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.
* “TV Girls” is the title story of Dana’s chapbook, which was selected by Chen Chen as the winner of this year’s Chapbook Contest and is forthcoming from NDR.
** An earlier version of this story was originally published in The Collapsar. Many thanks to them for allowing us to reprint it.