By Benjamin Rosenbaum and Ethan Ham – Photo by Jon Petitt

I met Sonia at a bar. I didn’t like her, at first.

She laughed at my name. “Or Steven,” I said. “You can just say Steven.” I had had enough of Americans. After two weeks.

“No, I like it. Istvan. IST-VAHHN.” She laughed again, and gulped her beer. Maybe it’s just shyness. Maybe that’s why they laugh when there’s no joke.

But I liked her face, of course.

I liked her body, too, though it was not the same. Fuller breasts, shorter legs, so that it made, to me, an odd match with the face, as if the face of one photograph had been pasted to the body of another. This almost caused me to hate myself.

But I am a methodical man. I made an appointment to see her again, and then another. We went to see a very loud musical band. The third time we saw each other, we went back to her apartment.

Her cat came over and he looked at me. His name was Ostrich. A strange name for a cat. This cat, this Ostrich, looked at me very carefully, and, though this is wholly illogical, I felt that he knew everything, that he knew what I was doing, that he knew why I had come to America. Or perhaps it is not so illogical, perhaps this is not something that requires a highly developed neocortex to understand. Perhaps a highly overdeveloped neocortex even hinders the understanding.

This cat accepted me, and that helped me not to hate myself. It helped me pull myself away from despair, to make a little island in my mind, separate from despair. Here, I thought, here, let me begin again.

When she then took off her sweater and her bra and I saw her breasts, I tried to look at them as new. Not different, not fuller and browner and with different nipples. But rather as themselves, as Sonia’s breasts.

Even despite Sonia’s face.

So it was like two spirits which I had. One saw the face and thought, oh, oh, and drowned in a sea of terror and longing. And the other saw the breasts and said, well, hello, in a simple, friendly way.

So we made love, my two spirits and Sonia and I.

When I had called Mr. Ham originally from Eger, the year before, to ask him about the software, he had been very kind. I could not lie to him, I told him everything.  He said he was very sorry about my loss, and that he doubted that the software would help. “Most of the matches don’t actually look that much like me,” he said. “The software just looks at certain physical measurements, like the aspect ratio and the distance between the eyes. You can’t expect a computer to see the same way as a person.” He sounded a little worried about me. Well, that’s understandable.

She fell for me very quickly, and this was the same. She liked to laugh, and this was the same, despite the American thing of laughing when nothing was funny, which was not the same. She liked to do a wider variety of things in bed, and this was not the same but pleasantly so. At her climax she held the back of my neck with one hand and the small of my back with the other, and this was so much the same that a shaking went through me which had nothing to do with my orgasm.

I called Mr. Ham again the seventh evening I was to meet Sonia. I waited for her by the public market.

“It is not just facial measurements,” I said. “The coloration, the tilt of the nose, the curve of the ears, the movement of the eyes.”

“The software,” Mr. Ham said patiently, “only measures the aspect ratio of the face and the distance between the eyes. A lot of the faces it finds aren’t even faces. It finds faces in everything.”
Sonia emerged from the cavern of the farmer’s market, carrying flowers for me. She came closer. Rhododendrons. Americans do not bring rhododendrons to their lovers, and neither do Hungarians. No one brings rhododendrons, except Sonia.