Madison Newbound

June 1, 2024 
The following is from Madison Newbound's Misrecognition. Newbound is a writer and server living in Brooklyn. Misrecognition is her first novel.

Elsa reached for her phone, using her thumbprint to unlock it.

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There were no notifications. An assortment of discarded mugs had collected over the course of the week—on her dresser, her desk, her bedside table. On one of her social media apps, she searched for the person called Sam. They never uploaded stories, hadn’t posted to the grid since April. Elsa clicked over to their tagged photos and surveyed the familiar images. Clicking on the profile of one of their friends, Elsa scrolled in search of more photos of the person called Sam, but there remained just the one.

Elsa opened her Explore page. Stylized images of beautiful people appeared in squares before her. A brunette beamed in a tight-fitting dress, bent toward the camera, a thin strap falling off her shoulder. She looked like a model. Following the link to the woman’s profile, Elsa scrolled down the page, enlarging one image after another. The woman knelt down in public restrooms, middle finger lifted to the camera. She lay sprawled on beds, stood on rooftops, sat on curbs clutching bright green juices.

The woman kicked a leg up in vintage washed denim, did the splits in a short dress and chunky boots against a cream studio backdrop. She embraced her heavily tattooed boyfriend, walked her tiny dog in small shorts and big sneakers, posed for selfies. She drank cocktails and wore bikinis on beaches and took pictures of herself reflected in bathroom mirrors. The color of her nails and her cell phone case changed frequently and often matched.

The ease with which this woman appeared to move through the world stirred up a familiar, vague longing in Elsa—it was something adolescent, something distinctly American. Below the woman’s profile name was a link which took Elsa to a different app on her phone. The woman appeared to have her own channel on the same video sharing platform on which Elsa had grown accustomed to watching interviews with the actor-character. The recordings were uploaded every few months and had titles like “Prepping for Coachella” or “Random Vintage Finds” or “Best Day Ever.” The first vlog clocked in at sixteen minutes and fifty-four seconds; Elsa clicked play.

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The beautiful woman is in a colorful bathrobe, seated in a modern, white bathroom. She stands so that the camera, placed on the vanity facing her, cuts her off at the chest. Her face and neck float outside the frame before she bends down and smiles at the camera, her hair falling into her face. “Hey guys!” she says excitedly, as if greeting a room full of friends. She tells her viewers that she is currently getting ready for the concert of a musician unknown to Elsa.

The vlogger is now sitting on the lid of the toilet, her head in frame, as she holds up what appears to be a clear cylindrical vessel, reminiscent of a deodorant stick, filled with a candy-pink solid. “So I’ve already put on this and my moisturizer. This is Milk Glow—what’s it called?” She turns the sleek packaging in her hand, “Watermelon Brightening Serum. Love her,” she says, placing the object on the counter, out of sight.

Another woman enters the bathroom, her body out of frame. We hear her say to the beautiful vlogger, “I think I’ll go get ready and dressed and then come back and maybe we can decide what clips—”

“And glitter!” the vlogger says, interrupting.

“And glitter,” the floating voice confirms.

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“Love,” she responds, still seated.

The beautiful vlogger stands so that she’s once more cut off at the chest and extends her arms out to a body which now steps into frame. Hands are placed on opposite shoulders; the two jump up and down giddily before entering into a long embrace.

The beautiful vlogger leans over the sink and tells us, as she wets her Beautyblender, that she is now wetting her Beautyblender. She sits down once more and traces a beige stick of concealer under her eyes and over invisible blemishes before patting a pink egg-shaped sponge along her jawline and cheeks.

“Just a little bit,” she says, announcing the brand.

She brings the pink sponge to her face once more, blending gently with its tapered end. Next, she twists the top off a small white bottle. “Kosas foundation,” she says. “The best foundation ever. Everyone’s like, ‘Oh my god, your skin looks so good. Are you even wearing makeup?’ This is what I’m wearing,” she says, holding the bottle up to the camera. “It’s tinted oil. A little goes a long way.” She draws a thin beige lines along her brow, her cheeks, her chin.

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Elsa felt the urge to reach for her phone until she remembered that it was on that particular device that she was watching the video. Next, the vlogger tells us, she is going to do her eyebrows. With a double-ended brush, she begins to comb the fine hairs of each brow, her mouth pouting in concentration. “I’m just going to fill in the ends.” With a pencil, she begins to apply dark strokes to the outer corners of her eyebrows. “We’re going to lock her in place with Anastasia Clear Brow Gel.” She brushes a mascara-like wand through each brow.

The beautiful vlogger takes out a brown-and-gold metallic palette and opens it before the camera to display two creamy squares, the top an iridescent white and the bottom a dark brown. The woman dips her middle finger into the lower square and traces a thin diagonal line along the left side of her face, just beneath her cheekbones, then the right. Dipping into the brown palette once more, she draws a line on either side of her forehead, just beneath the hairline. She does the same along the edge of both sides of her jaw.

“I’m still figuring out how to use this,” she tells us. “I’ve just never been a contour queen.”

She lifts a handful of products up to the camera: “This is what’s next.” In quick succession, she applies mascara, bronzer, lip balm, highlighting face mist, two different kinds of cream blush, two different tones of lip liner, and a lip gloss. Before she demonstrates how to apply each product, she extends the vessel up to the camera, her free hand poised behind like a fleshy backdrop, narrating the brand and precise shade.

Elsa brought a hand up to her face, delicately tracing the lines of her cheekbones, her eyebrows, her lips, the line of her jaw.

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The beautiful vlogger is now in her kitchen—all slate-gray countertops and stainless steel appliances. “I’m taking you with me to the concert,” she tells us. “This is what I’m wearing.” She places the camera on the island and takes a few steps back to reveal a long paisley print skirt, knee-high black leather boots with a square heel, a cropped black halter top and a black denim jacket. “It’s going to be a beautiful night.”

We are suddenly at the concert. A series of short clips zoom in on a bright stage, as jumbotrons project the crystallite image, blurry in its strange definition, of a dark-haired female singer dressed like a cowgirl, strumming her guitar. The handheld camera turns from the stage to the vlogger and her boyfriend. Elsa recognizes the man from the woman’s social media profile. It is the first time he has appeared; it is dark, and his face is cast in shadow. The beautiful vlogger leans her head on the shoulder of his white T-shirt, a strand of hair falling into her face, and sings along, beaming.

Elsa felt the bubble of a memory threaten to break through the surface.

It is suddenly sunny inside the vlogger’s apartment. The vlog has cut to the next day and the woman appears in pigtail braids, silver hoop earrings, a tight-fitting T-shirt, a mini skirt. She films herself, the camera moving wildly, as she walks about her living room. “We’re going to go to Venice right now and then we’re going to go vintage shopping, and then we are going to just live our life.”

A phone call from an unknown number appeared on Elsa’s screen. Elsa tried to recall the area codes for the man and the woman.

“Hello?” she asked. She was met with silence on the other end before a pre-recorded voice began to speak to her about auto insurance, which, being carless, Elsa did not possess. She hung up the phone and lay back on her bed. It was Tuesday, just after noon.

Elsa traced the line of her underwear with little intention of follow-through. Her hand slid to her thigh and rested there. She tapped her fingers on her bare skin as if communicating in Morse code, a tic she had inherited from her mother. The urge to shop arose. She exhaled deeply but the urge persisted. She rose and walked to the window overlooking her front yard. Her hand drifted up to the glass and she tapped her fingers once more. The memory of childhood piano lessons briefly floated across her mind. She walked back over to her bed, unlocked her phone, and started when the voice of the beautiful vlogger rang out in the quiet room.

“So today we’re going—”

Elsa paused the video. She thought of the actor-character as a means of diverting her attention, but she could feel the urge take root and calcify in her body. Elsa moved her thumb to the phone’s screen and scrolled back through the video until the vlogger appeared once more in the sleek white bathroom. She walked over to her desk and reached for an unopened envelope, addressed to her, along with a pen. She sat down on her bed and pressed play. The woman began her beauty routine once more. Each time the beautiful vlogger applied a new product, Elsa paused the video and carefully wrote down the name of the brand and the particular shade. Elsa’s coloring was in no way similar to the vlogger’s but she ignored this fact as she continued through. Once she had finished, she used her phone to take a picture of the neat bullet-pointed list on the back of the envelope.

The battery life of her phone was dwindling. Elsa checked her bank account. She examined the numbers before her—less money than she had ever possessed as an adult—and she stood and walked over to the chair in the corner by the window, where her shorts lay, discarded from the day before. She bent to put them on, moved over to the dresser, selected no particular shirt from among all the others, and placed her phone inside her bag, along with her wallet and sunglasses. Before exiting the room, she turned back and walked over to her dresser, pausing momentarily before reaching for the pack of cigarettes and the lighter beside it. She tossed both into the bag and shut the door behind her.

Downstairs, her mother was at the desktop computer in the small room which functioned for both parents as office and library. Hearing her daughter approach from behind, she swiveled around to face her.

“Do you mind if I borrow the car for a few hours?” Elsa asked.

Her mother spun to the computer to check the time and turned slowly back toward Elsa.

“Am I allowed to ask where you are going?”

“The mall.”
Elsa watched her mother study her and resisted the urge to retreat to her room. After a moment her mother said softly, as if she were reminding Elsa of a death which she seemed to have forgotten, “But there’s nothing there anymore.” She added, “Even Macy’s closed last year.”

“I’m going to Albany.”

Elsa noted a deepening of the crease between her mother’s brows. “That’s a long way to drive. What do you need at the mall?”

Elsa reached into the depths of her bag and searched for her phone.

“Mom, can I borrow the car or not? If I can’t, that’s fine.”

“Of course you can, if you can’t find what you need somewhere closer. The keys are by the door. I just need it back by four thirty.”


Her mother began to pivot toward her desk. She paused and turned back to face Elsa.

“You’re really not going to tell me what you’re getting?”

Her mother wore an inscrutable smile, and Elsa felt the memory of a former time flicker between them.

“I’m going to Sephora,” she said, lifting her shoulders slightly before letting them drop. “And then I’m just going to live life.” Elsa felt the strangeness of the phrase in her mouth, its lack of affect rendering it unclear, even to herself, whether or not it had been intended as a joke.


From Misrecognition by Madison Newbound. Used with permission of the publisher, Simon & Schuster. Copyright © 2024 by Madison Newbound.

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