There was once a woman who went out with a man whom she was pretty sure was going to kill her by the end of the evening. She knew this when she gave him her email address. She might have even told him, email me.
Now they’re at an elegant wine bar about three miles from her house, sitting at a table between two tall slim plants with fat, waxy leaves.
She takes a sip of the wine that he’s probably filled with drugs. She went to the ladies room a few minutes ago in order to give him a chance to do this.
Just going to freshen up, she said, with a wink. He rose from the table, and watched her go, winking back with both eyes.
In the ladies room, she stood before the mirror, tapping her freshly manicured nails on the counter, staring at her hair just cut like Joan of Arc. Four hours ago it fell all the way down to her butt. Now it stops just around her ears exposing her neck. This is to emphasize strangling as a preferred option. She has prepared for other possibilities too.
She strokes her newly visible neck in the mirror and straightens the straps of her new white dress patterned with red poppies. The poppies look like little blobs of blood but this could be her anticipation of the drugs’ effects already taking hold.
When she returns to the table, he stands up, just as he stood up when she left. He’s got fairly impressive table manners. Very gentlemanly. Which totally makes sense. Didn’t Ted Bundy open car doors? She’s giddy. This is an adventure sort of.
“Sorry I took so long,” she says.
“Not at all,” and this with a little bow of his long body. “Gave me a chance to roofie your drink.”
She smiles and takes another large deep sip, her eyes on him, flirty.
Apart from the lip corner twitch, the Bible salesman hair, he really does look just like a Harry Rosen model. The bones in his face just a little too sharply cut.
She stares at his long, slender fingers gripping either side of the tall menu and strokes the sides of her neck pointedly with both hands.
“So. Tell me about you. Ewan.”
“Bradley,” Ewan says.
“Your name is Bradley?”
“Yes,” he says, his lip jerking violently to one side.
“Why did I think your name was Ewan?”
“I don’t know. It was pretty loud in that mixer room.” He reaches across the table and takes her hand. “I could be Ewan if you like. I’m not really all that attached to—”
“It’s fine,” she says taking her hand back.
‘You seem disappointed.”
“Do I? I’m really not.”
She takes another drink. She can’t taste the drugs. At all. They’re there though. They have to be.
“That’s a lovely dress,” Bradley says.
“Thank you. I just bought it today.”
“Just for me?”
“Just for you.” She smiles with half with her face.
Will he take her for a walk in the nearby mountains after dinner? Will they climb the crag in the dark? How is Bradley going to do this? She is about to say Show me your knife, but then the waiter comes to take their order.
“I have a gluten-allergy,” Bradley tells the waiter. Also he is trying to avoid dairy products. Yes, meat he can eat so long as it is grass-fed. Perhaps just a salad then, if that’s alright? Probably best. He touches his stomach as he speaks, small strokes over his iridescent shirt as though the flesh beneath is a finicky lap cat. It takes the wind out of her sails a little to see this. She stops stroking her neck. She should not have cut her hair all the way up to her ears.
She gazes down at the table and watches him cut a sourdough roll in half with his butter knife. He’s really sawing at it and still, he doesn’t break crust. She wants to take it from him and break it with her hands. See how easy it is?
He is talking to her about novels now. The ones he personally enjoys, he says, chewing, all involve elaborate world building. He’s sort of a sci-fi man at heart, he supposes. Novels like—
“May I see that knife?” she interjects. “The one you showed me at the mixer the other day?”
“Oh, it was stolen from me unfortunately.”
“Stolen? Stolen where? How?”
“At a party. Along with my coat, can you believe that?” He shakes his head at the table, as if to say, people, this world, can’t trust anyone.
“I’m very sorry to hear that,” she says.
“Me too.” He takes a sip of his wine. “The knife was a gift I think I told you. From an uncle. And I was pretty attached to that coat.”
“You should file a report,” she says.
“Oh, it’s fine. I mean I suppose whoever took it needed it, you know? It was pretty cold that Thursday.”
They slurp their soup full of chopped fish bits.
I’m a piranha, he’d whispered into the whorl of her ear when they first met, his grandfatherly tie loose around his neck. He was standing by a window, dressed like her grandfather in old pictures, all the features in his sharply cut face ticking like bombs. The first thing he did after she introduced herself was pull his knife out of the pocket of his vintage suit that smelled of closets and bitter tea leaves. It could really make a mess, he said, flicking up the substantial blade and waving it before her wine-glazed eyes.
Wow, she’d said. Wow, Ewan.
She thinks fondly now of that little exchange by the window. The lip twitching that preceded any actual words he’d spoken to her that night. The way his hands seemed to have more than five fingers each. She looks at his hands now and counts. Recounts. Five. Just five on each hand.
“The other night you were saying you were a fan of Lovecraft?” she asks him, pressing.
“I wouldn’t say fan so much. He’s alright. I’m more of a—”
She interrupts to tell him about a horror novel she recently picked up. He’d recommended it at the mixer, hadn’t he? She’d found it violent and disgusting. She read it in a day, riveted. “It’s your favourite isn’t it?”
“I wouldn’t say favourite.”
“What would you say, Bradley?”
“I would say there are certain aspects of that novel I admire.”
“Like the scene with the rat? Or when he cooks her? Fucks the skull?”
Bradley grins now. “Well, those were all fine.”
“Fine? Are you kidding?” She drinks more of her wine, licks her lips. “He writes it so well, that you know I actually feel sorry for him? For not being able to cook her. Sorry for him, can you believe it? Like I wanted to help!”
“Yes well it—”
“Fucked up. So fucked up. But I guess maybe I’m going through something, I don’t know.” She looks at him pointedly over her wine glass.
“Well, there’s also what you’re reading into it,” he says easily. “How you’re reading it, you know.”
“What do you mean?”
Bradley begins to saw at another roll with his butter knife.
“Well, my own theory is that nothing really happens in that book. At all. He doesn’t do any of it. It’s all mental.”
She watches the knife never break crust. Yet again.
“You don’t agree?”
“I guess I wasn’t reading it like that. I just assumed it was all real. That he was a blood thirsty psychopath.”
“A lot of that’s just what you’re reading into it.”
“Mmm,’ she says.
“On another note, I was thinking after this I could take you out for ice cream.”
“I know it’s cold out and all that but you were saying the other day that you had a craving so.” He taps the side of his Frankenstein creature forehead with one far too-long finger. “I remembered.”
She thinks of the two of them seated at a rickety table beneath bright white parlor lights. Her and Bradley. Tall spoons poised over the same glass dish full of her favorite flavors bleeding into one another, becoming soup. He would insist upon her favorites. Bradley would. Or perhaps he would order his own bowl of non-psychotic flavors with whipped cream, nuts. This man whom, when she first saw him leaning against the window, she thought had a soul the hairy shape of that spidery birthmark on his left hand. With that hand, he’d wield his ice cream spoon, perhaps feed her some.
She said goodbye to her cat before she left her low-ceilinged apartment. Not just goodbye, farewell. Farewell and the neighbor will feed you.
We talked about this, she’d told her cat, bringing her mouth close to its twitching ear. You know it’s been a difficult year. And you’ve seen that. Firsthand. There were the big things. And then all the little things adding up one by one. I’ve been waiting for the world to end a long time, you know that. Each morning I check to see, is the sun moving closer to the earth? There was that steamy hot day in July when the smoke seemed to be rising in the streets when we almost thought it was, remember? And I went out there into the shimmering air rejoicing, waiting to be cooked. But then all it was was unseasonably humid. And when the rain came, I wept.
“Icecream,” she spits now. “I think I’d prefer to take a walk if that’s alright.”
“Of course,” Bradley says, oh so agreeable. “Where?”
“Up there,” she says, pointing through the window to where the crag looms in the dark. Plenty of rocks up there.
“Now? In the dark?”
He frowns out the window.
“Be a bit wet won’t it?
“You said you liked to do that. You said you do that.” She hears the hysteria in her voice. She takes a sip of wine and finds her hands are trembling.
He puts his napkin down and looks at her a long time.
“I do. I do that. I just didn’t think—”
She is way ahead of him on the skinny snaking path, slipping her way up the mountain in her heart-shaped heels.
“Where’s the fire?” he calls after her.
When they reach the top, they just stand there. The city down there like a thousand eyes of light. She’s cold but that’s all she is. Here, he says, offering his jacket. I’d give you my coat but. He throws up his hands and smiles. Now she’s not even cold. It isn’t raining. It isn’t windy. Her dress isn’t soaked to her skin and the dye in her hair isn’t bleeding down her face. The sky is so fucking clear and the moon so bright it’s like daylight up here. There is nothing, oh my god nothing, at all to be afraid of. She can even see the purple flowers on the rolling hills. Heather, he says and his hands aren’t around her bare neck, they’re in his lap, turning round themselves. Round and round themselves as he gazes at his knees and begins to tell her about his childhood when he was forced by his grandfather to shoot an elk. It really scarred him. And how he cried when the animal crumpled to the ground, its legs shaking then caving underneath its grand body. She nods. How terrible for you. Yes, he whispers. Terrible. Then he’s hugging her. Gently. All the taut muscles in his aggressively V shaped torso feel slack and cuddly. His sweater is softer than her softest sweater. It is so soft it might have been skinned from actual puppies. He is thanking her. For listening. He is trembling slightly. Is he weeping? He is a little.
“Sorry about this,” he says, rubbing his eyes with his spider-branded hand. “I suppose I feel pretty comfortable with you. For me, that’s rare.”
I’m glad she says, but thinks: so that’s it. He is psycho. He does kill people. He just doesn’t want to kill me. What is it about me? She wants to ask him. What?
He takes her hand and brings it to his lips. She’d thought they’d feel a bit cold and worm-husky but they’re warm. Like there’s actual blood in them. Then he rubs her hand against his cheek. The bones in his face are softer now. Almost as if they’re melting. Puddling into his flesh. It’s disturbing to see him like this. All puddly-faced and lit up by the half-moon, rising behind his bible salesman hair almost like he slipped it a fiver.
“I hope you feel the same,” he says.
“Yeah,” she says, looking miserably at the jagged rocks near her feet where her skull should be shattered by now. “I do.” Earlier she’d tripped on those rocks. And he’d caught her arm just in time. Careful. Careful.
How could she have read him so wrong? It doesn’t make sense. “I don’t get it.”
“Don’t get what?”
“Nothing. It’s not raining. I thought it would.”
He walks on the outside of her all the way home. Because in the nineteenth century, he explains, back when people used to throw crap out their windows, it was the gentlemanly thing to do, to walk on the outside of the woman. So that you’d be the one to get hit with whatever shit was falling from above.
“I’m really fine to walk back alone,” she tells him.
“No no. Chivalry’s dead but I’m not beating it further into the ground.”
He takes her hand. It’s getting hotter. Bradley. My boyfriend Bradley.
They’re strolling down cobblestones. Strolling down cobblestones with Bradley. Her cat will be surprised to see her when she comes home unscratched. Perhaps even disappointed.
On the cobblestoned street, they pass a musician playing the accordion with a sick looking monkey puppet on his shoulder. Bradley starts swinging her hand. Perhaps she should embrace this. The warmth emanating from his palm and his fingers. Perhaps the clear sky is telling her something. Tears in her eyes. There are tears in her eyes. Is she happy?
“What’s wrong?” he asks her.
“Oh nothing. I suppose it’s my turn to cry now.”
“I’m sorry.” He lets go of her hand.
“Yes. No. This is good. I’m fine..”
She nods, giving him a wobbly smile.
“I think I told you I’m sort of going through something right now.”
She expects to be crushed by puppy soft sleeve, but he doesn’t touch her. He doesn’t put his arms around her. Instead he keeps his hands in his pockets, starts whistling. What a fucking monster, she thinks. And then in her heart, a web of hope blooms for this night.