Cold sweats by day, hot by night. From the traditional glass of milk to Tylenol Cold Nighttime to Ambien, her teeth stay sharp and her eyes are still hungry, so that he can’t roll over and forget. He swallows and lays awake. He gets up and goes back to the computer, searching feverishly.
There is an explanation, somewhere, now that everything is online. He clicks through the same links and the same images over and over, searching for what they are hiding, bringing a fist down on the desk.
He can’t stop thinking about hunting. He dreams and in those dreams the rifle, the snare, the crossbow, the tracking and the camo are all stacked on one side, but at the last moment the role of hunter won’t come clear; the rifle, with a clear shot, is battered down by a snarling rictus. Then his fingers at his own throat are like fangs. He is circling himself, doing her work for her. His eyes burn from lack of sleep.
Volunteer work for his resume, and then maybe a job would come. He stacked boxes of non-perishable food and watched her out of the corner of his eye. The Food Bank was his final pick because she stepped forward, saying she would show him around, and now he was here nights because she worked during the day.
Nice shape despite her clothes, messy hair. Messy hair had a 9-5 and didn’t seem to notice how he watched. She was chirrupy and precise and gave pointers at odd moments.
When they made up hampers she sat with her legs splayed open and the hamper held between her calves, tight chinos leaving little to the imagination. She ran a commentary on the items that she dropped in and what palatable meals might be made out of the assortment.
When they went into the back to grab more peanut butter, and the coordinator had left early, halfway down the hall he took a quick step to get his hands on her, reaching around to her chest and her waistband. The lightbulb above them had burned out and in retrospect he’d chosen that spot because of it. He pulled and his fingers were nosing the buttons down the front of her cardigan, whose neckline left exposed the soft-looking skin bridging her collarbone.
The stabbing, stabbing, searing came immediately, before she could have turned around. It did, he knew. But she was turned with claws sinking in on either side of his neck, and she was driving him backward with her lips curled back, wet and gleaming. Palpable, wild hatred unfolding like exultation.
You’ve given all the excuse I need, all the reason I need. She was bloodlust making his veins freeze and when those words wake him up he doesn’t know what he is remembering wrongly; because he also remembers that she was snarling wordlessly, a chimera in the hall he’d entered all unwitting.
It’s a frenzy that he can’t follow because she’s everywhere he turns and he can’t fight what’s inhuman. He manages to break free and run, although turning his back on her is the most terrifying thing he has ever done, and a burning down his right side tells him he’s been gored. Her cardigan is a sick joke but this is no time to stop and puke.
Why, then, the image of her burned into his brain as if he’d looked back? He wouldn’t have looked back – nothing stupid like that.
Yet she’s standing stalk-still under the spent lightbulb, arms slightly out from her sides so he can see the taughtness all the way down to her fingernails, and her eyes are bright, bright, bright in the dimness, daring him for more.
Ravenous, and his voice echoed off the inside of his own head, all wrong. No wonder she volunteered at a fucking food bank.
Only now – now that he doesn’t want it to happen – she is showing up all over the neighbourhood. How does she keep finding him? Hot brunette behind the coffee counter and he turns around to get a lid – there she is, in a booth opposite, staring at him with a smirk that cuts a scone in two, freshly painted nails spread crimson on the table before her.
He cuts down his grocery shopping to once a week, but if he goes by day she is leaning nonchalantly in front of the gossip magazines at the cash, and if he goes by night she is among the stilettoed girls chattering and smoking outside the bar. Whites of her eyes and teeth egg him on and make right side burn anew.
She even catches him on the sidewalk at high noon, materializing with a girl near her age and an older man, an eerie family resemblance. Where, one second ago, there were long legs in winter tights, the crowd shifts and he sees her. The three of them approach the place where he is frozen in the lee of a shop, and they are going briskly so he almost thinks they’ll go by without her noticing… But in between peals of laughter with her companions, her head snaps round and her eyes unerringly find him – find him, and just for an instant, glint predatory over her widening mouth.
He can no longer look at grey tights without a mad desire for escape.
He can’t eat peanut butter, can’t stand chinos, can’t wash his forks or watch his porn. His sink is a thicket of dirty tines. She is everywhere. But no one else so much as looks askance, no one else blanches at the sight of her. And he can’t say a thing. They’d call him the crazy one while she stood on by, watching, innocently ordinary – only she can’t possibly be normal, and that’s why he keeps trying to get at her Facebook, that’s why he keeps scouring the news. Why he can’t sleep.
It’s getting harder to lift his hands above elbow-level. He is keeping the blinds down until the world yields him something better to go on than a blonde in a cardigan. He needs that explanation, or he won’t be able to get rid of her.