I dreamed about you last night. It seemed a little out of the blue, then I felt terrible when I realised that I hadn’t thought about you for a few days. You used to consume me, body and soul. But then I wondered, do you think about me? The last few weeks have been so confusing. I wish I didn’t think of you at all.
Tiny, disjointed, fleeting micro thoughts – danced through my head only to vanish when I consciously pursued them. They could be triggered by anything. The day before it all went wrong, I saw a workman in a service station eating one of those awful boxed salads. The ones that look as though they died in that one portion plastic coffin. I imagine that you would hate them. He looked nothing at all like you, no penetrating gaze or perfect smile. He was as short as you are tall, but for a split second my heart almost skipped out of my mouth. I could hear your complaints from the day we met, replaying in my mind about healthy eating being forced upon you, all for some fancy wedding. I can understand you wanting to look your best, but you already had an unfair advantage over other men. You laughed, patted your imaginary spare tyre and told me how you preferred a thick rare steak that you could get your teeth into, salad was for rabbits. Your eyes shone like lapis lazuli as you leant forward and winked at me, your fingers touching mine, pausing as you returned my pen and the paperwork you had signed.
Whoever said that you should tone up and join the gym, I thank them. I knew you were different to the others when I first saw you in my office, and watching the way you dedicated yourself to your exercise routine was fascinating. Most people joined a gym, attended three sessions and then vanished. Not you. Your enthusiasm was enthralling, every evening I locked my office door and watched the CCTV. I saw you sweat your way through all the machines and then start on the weights. Seeing the exertion on your face, sweat on your brow made my thoughts drift to you and me between the sheets. I just knew you would be a considerate lover and in my mind’s eye your hands were eagerly exploring the topography of my naked body. I would linger in reception while you were showering and then we would chat briefly as you left. “Good workout?” I would ask.
“Great, but I am sure I will ache all over in the morning. See you tomorrow”.
See you tomorrow. Yes, you would.
The first time I saw your home, I was shocked and had to double check the address. I was expecting a city centre apartment to match the suave suits I saw you in every evening. It was a three-bed semi on an identikit newbuild estate. That was better though, I came to realise quickly. Much more practical. It would be perfect for our kids. I could see them playing on the front lawn. A girl with your dark hair and blue eyes and a baby boy toddling around, his face framed with a halo of gold curls like mine. Then I was torn in two. Seeing another woman walk out of the front door and get into a car. I remember how my hands were frozen to my steering wheel, I wanted to plough her down. You were nowhere to be seen. I watched her drive away and got out of my car. I walked off my anger and felt my legs burning like over used pistons and the freezing cold catching my breath in my throat. I was gasping, my fists clenching and flexing as I struggled to keep calm. That bitch could never mourn your loss like I do.
I signed up a new client last week: he was older than you and had steel coloured, close cropped hair. No real similarity. He certainly did not have the presence you do. But he wore an aftershave like yours and for a moment, it was like a mask. His voice seemed to take on the same cadence, but his sentences ended abruptly by him laughing at his own jokes like he was a goddamn comedian. I smiled tightly at him but really, I wanted to smash him over the head with my keyboard. If only he knew that the entire time I sat there nodding at his banal chit chat I was thinking about you. The way you had held your coffee cup, the pad of your thumb wiping away the little bead that threatened to roll down the cup like a dirty tear. After you left my office that day, I held that cup to my lips, exactly where yours had been. The kiss we would never have, and we didn’t even know it.
After I saw that woman leaving your house, I drove back to work. Lost, cast aside. I couldn’t help myself. I had tried to stop myself from searching for you on social media after my friend request was repeatedly ignored. But I couldn’t. I frantically searched the drawers in my desk, pushing away papers. My fingers skipped over un-popped strips of pills. There, right at the back, where I had left it. I grabbed at my phone, opening apps as quickly as I could and then desperately searching for your profile. It was gone. Deleted. I wished I still had the photos of you, I had saved them on my work computer and then bloody IT company had wiped them when installing updates for the new software. A sense of emptiness came over me. A fragile shell of a person that seemed destined for nothing but an eternity of misery and loneliness. If somebody had touched me right then, I would have shattered into a billion splinters. I needed to feel better. I needed you.
I had one last thing of yours. I reached into the tiny zipped section of my bag. Carefully, I took the crumpled plastic bag out. The tester strip from Debenhams was still there, sat at the bottom. I could see clear water marks where the over zealous counter girl had squirted your signature scent onto a card sampler. It had taken me and her around fifteen minutes to narrow it down to find the right one, after all it wasn’t like I could ask you. I had skipped from the shop, hid the strip in the sealed bag to preserve it. To keep your essence. I held the bag on my lap and ran a torn finger nail across the Ziploc. My once tidy manicure had been chewed to shreds. My chest was enclosed in a vice, my head pounded, and tears pushed from my eyes. I have been doing so well trying to keep you out of my head. I almost succeeded. I love you and hate you.
I opened the bag, to my dismay, the smell was barely discernible from the chemical taint of the plastic. This would not do. The aftershave sample was a poor substitute anyway, after all it lacked the warmth of your skin and the musk of your body to give it a truly authentic smell. In a split second I made up my mind. I knew what I needed to do. I might have promised myself I would be strong, but I am not. A quick check on the computer gave me the information I needed. In just a few hours I would be fine, you would be here, and I would feel so much better.
6.15pm. It was time. You were a man of routine, came to work out every evening on your way home from work. I walked from my office. Amelia was standing behind reception picking at her split ends. This wasn’t in the plan. “Go clean up that spillage outside of reception on the walkway” I barked at her.
“Uhm, Ok. Can I get you anything when I come back in? a coffee maybe? You look like you could do with it” she faltered.
I did not have time for her trivial questions. My blood was pounding through my body in anticipation and my mouth dry with nerves. As she walked out, I checked the monitors, then my heels drilled out a staccato as I made my way across the tiled foyer into the changing rooms. The lockers in that gym were opened by a tag that you wore like a watch, programmed with your own code. I held the universal staff tag to the locker that I knew you used. Thirty-three, just like your door number. The door popped open. There. That heady mix of soap, toothpaste and aftershave was punctuated by the natural musk of your body. Weak kneed, I struggled to decide what to take. Stroking my fingertips over the soft knit wool, I slipped the scarf you wore over your coat -into my bag, sure you would not miss it. I closed the door and hastily retreated to my office with my prize. I did not see Amelia looking oddly at me and whispering to the cleaner. Nor did I see my manager standing on the mezzanine with a grim line etched into his mouth as he pulled a phone out of his pocket and punched out numbers. He had never liked me. Later I did not even see the two police standing outside my office door. I was far too lost in your smell, the memories of our brief meetings in my office, our shared stolen moments as we passed in the corridor. I imagined it was you entwined and wrapped around my body instead of your cashmere scarf.
I tried to explain to the detectives, I told them that you felt the same way about me and you would not mind. They refused to believe anything I said. They claim you saw my picture and did not even recognise me. “She works at this gym? Oh, yeah. She signed me up a month ago. Seemed nice enough, but now you mention it she has been watching me quite a bit when I visit. I think she must live near me too, I’ve seen her on my estate”. I hate you. But I loved you. Why would you do this? How could you lie about our deep connection, our bond? They went through my desk and belongings and asked me endless questions about my tablets. Why were they unopened? Why did I have so many?
Apparently, a mistake on my record claims I have had a caution for stalking a few years ago. We both know I am not that sort of person. Now if I breach my bail by approaching you then I will go to prison. It’s a misunderstanding that I am sure will be cleaned up in time. The PC that waited with me for the duty psychiatrist seemed to feel some sort of understanding. He even said that fledgling relationships can often be complicated, and I should find something new to hold my attention, a hobby or maybe even a puppy. His dog kept him sane, he said. He patted my hand, his big bear paw reassuring and warm against mine. I noticed the lack of wedding ring on his third finger and then saw the early morning sun was peeking through the blinds, highlighting him with golden beams. He made me a cup of tea, stirred it three times like I asked and even brought me a little plastic packet of digestives. As he passed me, I noticed his scent. Homely, like fresh air, fabric conditioner and walks in the park. Closing my eyes and filling my lungs with air, I could almost imagine him walking his dog. A big scruffy Dulux dog. Or possibly a greyhound. Maybe I could even be at his side with a puppy running around our feet as his arm links mine.