Jerry couldn’t let go of the conviction that if she found the right chatroom, she would find him waiting. He would cast his thoughts outward at the same moment that she entered the conversation, and they would make an irrepressible connection. It’s what kept her up, far beyond midnight and at times to the precipice of civilian dawn.
Arriving home from work, Jerry would run up the stairs, unsaddle her laptop bag on the bed and draw a bath. She doubled her uniform over and threaded it through its hanger. Covering herself with foam she would slip beneath the scented ripples, purse her lips and blow irreverent bubbles that burst in technicolour as they broke the surface.
She would then comb her hair through with the blow dryer. She would repeat the process, tugging at the tangled bits of hair until she was able to run the comb through it in one motion. Often it required several attempts. Once satisfied, she curved her neck down like a swan and let her hair fall over her face. As it hung there, she separated the hair and peered through the curtains at her reflection in the mirror and said in her zombie voice, “B-r-a-i-n-s.” Or sometimes, “HERE’S JERRY!” as she stabbed repetitively through the air.
The beauty of an evening to herself was the predictability. The control that she had over the minutes. She decided what to do, what to eat, who to call and what clothes to wear. No sunlight to expose her actions. No email begging for attention. No manager standing so close to her cubicle that she could feel their breath on her neck.
Today was different. Different enough for her to break the pattern. At first it was Abigail’s throwaway line about how sweeping back her hair into a ponytail had exposed her cheekbones and made her look regal. That was unexpected. Jerry loved hearing the word regal, more so in reference to her. Before the full effect of the word had settled, she became unsure of what Abigail meant. Was it a compliment or an observation? Was it something else? And if so, what did Abigail mean? Jerry sat at her desk and stared at her screen. Her wrists began to itch. When no one was looking she looped the hairband around her wrist and let her hair fall across her face.
The other incident occurred after the heat of the afternoon had both overwhelmed the office and the air conditioning. She walked into the kitchen for her last espresso of the day. The machine continued to gurgle as she added a half teaspoon of sugar and whisked milk into the dark liquid.
“Who drinks coffee in this heat?”
She turned and dropped the spoon onto the floor.
“Sorry,” said Jerry crouching down awkwardly to reach for the abandoned spoon.
“No, I should be. Didn’t mean to startle you,”
The voice was attached to a pair of brushed olive sneakers, jeans and the trim torso of a man Jerry had never seen before. Jerry furtively retrieved her espresso and perched the small cup onto its saucer.
“Sorry”’ she said, looking at the coffee stain on the carpet. As she walked out of the kitchen, she passed near to him and slowed imperceptibly to allowed herself to breath him in . She could feel her unsteady heartbeat pulsing in her wrists.
Biting down hard on her lip, Jerry thought back to the afternoon encounter, letting her imagination fill in the gaps. Her tongue registered the metallic taste of blood in her mouth. Today was different. She extracted a tea bag from its porcelain jar and placed it into a cup of pot-boiled water. She pressed the tea bag against the cup’s inner wall. It reminded her of when she lifted her breasts into her push-up bra with her fingertips. Instead of reaching for the milk she searched behind her haphazard assortment of cooking books and extricated a half-jack of whiskey. She poured whiskey into the cap of the bottle and tilted its content into her tea. She placed the top back on the bottle, hesitated, took it off and poured in another capful.
She took out a scalpel from her desk drawer where she kept various surgical implements. She made two precise incisions along an expensive bar of raw cocoa chocolate and stacked the pieces on top of each other. She placed the chocolate pagoda next to her fortified tea, reached for her mouse and focussed on the screen. Her index finger fidgeting over the click button.
She positioned a piece of chocolate onto her tongue and sipped her tea. She allowed the chocolate to melt in her mouth before swirling her tongue around like an eel in a jar. The warm liquid mingled with the chocolate and metallic tasting blood from her lower lip.
“Now let me find my precious. We wants it, we needs it,” she said.
Her finger slowed on the mouse trackwheel as she narrowed in on what she was looking for. She took a generous sip of tea and clicked. One hour later there was a knock on the door. She opened it expectantly.
“Don’t say anything,” Jerry said, leading her visitor into the living room.
Her guest’s resemblance to the man from her afternoon encounter was passable. She sat him down and studied him in silence from across the coffee table. She walked to the bathroom and picked up a small black comb from the cabinet. Jerry looked at her reflection in the mirror. Blood beaded her lower lip. She wet her finger under the tap and dabbed at her lip before licking it clean.
“Must have precious. They stole it from us. Sneaky little hobbitses.” The whiskey was taking hold.
She walked up behind her seated visitor, wrapped her fingers around his neck and tilted his chin back so that his head rested on her chest. She ran the comb through his hair. First backwards, and then to one side. Flicking her wrist as she reached the end of each stroke.
“”There there Fred Astaire,” she hummed, her Cheshire cat smile spreading against her cheeks.
She removed strands of his hair from the comb and inserted them into a plastic container that had been arranged, with the scalpel, on her desk.
“Something isn’t right,” said Jerry tilting her head to one side.
“Now we sees it,” she said running the back of her finger along the side of his face.
Using the tips of her thumb and index finger, Jerry picked up the scalpel from the desk. Facing her guest she held his face in her hand. With the other hand she ran the scalpel downward along his cheek, scraping away stubble with the surgical blade. She could feel the pulse in his neck throbbing like a swollen river about to burst its banks from the volume of melted snow as it thawed under the sun’s gaze.
You could have been the father of my first born, she thought, as she gripped the scalpel, feeling the back of it press into the palm of her hand.