Updated: May 19, 2021
I have seen him here before. I recognise his dark eyes, the way they steadily fix on me, my body, from head to toe. I know he’s looking at me. He’s following my footsteps, tracing my movements, watching my eyes as they glaze over titles and authors imprinted on the book edges.
She takes slow, slender steps down the aisle, lightly stroking the spines of the books, choosing with the tips of her fingers. She is wearing a navy blue dress and sandals. Her calves are muscled; she must be into dancing – I like a girl who can dance. Her thick, dark hair looks well-tended, curled to perfection. It sits on her shoulders like it is floating, concealing her ears and neck.
Her body jolts. Letter A. She slides Margaret Atwood from the shelf. Her shoulders relax as she reads the blurb of The Handmaid’s Tale so slowly I think she must be reading every word, twice. What is she thinking? She must be clever. And if she’s into Atwood, a bit of a feminist. I can live with that.
Before I have time to rearrange myself she turns and looks at me. Eyes meet mine. They are the sky. They twinkle as her lips take the shape of a smile. She speaks, showing white teeth.
“I can see you through there.”
Her voice is soft, with an accent that’s impossible to pinpoint. Slight northern twang. She smiles again.
“Were you watching me?”
“I must admit I was. It’s hard not to. You have that effect.”
She laughs modestly like I’ve made a joke. As her grin widens I see those white teeth again. I notice they are slightly crooked at the front. I can see faint dimples in her cheeks and delicate lines at the edges of her eyes from all the laughing. Eventually, she stops and the space between us is quiet.
“So…” She looks down at her book, gently rubbing her fingertips across the edges of the pages. Her nails are painted red; they are short and stubby and look as though she bites them.
“What are you studying?” she asks, looking up and catching me directly in the eye.
I tell her: Economics. She is studying English Literature. She is in her first year. I am in third. She is from the north of England, I am from the south.
“I should do some reading,” she says, lifting her book and tilting her head to the side. I can tell she wants me to join her.
Side by side we pretend to read. The letters in my Micro Economics jumble and form into meaningless words. I peek from my book and watch her, her eyes scan quickly across the pages. She is either a very quick reader or not taking in a word. As she reads, she slips her hair behind her ear. She is showing me her neck, presenting tiny gold hoop earrings dangling from her ears, the most perfectly formed ears I have ever seen.
Every few seconds I glance at her. I divert my eyes when I think she may look up. I can’t stop looking at her ears. They are so carefully shaped, like beautiful works of art. Just the right size. Covered in silk. I want to run my fingers along those ears. And my tongue.
I linger too long. Her eyes are no longer on the page. She is looking at me.
“Let’s go for a drink,” she suggests, closing her book and stuffing it into her bag. I notice the pages of the book crumple slightly; she is careless. I can live with that too, I suppose.
The music vibrates from the tips of my toes, swiftly stroking my skin, causing the hairs on my arms to stand on end. My body is no longer my own as it sways and shimmers in the darkness of the room. It is out of my control.
He hands me another drink, shouting through the music. Lips clumsily find my ears, my cheek, and my lips. Tongues slide. Teeth crash. Then we find a rhythm, with music made for us. He holds me close, gripping me tightly, fingers kneading me. I put my face into his warm neck, breathing in his smell, feeling his body want mine. He lets go. I watch him as he makes his way through the crowd to get me another drink.
I’m thirsty. I slurp it up.
I awake the next morning with a hangover scorching through my skull. My teeth feel furry against my dry, scaly tongue. I feel a bare body enveloping me, heavy against my limbs. Hands stroking my hair and my ears. Lips brushing them gently.
“Great night,” he whispers.
I open my eyes. Our bodies are pressed together. Our faces are millimetres apart. I notice tiny lines in his skin. Pore scars, evidence of teenage acne. I can smell old alcohol on his breath. My breath must stink.
I laugh in agreement, a flutter of unease running through my gut. He laughs too, the creases on his forehead becoming prominent, like they did yesterday in the library when he was pretending to read his book. He gets out of the bed, his long, pale body shivering in the cold. He picks up his boxers from the floor and dresses himself. He is wearing the same clothes as yesterday, dark, straight-legged jeans. A black shirt. His clothes remind me of my nakedness.
“Would you like some water?”
“Yeah, please. My throat hurts.” I force a smile.
He leaves the room, the door remains open. I hear his footsteps getting quieter, further away.
I look around the room. The black blinds on the window are fully closed. A slice of natural light peeks through the edges, telling me it’s daytime. The room is white and empty apart from the creased double bed, a plain desk and chair and a small TV. My clothes and sandals, crumpled on the floor. It all looks new and strange, so unfamiliar to me.
I realise I don’t remember getting here. I can’t recall how I ended up in this room. I don’t know where I am. How did I get up the stairs? How did I find the door? How did I remove my clothes?
My heart feels heavy in my chest. I pull myself from the bed and gather my clothes. I can’t find my underwear. I feel sick. I slide my dress over my shaking body and hurriedly put my sandals and jacket on.
I hear faint footsteps getting closer. My bag is dangling over the chair, I grab it and hold it close, my head spinning.
He is in the doorway.
He walks towards me, a pint glass of water in his hand. I hold my bag with one hand and take the glass with the other, my body swaying. The water is metallic and lukewarm, he didn’t leave the tap on long enough.
She is dressed and ready to leave as I enter the room. Her eyes no longer twinkle, they are puffy and red. Yesterday’s flawless hair is knotted. She hasn’t put her bra on underneath her dress, her nipples are pointy. I find my kindest voice.
“Are you okay?”
“I have to go. Need a shower. Loads of study to do today. Thanks for a great night though.”
She looks at me as though I might hold her captive and murder her.
“It was fun. You do remember it, don’t you?”
She looks down at her feet.
I consider taking a step closer to her and touching her arm but decide I should keep my distance. I don’t want to scare her.
“We were both very drunk. We danced. You asked to come back to mine, and the rest…” I smile, urging her to remember it the way I remember it.
Her face is blank but her body loosens slightly.
“Did we use anything?”
“Of course we did.” I point to the bin in the corner.
I’m not stupid.
I slam my phone down next to my bed and stare at the photo montage on the ceiling; faces from home gaze at me with judging smiles. I pull the grey fluffy blanket over my head, muffling the repetitive noises of the city centre. I’m agitated with the sounds of sirens, cars screeching and students giggling as they face this Friday’s adventure.
I haven’t heard from him in three days. What a dick.
Although, he was sweet to me, wasn’t he?
Maybe it’s me. Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe he didn’t like my body. Maybe he didn’t like me as a person.
I shouldn’t have left so abruptly. He must think I’m crazy.
I wish he’d text me.
I unravel myself from the blanket and pick up my book.
But whose fault was it? Aunt Helena says, holding up one plump finger. Her fault, her fault, her fault, we chant in unison. Who led them on? Aunt Helena beams, pleased with us. She did. She did. She did. Why did God allow such a terrible thing to happen? Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. Teach her a lesson. His face is in my head. This is my fault.
I wonder what he’s doing now?
I wait for her to crack. She will. They always do.
Hey. How ru? Fancy a drink tonight?
I arrive early. She is already there, waiting for me at the bar. I loiter outside. I don’t want to seem too keen. I tremble in the cold of late October, it's only 5 pm but the sky is darkening. I let her wait for an adequate fifteen minutes, then I enter the bar and walk towards her. Her dark hair is tied back, making her face harsher, her ears more visible. She is wearing tight black jeans and a black top, tied up at the neck with a slit down the back. Her shoulder blades stick out. I want to touch them. I want to trace my fingers up and down her back, tickle her neck, tease her hair, play with her intricately and perfectly created ears.
Her fingers are typing rapidly on her phone. Her head is down. She doesn’t notice me.
He’s here. I look at my phone and pretend to text.
“I’ve already ordered. I’m taking it easy tonight.”
He nods, with a look of disbelief. The barmaid walks towards us with a pint of beer for him and a small glass of red wine for me.
We clang our glasses. He leans over and kisses the side of my head, just touching the top of my ear. He smells nice. I feel a tug in my abdomen and I have an urge to crush myself into him, curl up into a ball in his arms.
“It’s good to see you,” he says.
“It’s good to see you too,” I reply.
I sip the wine, warmth rising in my cheeks. He asks me questions. I respond. I tell him about my family. I ask him about his. His family seems small, compared to mine. No brothers or sisters. No dad. Just him and his mum. He hasn’t seen her since last Christmas.
“She must miss you.”
“Don’t you miss her?”
He likes being alone.
She asks so many questions.
Some of them, I don’t know how to answer. I say what she wants to hear. I make the odd joke. She laughs, throwing her head back, her ponytail touching the top of her spine. It’s going well at first.
She consumes drink after drink. She is not taking it easy. Her white, crooked teeth bruise purple from the ongoing flow of red wine. As she gets more incapacitated, she shuffles her barstool closer to mine, so our knees and shoulders are touching. She keeps talking, desperate to impress me. Unfortunately, I am finding her irritating, rather than impressive.
She downs her fourth glass, rocking back and forth on her chair.
“Shall we go back to yours?” she slurs, biting her bottom lip.
I think she is trying to be sexy.
I am just a bit dizzy. Not drunk. I can walk in a straight
I banged my hip
That will bruise tomorrow.
He slips a full glass in my hand.
Just one more.
I need bed.
Come to mine. You can sleep it off there.
The weight of her body presses into me as I drag her into the night air. She is quiet now; eyes drooping, saliva dribbling from the corner of her mouth. I am tired from the evening and disappointed in her. She’s too desperate. Too… messy. I will not be seeing her again. Hopefully the next girl I meet will be less difficult.
I have seen him before. I recognise him from somewhere.
He sits at the table in the corner of the café so we’re facing each other. The room is busy with students and city workers, but through slim gaps in the bodies I see him, and he sees me.
A News Alert buzzes on my phone.
Unidentified woman’s body found dumped by road with ears removed
The woman is believed to be around 20 years old. A year older than me.
I peek up from the screen. His eyes meet mine. My face heats up.
She is described as white, around 5.5 tall, slim, brown curly hair.
I skim the rest of the article and share it with the UniGals WhatsApp group.
Creepy. Stay safe girls. X
I stir my tea, hoping my newly painted nails catch his attention.
She sips and stirs while scrolling through her phone. Her dark nails and chestnut hair contrast with the white cup. Her smooth skin looks translucent, deathly, even. Her lips are red and perfectly painted, soft and fleshy. Just right. I’d like to touch those lips, with my lips. With my tongue.
I want those lips.
Before I have time to rearrange myself, she looks up. Sharp, green eyes meet mine. She smiles and nibbles her bottom lip. It’s my cue to say hello.