The face did not come every night. Sometimes it would let him sleep and make him feel that it had been a bad dream. But no sooner did he start thinking that he was free it would creep up slowly the next night, peeling back the undraped curtains before moving across the bedroom towards him. He knew it was coming, knew he should move, shout, get away, but he did none of these things. Instead, he stayed transfixed as the face peered down at him, reminding him of things he so wanted to forget.
Damon woke up once again bathed in a cold sweat on a hot summer’s day. Sunshine streamed in through the windows while the silken sunflowers danced outside. All in all, it was a beautiful day, a day for life, for love, for laughter. It was a great day to be alive unless of course you had spent the night with a face, your wife’s face sans body to be precise. And that’s just what Damon had done. He had stared into his wife’s blue eyes, watched as the golden hair slightly tickled his nose and gasped as the face drew closer and closer till it was within biting distance of his ear. And it was then he heard the whisper.
Damon knew why it was happening. His wife Karen was always jealous in his waking hours so it was only natural to him that she should be so in his dreams. Flying into frenzied fury because he had stared at the pretty waitress for a few minutes too long, weeping hysterically when he had told her to sleep in the other room, along with regular promises that she would jump off the ledge, Karen truly was ‘one of a kind.’ At first it had been endearing, the fact that he could be everyone and everything to a person in a Tinder-dominated world had thrilled him and for a few years all had all been well.
Till she came.
Damon knew he was in trouble when he looked at her. He had always valued femininity, elegance, a woman who was proud to be a woman in a trouser-led unisex world, and Esmeralda was all of that. She was not classically beautiful, oh no. Her nose was slightly askew, tampering with symmetry and ruining her ‘Audrey Hepburn face’, as he liked to call it. But such foibles made her human and this humanity is what grew on him like a creeper plant coiling possessively around a stick.
The attraction did not happen overnight, nor was it apparent in that strict workplace armed with strong moral codes on how employees should behave. No, there was no occasion where Esme, he had taken to calling her that, and he could have a moment alone in that cloistered two-room office. And so he had hidden his feelings, hidden it as best as he could when she walked into meetings fashionably late – he learned later that it was timed purposely – to sit beside him. For when Esme walked in late, a new chair had to be pulled up and somehow she ended up coming very close to him. He would give voice to plans, figures and projections but somehow his senses would take in her lustrous hair, the soft scent of her perfume, her tiny manicured hands, the delicate contours of her wrists, the tiny hint of cleavage, the lack of a ring, all of this was her – beautiful, wondrous, her. Damon would smile inwardly but his stomach churned and his hands would tightly grip the underside of the table, growing clammy from want and need.
It would perhaps have continued in this torturous manner if the incident hadn’t happened. If he hadn’t had had his fight with Karen that day, hadn’t stormed out of the house, hadn’t laid eyes on Esme as soon as he entered a bar that he had never been to before, things perhaps would have been very different. But life always has other plans and so it was with Damon and Esme. As soon as he saw her, he gestured and made the move that would change his life.
He went over and sat next to her.
There should be rules in life that forbid men and women from interacting with one another after a fight with their significant other. Alas, there are no such rules and so Damon and Esme fell to talking and soon the conversation meandered into forbidden areas. Topics that should have best have been left alone were prised opened up like tin cans and soon he was speaking about his life, work and most importantly Karen, dissecting her foibles with an attractive, amused and attentive stranger. It was this and the fact that their hands accidentally touched when they both reached for the cheque that the tempest at last revealed itself and what should not have happened, happened. The frantic text messages, the constant buzzing of his mobile tried valiantly but it could not make Damon return to reason and Karen. The mobile screen stared blankly instead, a mute spectator as he and Esme peeled away dignity, shame, the natural forbearance that governs relations between men and women, to enter into the idyllic world of the forbidden.
Damon knew that entering such a world had its price, a price he was ready to pay for when he went home that evening. A few slaps, tears and threats of suicide. Been there, seen that. He was ready for it.
Unfortunately for Damon, Karen did not let him pay the price that evening. The wolfish smile, the slightly overdone song-whistling as she whipped up dinner and the over-cheerful manner in she asked about his day, built up shame and anger – anger with her and himself. Why did she not question him? Why could she not be angry, strike him, weep, threaten to jump out of the window as she always did? At least then he could release his pent up feelings and hiss back like a coiled snake, grateful to have at last found a justification to bite.
But such a moment did not come. Instead, forced to fall into the routine of their evenings, he smiled, laughed, told her age-old nonsensical stories to which she made the appropriate rejoinders. They had an uneventful dinner and then a glass of wine sitting in their cosy little drawing room. After some time, Karen, announcing her desire to call it a night, kissed him, marched up the flight of stairs and then turned sharply to the right where their bedroom awaited. He heard the door open and slam shut and he knew that if he went up in the next five minutes he would find her asleep. Whatever other problems Karen had, sleep wasn’t one of them. She could sleep anytime, anywhere, and for any length of time. This was a quality he admired and often wished he possessed.
It was then the poison struck. Weaving its way through his body, it hit him most cruelly as he was attempting to stand to make his nightly expedition to the bathroom. He gasped as he collapsed back down, the sofa groaning under his weight and he fought for air that was quickly deserting him, fought to push suddenly recalcitrant limbs into life. It was a losing battle and soon he found himself slipping into a wakeful consciousness whereby his eyes could see, his ears could hear, his brain could process, but he could not move. Breathing too was deserting him and harsh sounds emanated out of his chest as he struggled hard and in vain to preserve the little life he had left.
He heard sounds in the bedroom and he knew then that Karen too must be facing her own ordeals. Of course, being very different individuals, his poison had been the more flamboyant kind, the kind that made you angry, the kind that made you cry, the kind that made you delirious, the kind that altered your mood, the kind that made you want to jump out of the window. He smiled bitterly as he heard the sound of the window pane being pushed up and thought back to all the other times he had poisoned but failed to get her to kill herself. And now when he had finally succeeded it was too late. This was the last thought that Damon had before he saw her face.