It had taken until four-thirty.
He had started at breakfast. It had occupied his mind for most of the morning, over his lunch break, and on through the afternoon.
With a head full of twisted barbs, he had almost bulldozed over a small estate car with the gargantuan garbage truck he controlled.
Finally his mind was made up.
She had to be removed.
A swift incision.
Leah was a beautiful woman. No, more than that;a lithe elven princess, a fairy tale being, a sylph-like waif with wispy blonde hair and storm grey eyes. A dancer, her presence had flitted through his life like a moonbeam, bringing with it a glistening sparkle, an urgency, a desire to be alive, which had never possessed him before.
Ian was a dark man, in every sense of the word. Tall and melancholy, heavily built with frozen eyes, he turned away would be opponents in seedy bars with his ominous glare. His philosophy on life was not idealistic, nor pessimistic, simply realistic.
She told him that if he saw a glass half full, it was always half empty in his perception. For a little while he had started to believe that she might be right, about the light outweighing the dark, in all ways. Then the rust invaded. This time, the glass was half full; half full of poison.
A chance encounter, four months ago, a heated exchange in a crowded bar, had led them to press their sweat soaked bodies together in a cramped attic room. The fire had mellowed into a deeper contemplation of each other, the kind of bond that might actually survive against the outside world.
She called him every day.
He didn’t mind at first; her musical voice made his senses tingle with anticipation.
Once became twice; three times.
Calls at work became a source of amusement amongst his colleagues, a bone of contention from his supervisor.
A gentle reminder made the persistent calls subside.
Letters and notes replaced them.
In his lunch box, they were cute and romantic.
Slipped under the wipers of his car like a parking ticket they seemed bizarre. Passionate promises on Post-It notes stuck to his door gathered cryptic glances from his neighbours.
His body ached for her, but she had to give him at least a little privacy. So he had softly placated her, an endeavour to appreciate her devotion, but highlight the intensity which felt so strong it was as if he were flying close to the sun, and at any moment the heat would kill him.
Gifts arrived, at work and at home.
Flowers, soft toys, chocolates, balloons embellished with romantic messages.
Ian was an immensely private person. The attention he had relished had now become stifling, like a woman wearing too much heavy perfume. He felt nauseous.
He needed to breathe.
Leah started to shadow him. At first, her unexpected appearances seemed coincidental. Weeks passed. He became the butt of a thousand work place jokes. She was everywhere. Her underwear appeared in the glove compartment of the truck; he could smell her perfume everywhere. Items had gone missing from his flat; nothing valuable had vanished, only keepsakes, family photographs, clothes. He knew where he would find them.
Love turned sour. The fairy dancer had become an albatross hanging around his neck, appearing on every street corner like an unsuccessful whore.
Attempts to reach a compromise had failed. She would not be chastised now. Any criticism he made of her obsession was taken as a sign of his lack of commitment. He thought perhaps love had been denied her, in her childhood, in a time before he had known her, and tried to broach the subject, but she was a closed book he was forever forbidden to read.
There was no alternative.
A necessary sin, guilty as it might make him feel. He would not sleep soundly again until his existence was decontaminated, and her presence destroyed, leaving nothing but a fading memory.
Work ended. He drove home, showered and changed into casual clothes. His apartment was quiet, cold, and still. It used to seem lonely, but now the peace and quiet of her absence was a welcome release.
Leah had not been invited. They had made no arrangements, but she would materialize as always. This night mirrored each one before it. The doorbell announced her arrival at almost six-thirty.
She breezed in, filling vases with fresh flowers in the kitchen. He stood staring at her, a cold feeling rising from the pit of his stomach.
Leah was wearing one of his missing shirts.
Given the contrast in the shape and size of their bodies, it looked ludicrous, as if she were a child dressed up in a white sheet as a Halloween ghost.
Her hair had been dyed dark brown, the same shade as his. Perhaps this was coincidence; he was reading too much into her behaviour, exaggerated as it was.
When she finally stopped moving around in beautifully choreographed steps, and dinner was cooking, and the daffodils and tulips were exhibited proudly in the middle of the kitchen table, she turned to look at him.
“What’s the matter?”
This girl was stalking him, but had no idea why he found her behaviour so unappealing. Ian pitied her, however uncomfortable she made him feel.
“Leah, sit down.”
“I can’t, I have to keep an eye on dinner.”
“It’ll keep, just for a minute.” He crossed the room and turned down the gas under the pans. “Please, just sit down.”
She obeyed him, wearing the expression of a guilty schoolgirl about to be reprimanded by a strict headmaster.
This imagery, with it’s vaguely sensual undertones, did little to ease his apprehension. He pulled out the chair opposite her. The vase of flowers stood between them, distracting him from her face. He was glad of the intervention.
Mercy was pointless here.
Severity was the only satisfactory tool.
“I think we should stop seeing each other.”
There was a moment of silence. Between the stems and vibrant petals, through the smell of greenery, he watched her expression change, a spirit crushed as easily as screwing a daisy up in his fist, remnants falling out his palm, broken.
“I’m sorry, Leah.”
“Just like that, over?”
Tears decorated her voice, thorns pricking his conscience.
“I need some space.”
“Space, space, all you ever seem to say is that you want space, you need time to yourself, we should take it easy for a while. Why the hell did we start having a relationship then?”
He opened his mouth to answer, but she spared him the effort.
“What a stupid question! What do all men want? I really thought. . .” Her face took shelter in her hands. “I thought you were different.”
If this were a play, all of her lines would be predictable. He had envisaged this moment over and over in his head for most of the day, and so far it was unfolding exactly as he had expected.
“I want. . . I wanted to be. You wouldn’t let me, Leah. I wanted to be with you, perhaps always, but you don’t give me room to want you. You force yourself upon me, in every waking moment.”
“I can change,” she blurted out.
“I can try.”
“No!” He swallowed down his impatience. “I’m sorry. It’s too late for that. It just doesn’t feel right anymore.”
Tears made tracks down her face.
He felt like a monster, inhuman, heartless.
“I think it’s better if you leave now. I don’t want to hurt you, but there’s no point talking. There’s nothing you can do to change it. I’m sorry. Please just go.”
The girl across the table stared at him through the flowers in disbelief, but rose.
“There are some things here I need to. . .”
“I’ll send them on to you.”
“Okay. If that’s what you want.”
Ian listened to the sounds of her leaving the room and collecting her coat. He could feel the emptiness waiting to embrace him, and it felt good, like the promise of an ice cold beer on a sweltering summer afternoon.
Her hands suddenly rested on his shoulders.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.”
He was unsure if she meant by suddenly appearing behind him, or by the way she had silently smothered him throughout their relationship, but either way, he was terrified.
Nimble fingers massaged tense muscles at the base of his neck, loosening his shoulders.
“I know I came on too strong.” Her voice sounded fragile, empty, shell-shocked. “I always scare men away. I thought you would understand. I never meant to make you feel uncomfortable. I just wanted to be near you. I just wanted to love you.”
He closed his eyes, his conscience beckoning, but he refused to allow his resolve to be broken.
“I’ve always been the same, every since I was a child.”
So now she wanted to explain, when he had called her bluff.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work out between us, Leah. Please go.”
His indifference did not deter her. Her lips brushed the back of his neck.
“Stop it. It’s no good!”
“I’m not trying to persuade you to change your mind. The last thing I want is to force you to be with me, if I only make you unhappy. But maybe we could. . . just one last time.”
“It’s not a good idea.”
The shape of her breasts was pressed against his skin. He imagined the soft warmth of her body, and as always, the idea of entering it aroused him. He turned around, and her lips began to work his instantly.
This was all wrong.
Emergency surgery, all ties severed.
He had planned it all day.
“Just one more time, please.” Leah murmured.
“It won’t change anything.” He sighed, aware that her fingertips were plying his zipper open.
“I know. It doesn’t matter. Please.”
It was impossible to think clearly when his libido was in overdrive. The rush of blood that swelled his erection caused a temporary loss of reason. She was still utterly irresistible. He had no idea of continuing their relationship, so the bonds which had limited his desire were removed. A beautiful woman was kissing her way down his body and his guilt was rapidly disappearing, outweighed by more primitive urges.
What harm could it do?
With no further consideration, he ceased to protest, and let it happen.
On his bed, an hour and several hectic couplings later, they lay side by side.
Sexually, she was beyond reproach.
They were equally matched in one respect at least.
Rain had started to patter eagerly against the window.
“I love you.”
The words leaving her lips seemed like a curse.
“Leah, I’m sorry, but . . .” Ian sat up and started to dress, finding it impossible to be stern when stark naked.
“Can’t we talk?”
“No. You said you wouldn’t try and change my mind.”
“Then what is there to talk about?”
Leah put her hand on his bare shoulder.
“I’ll go now. I’ll never see you again. Just one more kiss.”
“Am I so repulsive now?”
“Don’t be stupid! I just fucked you five times, how can I find you repulsive?”
“Then kiss me goodbye, please.”
He turned back towards the bed, and slid his arms around her. “I didn’t want this to happen. You gave me no choice.”
Their lips collided. Her skin felt strangely warm, feverish. He tried to break contact, but her arms remained locked around him.
Physically, he was her superior, but he had no desire to hurt her in order to make her let go, so he allowed the embrace to continue.
The kiss seemed to last forever.
He started to feel nauseous, light-headed; an empty feeling arrived in the base of his stomach. His pulse began thudding wildly.
He pushed her away.
Leah held onto him, her lips welded to his.
It seemed impossible to break free. The floor seemed to vanish beneath him, his insides churning with fear. He fought her, tearing at her skin, gouging at her throat in an attempt to fling her away.
He couldn’t move her.
She was half his size, but she clung to him like a sickening parasite, lips burning his, nails penetrating his flesh.
It was becoming harder to breathe.
Her fingers seemed to be sinking beneath his skin, probing around inside, causing sudden and unexpected pain.
Heart pounding, everything seemed to suddenly speed up around him, the world whirring like a hectic fairground ride. A bizarre nightmare had become real. He waited to wake, but it didn’t happen. He realised he had stopped fighting.
His lungs ached.
There was a sharp pain between his ribs, as if claws had reached inside and were searching for his heart.
The last time he had screamed he had been a very small child. This time, there was no way the sound could escape his body. She was extracting the air from his lungs, the blood from his veins, the life from his body.
Unbearable pain without the mercy of anaesthetic.
Then he ceased to exist.
Leah got up and dressed in Ian’s white shirt and her own blue jeans. She stood in front of the mirror in his bathroom and combed her dark brown hair.
Eyes glared back at her, ice blue and malevolent. They were not her own. She could feel him inside her, a rat in a cage, screaming, crying, insane, trying to escape her body.
It was a simple operation.
Performed a dozen times before, the swift absorption of every man who had ever tried to leave her life. At least he would not be alone in there, within her mind, his shape squeezed into her frame, like an overgrown foetus.
Her hand touched her hardened nipples through the white cotton.
His hand, touching her.
The echo of his tormented voice inside her head, amidst a sea of others, made her smile. She could never be lonely with him here. She could never be lonely with him living inside of her.
The ultimate love.
Not just to love someone, but to become them.
She was no longer simply in love with him.
She was him.
Leah ran a brush through her hair, pulled on Ian’s jacket, and rushed outside to greet the warm summer rain, feeling his heartbeat thudding loudly inside her. She carried him out into the open air, to face the world, as part of her.