Erstwhile Friends


by  M.M. Wayne

I am regretting agreeing to this even before he starts speaking. I can’t hear him, nor do I understand him. All I hear is the screams, my body tightening. My skin crawls in memory as his hand nears mine. My skin remembers. My hand moves back, almost involuntarily, unconsciously. He chuckles nervously, runs a hand through his hair. I flinch back, my body tensed, ready. I remember. Dear God help me but I can’t help but remember. It doesn’t come. Whatever it is I was waiting for, anticipating doesn’t happen. My relief must have shown because he starts apologising again, and it is like before. He catches himself the moment he realises this.

I don’t remember agreeing, or what demon possessed me to say yes but somehow I agree to it. He wants to meet up later, for dinner, just to talk. Another feeling of déjà vu overcomes me and I shudder involuntarily, despite the fact that it is sunny outside. He apologises one last time and then he is gone, leaving me alone to my thoughts.

I am still haunted even as I get back to work. It’s been a year yet my skin still remembers as if it has just occurred. I am shaking, my skin itching as I settle in. My hands hover over my keyboard. My fingers can’t seem to move further. My hands are still trembling. I run my hand through my hair, let out a deep breath. It doesn’t help. I get up from my chair, exit my cubicle. In my haste, I stumble into a co-worker. I mumble my apologies as I rush towards the ladies room. All stalls are empty. I recheck just to make sure. I lock the door behind me before I break down. I hate myself for it, despise my weakness. I am disgusted by the fact that his mere presence still affects me, one year after he left me. I sob for minutes, finally letting go. Somewhere along the line, I decide I have had enough. I get up only to find myself staring at my own reflection. The disgust comes back, stronger this time, a tsunami of self loathing. I hate it. I hate feeling. I want to lash out. I stop myself at the last moment, my folded hand hovering millimetres away from the reflection of my pathetic self. Enough is enough. The command comes unbidden, unchallenged. The self loathing is gone. It feels like somebody else is in control. This alien being controls my hands, and I obey. I turn on the tap; wash my hands before washing my face. My eyes still look red, rimmed. For a moment I wish I had carried my bag, my makeup kit. Only for a moment. This alien creature overrides the concern I feel.

I leave the bathroom and head straight for my superior’s office. It doesn’t take much to convince him to give him the rest of the day off. I am walking out of the office minutes later. An office car is waiting for me, ready to take me home. The alien asks him to stop along the way; we need to purchase something at the chemist. It is only under stable, after all. He offers to do the purchasing on my behalf. The alien pretends to protest, weakly, of course, for a moment before finally agreeing. Everything is falling into place.   

He shows up on time, with a bottle of wine in tow. Whatever his faults, manners always were something he had in spades. He hovers over my threshold, a vampire awaiting invitation in. He follows after me, shrugging off his coat as he walked. I offer him a seat before going to the kitchen to check on the progress of supper. Supper is five minutes away, at best. I pick up a pair of wine glasses before rejoining him in the sitting room. I pour him a glass; pour myself another before sitting down across from him, beyond arms reach.

“How have you been?” he asks.

The question sounds so mundane, so ordinary that for a moment I can’t speak, torn between incredulity and laughter. So this is what it feels, being ordinary. I had almost forgotten.

“Okay, I guess.”

“Work?”

“I am getting promoted next week, I think, if the office rumour mill is to be believed.”

“I am happy for you. You deserve it.”

There it is. Déjà vu. I brace myself, waiting for the shiver, the fear to resurface, it doesn’t. I feel nothing.

“Thank you.”

Silence. Small talk never was my forte, still isn’t. He takes the moment to survey my apartment, taking in the changes.

“What about you?”

For a moment he seems confused.

“How have you been?”

He takes a sip of the wine before he answers me.

“Things are a bit slow at work right now, but I am not worried about that. Things will pick up, they always do. I have been doing okay, all in all.”

Here is a scientific fact for you. When we are excited, the heart beats faster, pumps blood faster. Same as when you are afraid but we aren’t dealing with fear at this moment. Remembering happy memories does that to you. Makes you feel happy. I wanted him happy, happy as a clam.

“I am happy for you,” I reply, and the alien smiles. I don’t resist I go with the flow. He mirrors my smile. Only his is genuine. I take a sip of my wine. He mirrors my actions to perfection. All I have to do now is wait. I offer him my apologies as I get up to go check on supper. I hear the glass crash as it hits the floor all the way from the kitchen. A concerned host would have rushed back to the living room to check on her guest. I take my time getting back. He is sprawled across my living room sofa, his right hand dipped into the broken pieces of glass mixed with red wine. I sigh as I place down my wine glass and start towards him. It is promising to be a rather long evening.

For a moment he looks peaceful as he comes to. It takes him a moment to remember before he starts thrashing against the restraints. I see the fear escalate even higher as he realises he is restrained.

“Please stop doing that, you will disturb the table I have spent a lot of time setting.”

He sees me, seated at the other side, wine glass in hand. For a moment he is confused.

“What is going on?”

“I thought you wanted to talk. That’s what we are doing, is it not? Talking,” the alien replies, cool as ice, “Just like old times, eh?”

“Stop it. This is madness.”

“There he is. Welcome back.”

“What do you want from me?”

The alien looks around, as if we are seeing the room for the first time.

“This room holds a lot of memories, doesn’t it?” we ask, a knife twirling in our left hand.

“I came to apologise, for everything. I have been seeing someone, professionally. I have changed.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. People don’t change. It is part of our basic design. The desire to change is like acid. It eats into your system, corrupting and corroding everything in its path until you are nothing more than the broken shell of the man you used to be.”

“There is someone in my life now. She has made me better. I want to be better. I came here to apologise, for fucks sake. What more do you want from me?”

“You know I still freak out every time I see someone who looks like you even in the slightest. I haven’t been out on a date ever since you left me because I have been afraid for the better part of a year. I look at my reflection in the mirror and I feel disgust and self loathing, because of what you did to me- what I let you do to me. Even worse, I didn’t walk away. It was you who cast me aside, a child getting rid of his broken toy. You want to know what you can do for me. Give me back my life. I want to go back to what I was before you. Can you do that?”

Unlike him, we aren’t yelling. My voice comes out calm, measured.

“So this, whatever it is you are planning to do. Is it going to make you feel better? Stop being stupid for a moment and come and untie me.”

I can’t seem to help myself. The wine bottle flies off the table and hits him full on the face. There is blood trickling down the side of his face. I consider this for a moment and realise it doesn’t affect the plan. He is passed out, I am almost sure of it, not that it matters. I pick up the knife and get up. I am in no rush. I set down the wine glass before heading for him. I hold his head up with my left hand as the right drives the knife through the side of his neck, severing his jugular vein. I want to step back, away from the fountain of blood but she holds me in place. My dress is getting soaked in blood, the knife still tightly held in my right hand. After a while I step back, walk back to my seat. I pick up my wine glass with my still untainted left hand. I will be requiring some liquid courage for what comes next. I make a toast, to erstwhile friends before I start working on myself. Starting over always was a painful process.