– Fierce Fiction by Alison Gadsby –
“I’m thinking of going out,” Chay says.
Liza licks the marmalade from her knife and places it beside the plate. The kettle clicks off and she pours the boiled water over her instant coffee.
“Where will you go?” she says.
“To the park,” he says.
There are three parks close to their apartment and if he’s thinking about going as far as Beresford Park that means he’ll have to pass people. He will have to cross over a busy street with cars full of people living life because they believe everything is normal.
“Beresford,” he says.
Liza takes a deep breath and holds it in until she feels lightheaded.
“You should come,” he says.
She steadies herself on the counter and stares at the scissors and razors floating in the blue liquid. Why must he leave his barber shit all over the apartment?
She drinks her coffee in one gulp.
Chay hasn’t contributed to rent in eight months. They haven’t screwed in a year and a half. He still refuses to open the door for the grocery delivery guy and he puts the mail in a plastic bag and waits four days to open it, yet suddenly he has the urge to leave the house?
“Why are you doing this?” she says.
“This is actually my third time.”
He puts his hand on the small of her back and she can feel the heat move into her spine.
“Don’t touch me.”
“Liza. It’s time.”
“Your boss has given you three extensions.”
Liza should have been at work six months ago. She slept through every return-to-work deadline and begged for more time.
“We have to,” he says.
“Don’t tell me what I have to do. You’re just worried your clients are getting bored of this little set up.”
“I’ve been doing this thing online for people like us, afraid to get back to normal. Yesterday I made it to the dry cleaner on the corner.”
“I’m fine,” she says.
He lifts her arm to put it on his shoulder while he turns her to face him. Before he can pull her into some sort of comforting hug, she slips free.
After her shower, she decides to dress in work clothes. She can’t button the first pair of pants, so she tries another and then another, before she settles on a stretchy tube skirt and a men’s shirt with one of her dad’s ties. She still has all of his ties.
Chay stands at the door with his hand on the deadbolt. He’s wearing his winter biking gloves. He has a mask lowered around his chin. He moves his legs back and forth like those idiot runners who feel the need to keep moving at red lights.
Liza turns the kettle back on to make the cup of coffee that will get cold beside her computer. She can feel him staring at her. Before it’s finished boiling, she fills her cup and stirs in the cream with the marmalade knife.
“I’m not coming,” she says.
“You have to,” he says, “you’ve already got your shoes on. Let’s go.”
When she turns to him, his face is glistening with sweat.
“I’m. Not. Coming.”
He whispers some words. A mantra maybe. He closes his eyes, taps his hands on his upper legs and turns his head from one shoulder to the other like he’s stretching his neck. She wants to stop him, grip him by the shoulders and warn him that he’s going to die if he goes out there.
Chay lifts the chain lock.
She goes to her bedroom and places her coffee beside the laptop at the small desk by the window. She listens for the door. Nothing.
Liza places her earbuds in and turns the music up. She has four spreadsheets to audit and thirty-eight pages of expenses to input. She doesn’t have time for Chay’s bullshit.
In the morning, Chay is cleaning his tools in the kitchen sink. He’s got his wallet hanging from a chain clipped to his belt. He’s wearing the new jeans he ordered online and a freshly pressed plaid shirt. He smells good, familiar, but strange. He’s going to go out again.
He’s put bread for her in the toaster and it pops up before she rises from the kitchen table. She closes the newspaper, slowly, methodically. She’ll read it again later, but it will need to look unread..
As she lifts her mug to swallow the last sip of coffee she sees the hair on the floor. It looks like pubic hair, but she knows it’s beard hair.
“Did you have a client?”
When he turns, she is surprised by his face. Naked. Pale. Gaunt.
His eyes are bloodshot and the skin around them has been rubbed raw. He’s been crying again.
He dries the razor, then sharpens it on a black stone he keeps on the counter. Liza watches the dust fall to the floor. He doesn’t need to sharpen his tools every day. He doesn’t need to clean them, but he does. Even his most loyal clients have started ghosting him. Making appointments for the next time, then not showing up.
“Do you ever think about slicing someone’s throat?”
“You’ve asked me that before,” he says.
They had only been dating a few months when she asked the first time. Liza mentioned her obsession with wanting to push people into oncoming traffic when she passed them on her runs. Or jumping off the viaduct into highway traffic. When she worked for a landscaper in high school, she fantasized about shearing off the fingers of the boy she worked with or running over a squirrel or cat with the lawnmower.
She talked about it with the therapist her mother hired after the accident. He taught her how to breathe through it. He called it Urge Surfing. It was boring. Liza stopped mowing lawns. She ran faster. She locked car doors. She wasn’t a sociopath, she just wanted to know what it felt like to see someone or something alive one minute and dead the next.
She hates strangers. She doesn’t like small talk and Chay is the only man she’s let touch her outside of a fast fuck from strangers. When they first started dating she asked him how it felt to touch people.
“I don’t even notice,” he said, “they’re like mannequins that talk.”
The kitchen fills with the silence of his stare.
“I need you to come with me,” he says.
“One of these days, I’m going to keep walking,” he says.
“Good for you.”
“I mean it Liza. When I turned back home yesterday, I almost.”
He starts crying again.
“You almost what?”
“I didn’t want to come back here,” he says.
“So don’t come back.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
Liza stands, takes the newspaper and her coffee and goes to her room.
The next day, Liza doesn’t want leave her room. She opens the blinds over her window to let the sun in. It has already risen above the building across the street. It won’t be long before Chay is awake. She’ll smell the toast first.
Outside the window, there is a line of school children walking along the sidewalk across the street. It’s Wednesday and it will take half an hour for the classes of kids to get to the church for their weekly mass. She and Chay used to stand out on the front porch and wave at the kids as they walked by.
She opens the bedroom door quietly. He’s not out there. If she can get her coffee and toast made quietly, she can return to her room without speaking to him.
Chay is lying at the threshold of the entry door. He is fully dressed in bike gear, including his clip-in shoes. He’s taken his bike down from the hook. He holds his helmet to his chest like a toddler might clutch a stuffed bear.
She tiptoes to the kitchen. His scissors are soaking in soapy water. Liza lifts them out one by one, drying them with a towel. Chay surprises her from behind. She turns and almost stabs him in the belly. He jumps back, but after a moment he steps closer and presses his body against the blade. Liza feels the scissors jump forward as they break through his shirt, then a layer of skin.
His pupils open and close to the beat of his breath. It will be the end of both of them if she pushes the scissors all the way in.
“Do it,” he says.
His face becomes her father’s. She’s fourteen. He’s telling her he’s dying.
“You’re dead,” she says.
“No. I’m dying,” he says.
“She did it on purpose.”
“Who?” he says.
“The lady. She killed you.”
“No. It was an accident.”
“She drove up on to the sidewalk and. She killed you.”
“No. It was an accident.”
It’s Chay. There is blood on his shirt. He clutches his abdomen. Liza lifts his shirt over his head with the scissors still in her hand. There is blood dripping into his bike shorts. The yellow lycra turns purple.
He’s holding her. She’s being held by him.
The scissors. She should drop the scissors.
“I’m dying in here,” he says.
The feel of his soft skin under her hands. She strokes the edges of his shoulder blades. She kisses his skin. She holds his clavicle between her teeth for a moment. He shudders. Liza feels the stickiness of his blood as it soaks through her t-shirt.
She rides the waves. Up and down, she surfs the ocean. The water is cold, salty. She floats deeper into the blue water. She swims to the surface and takes a sharp breath like she’s been holding it for too long. Drowning. The steel scissors are hot in the palm of her hand.
About the Author – Alison Gadsby
Alison Gadsby is a writer living in Toronto, where she hosts the prose reading series, Junction Reads and the Instagram writers’ series, The First Thirty. She is working on a novel and a collection of stories, some of which appear in The Writing Disorder, Coastal Shelf, Sledgehammer and more. She holds and MFA from the University of British Columbia and a HBA in Creative Writing from York University.
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