My stalker stops me in the street, hands me a self-help guide and a jar of homemade cookies, says I haven’t been myself lately. He’s invested a lot of hours in me, he’s not going to sit back and let me let myself go.
I find myself talking about Simon. It’s tricky, I murmur. He knows (duh).
I shuffle my feet, rotate the misshapen biscuits beneath the glass. I can sense his disappointment, imagine following someone for months only to discover they have all the personality of a blocked drain.
We stand awkwardly for a few moments.
‘After you,’ he finally says, indicating the path forward, ‘it’s kind of the way it works. You move and I follow.’
I move away. It’s early evening, the day evaporating, the glow of neon bulbs eviscerating natural light. I’m about to walk home but decide to be spontaneous and meet Simon after work instead.
I stand opposite his office block waiting to cross the traffic-engorged road. Cars scuttle frantically in their effort to be elsewhere. Simon emerges from a revolving door into the cool evening. He stands, boyish and intangible in the darkening air. It would be worth running into traffic to feel that free.
Before I cross, the door rotates again. A spike-heeled brunette steps out, smiles, and they begin to stride up the pavement in the opposite direction to our home. On the corner, they link arms as the lights change, then they’re off, legs snapping together like scissor blades.
They stop at a restaurant on the edge of the river with panoramic views from glass-fronted walls. I sit on a bench in the dark on the opposite bank. A waiter shows them to their table and Simon helps her out of her coat. It slides down the chair behind her like shed skin.
‘What a twat!’ says a rhododendron bush behind me.
The stalker slinks out, sits beside me. Opposite, Simon fingers her lower lip.
‘Text him,’ says the stalker.
I tap a benign message, What time you home? Dinner round 8? X
On the other side of the river, he frowns, thumbs his phone, then pushes it aside. Working late sorry X – flashes on the screen in front of me.
The stalker sighs.
Okay. Love you X – I type, hoping to stir something. Irritation stings his face, You too X, I receive, then he pushes the phone away again.
It looks new, first stages, maybe they’ve fucked a few times. Lust so fresh and all-consuming it’s embarrassing. Her eyes never leave his and when the waiter brings her Bloody Mary, she twirls the celery between her lips like she’s giving it fellatio.
‘You got those cookies?’ says the stalker. I rummage in my bag and hand him the jar. He unscrews the lid, chooses the biggest. In the restaurant the waiter reappears with hors d’oeuvres, something headless like shrimp or prawns in a high glass of blood-red sauce.
‘You really had no idea?’ the stalker mumbles. ‘Don’t you check his phone or pockets or shit?’
‘Of course, you’d say that.’
The stalker takes another cookie. Opposite, I see her leg entwining his beneath the table. Simon adds pepper to the seafood starter, takes a forkful and hovers it at her lips. She puckers her mouth, accepts the offering slowly, her other hand absentmindedly fondling the pepper mill. It would be funny, except it’s not.
Simon smiles and moves his hand back to acquire another forkful. He holds it out again but she catches his arm instead, pulls him close, kisses him hard. The high glass of red sauce unbalances in the centre of the table splashing down his shirt but their lips stay locked, hand palming her hair.
‘What a twat,’ I echo.
‘Send him this,’ the stalker says, opening his phone. I ignore the lock-screen of me at the gym and stare at the Google search. I find the page on my phone, ‘How to remove cocktail sauce from white shirt’ and send it to Simon.
They pull apart as the phone beeps, he checks it casually, hand still in her hair. Seconds later, he jumps up, scours the restaurant, wondering where I am. She stares, hand still half-wanking the pepper pot, as he grabs his coat and motions for the bill.
I take the cookies from the stalker, pull him to his feet, ‘Come on, I want to get home first, torch his Marvel figures’.
I move forward and he melts into the moon-bleached night.
This piece was a winner in The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021 competition.