Continuing the Others series of stories with this number.
Imagine this is you.
You are a late twenties woman. You have a well-paid job which you don’t hate. You have a long-term boyfriend; you don’t hate him either. Actually, you love him very much. It took you a while to admit it, to get over the fear, but you really do love him; he’s big and warm and silly and he makes you happy and safe. You live together in your little terraced house which isn’t much but is all yours. You’ve talked about the future, a bit. Marriage, kids. That stuff is on the table. It’s there, you’ve laid it down, to come back to when the time is right, for both of you. This is where you are in your life.
Okay? With me? Imagine this is you. Imagine you are happy. You may not know you are happy until you’re not anymore, but you’re happy. You have everything you want and need. You’re in love and you’re happy.
Just imagine that.
Okay? You see it?
Now imagine you and your boyfriend are sitting in the living room one day, on the couch, eating dinner, watching TV, like you often do. Imagine he gets up and takes the dishes into the kitchen to wash them, because he’s considerate, and because the division of labour between you is an unspoken but sacramentally agreed upon thing – you cook, he washes the dishes – that’s the way it’s always been.
Imagine when he’s in the kitchen, he leaves his phone on the arm of the sofa. It vibrates, and you’d never normally look at this phone when he’s not around, you’re not mistrusting and he’s not deceptive, but it catches your eye because that’s what it’s designed to do.
You look at it.
You see something, a notification. An email.
“From: Tessa Fowler – Thank you so much for the dress, as a reward –“
That’s all you can see unless you unlock his phone and read the full content of the message. No, you don’t have his passcode. And you wouldn’t do that anyway, right? You’d respect his privacy in this situation, wouldn’t you? It’s probably spam anyway, right?
But what would you do? This is you now, remember. Would you forget about it, dismiss it? Or would you ask him? Be honest.
Okay, now, anyway, so imagine he comes back in, and you examine his face while he picks up his phone. You figure, if it’s something shady, you might see a flicker of guilt or something on his face. You study him closely. He smiles at you, the tea towel draped over his shoulder. He picks up his phone. You watch his face.
Nothing at all.
It’s probably spam.
People get spam messages all the time.
People get spam messages from women named Tessa saying thank you for the dress and here’s a reward all the time.
Okay so now okay, right, now imagine this.
Imagine you decide to say nothing, because if there was something wrong, he’d tell you. You know he would. He’s always told you everything. The time he started having feelings for that girl at his work, he told you. He told you straight away. And you hated hearing about it, sure, yeah, you felt sick, violently sick, but you still appreciated that he took the courage to tell you and, in the end, the feelings went away, and you were the stronger for it.
So you do nothing. You keep it in. You’re good at that, aren’t you?
Your routine continues. You try and forget you saw anything. Sometimes you hear his phone vibrate in the middle of the night and you stay up all night thinking about it, because you’re neurotic like that, but you don’t say anything, you lay there and will yourself back to sleep, and when the morning comes you feel a bit like shit and yawn a lot at work the next day, but you tell yourself you’re just creating something out of nothing and everything is going to be fine.
Okay? You following?
Just imagine it.
Okay now right well then yeah so okay imagine now a few months have passed and you’ve pretty much forgotten about it and everything is like it should be, except he keeps spending large amounts of time in the bathroom and you ask him if he’s okay and he says yeah but he has this look in his eye like he’s hiding something and you can’t stand it but you can’t ask him what’s going on because you have no kind of evidence, but besides that, everything is basically fine.
Imagine the time comes for your monthly date night, where you go to a nice restaurant and splash out on lavish food which neither of you even like that much but you like the feeling of living like upper class snobs and you like the fact that it’s expensive and you like dressing up and you like the ritual of it. Imagine that the time comes for that, and you’ve had a stressful week at work, so you’re looking forward to it. Imagine you’re getting ready in the bathroom and he knocks on the door and imagine he says something like – Hey, I was thinking . . . Why don’t we try somewhere different tonight?
Imagine you turn to look at him, while brushing your hair in the mirror, and you say something like – Like where?
– I was thinking about maybe going to somewhere, you know, simpler. James at work was telling me about this sushi place, he says it’s as good as the stuff you get in fancy restaurants, no, better than that, but a third of the price.
Imagine you turn to look at him now and you see faint bags under his eyes. Imagine he smiles at you but the smile seems forced, stressed. Imagine you see something there that you’ve never seen before, that you don’t recognise.
Imagine you try to hide the concern on your face under your own smile but you’re afraid you don’t do a good job because the strain on his face seems worse, and now imagine you say something like – Yeah, sure we could try that if you want . . .
– Okay, great –
– But I never thought date night was about great food. You know, I thought, we liked all that . . . all that pretentious snooty stuff. Like we were doing it ironically. Weren’t we doing it ironically?
– Sure babe, we were doing it ironically. But I was maybe just kinda thinking, you know . . . We could try something different.
Imagine you’re not sure why but you can sense there’s something deeper at play here. The worry written across his face. The nervousness with which he tries to hug you. Imagine while he showers and you put on your clothes (not your fancy ones because there’s no point now, is there??) your mind races through possible explanations. Your neurotic-overanalytical-crippled-with-doubt self is back. Imagine you imagine all kinds of things, but nothing sticks, nothing seems plausible.
Imagine then it comes back to you.
The message from Tessa.
You don’t know why but in that exact moment the image of those words on the screen jumps into your mind. Imagine now you imagine there’s a woman called Tessa and she’s real, flesh and blood, and imagine you imagine she works at the restaurant you usually go to and your boyfriend is in love with her and buys her dresses and has kept this a secret from you the whole time, right under your nose, the most outrageously daring audacious stunt, imagine you imagine he’s imagining her when he’s with you, when he’s inside you and kissing you and saying he loves you, imagine you imagine he’s imagining this Tessa bitch whore who’s a waitress or a hostess or maybe a chef or you don’t know what, and then you hear the showerhead crank off and you hear him step out of the shower and you find yourself nearly in tears because you’ve worked yourself into a hole like you do and you have to take a deep breath and calm yourself and then both of you are heading to the car, both of you clearly in your own little private nightmares, trying to pretend everything is great because it’s date night, the best night of the month.
Yeah? Okay? You feel me? You picturing this?
Imagine date night is ruined and the sushi is average at best and the underlying tension between you which neither of you can explain but both of you knows is there eats away at you, and the drive home is made in complete silence and that night when you get into bed you don’t even have sex, you both just pretend to fall asleep.
Imagine the next morning comes, a Saturday, nobody goes to work, you usually love a lazy Saturday morning together, but this Saturday morning you just know isn’t going to be a good one.
Imagine he gets up for one of his long morning pees and when he does, at that exact moment (and you’ll think about the cosmic timing of this, the luck or bad luck of it, down to the goddamned second, for a long time) his phone vibrates again and this time you can’t help yourself, this time you just have to.
It’s resting on his bedside table.
You lean over the bed and sneak a glance while you can still hear the steady stream and know you have time.
You read the screen.
“From: Tessa Fowler – Good morning superfan, tap this link for premium conte –“
And imagine that’s all you can see and then imagine the stream sound stops and you jump over to your side of the bed and pretend to still be asleep but you know he knows you’re not, and you both just lie there in a horrible Saturday morning silence until he says something like – Hey, are you okay?
Okay, so, tell me, now, at this point, what would you do? Would you say something? Would you? Be honest. I don’t like liars.
Well, alright, well let’s imagine you say nothing, because what is there to say at this point? You know something’s wrong, you feel it in your bones, but that isn’t evidence, if you were to challenge him now you’d fall flat because a funny feeling and fragments of weird messages isn’t enough to base an accusation on.
Or is it?
What do you think?
It doesn’t matter what you think, I’m not finished.
Imagine you tell him you’re fine, just tired, and you spend the rest of the morning laying there in bed while he goes downstairs and watches TV. Imagine while you’re lying there, you analyse the fragments of messages over and over, and you come to the conclusion that this Tessa woman must be some sort of internet sex personality or something. Premium conte – has to be Premium content. That’s obvious. Has to be some sort of online thing. That’s what you think. Imagine you think to yourself, hey, that’s not so terrible. It’s probably porn. People watch porn. You watch porn, sometimes, when you find a video that isn’t about rage and servitude which doesn’t make you sad. You actually start to feel better, like you were letting this great big imaginary thing sit on your shoulders and weigh you down but it’s imaginary and imaginary things can’t hurt you unless you let them, unless you want them to, unless you make them do it, and for a few minutes you think about going down there, giving him a great big kiss and enjoying your lazy Saturday together after all, but then you remember the other things, the other signs, the first message, about the dress, (thanks for the dress??!!) his weird anxiety about changing restaurants, the strain on his face when he tries to talk to you and that abstract undefinable but definitely valid feeling you’ve had that something is wrong, deeply and profoundly wrong, that he is hiding something, and before you can stop it you’ve buried yourself in your hole again and you let it out, you let out a little cry.
Imagine you get out your phone and you google the name.
Imagine the first result you see is a website full of videos of a pretty woman with large breasts. The videos are mostly filmed in her bedroom, in front her bedroom mirror. Imagine you scroll through the page and look at the thumbnails for a while. Imagine you even watch a few. Imagine you see a woman with large breasts playfully getting dressed and then undressed and then dressed again in the mirror. Imagine you think it’s all silly but basically harmless.
Then imagine you get to a series of videos called “fan outfits”. Imagine you watch one. Imagine you see this woman opening packages of new clothes sent to her by her adoring fans, and trying them on in front of the camera while providing a running commentary on the style, colour, fit, etc.
So, yeah? Okay? Can you see it? How would you feel? What would you do? And don’t try to lie to me. Would you feel sick? Would you watch every video trying to figure out which dress was the dress your beloved boyfriend future husband bought for her? This Tessa woman? Would you wonder how much the dress cost? Would you wonder, with a sudden, chilling horror, that the real reason he wanted to skip the expensive restaurant was because he’s been spending all his money on luxury designer clothes for this woman and he’s broke? Would you think that? Come on, would you? Would you find the way the two threads connect in your mind too perfect to resist, to dismiss?
I don’t care what you say, I know you would.
Okay well so let’s imagine now let’s imagine you stay in your bed going through the videos all morning until he comes up, looking sheepish, and he asks you what’s wrong and you say nothing and he stands there and lingers for a while and it’s awkward and he asks if you’re sure you’re okay and you say yeah and he says he got a message from his friend about going to the pub that night and you say fine whatever but you say it a little too grumpily so now he knows there’s definitely something wrong but he can’t ask you again because he already asked you twice and he stands there and lingers like an idiot for a while longer until you tell him to just go out with his friends and then he does and then you’re alone and then you cry again.
Imagine then you spend the whole night while he’s at the pub going through Tessa Fowler’s videos. Imagine you watch every one of them, one after another, analysing every detail, every frame, every picture on her bedroom wall, every item of clothing bought for her by a fan, every smile she makes, you watch it all night until you fall asleep, exhausted, burned, hurting.
Imagine you can’t tell who’s more obsessed with this woman, you, your boyfriend, or her other superfans.
Imagine the next day he acts like nothing happened and then you decide, you decide it’s up to him, you decide it’s all up to him to fix this and you’re going to wait for him to come to you, to come to you and open up, like he did last time with that girl from his office, imagine that you force yourself to believe that he’ll choose the right thing to do again because he just has to, imagine you decide to put your trust in this man whom you have trusted with the best parts of your life, imagine you decide to trust him one final time because you just have to.
Imagine days go by.
Imagine you find yourself giving him openings, inviting him to confess his secret online obsession and the invisible presence it’s become to you, imagine you find yourself saying things like – Oh there’s this online video going around at work it’s so funny it’s great I love it I can’t get enough of it I think I’m obsessed; do you know what that feels like? – and he laughs and shrugs and says sure and nothing else. Imagine you find yourself saying things like – I was thinking of buying some new clothes, it’s been a while, what do you think about that, tell me, what do you think about clothes and the buying of them for girls who wear them? And he gives you a weird look because you’re acting weird and there’s this moment between you when it’s right there, it’s so close to the surface you can both smell it you can both practically see it, it’s so close all it would take is one of you to just say it, but then he looks down at the floor and mumbles about something and leaves the room and then it’s gone and you don’t know if you have the strength to work it back to that point where it’s all ready to burst out and you think, for the first time, ever, that this relationship isn’t going to work, that you’re not going to be able to save it, because even though this shouldn’t be a big deal it is, it’s not just about some dumb online girl and her tits it’s about him keeping things from you and acting like a stranger, and the thing is that something has changed between you, you don’t know if it’s you that’s changed or if its him that’s changed but something has changed, you’ve lost that ability to look at each other and really see each other and connect and communicate, and you feel ashamed and ridiculous and scared and ugly and sick.
Imagine you find yourself distracted at work and some of your colleagues ask you if you’re okay and you’re fed up of being asked if you’re okay and you snap at them and then your boss asks you if you’re okay and if you need to talk with someone and you say it’s a family related issue and you’re sorry for being short and it won’t happen again and it’s nothing you can’t work through, and he gives your shoulder a squeeze and you hate it.
Imagine then you give him, your boyfriend, this man that you love, as many openings and invitations to tell you what’s going on as you can but he doesn’t take any of them, he doesn’t even nibble, he just withdraws further and further into his creepy little shell and you barely even recognise him anymore.
Imagine you find yourself getting even more obsessed with Tessa Fowler’s videos and you spend every free minute of the day you can get watching her try on clothes bought for and sent to her by her fans, and you listen as she reads out the cards that accompany the dresses and she reads the names and says thanks and blows a kiss to the camera and you are waiting, you are waiting for her to say his name, you know when it comes it will knock you down and you may not get back up, but you have to hear it, you have to hear her say his name, and then one time, when it’s the middle of the night and you can’t sleep and you’re sitting on the toilet and you’re watching her try on clothes and then she opens a new package and it’s a black velvet strapless designer dress that’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen and then you know she’s going to say it before she even does, in fact you don’t even hear it because you know it’s from him, your boyfriend, the man you love, the dress is from him it’s so goddamned obvious you don’t even need to hear it, and she smiles and blows a kiss at the camera and she puts it on and then you drop your phone in the toilet and you don’t even wait you grab a few of your things and you leave, you leave right there and then, and you know you’re never coming back.
Okay so, how are we doing, huh, you with me? You good?
Pretty fucked up, huh?
Just imagine this is you.
It’s not you, I know, but imagine it is, just play along. Can you just do that? Please? Is that so hard? Just do it. This is my story. I’m in charge. This is the only place I’m in charge. Let me have it. Let me have my stories.
Imagine you feel like you’re going crazy.
Imagine you go to stay with your family and they want to know what happened but you can’t tell them, you can’t tell anyone ever, because it’s too humiliating, too pathetic, so you tell them he cheated on you and they’re shocked and they’re disgusted and your father says he wants to find him and kill him and you beg him to stay out of it, and he starts putting his shoes on and looking for his car keys and he’s saying he’s going to go to his house and drag him out on the street and beat him to death and it takes you and your mother to pull him back inside and calm him down and tell him beating him up won’t solve anything. Imagine you stay with them for a few days, sleeping, overeating, watching TV and feeling like a child again, and then you get the phone call.
Imagine he wants to meet up and talk it through.
Imagine he loves and misses you and wants to make this work.
Alright then. What would you do? Would you meet him? Would you hang up? Come on, really, what would you do? Don’t answer. I don’t believe you.
Anyway so okay like right well so the thing is now yeah let’s say you say okay, let’s say you say okay and you agree to meet him and talk it over. Imagine you figure he’s finally ready to come to you, to come back to you, to look at you and see you and tell you everything, to collapse in your arms and say sorry, to say it just started out as a dumb little thing, watching her videos, then it got worse and became an addiction, an obsession, a dependency, and he found himself so wrapped up and so deeply stuck in it he couldn’t find a way out but it’s okay now because he’s finished with Tessa Fowler and her stupid videos and it’s over and you can be together again.
Imagine you meet him in a coffee shop and you get coffee and you sit down and you’re ready to hear it all, you’re brave and strong enough to hear it and endure it and forgive him for it, and okay so imagine you sit down yeah and he looks at you and he says something like – So what’s going on? What’s up with you?
And you’re so smacked in the face, you’re so shocked it’s like a wound, you actually nearly fall off your chair, and then you start having a coughing fit and now he looks really concerned, like he thinks you’re going crazy, and you wonder if maybe you are, and he asks you again, plainly, dumbly, like a little boy – Seriously, what’s going on? Why won’t you tell me? – and you can’t take it. Imagine you take deep breaths and drink half your coffee and after about ten minutes you’re able to calm yourself enough to look him in the eye and say – Shouldn’t you be the one to tell me what’s going on?
And then he gives you that dumb look again, that confused look, like he’s asking you what the hell you’re talking about, like he’s the one who’s innocent and you’re the one who’s crazy and this is all your fault, and then you know, you know it’s finished forever. You know there’s no going back now. It’s over. He’s gone.
Imagine you finish your coffee and leave and he’s calling your name and asking you to come back but you know there’s no going back because there’s nothing to go back to. The life you made together isn’t there anymore.
Imagine you’re alone. Doesn’t feel nice, does it? Imagine he tries to contact you a few times but you refuse to talk to him and then he moves his stuff out of the house and then you leave your parents’ place and return home and it’s weird and big and cold all by yourself and you invite your friend over just to have some company.
Imagine days and weeks go by.
Imagine you hate him so much you can’t sleep at night.
Imagine you can’t stop thinking about him buying clothes for this internet whore.
Imagine you can’t let it go.
Can you? Can you see it? What’s that? Where is this story coming from? Don’t you worry about that. Just you sit there and try to imagine this shit. I bet you think it’s pretty messed up, don’t you? Yeah?
You have no idea.
It’s going to get so much worse.
Imagine months go by and you stop hearing from him but you still hate him so much it makes you tired. Imagine you have counselling and it doesn’t help you, not even one bit, if anything it makes you hate him more because you have to sit there and talk about it and relive it.
Imagine you’re so distracted and surly at work your boss recommends you take some time off and when you tell him you don’t feel there’s a need, when you tell him you’re sorry you’ve been struggling but you’re going to turn it around and make it up to him, when you tell him that, he looks you firmly in the eye and says- This isn’t a suggestion. Imagine he tells you you are to take a minimum of six weeks off until you work through whatever mental health crisis you’re going through. Imagine he tries to give you a soft look and says something like – Hey, it happens to the best of us, it’s okay not to be okay. Imagine you try to argue back, you try to tell him you’re not crazy and it’s not your fault and it’s all his fault it’s all his fucking fault but every word you say only makes you look more crazy and more desperate and then he has to call security to come and politely escort you from the building and to your car, your car where you beat the steering wheel and pound it with your fists until you collapse.
Imagine you go home and drink yourself to sleep every night.
Imagine you think about ending it but the logistics of suicide are too daunting so you only go as far as indulgent thoughts.
Imagine you can’t possibly see yourself having a future until he finally wakes up and sees it, finally sees what he’s done to you.
Imagine the only thing that makes you feel better is picturing him getting everything he deserves.
Then, imagine you’re talking with your friend who now basically lives with you since you’ve gone crazy, well not crazy but definitely not sane, and she tells you about this strange online business she heard about, where you pay someone to enact revenge on your enemies. Imagine you go to the computer together and search for it and then you find it and it’s real. They even have a logo: a picture of a predatory hawk in motion.
Specialists in revenge.
Book a consultation today.
Imagine you read through the whole webpage together, testimonies of satisfied customers who held bitter grudges until they saw their wrongdoers get what was coming to them. Imagine you read through five-star reviews. Imagine it makes your hair stand up on end. Imagine it gives you goosebumps. Imagine it makes you so excited you are short of breath.
Imagine you go to bed that night and you can’t sleep because all you can think about is this gift that has fallen right into your lap. The solution to all your problems.
Okay. Now I just have to know. What do you do? Do you call them, book your consultation? Or do you think that this is going too far, that doing something like this is only going to make everything much worse? Or do you not even get why you’re so upset in the first place? What do you think?
I don’t care what you think actually because this isn’t about you, Jesus, not everything is about you, okay, so, well yeah now okay so let’s imagine you do call them. Okay? Can you just play along and imagine that, please?
Imagine you dial the number into your phone, let it ring once, instantly hang up, call again, hang up, and repeat this until the number actually calls you back, and you answer and it’s a man’s voice and he says something like – Either leave a message or stop calling this number – and you instantly start rambling, you launch into the whole thing, you let it all out, the whole story, from top to bottom, and he tries to interrupt you several times but you babble on over him until you finally finish , breathless, exhausted, and then the man takes a measured pause and says something like – My boss will be in touch.
Imagine more days pass and you have nothing to do but sit and wait and think because you can’t go to work because he took that away from you like he took everything else and so you watch hours and hours of trash television while chewing the skin from your fingernails and you try to paint or learn the piano or something productive but you hate the idea of everything and you feel like you’re stuck, you feel like you’re paralysed, in limbo, you feel like you won’t be awake again until this is over, until he learns that he’s not going to get away with it, with his betrayal, with his cowardice, with his selfishness.
Imagine you know you’re pathetic but there’s nothing you can do about it because you’re you and you’ll never not be you.
Okay so well now then imagine you get the call. Imagine you’re expecting to talk to the same man but this time it’s a woman’s voice, it’s soft, calm, composed, it washes over you and sounds like music in the rain. Imagine she gives you the name of a street and tells you to meet her there. Imagine you write down the address and your hands are sweating. Imagine she asks you to confirm your attendance and you can barely speak but you manage a general agreeable monosyllable and she hangs up.
Okay, go on then, I know you’re dying to tell me. What do you do? Do you get in your car? Do you go meet this mysterious woman? Do you go through with it? I bet you do. Actually I know you do. You couldn’t not, right? You’d have to know how it ends.
Okay well so yeah now imagine you get in your car and you drive to the address and it’s a street, a normal, quiet residential street, next to a park, and imagine there’s a car parked on this street, a nice, black Mercedes with cool tinted windows, and the lights are on, and when you park your car they flash at you, and you know that’s her.
It couldn’t be anyone else.
Imagine you get out of your car and walk to the black Mercedes and the window rolls down and a voice from inside tells you to step in. Imagine you do exactly as she says and get in.
Imagine you look at her face, this mysterious woman, and she’s much younger than you imagined her. Imagine she has vicious black hair and sunglasses obscuring her eyes. Imagine she has beautiful lips. Imagine she smells good. Imagine she moves her hand to start the car and you see her skin and it’s amazing, like milk and soap and bird feathers, or something. Imagine she drives and speaks in that angelic voice and says something like – I’ll drive us around the estate, and you can talk – and you feel so powerless and hypnotised in this woman’s presence you feel like you would do anything she told you to.
Imagine she drives and asks you to tell her your story.
Imagine you do, you let it all pour out of you, again.
Imagine you watch this woman’s face, looking for a reaction, and she stays perfectly still, serene, giving you nothing.
Imagine you finish your pathetic little story about how your boyfriend ruined your life and wait for her to laugh out loud at how small and dumb and silly your little problems are and send you back home, but she says something like – And this woman, this, Tessa? Why isn’t it her life you want destroying? Isn’t she the problem?
And you realise you haven’t actually thought of this before. You chew on it for a moment, and the answer comes from somewhere in you. It rises up before you can see it, and you say it – She never told me she’d love me forever.
Imagine this mysterious, majestic woman nods, then speaks slowly and decisively and says something like – I am very selective with the cases I take on. I only choose the stories that inspire me. I want you to know, I am interested in your story. I am going to do my best to ensure you get what you want. But there are some things you should know first. What I do is no quick fix. It takes time. Sometimes, things change. I’d prefer it if they didn’t, but this is life. If I am no longer able to finish the job and give you what you want, I will inform you promptly, and return your payment. But once I’m in, I’m in. Once I see the finish line, I always reach it. Always. If you change your mind, because you were just feeling angry and you’ve calmed down, or because you’ve kissed and made up, I never go back. Once I start the process, if it’s in my power, I finish it. Is that clear?
Imagine your heart isn’t beating, it’s completely still, and all you can do is nod.
Imagine she drops you off back at your car and drives away in her elegant black Mercedes and you get in your car and just sit there for an hour, staring out the window into space, quietly wondering what the hell you’ve just done.
Imagine more days and weeks pass and you realise that’s all that life is, days and weeks and numbers, and you start going outside and reading books and painting and being something like a real person again, and it feels like just by talking to this woman some great weight has shifted, and then your boss calls you and asks how you’re doing and you tell him better and you realise it’s not a lie and you are actually feeling better, and you realise you haven’t thought about him for a while and the future doesn’t seem so scary anymore and you’re starting to wonder if you made a huge mistake by employing a mysterious woman to ruin his life and you’re just beginning to panic when your boss asks you how you’d feel about returning to work.
You’d have to say yes, wouldn’t you?
You’ve driven yourself crazy. You need a place to be, to go, to distract yourself from yourself. You have to go back. You have to try.
Imagine you tell him yes sir absolutely I feel great and he says great and you’re both smiling when you hang up the phone and then your smile vanishes and your body turns cold because you see it now, you see how ridiculous you are, how tunnelled and myopic and desperate you became, how you’ve made a huge mistake.
Imagine you call Adrestia – you wonder if that is her name, the beautiful otherworldly woman whom you’ve hired to ruin someone’s life – and you talk to the man again and you tell him you made a mistake and you’re sorry and you don’t want it anymore and you’re sorry you’re really sorry and the man listens patiently to everything you have to say then when you’re finished takes a breath and says something like – You were warned. There’s no going back – and then he hangs up and then you start breathing heavily and hyperventilating and the walls are closing in and you realise you have to warn him, you haven’t spoken to him in months you don’t even know how he’s doing if he’s alone if he’s miserable if he’s completely fine you have no idea, and you try to call him but his number’s changed you try to message him but he doesn’t respond and you call around a few of your friends and no one tells you anything.
So, is this your breaking point? Have you had enough yet?
Oh, you have?
Oh. Okay. I see. Guess I’ll leave the story there, then. Nevermind. Sorry to waste your time . . .
What’s that? Oh, you do want to know what’s next?
Ah, look at that, look who came crawling back.
Okay so well if you’re in then you’re in, so now yeah so okay listen so let’s imagine you go back to work and you try to pretend like everything’s normal. Let’s imagine you try to keep yourself to yourself, keep quiet, keep going, you try to just forget about it, about what you’ve done, about this whole ugly mess, but obviously, you can’t.
Let’s imagine you wait. You wait for a sign, for news, for something. Imagine you scour Facebook for a clue as to the state of your former boyfriend’s life, but his page is stagnant. Imagine you wonder if he’s still alive. Imagine everyone at work acts like you’re crazy and tiptoes around you and asks you how you’re doing with a patronising tilted head and false sympathetic look. Imagine you wonder if you came back too early.
Okay so now then imagine it finally comes.
A few weeks later, the call you’ve been dreading. You’re in your kitchen when you get it.
Imagine you look at your screen and it says “Private Number” and you know exactly who it is. Imagine your hands go cold. Imagine your mouth dries up. Imagine your back seizes up.
Imagine you hold the phone to your ear and you keep your mouth shut.
Imagine you hear the man’s voice again, dimly, as if from underwater, and he says something like – My boss wants to pass on the following message: I have surveyed and gathered information on the subject, your former lover. I have spent many hours watching his daily activities with a view to ascertaining what it is that is most precious to him, what it is that would ruin him completely if I were to remove it. Usually in the cases I take on, this is not such a complicated thing to find. A person’s identity – their sense of worth and value – boils to one of or a combination of a simple five things – loved ones, work, hobbies, honour, faith. That’s it. My goal is usually to locate which of these things is the core to the subject’s identity, and then figure out how to damage it, permanently. I can now report back to you, miss, that after several weeks of watching the subject closely, I can safely say that what is most valuable to him is . . . none of these. Yes, it has become abundantly clear that he has nothing. He lives alone, in a small bedsit. He is unemployed – my investigations tell me that he was fired from his previous job for committing an indecent act in the staff toilets. It seems, miss, that he is still hopelessly addicted to this woman about whom you informed me. The woman he buys clothes for, who tries them on for his and others’ pleasure. His addiction has taken everything from him. You, his savings, his livelihood. He has nothing left. So what I wish to convey to you at this stage is that there is nothing here I can do. There is no way I can ruin this man’s life, because he has already ruined his own. As a result, I will be refunding the payment you have already made, and wish you the best in your future. Thank you.
Imagine the phone goes dead.
Imagine you drop your phone on the floor.
Okay, so what do you do now? Huh?
Go on, tell me.
Actually I don’t care.
This conversation is over.