The first time she saw him was the last time she saw herself.
It was a Tuesday. In the summer the days blurred together with little cohesiveness from one to the next. She would wake, she would live, she would sleep, but the memories followed no impressionable lines. But today she knew. It was a Tuesday.
She’d been sitting at a small cafe on the corner of a busy street when he sat down at the table adjacent to her. She’d recognized him from a popular website she frequented. He’d sat down quickly after ordering and was rubbing his fingers along the number that the girl at the counter had given him to hold on to. It was a playing card, worn at the edges.
As he sat, she knew he saw her, and she knew that he knew she knew. You know, something twisted like that. It resonates deep inside of you. He wasn’t there accidentally or by some strange happenstance. She had read something a stranger had wrote on the internet, it had sat in the pit of her stomach, it had grown, and now that seed of a thought was here in front of her. Flipping a jack of spades in through calloused fingertips.
She wondered how they’d gotten so calloused, those thick, red fingers. She wondered how long it had been since he’d last shaved his ragged face. His cheeks were red with alcoholism and his gut showed it just the same. Yet his clothing represented some new part of him. She wasn’t sure how long he’d been this new man, but the rest of him was something different. He wore a stiff shirt, a fit pair of slacks, and his shoes shined so brightly in the sun that she swore she could see herself frown into them.
All of these things had been observed in a matter of seconds. Time had slowed for her to put it together. She pulled her gaze away and things picked up speed. The dog on the street lapping up water from a bowl, someone clanking mugs into a bin, and Taylor Swift belting out her latest heartbreak. Her mouth tasted like iron and she realized she had been chewing on the bottom of her lip, breaking open the skin and letting the blood rush out across the bottom of her teeth.
The article she’d read hadn’t been about anything really important. This guy – he signed himself “Frankly Upset” – had written in to this site a guest piece about the state of women’s liberty. It was an anti-feminist piece, a misogynistic bit about how men were really getting the shit end of the stick. He was highly supportive of things “going back to how they used to be” and went on for some length about how women writing on the internet were spreading new and unhealthy mentalities that were ruining the world.
She understood the way that people like him thought because she dealt with it every day in her own line of work, being one of those women. It wasn’t anything particularly insightful or new, but it was some of the phrases that he used that had stuck with her, and given her that sickly feeling. “Inbred whores” and “know it all types” who just wanted men to “become dogs for them” needed to be “reminded that their actions had consequences.”
She wished she could properly explain how she felt. She wished that she could let someone know. When she looked down she knew he looked up. She could feel his eyes pressing into her. She knew he was smiling, the sides of his lips creaking upwards. She wished she could sit with the people next to her just so she wouldn’t have to be alone. She felt that he could reach out at any moment and take her with him. Slap her down, break her up, tear her apart. This wasn’t just someone who had written something on the internet. This was someone who had a personal vendetta, something he had to follow through on, something that permeated every single cell of himself and changed the entire course of his life until he felt it had been made right.
As she picked up her things and left the table, she knew that he would follow her. She looked at the clothes she wore and she looked at the things that she had with her and she constructed the headlines. She attempted to plan some escape, but only half-heartedly. She’d walk down the alley but he’d follow, a cliched finish to a half-lived life. She’d take the side streets home and he’d already be there at the end waiting for her, no matter how many wrong turns she made. She’d follow the main throughfare, thinking it were safer with the noise and the cars and the people, but he’d just pretend he knew her. He’d make something up, because he was clever, and she knew. It was a Tuesday and she wouldn’t see Wednesday. She wouldn’t see Thursday. She wouldn’t see Christmas and she wouldn’t see twenty-five. She hadn’t even taken her laundry out of the dryer and she hated when people forgot to do that.
Her fingers were still wet from the condensation on the glass. Her ankle still swollen from walking down the steps wrong this morning. Her glasses rested crooked at her side, bent and broken, shattered on the cement. He’d slid a wedding ring onto her finger and wrapped a hankerchief into her hair.
A single cake was placed next to her purse. Freshly baked and still slightly warm from the oven. He’d decorated it with pink cream cheese frosting. He’d only made the one. He’d spent all afternoon making it just right. And when he got home he hummed to himself and licked the rest of the icing out of the bowl with a smile on his face.