AFTER the break-in, Eddie found himself confronted by a tall woman brandishing a scalpel.
‘The fuck you doing in here?’
‘Over there,’ she said, waving the blade towards the dining table.
Eddie shuffled across the room, in near darkness, with his hands raised.
‘Sit,’ she said. ‘Who the hell are you?’
‘I wasn’t stealing your valuables, honest. I only wanted food.’
The tall woman gave a laugh that made Eddie’s hands rise a little higher.
‘Priceless,’ she said. ‘Hands down, little man, flat on the table.’
‘Lady, I can leave, right now, and never—’
‘No,’ she growled.
An avalanche of silence filled the room. Eddie’s palms pressed the table.
‘Fate brought you here. There’s no way back for you now.’
‘Lady, don’t call the police. I’m sorry. I can change. I—’
‘Bravo,’ she said, ‘James Cagney, ladies and gentlemen.’
Eddie stared at the tall woman’s eclipsed face, couldn’t locate her eyes.
‘Lady, please, I didn’t have the best start in life—’
‘If you’re going to bore me with your life story, I’ll need wine.’
She placed the scalpel on the table and turned to the kitchen counter. The edge of the blade glinted in the darkness. Eddie weighed up the distance, hesitated.
This woman has the pending violence of a volcano, but this is my chance, he thought.
She poured the wine. Eddie raised his clammy left hand two inches from the table.
‘Do it,’ said the tall woman, who was now peering down on him. ‘Go on, watch what happens.’ She placed a glass of sour-smelling wine in front of him.
‘For the nerves,’ she said. ‘Now, continue.’
‘Continue?’ Eddie said.
The tall woman sat opposite him.
‘Yes, your poor start in life, and why you think it’s a sufficient reason to break into other people’s property.’
‘It’s no excuse for what I did. I said sorry for—’
‘Getting caught,’ she said. ‘I should chop your fucking hands off.’
He straightened up and spoke towards the ceiling. ‘I will not sit here and listen to threats from someone like you. I’d rather deal with the police.’
‘Someone like me?’ She said.
Eddie raised his voice. ‘Yes, you, with this big house, the flash car on the drive, and that fucking swimming pool out there.’ His voice softened. ‘All I wanted was a little taste. To come in, make a sandwich, drink something hot. Pretend for a moment that all this belonged to me, before returning to my tent by the train tracks.’
‘I understand,’ she said.
‘How could you?’
‘You’ll see, when the sun comes up, we aren’t much different, you and I.’
‘You’re keeping me here until morning?’ Eddie said. ‘Can I at least use the toilet?’
The tall woman hunched forward.
‘I can’t let you do that,’ she said. ‘Tell you what, make it to sunrise without trying anything stupid or pissing your pants, and I’ll let you go.’
‘I’d say that’s a good deal, considering your current predicament.’
‘Yes,’ he said.
The chair shrieked across the hard floor as the tall woman stood.
‘Now,’ she said, ‘I’m not making you a sandwich, but I did see a bowl of chicken salad in the fridge earlier.’
In the yellow glow emanating from the fridge, Eddie saw the side of her long narrow head. She was bald, and a dark stain covered her earlobe. The door shut, returning the room to near darkness.
‘Did you hurt yourself?’ He asked.
‘What?’ She said, placing the bowl in front of him.
‘Your ear looks like it’s bleeding.’
‘No, it’s a birthmark,’ she said.
Eddie fumbled around in the cold salad, his fingers digging for chicken.
‘We should pretend this is your house,’ she said, ‘and I’m your good friend, who you have invited over for dinner.’
‘I haven’t had friends since secondary school,’ he said. ‘I wouldn’t even know where to start.’
‘Well,’ she said, ‘let us imagine your life hasn’t exactly planned out the way you wanted.’
‘Imagine,’ he said and allowed himself a small chuckle. ‘What would you tell me?’
‘Do you have any family?’ She asked.
‘None that cares,’ he said.
‘I would say focus on what you do have.’
‘You have your health, don’t you?’
‘I guess,’ he said.
‘No cancer, no HIV, no diabetes, no severe infections?’ She asked.
‘Nope,’ he replied. ‘But what if you’re someone who sees life as a cruel joke?
‘You think you’re such a person?’ She asked.
‘Yes,’ he said.
‘When I gave you the salad, did you ask for a fork?’
‘You focused on what was in front of you.’
‘Yes, I did,’ he said.
‘Well, there you are,’ she said. ‘There’s hope for you yet.’
‘But,’ he said, ‘only because I thought you’d shove the fork through my eye.’
The tall woman laughed, poured more wine, and they conversed like great friends until the sun came up.
In the red light of daybreak, he saw that the tall woman’s face didn’t fit her stern voice. For the first time in his life, Eddie believed he was experiencing true friendship.
‘Well,’ she said, ‘you can go for that piss now.’
He yawned. ‘Where’s the bathroom?’
‘Up the stairs, first right,’ she said, directing him with the scalpel.
Eddie climbed the stairs, studying the plethora of family pictures on the wall. He stopped midway, realising that the tall woman wasn’t in any of them.
‘Keep going,’ she said with that stern voice. She was standing two steps away from him, her eyes dark and severe, her scalpel ready.
He entered the bathroom and vomited over himself. A man’s body, sliced open from the throat to the pubis, lay in the bathtub. His skin, stripped back on both sides, revealing red pulp and fat the colour of cheap egg yolks.
‘Why?’ Eddie whispered, peeking through his fingers at the tall woman’s reflection in the mirror.
A white box sat on the blood-spattered floor. Two human hearts sealed in plastic rested on icy water.