My co-worker haunts me. He died one evening in June, after Friday drinks at the pub. He roams the office floor, hanging around the water cooler, or hovering over newspapers, staring at his own face. The headlines are mocking: “Car crash marriage!” – too on the nose, or what’s left of Simon’s.
Now I look up from entering data. He’s popped up behind my computer screen. His eyes are the same dull green they always were, but the skin underneath them is grey. Partially collapsed into his rotting nose. I jump just a little every time.
“Jesus, Simon.” I look back at the screen and scroll through the October figures. How many armchairs did we sell?
I rest my hands on my knees. Swallow a yawn. Will my back to stay straight, though my shoulders are heavy. “Was there something you wanted?”
He crosses to my side of the desk. Leans down next to my ear. His breath makes mine catch. Simon lifts a black, earth-caked finger to my screen. I know he’s going for my formula bar.
“What’s wrong with it now?” I’ve triple checked it. He’s watched me triple check it. But he can’t leave me alone. Can’t leave.
I think I’ve figured it out. This office is a sanctuary for both of us. I could go home earlier. Clear the coffee mugs Chris litters my living room with, gifting me with brown rings on my coffee table, the pile of coasters untouched. Make the bed he quite literally rolls out of every morning. Ask him about his day before it’s time to throw pasta in a pan, load the dishwasher to the evening news, and set the alarm to do it all again. Chris will be home already, disappointed to find my driveway empty. But here I am. Well, here we are: Simon and I.
He’s decided his unfinished business is business. That, or it’s easier to be around me than her. The woman from the newspapers. She’s the reason he ran out of their front door and into the bonnet of a speeding taxi. He was broken before the impact shattered his pelvis and the pavement claimed half of his skin.
The reports have been almost as brutal. The local journalists swarmed around family friends, drawing out the dirty details, lapping the supposed truth up. If Simon could talk, I’d ask him what was more painful. Was it having his private life – private even to him until those last few moments – dredged up for all to read about?
Or was it the indignity of dying beneath the window of that bedroom, unable to forget the image of his wife’s knickers wrapped around the bedpost? Her legs wrapped around someone else’s head.
I shiver. He’s had a rough time of it. I look back at the computer. “I’ll check it again.” Maybe I’m missing something. He’s got – he had – seven years’ more experience when I started. I can’t shake the feeling he knows things I don’t.
But I don’t find anything, and he’s unwilling or unable to speak up. I leave him there at seven-thirty.
Later that night, Chris presses a tired kiss to my forehead and rolls off me. I smooth the silk of my nightgown out over my thighs. I return his smile politely.
Chris cocoons me in a tangle of limbs. And I know that Simon’s wife could throw her legs around hishead and I’d feel only a vague sense of surprise. My stomach tenses under the sudden impact of that. The feeling builds and burns under my skin.
I know, unlike Simon, that I could walk out of this door and into the street and live, and live and live.
Kathy Chamberlain moved to Swansea in 2011 when she embarked on her postgraduate studies. She’s a fan of circular narratives and plain style prose. Kathy teaches undergraduate classes in creative writing and English literature. She’s been shortlisted by Flash500 and longlisted by The London Independent Story Prize. Her most recent publications include FlashFlood, Hypnopomp Magazine, and The Cabinet Of Heed. She tweets @KathyChmberlain