When she took paracetamol she threw her head back and winced. The bitter powder stung the back of her mouth and the sensation clung to her spine. And Robert would watch her from the hotel bed, every Thursday at 8.40pm.
She wasn’t pretty. Older than the others. Severe bead black eyes and a sharp mouth. A bit overweight. Her lipstick didn’t suit her. But he liked her quiet bluntness. She said what she was thinking. He liked the way she lay on her stomach in a cheap white dressing gown, staring into her conference papers.
And her name. Susan. Sensible name. Better than the giggling twenty year olds who poured into of his life like cheap vodka, leaving the sour taste of guilt. He wondered if they ever told him their real names. If they remembered them at all after the morphine he stole for them.
Susan took her paracetamol, called her husband and told him she had finished at the office. Yes. She’d grab some milk from the M&S by the train station at Haymarket. Holly needed to do her homework. She was falling behind in maths. Yes. She’d read to Josh before bed. Bye, darling. Bye.
“How old is Josh now?” He asked, surprised at his own curiosity. She turned briefly, her face unreadable. Cardigan on.
“Don’t ask me about my life, Rob.”
Her back was turned as she slipped on her heels. “This is just sex. Don’t ask for me.”
Silence. She never kissed him goodbye, just smiled with a closed mouth and left. He wondered if he was in love with her. He wasn’t used to women not loving him. Easy words and tears bored him. She had a raw primitive robotic way about her. Sex was a need like lunch or a mortgage. A necessity to get over every Thursday between 6 and 8.55, in between her finance summary and the train to the suburbs. Done with the same professional enthusiasm.
He dressed, paid the embarrassed hotel staff and went back to the hospital. He could smell her hair as he put on his scrubs. She loomed in his mind as he put patient after patient to sleep, each flutter of an eyelid leaving him wondering how she looked when she slept. She was careful never to be vulnerable around him. Vulnerability suggested trust.
He needed that. There was a thrill to the heaviness of a woman sleeping. The warmth of her dreaming against his hand, the subconscious shudder of her hand gripping his shoulder. Trust was thrilling. To make Susan trust him would be beyond erotic.
He loved her, he decided. He’d never loved a woman before. How strange to fall in love with a forty two year old barrister with liquid nitrogen for blood. He called her when he finished his shift.
“No? This is Mark- are you a client-”
The line crunched, and there was the muffled sound of conversation.
“Hi, Mr David. I’ve prepared the file for tomorrow, should be an absolute breeze if his prosecutor is as weak as last time.” A pause. “I told you never to call me here.”
“I’m in love with you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I can’t stop thinking about you, Suze.”
“Try to. I can’t see you again.”
“I don’t fuck men who love me. You are a liability to my security. I love Mark.”
“No you don’t. You love forty million quid, you Jewish slut-”
She inhaled deeply. “Goodbye, Rob.” A young boy wailed in the background. “Don’t call me again.”
The phone tone was Dm.
His trachea tightened. He brought his hand hard down on the table, but he was numb to the bleeding. Bitch. Fucking emotionless bitch.
He’d make her regret this. He imagined strangling her on the hotel bed, as she grappled at the bedside table for the phone. No, too quick. He’d kill her husband. He heard him on the radio often enough, couldn’t be that hard to track him down. It would be worth it to see her exposed as an adulterous whore in the papers. He imagined her face plastered over the Edinburgh Metro, trodden on in the street beneath disgusted feet.
A bottle of whisky later, and half a syringe of codeine, and he was calm. If he couldn’t have her, no one could. But he wasn’t going to prison over it. He didn’t need to.
He knew where she lived. Just off Princes Street, in a townhouse her husband renovated in 2006. It had been in Luxury Homes when they had a swimming pool installed in the basement. He’d make it look like an overdose. She never checked the bottle on her daily pills. Why would she? Just paracetamol for a bad shoulder. Bought at the Boots.
It would be easy enough to break in. She said she left the kitchen windows open after May because the heated floor got unbearable. Stupid bitch.
He drove over at 10am, the next Tuesday. Her kids were at school, darling Mark at the office, and she had been at work since 5am. No one was around, and the garden path led him to the open window. He wore hospital gloves. He wasn’t an idiot. Whatever she thought.
The bathroom cabinet revealed why she sought lovers. Viagra, sleep aids, stress reducers. Mark wasn’t getting younger. Robert realised he was a free gigolo with a flushed humiliation. He unscrewed the bottle and slid in the laced pills. One would make her sick. Luckily she always took two.
It wouldn’t be painful. He was an anesthetist after all. Not monster. Susan would simply go to sleep. He imagined her falling to the bed, dark hair across her face, heels still on, breathing slow. No, he wasn’t a monster. He was doing her a favour. Stuck in a loveless, dead marriage, poor thing.
As he left, he noticed a picture on the wall. It was Mark, laughing next to her. He wasn’t handsome. Weak chin, wild hair. But the way she looked at him!
She was smiling, beaming, her hands clasped joyfully over his arms. She was happy. Happier than he had ever seen her.
She loved him. She really loved him.
Wracked with guilt, he ran upstairs and shoved the bottle back into his pocket. He couldn’t kill her. What was he thinking? He loved her. He’d let her be happy. He’d let her go.
He drove for as long as his tank would let him, buying booze at whatever petrol station would sell it to him. Then he fell asleep, at the edge of the road, for a very long time.
He woke to the radio, buzzing like a mosquito in his ears.
A 43 year old wife of a millionaire businessman has died of an expected overdose at her home in Edinburgh
Robert felt his blood run cold. Trembling, he reached down and felt inside his pocket for the bottle.
Sleep Aid, Doxylamine Succinate, 25mg
This short story is part of my Male Gaze series, where I challenge and explore masculine narratives and perceptions of the feminine. If you’d like to read more of my work in this theme, please read ‘Rosa Wears Nylons’.