There’s no warmth in her smile, nothing friendly.
I’ve seen a smile like this before, but not on a human face. It’s the smile Mum’s sadistic bastard cat used to flash at trapped creatures.
‘Maggot,’ she decrees, her wine glass shaking with nervous rage. ‘Snivelling worm. Deluded, self-important asshole.’
I don’t quite know what she wants me to say so I nod politely and give the pasta a cursory prod with her wooden spoon. The gesture will not soften the spaghetti any faster of course. We both know this.
‘See, when we were together I was young, stupid, and impressionable. I was too awed by you to realise that everything from your mouth was designed to plant self-doubt and dependency on your attention. Remember all those things you’d to say to me? That I was so fat, that compared to other girls I was the size of a group hug?’
It took a bit of effort to bite back the smirk. Truthfully I found it hard to believe that Rachel, 29 from Camden, was ever fat. If anything, she could maybe even put a bit back on. Thin or heavy probably didn’t matter however; she was naturally pretty – stunning if you ask me – except for that maniac glint in her eyes. She’s stopped talking though, maybe she wants me to interject, perhaps apologise for those comments. I open my mouth but one angry wave from her prevents me from speech.
‘Don’t even fucking think of talking back – you’re here to listen. For once, you don’t get to – actually could you season that a little more for me?’
I tip a little more salt into the tomato sauce and try and find a way of silently gauging whether the amount was correct. She approves and swiftly necks her glass of wine.
‘Thanks. What was I saying? Oh yes: So after all your criticism and all your negging you’d tell me I had a “resting bitch face?” Did it even occur to you I was sad because of you? See, that’s your problem Luke – when it comes down to it you’re pretty mean. Pretty mean and pretty stupid. In fact, that stupidity shows when your face isn’t talking: you look all brutish and simple – if mine’s a resting bitch face, you’ve got yourself a case of resting ape face.’
She pours herself a second glass. To my mind the pasta is just about done by now and I’m keen to get a shift on. I drain the pasta and begin to plate up her food.
‘But look at us both now. It’s been, what, eight years? Who do you think time was kinder to Luke? After you left me, I worked on my confidence, I worked on my body and now look at me… Did you really move on to anything better? Let me guess, you’ve got a girlfriend – her surname is “Hub”. ‘
In all fairness, she’s not wrong.
Rachel empties her second glass in one deep drink. There are tell-tale signs the action is part of her performance, she grimaces a little and shakes her head before indicating I should follow her out the kitchen.
She’s lit the dining room dimly, with candles and complete with background music. I place her dinner down on the table as she hovers nearby.
‘Aren’t you going to pull out a chair for me?’
That isn’t really a question. I walk around the table to sit opposite, but Rachel slowly and deliberately wags her finger.
‘Nah-ah. Do you think you deserve a seat at my table? On the floor.’
She points by her feet. I do as I’m told.
‘So finally, that long-awaited dinner…’
She takes a mouthful, chews and theatrically spits it back onto the plate.
‘Disgusting! Fit only for a filthy little floor-ape.’
I have to jump back to avoid the cascade of molten Bolognese. Rachel points and clicks her fingers at it.
‘So, I just have to eat this and we’re done? ‘I ask.
‘No Luke, you just owed me that after years of broken promises.’
‘That’s not strictly true, I mean whatever Luke might have owed you…‘
‘Shut the fuck up!’
‘Help me out here – I don’t know what I’m supposed to say.’
‘Nothing, you idiot. Look up the phrase “shut up” it literally means silence. This is my evening – break character one more time and out deal is off. Get it? Good. Now get eating.’
What else can I do? I pick up a clump of meat and pasta, separate it from the detritus and hair from her carpet – if she knew in advance she was going to do this, she really could’ve hoovered for me – and reluctantly stick it in my mouth. In my mind I repeat my professional mantra:
My name is Rob Cole. This is my life. There are many like it, but this one is mine.
You might be wondering what’s going on here.
How can I explain? I realised I have wasted every available opportunity in life: my grades were poor, my career non-existence, and my love life long-dead. Something needed to be done. I found myself looking for something that I had that no one else could offer, something that was uniquely me. I found nothing. I am a straight white man of middling intelligence and average looks. You have passed at least fifty like me already today. I am Spartacus, I am Superdry, I am Budweiser, I am two minutes of the missionary positon.
Once you know the truth however, it can only set you free… Two days after my epiphany I wrote my advertisement and hit Craigslist:
Do I remind you of someone you once knew? Perhaps the boyfriend that got away? The best friend who moved abroad? The brother you lost to cancer? I can be all these things and many, many more.
Simply email me at the address below your notes: name, age, background, along with anything further that can assist in the simulation. I am happy to wear any old clothes you might have, call you by old pet names or to play along to any role-playing scenario of your choosing.
Ten minutes later, and that plate of bolognaise is largely eaten. I’m surprised that Rachel has managed to fill this time entirely with an all-encompassing rant listing every disappointment, insult and grievance she could remember. In her defence, I suppose this ex-boyfriend of hers sounds like a proper piece of shit. I look up at her as I force down the last mouthful.
‘Are we done?’
She whistles at the door as a large olive-skinned man enters – also one of the beautiful people. He smiles a little awkwardly, just enough to reassure me that at least he is not about to give me a kicking.
‘Meet Oliver, my boyfriend. He’s nicer, better looking, stronger and more impressive than you’ll ever be. He doesn’t think I make love “like a nervous haddock” either… See, I won Luke. I won the break up. I thought that would make me happy until I saw your advert. But you blocked me out of your life and you moved away… You ever hear that expression – the one about trees falling in the woods? Well “timber”… ‘
Rachel removes her top and skirt to reveal lingerie. I can’t help but be kinda aroused; my lack of surety manifesting in a mini gulp.
‘So here’s the deal: I am going to show you exactly what you threw away Luke. You must only speak when spoken too. You must never, ever, look away. And lastly, no getting off on it either ok?’
Oliver hoists her onto the table and starts to kiss her neck as she wraps her legs around him.
My name is Rob Cole. This is my life. There are many like it, but…
My thoughts are interrupted as she shouts out.
‘Do you think you could cry a bit too?’
That shouldn’t be too hard, this is not what pride feels like.
I think happy thoughts, just think of the hundred and fifty she bartered me down to, not to mention the closure she must be getting right now. Mainly the money though, I’ll be who is needed, for money.
Everyone’s got their ghosts. How about you? I’ve offering closure for sale, just give me a call…
Jake Kendall is a Creative Writing graduate of Cardiff University, currently based in his hometown of Oxford. He writes stories that try to find the exact moment that comedy becomes tragedy.
Featured photograph by Karissa Lang