It had all started with Scrabble. Struggling to find adequate players within the confines of Twilight Bay, the retirement village she’d been withering in for the past two years, Linda decided to pay them. She placed ads in the local paper and in a few nearby shops. At £4.50 an hours he knew she would only attract jobless students or pensioners who shared her passion for the game, but often couldn’t remember their own name, let alone words of more than two syllables. She welcomed youth in her flat; it would brighten up the place. Seniors, on the other hand, could be an issue; the last thing she wanted was a crusty old thing moaning about their poor health. She was paying and that should guarantee some form of exclusivity with regards to complaints. Students had no ailments; they were brand new.
What Linda wasn’t prepared for, was for a 60-year-old gardener named Lee to show up and swipe her off her feet. Despite her initial reluctance at the thought of paying a man to play with her, she succumbed. After weeks of pent-up sexual tension, shy grazing of fingers and risqué words spelt out on the Scrabble board, they fell in love.
Because it was love. And in the autumn of her life, no less. Despite what most of the residents thought - dried up old figs - Lee awoke her to sensuality. Granted, the choice was limited and at 62, she was a good deal more vibrant than her neighbours. Still, it was love and they had both felt it.
But, just as she was getting used to sharing her intimacy with a man again, Lee introduced another element to their relationship. Although the lack of subtlety in his choice of words should have been a major red flag to Linda, she was still too busy adjusting to this brand-new state of bliss to notice. Besides, GLUTTONY with the Y on a triple letter was the mark of an experienced player and words like CURVES, SWEETS, FOLDS, EXPAND were all pretty innocuous, as were Lee’s little gifts. Chocolates on Valentine’s day, Moroccan pastries when he walked past the Gazelle Horn bakery...nothing unusual about that.
When he’d first showed up with two tubs of ice-cream, a shy look on his usually poised face,Linda had eaten a few half-spoonfuls, out of lady-like restraint.
‘Not a fan of ice-cream?’ he enquired.
‘I can take it or leave it, really’, she lied in reply.
But he saw right through her and, only a few weeks later, was watching her eat whole tubs of butter pecan, whilst rubbing her naked belly.
He loved watching her eat. How refreshing. With age, Linda had come to think of her body as a tool -and a rusty one at that-, no longer an object. Gone were the strategic curving of the spine, the calculated undulations, all designed to enhance the most flattering or sexually charged part of her body...efficiency and maintenance had taken over. But not with Lee. His gluttonous love was so insatiable that he wanted more of her.
His initial efforts at convincing her to indulge had paved the way for a new form of post-coital complicity: he would hold her close against his naked body and whisper, ‘that’s my beautiful girl, you can eat a little more, can’t you?’
When she lifted her eyes to meet his, satiated, he stroked her hair and added, ‘it makes me so happy to see you happy.’ She couldn’t let him down.
Within five or six months, she had gained 160 pounds.
He just wanted more of her to love.
For the first time, she gave no heed to what people said; to those who hinted that she might have put on a little weight, she whispered ‘a lot’, to the suggestion that Lee could be a feeder, she acquiesced, ‘I think you might be right’. But to the rumour that he was also feeding Cynthia Norson, in bungalow 12d, she could not react.
When she confronted him, Lee didn’t deny it.
He had so much love to give, wasn’t there enough for another woman? Deep down, she knew it was true, but she couldn’t share. This love had been hers alone.
So, she let him go.
Now, she could hardly move; her grief was a boulder, strapped to her ankles. She spent most days in bed until a sudden wave of panic tasered her back to life: had ever even existed? There were no signs of him left; God knows she looked. The lingering smell of vanilla and tobacco from his pipe had been overpowered by the stench of the urine puddles Mitzy had hidden all around her flat. A dog to replace her lover; what an idea...
She meant to clean her flat, but what if she got rid of one last hidden memory, like a black pubic hair, framed on the Brilliant White of her bathroom tiles?
All that was left of their love was a daily thud, at 7.45, like clockwork; the dull sound of a freezer bag crashing on her ground-floor balcony.
Although unwise in every way, her mother had once told her that men will never let a woman leave them. She was right.
During the first few days of Lee’s culinary courtship, she felt cornered. The first batch of ice-cream had shaken her; terrified by the loud bang against her window, she’d flushed the ice cream down the toilet. She felt trapped in her tiny flat; hunted and fed through the bars of her balcony, like a chimp in a cage. But as the days went by, she couldn’t resist sampling the butter pecan...it was, after all, a waste to throw away her favourite ice-cream, out of spite. So, every evening, she started expecting the thud, her heart pounding like an anticipating prey.
Under every tub, Lee wrote a word. She kept them all. They spelt ‘I. Love. You. Forever.’ Over and over again.
It was cheesy, but she knew it was true. She felt it too. She had put up a good fight; it had taken him nine tubs to get through to her.
Now, she would sit and eat his daily proof of love with religious ceremony. It was hard to say why she did it. Her ritual was one of sacrifice and devotion.
Of course, she missed his physical presence, his touch, his voice, the stroke of his hand on her belly, but ice-cream was all she had left. Sometimes, nauseous and bloated, she decided to starve herself and cut him off cold turkey. That would teach him; freezer bags would pile up day after day, spilling a pecan swamp. But she never could. She was still his beautiful girl.
7.46. Linda started fidgeting. Lee took pride in punctuality. She pulled her veiled curtains back and looked out on the road. Nothing. By 7.50, she was nervous; a feeling of loss seeped through her veins and settled at the pit of her stomach. Then she heard the bang. It sounded timid to her, but a bang nonetheless. The butter pecan had leaked a bit on the side of the tub, so she wiped it clean and started the ceremony. Half-way down the tub, a bitter taste hit her palate; sometimes a nut went bad, and spoiled the rest of the batch. Still, that was the bitterest batch yet.
She finished her tub and sat down, wondering what could have delayed Lee; maybe that slut Cynthia Norson. Mitzy’s constant little yap rose her from her torpor, but as she propped herself up, a sharp jab in her neck forced her back down. She tried again, but the pain was so intense it squeezed a tear out. She tried moving her head, left and right, but it felt like granite.
It could be a stroke. Who the hell would ever come for her? Her jaw was in agony as well. She had to call someone. In a state of panic, she thrust herself forward but her legs grew taut, then gave way. She missed the chair and fell backwards, as stiff as a board. She tried to scream, or reach for the phone, but couldn't. What on earth was happening? She felt numb; she'd almost bounced off the floor like rubber, without the slightest sensation as she hit the ground. She could feel Mitzy licking her hand.
She must have passed out, when a spasm woke her up; like an electric shock coursing through her body. Mitzy had pushed the pot of ice-cream against her face and was licking what was left in it. Linda tried to turn her head and shoo her away. Then she saw what Lee had written under the tub. ‘Farewell, my love’. She was drenched in sweat, incapable of gauging how long she’d been lying there, but it all became clear: the bitter taste, the cramps...she waspoisoned.
He still loved her.
Published in Issue #20