by Robert Gould
The elevator hummed as it ascended the spine of a Canary Wharf tower block. Encased within its carpeted walls was Heather, who pinched the grey fuzz between her fingers and mentally likened it to the filter of a low-grade vacuum cleaner. It looked incongruous in an otherwise lavishly furnished building. For a young Welsh migrant, Heather had a convincing air of grace and self-assurance, but even she felt intimidated by the lobby’s amber-flavoured aesthetic. She had done the route a countless number of times, but never alone, and certainly never at an hour as late as this. She was mildly relieved to see a familiar face behind the reception desk as it reduced the risk of her being mistaken for a prostitute, but she was a paranoid drunk, and so a kernel of dread remained.
Her heels hit the marble flooring with a set of hard clicks as soon as she reached the building’s fourth level. This hastiness saw her coat catch on a resident fire extinguisher, loosening it from its hook on the wall. It fell with a dense, echoing thud, and Heather cursed under her breath. She decided not to replace it for fear of creating more noise, as she knew Charles shared this floor with Theodore Wyard, a wealthy but disgruntled geriatric who once divulged a sordid marital history to Heather when she insisted on bringing him a bottle of port as a joint Christmas present from her and Charles. Mr. Wyard invited her in for a nightcap, and three measures later she left his apartment with knowledge of a wife and child who he had left behind in Windsor. It seemed the only thing he retained from this pastoral setting was his love of hunting. Before closing the door on Heather, Mr. Wyard imparted one last fact: if she or Charles were to cause any excessive noise after 10pm, he would detach his antique Browning shotgun from the living room wall and pay them a visit.
“And you can be sure I won’t be looking to borrow some sugar.” Mr. Wyard said with a wheeze before shutting the door.
Heather knocked on Charles’ door. There was no response, so she knocked again. She called his name. A moment passed before she heard him inside. There was a rustling sound, one that would have suggested hesitance to Heather were she not in such a chemically altered state. The door groaned open, revealing her lover. He stood in a pair of silk tartan boxers and a white vest. He was surprisingly fresh in appearance, although he had clearly not been expecting her. Heather marched forwards and pushed him through the doorway, kissing him passionately. He embraced her advances until he was perched on the back of his couch. He pulled away.
“Babe, are you drunk?”
“And all that comes with it.” Heather took his hand and attempted to guide Charles towards his bedroom, but he relented. He was a solidly built guy, with thick eyelashes and a deep, throaty timbre, and for a while she had no choice but to obey his command. He sat her down on the couch and continued to kiss her. He moved his mouth to her neck, and Heather relished the torrents of hot, diluted blood that followed every nuance his soft lips provoked. She spied the apartment’s view of the city through the floor length window that lay before them. The various blocks of light and spectral headlamps made for a dazzling sight against the black sky, but it left Heather feeling rather exposed.
“Charles, please… let’s go to your room.” Charles replied with a grunt and shifted his attention to her chest. Heather pleaded in between sweltering pants.
“Oh… but… this fabric… it’s weird. Remember that rash you got last time?”
“You’re worth it.” With his face planted firmly between her cleavage, Charles searched blindly for the zip of her dress and pulled at it clumsily. Irritated by his bold lack of eye contact, Heather craned his head upwards.
“I think I’m worth moving to the bedroom for.” Charles now sat kneeling before her, his countenance a stiff crust with an oily dose of terror bubbling gently underneath. Heather pushed past him and kicked off her heels. She stomped towards a door adjacent to the couch and flung it open, smacking her right hand against the appropriate light switch. A startled blonde woman sat on the bed with one trouser-clad leg in mid-air. She remained in this stance for a moment as she slowly evaluated Heather from head to toe. She did the same. The woman couldn’t have been older than thirty-five. Her blonde bob was sharp and shiny, and her small eyes shone like those of a hungry viper. Charles slowly bypassed Heather at the doorway and stood between them. He looked to the ground as he spoke.
“This…” He sighed heavily before continuing. “This is Lauren.” For reasons unbeknownst to Heather (or Lauren, for that matter), Charles elaborated on the origins their courtship. There was discussion of a fleeting university romance that reignited when Lauren joined his agency last September, but Heather only registered these facts intermittently. Her attention was instead drawn to Charles’ nightstand. On the dark mahogany table lay his beloved Gucci wristwatch, the catalyst for Heather’s favourite pre-coital ceremony. Before intercourse, she made a point of undoing the alligator skin strap and placing it on the table with the greatest of care, all while maintaining eye contact with Charles. She believed it was an idiosyncrasy exclusive to their relationship; a way of respecting his sizable wealth while simultaneously showing indifference for the presence of its physical manifestations. But what could it have meant to Charles? Did the act represent anything for him, or was she simply another pair of hands? These questions plagued Heather’s mind, and her ability to feign concentration suffered.
“Heather…? Heather, are you listening to me?” Heather was roused back into her current predicament to find Charles looking her straight in the eye.
“Yeah.” She answered.
“Good.” Charles seemed genuinely relieved. He turned around to a fully-dressed Lauren and asked her to leave.
“Would you walk me to the door, please?” She asked. Charles was mortified.
“What? No.” Lauren nodded dutifully and sauntered out the door. He glanced back at Heather, now wearing an austere expression. He wilted.
“I need to know she’s gone, Charles. Follow her.” Lauren waited until he had left before flicking off the light switch.
Charles glanced around his apartment from the doorway. Heather was nowhere to be found. He stepped into the hallway for one more taste of his mistress, taking her bottom lip in between his teeth and chewing gently. Both were silently amused by the events of the evening.
“You said she’d be at a friend’s house tonight, Charlie.”
“That’s what she told me.”
“Maybe she planned this.” Lauren delicately applied some balm to her swollen lip. “Maybe she suspected something.” This drew a cruel laugh from Charles.
“No. Trust me, she’s not that wily.”
A sudden bark of his name sent a chill through Charles’ body. He turned around to see his Heather at the door, proudly brandishing his favourite watch. A flick of her wrist sent it flying through the corridor. Heather slammed the apartment door so as to spare Charles the trauma of hearing it hit the marble. Upon inspecting the damage, Charles wailed and punched the door.
“You stupid bitch! I’ll fucking wring you, you hear me?”
Charles kicked the door in rage. Behind him, Lauren screamed. Charles turned around to see Theodore Wyard standing before them with a shotgun in tow.
Heather crawled into the living room and wept. She hiked her dress up to her waist and wiped her tears on it. She curled up on the floor; her mind melted into the carpet as a war raged on outside.
A few minutes later, Heather woke up to a polite knocking sound. She peeled herself off the carpet and opened the door slowly. Standing before her was Mr. Wyard and his pet shotgun. It was the kindest face she had seen since all night; or at least since she had left her friend’s birthday party early in order to surprise Charles. She inspected the corridor behind Mr. Wyard with the greatest of subtlety, and was secretly disappointed by the lack of bloodshed.
“That boyfriend of yours is a prick.” Mr. Wyard rasped in his received pronunciation. The crass choice of words caught Heather off guard, forcing her to stifle a laugh.
“He’s not my boyfriend.” Mr. Wyard smiled at this.
“He said some horrible things about you tonight.”
“Maybe some of them were true.”
“Pah. That’s none of my concern.” He raised his Browning in a small salute. “I scared him off to his little crumpet’s house tonight, but he said he’ll back in the morning. Best take what you want, while you can.”
He gave Heather a sly wink before walking away. Heather called out after him.
“Thank you, Theodore.”
“And thank you for the port, madam. It was most kind.”
He retreated to his home. The door closed quietly behind him.
Heather paced the apartment. There was nothing she wanted; not even her designated drawer contained anything of value. What she needed was a reason to stay in this city, and continue suppressing her Celtic accent, and appetite. After all, with Charles out of her life, there was no one left to impress. She stood at the window and gazed at the city, hoping to reflect one of its many bright lights.