9 March 2021

By his own estimation,  Jim had never been much of a man.  He was no good at sports, he didn’t know how to throw a punch and he had a small, wiry physique a gym teacher at high school once described as ‘runty.’  He tapped on the steering wheel impatiently as he waited for the light to turn.

When the light went green Jim popped the clutch and the car jolted forward.  He hated driving standard but Tina’s European parents had instilled in her a smug sense of superiority over the North American’s inability to operate a manual transmission and when it came time to replace his old banger, he as ever, had acquiesced.

Fifteen minutes ago he’d called her office, she turned her phone off at work, or so she said.  He wanted them to meet for lunch.  He was going to ask her flat out.  

‘Jim, she went home sick two hours ago.  Didn’t she call you,’ said Tina’s collegue Jenn.

‘No she didn’t,’ he said, suddenly feeling self conscious, stupid and angry all at the same time.  Tina never got sick.

‘Well I hope she gets better by Friday.  Would hate to miss our poker night.  You’ll still be game wontcha Jim?’  He had always found Jenn to be a tad disingenuous but he detected something different today, as though she found him somehow amusing.  

‘Yeah.  Yeah Jenn, I’ll be there,’ he said and hung up.

He parked in front of their apartment block, an old five storey number built in the fifties.  It was yellow bricked (“The colour of ear wax,” Tina said when she saw it for the first time) and overlooked the ravine.  It was on a quiet tree-lined street despite its being downtown.  The building was austere, tastefully minimalist, and at least it wasn’t one of those god awful glass condos that were sprouting up all over the city like high-rise weeds.  He liked the dated signage out front, The ‘O’ from ‘Astbury Towers’ had fallen off and left a rusty imprint on the brick and the rickety fire escape zig-zagging up the side of the place leant it a period charm.

They had chosen to rent, though they could easily afford a place on the money he brought home alone.  She’d said they shouldn’t buy .  She liked the idea of their not being pinned down. 

‘You can do your work from anywhere,’ she’d always said, insinuating a mutually grandiose predilection for travel and he had agreed, though the thought of moving gave him palpitations, he would, he knew, follow her anywhere.

Jim skipped the elevator and took the stairs.  Their apartment was on the top floor.  He slid the key in the lock and turned it as quietly as he could but it was an old heavy barrel and never failed to make a great ‘CLA-CLUNK’ everytime you unlocked the door.

He could see through to the bedroom.  He saw HIM sliding under the bed.  His stomach lurched and he marched into the bedroom full of violent intention but when he saw the unmade bed, the window onto the firescape wide open to freshen the air in the room (no doubt after their vigorous coupling) his resolve sank.  

He could hear her in the shower.  He turned to walk out of the room but he stopped and he got down on his knees and put his cheek to the carpet and he took a look at the guy.  He was lying there quietly and their eyes locked.  He had an athletic build, powerful, he could tell even though he was lying down.  A strong jaw.  He was wearing a red bandana round his neck.  A wry smile spread across the mans face like this were some kind of a game and he had won.  Jim got up and as he walked out of the apartment, he swiped the photo of him and Tina on holiday in Costa Rica off the wall.  It smashed on the tiles and he stepped on it as he walked passed.  

‘Jim! Is that you?’  Tina shouted from the shower.  He could hear the fear in her voice.  He paused for a second, YEAH IT’S ME he wanted to shout, or REDHANDED. REDHANDED, but he did neither and instead walked out the front door to the corridor.

Out on the street in the bright sunshine he walked briskly and with purpose.   FUCKING WIMP.  He told himself.  FUCKING PUSSY.

He played different scenarios over in his head. Things he would like to have done to that man’s face. What he wished he had said. He imagined a prolonged and tearful apology from Tina, her on her knees, begging him not to leave.

 ‘Stop being so suspicious,’ his friend had told him a while back. ‘She’s not a possesion.  She’s your girlfriend and besides she’s not like that.  She’s obviously super into you.’  He thought his friend was just placating him because the signs seemed clear.  Not answering his texts or calls when she was out with ‘friends’.  Coming home late.  Getting straight in the shower.  These were things that would make anyone suspicious.  

‘Dude.  She exercises all the time.  And she’s a neat freak.  She’s practically OCD.  Stop reading stuff into it,’ his friend had told him.

He rounded the corner onto College where a streetcar was trundling heavily by.  He stared at the sidewalk.  He didn’t want others to see his distress.  Even if he was dying he would want to hide it from others.  Thats the kind of idiot you are.  He went into McNally’s and took a stool at the bar. 

‘Beer please,’ he told the bartender. Christ, another guy with a hockey players physique and a better looking face than his.  The bar had few patrons at that time of afternoon and it was dimly lit.  A baseball game blared from the big screen above the bar.  He did not know if it was live or a recap, he was not the kind of guy who knew such things.  

You just took it like you always do.  Pathetic.  You are pathetic.  No wonder she’s cheating on you. He drained his beer and ordered another.

‘There ya go pal,’ the bartender said as he laid it on a fresh coaster in front of Jim.  Jim nodded in thanks but made no attempt to engage even though he supposed bartenders are meant to be schooled in situations like this one.   

He took several deep swigs from the glass and stared at the bubbles in the beer.

‘This guys some piece of work eh?’  said the bartender and nodded to the screen behind him.

‘Huh,’ said Jim looking up.

‘This guy,’ and again he nodded up at the TV screen. The game had broken for a newsflash and there was a still of a mans face that had been caught on a security camera.   The man was wanted for the brutal assault of a young woman in a downtown apartment the day before. 

‘Oh God,’ Jim said, and he stood up knocking the stool over behind him.

‘Oh God!’  

The open window.  The heavy set jaw.  The red bandana.  

Jim knocked the glass on its side. It rolled across the bar and shattered on the floor.  He spun and bolted for the door.

‘Hey buddy!  Hey buddy!’ The bartender shouted after him.  But Jim couldn’t hear as he ran because there was a loud and inarticulate animal sound issuing from his mouth.

He tripped once on the front stairs and crashed through the glass doors onto the sunny sidewalk and then he sped down the busy, afternoon street.