the barbering scissors lay shining in the drawer, primly in a row with bamboo-handled brushes and the broken-toothed tortoiseshell comb. she stared at them for a moment, as they stared blankly back, demure, yet shameless, dumb. the handles kissed her fingers coldly as she drew the scissors out and absently closed the drawer flush with the others.
she glanced at herself in the mirror, ruffling her hair, then slowly raised her weapon.
they’d first met in a thunderstorm, then an office stairwell, then the apartment lobby. the only thing the gossips at work knew about him was there was nothing to know. he was young. his projects were solid, though not yet brilliant. he lived alone.
she knew that and more after their first run-in. he liked alcohol in general and whiskey specifically. he was not as hard-boiled as he pretended. his appearance was carelessly flawless and carefully unkempt. he was hiding something, and hurting.
she’d always been good at reading faces. even as a kid her astute observations would startle people. she’d learned since to keep her mouth shut, but she was still a good predictor of character.
he was different, though — compact, secretive. the only time he talked on a deeper level was when he was drunk out of his mind, and even then it was mostly nonsensical rambling. here and there, however, she managed to glean some useful information. she disliked going to loud bars jammed with inebriated, gyrating bodies, but one lone drunk man she could handle with ease. he was lonely, no matter that the girls came and went with the seasons. he needed an anchor, despite his protests that he needed no one.
one day she’d brought him something fresh-baked, juiced or thrown together in a bowl. she hadn’t been able to stop.
she loved the whiteness of his skin as the pale morning sun spilled through his window, pricking every hair into dark relief. she loved the confused look in his eyes as they tried to focus on their own before he donned his glasses. she loved his childlike bewilderment upon waking, the humorous gruffness to his voice.
she knew he hated her.
he hated her. but she’d ceased to mind very much. it was a reality wryly accepted, like the fact she could never spell “embarrassed” on the first try. their symbiosis had its benefits, after all. it kept him fed. it kept her sane. it gave his anger an outlet. it brought color to her calm.
he was fascinating, in the annoyingly unknowable way of recluses. he broke her silence without speaking.
she faced herself in the mirror again, short-shingled, a scarecrow with sad eyes. she didn’t have to do this, but it was better than opening her indignity to a garrulous stranger.
she didn’t have to do this, but it would cut the cord between expectation and finality.
she had not told him. would not. she wondered if he’d even notice until hunger reminded him of her existence.
perhaps she was being catty. he hadn’t, she acknowledged, requested she become chef, laundress, mother, keeper. nor had it been her intent, exactly. but there it was.
if the unexpected were to happen, she wondered, how would he respond? anger, sadness, contrition, relief?
with her luck, he’d be too drunk to notice. not that it mattered. nothing mattered, somehow, now that everything should matter.
the red-bound book that received her secrets told the story that he did matter, and very much.
but what did books know?