I'm Thinking of Ending Things Page 3

The overhead fan was on high. It was spinning fast, I remember that part well. Really spinning. It seemed like it might fly off the ceiling. It was the only sound I could hear—the fan’s metronomic motor and blades cutting through the air.

It wasn’t a new house, and I could always hear something—pipes, or creaking, something—whenever I woke up in the night. It was strange that I couldn’t hear anything else at that moment. I lay there listening, alert, addled.

And that’s when I saw him.

My room was at the back of the house. It was the only bedroom on the ground floor. The window was in front of me. It wasn’t wide or tall. The man was just standing there. Outside.

I couldn’t see his face. It was beyond the window frame. I could see his torso, just half of it. He was swaying slightly. His hands were moving, rubbing each other from time to time, as if he was trying to warm them. I remember that vividly. He was very tall, very skinny. His belt—I remember his worn black belt—was fastened so that the excess part hung down like a tail in the front. He was taller than anyone I’d ever seen.

For a long time I watched him. I didn’t move. He stayed where he was, too, right up against the window, his hands still moving over each other. He looked like he was taking a break from some kind of physical work.

But the longer I watched him, the more it seemed—or felt—like he could see me, even with his head and eyes above the top of the window. It didn’t make sense. None of it did. If I couldn’t see his eyes, how could he see me? I knew it wasn’t a dream. It wasn’t not a dream, either. He was watching me. That’s why he was there.

Soft music played, from outside, but I can’t remember it clearly. I could barely hear it. And it wasn’t noticeable when I first woke up. But I came to hear it after seeing the man. I’m not sure if it was recorded music or humming. A long time elapsed this way, I think, many minutes, maybe an hour.

And then the man waved. I wasn’t expecting it. I honestly don’t know if it was definitely a wave or a movement of his hand. Maybe it was just a wavelike gesture.

The wave changed everything. It had an effect of malice, as if he were suggesting I could never be completely on my own, that he would be around, that he would be back. I was suddenly afraid. The thing is, that feeling is just as real to me now as it was then. The visuals are just as real.

I closed my eyes. I wanted to call out but didn’t. I fell asleep. When I finally opened my eyes, it was morning. And the man was gone.

After that, I thought it would reoccur. That he would appear again, watching. But it didn’t. Not at my window, anyhow.

But I always felt like the man was there. The man is always there.

THERE HAVE BEEN TIMES I think I saw him. I’d pass a window, usually at night, and there’d be a tall man sitting with his legs crossed outside my house on the bench. He was still and looking my way. I’m not sure how a man sitting on a bench is pernicious, but he was.

He was far enough away that it was hard to see his face or know for sure if he was looking at me. I hated when I saw him. It didn’t happen often. But I hated it. There was nothing I could do about it. He wasn’t doing anything wrong. But he also wasn’t doing anything at all. Not reading. Not talking. Just sitting there. Why was he there? That was probably the worst part. It may have all been in my head. These kinds of abstractions can seem most real.

I was lying on my back, as Jake had left me, when he returned from the bathroom. The covers were messed up. One of the pillows was on the floor. The way our clothes lay in messy heaps around the bed made the room look like a crime scene.

He stood at the foot of the bed without saying anything for what felt like an unnaturally long time. I’d seen him lying down naked but never standing. I pretended not to look. His body was pale, lean, and veiny. He found his underwear on the floor, pulled them on, and climbed back into bed.

“I want to stay here tonight,” he said. “This is so nice. I don’t want to leave you.”

For some reason, right at that moment, as he slid up next to me, his foot rubbing up against mine, I wanted to make him jealous. I’d never felt such a strong urge before. It arrived out of nowhere.

I glanced at him beside me, lying on his stomach, his eyes closed. We both had sweaty hair. His face, like mine, was flushed.

“That was so nice,” I said, tickling his lower back with the tips of my fingers. He moaned in agreement. “My last boyfriend . . . there was no . . . a real connection is rare. Some relationships are all physical, only physical. It’s an extreme physical release and nothing more. You might be all over each other, but that kind of thing doesn’t last.”

I still don’t know why I said it. It wasn’t entirely true, and why would I bring up another boyfriend in that moment? Jake didn’t react. Not at all. He just lay there, turned on his side to face me, and said, “Keep doing that. It feels good. I like when you touch me. You’re very tender. You’re therapeutic.”

“You feel good, too,” I said.

Five minutes later, Jake’s breathing changed. He’d fallen asleep. I was hot and kept the covers off me. The room was dark, but my eyes had adjusted; I could still see my toes. I heard my phone ring in the kitchen. It was really late. Too late for anyone to be calling. I didn’t get up to answer it. I couldn’t fall asleep. I tossed and turned. It rang three more times. We stayed in bed.

When I woke up in the morning, later than usual, Jake was gone. I was under the covers. I had a headache and a dry mouth. The bottle of gin was on the floor, empty. I was wearing underwear and a tank top but had no memory of ever putting them on.

I should have told Jake about the Caller. I realize that now. It’s something I should have told him about when it started. I should have told someone. But I didn’t. I didn’t think it was anything significant until it was. Now I know better.

The first time he called, it was just a wrong number. That’s all. Nothing serious. Nothing to be worried about. That call came the same night I met Jake at the pub. Wrong numbers don’t happen often, but they aren’t unheard of. The call woke me from a deep sleep. The only strange part was the Caller’s voice—a strained timbre and subdued, gradual delivery.

Right from the start, from that first week with Jake, even from the first date, I noticed odd little things about him. I don’t like that I notice these things. But I do. Even now, in the car. I notice his smell. It’s subtle. But in this enclosed space, it’s there. It’s not bad. I don’t know how to describe it. It’s just Jake’s smell. So many small details that we learn in such short periods of time. It’s been weeks, not years. There are obviously things I don’t know about him. And there are things he doesn’t know about me. Like the Caller.

The Caller was a man, I could hear that, middle-aged at least, probably older, but with a distinctly feminine voice, almost as if he was putting on a flat female intonation, or at least making his voice higher pitched, more delicate. It was unpleasantly distorted. It was a voice I didn’t recognize. It wasn’t someone I knew.

For a long time, I listened to that first message over and over, seeing if I could detect anything familiar. I couldn’t. I still can’t.

After that first call, when I explained to the Caller that it must be a wrong number, he said, “I’m sorry,” in his scratchy, effeminate voice. He waited for another beat or two and then hung up. I forgot about it after that.

The next day I saw I had two missed calls. Both were received in the middle of the night when I was asleep. I checked my missed-calls list and saw it was the same number as the wrong number from the day before. That was weird. Why would he call back? But what was really weird, and inexplicable—and this still makes me upset—was that the calls had come from my own number.

I didn’t believe it at first. I almost didn’t recognize my number. I did a double take. I thought it was an error. It had to be. But I double-checked and made sure I was looking at the missed-calls list and not something else. It was definitely the missed-calls list. There it was. My number.

It wasn’t until three or four days later that the Caller left his first voice message. That’s when it really started to get eerie. I still have that message saved. I have them all. He’s left seven. I don’t know why I’ve kept them. Maybe because I think I might tell Jake.

I reach down into my purse and take my phone out, dial.

“Who’re you calling?” asks Jake.

“Just checking my messages.”

I listen to the first saved message. It’s the first voice message the Caller left.

There’s only one question to resolve. I’m scared. I feel a little crazy. I’m not lucid. The assumptions are right. I can feel my fear growing. Now is the time for the answer. Just one question. One question to answer.

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