Sarah enters the flat and closes the door behind her. The dark room stares back at her as she inhales its odour, a fragrance she detests but has engraved in her mind. Layers of her clothing immediately start to shed like snakeskins in summer. The darkness that engulfs her naked body brings her some much needed comfort. She looks around the empty room and heads over to the fridge, picking up a frozen bottle of vodka and setting it on the coffee table. She lunges into the couch. Big breath.
Her fingers burn as she takes a huge gulp from the icy bottle and squints at it. Silence. She gets up looking for something in the dark. A few muscle car magazines are thrown around as she finally finds a pack of smokes. She paces up and down the flat, her footsteps echoing around the dark as she sits on the couch once again as if a decision was finally made. She lights her cigarette staring ahead in the darkness.
Another big gulp of vodka. Another drag. The clock can be heard ticking as silence sinks in. Another big breath. All she can hear now is the ticking and tocking as the relentless clock charges ahead. Each second perpetuates the growing anxiety that rises in her chest. The ticking has now turned to pounding as her heart struggles to match the tempo. She breaks down in tears, but her relief is cut short as someone opens the door. The lights come on and Sarah sits still.
“What the hell are you doing here?” he asked. No reply.
“I’m gonna call the police!”
Sarah lets out the most genuine of laughters, turning around to face the door.
“Are you really?”
“It-it’s… how did you find me?”
“Same way you found me, I guess.”
“Look, I don’t want any trouble.” She laughs again. “Will you put some clothes on please?”
“Clothes? Clothes?” she gets up, stark naked. “What are clothes good for, you bastard? What purpose do they serve? I haven’t been able to sleep, let alone worry about what I wear!”
“How did you find me? Why?”
“Everyone finds someone for a reason, and you” she takes a drag from her cigarette and puts it out on the brown couch. “you, Richard, certainly had yours!” He looks at her in disbelief as she goes on. “I know everything about you. I know you’ve been outta town. I know you thought everything would go away. But guess what Rich, it didn’t.”
She takes another big gulp from the bottle as someone else opens the door to the apartment. She is wearing a smart grey turtle neck that brings out the green in her eyes.
“What’s going on in here? Who is she, Rich?”
“Wha-What are you doing here?” Sarah asks.
“I could ask you the same thing honey. Who is she, Richard?”
He stands by the door unable to move. His mouth is open in disbelief but words won’t come out. Sarah goes on.
“Yes Rich, who exactly am I?”
The detectives entered the apartment after knocking several times without answer. The landlord told them the rent had been paid until the end of the year and that the tenant hadn’t been seen around the building in weeks.
As they entered, the house breathed a stale quietness like a wardrobe left shut for too long. The sun shone bright through the light-grey IKEA blinds giving the space an inviting mood. Several pictures stood out in the fridge door held by heart-shaped magnets where Sarah could be seen smiling with different people. The couch had several pillows all over it, a few of them on the floor, next to which a coffee table stood littered with half-full bottles of liquor. Both detectives found this intriguing as they could not find any more alcohol around the flat, apart from an empty miniature vodka bottle forgotten in the shower’s soap holder. This puzzled them as it was hard to ascertain whether Sarah had an alcohol problem or if she had just picked it up recently. The latter seemed to lure their detective instincts.
One of them argued “If she really was an alcoholic, she would’ve finished these bottles. This looks more like she was drinking to forget something but could not handle the harshness of it.”
“Maybe she just had someone over? A party even?” The partner’s silence told him everything he needed to know. “We thinking suicide then?” he asked, entertained by his partner’s astuteness.
“We might never know.”
Sarah lights another cigarette as her question lingers unanswered. Richard is motionless, his mind racing as he watches the burning end of the smoke in his smoke-free apartment. The ticking of the wall-clock seems to impair his thoughts by the second, a moment he never expected to come edging closer and closer. The lady in the turtle neck breaks the silence.
“Look hon, we only started seeing each other recently and he never told me about no crazy girlfriend.”
Sarah laughs mid-drag, her crazy gaze being involved in a cloud of smoke as her eyes bulge out in amazement. “This man, if one can call him that, brought me to this place same way he brought you” the green-eyed woman looks at Richard to see him staring ahead “and got me as drunk as possible, on this same couch right here. When I came to, it was too late.”
The woman has a long look at Sarah whose hands tremble as she puts her cigarette out on the suede couch. She analyses her frail naked body and makes up her mind.
“What will you have me do?” she asked Sarah.
“I want this bastard to feel what it’s like to loathe your own skin.” He gazes up at Sarah like an enclosed animal, ready to pounce.
The lady in the turtle neck reaches for her purse giving Sarah a reassuring look. Richard chest’s constricts as the pounding of the clock makes it hard to weigh his options. The walls seem to cave around him as the green-eyed woman dials three numbers on her phone.
His survival instinct urges him to act. He clenches his jaw and speeds towards the couch in a predator-like readiness, flipping it over Sarah. Her naked body is thrown in the air for half a second before she can even realize what is going on. When she comes to her senses the comfort suede trap prevents her from moving. She can hear the woman’s screams from under the couch, its smell raising red-flags buried deep in her subconscious. Her heart explodes out of her chest as she tries to use all her strength to free her skin from the touch of the suede.
The ticking of the clock sets the tempo of the muffled yells as Richard struggles to cover the turtle-necked woman’s mouth. Sarah is fuelled by this. The weight of the couch urges every muscle in her body to move as she finally manages to free herself from under it in a martyr-like effort.
She gets up as the man uses his weight to smother his girlfriend’s efforts of breaking free. The phone lies on the floor smashed to pieces. Life can be seen abandoning the woman’s green eyes every passing second Richard strangles her. Sarah watches the scene and has no doubt in her mind.
She picks up the frozen bottle of vodka and smashes it against the back of Richard’s head. His heavy body immediately thumps on the wooden floor as the clock becomes all that can be heard in the room once more.
Sarah offers her hand to the green-eyed woman who stands up, her smothered make-up further bringing out the thankfulness in her eyes. They say nothing as their gazes perpetuate their newfound bond. They hug each other as Sarah comforts the woman in a feeling she knows all too well, a feeling they are both set on burying together.
The clock completes the eerie silence. Deep breath. Sarah realises the inevitable pounding of time is slowly turning back to a ticking. For the first time in a long time, she took a deep breath.