by Davina East
Michelle slashed Nicole’s body open in a C-section. Nicole folded over and saw her body and blood pouring. She shut her eyes because she couldn’t watch herself die. Her punishment seemed over the top for what she’d done, which was bad, but not that bad.
There wasn’t much cushioning for the blade to go through. Nicole had twenty per cent body fat. She had special scales that told her so. If it ever crept over twenty-one per cent she’d cut out all carbohydrates for a week. Twenty per cent was the perfect amount of flesh for her, she had decided. The shape of curves with absolutely no redundant flesh. Other women looked okay a bit fatter, but she didn’t want to look okay. She wanted excellence. She didn’t want to be a normal woman with a normal body living a normal life wearing normal clothes. She wanted to amaze herself.
She had similar expectations of the guys in her life. In her view, there was no point in a soft-bodied man. When she saw a fat man’s bare belly in the summer, she looked away quickly, like he’d just flashed his penis at her from underneath a trench coat. If she kept looking at the hard balloon of a belly, the sweaty rolls, it turned the food in her own stomach. Every man she slept with, she called Adonis.
Nicole ran a lot and used the gym, but most of all she swam. It felt hardcore to sweat underwater. She liked how chlorine left her cleaner than she could ever scrub herself. She liked how the smell stayed weakly in her hair after she’d washed and conditioned it. She liked how the water was fake and plastic looking. How when you get in it’s too cold, then you dunk your head under and burst back up gasping.
Nicole met Rob at the leisure centre. She was walking down the corridor in the towelling robe she took to the poolside and he was patting himself down in the space between the gym and the changing rooms. He was soaked with sweat, like he’d be all slippery to touch. Her mind flashed ADONIS and she didn’t think she was staring, but he winked at her, so he must have noticed her noticing him. Normally she’d think a wink was a stupid, embarrassing opener, but that night in bed when she thought about it her body lurched for him. They kept seeing each other, graduating from the wink to hellos, to how are yous? to what are you doing laters? Nicole ignored his wedding ring, thick and bright gold on his dark skin. He didn’t mention his wife and children and Nicole didn’t ask. Nicole saw a picture of his family in his wallet one day when she was taking out £20 for herself. Either he didn’t notice or didn’t mind that she regularly took money from his wallet. He had a good looking family, Nicole thought, looking at the photo, the sort taken at those shoots families go on. His wife was blonde, like Nicole herself, but with a more severe razored in haircut. She was wearing a Burberry shirt and she had a baby girl on her lap in a pinafore dress and white tights, and a bigger boy, about eight, dressed all smart next to her. With his arms around all of them was Rob, looking proud.
At first, Nicole didn’t mind. She was having fun. They were going to hotels overnight and even got a whole weekend away together at the seaside. He bought her big bottles of Hennessy and took her out for nice meals and it was all enough. She didn’t want what they had to be ruined by the fact that he’d met someone else first. They made each other laugh, deep belly laughs like you do at school when you’re tormenting a supply teacher. You don’t throw something like that away. One day they were in a café getting breakfast. She had pancakes with berries and maple syrup. She was at nineteen per cent body fat and could treat herself. He had a full English. He was dipping his toast in his yolk and she thought, I want to make you breakfast. I want to live with you and cook your breakfast. She didn’t tell him this. She held it in her mind while she swirled a raspberry in syrup. This had all been fun, but it was going to change. She started a conversation they’d avoided for three months.
‘Tell me about your family. Your wife and that.’ She said it all casual. Just a friend asking another friend about his family situation. His eyes widened for a second. He said, ‘My kids are my world. Robert’s like me…’ He went on about his kids for a bit. About how his son played football and his wife took his baby swimming at the lido every day in the summer, a proper water baby.
Nicole said, ‘I used to love the lido. My mum used to take me and my twin when we were little. That’s what started my swimming,’ but she only said that to appear engaged in the conversation. He’d finally said the key word. Wife.
‘My wife, Michelle. She was my childhood sweetheart. We should have left it in childhood. We barely talk.’
‘You don’t fuck her, then?’
He shook his head in a way that said, OF COURSE NOT. ‘I’m not sleeping with anyone but you, babe. I haven’t been near my wife in over a year. It’s just a complicated situation. We’ve got a family, you know?’
Nicole simply smiled but she felt like jumping across the table and kissing his face all over. They were in love with each other. She was happy. He went to use the toilet and she went in his jacket pocket while he was gone. She tapped his passcode into his phone. She’d seen him do it and took note. She had to watch him tapping it in again and again to get it because he did it quickly. She got the information over the course of weeks, digit by digit.
She checked his Whatsapp. The messages to and from his wife were more familiar than she had expected. Stuff like can you bring back some milk babe? Even a few I love yous. Nicole took the woman’s number and put the phone back in Rob’s pocket. She drank her tea.
‘You alright?’ Rob asked when he got back.
‘Yeah, babe,’ she said.
‘Your eyes are all big.’
‘Nah, I’m good. I’m good.’
She wasn’t good. She was jealous.
For the next few days she was distant. Her mind was on the investigations she’d do. On Friday evening she was at her friend Dominique’s house. They’d be going out later. Nicole had nearly finished a glass of brandy with ice. She was very susceptible to alcohol. Still, her mind felt sharp, really sharp, when she called Rob’s wife. Michelle answered, and Nicole said, ‘Are you sleeping with Rob?’
Dominique’s head swung round.
‘Are you crazy?’ she said in a loud whisper. Nicole looked up at her.
‘What? He told me he’s not sleeping with her any more.’
Dominique tried to take the phone from Nicole but she held on to it. She was much stronger than Dominique. The woman on the phone kept screaming, but it was all abusive. She didn’t answer Nicole’s question. Nicole put the phone down and said to Dominique, ‘She must be proper mad. See how she was screaming? No wonder he’s had enough of her.’
‘She’s mad? You’re mad. That’s his wife. You’ve just told his wife, basically.’
‘Nah, I could be anyone.’
‘How could you be anyone?’
‘I could be…a concerned neighbour.’
‘Oh my God, you are actually mad.’
They didn’t end up going out that night. Dominique and Nicole shared the bottle of brandy and talked about their choices in men. Dominique’s mum was looking after her baby that night. Dominique hated the father of her child, even though his name was tattooed at the base of her spine.
Nicole and Dominique had been friends since they’d met aged eleven. Dominique was Nicole’s real other half. Nicole always knew the love of her life would be a friend, not a boyfriend or husband, because she lost her twin sister when she was six. They were on the balcony at her aunt’s flat on the sixth floor. They liked to grip the bars and pull themselves up to look over when their aunt was cooking in the kitchen and couldn’t see them. Nicole’s sister, Charley, lent over the bars as usual, then swung her leg up, then the other, and balanced herself, one arm on the wall, two little feet in little green shoes, the same as Nicole was wearing, on the edge of the balcony.
Nicole went ‘Wooow,’ and Charley laughed. Then she fell. She fell and she screamed and she died in a puddle of blood.
Nicole expected an angry phone call from Rob that night, but it didn’t happen and she was disappointed. The next morning she made herself sick to clear the groggy brandy feeling, went home and put on her workout gear. She felt a mad energy prickling. She felt dangerous. She ran five miles in forty minutes. Her t-shirt was stuck to her when she got home. Her mum opened the door. Nicole got in the shower and scrubbed herself until she squeaked. She checked her phone. Still no call from Rob. She sat on her bed, wrapped in her towel, and texted him. I’M PREGNANT, she wrote. She, of course, was not pregnant, but this would get his attention. He called her twenty minutes later, and sounded calmer than she expected.
‘Is that why you called my wife?’
‘You’re twenty-one years old. Do you wanna have a baby with a thirty-five year old married man?’
Ugh, of course not. ‘Yes.’
‘I’ll support you either way, but you need to think about this.’
When the call ended, Nicole thought about what to do next. Now he’d called, he’d satisfied that want for attention. Maybe she didn’t love him as much as she thought. She definitely felt a lot less interested than she had half an hour ago. And last night she’d seen a new Adonis who had moved in near Dominique she was quite interested in. Rob wouldn’t be fun anymore. He was too old, and it sounded like he was sticking with his wife. She wasn’t jealous of his wife anymore. That poisonous feeling, that hot poison inside her for a woman in a photo had vanished.
Nicole planned to tell Rob in a week that she wasn’t pregnant. Let him stew for a bit. The next Saturday she would call and tell him. She was on her way to her nan’s, just down the pathway of garages between her street and her nan’s block. Ahead, she saw a woman she recognised but couldn’t place. A knife came out. Long and shiny in the sunlight. The woman’s eyes plunged into Nicole’s when she cut her. She was trying to cut the invisible baby out of her. Eyes to eyes, they became one person. Gutted. The woman left. Nicole’s intestines spilled out and she tucked them back in. They weren’t perforated, and she called her own ambulance.
Davina East is a medical audio-typist from East London. She studied English with Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. You can find her on Instagram @davina.east. She still isn’t sure about Twitter.