OBSESSION by Claudia Spiridon

Crush

/krʌʃ/

verb
violently subdue.

noun
a brief but intense infatuation for someone, especially someone unattainable.


It all started a month after Mr Peterson sold his house and moved to the countryside. After five years of mourning the unexpected death of Mrs Peterson, Karl from across the street came around one Saturday to bring me and my wife the last batch of his mint cookies. We spent an afternoon talking about horticulture and how I and Lynn would visit him at Easter time. As the only senior in our neighbourhood, he was oftentimes lonely. He became strangely attached to me and my wife so his departure was a bit of a shock to us. We had gotten used to the old man’s visits during the weekend and our talks about the news. The next Sunday I was woken up by the sound of a truck pulling up across the street. Our morning was filled with the loud noises of the movers’ words which contained indications and commands, most of the time. 

“It’s the end of an era”, Lynn said as I watched the men walk across the lawn. She carried herself with an air of joviality, usually. Her remark was, though, followed by a demure demeanour that didn’t fit her mellow features. For two weeks Mr Peterson’s house was empty—eerily quiet. I watched the unmoved door and windows as I did the washing up every evening. In the morning, when I got out of the house to get the paper and the mail, I would count the newspapers on the other lawn. It became a ritual, in a way. 

One morning, the dozen or so of newspapers decorating the unkempt lawn disappeared. I had to look around our cul–de–sac as if to reassure myself I wasn’t dreaming. I walked across the street, still in my sweats and T–shirt, and I knocked on the door opposite mine. I felt a bubble of nervousness encasing me and I caught myself smiling. It was the same awkward grin I wore when I picked up Lynn for our first date. I must have stood on the doorstep for the next two minutes, my palms sweating. No sign of life was shown, to my surprise. The house remained mute, giving me the silent treatment as if to punish me. I didn’t know who cleaned the newspapers, but the hope it was a new neighbour had now been crushed. With slumped shoulders and shuffling feet, I made my way back inside, where Lynn was waiting for me.

“Eh?” she voiced as soon as I entered the house, her eyebrows arching with a quizzical effect. I shook my head and went about my day, with an air of grumpiness. For the rest of the week, more newspapers appeared on the lawn of the other house. One by one, they sprouted around the unkempt lawn and I was expecting them to disappear in a few weeks time again. But the universe had something far more exciting in store for me. Right as I was losing interest in the enigma of the house across the street, the enigma itself knocked on my door.

I and Lynn were having our Sunday brunch in the kitchen, two plates of mushroom omelette staring back at us from the table. I was reading an article and she was texting one of her friends, while munching on a piece of toast. The smell of coffee hanged in the air mingling with the scent of fabric softener seeping through the open window. A soft knock then brought us back to the reality of the small room and we shared a gaze as if to ask each other ‘what in the hell’. Most of our neighbours were young couples like us, most without children aside from Ron and Alma from two houses away from us. They had the same interests as us and nobody got out of the house on a Sunday until lunch. Bill from the end of the street was usually the first one to do so—he made a ritual out of mowing his lawn on Sundays at lunch.

“Please?”, my wife pleaded and she let herself sink further into her seat to indicate she was too lazy to go and check the door. A sigh left my lips and I pushed the chair with an air of indignation, the magazine from my hands now abandoned next to my plate. I didn’t appreciate being interrupted; I opened the door with a forceful swing. The image of a young, athletic man welcomed me. A few dark curls were dancing in the warm breeze of the morning and his cheeks were peppered with sun kissed freckles. He was holding a plate in front of him and a smile fluttered above his lips as he seemed to investigate me. The small dish was covered in tin foil and from the immaculate wrapping, I could gauge he was a bit of a perfectionist.

“Yes?” I inquired, unsure of what he wanted or why he was there. The thought of him being a religious recruiter and wanting me to renounce my atheist ways passed my mind. However, his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles T–shirt chased that thought away. ‘Unless he’s trying to convert me to his mutant turtle cult,’ I told myself. He seemed to finally react to me and his dazzling smile now morphed into an embarrassed grin.

“Uh… I’m sorry to bother you. I just moved in across the road and made… Or attempted to make some pie. I thought it would be a nice way to introduce myself. Are you a fan of cherries?” I was a fan of cherries, in fact. I nodded and gave him an awkward smile—probably more awkward than I wanted to. His words were laced with a soft accent, something that sounded equally exotic and romantic. It was hard to pinpoint and it made his consonants resonate hard against his lips and his vowels linger on the curve of his mouth. 

“Well, thank you and welcome to the neighbourhood,” I replied with a soft tone, the spell of irritation from earlier now banished by his infectious smile. He handed me the—still warm—plate with what seemed unsure fingers. His gestures and posture shared an air of timidity—as if he was not used being in the centre of attention. 

“Thank you,” I muttered, my eyes moving from the picture of his blue eyes to the tin foil covering the plate in my hands. My head snapped up and an expression of urgency moved my features. “Oh! Let me introduce you to my wife, Lynn.” He nodded and looked over my shoulder where my wife was already waving towards the stranger.

“Hi, Lynn, nice to meet you!” He chimed as he waved back, his voice holding a soft tremble in its intonation. ‘Strange’, I thought, wrapping an arm around Lynn’s shoulders. My wife extended a hand and, with her usual excitement, introduced herself and coaxed out of the man a name.

“Marco,” he said in a low tone, giving me a quick look as if to gauge my reaction. Lynn took upon herself to share my name with him as well and, after her enthusiasm subsided a tad, she grabbed the plate from my hands and asked Marco if he would like to come in for coffee. He refused with a polite demeanour and seemed to be stuck on what to do next. He looked lost and he kneaded his fingers like a small child unsure to give a wrong answer. I felt compelled to jump to his aid and I extended a hand, tucking the other one in the pocket of my sweatpants.

“Well, great to see you then and don’t be a stranger. Hope you enjoy our cul–de–sac.” As I spoke, he grabbed my hand in a vigorous shake and his warm fingers seemed to linger after we broke the handshake.

“I’m sure I will,” he chimed and wished us both a great day. As he walked away, he turned a last time around and waved at us, his sweet smile once again gracing his features. Lynn closed the door and she turned towards me, her eyebrows rising and falling again in a swift movement.

“Well, that was interesting," she proclaimed and she walked away towards the kitchen to set the pie on the table, her steps now peppy . I had to agree with her—I caught myself standing in front of the door for a good minute, almost transfixed by our new neighbour. Then I got annoyed at myself for being caught in his trance and not asking why he moved into the house a month later than I expected and who cleaned the newspapers. I returned to my brunch with a rather foul mood and spent the rest of the day in the garage, working on a wooden shelf I had started a few days prior.

My mornings since then became a little game of hide and seek. Marco seemed to be dictated by the same schedule as me, at times. Other times, however, I would walk around the cul–de–sac as if to inspect the state of my neighbours' lawn. 

This habit started on a Monday when I went to get the mail and I heard a call from across the street. The mysterious man that fed me pie and seemed to paralyse any sense of decency in me was staring straight at me. A sleepy smile accompanied a short wave and he jogged towards me, taking out his earbuds. I felt I should run as if I was about to become the prey of a vicious predator. His clear, blue eyes pinned me with a gaze to the spot I was standing in and my body became numb. 

The interaction left me wanting to know more about him. All he did was greet me and invite me on a run with him, but I felt as if his words held an inflexion that assumed much more. What ‘more’ it assumed, I was not sure. 

Some days he seemed to know when to go on his morning run as if to meet me and gift me one of his wondrous smiles. Other days, however, my idle walk around the neighbourhood was enough to coax him out of the house. I had forgotten the reason he interested me and my curiosity was dwindling on obsession. I wanted to know what his whispered words sounded like and count the freckles that decked his visage. I wanted to discover what his favourite season was and learn how to cook his favourite meal. I was like an addict trembling my way through fixes. I was living under the shadow of a fixation that kept me awake at night.

We soon discovered he was living there with his wife, Izzy. She was a lively woman that seemed to always know the details of the latest news that went around our cul–the–sac. Lynn took to her in an instant. As women do, they arranged as many dinners together as we could handle.
A deep fear settled in my heart: me being alone with Marco would unveil some sort of hidden secret. In my imaginary scenarios, the man would put me under his spell and do as he wished with me. I imaged seeing Lynn walk on us while I was under the control of Marco. She would scream, Izzy would come running. Their eyes would lock on the picture of my mouth around Marco’s cock. 

That image left me numb, powerless. I started to take more hours at work in the evening just to avoid dinner and small talk with my wife and our neighbours. The terrifying truth I ran from made me paranoid. I nearly couldn’t sleep anymore. I was anxious that I would talk through my slumber and reveal the disturbing extent of my fixation. Days and nights blurred and juxtaposed and I was unsure what dates corresponded to them anymore.

In my sleep–deprived state, I forgot one night Izzy and Marco were supposed to come for dinner. Instead of staying at work, I hoped I could come home early and take a nap before Lynn joined me in bed. My numb mind, however, was thrown into overdrive as I opened the door of my house and saw a pair of blue eyes fixated on me. Marco was holding a bottle of white wine and the warm temperature of the summer made condensation decorate the glass. I felt my heart sink in the pits of my stomach and warmth pooling in my low belly.

“Hey, look who’s here!” He called, his Italian accent coating the words with generosity. I forced a smile as my wife joined me with rapid steps and I placed a kiss on her cheek, hoping it would ground me. I barely managed to discard my shoes and briefcase at the entrance that Lynn dragged me after her into the kitchen. Izzy gave me a short hug and commented on ‘how good’ it was to see me. He stayed silent and took his place in the chair across mine, our small table barely fitting the four of us. 

The first few minutes, all I could produce was a mechanical grin. I sipped from my wine, eyes trained on the two women as they roamed around the kitchen and arranged the table for us. I felt my shoulders relaxing and the spell of horrors lifting from my mind. I felt crazy all of a sudden—of course nothing was going to happen and all the scenarios in my mind were fuelled by insufficient sleep.

We had roasted chicken with vegetables that Marco himself grew. I tried to ignore the way my heart skipped a beat at the imaginary picture of Marco tending to his small garden. In the middle of the summer heat, I could see him dressed down to a pair of shorts, his tanned skin glistening under the rays of the sun. My mind was rushing with thoughts and unintelligible words for the entire course of the dinner. I stayed quiet, catching Lynn give me a worried look from time to time. I didn’t want to punish her or our guests with my bad mood, but my fear returned. I had to bite my tongue to keep myself from blurting out something that not only would destroy the evening but my marriage as well. 

As the wine was starting to make my insides warm and my already hazy mind a cloud of fog, I felt under the table the touch of a leg. I must have visibly flinched as Lynn directed a curious gaze towards me. I looked towards the man sitting across me and he was engaged in a conversation with the two women. I have no idea what they were talking about; my ears were ringing and my body was caught in a frozen state. The warmth of Marco’s leg against mine made shivers march against my spine and, before I could do anything, the sleepless nights and the alcohol caught up with me.

“Excuse me,” I managed to mutter and ran towards the bathroom, keeling over the toilet and letting my fears and my dark thoughts be expelled out of my body. I heard steps behind me, but I didn’t care. My vomiting was so vicious my stomach hurt and I could feel tears at the corners of my eyes. When the sickness stopped, I was left heaving, holding onto myself for support. A big hand rested on my back and I closed my eyes, revelling in the comfortable warmth it gave me. I heard the toilet flush and then a voice beckoned me:

“Are you alright?” His voice was soft, holding in its inflexion a tinge of worry which made my heart tremble. Like a mad fool in love, I caught myself thinking: ‘he cares about me’. I felt humiliated and ridiculous, but I couldn’t bring myself to care, knowing Marco was the first one to stand up from the table and help me rid of my insides. I wanted to laugh, but my stomach still hurt. After taking all measures to not talk and spoil the evening, I still managed to ruin the dinner. My reaction to Marco being so close was visceral, physical. If I couldn't tell him how much of a power he had over me, my body made sure he got the message.

Lynn intervened then, offering to take me to my room, but Marco reassured her he could take care of me. I almost wanted to tell her: ‘Yeah, Lynn, he got me, stop worrying, you busybody’. I didn’t, in part because I was exhausted. He brought me a big glass of water and I heard the steps of the two women going in the direction of the kitchen. He smiled at me and his big palm came to wipe the sweat from my forehead.

“You know you have a fever, right?” He made, his tone playful and his blue eyes holding my gaze in an intense stare.

“I know now,” I muttered, taking another sip from the water. I grabbed his hand and pulled myself up, feeling unstable, rough and dirty. In my mind, it only made sense this is how I confessed to him. Well, in my mind my violent vomiting was a confession. Somewhere between the moment of overwhelming desire I felt when his leg touched mine and the reality of me throwing up my insides, I decided my ‘fixation’ with Marco was more than that. It was a crush.

“Let’s take you upstairs, hm?” His arm wrapped around my back and I leaned in. I told myself it was for support, but I wanted to feel him closer to me. We climbed the stairs like two drunk lovers and he giggled in a sweet note as I tripped at the last step, his hold tightening against me. When I finally laid on my bed and the world stopped moving around me, he sat next to me and placed the back of his hand on one of my cheeks.

“Do you need anything?” he asked, removing his hand and arranging the pillow underneath me. My whole body tingled—I wanted to believe it wasn’t a dream but I felt the urge to ask him to pinch me.

“I’m good, thanks. Sorry for…” my words trailed off as he shook his head and gave me a gorgeous smile that made his harmonious features align.

“Don’t worry. I’ll let you rest now. Goodnight.” His tone was low and I nodded as a reply, muttering a ‘goodnight’ while he rose from the bed and walked to the frame of the door. The light of the corridor embraced his athletic figure and I could still see his vibrant blue eyes in the dark. He gave me a last smile as if to say ‘I’ll see you in your dreams’. The door closed and I was left in the darkness of the bedroom, my mind quiet for the first time in a few weeks and my body sinking into the comfortable bed. I laid there for a few minutes, my eyes closed and breath regular. I was about to doze off when the sound of the door opening brought me back to the reality of the evening.

“Oh, darling, are you alright? Marco said you have a fever. I told you, you’re working too much.” Lynn had worry in her voice and her eyes roamed over me as if to find the cause of my ailment.

“I’m fine, sweetheart,” I muttered, an empty smile sketched on my lips.

“You should have told me you didn’t feel well. I would have cancelled the dinner and made you some soup or something.” She was now fretting over me, arranging pillows and helping me take my shirt off.

“It’s alright,” I mumbled again, not having the force to stop her or give her a longer reply.

“Do you… Not like Izzy and Marco?” Her suggestion was voiced in a weary tone as if she was afraid of the answer. My instinct was to dismiss her theory. But, as if everything fell into place, I said:

“Not the biggest fan.” Lynn seemed to take in my reply and gave me a nod and a sad smile. I could hear her heart breaking as my words bounced against the walls of our bedroom. She was good friends with our neighbours and enjoyed their company. I couldn’t have Marco around my house so often, however. It would have driven me crazy and I didn’t want Lynn to notice anything to indicate she couldn’t be further from the truth and I had a stupid crush on the Italian man.

“Got it. Fewer dinners with them.”

The following weeks were filled with a certain security. I didn’t feel as if I was walking on glass every minute of the waking hour anymore. I stopped waiting for Marco in the mornings to see him before his run. I returned to my normal working hours, so I had time to work on my projects in my garage. 

On top of that, Lynn and Izzy were barely around as they spent their time in the house across the street. Sometimes, I would see Marco tending the lawn as I got home from work. He always received me with an eagerness which made warmth inundate my body. With every interaction, my demeanour towards him became more and more distant. I reeled him in—every cruel, cold word made him less resistant to me pulling him in closer. 

One evening he commented on my new haircut and had to arrange a few dark hairs out of place. Another time, I had my mail and was about to get in the house, when he came running towards me, calling my name. He looked as if he got dressed in his running gear in a hurry and his hair was still dishevelled. He wished me a good day and had to pat me on the shoulder, his eager fingers lingering longer than they should have.

We were indecent in plain sight. People say when you have an affair, you start changing your appearance. I wished they weren’t true, but they were. Lynn didn’t say anything to the small changes I made and I’m not sure she was bothered. For years it felt like the flame ignited at the beginning of our relationship was dying now. I assumed eight years spent next to a person did that to romance. If in the beginning I felt guilty thinking about Marco all the time, now I was waiting for the next moment when I had time for myself. The titillating minutes when I could go back to my mental pictures were the climax of my days. 

The moments of intimacy with Lynn were my favourites. I would imagine his athletic hips welcoming me, his warmth making my entire body jerk, his mouth agape against mine while his moans were crushed between our lips. Of course, Lynn didn't know that when I closed my eyes all I could see was Marco, but she seemed to enjoy my newly found hunger in bed.

That dynamic between me and Marco continued for two weeks. At the end of the second week, my feelings got the better of me. I wish they hadn’t, but there’s little point to wishing things didn’t happen. I had been working in the garage the whole evening and I finished the shelf I had been preoccupied with for a few weeks when I heard steps walking towards me. From the darkness of the night, a tall figure emerged and my fingers tightened the grip on the plank of wood I was moving. Marco greeted me and gave me one of his seductive smiles, before leaning against my work table and falling silent. The silence of the air was disturbed for a few moments only by the sound of his deep breaths and the lonely call of a cricket.

“Everything alright?” I asked, my back turned to him. I tried to pretend I didn’t want to grab him, pin him against the garage door and fuck his brains out. He remained silent for a few more seconds and then cleared his throat. I turned to face him while wiping my hands off with a cloth and I could see his his muscles tensing against the tight T–shirt he was wearing. 

“I was wondering… Lynn asked me and Izzy to come around for dinner. I know she’ll talk to you about it, but I wanted to make sure we’re alright here.” The words were expelled out of his mouth with an airy tone and he seemed to avert contact of any kind with me. My eyebrows furrowed as I tried to understand what he was referring to. My wishful self immediately jumped to the conclusion that he was there to make sure we could both behave during a dinner and wouldn’t make our wives suspect anything. Before my thoughts could finish I heard myself mutter:

“What? What could be wrong?” My voice sounded strained as if the words weren’t willing to leave my mouth. His blue stare raised to meet mine and the tense stance from earlier melted into a position indicating curiosity. His fingers curled against the edge of the table he was leaning against.

“I thought you had a problem with me and Izzy?” The realisation was soon brought upon me and I felt a chill running down my spine. I didn’t expect Lynn to keep my impression of our neighbours secret, but I hoped my words wouldn’t get to Marco. Silence fell between us and I abandoned the cloth on the table next to the other man, closing the distance between us.

“I didn’t mean it like that, I promise,” I ushered him in a low tone. “I only said it so that Lynn wouldn’t suspect anything, you understand?” My palm came to rest on his hand and he looked at me with confusion and indignation anchored in his eyes. The warmth of his skin grounded me and pushed me into a state of euphoria at the same time. I was unable to read the signs.

“What are you talking about?” If I had known better, I would have sensed the horror in his voice. I just pushed on, inching closer, his breath fanning over my cheek now.

“It’s alright. We can’t let Lynn and Izzy know about us. Would you like me to close the door? Be quiet and Lynn won’t hear us. I’ll fuck you raw.” The last words left my mouth as a whisper and I felt Marco tense against me. He jerked away from me, a questioning gaze capturing his eyes, and shook his head in dismissal.

“I don't know what you are talking about… I… Never wanted… I’ll tell Izzy you are not alright with the dinner.” He turned to leave and I reached out to him, confused and hurt. I grabbed his arm, my fingers digging deep into his skin and I forced him to look me in the eyes as I spoke.

“What is wrong with you? You make men fall for you for fun?” This time the tone of my voice held something of a growl in it and I could see Marco paralysed by my words. “I thought you wanted me. I spend every minute of my day thinking about you.” My voice trembled. His eyes widened. My grip tightened on his arm. I felt the storm coming.

“No, this is not what I wanted. I just… Wanted to be good friends. For our wives' sake! Fuck... Let me go,” he begged, his shy self showing itself again. He jerked away from me, stumbling backwards. I liberated him from my hold and he stood there for a moment, petrified. 

“Goodnight,” he muttered and he disappeared into the night with quick steps. I was left in the monumental silence of the evening, eyes struggling to distinguish his silhouette through the dark. I let myself lean on the working table and I felt my breath growing irregular. I closed my eyes, trying to ignore the echo of the other man’s words bouncing around my skull, threatening to shatter it. I felt as if the air was too hot to inhale and my lungs refused to cooperate, leaving me heaving and gasping like a hurt animal. My insides felt torn apart and my teeth clenched as if to stop the shivering of my body.

“No… This is unreal…,” I heard myself whisper in a raucous voice. My mind was numb and I felt like I wasn’t in my body anymore, floating somewhere between the dream world I created in my mind and the reality of Marco’s rejection.

Then, something vital inside me broke. 

My lungs expanded as I inhaled deeply and a ringing sound plagued my hearing. When I opened my eyes, the garage was the same as I remembered, but an air of malice was now hanging around its corners. With robotic moves, I stood up, closed the garage door and grabbed a few planks of wood. My hands worked with fervour and I couldn’t concentrate on anything else but the movements of my body. It seemed as if my brain refused to cooperate, refused to take in the pain or admit it made me chase an illusion.

I must have tinkered in the garage for hours, my fingers now slightly bruised from the abrasive wood I was working with. I couldn’t feel any pain, not even when a splinter stabbed my palm. I looked at the working table and my creation stood there, looking back to me. I felt like Dr Frankenstein, only less ecstatic. Smudges of blood adorned the wood construction. I must have cut my fingers, but my mind was possessed only by a thought: I had to take out the poison that resided inside my body.

I grabbed a box cutter, let my thumb slide the blade out of its sheath and stared at the manic reflection painted on it. My eyes were bulging out of their sockets, my face was wet with tears and sweat and my lips were still quivering, revealing my clenched teeth. The more I stared at the man that looked back at me, the more I felt detached from him. I wasn’t a pawn, I wasn’t the monster he wanted me to be. With a sudden movement, my hand flew towards my chest and the blade was planted at the left of my sternum. I could feel my teeth grinding and my hand continued with a slow movement, hacking away at the flesh on my chest. A gushing wound was flourishing the space above my heart and I grabbed a pair of pliers, fingers leaving droplets of blood all over the table. While closed, I shoved with my both hands the pliers into the opening in my chest. Then, with careful movements, I clutched a handle in each hand and pulled in opposite ways.

A sound that resembled a laugh left my lips and I lowered my gaze towards my trembling hand. All it took was a bit of determination. My hand was now inside my chest, going past the lungs that were sucking in air with every sharp breath I took. My fingers were welcomed by warmth and they swam through the fluids filling my torso. They finally found what they were after, fingertips temptatively probing around.

I screamed in agony as my hand grabbed the muscle and pulled it out of my body. I stumbled forward, the table stopping me from the impact with the ground. I took the box cutter with frantic impatience. Every cut made me draw air through my teeth and blood trickled down from my nose into my open mouth. I needed to get it out of me. When I let the box cutter fall out of my hands, it hit the floor beneath me with a sound that echoed between my ears. It was painted now in the crimson colour of my blood.

I stared for a good minute at the pulsating mass in my hand. It was bubbling and moving, in an attempt to talk to me. I knew I didn’t have much time and I gave my heart a last look; just a black pile of flesh, shivering in the fingers covered in blood, trying to find its way back into my chest. I placed it in the coffin on the table and watched it beat for the last time. I wanted to make sure it was dead before I sealed the lid on the small container. The heart that poisoned my being and made me desire Marco was now no longer inside me.

I woke up the next day on the couch in the living room. My mind was still buzzing with adrenaline from the previous evening and I felt drunk with euphoria. When I looked down at my chest, there was no wound or sight of blood. I rose to my feet with urgency marking every move and I ran towards the garage. The coffin wasn’t there anymore. What was left was a bunch of planks cut up and stacked in what seemed an irregular pile. My fingers touched the place where the opening was made the previous night, but they were met with the tingling sensation of my chest hair. When I got back into the house, Lynn was sitting at the table in the kitchen, reading a magazine and drinking coffee.

“Are you alright, darling? You fell asleep in the living room and I didn’t have the heart to wake you up.” An endearing smile decorated her features. In spite of it, I couldn’t feel any warmth inside me. I smiled in return—an empty, sickening grin—and nodded.

“I’m better than ever. More coffee?”

Walking around without a heart was strange at the beginning. I often times thought about how would it be to run over a person or strangle someone. Would I have felt guilt or would the empty space in my chest fail to echo any emotion? It didn’t help Marco and Izzy were away for a week, which made it hard for me to find any joy in removing my heart. At the end of the week, however, they returned.

I and Lynn finished eating dinner and I started clearing the table. I put the dishes in the sink with familiar motions and I watched Marco’s car pulling up to the house across the street. Lynn jumped to her feet and walked to the door, opening and closing it. As I was washing up the plates, my eyes remained trained on the house across the street. I saw my wife welcoming the young couple and giving each of them a hug. Marco seemed to look around as if to see if I were there as well. I wasn’t, but my dark eyes stayed glued to him while a grin was sketched on my lips. I didn’t feel anything. Nothing at all.

My breath started to tremble and my fingers let the plate slip away from them. It fell back into the sink with a loud sound that reverberated against the walls of my skull. Marco’s attention went from the conversation with the two women to the window of my kitchen. I felt laugh bubble in my throat as I watched him tense up and make an excuse to run away from my gaze into the shelter the house across the street provided. I stood there, leaning on the sink, palms propped on the counter that embraced each side of it. I listened to the silence. I liked the silence that welcomed my thoughts since I took out my heart. There were no longer images of Marco cluttering the space in my head. No more white noise accompanied by the voice of the Italian man. No more urges that made my body tremble with desire. I was free.

The sentiment of calm and peace didn’t last for long, however. A fog of anxiety grabbed my mind in its tentacles and threatened to crush it in their embrace. I resumed my insomniac pattern, staying up at night and letting my mind wander the streets of my infectious imagination. I sometimes imagined seeing Marco’s heart in my hands and let him taste the freedom of not feeling anything. Other times, I imagined myself in a room with no windows. He was my prisoner and I would keep him without food or water, shackled to a bed. The only substance he would receive was my semen. I would see myself feeding him generous portions of it daily. I was losing control and it was all his fault. Lynn no longer proposed dinner with the couple across the street and I guessed it was because Marco didn’t want to be around me.

I became more and more distant and quiet and my mind was buzzing with plans. I wanted to make him suffer—I thought that was the only way I could liberate myself from this fixation. I wanted to tell him about everything, but he seemed to hide from me with any opportunity given. I started to write him letters. Every Sunday, I would sit in my garage with the door closed and a single light bulb aiding my sight. I would crop out letters from the newspapers I gathered through the course of the week and arrange them in beautifully crafted letters. One of them was titled: Trophy. It read:

‘I think about carving you out. I would cut away at your flesh, make holes in your torso. Then I would fuck them all, impregnating you with my seed. I would finish by taking your insides and putting them in separate coffins. I would keep them as a trophy.’

My thoughts seemed to have reached my neighbour. I would wash the dishes in the kitchen and watch Marco go out for his evening jog—he didn’t run in the mornings anymore. Before he started, he would look around the street, his eyes big and fearful—like an animal conscious of the predator near it. During the weekend the couple across the street was barely home. So I started following Marco’s car. I lied to Lynn and told her I was working on an important project at work and I wanted to finish it quicker. She seemed to accept my excuse with minimal riposte. I would leave the house in the morning, take the car and park it near the forested area that was neighbouring our cul–de–sac. I would have a coffee and a sandwich. As I finished them I would see Marco’s car appear and drive away.

I followed them around the town, taking pictures sometimes. Other times, I just sat in the car, watching them go about their day with no suspicion in mind. Then, one night, my mind sketched an idea. It was brilliant. I started printing the photos I took of them in the past few weekends. After following Izzy and Marco on Saturdays, I would let them get home and continue my journey. I would print out the photos at a small Xerox place across the town. I would then drive from one post office to another and send letters to Marco’s address. 

They were all sent from names I made up and addresses that didn’t exist. There was Eric Langher that lived on Orchid Way, number 44. He sent Marco a picture of him and Izzy browsing a bookstore. Then there was Lisa Watson, a lonely woman that resided in the bad part of town: Ferris Street, Flat 2A. She sent Marco a collection of unflattering photos of him eating in a Turkish restaurant. Another one was Phoebe Rail and her address was my favourite. She lived on Naples Lane, number 13 in what I imagined was a beautiful suburban area. She mailed my neighbour some disturbing photos of him kissing his wife. 

With every letter sent, I felt calm instilling in my heart. The thrill of the chase, the adrenaline of writing fake names and addresses—they intoxicated me.

I felt alive again. Even without a heart, every day was yet another opportunity to feel the exaltation of inflicting pain upon the man that made me the mess I was.

One morning I woke up to the picture of a police car parked in front of the house across the street. My instinct was to drive away. That would look suspicious, however. I knew I didn’t leave any trace of the letters I sent. I was meticulous. I always wore rubber gloves while cropping out letters and I made sure nobody was around when I delivered them in the middle of the night. 

As for my picture tokens, I sported a different hoodie, a different cap and sunglasses every time, changing between postal offices. I always wrote with my left hand on the envelopes I sent and I always wore driving gloves when I did so. Even the pen I wrote with was a different one every time. Even if Marco had his suspicions, all he could do was point the finger at me. With no evidence, he would just look like a deranged character. 

After that morning, I stopped taking unnecessary risks and I ceased sending him letters of any kind. The first few weekends I didn’t have any side effects. I spent my time with Lynn and she seemed ecstatic to finally have me only for her for the first time in weeks. At the end of the fourth week, however, I was in withdrawal. The high my little extramarital activities gave me was now missed by my hungry brain.

I was desperate… As I and Lynn were having lunch, I felt myself going out of control. My fingers were shaking and my teeth clenched. I took a sip of water and, looking at my wife with an intense stare, I asked:

“How about we get Marco and Izzy around for dinner?” She raised her gaze and a burden seemed to make her shoulders sink, dejection imprinted in her posture. “What?” I asked in a low voice, searching for an answer in her eyes.

“Izzy and Marco are moving out. Apparently, someone was sending them disturbing letters. Like death threats and creepy messages.” I raised my eyebrows to feign surprise and my fingers tightened their grip around the fork I was holding. ‘He’s moving out’, I repeated in mind for a solid minute, before letting my gaze fall onto the steak that laid on the white plate in front of me.

“Too bad. I was starting to take a liking to them.” Lynn continued speaking about something I was not interested in. The ringing returned to my ears and the white noise inundated my head again. I was not sad… I was just angry. If I had a heart, I would have felt anguish and pain. Without a heart, however, my mind was the only one that processed my loss. My relationship with Marco was far deeper than a simple fixation. It was an intoxicating crush—a crush I had on him from the moment he knocked on my door.

Without fail, Lynn’s words did become a reality. On a Wednesday evening a moving truck parked in the front of the house across the street. I watched Izzy and Marco direct the movers and tried my best to keep the tremble of my fingers to a minimum as I was doing the washing up. My wife went outside to part ways with the couple and tell her goodbyes. The house had a ‘for sale’ sign planted in the front yard and the couple seemed hurried in their move. If I had known when they were moving out, I would have written Marco a parting letter. I didn’t, though. 

I just watched them from afar, staring out the window at the house across the street. Marco looked towards me a last time, noticing my intent stare. I could see his blue eyes shadowed by anger and fear. I blinked. I wanted to keep the image of the Italian man in my mind for the rest of the time.

After their move, I tried to settle in my marriage. My life went back to the monotonous rhythm it had before Marco appeared. Every time I closed my eyes I could still see his blue eyes imprinted on the back of my lids. Aside from that, little excitement graced my days. The house across the street remained unmoved and uninhabited for a month. I would watch it at night, sometimes, expecting to see a tall silhouette around it. In the morning, I would stand in front of my door and watch for a few minutes, in search of any movement in the house. On a Monday, however, the ‘for sale’ sign disappeared. 

A week later a moving truck appeared in our cul–de–sac. I opened the door and walked across my lawn to grab the newspaper. The autumn breeze made me shiver and the sun caressed my face with its warm rays. I watched as the movers carried a sofa inside. A silhouette appeared then in the door and the man stepped outside. He turned towards where I was standing and, with a warm smile, he waved.

“Morning, neighbour!” he greeted and I smiled in return, feeling a shiver run across my spine—this time, there was no breeze. I blinked; the distant memory of Marco was now replaced. I walked towards my new neighbour. 

As I walked, I felt the heart I thought absent pulsating in my chest, aching, demanding. My grin grew larger as I approached him and I extended my cold hand only to be met by his warm palm. My fingers lingered in the other’s comforting touch and I said, with a tone laced with euphoria:

“Welcome to our neighbourhood.”