There’s a man who takes pictures of me.
I’m assuming he’s a man, I don’t really know – I haven’t ever seen him. But it sounds like a thing a man would do, right? He left the first picture he took of me – or the first he wanted to share with me anyway – in my locker at work. It was just slipped in the side; you know that part of the door that doesn’t quite touch the frame? I thought it was a joke. I laughed. I looked good. And then another one came. And another. It was weird. I was always smiling. Every photo, I was smiling.
Until the one he posted through my front door.
In that one, I was crying.
It was my mother’s wake. She died of ovarian cancer. Short, definitely not sweet, but we had time to say goodbye and she was in no pain. She’d seen the signs but hadn’t went to the doctor. What you going to do? It was hard, sure, but I got to say goodbye and how many people get to do that? I was standing hearing condolences from my Psychology lecturer when a bright pink envelope caught my eye. I excused myself and went to it.
There was no stamp on the front. No address. Just my name in thick, bold capitals.
“Oh hey, I found that on your welcome matt when I was letting in the neighbours. Hope you don’t mind,” my best friend said before dashing off to shout at someone for not using a coaster on some cheap wood coffee table my mum had bought from IKEA thirty years ago.
I opened the back of the envelope, careful not to rip what was inside. I’d spent all day seeing nothing but black dresses, white shirts and somber faces – the pink caught my eye like the red balloon in Schindler’s List. Was there a balloon in that film? Seems a weird thing to have in a concentration camp but, hey, Nazis, right?
I knew what was inside before I saw it. As soon as the envelope was open I knew that this wasn’t a bereavement card. I slid the photo free and looked at it. It was me. Crying. My head pressed against my car window. But that didn’t make any sense. I’d only cried once in the past few months and that was when…
And then it clicked.
I brushed it off. What else was I supposed to do? My mother had just died. No brothers. No sisters. A dad – if you wanted to call him that, which I did not – somewhere down south. I couldn’t deal with this. Not then, not ever. So I ignored it. And the guy stopped. Gave me a break from his creepiness. He may have went to Bali for the summer, who knows? Not me. All I know is that they came through my front door now – not posted into my locker.
I know people say they’re scared to look through their mail, but I think most people are anaesthetized to it now. Bills, sure. Credit card statements, heck yeah brother. Some people even get nice things in the mail that make them laugh because of how nervous they were. Like big fat tax rebates from HMRC. I woke up for eighteen mornings in a row – I thought I was pregnant, so I counted, because that was all I needed: a dead mother, a creepy stalker and a baby out of wed lock – not quite sure why I felt so ill. And then there it was. A pink envelope lying on my welcome matt. This time I was buying bananas.
I’ve never seen my face look so stern. So angry. My lips are pouted into a petulant rose on my face and the strip lighting above does nothing but wonders for the deep black shadows under my eyes. I’m so angry at that goddamned banana that I laugh as I clutch the photo. It’s only when the hysteria begins to dampen that the chill runs up my spine and I twist the key in the lock.
I hadn’t locked the door last night.
“Welcome to Police Scotland, how can I help you this morning?”
“Hi, someone keeps taking pictures of me.”
“Oh are you famous?” the woman asked, laughing. “Or is it one of these new internet challenges?”
“No, it’s, I dunno. Someone keeps taking pictures of me and posting them through my letter box.”
“Are these photos accompanied by any threatening messages?” the woman asks, taking me more seriously now. Like she can hear the fear in my voice.
“No, they’re just, um, on their own. Oh, apart from the pink envelopes.”
“Yeah, he sends them in pink envelopes.”
“He? Do you know who this person is?” the woman says, happy now. Like Miss Marple had sussed the case. “Is it an old boyfriend?”
“I’m a lesbian,” I said. I’m not. And I shouldn’t pretend. It’s not right. But she sounds so patronizing that I want to throw her off.
“Well I’m sorry, miss,” she hisses the last word. “But until a crime has been committed, there’s nothing we can do.”
“Oh. OK. Er, bye then.”
And I hung up.
It was two days later when I threw up in the kitchen sink. Another pink envelope was on my matt and I shook a little as I picked this one up. Call it woman’s intuition, call it psychic ability, call me Mystic Fucking Meg, but I knew this one was different. I slid open the envelope and pulled out a picture of myself the night before, pulling out the big black bins for collection this morning. The bin men were outside now. A big burly man with a piss poor moustache smattered with grey was singing as he slammed his meaty paw down on the button that pulled the bins from the street and emptied them into the churning guts of the bin lorry. He turned and saw me at my kitchen window. He smiled and waved as if I was just a woman pulling a sickie from work, coming through for a second bowl of cornflakes while Homes Under the Hammer did that boring auction segment.
The photo was in my right hand. I turned the tap on with my left to wash away the chunks from last night’s pizza. I was wearing my Mr Men pyjamas and talking on the phone. I could see the light from my mobile – that blueish light from the screen – illuminating the right side of my face. My stomach convulsed again. It was like, you know when you almost step out in front of a car, but something stops you from stepping off the kerb and the car whizzes past, horn blaring if they’re a dick head, and your heart swells in gratitude? You’re so grateful that you weren’t such a nincompoop that you stepped out in front of a car, but it’s more than that. You’re so grateful because you know fine well that a hundred people a day – all smarter and less nincompoopy than you – do step out in front of that car and they do die. But you, well your heart swells because the universe protected you. Your heart swells because you realise how lucky you were. Then you feel sick. You feel sick because you realise just how close to danger you were in that split second. That’s how I felt looking at this photo. Sick at how close to danger I was.
My face is lit up by my mobile phone screen. I’m wearing my Mr Men pyjamas and I know that it was Rachel I was talking to and not Stephanie – though I switched between both all night – because the picture shows it clearly. Rachel and I standing in front of a big elephant at the zoo. The camera was that close to me when it took the picture that I can read the digits of her phone number on my screen. And then I see it. The little lump of wall that we never tore up when we replaced it with hedge because I said Miss Maisie – my imaginary pet mouse – lived there. We couldn’t tear it up. Where would she live? And so my mum had left it for Miss Maisie and, unless she had taken up a recent interest in photography – and the Ghost school of learning how to touch things despite being incorporeal – someone had been hiding behind that lump of wall and taken a picture of me.
And I’d walked right past him.
I couldn’t sleep for three days. Or nights. Just sun up, sun down. Not leaving the house, not eating, barely breathing (inoutinoutinoutinoutinout) and staring at the photo of myself on the phone. The man barely a few yards away. I checked the doors were locked constantly.
“You need to sleep,” Rachel said as if I were overreacting. “It will be some idiot playing a joke. Remember next door kept putting glue in my locks? If it was more serious, the police would have been involved, right? I hear you nodding. Mhmm. You need to sleep. How about you go to sleep and we will go CCTV shopping tomorrow? Didn’t Dr Ryzin give you some sleeping tablets after your mum died? Take some. You’re exhausted. And stressed. Take the pills, go to sleep and I’ll be over tomorrow.”
“You’re sure you can’t come now?” I say as I check the door is locked for the eighty fifth time this phone call.
“I would if I could. Tomorrow. Yeah?”
And then I’m alone.
The pills are in a neat little tray, weirdly spread out in a jagged diagonal line. Maybe the factory worker responsible got bored. Maybe the person they employed to decide how the pills should sit in their packaging was in a wacky mood. Regardless. I pop one from the silver foil and reach for the glass of water I brought from downstairs. Then I think better of it and pop another. I swirl them off my tongue with a big gulp of cool water and swallow them both down. I’m asleep before I even remember crawling into bed.
I wake up to the sound of buzzing. In my dreamy state I think it’s a bee and try and jolt myself awake. I hate bees. Honey or no, I hate them. The bee gets louder and louder, or bigger and bigger until I realise that I’m just growing more and more coherent. My head is swampy. My tongue thick and heavy in my mouth. I feel like I’m recovering from the worst hangover and the best nap at the same time. Dr Ryzin packs a punch. And hey, since I’m probably fired for not going to work anyway, I might even get a good price for them down at the corner shop. That’s where drug dealers sell there stuff, ri…
There’s a pink envelope on my bed sheets.
Prettily, like a blond little girl with high pig tails and a lollipop in her mouth, its sits there. Sweetly, almost. Unassuming. I rub my eyes and hope I’m dreaming but it’s still there. Maybe a little close in fact. As if it slithered forward when I wasn’t looking. The little girl edging forward. But she’s no little girl. I know she’s not. She’s a demon. A demon with a big fucking knife and a poor attitude to match.
“How did you get there?” I ask it like I’m Mary Fucking Poppins and it’s going to answer me. It would sing, no doubt. Sing a song of a wizarding school, a lotto win or a letter from my dead mother telling me she loves me still. If it wasn’t for the pink colour, I might have even been able to convince myself of that for long enough to reach over and grab my now silent phone. But the pink was a taunt. A firm, bullying taunt that I just couldn’t resist.
I opened the envelope and ignored the instinct in my gut that was tearing its hair out screaming, “you stupid white girl, get out of the fucking house.”
I pulled the photo free and turned it over in my hand.
It was a picture of me. Not smiling. Not angry. Not crying. But sleeping. It was a picture of me sleeping and a giant grin spread out gloriously right beside my face.