How I Met My Stalker
by D. Keramitas
That first day, I met my stalker but did not. I’d come to her chemical company to lead a seminar on management communication. She was part of a small group in a compact conference room but on that first day she was anonymous. I wasn’t as careful as I should have been about taking names.
She stared blankly, her gaze reaching me then dispersing. It was only natural. I was, if not anonymous, then the next best thing: a generic instructor. It was the first day and anyway I wasn’t a manager so management communication didn’t apply to me, did it?
There is something between instructor and trainee I’ve noticed: backlogs of emotional response going all the way back to kindergarten. Trainees, no matter how old, revert to a dissimulated but arrested stage. Perhaps she was getting in touch with the maladjusted girl she had never blossomed into: a full-fledged sociopath. I honestly can’t say: I was Mr. Whoever and besides, I had an eye out for another trainee sitting on the opposite side of the room.
* * *
My stalker loved smileys. The group’s boss gave out my e-mail address. I don’t know who gave it to her. The trainees took to sending me memos, one or two lines, no smileys. My stalker did the same — “I’ll be a little late” — but followed by a yellow smiling face.
Her e-mails got complimentary, congratulating me on my training aptitude. On my general niceness. On my smile. My eyes. I wondered who she was. She signed her initials but I still wasn’t sure and fantasized about the young woman I’d been attracted to. Could it be?
No it couldn’t. I checked the attendance sheets and was unusually attentive during the sessions. Mary Beth was a middle-aged woman with a thick midriff, colorless complexion, long brown gray-flecked hair. She rarely smiled. I answered her e-mails without fail, a habit started when I wasn’t sure who she was, though I remained reserved or coy.
When Mary Beth mentioned possibly starting something, I referred to it as just that, a possibility. My ego soaked up the interest filtering through her Arial words. I asked about family status, and she said she was married but the relationship with her husband had been dead for a long time.
“But you’ve stayed married?”
“Yes, there’s property involved.”
“None. but it’s never too late.” Followed by a winking smiley.
* * *
I eased into an e-mail hiatus by leaving cordial but terse answers to my stalker’s bundle of questions: Why aren’t you married? Why did you choose your job? Do you like your life? Dunno, no reason, can’t say. Then by apologizing for not checking my e-mails every day.
She tracked me down on Facebook and asked to be my friend. I also have an account on LinkedIn, a sanctuary from trivial acquaintanceship, with the gravitas of reciprocal exploitation. Yet Mary Beth began hanging out in my groups and asking me questions. She sent text messages I couldn’t decipher. She twittered with twee tweets. She posted comments to my comments to blog postings.
The last straw was when my stalker viewed me on Valoa. I didn’t know I was a member of Valoa. I still don’t know what Valoa is, only that Mary Beth found me there and viewed me repeatedly.
* * *
Face to face I was cordial with my stalker, and my stalker was cordial with me. Actually, she was reserved. In the corridor she ran after me to give me the page from the newspaper I’d dropped, casually referencing the headline: “That bombing was horrible. Do you think the police should put surveillance cameras outside government buildings?”
“No, that’s a bit extreme.”
“I agree, that would be letting the terrorists win. Have a nice day!”
At the upscale Japanese grocery where I like to pick up miso after finishing the sessions, she greeted me with a basket of comestibles: “Oh, hi, is that miso? Do you have a good recipe?”
“Bring it next time.”
At the bus stop: “I’m going in a different direction but I’ll wait with you. Tell me about your day.”
“I just started another seminar—”
“Here it comes, see you!”
One day at the Fine Arts Museum, far from the office, on a Saturday: “I sometimes come alone, for inspiration. I paint.”
“Really?” I said. “What sort of painting?”
“Portraits, mostly. I’ll e-mail you a link to the gallery where my group shows its stuff. Oh look at the time, gotta run!”
Anodyne was the word, fleeting the duration. But there were too many coincidences. Did I really drop the newspaper page that time? I looked carefully wherever I went, as if every public spot was an un-zebra’d crosswalk at a busy intersection.
* * *
To make the seminar more concrete I liked to tie in the trainees’ personal experience, depersonalized for the rest of us. “Mary Beth likes to paint,” I said one day.
Mary Beth looked straight ahead, eyes leading right out the window. She paints portraits, I said. ‘Whose portraits?” I asked, a question I hadn’t thought to ask before.
“Sean Heath,” she said, glassy-eyed and stiff-limbed.
“The star of Inspector Moret,” blurted a trainee.
Had the actor sat for her? No, she said, she used photos. Snapshots? Stills? Looking very embarrassed: “Stills.”
After the session Mary Beth walked out without hesitating, without speaking, also without the slightest eye contact. Her steps picked up speed as she went, until I heard running outside the room. I thought I was being friendly and personal, albeit impersonally. If I was being gauche perhaps it was for the better?
* * *
We found ourselves on e-mail at the same time. Or had she a way to know when I was logged on? Timing previous e-mails would have been easy enough. I don’t care what you say about me, but nobody has the right to sully Mr. Sean Heath, nobody!
She referred to him like that: Mr. Sean Heath. I made a casual reference to Heath as “just a TV actor.” Mary Beth filled me in on his career, especially the Shakespearean acting. Even his Inspector Moret was influenced by Richard II, which he’d performed three summers in a row at the Westdale Riverboat Dinner Theater.
I asked how many portraits she’d done of Mr. Sean Heath. Eighty-four, she said. All viewable on the website of the ChicArt Gallery.
I looked at them. They weren’t bad. Smarmily intimate and fawningly loving, but intimate and loving just the same. I asked if she’d ever given or sold any to the great actor. She would never, ever sell a work of love to Mr. Sean Heath, she said. But she’d given him forty-three portraits, or tried to. He’s very busy. Enormously, utterly busy.
After a pause in the e-conversation, during which I checked the seminar program to see when it was ending, Mary Beth took a more positive tone, to the degree this can be discerned in an e-mail. She went back to smileys.
She asked about my children, how many I had. Two. A boy and a girl. Ten and twelve. I saw them weekends, not quite every other.
My e-mails got fidgety with typos: my kuds. Mary Beth asked if I’d like a portrait of them, for free. I said that was nice of her, but...
Mary Beth asked if I could bring photos, that’s all she needed for a fine portrait. I said I’d see if my photos were right for a fine portrait.
She said the photos of Dan and Cally didn’t have to be good. How did she know their names? I said I’d see. I will too. See you tomorrow. Don’t forget the photos.
* * *
Before I left my apartment I’d carefully slid a steak knife into my belt. This was my Fatal Attraction moment. The steak knife was the closest thing to a weapon that I owned, though my copy of Millennium might qualify as a blunt instrument and my iPod could be deadly if an assailant were attacking from the bathtub.
The steak knife had an immediate effect as I went out. When you go out into the world with a steak knife, the world is, if not your oyster, your steak. Next time I’ll go out with an oyster knife, I thought. The point scraped my thigh so I was forced to stand upright and walk with military bearing. It was wonderful for my posture.
The company building seemed different, a trap in waiting. Anyone could hide by the entrance doors, solid wood rather than modern, sensible, transparent glass. The garbage bins were too large: someone could be crouching behind them. The ceilings in the corridor were so high they might conceal buckets of acid ready to tumble.
I went to the washroom to put water on my face. The room was pitch-black, supposedly to save energy, and I fumbled frantically for the light switch.
Speaking of energy, good posture enables you to husband untold resources. I was stiff in front of my trainees, as if I had a pinched neck, but I was stiffly dynamic. My PowerPoint demonstration had extra force, especially the bullet points. My voice enunciated as sharply as a Gillette blade. My line of sight was made of piano wire.
After the session I looked at Mary Beth and reeled in the wire. When she was a few feet from me I told her I didn’t think it was a good idea to do my kids’ portraits.
“Okay,” she said meekly.
“We can speak by the photocopy machines,” I said. “Not today but next time.”
She nodded as if her mouth were filled with lead pellets. I gave her a real-life smiley and told her to have a nice day.
* * *
So my stalker had a meek side. The meek might inherit the earth but not me. Yet all week I thought of our pending tête-à-tête. I put handouts into beige folders stickered with the trainees’ names. My skin prickled when I came to Mary Beth’s.
I imagined us by the large photocopy machine, plastic cups in our tensed fingers. I figured she’d hurl her desire at me as in her e-mails. I imagined logical rejoinders dredged in asperity, but had a hard time thinking of them now.
Instead, I was impressed that she not only had such desire but expressed it so openly. My lifelong existential struggle could be reduced to chasing women. The paradigm had been flipped and wasn’t that something?
I visualized Mary Beth and tried to see her traits as attractive. She was attractive in her way, I concluded. And in her husband’s way, I reminded myself, giving myself pause but also a little frisson. As I drove to the session I saw myself getting on cordially with Mary Beth, then getting it up for her, getting it on, getting it in.
I flicked the training session on like a light and one hour later switched it off. On the next floor up sat the photocopy machines. The large one turned into a mechanical trysting place. We rested coffee cups by the control panel.
Mary Beth drank coolly and I imitated her. She cleared her throat, I coughed into my fist. She breathed in deeply, I breathed out. I prepared to speak. Her chest heaved, my prick climbed. I opened my mouth, but her words cut through the coffee-scented air. “I know I’m not pretty,” said Mary Beth.
My jaw fell an inch, my heart dropped. My penis? Forget about it. Towers of rationalization crashed down. I deconstructed her at high speed, blemish by blemish, imperfection by imperfection, asymmetry by asymmetry.
“It isn’t that,” I said. “You’re all right.”
“Are you attracted to me a little?” she said, not sounding especially hopeful.
“It’s a question of...” What? Chemistry. Affinities. Personal taste. Ah: “Perceptions.”
When we reached the doorway we exited at the same time, crushed against each other, provoking pained smiles all around, the only physical contact we’d ever had.
* * *
My stalker and I still had a relationship. But the molten lava of desire (and fear) had been replaced by cool, limpid, rational water. We were functionally friendly during the seminar sessions. Instead of the photocopy machine, informal conversation took place by overhead projectors, water coolers, laptop computers.
On a magnanimous impulse, I e-mailed her info about dating sites, including those catering to amateur painters. That category could be broken down further: Mary Beth was a celebrity portraitist/romantic fixation/watercolors. I put her onto Craig’s List but told her to be careful.
She e-mailed shortly thereafter to say she now had five lovers, including Desmond Bowles, an actor in summer-stock productions of Ben Jonson. They had important affinities in common: they’d both been married twenty years, looked forward to another twenty, and hated their spouses.
Even before the seminar ended, Mary Beth got too busy to come to the sessions. I was free to turn my attentions to the attractive trainee. Aside from long, chestnut-brown hair she had curves, a turned-up nose, dimpled chin, and green eyes.
She noticed me looking at her differently. Eye contact was lengthened and sudden smiles punctuated our exchanges. I also began studying her appearance, and found it different from that soft-focus phase when I was mostly occupied with Mary Beth.
Her eyes were red-rimmed, as if she’d been drinking mash whiskey to wash down the sustenance responsible for those swelling curves. I noticed variations of color in the roots of her hair. The nose seemed to be giving me an over-enthusiastic thumbs-up. Her chin had a pit in it.
I buttonholed her after sessions and turned on the friendliness and authority. The tension between the two qualities was theatrical, like Volpone in the Ben Jonson play starring Desmond Bowles. It made me more attractive to the trainee, whose name was Barbie.
When she became sociable in a chipper way I responded in kind. I found my new behaviour striking: open, smooth, and balanced: Barbie’s Ken.
One day she noticed me admiring her tee-shirt with its drawing of a cat. She said she loved cats, had two, used cat motifs in her home décor. I have a multi-purpose allergy which includes cats. The last day came and we said our good-byes.
* * *
Coming home one evening, I booted up, checked the in-box, and saw an e-mail subject-lined Just Thought You Should Know. My spine stiffened as in my steak-knife days. Was it the Return of The Stalker?
It turned out to be a Tea Party solicitation and I felt relieved, then disappointed. I settled back into my between-partners encampment, turned on a harsh pre-LED light. In the bright yellow stillness my DVD stand, bookcase, HDTV screen, Mac and printer took on the stark aspect of stalagmites.
I could use a painting, I thought. Might as well profit someone who needed the cash, I thought. I had Mary Beth’s number, though I’d never called her. I sent her a text message.
She didn’t reply. I was outraged. “I won’t stand for this,” I thought out loud. I called her, repeatedly, but got her answering service, repeatedly.
Her Facebook page was bare, like her LinkedIn profile. E-mails were returned. I Googled her and found nothing. I went to a broom closet and unearthed a phone book with real white paper pages, only to excavate the realization that she hadn’t used her married name with me.
I knew where she worked — unless she’d quit, I thought with a panic. I couldn’t get through the chemical company’s door without official business, which I no longer had. But McGuffin Street was free to the public so I stationed myself on the corner with a pair of binoculars.
My binoculars picked up interesting visual data, mostly people glaring at me. The office windows of the chemical company framed people who were not Mary Beth. At one point the binoculars violently swerved away from a window decorated with cat pictures.
I then had the feeling I was being spied on. I whirled this way and that, searching. Beside a recyclable bottle bin was Mary Beth, peering my way. I stared at my stalker and my stalker stared at me, as if for the first time.
My first reflex was to run up the street. But then I’d come looking for her. My second reflex was undefined. I came out with, “I’m shopping around for a watercolor portrait. Maybe one of Desmond Bowles.”
“Why not one of you?” she said.
I asked if she needed a photo of me and she said she already had fifty-nine but had never used a live model before. She asked if I minded posing in the nude.
Only if the painter was in the nude as well, I said. I looked at her with the hunted curiosity of a model, she looked at me with the probing gaze of a painter. I already knew what I’d call the painting.
Copyright © 2014 by D. Keramitas