Jigsaw Man

By: Elena Forbes

One

Her eyes were open but she was in La La Land. She lay on the bed in her underwear like a disgusting blow-up doll, the faint rise and fall of her breasts the only sign that she was still alive. He had kept physical contact to the absolute minimum, but he knew all about forensic wizardry and removing her dress had been a necessary precaution. Hopefully, the hotel room would be awash with all manner of fibres and human DNA and any trace that he might accidentally have left would be lost amongst it all.

He put on disposable gloves and went into the bathroom where he poured the rest of the champagne down the sink. He put the cork, wire casing and empty bottle in his rucksack, which was standing ready by the door. He washed the glasses quickly, paying particular attention to remove the foul smear of lipstick she had left on hers, then dried them on the tea towel he had brought with him. He checked the photo he had taken earlier on his phone and replaced them on the tray on top of the mini-bar, exactly as he had found them. His clothes were ready by the door, along with the rucksack, which he had stuffed with as many of her things as he could fit into it. There wasn’t room for her coat, but he hadn’t touched it at any point and he decided to leave it in the wardrobe where she had hung it.

Excitement welling, he paced backwards and forwards around the room, giving it a final once-over. He would check it again before he left, but it all looked perfect, nothing out of place. He zipped up his wetsuit, pulled on the rubber mask and went over to the bed. Just to make sure he wasn’t going to have any trouble, he waved his hand in front of her face and pinched her arm hard, but there was no reaction. He turned on the TV, the volume up high enough to cover any unwanted sounds, then carefully got onto the bed and straddled her. The wetsuit was a little on the tight side and restrictive, but he couldn’t risk taking it off. Nor did he want his skin to touch hers. He flexed his arms and shoulders, trying to create some give, clicked his knuckles one by one, then took some deep breaths as he steadied himself. He needed to clear his mind of his surroundings, and focus. When he felt ready, he put his hands around her neck, locked his thumbs tightly together, took some more slow breaths and closed his eyes. As he started to press down, he tried to picture another time not so long ago, another room, small and dimly lit, furnished with old-fashioned musty things, and another woman lying beside him on the sofa. But the image was half-formed and unstable, like a reflection in rippling water, fading into nothing around the edges. He wanted to shout out in frustration; all he needed was to see her face. He took another few deep breaths, but it was no good. He couldn’t get into it, the sweet spot, or the zone, as he liked to call it. The musky perfume the slag was wearing was overpowering, putting him off his stride. Grasping her tighter, breathing only through his mouth, he tried again.

Now he saw a man’s face, soft-featured and tanned, his lips mouthing something as his watery eyes opened in a pathetic look of surprise, followed by sudden realisation. He felt the heat of the sun on his back, the rocking of the little boat, smelt his own stale sweat and the salt of the sea. It wasn’t where he wanted to be. He shouted at the man, told him to fuck off, and squeezed harder, eyes screwed tight shut, as he tried to re-focus. The man’s image dissolved. From the darkness other faces drifted ghost-like into view, a washed-out collage of pale, insipid, interchangeable girls and a devilish old woman out to spoil his fun, laughing at him, mocking his ineptitude. Lost your touch? Lost your mojo? Not up to it, are you? Never been up to it, you nasty little bastard spawn, nasty little impotent piece of shit . . . He punched her wicked face, hit it again with all his force, again and again until finally he silenced her. With a knowing look she held a bony finger to her lips, winked at him and disappeared, back down into hell where she belonged.

But nothing appeared in her place. Fucking nothing. Breathless now, and hot with rage, he rocked backwards and forwards, squeezing harder and harder, shaking the limp neck until it felt like a wet rag in his hands, until he was sure there must be no life left. Still it wasn’t enough. The magic wasn’t working. It was fucking useless. He couldn’t conjure up the one he wanted. As he threw the body down on the bed, tears filled his eyes. He was cursed. She wouldn’t come to him.

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