Issue 4, Autumn 2007

by Glen Pourciau

I'd seen him two weeks before on a cruise and I couldn't believe it was a coincidence that he was watching me as I shopped at the mall. On the cruise, he'd hovered near me a few times, and twice I caught him staring at me. He seemed to be traveling alone. Tall guy, big head, big stomach, dull stare. I hesitated to guess what he might be thinking as he looked at me and hesitated to imagine the full glory of his torso should he be thinking of sharing it with me. My husband was with me on the cruise, but this guy was much bigger than my husband. Anyway, my husband thinks of himself as the reasonable type, and if it had come to it, I'd have been much more likely than my husband to throw the guy overboard.

I remembered that he'd stood near us once at the photo kiosk onboard. We were looking for ourselves in the rows and rows of photos they took of passengers at every stop when we disembarked. I saw him pull out a photo of us and hold it up to his face. I watched him until he replaced it on the rack.

Seeing him at the mall, I wondered if he'd gone back and bought our photo. I imagined one of them stuck on a mirror in his apartment and another taped to his refrigerator. I cut off that train of thought and considered whether I should keep doing what I was doing, stop for coffee, or head for my car and see if he followed. I decided on the coffee option. Sit and relax, keep an eye out, read the magazine I'd bought in the bookstore.

Something like this had happened to me before. A man saw me at a movie and followed me out. I hurried to my car and got away from him. A day or two later I saw him again, lurking behind me as I walked on the sidewalk outside a row of shops. I went straight toward him and asked why he was following me. His eyes dropped to my breasts, and then he quickly raised them and looked past me. He denied he was following me and claimed he'd never seen me before in his life, and as we argued he never looked me in the eye. I pointed my finger at him and in a loud voice threatened to call the police. He said I was hysterical and turned and walked off.

I told myself that if I saw him again I'd grab him by the neck and lift him off the ground, let him dangle in my grip, though I wondered if he might like that. I suspected that one of the reasons he was taken with me was that I look strong. One of these guys who let fantasies drag them around, never dreaming that what's in his head has nothing to do with what's in my head. Should I change the way I dress to protect myself from somebody like him? I've worked on this body for years. I wasn't hiding it to censor the wet dreams of some lunatic.

I sat with my black coffee and my magazine, sipping from the cup and flipping the pages of photos of bodybuilders. What kinds of shakes, I wondered, were these people drinking? I looked up occasionally to see if the guy might be peeking around a corner or ducking behind a column. I finished my coffee and stood and looked behind me. I put my magazine back in the bag, dumped my empty cup in a garbage can, and took the escalator up, thinking that if he came at me with some thought between his legs I could flip him over the rail if I had to.

I walked around the mall looking at one thing after another, and I was standing at a shop window when I felt his shadow over me. He looked slightly familiar to me now that we were face to face, something about the look of his forehead, something in his eyes. He said he used to go to high school with me, though he hadn't ever known me. Our being on the same cruise happened by chance, he said. He'd overheard me telling someone where I lived so he knew I was still in the area, and he too had never moved far from our high school. After the cruise, he went home and thought about it and decided he wanted to talk to me. He guessed I was a shopper and the mall seemed the best place to run into me. Big sale, he said, a good time to give it a try. He'd been hanging around for hours and then he saw me. He told me his name and asked if I remembered him. He said he'd never forgotten me. He'd been asked to sing a love song during an assembly and I was sitting a few rows from the front of the stage that day. As he sang, I started howling like a dog, drowning out his voice, and the audience erupted in laughter and more howling. He had dreams about it still and sometimes woke up to the sound of my howling. He wanted me to know, but he didn't want to call or write a letter. He wanted to see my face when he told me. He knew my reputation then and he wondered if I'd changed. Had I given any thought to what would make me do something like that? How did it make me feel to be remembered this way?

I remembered him and his mournful voice. His singing had provoked me. It had hit a spot in me that I saw as weakness, a weakness that would be overwhelming if I let it spread. It angered me that everyone in the audience was feeling this weakness, and I'd howled to keep it from spreading.

He stared at me with his strangely flat look, and then he started talking again. He'd stopped the song, he said, when the uproar began. He couldn't hear the music and no one was listening to him. He'd walked off the stage and sat and held his head in a futile attempt to shut out the noise. The noise got louder with people shouting and stomping their feet. A short play was to follow him and the performers were afraid to go onstage. The curtain went down and stayed that way until the noise stopped. By then, he'd hurried outside to get some air. He vomited on the grass and some of it got on the clothes he'd bought for the performance. A teacher who'd gone out with him suggested he go home and stay there until he felt well enough to return. When he came back to school the next day the ridicule continued. After lunch I came over with a group of friends and howled at him again. I'd opened a space inside him, he said, that had never been there before and may never have been there if it weren't for me. The space was a torture chamber and I was always there, breathing life into that space.

He waited for me to say something, and I could see that he had no intention of leaving until I gave him some kind of answer. He had me captive in his pathetic psychodrama, a victim scenario he should have outlived a long time ago. Why hadn't he kept singing or stood on the stage until we ran out of breath and then started where he left off? Instead he blamed me for making him throw up on himself. The longer this guy went on the more I understood what bothered me about his singing in the first place.

He asked me if I thought I was wrong. I didn't know if I should answer him. I'd caused him pain, but if I told him I was wrong what would he do then? Twenty years of gnashing his teeth on his trauma and then he tracks me down at the mall. The man is a stalker, I reminded myself, and who knew what went on in that space in his head? An aggressive thought in his head could lead to a thought between his legs. I considered walking away from him, but I figured he'd follow me if I did. If I eluded him I'd have to worry he'd come after me again. I couldn't step into the mall without wondering if he'd be there to accost me. I didn't want to run from him. He stood there waiting, looking at me with his dull stare. "I was wrong," I said.

After a moment his face lightened. I watched him to see if his face would cloud up after he thought about it, to see if I'd need to defend myself. He had no idea what he was up against. I could spin him in every different direction before he knew what hit him. But he gripped my hand and thanked me. He told me that what I'd said was not enough but he could see it was all I could give. If I had more to say later, he added, I could find him if I wanted to, and he hoped I would look him up one day. He said that I wanted a wall between us, but I was inside his walls and he couldn't get me out. His hand made me uncomfortable and I wanted to pull mine back, but I let him shake it. I didn't like what he said after I answered. He seemed to want me to keep on feeling his pain. Finally he let me go. He gave me one last look and then rushed away.