“I’m sorry,” I said. “It was a bizarre day. Your cologne…”
He pulled me into a hug before I could say anything else, and I buried my face in his shoulder. “It’s okay,” he said. “She’s crazy, I don’t blame you for being shaken up. But, it’s not me, Jo. She wants what you have and I’m just an extension of that.”
I nodded against him, breathing him in. I loved his smell, without the cologne. Just the smell of him. How could I have doubted him? He was so good to us, Mercy and me. The effects of Fig Coxbury were subtle, but when someone’s presence was starting to affect your relationship it was time to jump ship.
“I feel really good about being right about the paint,” he said, into my hair. I elbowed him in the ribs and he grunted. “And remember when the shower curtain arrived in the mail, and she asked what you got because she saw the package sitting by the door?”
“You texted her a picture of it. I told you not to because she’d track it down…”
I vaguely remembered something like that happening. But, I’d not told her where I got it—just texted her a picture after I hung it up. I voiced this to Darius who shook his head at me like I was completely naive.
“You can Google search images, Jo. She just plugged your picture in and voilà!”
“She could have done that anyway when she saw it in person,” I pointed out.
“True.” He nodded.
“It’s crazy, Darius. The site I bought it on has five thousand whale images to put on shower curtains. Why did she have to buy that exact one?”
He shrugged. “Because you have it? Because she doesn’t know who she is and she’s using you as a vision board.”
“A vision board,” I said. “This is nuts.”
“Take a break. Maybe don’t have her over for a while. You’re busy right now anyway. You’re dealing with stuff with your dad. We have our trip coming up. Forget about Fig. Stop stalking the stalker. Let her be crazy from a distance.” He took my face in his hands, and I nodded at him dumbly. He was right. I’d take a step back. I couldn’t emotionally afford to be pulled into this nonsense. I had to focus.
I met Darius at Target on his lunch break on a rainy weekday afternoon. We were choosing a trike for Mercy for Christmas. It was an exciting parent thing, and we were marveling at how our little baby was suddenly in need of wheels. I could see him as I ran toward the entrance of the store, having forgotten my raincoat at home. His collar was up around his neck, as he stood with his hands in his pockets surveying the parking lot. My heart felt so happy in that moment, so in love. We had weathered many storms, fought hard to be together. Our love felt full of weight and worthiness. Once inside, we walked up and down the aisles picking up things we didn’t need and putting them into the cart. Our mood was light and fun. It was a good afternoon. We were already at the register paying when we realized we had forgotten the trike.
“This is your fault,” I joked.
“Yes, yes it is. I saw the throw pillows and everything else went out the window.” He made jazz hands, and I laughed.
We were finishing up at the register, grabbing our bags and trying to fit them all in the cart. Darius was swiping his credit card when I heard her voice behind me, shrill … emotional.
“You’re going to just pretend like you didn’t see me?”
I turned to see Fig with her own cart, already loaded with bags. I thought she was joking, but there was no smile on her face. She wasn’t wearing makeup and her hair was stringy like it hadn’t been washed in days.
“I see you now,” I said, smiling. “Hello.”
Her eyes were focused on Darius. I glanced at him over my shoulder, my paper Starbucks cup clasped in my hand. Had he seen her and not acknowledged her?
“You saw me,” she said. “And you pretended you didn’t.”
Now she was looking at me. “I didn’t see you. I’m sorry.” I turned back to Darius. “Did you see her?”
He was putting bags in our cart, not looking up.
He shook his head.
When I turned back to Fig she was gone, an empty space in front of me. I glanced toward the doors just in time to see her disappear.
“What the hell?” I said.
“She’s crazy.” He frowned.
I trotted after him as he pushed the cart from the store.
“Did you see her?“
“No,” he said, firmly. “I absolutely did not.”
“Why would she do that? Are you guys fighting?”
“No,” he said, again.
We were in the middle of the street, but he stopped.
“What the fuck happened back there?”
“Look, I can’t explain the actions of a mad woman. You’ll have to ask her. She’s a loose cannon, that’s all I know.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Guess so…”
I kept turning it over in my mind. The words, the small history I collected from her, the opinions of other people. It was a lot to consider. At first I thought I saw agony in her eyes. She loved Plath, said she related to her. Who related to Plath but the manic-depressives? The suicidal? There was no real agony, I realized. It was all self-inflicted. Suffering made her feel important. All of her wounds were carefully rehearsed, much like her personality. She gave plastic flowers. So real and brilliant in color you almost believed the lie. But, she took little things, thefts that were so small you hardly noticed: a cause, or a playlist—something that would give her something to bond with you about. It’s not like I didn’t see the patterns. Everyone thought I didn’t see. But, I did and I wanted to watch. That’s what writers do—the good ones anyway—we watched and we learned the faux pas of human nature. The delicate ways people came undone, the tiny little frays in the tapestry. Fig acted delicate. Her headaches, for example, she always got them when Darius was around. We could have been laughing and carrying on ten minutes before, and the minute Darius walked through the front door her face would become sour … pained, like she’d been stabbed through the temple with a butter knife. Darius wouldn’t notice, but I’d mention it to him later.