Lonely Hearts

Stage play version here

Last time I came to a pub alone a glass of wine was on the table before I sat down. And I didn’t have to pay for it, either.

That was in 1975. I had just arrived at last in Halifax, a wide-eyed graduate of Sacred Heart School in Middle Nowhere, Cape Breton. I thought the lounge was a restaurant and that the handsome young man who bought that glass of wine was a budding rock star. I was pregnant by the time I discovered the difference between a musician and a roadie. And we had another kid before I discovered his other mistress: cocaine.

I’m not so wide-eyed any more and the patrons aren’t staring at me like they used to. In fact I’ve been in this place for 15 minutes and the bartender still hasn’t noticed me.

This middle-aged invisibility comes in handy, though. If you cultivate the art of sitting still for long periods of time you’d be surprised at the things you see, and what you can get away with.

Take that weathered old dude reading a book by the potted plant. He calls himself John. He’s been bragging about himself on Plenty of Fish, the computer dating website, as a sensitive, caring family doctor.

“After years of helping people in my practice as a physician, I’m looking for someone to hold hands with and watch the sunset,” he wrote.

If he’s a doctor, I’m the friggin’ Easter Bunny. You don’t get shoulders like that from rolling pills in an office. That guy’s a lobster fisherman who sells out of his own boat on docks on Saturdays. And here he is in the pub on Saturday afternoon with a fat wad of cash in his pocket.

He’s waiting for me but he doesn’t know I’m here even though I’m 20 feet away. Mostly because I don’t look like ‘Stephanie’, the 35-year-old bimbo he thinks he’s been corresponding with.

“I’m looking for an honest, caring man who will help me forget those terrible years with my abusive husband,” wrote the alleged bimbo. “I’m beginning to think you may be the one.”

I’m almost sorry for men. They are so gullible and easy to control. But I watch my step while I’m around them. They may be as stupid as the cows in Cape Breton but one misplaced hoof can squash your foot and they’re damned heavy when they’re on top.

Today he’ll finally get to meet Stephanie and get to rescue her from her tragic past.

But the only one doing the taking will be me. As soon as he fills up that damn bladder of his.

I really wish it didn’t have to be this way. I’m not bad looking, though three kids and 30 years haven’t done much for my girlish figure. I’m still a size 12 because I work out every day. My hair’s still auburn, with a little help and, except for crows feet around my eyes, my face is free of wrinkles. My boobs are where they’re supposed to be, my butt’s firm and I’ve avoided that dreaded turkey neck, scourge of the women in our family.

And yet here I sit, invisible in plain sight, camouflaged by the trappings of middle age, unseen, unappreciated and lonesome.

And in a financial bind. Seems the job market for experienced mothers and homemakers isn’t great. And neither is the pay for waitresses and call centre employees, the only jobs I can find even if I can’t keep them.

The problem seems to be my mouth or maybe my brain. I’m intelligent and I like to argue. I was raised by my father and competed for his attention with four brothers. I learned to stand up for myself and girls aren’t supposed to do that. “Susie,” said my last boss, “you do a great job. If you could just keep your mouth shut, you’d be running the place. See ya.”

So now I have a new career. I sit in pubs and bars waiting for the right man to come along and when he does, I take his money.

Not in the usual way. You can’t be a hooker if you’re invisible. I’ve had to learn a different method, involving a bit of deception, some planning and a guitar string.

I’m about halfway through my ruminations when Rosie drops into the seat next to me. “Hi girl,” she says, “up to our old tricks, are we? Who’s the man?”

“Guy with the ball cap by the potted plant,” I say, not daring to look.

“Oh, shit, he’s big,” she says. “Can you handle him?”

“No trouble at all,” I say, “but when the time comes if you were outside the door it wouldn’t be a bad thing.” I’m a little worried, but that’s how I always feel before a job. It’s a good thing.

“OK girl, but don’t wait too long.”

I check my kit: smock, sign, tape, guitar string. I feel like a soldier waiting for the signal to climb out of the trench into no-man’s land.

“You’re on,” says Rosie, looking me straight in the eyes. And indeed I am. My lobster man has stood up on his hind legs and is headed towards the men’s room. It’s a very small men’s room, which is why I chose this pub for our meeting. There’s only one toilet, no urinal.

Here’s where invisibility is a big help. I remove my jacket and put on my smock, which makes me look like a cleaning lady. Then, purse in hand, I follow my man down the hall. Nobody watches.

He goes through the door and tries to lock it behind him, but of course the lock doesn’t work, thanks to my earlier ministrations with a screwdriver while wearing my cleaning-lady smock.

I stand outside until I hear the sound I’m waiting for. This is when I’d love to be a man. When I can pee noisily into a toilet, pretending I’m shooting enemy ships from a fighter plane like my brothers used to do. My lobster man appears to enjoy himself the same way.

I reach into my purse and grab my sign. It says Out of Order in big, authoritative lettering. It cost me $15.00 at Kinko’s and it works. I tape it in place, then, while my man is tinkling away, open the door.

Most men, it seems, will not turn around while they are holding their dicks in their hands. Maybe it’s genetic. If so, in a couple of million years that little trait will be bred out of them. It’s fatal.

Standing right behind him I lasso his neck with my guitar string and pull.

It doesn’t take much. He gasps with pain and surprise and stumbles back towards me still clutching his prized member. I turn like a dance partner and run the guitar string over the metal S-hook which I’ve hung over the edge of the stall. I pull hard enough to make him stand on his toes then loop the string around the hook. He won’t die, but he can’t move either. Curiously, he tucks himself into his underpants before his hands move to the guitar string. But he can’t grab it. The string is cutting his neck. His hands are slippery with blood. The tiny room is filled with the sound of his frantic panting.

“Try to relax,” I say. “I’ll loosen the string if you cooperate,” His eyes say yes, and he lets me grab the cash from his pants pocket.

I get back behind him as if I’m going to loosen the string, but I give it a few more twists and pull his feet almost off the ground. It’s important to let him put a bit of weight on his feet, otherwise he’d start kicking and making too much noise.

Now comes the hardest part. I have to watch him die. I can’t let him live, he’s seen my face and even middle-aged women aren’t completely invisible.


1 thought on “Lonely Hearts

  1. Woah, this was a bit darker than usual! Definitely kept me engaged right to the end. Your main character, Susie, is intriguing. There’s cynicism there, even coldness, yet a hint of resignation too. I really enjoyed the way her background is related in the second paragraph: it gets across a bunch of plain information but avoids outright telling us what it’s really there for: to get across the naivety of her youth.

    I also really enjoyed how you used the ‘invisibility’ conceit, first making it something sad and frustrating, but then turning it around and having it be an advantage for her. It’s the very fact that there’s a hint of the former that makes the latter work. Using it only as an advantage would have made it feel too convenient, I think. This way, it stays just on the right side of believable.

    If I was to suggest any changes, it might be to experiment with how much information you give out and when. Would the ending be more impactful if we didn’t know that she’s there to rob the guy? If we know that she’s met the guy online and is now watching him, but we don’t know exactly why? It can be a difficult line to toe, keeping back information without seeming too contrived and while giving enough to still be engaging, but I think it could be worth playing with.

    On the subject of the ending, reading the words about her having to watch the guy die didn’t have quite the impact that it could have had because I was busy thinking “But you *just* said ‘he won’t die’?” Even if you meant that wouldn’t die just yet, it still felt inconsistent to me, at least enough to take me out of the moment. That said, I did enjoy the final line and nod to her “invisibility”!

    Minor observations
    • I can’t help but think that it’s careless of Susie to be killing her victims, especially in what appears to be the same manner every time. Wouldn’t there be a major police investigation launched?
    • Who is Rosie? She knows what Susie gets up to? And is okay with it?

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