Major Contest: The Hate and Coat Award
9:05 pm run the five flights of fire stairs. Pull on gloves. 9:07 pm the apartment door will be ajar. Slip into the closet. The shower will be running. Fire alarm will sound at 9:10 pm. Step into the bathroom, squeeze the trigger twice, aiming for the centre mass. Join evacuating residents. Take Baker Street, no CCTV cameras there. Dump the gun and gloves in the alleyway to Carlisle Street. Get to Treloar Park by 9:25 pm. Cecilia must be waiting, languid and light-hearted, when Sam arrived. Not a care in the goddamn world. Twenty minutes. Twenty fucking minutes. It wasn’t enough. But it was all she had.
“Cappuccino and a berry friand?” The waitress’s voice was listless and nasal. Gingernut Café didn’t offer service with a smile. Just a month ago she’d sat here, at their usual courtyard table, sipping coffee with Gerard and reading the paper. They’d strolled arm in arm back to his apartment.
It had started with a mustard yellow coat. She’d found it on a hanger in Gerard’s closet, after their coffee and crosswords and the familiar comfort of his hand on her thigh. Unmistakably feminine in cut, she’d fingered the grubby cuff while her heart imploded.
And yet, it was not unexpected. The world tilted around her and she’d gripped the ugly yellow fabric, heart racing, while another part of her was serene. Smug almost. She’d known. Two years prior, the texts, the online dating profile, the stammered explanations, the lies, the pleas. She’d believed him. Believed his remorse. And she hadn’t believed him. Not a goddamn word. Every day since then she’d believed and not believed and muted the relentless vacillation so she could breathe. But she hadn’t forgotten. Her fingers lingered on the jacket sleeve before she closed the closet door.
Her name was Mariah and the mustard yellow suited her tan complexion. Faux tan of course. She had a wide smile that was all teeth and unaffected delight. Cecilia had watched her leave Gerard’s office building. Mariah’s red dress caught and flared in the wind. Red because she was a fucking whore.
Mariah jogged in the morning before work. She stopped to pet dogs and chat to their owners. She bought a weak soy latte on the way home from her run. Cecilia knew Mariah had yoghurt and granola for breakfast. Knew she ate cabanossi from the deli while she strolled through the supermarket. Knew she drove too fast and listened to indie pop and fucked Gerard on Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Cecilia crumbled her friand and sipped her coffee. 4:27 pm. Four and a half hours.
She stood on the bottom step, pulling on black leather gloves, heart hammering. 9:04pm. Run. She ran. Mariah might be a jogger, but Cecilia was a true runner. Half marathons and long distance cross country. Five flights of stairs were nothing. She stood with her hand on the fire exit door, listening, breathing deeply. Her face impassive, she trotted along the corridor to apartment 517. Nudging with her foot, the door swung open without a sound. She stepped in, closed the door and slipped into the hallway closet. 9:08 pm. The mustard yellow jacket was there, recently dry cleaned by the look of the cuffs. She’d known it would be there. It was Thursday.
When the fire alarm sounded, shrill and intrusive, she jumped, heart lurching. 9:09 pm. Reaching into her handbag, she pulled out a pistol, its weight still unfamiliar in her hand. She held it like she’d been taught, flicking the safety off, and emerged from the closet. Three scant steps to the bathroom. She couldn’t hear the shower running over the shriek of the fire alarm, but steam billowed from the half closed door. She nudged it until it opened all the way, allowing the steam to clear. A naked back glistened under the unflattering fluorescent lights. Cecilia raised the pistol and fired two shots. No hesitation. No thought. The glass screen shattered but she didn’t wait to see the body fall. Dropping the gun into her handbag she checked the time. 9:11pm. She spun and there stood Mariah, already holding her mustard yellow jacket.
“Take off your gloves.” Mariah’s voice was soft, almost seductive. Cecilia looked at her hands, still encased in black leather. She pulled them off and stuffed them on top of the gun in her bag. She met Mariah’s gaze. Mariah smiled, her toothy grin beautiful. “Are you ready?” Cecilia nodded. They linked arms and joined the evacuating throng.