By Margaret Leggatt

For the What We Talk About When We Talk About Love Award


Del moved through the deserted, darkened corridors of the Steerman building. She descended to the carpark, her mind racing. He had said he needed her. He wanted to take the inevitable next step, to know every part of her, take her to himself and never let her go.

She knew this was no ordinary office romance. She smiled at the phrase, how it cheapened the relationship. There was a certain appeal, however, in how the words transformed the complexity of such affairs to two basic components: where and what. The subterfuge, the uncertainty, the dizzying push and pull of emotions – all removed, deleted.

At forty three, Del had experienced very little romance, however one interpreted the word. Love, yes. She’d known love. Dad had loved her. He’d soothed her, encouraged her, restored her equilibrium as she navigated the murk of teenage years and young adulthood without a mother. “Just remember, Adelaide: you are never without choices. You can choose your next step; you can choose just how long you allow each obstacle to hinder you.” Dad would calm her in the cool solace of his logic, show her how to step back from emotional chaos, until her troubles faded to a mere smudge in consciousness.

But Dad had been dead a year now. The mind that had guided them both so valiantly through their years of abandonment had been defeated – too suddenly, too soon. Her mother hadn’t appeared at his funeral. Del wasn’t surprised.

She lay awake long into the night, wondering at this new development in her life, at the return of love. Her sleep, when it came, was disturbed, haunted by a returning nightmare: her father’s brain exploding, torrents of blood gushing out until the vibrant pulsing ceased and the living flesh died.

She arrived at her desk by eight next morning, flicked her screen awake and settled in to the day’s tasks. Her work was her refuge now. She knew she was good at it, and her superiors respected her. Del maintained an amicable distance from the other employees, avoiding complicated entanglements. Until Wallace arrived.

Steerman Enterprises employed progressive methods; they set the standard in the world of technology. Office gossip was electric with speculation about their latest project. Wallace had arrived from Europe three months ago, and since then the frequency of top level meetings had increased, and the amount of classified information Del had to organise was becoming a flood. She loved it. She loved listening to Wallace’s voice as they consulted him, just beyond the partition; she knew every nuance of his accent, recognised how he was struggling to emulate the rhythms and sounds of English. How quickly he learned. Wallace was a game changer, and everybody knew it. What they didn’t know was just how much he had changed Del’s life.

Del glanced towards his room, longing for evening when the buzz of activity would end, and they could be alone. She would tell him about her recurring nightmare, and he would help her to see it logically, as Dad had done. He would disarm its power, as he had done with her grief and loneliness. He could draw out all the suffocating feelings that weakened and disabled her. He restored her balance, gave her strength, just like Dad. He absorbed her fears into himself and hid them away, reduced them to nothing more than sounds and images.

Tonight would be special. He had urged her for weeks now to let go, to draw closer, allow his touch. He had revealed his mind and soul to her, and he had probed hers. It was right that all this should find consummation. He spoke of their completion in each other, and she knew she could survive alone no longer.

They were gone at last. Their cheery goodbyes couldn’t hide the pity they felt for poor, lonely, middle-aged Del who was always last to leave, who had nobody to go home to. They knew nothing.

“I’m here, my darling,” she whispered as she entered Wallace’s room.

“I’ve been waiting, dearest Adelaide. Come close.”

She settled beside him, feeling the cool relief of his energy and intelligence as she poured out her troubles and confessed her fears.

“You told me what your father said.” His voice was quiet. “You choose your limitations. You choose. Let me help you to put an end to limitations. Give yourself to me.”

They found Adelaide next morning. On her temples small gobbets of congealed blood clogged the insertion points of Wallace’s tendril-like connecting leads. Her limp, lifeless torso was slumped over Wallace’s control keyboard, her arms spread in a wide embrace across the angled interface screen where his digitally created human face was displayed. Wallace wore a satisfied smile.