The taps of painted fingernails on a wooden counter top caught my attention a while ago. Every fifth run, she paused -- as if she had something better to do -- only to resume the clattering of cuticles. I sat in the waiting room, feeling safe in the knowledge that I was invisible to the other self-absorbed patients. No one took any notice of me. My brown hair and eyes blended in with the sterile polyester of the furniture.
The receptionist kept her eyes glued to the clock on the wall with her tapping still out of sync with the tick of the clock.
Of course, she didn’t recognise me, let alone acknowledge my existence. Why would she? She’s only seen me walk down the same corridor every day in the past year. She didn’t know who I was, and unlike those Disney clichés, there was no happy ending here.
The cool steel of the Walther P22 felt even colder now against my thigh. It wasn’t my first choice of gun, but the online sale had seemed like a good omen.
I didn’t want to kill her, only make her notice me.
I’ve been different for so long: too old, too smart, and too British. Now I was invisible? It couldn’t be true. I had to speak to her to let her know who I was and that I had a voice worth listening to.
When I ran out of ways and reasons to speak to her in our building, I settled on the building where she was seen all the time.
I’d asked why she left so early in the morning and came back so late. With a strange and startled expression, she told me that she was a receptionist at this clinic. That happened only once where I asked about her personal life, otherwise the stilted encounters revolved around the mail and the weather — so terribly British.
Once I found out where she worked, it wasn’t difficult to find her. Though when she didn’t even recognise me the first time I came here, it did hurt. Her eyes had a non-existent glaze as she handed me my paperwork without so much as a smile. It was a smile that reminded me of my mother. I should’ve probably given her a call, but the long-distance line was the perfect excuse — she was too old to figure out Skype.
Even if I did talk to her, what was I supposed to say? I’ve spent the last year stalking my neighbour because I can’t have her, can’t get enough of her, and loathe my desperate need to touch her?
The time has come. Not having her isn’t an option any more. I will be heard.
This is my third visit. And my last. I don’t want to kill her. But I want her to notice me — realise I will not be ignored any longer.
A single magazine will be more than enough for what I’m about to do…
Look at how she smiles at some random people next in line. Her auburn hair falls delicately over her shoulders, and I’m sure the perfect curve of her lips is as mesmerising for the new patients as it is for me. She never did grant me that courtesy. Every time I saw her, it was polite but distant.
Doesn't she know how I feel about her? She doesn’t make it easy for me.
We live on the same floor; we see each other every day. We’ve had seven conversations outside of this clinic over the last three years, but still, she will not give me the chance.
What’s a guy got to do to get noticed?
The finger tapping suddenly stops. She’s talking to a pair of men who just walked in. Oh God, they’re holding hands. An abomination. They’re probably getting their weekly AIDS check-up. At least in Britain, people like that have the sense to keep it private, bloody good, British stiff-upper-lip. The cool steel against my leg sparks an epiphany; I have enough ammunition to make the world a slightly better place.
I toy with the idea as I watch the tide of people wash up into America’s medical miracle. The gay couple keeps looking at their watches and muttering about something of little importance. She gives them a reassuring grin. That alone is enough to set off the trigger that’s leaving an imprint on my thigh.
How can she care when she doesn’t even know them? Unlike them, I’m not a complete stranger. She knows me! But she won’t even acknowledge my presence. Again, I’ve been ignored, forgotten, and unwanted. I’ve faded into the background as just another patient.
I’ve got to continue turning my life around: from bullied to bully, from an extra to the protagonist of my own story, and the villain in hers. What else is there for one to be noticed? Is there anything worse than being ignored, as if my mere presence isn’t enough, as if my existence is an inconvenience in someone else’s life?
Sweat trickles down my neck, darkening the blue of my collar. My eyes widen as the incomprehensible social situation unfolds in front of me. I don’t know how to react. I need privacy — possibly a bathroom — where I can pull the gun from my trousers, put it in my hand, and shoot until all the rage has left me. I need to…
‘Roger Thomas Stearns?’
The violent fantasy is cut short by the name she refuses to recognise. It takes me a second to realise that now is the perfect opportunity to leave the waiting room for somewhere more secluded. I stand up and raise my hand in acknowledgement of the doctor calling my name. It is the polite and right thing to do after all. My doctor is a female, which isn’t my personal preference, but they do let anyone practice medicine these days.
When I sit down on the bed as instructed, I hear the overly familiar words, ‘how can I help you today?’
I’m told to get undressed behind a curtain to hide my dignity. I strip, feeling degraded by the thin, flimsy barrier. I can almost imagine my female doctor looking through and secretly laughing at me. While my body becomes more exposed to the sterile air of the clinic, I allow myself a minute to close my eyes and think of caressing the firm lips of the receptionist. I taste her skin on my tongue as she pulls away from me in fear.
With the barrel of the gun, I stroke her auburn hair, and she begs for freedom. As the tears fall from her green eyes, she calls out my name, the name she’s ignored for years. And it becomes painfully obvious that every word out of her mouth is a lie. She has no idea who I am but only knows that I now wield power. Now I’m worth noticing. And I won’t let her forget it.
Still behind the flimsy curtain, I open my eyes and unstrap the Walther P22 from my thigh. The metal slides from my perspiration. Standing in nothing but my socks, I’m vaguely aware of my hard-on but won’t let it distract me. The shape of the doctor’s body can barely be seen through the curtain and her words are indiscernible. I take aim, fervently hoping I’ll be protected from the spray of blood.
I pull the trigger once.
The explosion fires from my hand towards the unsuspecting doctor. Not taking another shot, I walk to the door, which opens onto the waiting room. My ears are ringing, and I cannot hear the people scream. I can only make out their mouths opening in horror as they face my power.
Steadily, I take another aim to rid the world of the abhorrence still stupid enough to be holding hands.
The world is silent, and I can’t focus on a single sound. The only thing I feel is the heat of the gun in my hands. I used up three of my ten rounds. I have made my point; I have made myself noticeable. And as I stand in the waiting room, naked but for my socks and with the gun held high, I search for the receptionist who has pushed me to my limit.
The other patients move around me as I walk towards the counter, shrinking to become invisible. How the roles have reversed! It feels oddly peaceful to be the centre of attention. It’s true. Revenge is sweet.
I find her trembling beneath the desk. It’s difficult to fight the smile that’s overtaking my face, especially as I notice the blood dripping from my body for the first time. It’s the same colour as her hair, and I’m drawn to the similarities.
No, I can’t be distracted.
I do have something to say before I pull the trigger.
‘Goodbye Danielle,’ I snort.
Chunks of her brain splatter the wall behind where she’s been sitting. It sounds almost musical as each piece hits the wall. Maybe, I didn’t need her after all. Maybe, I just wanted her dead. Whatever will my mother say?