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The Phantom

by Eva Schubert about a year ago in relationships
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Of secrets and desire

The Phantom
Photo by Jeff Siepman on Unsplash

Maris sat in the bar nervously. Her weight was balanced on her left hip as she crossed her legs and smoothed her dress. The low warm lighting was designed to create a calm, glowing effect but inside she trembled like a guitar string.

She had never thought she would end up here. At least, not consciously. It had all started with a brief set of Instagram messages. She had posted about a book—quite an obscure one really. All about Existentialism. It was the sort of thing that made her boyfriend roll his eyes. But this man had read it, and it was clear that he had from his comments.

Who could have predicted how suddenly he would become the focus of her attention?

The messages were there every day. Some contained a sparkling literary reference or mischievous play on words, or the witty and sardonic social commentary he specialized in. She would read them and smile to herself, as though savoring some private joke. It was a furtive pleasure, this communication. She never mentioned it to anyone. She would hold his words in her mind as she drove to the grocery store or folded laundry, arranging her thoughts until she had composed a response.

It wouldn’t have lasted long if he hadn’t been so damn clever. It was clear he was more intimate with language than most people. The way he chose his words, weighed them, placed them…as though each one had a scent and a colour and he was combining them to create a particular effect. Most people just stumbled through their sentences trying to cobble together a rough sketch of what they were trying to say. This man could say what he wanted to in at least fifteen different ways, and the one he chose to use in a particular moment was for effect, not necessity.

The effect on her was swift and deep. She found herself following him into the most unlikely subjects. They wandered through political theory, psychology, history, and art. And of course literature…so much literature. The day he sent her a passage from Milan Kundera she knew it was a sign. Talking about the eroticism on a printed page was a very short step from talking about the erotic in general. How could she make any comment on the passage without speaking from her own experiences and the ways her body hungered without offering her an explanation? Certain pieces of her skin ached to be touched, the way flowers dream of rain. But now, with this stranger, she was speaking about the things that so rarely find their way into words, even between lovers. It was intoxicating.

The confessions he made about things he had done, like postcards from cinematic love scenes, flickered over and over in her mind. They spilled over, like sparks from a fire, and began to smoulder and glow in her imagination. The way he dropped a few details of a scene into her mind and left them to run riot there… it was maddening. She felt both impoverished and feverish at the same time. His words changed the way she breathed and made her shiver in broad daylight as she never had before. Not all sex was the same, and she was beginning to suspect that her relationships so far had never even touched the surface of the throbbing, aching need she could feel radiating like the heat of an oil lamp from her hips.

At first, he had only been a voice. A disembodied set of words and ideas that had captivated her mind. But soon it was not enough. She found pictures of him through internet searches, peering into each one again and again as she tried to put a face on the man that so possessed her mind. She stared at her own face more as well. Standing in front of a mirror she tried to see herself as she might look to him. Her brows were bold and defiant, her lips perhaps a little thin, and her nipples large and dark. This was what she thought as she stood in front of her mirror, letting her blouse fall open. She ran her fingers lightly over her skin, feeling her nipples tighten and a delicious tingling trail her fingers as they traced the curves of her breasts, the crest of her ribs, and the smooth descent of her torso. She closed her eyes, and the fingers were his.

She broke up with her boyfriend. They had been dating about six months, but she began to think only of this phantom lover, every time her boyfriend kissed her. Her body was tense with very specific ways of wanting, but his hands were always blunt and predictable. Her lips touched his skin, but she was responding to a fire lit by someone else. It felt like cheating. Maybe it was. But the truth was that this man she could touch and see was far less interesting than the one she was haunted by.

Why did men think that foreplay began when they put their hands on a woman, she wondered. The truth was that it was possible to put a woman into a fever of excitement without laying a finger on her. Here she was, unable to focus for weeks because of the fantasies that beat a constant rhythm behind her eyes. He had inserted some poison into her mind and only he had the antidote.

But there was a problem. He didn’t want to meet her. In the beginning he said that the deepest confessions were to strangers. That was how it started. They were strangers, and in accepting this statement she had tacitly agreed to remain so. This was before she had realized how intensely his words would possess her. He had confided so much under the protection of the distance between them, and the fact that she was not part of his life and knew no one in it. Now all she longed for was to shatter that wall.

She knew so much about him. The way he loved a well cut suit, and the kind of music that made him nostalgic. She had listened to songs he had sent, lying on her back on the floor, and felt he was there next to her. She had lived in his memories of Paris and New York, consuming them like a reader of a secret text…the one he had created in his own mind about his life. She knew his guilty secrets, and the personal contradictions that inflected the pattern of his living. He had all the urbane sophistication of a character from a classic Russian novel – another species from the men she had dated, whose interests were limited and familiar. Sometimes she thought it was his age that lent him some of this suave demeanor, but then again, she could not imagine any of the other men she had known maturing into anything like him.

They had played this scene dozens of times. The way it would be if they were to see each other. He would meet her in a bar. She would order them wine. A dark and lingering bottle of Quail’s Gate merlot perhaps, which left its traces of plum and spice on the tongue. He would sit down next to her, close. She would be able to smell his aftershave, the spicy woodiness of it as he leaned closer to murmur into her ear. She would be wearing a dress, something slippery and silky that bared her shoulders and neck and allowed the light to find the shadows that played around her sternum. As they talked casually, he would slide his hand up her thigh….

Maris shifted in her seat again, conscious of an involuntary shiver of anticipation. Here she was, in her dress, in the low lighting of the bar. A candle flickered and glowed in a dish in front of her, warming her bare skin. She let her fingers slide from the edge of her jaw down the side of her neck and linger on her collarbone. He should be here now, very soon.

It hadn’t taken too much trouble to find out where he lived. Her hunger to inhabit his life, to be able to feel closer to him, had become overpowering. She even believed that he wanted her to find out. After all, he had dreamed out loud with her about their imagined encounters many times. The city he lived in was attached to several of his profiles. She studied photos of him online. He was animated, surrounded by people, and she felt the strange thrill of being able to see behind a face she had never shared a room with. The need to go back and stare at every detail of him captured in these images became compulsive. Then it was only a matter of getting him to tell her about his favorite bar. That too was easy. He had described the dark, polished wood and brass trim with pleasure. She could see the colour of her dress reflected in the brass railing beside her now. When he told her that he was going down there on Saturday for a scotch tasting event she knew she had what she needed.

It only required a quick phone call to book a hotel nearby, and then five hours of driving to get into the city. She was feverish with anticipation. After all these weeks of obsession she would finally be able to look him in the eye. Maris lifted her wine glass to her lips and sipped her merlot.

There, by the door, she saw movement. A tall man with dark hair. When he turned his head she could feel her pulse quicken. It was him. She knew that profile. It was unmistakable. Maris was already on her feet and walking toward him when she saw the woman. Some petite blonde creature standing close to his shoulder. Never mind. She was certain she could sort this out.


About the author

Eva Schubert

A writer, singer, and academic with a passion for mountains and weight lifting.

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