As she lay there, bleeding, every part of her hurting, doctors and nurses hovering around her - their faces covered, their eyes worried - she could remember only one thing.
His face. Vengeful. Red. Unlike the face she knew and loved. Playful. Naughty. Besotted."Why, Jack, why?" she had managed between breaths. Her vision getting blurred with each passing moment. She sank into an indescribable blackness, as she felt the knife go through both her hearts - flesh and feeling. "Stay awake!" the doctor kept saying. Her eyes felt leaden. The pain wasn't exactly alien. She knew how it felt to be butchered. On the inside. Her feelings often left to hang out dry after brutal assaults on her character. She kept floating in and out of consciousness as she heard shouts of "Don't give up...Don't give up!" She felt like she was being sucked into a vortex of memories.
Jack was obsessive love personified. But he was a gentle lover. It was unimaginable that the hands which loved so tenderly, could want to kill. But hadn't she always known that? On the night they had first met, he had almost sniffed the life out of the goons, who had tried to harass her. He then took her home, and healed her with a love she didn't know existed. As she fell back on his large sofa, shivering, he brought out a swab of cotton, and cleaned the cut on her arm. He had wrapped her in a large Pashmina shawl, and stroked her head, saying "You'll be fine." His smile was so reassuring. She felt nice, warm and fuzzy, as she watched him brew coffee for her in his functional kitchen.
One thing led to another, and before she knew it, his functional kitchen and home was hers. But moving in with him was perhaps the biggest mistake of her life. The realisation hit, when she found all the messages in her phone erased one day. It had surprised her at first. Only Jack could've done it. 'But why?' Questions swirled in her mind. Was he snooping on her? Didn't she love him? Why would he be scanning her phone in her absence? There were a few messages from her friends, harmlessly signed 'Miss You' or 'Love You'. Wait, was he suspecting her of infidelity? She thought he knew better. She started watching her back. Sure enough, Jack appeared in dark alleys, in parking lots, in basements, always in the shadows, shadowing her. His love for her grew everyday - alien tentacles holding her tighter each day in a vice-like grip.
Some nights he would brandish his favourite Swiss knife, as they lay in bed. He'd run the knife down her body, tearing away her gown with it, as she watched frozen, in strange fear and fascination. He'd laugh at her nervousness. "What's love without a little danger?", he would ask. His would move the knife close to her face, as he kissed her with a manic intensity. It was unbearable. Unbearable, yet addictive. The cold of his knife and the warmth of his body made her swoon. She could not bear nights without him making mad, passionate and painful love to her. But mornings would bring back the greater darkness in him. She would often wake up to find her purse ransacked, her laptop scanned, her phone checked. Yet she could never question him. She needed him. Needed his strong arms, which would protect her from the whole world. Needed that baritone to tell her he loved her. For all his flaws, he had filled a vacuum no one had. But now he questioned her. She tolerated the suffocation only for those nights of love. But now she questioned herself.
"Jack, do you remember the first time we slept together?", she casually asked at a dinner one day.
"Of course I do, baby. Why do you ask?" he asked.
"Do you believe our love was born that night?" she persisted.
"Yes. What are you getting at?"
"Do you believe I've loved you and no other since that day - mind, body and soul?" she urged.
He looked away.
" Answer me, Jack."
"I don't know. But what I know is that you are mine! I own you. Every breath you take is mine. I cannot bear to see any man come close to you and sense your scent. I'll pluck their eyes out, if they lay them on you!" he said, with a strange gleam in his eyes. He dug the fork into the table. She gripped her chair in an instinct. Some bells started to ring inside her.
"You cannot control me!" she screamed. "You cannot stalk me like this, Jack! I cannot take this anymore! You..." A plate came crashing on the floor, and then several others. Jack drowned her first confrontation in a violent pandemonium. "You're mine, bitch," he growled. "You don't know what you signed up for, baby," he laughed a spine-chilling laugh.
The whole restaurant had their eyes fixed on them. But he was oblivious. "What's this?" he yelled, holding up a cheap lighter in his hand. "Who the fuck does this belong to? I got it in your purse!" "It's only..." she couldn't complete her sentence. Ladies rushed out screaming, and their men watched in horror as Jack screamed "Shut up, you lying whore!" and flung a pitcher at her.
Drenched in beer, she started running, screaming in fear, horror and pain. What had she done? Who was this person she had been living with, sleeping with? Thump, thump, thump... Jack was closing in. She ran up to a dead end in the dark alleyway. She could see Jack's teeth gleaming white from where she stood, and he could see shiny beads of perspiration on her pretty forehead. She fumbled to open her purse. 'Good Lord, where is it?' She rummaged desperately looking for that one thing that could possibly save her... Jack was inching closer. "What are you scared of, baby? Come to me. I won't hurt you. How can I hurt you? Don't you know, I love you...?" he rambled with each step. She prayed, as her hands searched the insides of her purse. Jack's hands fondled the knife in his pocket.
"I couldn't help it, baby. I just couldn't see them around you! Know what, I thrust this knife inside that cashier friend of yours. That was his lighter, wasn't it?" She muffled a horrified scream, as he said that. 'He had killed Aakash?' She sobbed violently, as she crouched behind a bin, still groping inside her purse. She could now smell him.
Her phone lay on their bed, ringing, where Jack had been checking it for messages from Aakash, while she got ready for dinner. Her heart sank, when she couldn't find it in her bag. Suddenly, she was yanked up by her hair, and her eyes met his. He was crying too. "What did Aakash have to tell you? What big fucking secret did he have to tell you?" he yelled in her ear. She dared not tell him the warning signs Aakash had given her. "Be safe. Be well." He had texted her often in the evenings. She had no idea those four simple words were so loaded. He had never told her directly for fear of hurting her. He had meant to warn her about Jack; his shady past, his ex-wife, who had mysteriously disappeared. It was a small town. News travelled fast. "I should have listened to his warnings Jack, I should have," she managed. She winced in pain as he pulled her hair harder. Suddenly, that comforting cold metal inside her purse...
She couldn't believe she was carrying Jack's gift in her purse. She was carrying the same purse on her birthday last month, when he gave her a .22 pistol. "Shoot any bastard, who tries to hurt you," he had said. "After all, I cannot be there, watching you all the time." She smiled, as she began to fish out the gun. But before she could summon her fingers to do the job, he summoned his. He began to throttle her. "You must go, so you can stay," he said, his eyes bloodshot; his face vengeful, red. "Why, Jack, why?" she cried, as he drove the knife through her chest.
Bang! The noise rang clear in that empty lane, as two bodies slumped to the ground. The bullet had entered his neck, and out of his skull. "You blow my mind away," he had tenderly said, after their first night together. She had meant it in a different way now. And there she lay, her heart broken, literally. He lay beside, his hand over her chest, just the way they had lain many warm nights in their bed. She could hear sirens in the distance...
Blackness. Then light - cold, inhuman, surgical lights. "Don't give up," they kept saying. She wouldn't. Jack had loved her zest for life.
(Co-authored with Nikhil Deshmukh @red_devil22)