by Bethany Cody
There’s a new girl
in the office. Naomi notices her right away, coming in from the rain, smelling of fabric
softener and coffee. She sits across from Naomi’s desk, the one that’s been
vacant for months. Her hair is dark and frizzy like someone attacked her with a balloon.
She notices Naomi
Naomi parrots her
best friends within the week.
gives her the nickname “Nomi,” and the rooftop of their office building becomes
their refuge in a sea of mindless paperwork and spreadsheets. They gossip about absentee
parents, woeful love lives, sick grandparents, rising rent, and slimy landlords.
they’re on break, smoking, gazing out at the skyscrapers.
a date for Valentine’s?”
Naomi shrugs. “You?”
Jessi laughs and leans in. “Maybe.”
It takes Naomi
kiss is warm, lingering.
then it’s over.
opens the door to the roof and the pair flinch apart. Eyes downcast, they glance over at
Simon strolling towards the far edge of the roof. He feels around in his pockets for a
cigarette before lighting up. He hasn’t noticed them.
pauses in the doorway. “See you later?”
They don’t speak for the next
finds it difficult to meet Jessi’s eyes.
Nervous, desperate chatter about
Valentine’s Day consumes the office and late on a Thursday evening, Jessi appears
in the staff room.
Jessi leans against the doorway
by the watercooler, boxing Naomi in.
fills the suddenly too-full room.
“This is silly.”
Naomi laughs breathlessly.
“We should go out.”
Naomi feels her
face heat up. “Okay.”
could do Galentine’s.” Jessi slinks over, her blue plastic cup empty. “Find
a bar, get some drinks, dance.”
set a time to get coffee on the weekend and Jessi walks away with a smile, leaving Naomi
alone with the burbling watercooler. Watching her reflection in the blue plastic cup, she
dips her fingers in the lukewarm water and spritzes her face a few times.
They go out for
coffee on Saturday. The bakery is warm and humid and smells of fresh, yeasty bread. They
chat for a while over coffee and croissants until Naomi asks, “Why do you like me?”
the only one at work who even looks at me.”
Jessi sits back in her chair.
“What do you mean?”
struggles with the words. “I’m just trying to understand.” She hesitates.
“Did they put you up to this?”
Jessi’s eyes close off and
she reaches for her handbag resting at their feet beneath the table. She stands and without
looking at Naomi, leaves.
Jessi doesn’t show
up at work on Monday.
Day swiftly approaches. The office is decorated with poorly cut cardboard hearts
and drooping, paper bunting. Naomi hates it. The murmurs, the furtive glances. Hates that
Jessi’s desk sits vacant again.
spends Valentine’s night at home, her curtains closed, the TV on mute, a bottle of
red wine on the coffee table. She’s sitting on the couch, replacing the batteries
in her vibrator, when the doorbell rings.
shuffles to the door.
There on her
doorstep, a bouquet of roses made of tongues. Fleshy, grisly buds glistening with fresh
blood, twisted into sickening shapes, skewered on silver prongs, wrapped in cheery yellow
from passing cars illuminate the gory, textured slugs and for a moment they appear
to wriggle. Naomi hasn’t moved in minutes, her eyes fixed on the obscene display.
A young couple out
walking their dog emerges from around the corner and treks down the concrete footpath.
Just as they reach her doorstep, Naomi snatches the bloody bundle up in trembling arms
and retreats inside. The door closes on the rest of the world and it’s just her and
a bunch of severed tongues in the relative quiet of her living room.
Her heart shudders.
Her mind is strangely empty.
peers down and the tongues fall from her hands. Acidic, pink tinged vomit shoots from her
mouth, saturating them. She wipes her sticky, stinking chin with her sleeve.
“Happy Galentine’s, Nomi.”
Bethany Cody is an Adelaide-based disability advocate
and writer of short stories and poetry living on Kaurna land with progressive sight
loss. She has been published in Voiceworks Magazine, InDaily Poet's
Corner, Yellow Mama Webzine, the Ekphrastic Review, the
WWDA Blog, and Wishbone Words.