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It starts with video games. In a way Yates is not surprised. Online gaming, a world he has never entered and doesn’t know much about, could be a new adventure for her. A new life, since her flamboyant exit from the old one. Inevitably she would be bustier, her shoulder-length hair would probably now flow to her waist, and her clothes would be low-cut and skin-tight, but that is just the nature of the internet, she would still be Garnet. She could assume a new identity, drive a faster car, battle monsters and defeat devils. As alternative lives go, it’s not a bad one. It is only thirty, forty dollars a month. Yates pays the bill gladly. Each time he sees the charge on his Visa statement, it feels like a message, a code, a whisper from the dark.
Each month Yates handles the envelope delicately, unpeels the flap and slips the paper out. A love letter via credit card, that is what it feels like. Visa is his Pandarus. And Garnet has gone shopping.
The bill doesn’t show what she purchased, only that it was through the shopping channel. Yates phones their 1-800 number.
“Is there a problem with any of the items, sir?”
“No, no problem. Just trying to keep better track of where the money’s going. Can you give me a list of everything charged to this card, please?”
A set of hand-painted casserole dishes, an exercise bike that folds away neatly under the bed between workouts, a fall coat you’d swear is made from real fur, an eau de toilette called Attar of Roses. Yates is happy she’s looking after herself, cooking, exercising, dressing warmly, though the Garnet he knows hates exercise. He orders another bottle of the Attar and when it arrives he mists it into the bathroom. Now it perpetually smells like she’s just left the room. He can imagine each morning she’s just headed in to work.
And Sarah said he should cancel her credit cards. That he should put Garnet behind him and move on. But how can he when Garnet never truly leaves him? It’s not as if they said goodbye or even planned to be apart. Imagine if he cancelled her Visa or got rid of her clothes or did any of the things his sister advised and Garnet suddenly found her way back. She would be furious that he could give up on her so quickly.
The porn is a surprise. Yates types the names of the websites from the Visa bill and his browser is flooded with flesh. So many scenarios, inside, outside, by the pool, in a massage parlour, at the office. Maids, doctors, nurses, teachers, bosses, pole dancers. Yates is bewildered and hurt. Their sex life had been satisfying, if tame by the standards he was now seeing, and perhaps predictable. Yet it had its moments of ecstasy, moments when a whispered word or the body shift of half an inch could seem to rip open eternity. Fulfilling is a clichéd word but it is also true. He was filled by her in those moments, he was full, he was whole.
But this? He tortures himself for many nights afterwards, fantasizing about her new fantasies. His dreams are sticky and sordid.
But eventually they abate, these dreams, and there is a lull.
The problem with credit card statements is that they only come once a month. He needs more. He needs to see her again, catch her in the act of doing these strange, new, un-Garnet-like things.
In February the answer comes. A single ticket for Coppélia, purchased through Ticketmaster. It’s a sign, a signal, the real Garnet at last. She’s going to the National Arts Centre.
He hates the ballet, stuffing his fat and flab into a suit, sitting for interminable hours in a narrow seat that doesn’t afford nearly enough leg room. But Garnet adores it. She always said that in her next life she would come back as a dancer. Yates said if she did, then maybe, just maybe he would voluntarily attend a performance.
But this time he’s going to surprise her. He calls Ticketmaster, makes a big fuss over forgetting which performance he booked a ticket for, and eventually finds out what he needs to know. March 6th, seven o’clock at the NAC main stage. Centre balcony, row 1, seat 15. He can’t wait to see the look on her face. It will erase the one that haunts him, pale and strangely unresponsive.
He doesn’t need a ticket of his own. It will be enough to see her before the lights go down.
Jennifer Falkner’s fiction and non-fiction have appeared in several literary journals. She is also the Founding Editor of Circa: A Journal of Historical Fiction, a book reviewer, and a keen supporter of the Oxford comma.