The light dies across the page of her book. She only likes to read in the daylight, the synthesized glow of her bedside lamp an intrusion on her imagination; the way it casts shadows from her fingers across her words a nuisance. It’s only four thirty, but already night is stealing in from wherever night time comes from. She shivers, her back towards the open window that lets in a breeze her mother would complain would give her a ‘sore neck’ if she lingered much longer. Anxiety nuzzled at her heart beneath her breast, I don’t want to have to turn on the light, she realized, scared where a moment before she’d been lost in the streets of Paris with the sound of Napoleon’s army marching out to war.
She sipped the cold water that had been hot green tea three hours ago. She should get up and boil the kettle to heat it up, but she’d read somewhere that it costs 50p every time you boil a kettle and she just couldn’t afford the extravagance. Nor could she afford to waste a cup of tea. She gulps it down in one, imagining her body rejoicing at the antioxidants or immune system boosters or whatever it was she’d read last week that had made her buy a hundred pack box of green tea bags.
Her phoned buzzed in front of her. It sat on the coffee table that dominated the small size of her living room. She couldn’t resist it when she’d seen it in the charity shop. She’d just had to have it. Had she thought through how she’d get it home, however, her impulse may have been curbed. She’s glad it hadn’t been.
A notification from her Snapchat App sat happily enough on her front screen. She paused. Who’s Jon Doe? she wondered, seeing the name beside the laughing ghost icon. She swiped her thumb across the screen and her phone automatically opened the app. She tapped on his name JON DOE and dropped her phone. ‘Fish and Chips,’ she muttered as she scrambled to pick it off the hard wood floor. Wait? What? She was sure what she had just seen couldn’t be true. Her skin prickled in fear, the hairs raising along her arms like she could smell a hunter just outside her window. That couldn’t have been my house? ‘Of course it’s not,’ she said to herself as she stretched her legs, standing for the first time since lunch. ‘Reading too much crap,’ she eyed the Stephen King book, her accusation clear.
But something attached itself to the space behind her eyes that imagination and consciousness cross over. She looked at her phone again and tried to replay the Snap. But she’d closed the App down, she couldn’t retrieve it. She opened her phonebook and pressed call.
‘Do you know a Jon Doe?’ she hurried down the line as her best friend, Kala, answered.
‘Jon Snow? Like Game of Thrones?’ Kala said, her Kenyan roots still holding sway over her voice.
‘Not Snow. Doe. Jon Doe. Was he at the party last week? He sent me a snapchat and I don’t remember adding him.’
‘If a boy’s sending you dick pics – block him. But no, no Jon Doe – isn’t that the name they use for dead folks?’
Michelle walked by the big bay windows of her living room towards the kitchen. It’s completely dark outside now. The streetlights are on but none cover her house. She’s always been thankful for that, no light streaming through her window while she tries to sleep.
‘Never mind,’ she said as she raked through her vegetable drawer in the fridge, hoping she had some small corn on the cobs left for dinner. ‘Just wondered.’ She stands up and places the two-days-out-of-date cobs on the work surface.
‘Miche? Are you there? Miche?’ Kala tries to pull her friend from the trance she doesn’t know she’s in. Michelle lets the phone slip from her fingers, clattering by the cobs. Only the light from the kitchen spills across the grass. She stares at the garden wall. The muscles in the back of her neck are seized, her shoulders by her ears. She knows she saw someone out there.
She lifts the phone from the table, not looking away from the point of light that she knows she saw someone leave a second before. She hangs up on Kala, mid-sentence, and dials 999. A notification banner descends from the top of the screen.
JON DOE sent you a snap!
Her mother’s voice, calmly – the same way she would talk anytime there was an emergency – told her to ignore it. Call the police, she told herself.
And tell them what? The thought was startling, making her feel alone, secluded…helpless.
She opened the Snapchat App and closed her eyes. In through the nose, out through the mouth. In through the nose, out through the mouth. She looked at her phone screen and pressed down on his name, this strange Jon Doe.
She threw up in the sink. Hot, thick liquid burned the sensitive insides of her cheeks as it poured from her mouth. Her phone cracked off the table, the screen splintering like a spider’s web.
It was her. In her kitchen. Corn on the cobs in her hand.
She didn’t want to look out the window. She knew she shouldn’t, that she should pick up her phone and call the police. Fuck them if they thought she was just a ‘stupid girl’ – it was better than… than what? Why would someone do this?
But she couldn’t keep her eyes away. Her curiosity was too strong to ignore. She followed the blaze of light from her kitchen window until…
She saw him.
The man in her garden.
Conner’s dissertation was composed of the first chapters of his first historical novel, The Goose Mistress. Based on the life of Eva Braun during World War Two, his work is intended to show the influence of women on history and distinguish them from the men that currently dominate the narrative. Conner is currently working on a similar novel based around the Russian Revolution. ‘Smiling’ is a separate short story. He invites you to read his work on his website.