She stared at the back of his head. His hair was thin, laying odd where he had taken his hat off upon coming into the bank. He had dyed it at some point, trading the recognisable golden-blonde halo for a dull, tobacco brown. It was more honest, like the man had been a useful shell, something to discard when the need arose. What lived inside that man was one person in front of her.
There was a livid white headed pimple visible above the collar of his shirt with a circle of inflamed skin around it. He carried the packed sour musk of poor hygiene. He had tried to make an effort with his clothes but he looked fragile. He had walked around as a god in a crisp white polo shirt and shorts, the silver whistle dangling between the cleft of his pectorals as he shouted out plays from the dugout.
He used to smell of nautical aftershave, a clean bold smell to him that reminded her of limes and now made her mouth fill up with vomit if she ever caught a whiff of it. She could not see his hands. She remembered how they would rest on the line of her neck.
He looked shorter than she remembered. The years had whittled him down whilst hers had been building a body that she considered hers again.
She leaned out and saw the harassed teller struggle to remain polite with the elderly gentleman, his balding head shining and fragile in the afternoon light as he tried to remember his account number.
This was the second day of following him, but the first that she did not have to rely on guessing where he might have been. She had watched him stop at the store and pick up a copy of a magazine he kept rolled up and inside a plastic bag that he brought with him. His chest would rise from excitement and look both ways as he left the store to return home.
She had walked in and shoplifted three magazines, took them back under her coat to her hotel room and took them apart. She removed the staples with needle nose pliers and replaced them with wire transmitters that fed to an app on her phone. All ordered over the internet which he probably was banned from going on. Hence the need for analogue release, which was a slick, distasteful thing to consider and she spat it away.
Returning the magazines was more difficult than stealing them had been. She did it in five trips, losing her nerve on the third and fourth. She watched him go back to the store.
She watched him go to the store, return home with milk, bread and another magazine. Her phone beeped with a connection. He did not have a cellphone which was almost an atavism these days, but she could follow him.
She looked different too. She had become a woman which would not interest him anymore.
She had never picked up a baseball bat again and had switched to judo. After getting her black belt in that and competing at a state level, she had begun to study Brazilian ju-jitsu and even got into muay thai kickboxing. Her hair was still long, tucked up beneath a ball cap. Her complexion was soft, hints of peach and milky coffee. She wore a long green sweater with sleeves that hung over her hands and black leggings with unlaced boots. The clothes softened her, hid the cast of her shoulders and the raw, callused strength in her hands from all the years gripping the thick white material of the ghi. She had no intention of fighting him because it would be too quick, too awkward.
In the queue he turned and glanced at her, gave a distant but sickly smile then turned away.
It stung that he did not recognise her.
She kept her eyes on him, feeding her hate for him to keep her alert.
It became his turn to conduct business with the teller.
He was closing his account, which warranted one of the bank’s officers coming over to speak with him. She stood there, looking straight ahead as close as she had been since the trail. Her heart pounded in her chest and her limbs shook with the need to strike out at him.
Every heavy bag bore his face that she threw knees and elbows into.
She turned around and walked away. She was desperate for some fresh air.
She stood three people behind him in the post office as he filled out some forms to have his mail forwarded to him.
She stood outside the travel agents as he spoke to the travel agent, shook hands with her but failed to see the speed with which she reached for the hand sanitizer when he had left.
She did not follow him into the coffee shop. She had followed him for long enough, now it was time to hunt him.
He let himself into his apartment and shut the door behind him. He stood against it and exhaled deeply as he stretched out his lower back. He switched the light on and stood the bag of groceries on the table. He reached into his coat and pulled out a pouch of rolling tobacco, made himself a cigarette and sat underneath the blinking fluorescent light, smoked it and stared out at nothing.
He shut his eyes and felt a vein in his temple throb with the beginnings of a headache.
He finished the cigarette and stubbed it out before putting the groceries away. He was too exhausted to eat; he had planned to jerk off and go to sleep. Tomorrow would be a new day for him, he told himself, one more day and he could go somewhere else, start again.
He unbuttoned his shirt in the doorway of his bedroom when he heard the creak of a floorboard behind him and started to turn.
The knee in the small of his back pushed the air from his lungs and he went to fall forward until he felt a pair of hands clamp onto his shoulders and pulled him back into the hallway. He tried to turn around, but the hands pulled him up.
He tried to speak, but he would be punished with another punch or a knee. He kept trying to move into the bedroom, but she used his shirt as a rein. He probably still thought it was a man beating him up.
He threw his arm up to shove her away, which she took in the shoulder and returned with a crisp jab to his nose that spread it across his face in a wet crack. Agony bolted through his head, splitting his brain in two with its bright fury.
He covered his face in his hands and she watched blood trickling between his fingers.
‘Get up, Coach.’ she said.
He pulled his hands away, the lower half of his face dark and shining with blood. His teeth were small and dull in his mouth, and his eyes welled up with tears.
‘No, please. I’ve been on a program. I can’t even talk to children anymore.’ he said.
She shook her head and took her cap off, stepped forward into the light.
‘You’re talking to one right now. ‘
Her eyes were dry and cold.
‘I was just going to scare you at first. I wanted you to know what that felt like.’
He put his hands up in front of him and shook his head.
‘Please, I’m a good person, I wasn’t but I’m trying to be.’
She stepped forwards and stared into his eyes.
‘I’ve followed you, Coach, what you were doing weren’t the actions of a good man.’
She ran her tongue across her lips.
‘None of them were, not ever.’
Her voice regressed and she was ten years old again, looking into his eyes and knowing what the sun would like if it had a face.
Before it scorched something inside her, made it charred and dead.
It was the little girl who made her run forward.
The choke went in quick and deep. Between her crossed thighs, his face turned purple and swollen, his eyes turning red from where blood vessels haemorrhaged as she constricted his blood supply to his brain.
She kept his arm straight and held between her hands until it went slack, then stayed on until her abdomen and thighs started to cramp. She crawled off him, fighting the burn of lactic acid from the effort of keeping the choke held in.
The air had begun to smell damp around him and she got away quickly.
She slipped out of the room, then the building and slipped her hood up and put her hands in her pockets.
The queue for the Greyhound wasn’t long, but she kept looking ahead, waiting for the wail of sirens and it was when she got on and looked out of the window that she started to cry again. She curled her knees up to her chest and hugged herself.
She thought of home, and for the first time, did not feel sick with it.