She had a long day at work and couldn’t wait to go home and just look into Jerome’s eyes. She smiled, entering the apartment.
“Honey, I’m home!”
She walked over to a cupboard and took out a jar. She stared into it, and Jerome’s eyeballs, suspended in formaldehyde, stared back.
Three Days Earlier
Stella mesmerizes Jerome with her open-topped sandwich. He loves to eat, and Stella makes sure she gives him a sandwich every day to keep his interest.
“The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach,” Stella recalls her mother saying to her. Since she locked eyes with Jerome’s periwinkle blue twinklers over two months ago at an all-employee staff meeting, she’s committed herself to winning him over everyday in the lunch room.
As Jerome wolfs down the sandwich, his eyes equally devour the curvaceous intern now passing by. Stella tracks Jerome’s gaze and turns red; balling her hands into fists to keep herself from slapping him back to her attention.
“Jerome, dear, can you taste the basil? I wasn’t sure whether I put enough. I know how you really like it.” Stella knocks on the table to get Jerome to look at her.
With his mouth still full, he utters, “Never better. Just keep ‘em comin’ . . .” He swallows and smiles with a piece of purple basil between his teeth. He winks at her, making Stella’s heart flutter.
“You can be sure there’s more coming if you . . . would ask me out sometime . . .” Her eyes widen at how her long-held desire just rolled out. A stillness seems to pervade and linger too long. Jerome’s eyes slowly slide sideways. Stella slightly gasps and jumps out of her chair and runs to the Ladies’ room that’s tucked away in a corner.
She rinses her eyes as if to wash off the humiliation that’s poured all over her being. After drying her face and steeling herself for a few minutes, she leaves the restroom. Just before she rounds out of the corner, she overhears Jerome’s voice.
“Hey, Diego, how you doin’? Man, help me out. There’s this chick down the hall who’s got the hots for me, but man she’s uglier than a pug . . .”
Stella inches back inside the bathroom, reeling from what she just heard. She starts to sob; tears gush down her face. Her mother’s wisdom about winning a man mocking her. Once again braving through another round of humiliation, she steps out from hiding in the bathroom and goes back to work.
A few minutes before the flood of exiting office workers begins, Stella feigns a stomach ache and leaves early. With a pocket knife in hand, she inserts the sharp point under a back tire of Jerome’s car, so it doesn’t look obviously punctured. From an unsuspecting eye, it looks like the tire might have run over a nail or sharp object. Quickly going a few car spaces down to her own ride, Stella sits inside her Honda Civic; waiting patiently for Jerome to discover his bad luck. But as luck would have it, Jerome is slow moving tonight and is the last one out.
After all the cars between her parking space and Jerome’s have gone back to the suburbs, Stella can clearly see Jerome gaping when he notices the flat tire. Driving her car toward him and appearing concerned, she pokes her head out the window. “Hey, what’s up?”
“Oh, hey, Stella . . . uh . . .”
“Listen, Jerome, what happened earlier today? That was me making a joke. Fail.” Stella laughs.
“Oh yeah? Wow, you got me there. Good one, Stell. Dang, you’re really funny.”
Stella laughs although inside she’s hysterical from pain. “Why don’t I give you a ride to my place, have something to eat, and call a tow truck? I live only a couple of miles from here.”
“You’re the best. I was gonna say, I’m so hungry I can’t even think straight. You’re a real sweetheart.”
Yeah, but not yours, she thinks bitterly. They drive over to her apartment, where she invites him to relax in the living room while she gets him a fancy craft beer from the kitchen. She pulverizes some of her prescription sleeping pills and stirs them into his drink. To mask any aftertaste, she serves one of her homemade jumbo pretzels, along with a jar of mustard. She watches him eat, as she rambles on about the day. His eyelids start to droop. He barely hears her suggesting that he take a cat nap on her sofa.
Back To The Present
After placing the jar containing Jerome’s eyeballs on the table, she goes back to the cupboard and takes out other jars containing additional pieces of Jerome. All as equally well preserved, mind you.
“Now that I don’t have to puzzle over you anymore, I just love you to pieces. . .”