Et Sequitur Magazine, Issue 7

Issue 7 (July 2023)

What I Told the TV Host

By Mandira Pattnaik

My girlfriend was murdered but she keeps sending me emails and tagging me in tweets. I’d expect that. She always had a knack for being quirky. Besides, one can always schedule them. Maybe she did. Who doesn’t? It’s hip to make your boss think you’re working at 2 AM when you are not, especially if you’re in a sales job like mine, and you are marketing miscellaneous credit loans no one would take if times weren’t this bad. I wouldn’t mind her random shock-treatment for fun, but tonight, as I was getting ready to come here, my first chance at being half-a-celebrity because the world wants to know what happened to Sheena Bolshevi, about what all I know, about what she told me, I curiously received a call. And it was from her.

Yes, yes, I knew you’d be shocked. You’ll say, I’m imagining things because of the trauma, because I am still in mourning. Especially since I have already told the press from the crime scene that I am done, I am devastated, that I would go away to Peru or India, have nothing anymore to do with my life here. But it happened—the call to my number that only she used, a private number I’d given only to her—and it wasn’t imagined; I can show it to you, see? And now that you ask me about it, I recall some of her latest mischiefs. Like she tagged me on Twitter with a pic of her legs, captioned it ‘A Day at the Spa’. It was definitely taken by her, I’d know, placing the camera on her lap, angling it so the view captured an array of nail colours, and the pedicure kit on a stool; the colour ‘Golden Sky’ placed on the floor, separate from the rest. The tweet was quickly followed by another with a picture of my golf bag. Yes, golf courses and deals—that’s me. I know how to swing a shot far and effective, and use a club otherwise if need be. I don’t know when she took that photo, because I don’t think I ever brought the bag home; it has always been in a locker at the Gemini Masters Club. But there it was. Captioned with ‘You Learn From Your Mistakes’. And again tagging me.

Then an email telling me the faucet needs to be replaced. I booked a plumber, silly. He’ll be there over the weekend. GET IT DONE >:( it leaks through the night. Oh, the sound of water trickling, it keeps me awake.

Keeps her awake? How did she remember even? We were only living together for a week before she was murdered. Oh, and the thought makes me nervous now. See? I’m shaking all over. It reminds me though. About that weird habit of hers. To eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations and she’d repeat them verbatim when I asked. It was fun: overhearing gossip at the café, or at the diner, and then making accentuated stories just for the heck of it. I believe she picked up some of my conversations when I was on work calls too. You know the basic, boring type. I was saying, ‘Go for the kill, James. Do you need guns?’ --- about one defaulter’s pharmacy store we were thinking of sequestering the next day, and the Recovery Agents always use threats. But of course she had thought I was up to murdering someone. Really? Yes, she was crazy. And she asked me about it. Went as far as to say I was going to kill her. Hell! But what was she doing now? And how?

I think when I received her call, I was in the bathroom, looking at the faucet, transfixed. I rushed out. Same ringtone, Sha-la-la, Sha-lalala, thrice. A video call where her face appeared very briefly, like ten seconds, and then the camera focused on her half-eaten sandwich. She must be having it for lunch. Next, the camera hovered over her desk. Lots of pens, and paper, and miscellaneous clips, and highlighters, and tape—she’d always been like this—highly disorganized, erratic and moody. She was so careless that she came to know some secrets about the corporate I work for—you know she was obviously nosing about where she shouldn’t have that one evening I took her to an office party—and she had just blurted them out to me. Pretty damning to the rival company, for sure. You could use them, she said with a wink, but like, why would I? I could make more money if I could sell something unique. Like what if we get people to buy insurance for the afterlife. Or, if I could be paid to tell them customized details about their time in the other plane. You know how ‘details’ is what sells. And it was clearly her desk, I even saw her tiny beige Vero Moda purse, but then the camera began panning the room, which wasn’t really someone’s room but more like a stadium, but made of crocodile scute, taped together, hundreds of seats shaped like paws, clamped together with something like bone shards, but I wasn’t noticing them so much because I wanted to see her face again, trying to recall it, as the camera continued to zoom out. She was beautiful in there, glowing even, and her face dead calm, no irritation or anxiety, no pain either, one couldn’t tell she was poisoned in Bogota.

I’ll tell you what I did next. I reached out through the screen and tried to figure out where she was, feeling my way, the scute walls giving me scratches, until my palm touched her face. It was cold, like my cemented apartment floor, grey too, just the same, and stiff. But she reacted to my touch, smiled and let her cheek rest on my palm. She closed her eyes like she was enjoying the warmth of my hand. I was contemplating what to do next when the call ended, in just under a minute.

I know what you’re wondering. Yes, I did think I was not okay, and needed therapy—the exact reason why I called a colleague over to tell him the whole thing. First thing he said, seated in my apartment, was he didn’t believe a word of it. He suggested I should call Sheena back. Again? I didn’t like the idea, but knew deep inside that he was being sincere. So I bought time by asking him to stay for dinner. We’d get meals delivered by Robots & You, the drone-tech-delivery arm that Royal Mail now runs for pre-packaged food items. Anyway, I was running late and had to come here to your studio too. Plus, I needed to withdraw the cash my boss had just wired to me.

Oh, what was it for? You know, this and that. Some unused vacation time, I think.

Hush money? No, of course not. Never.

A payment to have Sheena killed? To keep his business secrets safe? Absurd!

I don’t know why you keep looking at me like that. I’m telling you the truth.

You’re missing the point. I’m about to get to the good part. Yes, I called back the same number that had called me earlier, sitting with my colleague at my dining room table. It was some otherworldly combination of strange symbols and digits—how it showed up in my recent calls. I don’t think I could type it if I tried. The screen glowed, and almost immediately a hand emerged, touching my elbow, the ring dazzling, and her Link Chain just as it was before—we had exchanged Link Chains for our engagement, those that tie you to your partner for eternity. I’m not sure when the hand pulled me inside, for in a moment, I was beside her in the stadium-room, the space brilliantly wide, spreading out in the rear, but I wasn’t sure if it was real, or made of some illusory material. After taking a good look around, my eyes settled on her face. The poison had turned her skin blue-grey, like whales’, without any pores or wrinkles. She kept blinking and smiling like one would in an animated photograph. But then she vomited, turning to a trash bucket under her desk that seemed to be made from some super foil paper, because it was so deep it appeared like a bottomless well. When she lifted her head, her eyes were on the Link Chain I was wearing. She kept doing this several times—burying her head into the trash bucket to vomit, then staring at my Link Chain.

After a while, she started typing on her keyboard, more tweets and emails scheduled for the future I presumed, and when I insisted that she talk to me, say if she was in pain, if she wanted to reveal anything that I should know, she seemed annoyed, and began to type more furiously. I noticed the sandwich stayed in the same half-eaten state I had seen it in our last call. Her water bottle stayed half-filled and she never sipped, though I insisted one needs to be hydrated after vomiting so much. I think she ignored me more out of habit than spite, because she once more rested her head on my shoulder and closed her eyes.

That was the last image of her that I remember. I don’t know how long I stayed and how I got back. When I returned home, I had a sore back, the kind you get from sitting upright for too long. My colleague was at the same spot and said I had barely gone for fifteen minutes; I suspect he didn’t quite believe his own eyes that I was sucked into the phone. To the bathroom? he asked innocently, and I said yes, because what else could I say? He went away, suggesting I should sleep well, that I wasn’t resting enough, sharing numbers to call if I felt anxious, or suicidal. Suicidal? Why would I be?

Anyway, I got dressed and came to your show, amongst this huge crowd of artificially intelligent people. So, ask what you want to know, and I’ll answer the best I can.

Oh, you want me to explain what passing though the screen felt like? It was great! Like riding an elevator, like the one in Dubai, fastest on the planet. Ten metres per second, 124 floors in a minute, something like that. But faster, so quick my mind was numb. Somehow when I was spat out on the other side, forgive the pun, but that’s exactly how I felt, I remembered the Hymenocallis flower, which I had learned about in school, a towering stalk spat out at the end of complicated petals.

You ask me if she was happy? Like, happy after being murdered?

The room—yes, I think I noticed a window at the back of it. But I didn’t happen to catch what was outside. I’m not sure where it was. Bogota? I have no idea.

I let her go to Bogota the night she was murdered because she insisted her pals were there. Oh, and family from the North, she said. Besides, we had the Link Chains to communicate if needed. You know, I’m sure Sheena must have reached out to me through the Link Chain when she suspected she was being followed. Oh, I imagine how frustrated she must have been when we didn’t connect. I wouldn’t be here if I could prevent the poisoning, you know.

Do I think Sheena Bolshevi murdered herself because I tricked her into it? Well, that’s outrageous and I prefer not to answer that. I mean, why would I? We had a nice thing going and she could do what she wanted, and meeting friends and family, and you think—well… Sheena wore the same pale pink jumpsuit that she went to university in, her nails in nude shades and I remember this so well because she waved from the street below, the last night I saw her alive, just before climbing into a taxi.

No! No. Now this is not something I came here for. I wanted her to experience the after-plane? Atrocious! Like she had nothing better to do? And I, of all people, had hired accomplices to murder her, so she could get to the other side and tell me about it? Unacceptable! I don’t think there’s any truth to it. You can check with her, but wait she’s just tweeted something. Oh, it’s a picture of her Link Chain, with a caption: MISSING. LOST. HELP.

There you go. Happy? Happy now?                                                  

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Mandira Pattnaik is a student of economics, but loves science and enjoys writing science fiction. More:

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