My day continued on as normal. I clocked out of work, went to the gym, returned home to Rich’s embrace and cooked him dinner, ate my own in front of the plasma screen TV, drank half a bottle of primitivo red and had a bath. But it was during said bath, full of bubbles and lavender scents, that it struck me. It came more like a lurking horror than a pang of realisation, the feeling that my discovery, if I could call it that, was truly horrifying. I sat comatose as shock and guilt flowed through me. I shouldn’t know. I couldn’t know. This makes me a dead man walking, it must. Anger briefly bubbled over me, then shame, then, finally, emptiness. Nothingness. In those twenty precious minutes spent in the privacy and warmth of the bath, in the relative comfort of home, I discovered what it truly meant to be broken by something.
I left the bathroom with goosebumps and chattery teeth, as if the revelation had turned me into ice itself. Rich noticed immediately, but I couldn’t tell him. I couldn’t tell anyone. Would anyone even believe me? It had taken me some six hours to realise the gravity of what I had discovered myself, and even then I was trying madly to disbelieve it, to make it nothing but a misheard conversation or the idle daydream of a bored worker. I desperately wanted to confess this knowledge to Rich as he wrapped a blanket around me and led me to the bed, but the words were lumped together in my throat. He would talk to me and all I could do was choke out the occasional word. No. Fine. Tired. In the end, he swore to himself and announced he would ring the doctor the next day. I had to be ill, caught a chill perhaps. I gave him a weak nod, the sort of nod someone who is sick or sleepy or shocked would give. We went to sleep.
My dreams were far from pleasant. I dreamt of faceless surgeons peeling away parts of my skin, mumbling away and pointing to something with their scalpels. At one point, feeling came to my limbs, and the agony of being dissected came to me. I screamed and tried to thrash about, but my body was held by some invisible straps. I kept screaming, letting my voice pierce the general silence of the operating theatre, until a hand came to cover my mouth. Eventually, I stopped, letting Rich’s voice wake me up from the experience. He cradled me tenderly, telling me everything would be okay, that I just had a bad dream. His caress brought me to tears, and we spent the rest of the night like that, right until the rising sun turned our room a faint orange.
That morning Rich took me to a doctor, who claimed I had nothing more than a simple chill, told me to rest and shooed me out of his barren excuse of an office. Rich was annoyed. "Doctors nowadays," he grumbled, "nothing more than a bunch of unfeeling bastards." I made a pathetic laugh in response, but I understood the doctor's lack of sympathy. I knew I was well, at least physically; my mind felt broken, torn and bruised by that secret I should never have known. At least I got the day off. I'd called in first thing to say I was ill, and they believed me as if it were so obviously normal. They knew, they had to. Someone had told them that I knew about their dirty little secret and they were getting ready to take me away like anyone else like me, who had been at the wrong place at the wrong time. Rich spied me as I sat by the phone shaking, but brushed it off as the start of a fever or something, if his half-assed shrug was any indication.
Later on, after Rich had gone to work at the bank, I took it upon myself to walk to the shop for some basic foodstuffs. It was comforting to feel the rain on my face. It felt like the only real thing I knew. The faces I walked past all appeared a blur to me, the only detail being the same layer of water dripping off their noses and chins as they rushed around. It was something of a blessing, being around anonymous people. I had just exited the shop when I saw the red haired man walk past. It was him, the same one who had been talking to my head manager yesterday, the one who worked on that forbidden project. He inclined his head my way and his dark brown eyes bore on me. He knew. He knew. Oh my God, he knew. I spun on my heel and began to walk down the street at an increasingly frantic pace, my breath shallow. As I approached the corner, I twisted my head to find him gone, vanished into the rain as if he was never there.