I would not call myself a madman. I have a well-paid job and a circle of friends with equally functioning lives. Granted, after the death of my wife they were worried about my sanity. When we met up for drinks after work, or watched a football game, or attended dinner parties, I caught their glances. Occasionally, they dared to ask how I was, "with everything going on." I assured them I was fine. As fine as was to be expected, at least. I spent a lot of time sorting through Clara´s belongings. Most of it ended up in big cardboard boxes, hidden away in the basement. At first, the solitude was disconcerting. Especially at night, when I lay awake, haunted by memories and dark thoughts. My friends decided that I could not go on living like that. They bought me a pet for my next birthday. Not a cat, a dog or a bird. They gave me a cage with a huge rat. I had always admired the tenacity and dexterity of these animals, their keen instinct for survival. This rat was pitch-black, except for its hind legs, which were white. Almost like tiny shoes. I christened it "Mr. Boots". It was astonishing how quickly I got used to owning a rat. At first I kept it in the cage all day, occasionally trying to pet it when I fed it. Soon, Mr. Boots hurried to the cage door whenever he saw me. I started to take him out and carry him around on my shoulder, where he nestled in the space between my collarbone and my neck. Eventually I would not put him back in the cage anymore, not even at night, when he occupied Clara´s side of the bed. Mr. Boots became my closest confidant. I would tell him everything, from everyday annoyances to the ghosts that haunted my dreams. He looked as if he understood. His eyes sparkled in an almost humanlike fashion, and occasionally he bared his teeth in the mimicry of a smile. He could listen for hours.
It was around that time that I started to notice Batsheba. She was a skinny scrap of a girl half my age who had started to work for the company a couple of months ago. She was awkward and bookish, avoiding all sorts of attention. I had never looked at her twice. But one day, I noticed. Now I saw her dark beauty. She was fragile as a porcelain doll, with sparkling brown eyes. Her shy smile tried to hide an inner sadness that clouded her face when she believed herself unobserved. I was looking, though. I was looking all the time. Not a single motion escaped my notice. One afternoon she reached up to the highest shelf to look for something. Her prim shirt rode up slightly over her back and I saw the white flesh of her hips. The hip bones were clearly visible. This was not the bone structure of a human, but of a small bird. The image of her hip bones seared itself into my brain and would not let me rest. I imagined how it would be to lay my hands around these hips. It was the most exquisite torture. All of this I told Mr. Boots. He looked at me attentively. I expected to see reproach in his tiny face, but there was none. Had I told my human friends of my newfound interest, they would have reacted differently. So I kept it a secret. Outwardly, nothing had changed. I treated my friends with the same cordial affection and Batsheba with indifference. If I started talking to her now, it might raise suspicion. So I watched her in silence. When opportunity arose, I copied her file. A picture, her phone number, address and insurance number. I felt a strange excitement at knowing these intimate details, as if they disclosed another aspect of her to my view. When I came home, I showed the pages to Mr. Boots. We both stared into her dark eyes, admired the curve of her neck. All I could think about were her small hips. Mr. Boots nudged my hand and stood on his hind legs. His strangely expressive eyes seemed to question me. What is stopping you? I blinked. What a peculiar pet, to look into my head and dare to ask the one question I could not. Indeed, what was stopping me? Well, I did not even know what exactly it was I wanted. But Mr. Boots knew and urged me on. How could he know my mind better than I did? I looked at the picture again. Batsheba was so frail, so vulnerable. I was by nature not a cruel man, hurting people gave me no pleasure. I did not want to hurt her for my own amusement. I wanted to... I longed to possess her. Yes. That was what I wanted. But not only once, not just physically. I wanted everything about her for myself. I knew what the world was like. Nothing is forever. The ones you love leave you, either of their own accord or claimed by the angel of death. Affection is not durable, love is treacherous and health is fleeting. Even if I possessed Batsheba, one way or the other she would leave me. This notion was more than I could bear. I had to have her to myself, forever.
Therefore, no. I am no madman. My plans are well-conceived and the execution masterful. Right now, I am running my fingers over Bathsheba's hip bone. Just the one bone, mind you. I can do this as long as I desire. Mr. Boots is watching me, approving.
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