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Some people see things that others cannot. Tales of Mystery and Imagination. “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (H.P. Lovecraft).

George R. R. Martin: The Pear-Shaped Man

George R. R. Martin


The Pear-shaped Man lives beneath the stairs. His shoulders are narrow and stooped, but his buttocks are impressively large. Or perhaps it is only the clothing he wears; no one has ever admitted to seeing him nude, and no one has ever admitted to wanting to. His trousers are brown polyester double knits, with wide cuffs and a shiny seat; they are always baggy, and they have big, deep, droopy pockets so stuffed with oddments and bric-a-brac that they bulge against his sides. He wears his pants very high, hiked up above the swell of his stomach, and cinches them in place around his chest with a narrow brown leather belt. He wears them so high that his drooping socks show clearly, and often an inch or two of pasty white skin as well.
His shirts are always short-sleeved, most often white or pale blue, and his breast pocket is always full of Bic pens, the cheap throwaway kind that write with blue ink. He has lost the caps or tossed them out, because his shirts are all stained and splotched around the breast pockets. His head is a second pear set atop the first; he has a double chin and wide, full, fleshy cheeks, and the top of his head seems to come almost to a point. His nose is broad and flat, with large, greasy pores; his eyes are small and pale, set close together. His hair is thin, dark, limp, flaky with dandruff; it never looks washed, and there are those who say that he cuts it himself with a bowl and a dull knife. He has a smell, too, the Pear-shaped Man; it is a sweet smell, a sour smell, a rich smell, compounded of old butter and rancid meat and vegetables rotting in the garbage bin. His voice, when he speaks, is high and thin and squeaky; it would be a funny little voice, coming from such a large, ugly man, but there is something unnerving about it, and something even more chilling about his tight, small smile. He never shows any teeth when he smiles, but his lips are broad and wet.
Of course you know him. Everyone knows a Pear-shaped Man.
* * * *
Jessie met hers on her first day in the neighborhood, while she and Angela were moving into the vacant apartment on the first floor. Angela and her boyfriend, Donald the student shrink, had lugged the couch inside and accidentally knocked away the brick that had been holding open the door to the building. Meanwhile Jessie had gotten the recliner out of the U-Haul all by herself and thumped it up the steps, only to find the door locked when she backed into it, the recliner in her arms. She was hot and sore and irritable and ready to scream with frustration.


And then the Pear-shaped Man emerged from his basement apartment under the steps, climbed onto the
sidewalk at the foot of the stoop, and looked up at her with those small, pale, watery eyes of his. He
made no move to help her with her chair. He did not say hello or offer to let her into the building. He only
blinked and smiled a tight, wet smile that showed none of his teeth and said in a voice as squeaky and
grating as nails on a blackboard, “Ahhhh. There she is.” Then he turned and walked away. When he
walked he swayed slightly from side to side. Jessie let go of the recliner; it bumped down two steps and
turned over. She suddenly felt cold, despite the sweltering July heat. She watched the Pear-shaped Man
depart. That was her first sight of him. She went inside and told Donald and Angela about him, but they
were not much impressed. “Into every girl's life a Pear-shaped Man must fall,” Angela said, with the
cynicism of the veteran city girl. “I bet I met him on a blind date once.”
Donald, who didn't live with them but spent so many nights with Angela that sometimes it seemed as
though he did, had a more immediate concern. “Where do you want this recliner?” he wanted to know.
Later they had a few beers, and Rick and Molly and the Heathersons came over to help them warm the
apartment, and Rick offered to pose for her (wink wink, nudge nudge) when Molly wasn't there to hear,
and Donald drank too much and went to sleep on the sofa, and the Heathersons had a fight that ended
with Geoff storming out and Lureen crying; it was a night like any other night, in other words, and Jessie
forgot all about the Pear-shaped Man.

But not for long.
The next morning Angela roused Donald, and the two of them went off, Angie to the big downtown firm
where she was a legal secretary, Don to study shrinking. Jessie was a freelance commercial illustrator.
She did her work at home, which as far as Angela and Donald and her mother and the rest of Western
civilization were concerned meant that she didn't work at all. “Would you mind doing the shopping?”
Angie asked her just before she left. They had pretty well devastated their refrigerator in the two weeks
before the move, so as not to have a lot of food to lug across town. “Seeing as how you'll be home all
day? I mean, we really need some food.”
So Jessie was pushing a full cart of groceries down a crowded aisle in Santino's Market, on the corner,
when she saw the Pear-shaped Man the second time. He was at the register, counting out change into
Santino's hand. Jessie felt like making a U-turn and busying herself until he'd gone. But that would be
silly. She'd gotten everything she needed, and she was a grown woman, after all, and he was standing at
the only open register. Resolute, she got in line behind him. Santino dumped the Pear-shaped Man's
coins into the old register and bagged up his purchase: a big plastic bottle of Coke and a one-pound bag
of Cheez Doodles. As he took the bag, the Pear-shaped Man saw her and smiled that little wet smile of
his. “Cheez Doodles are the best,” he said. “Would you like some?”
“No, thank you,” Jessie said politely. The Pear-shaped Man put the brown paper sack inside a
shapeless leather bag of the sort that schoolboys use to carry their books, gathered it up, and waddled
out of the store. Santino, a big grizzled man with thinning salt-and-pepper hair, began to ring up Jessie's
groceries. “He's something, ain't he?” he asked her.
“Who is he?” she asked.
Santino shrugged. “Hell, I dunno. Everybody just calls him the Pear-shaped Man. He's been around
here forever. Comes in every morning, buys a bottle of Coke and a big bag of Cheez Doodles. Once we
run out of Cheez Doodles, so I tell him he oughta try them Cheetos or maybe even potato chips, y'know,
for a change? He wasn't having none of it, though.”
Jessie was bemused. “He must buy something besides Coke and Cheez Doodles.”
“Wanna bet, lady?”
“Then he must shop somewhere else.”
“Besides me, the nearest supermarket is nine blocks away. Charlie down at the candy store tells me the
Pear-shaped Man comes in every afternoon at four-thirty and has himself a chocolate ice-cream soda,
but far as we can tell, that's all he eats.” He rang for a total. “That's seventy-nine eighty-two, lady. You
new around here?”
“I live just above the Pear-shaped Man,” Jessie confessed.
“Congratulations,” Santino said.
Later that morning, after she lined the shelves and put away the groceries, set up her studio in the spare
bedroom, made a few desultory dabs on the cover she was supposed to be painting for Pirouette
Publishing, ate lunch and washed the dishes, hooked up the stereo and listened to some Carly Simon,
and rearranged half of the living room furniture, Jessie finally admitted a certain restlessness and decided
this would be a good time to go around the building and introduce herself to her new neighbors. Not
many people bothered with that in the city, she knew, but she was still a small-town kid at heart, and it
made her feel safer to know the people around her. She decided to start with the Pear-shaped Man
down in the basement and got as far as descending the stairs to his door. Then a funny feeling came over
her. There was no name on the doorbell, she noticed. Suddenly she regretted her impulse. She retreated
back upstairs to meet the rest of the building.
The other tenants all knew him; most of them had spoken to him at least once or twice, trying to be
friendly. Old Sadie Winbright, who had lived across the hall in the other first-floor apartment for twelve
years, said he was very quiet. Billy Peabody, who shared the big second-floor apartment with his
crippled mother, thought the Pear-shaped Man was creepy, especially that little smile of his. Pete Pumetti
worked the late shift and told her how those basement lights were always on, no matter what hour of the
night Pete came swaggering home, even though it was hard to tell on account of the way the Pear-shaped
Man had boarded up his windows. Jess and Ginny Harris didn't like their twins playing around the stairs
that led down to his apartment and had forbidden them to talk to him. Jeffries the barber, whose small
two-chair shop was down the block from Santino's, knew him and had no great desire for his patronage.
All of them, every one, called him the Pear-shaped Man. That was who he was. “But who is he?” Jessie
asked. None of them knew. “What does he do for a living?” she asked.
“I think he's on welfare,” Old Sadie Winbright said. “The poor dear, he must be feebleminded.”
“Damned if I know,” said Pete Pumetti. “He sure as hell don't work. I bet he's a queer.”
“I think he might be a drug pusher,” said Jeffries the barber, whose familiarity with drugs was limited to
witch hazel.
“I betcha he writes them pornographic books,” Billy Peabody surmised.
“He doesn't do anything for a living,” said Ginny Harris. “Jess and I have talked about it. He's a
shopping-bag man, he has to be.”
That night, over dinner, Jessie told Angela about the Pear-shaped Man and the other tenants and their
comments. “He's probably an attorney,” Angie said. “Why do you care so much, anyway?”
Jessie couldn't answer that. “I don't know. He gives me goose bumps. I don't like the idea of some
maniac living right underneath us.”
Angela shrugged. “That's the way it goes in the big, glamorous city. Did the guy from the phone
company come?”
“Maybe next week,” said Jessie. “That's the way it goes in the big, glamorous city.”
* * * *
Jessie soon learned that there was no avoiding the Pear-shaped Man. When she visited the laundromat
around the block, there he was, washing a big load of striped boxer shorts and ink-stained short-sleeved
shirts, snacking on Coke and Cheez Doodles from the vending machines. She tried to ignore him, but
whenever she turned around, there he was, smiling wetly, his eyes fixed on her, or perhaps on the
underthings she was loading into the dryer.
When she went down to the corner candy store one afternoon to buy a paper, there he was, slurping his
ice-cream soda, his buttocks overflowing the stool on which he was perched. “It's homemade,” he
squeaked at her. She frowned, paid for her newspaper, and left.
One evening when Angela was seeing Donald, Jessie picked up an old paperback and went out on the
stoop to read and maybe socialize and enjoy the cool breeze that was blowing up the street. She got lost
in the story, until she caught a whiff of something unpleasant, and when she looked up from the page,
there he was, standing not three feet away, staring at her. “What do you want?” she snapped, closing the
book.
“Would you like to come down and see my house?” the Pear-shaped Man asked in that high, whiny
voice.
“No,” she said, retreating to her own apartment. But when she looked out a half hour later, he was still
standing in the same exact spot, clutching his brown bag and staring at her windows while dusk fell
around him. He made her feel very uneasy. She wished that Angela would come home, but she knew that
wouldn't happen for hours. In fact, Angie might very well decide to spend the night at Don's place.
Jessie shut the windows despite the heat, checked the locks on her door, and then went back to her
studio to work. Painting would take her mind off the Pear-shaped Man. Besides, the cover was due at
Pirouette by the end of the week.
She spent the rest of the evening finishing off the background and doing some of the fine detail on the
heroine's gown. The hero didn't look quite right to her when she was done, so she worked on him, too.
He was the usual dark-haired, virile, strong-jawed type, but Jessie decided to individualize him a bit, an
effort that kept her pleasantly occupied until she heard Angie's key in the lock.
She put away her paints and washed up and decided to have some tea before calling it a night. Angela
was standing in the living room, with her hands behind her back, looking more than a little tipsy, giggling.
“What's so funny?” Jessie asked.
Angela giggled again. “You've been holding out on me,” she said. “You got yourself a new beau and you
didn't tell.”
“What are you talking about?”
“He was standing on the stoop when I got home,” Angie said, grinning. She came across the room. “He
said to give you these.” Her hand emerged from behind her back. It was full of fat, orange worms, little
flaking twists of corn and cheese that curled between her fingers and left powdery stains on the palm of
her hand. “For you,” Angie repeated, laughing. “For you.”
* * * *
That night Jessie had a long, terrible dream, but when the daylight came she could remember only a small
part of it. She was standing at the door to the Pear-shaped Man's apartment under the stairs; she was
standing there in darkness, waiting, waiting for something to happen, something awful, the worst thing she
could imagine. Slowly, oh so slowly, the door began to open. Light fell upon her face, and Jessie woke,
trembling
* * * *
He might be dangerous, Jessie decided the next morning over Rice Krispies and tea. Maybe he had a
criminal record. Maybe he was some kind of mental patient. She ought to check up on him. But she
needed to know his name first. She couldn't just call up the police and say, “Do you have anything on the
Pear-shaped Man?”
After Angela had gone to work, Jessie pulled a chair over by the front window and sat down to wait and
watch. The mail usually arrived about eleven. She saw the postman ascend the stairs, heard him putting
the mail in the big hall mailbox. But the Pear-shaped Man got his mail separately, she knew. He had his
own box, right under his doorbell, and if she remembered right it wasn't the kind that locked, either. As
soon as the postman had departed, she was on her feet, moving quickly down the stairs. There was no
sign of the Pear-shaped Man. The door to his apartment was under the stoop, and farther back she
could see overflowing garbage cans, smell their rich, sickly sweet odor. The upper half of the door was a
window, boarded up. It was dark under the stoop. Jessie barked her knuckles on the brick as she
fumbled for his mailbox. Her hand brushed the loose metal lid. She got it open, pulled out two thin
envelopes. She had to squint and move toward the sunlight to read the name. They were both addressed
to Occupant.

She was stuffing them back into the box when the door opened. The Pear-shaped Man was framed by
bright light from within his apartment. He smiled at her, so close she could count the pores on his nose,
see the sheen of the saliva on his lower lip. He said nothing.

"I," she said, startled, "I, I ... I got some of your mail by mistake. Must be a new man on the route. I, I
was just bringing it back."

The Pear-shaped Man reached up and into his mailbox. For a second his hand brushed Jessie's. His skin
was soft and damp and seemed much colder than it ought to be, and the touch gave her goose bumps all
up and down her arm. He took the two letters from her and looked at them briefly and then stuffed them
into his pants pocket. "It's just garbage," squeaked the Pear-shaped Man. "They shouldn't be allowed to
send you garbage. They ought to be stopped. Would you like to see my things? I have things inside to
look at."

"I," said Jessie, "uh, no. No, I can't. Excuse me." She turned quickly, moved out from under the stairs,
back into the sunlight, and hurried back inside the building. All the way, she could feel his eyes on her.
****

She spent the rest of that day working, and the next as well, never glancing outside, for fear that he would
be standing there. By Thursday the painting was finished. She decided to take it in to Pirouette herself
and have dinner downtown, maybe do a little shopping. A day away from the apartment and the
Pear-shaped Man would do her good, soothe her nerves. She was being overimaginative. He hadn't
actually done anything, after all. It was just that he was so damnedcreepy .

Adrian, the art director at Pirouette, was glad to see her, as always. "That's my Jessie," he said after
he'd given her a hug. "I wish all my artists were like you. Never miss a deadline, never turn in anything but
the best work, a real pro. Come on back to my office, we'll look at this one and talk about some new
assignments and gossip a bit." He told his secretary to hold his calls and escorted her back through the
maze of tiny little cubicles where the editors lived. Adrian himself had a huge corner office with two big windows, a sign of his status in Pirouette Publishing. He gestured Jessie to a chair, poured her a cup of
herb tea, then took her portfolio and removed the cover painting and held it up at arm's length.

The silence went on far too long. Adrian dragged out a chair, propped up the painting, and retreated
several feet to consider it from a distance. He stroked his beard and cocked his head this way and that.
Watching him, Jessie felt a thin prickle of alarm. Normally, Adrian was given to exuberant outbursts of
approval. She didn't like this quiet. "What's wrong?" she said, setting down her teacup. "Don't you like
it?"
"Oh," Adrian said. He put out a hand, palm open and level, waggled it this way and that. "It's well
executed, no doubt. Your technique is very professional. Fine detail."

"I researched all the clothing. It's all authentic for the period, you know it is."

"Yes, no doubt. And the heroine is gorgeous, as always. I wouldn't mind ripping her bodice myself. You
do amazing things with mammaries, Jessie."

She stood up. "Then what is it? I've been doing covers for you for three years, Adrian. There's never
been any problem."

"Well," he said. He shook his head, smiled. "Nothing, really. Maybe you've been doing too many of
these. I know how it can go. They're so much alike, it gets boring, painting all those hot embraces one
after another, so pretty soon you feel an urge to experiment, to try something a little bit different." He
shook a finger at her. "It won't do, though. Our readers just want the same old shit with the same old
covers. I understand, but it won't do."

"There's nothing experimental about this painting," Jessie said, exasperated. "It's the same thing I've
done for you a hundred times before.What won't do?"

Adrian looked honestly surprised. "Why, the man, of course," he said. "I thought you'd done it
deliberately." He gestured. "I mean, look at him. He's almostunattractive ."

"What?" Jessie moved over to the painting. "He's the same virile jerk I've painted over and over again."

Adrian frowned. "Really now," he said."Look." He started pointing things out. "There, around his
collar, is that or is that not just the faintest hint of a double chin? And look at that lower lip! Beautifully
executed, yes, but it looks, well, gross. Like it was wet or something. Pirouette heroes rape, they
plunder, they seduce, they threaten, but they do not drool, darling. And perhaps it's just a trick of
perspective, but I could swear"-he paused, leaned close, shook his head-"no, it's not perspective, the
top of his head is definitely narrower than the bottom. A pinhead! We can't have pinheads on Pirouette
books, Jessie. Too much fullness in the cheeks, too. He looks as though he might be storing nuts for the
winter." Adrian shook his head. "It won't do, love. Look, no big problem. The rest of the painting is fine.
Just take it home and fix him up. How about it?"

Jessie was staring at her painting in horror, as if she were seeing it for the first time. Everything Adrian
had said, everything he had pointed out, was true. It was all very subtle, to be sure; at first glance the man
looked almost like your normal Pirouette hero, but there was something just the tiniest bit off about him,
and when you looked closer, it was blatant and unmistakable. Somehow the Pear-shaped Man had crept
into her painting. "I," she began, "I, yes, you're right, I'll do it over. I don't know what happened. There's
this man who lives in my building, a creepy-looking guy, everybody calls him the Pear-shaped Man. He's
been getting on my nerves. I swear, it wasn't intentional. I guess I've been thinking about him so much it just crept into my work subconsciously."

"I understand," Adrian said. "Well, no problem, just set it right. We do have deadline problems,
though."

"I'll fix it this weekend, have it back to you by Monday," Jessie promised.

"Wonderful," said Adrian. "Let's talk about those other assignments, then." He poured her more Red
Zinger, and they sat down to talk. By the time Jessie left his office, she was feeling much better.
Afterward she enjoyed a drink in her favorite bar, met a few friends, and had a nice dinner at an
excellent new Japanese restaurant. It was dark by the time she got home. There was no sign of the
Pear-shaped Man. She kept her portfolio under her arm as she fished for her keys and unlocked the
door to the building.

When she stepped inside, Jessie heard a faint noise and felt something crunch underfoot. A nest of
orange worms clustered against the faded blue of the hallway carpet, crushed and broken by her foot.
****

She dreamed of him again. It was the same shapeless, terrible dream. She was down in the dark beneath
the stoop, near the trash bins crawling with all kinds of things, waiting at his door. She was frightened, too
frightened to knock or open the door, yet helpless to leave. Finally the door crept open of its own
accord. There he stood, smiling, smiling. "Would you like to stay?" he said, and the last words echoed,to
stay to stay to stay to stay , and he reached out for her, and his fingers were as soft and pulpy as
earthworms when he touched her on the cheek.

The next morning Jessie arrived at the offices of Citywide Realty just as they opened their doors. The
receptionist told her that Edward Selby was out showing some condos; she couldn't say when he'd be in.
"That's all right," Jessie said. "I'll wait." She settled down to leaf through some magazines, studying
pictures of houses she couldn't afford.

Selby arrived just before eleven. He looked momentarily surprised to see her, before his professional
smile switched on automatically. "Jessie," he said, "how nice. Something I can do for you?"

"Let's talk," she said, tossing down the magazines.

They went to Selby's desk. He was still only an associate with the rental firm, so he shared the office
with another agent, but she was out, and they had the room to themselves. Selby settled himself into his
chair and leaned back. He was a pleasant-looking man, with curly brown hair and white teeth, his eyes
careful behind silver aviator frames. "Is there a problem?"

Jessie leaned forward. "The Pear-shaped Man," she said.

Selby arched one eyebrow. "I see. A harmless eccentric."

"Are you sure of that?"

He shrugged. "He hasn't murdered anybody yet, at least that I know of."

"How much do you know about him? For starters, what's his name?"

"Good question," Selby said, smiling. "Here at Citywide Realty we just think of him as the Pear-shaped
Man. I don't think I've ever gotten a name out of him."

"What the hell do you mean?" Jessie demanded. "Are you telling me his checks have THE
PEAR-SHAPED MAN printed on them?"

Selby cleared his throat. "Well, no. Actually he doesn't use checks. I come by on the first of every
month to collect, and knock on his door, and he pays me in cash. One-dollar bills, in fact. I stand there,
and he counts out the money into my hand, dollar by dollar. I'll confess, Jessie, that I've never been inside
the apartment, and I don't especially care to. Kind of a funny smell, you know? But he's a good tenant,
as far as we're concerned. Always has his rent paid on time. Never bitches about rent hikes. And he
certainly doesn't bounce checks on us." He showed a lot of teeth, a broad smile to let her know he was
joking.

Jessie was not amused. "He must have given a name when he first rented the apartment."

"I wouldn't know about that," Selby said. "I've only handled that building for six years. He's been down
in the basement a lot longer than that."

"Why don't you check his lease?"

Selby frowned. "Well, I could dig it up, I suppose. But really, is his name any of your business? What's
the problem here, anyway? Exactly what has the Pear-shaped Mandone ?"

Jessie sat back and crossed her arms. "He looks at me."

"Well," Selby said, carefully, "I, uh, well, you're an attractive woman, Jessie. I seem to recall asking you
out myself."

"ЬThat's different," she said. "You're normal. It's theway he looks at me."

"Undressing you with his eyes?" Selby suggested.

Jessie was nonplussed. "No," she said. "That isn't it. It's not sexual. Not in the normal way, anyhow. I
don't know how to explain it. He keeps asking me down to his apartment. He's always hanging around."

"Well, that's where he lives."

"He bothers me. He's crept into my paintings."

This time both of Selby's eyebrows went up. "Into your paintings?" he said. There was a funny hitch in"
his voice.

Jessie was getting more and more discomfited: this wasn't coming out right at all. "Okay, it doesn't sound
like much, but he'screepy . His lips are always wet. The way he smiles. His eyes. His squeaky little voice.
And that smell. Jesus Christ, you collect his rent, you ought to know."

The realtor spread his hands helplessly. "It's not against the law to have body odor. It's not even a
violation of his lease."

"Last night he snuck into the building and left a pile of Cheez Doodles right where I'd step in them."

"Cheez Doodles?" Selby said. His voice took on a sarcastic edge. "God, notCheez Doodles ! How
fucking heinous! Have you informed the police?"

"It's not funny. What was he doing inside the building anyway?"

"He lives there."

"ЬHe lives in the basement. He has his own door, he doesn't need to come into our hallway. Nobody but
the six regular tenants ought to have keys to that door."

"Nobody does, as far as I know," Selby said. He pulled out a notepad. "Well, that's something, anyway.
I'll tell you what, I'll have the lock changed on the outer door. The Pear-shaped Man won't get a key.
Will that make you happy?"

"A little," said Jessie, slightly mollified.

"I can't promise that he won't get in," Selby cautioned. "You know how it is. If I had a nickel for every
time some tenant has taped over a lock or propped open a door with a doorstop because it was more
convenient, well..."

"Don't worry. I'll see that nothing like that happens. What about his name? Will you check the lease for
me?"

Selby sighed. "This is really an invasion of privacy. But I'll do it. A personal favor. You owe me one."
He got up and went across the room to a black metal filing cabinet, pulled open a drawer, rummaged
around, and came out with a legal-sized folder. He was flipping through it as he returned to his desk.

"Well?" Jessie asked, impatiently.

"Hmmmm," Selby said. "Here's your lease. And here's the others." He went back to the beginning and
checked the papers one by one. "Winbright, Peabody, Pumetti, Harris, Jeffries." He closed the file,
looked up at her, and shrugged. "No lease. Well, it's a crummy little apartment, and he's been there
forever. Either we've misfiled his lease or he never had one. It's not unknown. A month-to-month
basis..."

"Oh, great," Jessie said. "ЬAre you going to do anything about it?"

"I'll change that lock," Selby said. "Beyond that, I don't know what you expect of me. I'm not going to
evict the man for offering you Cheez Doodles."
****

The Pear-shaped Man was standing on the stoop when Jessie got home, his battered bag tucked up
under one arm. He smiled when he saw her approach.Let him touch me, she thought,just let him touch
me when I walk by, and I'll have him booked for assault so fast it'll make his little pointy head
swim. But the Pear-shaped Man made no effort to grab her. "I have things to show you downstairs," he
said as Jessie ascended the stairs. She had to pass within a foot of him; the smell was overwhelming
today, a rich odor like yeast and decaying vegetables. "Would you like to look at my things?" he called
after her. Jessie unlocked the door and slammed it behind her.

I'm not going to think about him, she told herself inside, over a cup of tea. She had work to do. She'd
promised Adrian the cover by Monday, after all. She went into her studio, drew back the curtains, and
set to work, determined to eradicate every hint of the Pear-shaped Man from the cover. She painted
away the double chin, firmed up the jaw, redid those tight wet lips, darkened the hair, made it blacker
and bushier and more wind tossed so the head didn't seem to come to such a point. She gave him sharp,
high, pronounced cheekbones-cheekbones like the blade of a knife-made the face almost gaunt. She
even changed the color of his eyes. Why had she given him those weak, pale eyes? She made the eyes
green, a crisp, clean, commanding green, full of vitality.

It was almost midnight by the time she was done, and Jessie was exhausted, but when she stepped back
to survey her handiwork, she was delighted. The man was a real Pirouette hero now: a rakehell, a rogue,
a hell-raiser whose robust exterior concealed a brooding, melancholy, poetic soul. There was nothing the
least bit pear-shaped about him. Adrian would have puppies. It was a good kind of tiredness. Jessie
went to sleep feeling altogether satisfied. Maybe Selby was right; she was too imaginative, she'd really let
the Pear-shaped Man get to her. But work, good hard old-fashioned work, was the perfect antidote for
these shapeless fears of hers. Tonight, she was sure, her sleep would be deep and dreamless.
****

She was wrong. There was no safety in her sleep. She stood trembling on his doorstep once again. It
was so dark down there, so filthy. The rich, ripe smell of the garbage cans was overwhelming, and she
thought she could hear things moving in the shadows. The door began to open. The Pear-shaped Man
smiled and touched her with cold, soft fingers like a nest of grubs. He took hold of her by the arm and
drew her inside, inside, inside...
****

Angela knocked on her door the next morning at ten. "Sunday brunch," she called out. "Don is making
waffles. With chocolate chips and fresh strawberries. And bacon. And coffee And O.J. Want some?"

Jessie sat up in bed. "Don? Is he here?"

"He stayed over," Angela said.

Jessie climbed out of bed and pulled on a paint-splattered pair of jeans. "You know I'd never turn down
one of Don's brunches. I didn't even hear you guys come in."

"I stuck my head into your studio, but you were painting away, and you didn't even notice. You had that
intent look you get sometimes, you know, with the tip of your tongue peeking out of one corner of your
mouth. I figured it was better not to disturb the artist at work." She giggled. "How you avoided hearing
the bedsprings, though, I'll never know."

Breakfast was a triumph. There were times when Jessie couldn't understand just what Angela saw in
Donald the student shrink, but mealtimes were not among them. He was a splendid cook. Angela and
Donald were still lingering over coffee, and Jessie over tea, at eleven, when they heard noises from the
hall. Angela went to check. "Some guy's out there changing the lock," she said when she returned. "I
wonder what that's all about."

"I'll be damned," Jessie said. "And on the weekend, too. That's time and a half. I never expected Selby
to move so fast." Angela looked at her curiously. "What do you know about this?"

So Jessie told them all about her meeting with the realtor and her encounters with the Pear-shaped Man.
Angela giggled once or twice, and Donald slipped into his wise shrink face. "Tell me, Jessie," he said
when she had finished, "don't you think you're overreacting a bit here?"

"No," Jessie said curtly.

"You're stonewalling," Donald said. "Really now, try and look at your actions objectively. What has this
man done to you?"

"Nothing, and I intend to keep it that way," Jessie snapped. "I didn't ask you for your opinion."
"You don't have to ask," Donald said. "We're friends, aren't we? I hate to see you getting upset over
nothing. It sounds to me as though you're developing some kind of phobia about a harmless
neighborhood character."

Angela giggled. "He's just got a crush on you, that's all. You're such a heartbreaker."

Jessie was getting annoyed. "ЬYou wouldn't think it was funny if he was leaving Cheez Doodles for you,"
she said angrily. "There's something ... well, somethingwrong there. I can feel it."

Donald spread his hands. "Something wrong? Most definitely. The man is obviously very poorly
socialized. He's unattractive, sloppy, he doesn't conform to normal standards of dress or personal
hygiene, he has unusual eating habits and a great deal of difficulty relating to others. He's probably a very
lonely person and no doubt deeply neurotic as well. But none of this makes him a killer or a rapist, does
it? Why are you becoming so obsessed with him?"

"I am not becoming obsessed with him."

"Obviously you are," Donald said.

"She's in love," Angela teased.

Jessie stood up. "I amnot becoming obsessed with him!" she shouted, "and this discussion has just
ended."
****

That night, in her dream, Jessie saw inside for the first time. He drew her in, and she found she was too
weak to resist. The lights were very bright inside, and it was warm and oh so humid, and the air seemed
to move as if she had entered the mouth of some great beast, and the walls were orange and flaky and
had a strange, sweet smell, and there were empty plastic Coke bottles everywhere and bowls of
half-eaten Cheez Doodles, too, and the Pear-shaped Man said, "You can see my things, you can have
my things," and he began to undress, unbuttoning his short-sleeved shirt, pulling it off, revealing dead,
white, hairless flesh and two floppy breasts, and the right breast was stained with blue ink from his
leaking pens, and he was smiling, smiling, and he undid his thin belt, and then pulled down the fly on his
brown polyester pants, and Jessie woke screaming.
****

On Monday morning, Jessie packed up her cover painting, phoned a messenger service, and had them
take it down to Pirouette for her. She wasn't up to another trip downtown. Adrian would want to chat, and Jessie wasn't in a very sociable mood. Angela kept needling her about the Pear-shaped Man, and it
had left her in a foul temper. Nobody seemed to understand. There was something wrong with the
Pear-shaped Man, something serious, something horrible. He was no joke. He was frightening.
Somehow she had to prove it. She had to learn his name, had to find out what he was hiding.

She could hire a detective, except detectives were expensive. There had to be something she could do
on her own. She could try his mailbox again. She'd be better off if she waited until the day the gas and
electric bills came, though. He had lights in his apartment, so the electric company would know his name.
The only problem was that the electric bill wasn't due for another couple of weeks.

The living room windows were wide open, Jessie noticed suddenly. Even the drapes had been drawn all
the way back. Angela must have done it that morning before taking off for work. Jessie hesitated and
then went to the window. She closed it, locked it, moved to the next, closed it, locked it. It made her feel
safer. She told herself she wouldn't look out. It would be better if she didn't look out.

How could she not look out? She looked out. He was there, standing on the sidewalk below her,
looking up. "You could see my things," he said in his high, thin voice. "I knew when I saw you that you'd
want my things. You'd like them. We could have food." He reached into a bulgy pocket, brought out a
single Cheez Doodle, held it up to her. His mouth moved silently.

"Get away from here, or I'll call the police!" Jessie shouted.

"I have something for you. Come to my house and you can have it. It's in my pocket. I'll give it to you."

"No you won't. Get away, I warn you. Leave me alone." She stepped back, closed the drapes. It was
gloomy in here with the drapes pulled, but that was better than knowing that the Pear-shaped Man was
looking in. Jessie turned on a light, picked up a paperback, and tried to read. She found herself turning
pages rapidly and realized she didn't have the vaguest idea of what the words meant. She slammed down
the book, marched into the kitchen, made a tuna salad sandwich on whole wheat toast. She wanted
something with it, but she wasn't sure what. She took out a dill pickle and sliced it into quarters, arranged
it neatly on her plate, searched through her cupboard for some potato chips. Then she poured a big fresh
glass of milk and sat down to lunch.

She took one bite of the sandwich, made a face, and shoved it away. It tasted funny. Like the
mayonnaise had gone bad or something. The pickle was too sour, and the chips seemed soggy and limp
and much too salty. She didn't want chips anyway. She wanted something else. Some of those little
orange cheese curls. She could picture them in her head, almost taste them. Her mouth watered.

Then she realized what she was thinking and almost gagged. She got up and scraped her lunch into the
garbage. She had to get out of here, she thought wildly. She'd go see a movie or something, forget all
about the Pear-shaped Man for a few hours. Maybe she could go to a singles bar somewhere, pick
someone up, get laid. At his place. Away from here. Away from the Pear-shaped Man. That was the
ticket. A night away from the apartment would do her good. She went to the window, pulled aside the
drapes, peered out.

The Pear-shaped Man smiled, shifted from side to side. He had his misshapen briefcase under his arm.
His pockets bulged. Jessie felt her skin crawl. He wasrevolting , she thought. But she wasn't going to let
him keep her prisoner.

She gathered her things together, slipped a little steak knife into her purse just in case, and marched outside. "Would you like to see what I have in my case?" the Pear-shaped Man asked her when she
emerged. Jessie had decided to ignore him. If she did not reply at all, just pretended he wasn't there,
maybe he'd grow bored and leave her alone. She descended the steps briskly and set off down the
street. The Pear-shaped Man followed close behind her. "They're all around us," he whispered. She
could smell him hurrying a step or two behind her, puffing as he walked. "They are. They laugh at me.
They don't understand, but they want my things. I can show you proof. I have it down in my house. I
know you want to come see."

Jessie continued to ignore him. He followed her all the way to the bus stop.
****

The movie was a dud. Having skipped lunch, Jessie was hungry. She got a Coke and a tub of buttered
popcorn from the candy counter. The Coke was three-quarters crushed ice, but it still tasted good. She
couldn't eat the popcorn. The fake butter they used had a vaguely rancid smell that reminded her of the
Pear-shaped Man. She tried two kernels and felt sick.

Afterward, though, she did a little better. His name was Jack, he said. He was a sound man on a local
TV news show, and he had an interesting face: an easy smile, Clark Gable ears, nice gray eyes with
friendly little crinkles in the corners. He bought her a drink and touched her hand, but the way he did it
was a little clumsy, like he was a bit shy about this whole scene, and Jessie liked that. They had a few
drinks together, and then he suggested dinner back at his place. Nothing fancy, he said. He had some
cold cuts in the fridge; he could whip up some jumbo sandwiches and show her his stereo system, which
was some kind of special super setup he'd rigged himself. That all sounded fine to her.

His apartment was on the twenty-third floor of a midtown high rise, and from his windows you could see
sailboats tacking off on the horizon. Jack put the new Linda Ronstadt album on the stereo while he went
to make the sandwiches. Jessie watched the sailboats. She was finally beginning to relax. "I have beer or
ice tea," Jack called from the kitchen. "What'll it be?"

"Coke," she said absently.

"No Coke," he called back. "Beer or ice tea."

"Oh," she said, somehow annoyed. "Ice tea, then."

"You got it. Rye or wheat?"

"I don't care," she said. The boats were very graceful. She'd like to paint them someday. She could
paint Jack, too. He looked like he had a nice body.

"Here we go," he said, emerging from the kitchen carrying a tray. "I hope you're hungry."

"Famished," Jessie said, turning away from the window. She went over to where he was setting the table
and froze.

"What's wrong?" Jack said. He was holding out a white stoneware plate. On top of it was a truly
gargantuan ham-and-Swiss sandwich on fresh deli rye, lavishly slathered with mustard, and next to it,
filling up the rest of the plate, was a pile of puffy orange cheese curls. They seemed to writhe and move,
to edge toward the sandwich, toward her. "Jessie?" Jack said.

She gave a choked, inarticulate cry and pushed the plate away wildly. Jack lost his grip; ham, Swiss
cheese, bread, and Cheez Doodles scattered in all directions. A Cheez Doodle brushed against Jessie's
leg. She whirled and ran from the apartment.
****

Jessie spent the night alone at a hotel and slept poorly. Even here, miles from the apartment, she could
not escape the dream. It was the same as before, the same, but each night it seemed to grow longer,
each night it went a little further. She was on the stoop, waiting, afraid. The door opened, and he drew
her inside, the orange warm, the air like fetid breath, the Pear-shaped Man smiling, "You can see my
things," he said, "you can have my things," and then he was undressing, his shirt first, his skin so white,
dead flesh, heavy breasts with a blue ink stain, his belt, his pants falling, polyester puddling around his
ankles, all the trash in his pockets scattering on the floor, and he really was pear-shaped, it wasn't just the
way he dressed, and then the boxer shorts last of all, and Jessie looked down despite herself and there
was no hair and it was small and wormy and kind of yellow, like a cheese curl, and it moved slightly and
the Pear-shaped Man was saying, "I want your things now, give them to me, let me see your things," and
why couldn't she run, her feet wouldn't move, but her hands did, her hands, and she began to undress.

The hotel detective woke her pounding on her door, demanding to know what the problem was and
why she was screaming.
****

She timed her return home so that the Pear-shaped Man would be away on his morning run to Santino's
Market when she arrived. The house was empty. Angela had already gone to work, leaving the living
room windows open again. Jessie closed them, locked them and pulled the drapes. With luck, the
Pear-shaped Man would never know that she'd come home.

Already the day outside was swelteringly hot. It was going to be a real scorcher. Jessie felt sweaty and
soiled. She stripped, dumped her clothing into the wicker hamper in her bedroom and immersed herself
in a long cold shower. The icy water hurt, but it was a good clean kind of hurting, and it left her feeling
invigorated. She dried her hair and wrapped herself in a huge, fluffy blue towel, then padded back to her
bedroom, leaving wet footprints on the bare wood floors.

A halter top and a pair of cutoffs would be all she'd need in this heat, Jessie decided. She had a plan for
the day firmly in mind. She'd get dressed, do a little work in her studio, and after that she could read or
watch some soaps or something. She wouldn't go outside; she wouldn't even look out the window. If the
Pear-shaped Man was at his vigil, it would be a long, hot, boring afternoon for him.

Jessie laid out her cutoffs and a white halter top on the bed, draped the wet towel over a bedpost, and
went to her dresser for a fresh pair of panties. She ought to do a laundry soon, she thought absently as
she snatched up a pair of pink bikini briefs.

A Cheez Doodle fell out.

Jessie recoiled, shuddering. It had beeninside , she thought wildly, it had been inside the briefs. The
powdery cheese had left a yellow stain on the fabric. The Cheez Doodle lay where it had fallen, in the
open drawer on top of her underwear. Something like terror took hold of her. She balled the bikini briefs
up in her fist and tossed them away with revulsion. She grabbed another pair of panties, shook them, and
another Cheez Doodle leapt out. And then another. Another. She began to make a thin, hysterical sound,
but she kept on. Five pairs, six, nine, that was all, but that was enough. Someone had opened her drawer
and taken out every pair of panties and carefully wrapped a Cheez Doodle in each and put them all back.

It was a ghastly joke, she thought. Angela, it had to be Angela who'd done it, maybe she and Donald
together. They thought this whole thing about the Pear-shaped Man was a big laugh, so they decided to
see if they could really freak her out.

Except it hadn't been Angela. She knew it hadn't been Angela.

Jessie began to sob uncontrollably. She threw her balled-up panties to the floor and ran from the room,
crushing Cheez Doodles into the carpet. Out in the living room, she didn't know where to turn. She
couldn't go back to her bedroom,couldn't , not just now, not until Angela got back, and she didn't want
to go to the windows, even with the drapes closed. He was out there; Jessie could feel it, could feel him
staring up at the windows. She grew suddenly aware of her nakedness and covered herself with her
hands. She backed away from the windows, step by uncertain step, and retreated to her studio.

Inside she found a big square package leaning up against the door, with a note from Angela taped to it.
"Jess, this came for you last evening," signed with Angie's big winged A. Jessie stared at the package,
uncomprehending. It was from Pirouette. It was her painting, the cover she'd rushed to redo for them.
Adrian had sent it back. Why?

She didn't want to know. She had to know.

Jessie ripped at the brown paper wrappings, tore them away in long, ragged strips, baring the cover
she'd painted. Adrian had written on the mat; she recognized his hand. "Not funny, kid," he'd scrawled.
"Forget it."

"No," Jessie whimpered, backing off.

There it was, her painting, the familiar background, the trite embrace, the period costumes researched so
carefully, but no, she hadn't done that, someone had changed it, it wasn't her work, the woman was her,
her, her, slender and strong with sandy blond hair and green eyes full of rapture, and he was crushing her
to him, tohim , the wet lips and white skin, and he had a blue ink stain on his ruffled lace shirtfront and
dandruff on his velvet jacket and his head was pointed and his hair was greasy and the fingers wrapped in
her locks were stained yellow, and he was smiling thinly and pulling her to him and her mouth was open
and her eyes half closed and it was him and it was her, and there was her own signature there, down at
the bottom.

"No," she said again. She backed away, tripped over an easel, and fell. She curled up into a little ball on
the floor and lay there sobbing, and that was how Angela found her, hours later.
****

Angela laid her out on the couch and made a cold compress and pressed it to her forehead. Donald
stood in the doorway between the living room and the studio, frowning, glancing first at Jessie and then in
at the painting and then at Jessie again. Angela said soothing things and held Jessie's hand and got her a
cup of tea; little by little her hysteria began to ebb. Donald crossed his arms and scowled. Finally, when
Jessie had dried the last of her tears, he said, "This obsession of yours has gone too far."

"Don't," Angela said. "She's terrified."

"I can see that," Donald said. "That's why something has to be done. She's doing it to herself, honey."

Jessie had a hot cup of Morning Thunder halfway to her mouth. She stopped dead still. "I'm doing it to
myself?" she repeated incredulously.

"Certainly," Donald said.

The complacency in his tone made Jessie suddenly, blazingly angry. "You stupid ignorant callous son of
a bitch," she roared. "I'm doing it to myself, I'm doing it,I'm doing it, howdare you say thatI'm doing it."
She flung the teacup across the room, aiming for his fat head. Donald ducked; the cup shattered and the
tea sent three long brown fingers running down the off-white wall. "Go on, let out your anger," he said. "I know you're upset. When you calm down, we can discuss this rationally, maybe get to the root of your problem."

Angela took her arm, but Jessie shook off the grip and stood, her hands balled into fists. "Go into my
bedroom, you jerk, go in there right now and look around and come back and tell me what you see."

"If you'd like," Donald said. He walked over to the bedroom door, vanished, re-emerged several
moments later. "All right," he said patiently.

"Well?" Jessie demanded.

Donald shrugged. "It's a mess," he said. "Underpants all over the floor, lots of crushed cheese curls. Tell me what you think it means."

"He broke in here!" Jessie said.

"The Pear-shaped Man?" Donald queried pleasantly.

"Of courseit was the Pear-shaped Man," Jessie screamed. "He snuck in here while we were all gone
and he went into my bedroom and pawed through all my things and put Cheez Doodles in my underwear.
He washere ! He was touching my stuff."

Donald wore an expression of patient, compassionate wisdom. "Jessie, dear, I want you to think about
what you just told us."

"There's nothing to think about!"

"Of course there is," he said. "Let's think it through together. The Pear-shaped Man was here, you
think?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"To do ... to do what he did. It's disgusting. He's disgusting."

"Hmmm," Don said. "How, then? The locks were changed, remember? He can't even get in the building.
He's never had a key to this apartment. There was no sign of forced entry. How did he get in with his bag
of cheese curls?"

Jessie had him there. "Angela left the living room windows open," she said.

Angela looked stricken. "I did," she admitted. "Oh, Jessie, honey, I'm so sorry. It was hot. I just wanted
to get a breeze, I didn't mean..."

"The windows are too high to reach from the sidewalk," Donald pointed out. "He would have needed a ladder or something to stand on. He would have needed to do it in broad daylight, from a busy street, with people coming and going all the time. He would have had to have left the same way. And then
there's the problem of the screens. He doesn't look like a very athletic sort, either."

"He did it," Jessie insisted. "He was here, wasn't he?"

"I know you think so, and I'm not trying to deny your feelings, just explore them. Has this Pear-shaped
Man ever been invited into the apartment?"

"Of course not!" Jessie said. "What are you suggesting?"

"Nothing, Jess. Just consider. He climbs in through the windows with these cheese curls he intends to
secrete in your drawers. Fine. How does he know which room is yours?"

Jessie frowned. "He ... I don't know ... he searched around, I guess."

"And found what clue? You've got three bedrooms here, one a studio, two full of women's clothing.
How'd he manage to pick the right one?"

"Maybe he did it in both."

"Angela, would you go check your bedroom, please?" Donald asked Angela rose hesitantly. "Well," she said, "okay." Jessie and Donald stared at each other until she returned a minute or so later. "All clean," she said.

"I don't know how he figured out which damned room was mine," Jessie said. "All I know is that he did.
He had to. How else can you explain what happened, huh? Do you think I did itmyself ?"

Donald shrugged. "I don't know," he said calmly. He glanced over his shoulder into the studio. "Funny, though. That painting in there, him and you, he must have done that some other time, after you finished it but before you sent it to Pirouette. It's good work, too. Almost as good as yours."

Jessie had been trying very hard not to think about the painting. She opened her mouth to throw
something back at him, but nothing flew out. She closed her mouth. Tears began to gather in the corners
of her eyes. She suddenly felt weary, confused, and very alone. Angela had walked over to stand beside
Donald. They were both looking at her.

Jessie looked down at her hands helplessly and said, "What am I going to do? God. What am I going to
do ?"

God did not answer; Donald did. "Only one thingto do," he said briskly. "Face up to your fears.
Exorcise them. Go down there and talk to the man, get to know him. By the time you come back up, you
may pity him or have contempt for him or dislike him, but you won't fear him any longer, you'll see that
he's only a human being and a rather sad one."

"Are you sure, Don?" Angela asked him.

"Completely. Confront this obsession of yours, Jessie. That's the only way you'll ever be free of it. Go
down to the basement and visit with the Pear-shaped Man."

"There's nothing to be afraid of," Angela told her again.

"That's easy for you to say."

"Look, Jess, the minute you're inside, Don and I will come out and sit on the stoop. We'll be just an
earshot away. All you'll have to do is let out the teeniest little yell and we'll come rushing right down. So
you won't be alone, not really. And you've still got that knife in your purse, right?"

Jessie nodded.

"Come on, then, remember the time that purse snatcher tried to grab your shoulder bag? You decked
him good. If this Pear-shaped Man tries anything, you're quick enough. Stab him. Run away. Yell for us.
You'll be perfectly safe."

"I suppose you're right," Jessie said with a small sigh. Theywere right. She knew it. It didn't make any
sense. He was a dirty, foul-smelling, unattractive man, maybe a little retarded, but nothing she couldn't
handle, nothing she had to be afraid of, she didn't want to be crazy, she was letting this ridiculous
obsession eat her alive and it had to stop now, Donald was perfectly correct, she'd been doing it to
herself all along and now she was going to take hold of it and stop it, certainly, it all made perfect sense
and there was nothing to worry about, nothing to be afraid of, what could the Pear-shaped Man possibly
do to her that was so terrifying? Nothing. Nothing.

Angela patted her on the back. Jessie took a deep breath, took the doorknob firmly in hand, and
stepped out of the building into the hot, damp evening air. Everything was under control.

So why was she so scared?
****

Night was falling, but down under the stairs it had fallen already. Down under the stairs it was always
night. The stoop cut off the morning sun, and the building itself blocked the afternoon light. It was dark,
so dark. She stumbled over a crack in the cement, and her foot rang off the side of a metal garbage can.
Jessie shuddered, imagining flies and maggots and other, worse things moving and breeding back there
where the sun never shone.No, mustn't think about that, it was only garbage, rotting and festering
in the warm, humid dark, mustn't dwell on it. She was at the door.

She raised her hand to knock, and then the fear took hold of her again. She could not move.Nothing to
be frightened of, she told herself,nothing at all. What could he possibly do to her? Yet still she could
not bring herself to knock. She stood before his door with her hand raised, her breath raw in her throat.
It was so hot, so suffocatingly hot. She had to breathe. She had to get out from under the stoop, get back
to where she could breathe. A thin vertical crack of yellow light split the darkness.No, Jessie thought,oh,
please no.

The door was opening.

Why did it have to open so slowly? Slowly, like in her dreams. Why did it have to open at all? The light
was so bright in there. As the door opened, Jessie found herself squinting. The Pear-shaped Man stood
smiling at her.

"I," Jessie began, "I, uh, I..."

"Thereshe is," the Pear-shaped Man said in his tinny little squeak.

"What do you want from me?" Jessie blurted.

"I knew she'd come," he said, as though she wasn't there. "I knew she'd come for my things."

"No," Jessie said. She wanted to run away, but her feet would not move.

"You can come in," he said. He raised his hand, moved it toward her face. He touched her. Five fat
white maggots crawled across her cheek and wriggled through her hair. His fingers smelled like cheese
curls. His pinkie touched her ear and tried to burrow inside. She hadn't seen his other hand move until
she felt it grip her upper arm, pulling, pulling. His flesh felt damp and cold. Jessie whimpered.
"Come in and see my things," he said. "You have to. You know you have to." And somehow she was
inside then, and the door was closing behind her, and she was there, inside, alone with the Pear-shaped
Man.

Jessie tried to get a grip on herself.Nothing to be afraid of, she repeated to herself, a litany, a charm, a
chant,nothing to be afraid of, what could he do to you, what could he do?

The room was L-shaped, low ceilinged, filthy. The sickly sweet smell was overwhelming. Four naked
light bulbs burned in the fixture above, and along one wall was a row of old lamps without shades, bare
bulbs blazing away. A three-legged card table stood against the opposite wall, its fourth corner propped
up by a broken TV set with wires dangling through the shattered glass of its picture tube. On top of the
card table was a big bowl of Cheez Doodles. Jessie looked away, feeling sick. She tried to step
backward, and her foot hit an empty Coke bottle. She almost fell. But the Pear-shaped Man caught her
in his soft, damp grip and held her upright.

Jessie yanked herself free of him and backed away. Her hand went into her purse and closed around the
knife. It made her feel better, stronger. She moved close to the boarded-up window. Outside she could
make out Donald and Angela talking. The sound of their voices, so close at hand that helped, too. She
tried to summon up all of her strength. "How do you live like this?" she asked him. "Do you need help cleaning up the place? Are you sick?" It was so hard to force out the words.

"Sick," the Pear-shaped Man repeated. "Did they tell you I was sick? They lie about me. They lie about
me all the time. Somebody should make them stop." If only he would stop smiling. His lips were so wet.
But he never stopped smiling. "I knew you would come. Here. This is for you." He pulled it from a
pocket, held it out.

"No," said Jessie. "I'm not hungry. Really." But she was hungry, she realized. She was famished. She
found herself staring at the thick orange twist between his fingers, and suddenly she wanted it
desperately. "No," she said again, but her voice was weaker now, barely more than a whisper, and the cheese curl was very close.

Her mouth sagged open. She felt it on her tongue, the roughness of the powdery cheese, the sweetness of it. It crunched softly between her teeth. She swallowed and licked the last orange flakes from her
lower lip. She wanted more.

"I knew it was you," said the Pear-shaped Man. "Now your things are mine." Jessie stared at him. It was like in her nightmare. The Pear-shaped Man reached up and began to undo the little white plastic
buttons on his shirt. She struggled to find her voice. He shrugged out of the shirt. His undershirt was
yellow, with huge damp circles under his arms. He peeled it off, dropped it. He moved closer, and heavy
white breasts flopped against his chest. The right one was covered by a wide blue smear. A dark little
tongue slid between his lips. Fat white fingers worked at his belt like a team of dancing slugs. "These are
for you," he said.

Jessie's knuckles were white around the hilt of the knife. "Stop," she whispered.

His pants settled to the floor.

She couldn't take it. No more, no more. She pulled the knife free of her bag, raised it over her head.
"Stop!"

"Ahh," said the Pear-shaped Man, "there it is."
She stabbed him.

The blade went in right to the hilt, plunged deep into his soft, white skin. She wrenched it down and out.
The skin parted, a huge, meaty gash. The Pear-shaped Man was smiling his little smile. There was no
blood, no blood at all. His flesh was soft and thick, all pale dead meat.

He moved closer, and Jessie stabbed him again. This time he reached up and knocked her hand away.
The knife was embedded in his neck. The hilt wobbled back and forth as he padded toward her. His
dead, white arms reached out and she pushed against him and her hand sank into his body like he was
made of wet, rotten bread. "Oh," he said, "oh, oh, oh." Jessie opened her mouth to scream, and the
Pear-shaped Man pressed those heavy wet lips to her own and swallowed all her sound. His pale eyes
sucked at her. She felt his tongue darting forward, and it was round and black and oily, and then it was
snaking down inside her, touching, tasting, feeling all her things. She was drowning in a sea of soft, damp
flesh.
****

She woke to the sound of the door closing. It was only a small click, a latch sliding into place, but it was
enough. Her eyes opened, and she pulled herself up. It was so hard to move. She felt heavy, tired.
Outside they were laughing. They were laughing at her. It was dim and far-off, that laughter, but she
knew it was meant for her.

Her hand was resting on her thigh. She stared at it and blinked. She wiggled her fingers, and they moved
like five fat maggots. She had something soft and yellow under her nails and deep dirty yellow stains up
near her fingertips.

She closed her eyes, ran her hand over her body, the soft heavy curves, the thicknesses, the strange hills
and valleys. She pushed and the flesh gave and gave and gave. She stood up weakly. There were her
clothes, scattered on the floor. Piece by piece she pulled them on, and then she moved across the room.
Her briefcase was down beside the door; she gathered it up, tucked it under her arm, she might need
something, yes, it was good to have the briefcase. She pushed open the door and emerged into the warm
night. She heard the voices above her: "...were right all along," a woman was saying, "I couldn't believe I'd been so silly. There's nothing sinister about him, really, he's just pathetic. Donald, I don't know how to
thank you."

She came out from under the stoop and stood there. Her feet hurt so. She shifted her weight from one to
the other and back again. They had stopped talking, and they were staring at her, Angela and Donald
and a slender, pretty woman in blue jeans and work shirt. "Come back," she said, and her voice was thin and high. "Give them back. You took them, you took my things. You have to give them back."

The woman's laugh was like ice cubes tinkling in a glass of Coke.

"I think you've bothered Jessie quite enough," Donald said.

"She has my things," she said. "Please."

"I saw her come out, and she didn't have anything of yours," Donald said.

"She took all my things," she said.

Donald frowned. The woman with the sandy hair and the green eyes laughed again and put a hand on his
arm. "Don't look so serious, Don. He's not all there."

They were all against her, she knew, looking at their faces. She clutched her briefcase to his chest.
They'd taken her things, he couldn't remember exactly what, but they wouldn't get her case, he had stuff
in there and they wouldn't get it. She turned away. He was hungry, she realized. She wanted something to
eat. He had half a bag of Cheez Doodles left, she remembered. Downstairs. Down under the stoop.

As she descended, the Pear-shaped Man heard them talking about her. He opened the door and went
inside to stay. The room smelled like home. He sat down, laid his case across his knees, and began to
eat. He stuffed the cheese curls into his mouth in big handfuls and washed them down with sips from a
glass of warm Coke straight from the bottle he'd opened that morning, or maybe yesterday. It was good.
Nobody knew how good it was. They laughed at him, but they didn't know, they didn't know about all
the nice things he had. No one knew. No one. Only someday he'd see somebody different, somebody to
give his things to, somebody who would give him all their things. Yes. He'd like that. He'd know her
when he saw her.

He'd know just what to say.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

So weird and scary😯

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Tales of Mystery and Imagination

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