The first time Bernard saw his ruination, it looked completely ordinary. It walked into his fourth-period class wearing the school uniform. The skirt was perfect length, the shoes regulation-worthy. Her name was Chelsea.
“We’re analyzing The Tempest today,” he told her, just in case she couldn’t read.
“Fine by me,” said Chelsea, and she grinned at him. Teeth all out, her bottom lip angled down. He was possessed, suddenly, with the overwhelming urge to bite it.
He talked to a math teacher about it after class.
“You’re weird, you know that?” said Eddie. He erased calculus off the board.
“Beauty is geometry,” replied Bernard vaguely.
Eddie turned around and smiled. “Your eyes are somewhere else.”
It was funny, though. She kissed him first. After class on Tuesday, she pulled Bernard closer by his striped tie, and kissed him on the lips. And then she drove him home in her Santro and they made love.
“Finish the Shakespeare assignment though, won’t you?” said Bernard, smiling. He sat up on one elbow and looked at Chelsea.
“Of course,” she said. “Bernard—wait, can I call you that?”
“Bernard, then. I was thinking that, maybe, you know, I could move in.”
He took off his glasses and rubbed the lenses against his discarded jacket. Fibre rose into the air between them. “Wouldn’t your parents mind?”
She laughed and recoiled her hair into its bun. Sweat from their lovemaking still dotted her neck. “I don’t suppose so, Bernard, no,” she said. “They don’t mind about anything, much.”
On Sunday, she moved in. He helped her unload a tow-truck of her belongings into his home. She stood in the doorway of their room, and swiped a long finger down the edge of the wall. Dust danced in the air.
“Do you not clean this, Bernard?”
“Not often, no.”
“Do you not like to?”
“Not particularly. Cleaning was Nina’s thing, not mine.”
“Your wife?” she asked, and finally she looked at him.
“Not anymore,” he said, unnecessarily.
“I see,” she said.
He didn’t ask her what she saw.
The next morning, the phone woke him.
“Bern, this is Eddie.”
“What?” said Bernard, his voice hoarse. Next to him, the bed was empty.
“I said it’s Eddie. Listen, what’s this about you and a girl?”
“What?” he said again. He walked across the hallway to the bathroom, and tried the door. Unlocked. Empty.
“What the fuck is wrong with you? Have you been drinking or something?”
“I—no. What is it?”
“The girl, Bernard. What is this horseshit?”
He sighed and sat down on the toilet lid. “How did you find out?”
“Fuck, man, it’s on the front page.”
“You didn’t tell me it was serious,” said Eddie, more quietly.
“It wasn’t,” said Bernard, although it was.
“Have you slept with her?”
“Don’t tell me, actually. Listen, I just thought you should know, all right? And I wouldn’t bother coming in today.”
“There’s a statement from the principal in the paper. She’s suspending you.”
“Right. Eddie, do you—“
Only silence and the dial tone. Bernard stood up and opened the bathroom cabinet. The box of tampons was gone. He walked through the rest of the house. He already knew, before the third check, that she’d taken everything.
That night he got drunk at the Seven Steps.
“Don’t you have work tomorrow?” said the bartender, when Bernard ordered his thirteenth vodka.
“No,” said Bernard shortly.
“Oh my God,” said the bartender, stopping mid-way through pouring the drink. “It’s you, isn’t it? Aren’t you the one who seduced that student from Middlemoor?”
“No,” said Bernard. “Would I be that stupid?”
“It is,” insisted the bartender. “I saw your ID. Your name’s Bernard.”
“Yeah. But I’m Bernard Shaw. He’s Bernard Cook.”
“Oh, yes, I see,” said the bartender. “Yes, right you are, then. Anyway, got robbed, he did. By this girl. She ran away with fucking everything. His phone, his TV. Five thousand in cash.”
“Bitch,” said Bernard drily.
“So your name's Bernard Shaw, you say? Like the writer?”
“Yepo,” said Bernard. “Pour me another drink, will you?”
“Sure,” said the bartender. “It’s real weird, though. You look mighty like that other Bernard. You know, the one in the papers.”
“Do I?” said Bernard.