I work at Steward’s Pharmacy on 25 Ogden Street, over by Grosvenor Square. I am someone who detests the company of others, and there are two crucial things about my day that never change: At half past six each night I curl up in my leather armchair with my Irish setter Stafford at my feet, and enjoy a double whiskey and a book either by Edgar Allen Poe or Henry James. Two logs on the fire…no more, no less. At a quarter past 2, every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, never one minute early or late, a certain man comes into the pharmacy who I have fallen madly in love with. He does not know my name - it’s Genevieve, by the way - nor the tenor of my voice or any personal details about my life. Instead, he walks up to the register with the same two items each time. He drops his head respectfully. I nod my head back. He pays, then goes. After five years I have come to the conclusion that he is, in fact, a man of substance. Firstly, he always has exact change. It’s a practice I believe has something to do with him not wanting to waste his time nor mine. It’s actually the epitome of consideration, when you think it over. And take the way he selects his razors: He studies them with care, never choosing them haphazardly but rather executing practical thinking about which looks smartest and sharpest. He’ll stand there for twenty minutes at a time, and this precision must account for the fact that his shave is always close and smooth. Then there is the aftershave he purchases…sandalwood…my favorite scent. He buys one small vial, thrice weekly, rather than purchasing it in bulk. Most customers want the large bottle, so as to ensure a cumbersome backlog in their home and avoid more trips to the shop. This is a practice that promotes laziness rather than keeping one sharp and active. No, this certain man stays sharp. He’s the kind of man who enjoys the little excursions and trips in life. He’s the kind of man that has trouble sitting still. He’s the kind of man who puts more stock in a brisk walk than a sit down with a psychiatrist. Last week I decided something: That particular Monday would be different. That particular Monday, I would speak to him. My heart had ached long enough. I had spent too many nights imagining us lying in bed together, me reading a book, my head resting on his chest, breathing in the smell of sandalwood as I turned each page. But when the day came and he stood selecting a razor, I was suddenly overcome with panic. Was I ready to possibly burst the large bubble that was five years in the making? Once I spoke with him and made it real, there’d be no going back. People live off the mere prospect of possibilities…often until they’re lying on their death bed. No, I wasn’t ready to lose that yet. It was a perfectly satisfying love story unto itself. What I was ready for was knowing more about this man; if only to add more flair to the running pictures in my mind. And maybe, just maybe, one day when we did speak, I’d have more insight into his interests. I told my boss I was feeling ill and left the pharmacy early that day, following my beloved out of the shop. My certain man looked so regal and poised amongst other passersby who slouched their shoulders and loitered down the sidewalks. This man stood out…that was evident. There was nothing idle about him. His brisk pace was one of purpose. Soon, we were in Belgravia. I wasn’t surprised: I always imagined him as a man of means. He approached a certain white townhouse and took the steps in twos. Of course. But what surprised me was he did not get his key and go inside but rather, he rang the bell. I looked up into the windows, noticing how one room was even more lavish than the next. I saw through one window a tall, older man - smartly dressed - come down the stairs. He opened the door for my beloved. The two greeted one another formally and quickly, as acquaintances would. Then both went inside and made their way to a sitting room on the second floor. It was then I suddenly felt guilty as to how I was spending my Monday afternoon. I looked down at myself: Here I was stalking and spying on a man who knew nothing of my existence. How pathetic, how lonely, and how small this suddenly seemed. Poor Genevieve, with no friends or family to speak of. I have always detested people, save for this certain man. People bog me down, put me off. Yet here is this one person that doesn’t. No - I’d had no other choice but to follow him. I stared back up towards the second floor window. The tall man was getting into a high chair set in the middle of the room. And my beloved was doing the oddest thing: He draped a sheet around his neck and tied it. Then he unpacked the razor and aftershave he’d bought in my very shop. He had the rest of what he needed in a small kit; shaving brush and lathering lotion. I frowned, slightly disappointed. Was this man I had so worshipped a mere barber to the wealthy? My bubble was bursting, and I cursed myself for following him. But then — as I watched him take each tool out meticulously and inspect them - I chastised myself for my snobbery. It doesn’t matter what his craft is, I thought, it just matters that he executes it with the greatest of respect and care. Which clearly — he did. As he spread the shaving cream on the tall man, and began his work, I marveled at his precision. Look at the smooth lines of his strokes, so geometric, so exacting. So… Then I drew in a sharp breath as an odd thing happened. The tall man began to writhe, quite violently, and his knuckles whitened on the arms of the high chair. His feet kicked out and I worried he was having some kind of an episode. Something with the heart maybe. But then I saw that something red was spooling heavily down the front of the sheet. My beloved was blocking the man’s face, so I could not see much more than that. Had a terrible accident befallen his customer? Should I call the hospital? But as this certain man moved to the side I gasped: A large, deep gash suddenly ran across the left side of the tall man’s jugular from ear to Adam’s apple. Yes it was blood that was spilling out, uncontrollably. An accident…it must be…a slip of the hand, I resolved, a little wildly. But then this certain man made the exact same mistake on the right side as his customer clutched at him wildly. Yes, he ran his razor from Steward’s Pharmacy on 25 Ogden Street from ear to Adam’s apple, and a flow of blood came spurting out of the open gash. Then, he stepped back to watch his work. We both did. At some point, the customer ceased to convulse and expired, right there on the high chair. I cannot recount my exact thoughts in that moment other than to say I could not look away. And it was then this certain man did the strangest thing: He took the vial of sandalwood aftershave and poured it out onto his hands. He applied it, with care, to the clean part of the late customer’s face. Then…he applied it to his own face. Not only that, he smelled his hands after he did, clearly intoxicated by the aroma. I had read about murder rituals in novels…but never had I seen one up close. This certain man wasted no time. He quickly began to pack his things; all calm and collected with a bright smile. He did this often, I could tell. I turned away from the house and looked at my hands, searching myself for my reaction. Really…I just felt numb. Was I in shock? I had unknowingly fallen in love with a killer. And for five years I had sold him his murder weapon with a nod and a smile. Poor Genevieve. Too pathetic to call the police. Too frozen to know how she feels. I stared back up at the dead customer, all carved up. Should I help him? But then I realized it wouldn’t be long till someone came and discovered him. I resolved that I should go. Suddenly though, I felt a presence that sent a cold shiver up my spine. I looked down towards the front door and saw none other than my beloved, standing on the steps watching me. In my horror I’d come out from the shadows of the alley I’d been hiding in, lost in my own thoughts. He stared at me with recognition, then nodded politely. I nodded back. Then I walked briskly off, panicked. As I looked back I saw that he had not moved. He was simply watching me, not following me. For two nights I barely slept. Visions of this certain man haunted me, and I wondered if he would come find me. He knew I had seen his crime. And I envisioned those sharp, green eyes staring at me, taking me in. What tortured me most was that I could not find the strength to call the police. Instead, I had spent my time imagining the kill, over and over and over again. It had been a clean kill, a precise one. The lines of the gash as perfectly smooth and straight as the blade of the razor itself. Why was this what I was thinking about? I resolved myself to the fact that I was still in shock and let it rest at that. By Wednesday I felt better. What had happened suddenly felt more like a far-off dream. My former beloved would no longer come to the shop for fear of being found out — that fact that certain. And as much as I mourned for his victims, I was not at all equipped to become some kind of a vigilante seeking justice. No, that chapter of my life was done. And I concluded that the matter would be closed. Then, at a quarter past 2, a certain man walked into the shop. My certain man. Yes, it was Wednesday…but still, this surprised me. I had a newfound respect for this man’s dedication to his rituals. My heart began to pound. What was he doing here? I watched as he walked to where the razors are. He stopped in front of them - inspecting each carefully - like he always did. He had not glanced in my direction nor done anything differently than usual. And soon he was approaching the register with a razor and a vial of sandalwood. He dropped his head respectfully, and I nodded back. Then he gave me exact change and went. Maybe he trusted I would be silent. Maybe he knew I’d loved him for five years. Maybe he thought me too weak to challenge him. Maybe what he had just purchased was intended for me. That night I stuck to my routine. I sat in my armchair at half past six with a double whiskey and an Edgar Allen Poe story, and concentrated on Lady Rowena. But when the clock was close to striking seven, Stafford perked up. A noise had come from the front of the small flat. Stafford and I looked at one another, and listened as a small scraping sound continued from the front door. At first it was quiet, then it got louder. Someone was jiggling the lock, and in mere moments it gave way. For some reason I didn’t feel the urge to move. Instead I stayed in my chair and watched as a very certain man, a man of substance, walked to the threshold of my small living room. How grand he looked in the context of this small room. Stafford began to growl, but I told him to hush, which he did. He’s very obedient. The man stared at me, and seemed to be drinking me in, with some pleasure. Then he slowly took his shave kit out of his briefcase. “It’s time, Genevieve.” He said, politely. My heart began to pound, but I realized I was not scared. I was about to meet my maker, and yet an inexplicable calm had come over me. I got up from my chair and searched for something to sit on. I spotted a stool next to the fireplace. “Will that do?” I asked, quietly. He nodded. My first words to him. So ordinary. So every day. I went to the stool and wondered, would he be shaving me first? There was nothing to shave. I was curious as to how he would go about this. I was no doubt a foil in his usual ritual and routine. It made me feel strange and unbalanced. Here he was with a very precise methodology, and I was spoiling it. I was lost in my thoughts, clearly for too long, as I felt him approach me from behind. He stood there, his face close to my hair, and the smell of sandalwood overwhelmed me. “Please bring that to the center of the room and sit.” He requested politely. I nodded. My intention had been to reach for the stool, but instead it was the fire poker that found its way to my hands…then somehow its way through the abdomen of my former beloved. This was not me, this was someone else. And as this certain man fell to the floor in agony, poker impaled through his stomach, this someone else watched him writhe like an animal. This someone else enjoyed what they were seeing. This someone else smiled as the light began to leave his green eyes, and the blood spooled out onto the floor at an exacting pace. Maybe I was doing this certain man a favor. He had been about to break his ritual, his routine; an action he could never take back. No, he should die with dignity, I thought resolutely. Better to expire than compromise his craft. In his final moments he stared up at me, with shock and - albeit - some respect. I stared, breathing in sandalwood, still unable to look away. And as he drew in his final breath and his body went limp I realized something… I did not mind this. Actually, I liked it. Yes. Maybe I would do it again.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: LAURA KOSANN is a 2021 Academy Nicholl Fellow. Both her screenplays THE IDEAL WOMAN and FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW were on the annual 2021 Black List. She is currently adapting a graphic novel title at MGM with The Picture Company producing. Her script FROM LITTLE ACORNS GROW is set up at Innis Free. Laura wrote, directed and produced her debut feature film The Social Ones, winning the Audience Award for Best Comedy at Cinequest. Previously, she co-founded the popular online lifestyle magazine and production company, The New Potato. Featuring chic content, playful stories and profiles on people like Lester Holt, Jodie Comer and Ato Blankston-Wood, it has been included in Vogue, Instyle and New York Magazine. She has written, directed and produced video shorts for TNP that have been featured on both Access Hollywood and The Today Show, as well as large-scale video campaigns for brands like Kate Spade, Mattel and PepsiCo. Previously she worked at the Delacorte Theater and produced content for Showtime. Handles and websites: Instagram - @lkosann Twitter - @laurakosann Substack: https://laurakosann.substack.com/