I used to live with this girl who would collect pieces of her boyfriends. Not in a macabre, I’m going to cut off your penis and pickle it in a jar for I am a scorned woman kind of a way. It was more that she’d collect the pieces of them that they left behind. No, not in a histrionic, bunny-boiler, let me squeeze out every ounce of your personality and your emotions and store them in my secret hiding place kind of way. Her actions were calculated and focused, whilst her subjects remained unaware and relatively unharmed. She’d gather the parts of them that they would shed with a natural readiness. Things like eyelashes and those little hairs from your eyebrows which don’t seem to have a name, pubic hairs and toe nails and finger nails. Nothing too gross.
We lived together during our uni days and I knew that she was a kook from the moment I laid eyes on her. She didn’t fall into any obvious stereotypes; on the face of it she seemed pretty normal. But I could tell that there was something odd about her and rather than feel threatened or weirded out by it, I guess it made me feel better about myself. It made me feel more ordinary. Plus it was a good talking point when it came to meeting new people.
We talked about it one night after dinner, not exactly an appetising conversation topic – I was just pleased she wasn’t harvesting bodily fluids as well. She had no qualms about discussing it, quite the contrary she relished the opportunity to indulge me. Not only was she was willing to explain her intentions to me, she seemed quite proud of them. She told me that she was trying to create an essence. Not knowing much about Chemistry and feeling cynical towards witchcraft I questioned her further about this.
“So Janine, are you creating a science project?”
“Nope.” At the time she was leaning forward, tweezers poised as she lowered herself towards her bedspread. “This is something that requires precision and dedication. Not some childish school activity.”
She blew her overgrown fringe away from her eyes with a gentle breath, so as to clear her vision.
“Okay. Are you trying to make a wig for Hallowe’en so that you can come as Cousin It? I could borrow Dan’s white swimming cap and go as Uncle Fester.”
“Sarah, I don’t know why I bother to try to explain things to you. You don’t seem to appreciate the seriousness of them.
I rolled my eyes never fearing that she would catch me. She was too intent on the extraction of pubic hairs from her maroon sheets.
“I don’t get it – isn’t it hard for you to see the hairs? I mean the sheet’s already pretty dark in colour… Do you even know what you are looking for?” Despite my partial disgust I remained curious.
“Ah – huh. Got one.” Janine raised the tweezers which were pinched tight shut around their catch and brought it towards the light. She lowered her glasses down her nose.
“Let’s see.” I was excited in spite of myself. I leant down next to her to examine her find.
“Oh bugger. It’s just one of mine.” She sounded disappointed.
“Eww.” I scrunched up my lips. “Well, how do you know it’s yours? Don’t pubes look pretty similar?” I was aware of how silly that sounded before the words had even left my mouth.
Janine had placed the light brown hair onto a white saucer on her bedside table. “Now, Sarah – don’t you ever look at your own pubic region? Surely you know what colour your own hair is?”
Janine had a way of sounding superior without having to try hard. I sighed, better to let Janine think she knew best than to bother with a rebuttal.
“Yes – here we go. This is more like it. You beauty!”
Janine had gleaned a new specimen from the crumpled bedspread and was reaching towards the overhead light to give it a closer examination. Ever the dutiful student, I moved closer to listen to the tutorial. Janine cleared her throat.
“As you can see, this hair is thick and wiry. Notice how it is twisted in to tight coils. If you compare it to the previous hair, you will notice that it is dark, almost black and lacks the softness of my own pubic hair. Would you like to take a closer look?” Janine offered this opportunity with genuine eagerness.
I recoiled by instinct. “Er, no but thanks for the offer.” I needed an excuse. “I think I’ll go and put the kettle on. Do you fancy a cuppa? I’ve made some nice cake to go with it.”
“Oh lovely.” Janine replied. “Just give me a chance to wash up this saucer – don’t want you to get any hairs stuck in your throat.”
I had to fight the urge to heave at the thought. I made the mistake of turning back towards Janine as she popped open a half full Kilner jar and inserted the latest delicate sample. It rested on an assortment of dry matted hairs that had been tugged from a hair brush; nails that had been clipped and left to rot on the floor and the slightly damp, gooey collection of drain hairs.
Over tea and cake, the latter of which I couldn’t quite stomach, Janine attempted to explain her plans to create this essence – The Very Essence. This was going to be its full title. She told me how she planned to market it to the producers of a reality TV show. You know, one of those – you sell me your business plan and I’ll give you the cash to realise your dreams – types. I didn’t really understand all that she was saying to me. She bombarded me with technical terms that were way over my simple head. I’m pretty sure that the gist of it was this: it was her hope that she could create an elixir that would help men and women across the world – the victims of rotten relationships – to avoid bad boyfriends in the future. This essence would be like anti-venom and it would save a lot of heartache. I suppose her zealous attitude was something to find endearing – if you could get beyond the ridiculousness of it all.
At the time, I pasted a polite smile on my lips and contemplated a response that would be neither overtly sarcastic nor insincere. I settled by making small talk about the tea so as to change the subject to something more fitting, as I contemplated the logistics of a moonlight flit. Not long after, I managed to find some other sucker to take my room whilst I moved on, claiming to be in need of a change of scene. I was sure to make the flat and, more importantly the flat mate seem appealing. So I claimed that Janine was a secret millionaire with a penchant for eccentricity. Looking back on it now, I guess Janine wasn’t all that unusual. Now I’m sharing with a quiet, unassuming girl called Tina, by day she’s in telecommunications – a call centre rep, in other words – and on the weekends she dresses herself in rubber and spends her time as a dominatrix called Lola at the local bondage club. Flat mate number two is a bloke called Phil who spends most of his time in the back garden training to be an unicyclist – although he still uses stabilisers. The rest of the time he does yoga in the living room in a grey Unitard. Sometimes I wonder if this is karmic payback for stealing Janine’s Kilner jar.