The first time Nancy saw the man in the good looking suit was at her housewarming party, right after the new year. Nancy decided to throw the fiesta to help herself cope with the post-holiday blues, that long stretch of time between January and March when the sun never comes out in San Francisco. Her best friend Vera was sitting with Nancy, gabbing away on the couch. Several people had come already to tell her how lovely the place was, how the built-ins were cute, and isn’t the view just the tits? Nancy glared between the crowd standing in her living room, and got just a peak at him from behind, standing on her fire escape with a group of others, smoking an unfiltered cigarette. The timeless style of his suit was revealed as he turned, staring at her intensely, and walked to the left.
“Who invited that guy?” Nancy asked Vera. She motioned to Good Looking Suit as he walked out of view. Vera just missed him. “Did you see him? He’s kinda overdressed.” Vera laughed her off.
“I don’t know, Nance. It’s your place. Maybe you should go and check him out.”
Nancy’s gut reaction was that Vera was right. But she hesitated. And she a had good reason to. His name was Dan. Dan Brubaker, her previous boyfriend of eleven months. The last time she saw Dan, he said some pretty awful things to Nancy. She never told Vera, or anybody for that matter, exactly what he said. She simply told them they were over, done, kaput. On to the next one. And she certainly didn’t tell anybody about that night she’d popped over to Dan’s apartment, and caught him. Doing what, exactly, she sometimes refused to even let herself believe. No, she’d never tell about that.
After Dan, Nancy had gone through a long bout of the shut-ins. Straight to work, then back to her broom closet in the southern part of the city where she sat watching trash TV, and trying to forget what had happened. In truth, Nancy stayed in because of that plastic bag and the sound it made. Then the phone calls where Dan said nothing on the other end of the line. And the hate texts. Then, one day in November, Nancy awoke to Dan knocking on the door of her apartment. He was there to make good on his promise, that terrible last thing he’d said. Nancy screamed so loud the lady across the hall knocked on the door, and lo-and-behold, Dan did not get to finish. The next day, Nancy began looking, and the apartment in the Embarcadero fell in her lap. She acted quickly, and she certainly didn’t tell Dan Brubaker where she’d gone.
But she wasn’t ready to follow after the man in the good looking suit. She’d already had a few beers, and was nursing the glass of wine Vera had poured her and she worried she'd come across drunk. Plus, it was cold out there in February. She suddenly felt very sad about her predicament, knowing that the party would eventually dwindle. She would most likely wind up in her pajamas in a couple of hours anyway, and spend tomorrow nursing the hangover she deserved for mixing wine and beer...
...three hours after her new apartment had cleared out, she saw the man in the good looking suit again -- standing on her fire escape, smoking an unfiltered cigarette, watching her through the open window. It was raining. That was the first thing that struck her as odd. That it was raining, and he was out there smoking. Only she had watched all her friends leave. This apartment was palatial by bay area standards, but Nancy would have known if someone else was here with her.
She stalked over to the window just as Good Looking Suit broke his gaze with her, and took a few steps to the left, out of sight. Nancy threw open the pane and followed out onto the fire escape, soaking wet nine stories up... But the man was gone. She glared over the railing, hoping he hadn’t chosen her house warming party as the perfect setting for some suicide grab, and found herself relieved that there was no crumpled body lying in the glare of a streetlight below. “Okay, weird...” she told herself. But she was tipsy and her neighbor could probably see right through her blouse it was so wet, so she’d better go inside--
WHAM! The window to her apartment slammed closed behind her, giving Nancy a fright. When she went to open it, the window was stuck shut. Nancy shoved, putting her shoulder into it, but the thing just wouldn’t budge. As she drunkenly thought to herself, “See? This is what you get for moving to an apartment you can barely afford, and throwing yourself a congratulatory party you can barely finish--” when she saw the man in the good looking suit behind her in the reflection of the rain-splattered glass. Nancy gasped as the man’s reflection... smiled at her. That smile said -- “Hello, nice to meet you, Nancy. Even out here in the rain.”
But when Nancy turned around -- the man was gone again. Just as suddenly as it had slammed shut, the window behind her raked open with a SCREECH. The billowing curtains, flecked with fat drops of rainwater, beckoned Nancy back inside... but suddenly she didn’t want to go. Suddenly, her flesh broke out in goose pimples. Suddenly, she wished she’d never even moved here in the first place.
She stood there several moments in the rain, coaxing herself back into her home. “Do it, Nancy. You’re seeing things Nancy. Go to bed, Nancy. Sleep it the fuck off.”
Nancy took a defiant step off of the fire escape, and back into the warmth of her apartment, expecting to see the man in the good looking suit there -- standing, smoking, smiling. But he wasn’t. Instead, there was nothing.
Nancy turned, and closed the window, pausing for a moment to look out into the rainy San Francisco night, just to make sure she wasn’t crazy. She stood close enough for her breath to fog against the glass, and then lept away from it when she saw, written in the condensation, the words: SAFE LIFE.
SAFE LIFE. She began to see it everywhere in her apartment. It was scrawled into her wallpaper, so she patched over it. Her printer suddenly spit out pages and pages, SAFE LIFE written in every font available to her word processor. So Nancy turned off the printer. She’d gone through a few phone numbers already, due to the text messages. SAFE. LIFE.
Always coupled with a vision of Good Looking Suit gazing intently through her windows. It was a gaze reserved for men trying to attract the attention of a woman across a crowd of people, at a bar, or a concert. It was a gaze that said this man wanted her. A gaze that made Nancy shiver each time she saw him. He never spoke, he only ever looked at her through the windows. She’d walk by one, see his reflection, and then it’d slam open. The doors too. Hinges splintered when she saw Good Looking Suit in the bathroom mirror, and the door -KRAM!- flew unbolted. She’d find the front door wide open in the mornings sometimes, puddles in the living room from the gaping picture window. Finally, the kitchen knives. Always on the tile floor in the morning. Woken from sleep one night by her bedroom door slamming open, Nancy went to the kitchen for some water, where she witnessed the top drawer slide open, all her steak knives jump out on their own volition, and fly across to the wall opposite, where they stuck there. “Nancy, get the fuck outta here,” she said to herself.
When she went online to start looking for a new place on Craigslist, the cursor on the browser just kept ticking: safelifesafelifesafelifesafelife.
Nancy stood up from her desk so hard her chair fell over. She screamed at the empty apartment, dialed Vera on instinct, got her voice mail, and stormed out of her home.
Nancy had never dealt with... a situation quite like this one. Naturally, she thought the only solution would be to quietly step away from this, like she did with Dan. She calmly entered her SafeWay, looking for the Real Estate Weekly, because the man in the good looking suit certainly couldn’t stop her from doing this the old fashioned way. She bought her paper, and as she stood in line at the check out... there was Dan Brubaker, watching another clerk put some oranges into a plastic bag. “Better double up,” Dan said.
Suddenly filled with a pang of oh shit please don’t let him see me paranoia, Nancy turned and edged down the aisle, edging out the door. The three blocks home were a tunnel vision of anxiety, and she felt pissed at herself for allowing Dan to have this effect on her, almost a year later... but it was seeing those bags in his hands, and thinking about what he’d done with the last one, that set her stomach in knots.
Nancy swore she heard his footsteps behind her the whole way home, the bag with the oranges in it making a swish-swish at his side. No, no, no. He hadn’t seen her. She couldn’t even bring herself to turn and look back. Especially not the footsteps in the stairwell behind her, coupled with the sound of someone crinkling what could only be a plastic bag, soft thuds on the cement -- oranges falling out? -- as she briskly entered her hallway, digging for her keys. Nancy entered her front door, and turned to slam it closed -- but Dan had followed her home from the grocery store... it was, she realized later, the first time in months she hadn’t thought of the man in the good looking suit.
Dan took advantage of Nancy’s unlocked apartment door, and shoved her inside, knocking her onto her ass. “Nice place you got here, Nance,” he said. Dan removed the crumpled plastic grocery bags, empty of their oranges, from his back pocket. He stared at them with great intensity, as if somehow possessed by the crackling Celloplast.
“You thought you got away, Nance,” he said, standing over her on the floor. “But after what you saw?” Even though she’d put it out of her mind all these months, the image came flooding back to Nancy. Dan, in his living room, with the woman in the short leather skirt. She was topless, his pants were off, and he had that plastic bag over her head, the bottom pulled tight around her neck, her lips shown in relief, her panicked breath sucking the bag in-out-in-out with a sickening, repetitive, crunch-suck-crunch. Nancy knew why she tried to forget it. Because of this very moment. Because of what Dan had said after she’d dumped him. “I’ll find you, Nance. I’ll show you what it’s like to have the bag. And I’ll make you like it.”
Dan stomped forward, and Nancy tried to crawl out from under him -- but she was too shocked and he was too quick. The plastic grocery bag crinkled in front of her face and she read the oncoming words. SafeWay: Ingredients For Life. As the bag was shoved down over her head, Nancy could see the word SAFE in her left eye, and the word LIFE in her right one. And it was here that Good Looking Suit popped right back into her head.
Nancy knelt there on the wood floor of her apartment, gasping for air. She could feel Dan against her back as he stood behind her, choking the life out of her wind pipe. SAFE -- LIFE. These two words she’d seen all around the apartment, so clear and vivid before her eyes now. Not a taunt from the ghost in the good looking suit, but instead: a warning. “Too bad,” thought Nancy, as she struggled beneath Dan’s grip. “Too bad I didn’t decipher that earlier.”
Nancy refused to let this thought of defeat and regret be her very last, but it was all that ran through her head as her vision of the two words SAFE and LIFE began to fade, the inside of the plastic bag becoming wet and slick with her heavy breathing. Her world faded, becoming a narrow pin hole of light.
Nancy faintly made out the sound of something crashing open across the room, the zipping she heard made by multiple projectiles grazing past her. The THUMP on the floor beside her... the feeling of the bag over her head suddenly coming loose -- her hands, prickly with sensation, reaching up and tearing the thing from her face. Nancy turned...
...to find Dan, askew on the carpet, his chest and neck riddled with every kitchen knife Nancy thought she owned.
Nancy stood, coughing, in her empty apartment. She watched as Dan spat blood in his death throws, gurgling, then lay still.
Nancy ran to the front door, desperate to get out and away. When she opened it, Nancy got only about three inches of purchase, before it slammed closed again on its own volition -- like a pressure had suddenly been applied from the inside out. Then all the windows in the apartment smashed open so hard, the glass broke -- gusting cold air all around Nancy.
Nancy spun round in a circle, eyes frantically falling on Dan’s plastic bag twirling in a corner, pinned there by some unnatural force. From the fire escape, the man in the good looking suit glared at Nancy with that lusty, across-the-bar stare. She swore she could smell the smoke from his cigarette waft into the apartment. A warm quivering ran through her torso as she looked from the spectre to Dan’s body on the floor. She realized that he had saved her from Dan, from certain death. It was the nicest thing anybody had ever done for her.
Then suddenly Nancy was ready. She was ready to introduce herself to this dashing man in his dashing suit. “How can I ever thank you?" she asked. "I don’t even know your name."
The man’s lips did not move, but his cool voice ran through her head -- a voice filled with vibrato, the hint of an accent Nancy couldn’t quite place. It was beautiful.
“May I come in?” said the man in the good looking suit.
"Yes, of course," replied Nancy.
And then he told her his name.