TRIGGER WARNING FOR OF SEXUAL ASSAULT
Before she does anything else, Delphine takes a moment to sit down and roll a joint. She does it slowly, carefully, savouring the experience. Every precise movement of her hands, from spreading the paper on her desk and carefully arranging the line of weed down the middle, to flicking her thumbs in just the right way to wrap the whole thing into a neat cylinder, is a distinct pleasure. In some ways, rolling the joint is just as satisfying as smoking it. Part of this satisfaction, Delphine believes, is because you enjoy anything you’re good at.
That’s sort of her motto, actually.
She sits by the window as she smokes, watching the way the late afternoon sun filters through the leaves of the sycamore tree outside. One of her neighbours is playing a Lou Reed album, the familiar gruff, wheezy voice floating across the still air of the courtyard. Delphine holds her breath for a moment, imagining that she can feel the smoke curling and spreading deep inside her lungs, then exhales slowly, luxuriously.
Afterwards, as her body begins to enter the slow, dreamy state that really good pot always brings on, she begins to get dressed. She has a Session today, so it doesn’t much matter what she wears — she’ll just have to change into whatever the Company has picked out for her today as soon as she gets there. Still, she chooses her clothing carefully, taking the time to put together an outfit that pleases her.
It’s nice to look nice, after all.
She digs an off-white baby doll dress out of her closet and pulls it over her head, tying a wide pink ribbon around her waist as a belt. Her tights today are wine-coloured and her shoes are a pair of scuffed-up brown ballet flats – boring, but she knows from experience that she won’t be able to walk in heels by the time the night is over. Last comes the jewellery, layers and layers of necklaces and bracelets; the clinking and swaying as she walks make her feel gaudy and mysterious, like a Hollywood gypsy. She slides rings on her fingers, three on each hand, and puts on her lucky earrings, big, round gold studs.
There’s no point in putting on much makeup, because they’ll just make her wash it all off, so she settles for bright red lipstick and an oversized pair of sunglasses. The finishing touch is her fur coat, a slightly-ratty, knee-length leopard skin affair, one of those remarkable Value Village finds that happen once in a lifetime. Some days the coat makes her feel like a 60s movie star; other days, it makes her feel like Kurt Cobain. Both versions of herself make her happy.
She has some time before the Company’s car arrives to pick her up, so she sits down at her computer and logs onto the oracle message board. Delphine discovers that there’s a new post from the early hours of the morning, so she clicks to open it. She’s surprised to discover a note from Sibyl saying that she’s resigning, effective immediately – the last she’d heard, Sibyl was enjoying her work and was being booked frequently for various Sessions. Sybil doesn’t give any reason for her resignation, either; her post is little more than a brief paragraph saying that she’s enjoyed her time with the Company and wishes them all well.
Sibyl is the third oracle to resign this year. They lost another one, Pythia, just last month. The turnover rate for oracles is pretty high.
Most women leave of their own free will, of course. The Company has to let some of them go, of course, but those cases are few and far between. The vast majority quit because they want to get clean, although a few have quit because of sexual assault or, in one case, rape and battery. Not that they ever come right out and say these things on the message board, which is the only way they’re allowed to interact with each other. They have to use code words, and in this way somehow manage to tell each other quite a lot even while saying very little.
Sexual assault isn’t really uncommon in their line of work; considering what goes on during the Sessions, most of the oracles consider it to be pretty much par for the course. Delphine suspects that it’s happened to her a few times – not penetration, but probably at least groping, maybe even more. She’s woken up to suspicious bruises and unusual aches, and once there was even the angry red imprint of a hand on her breast. It used to upset her, but she’s since come to the conclusion that it’s something she’s willing to accept. Like most of the other oracles, it’s a price that she’s more than willing to pay for all the perks that come with their job. Because there really are so many perks. None of them can say that the Company doesn’t treat them well.
The Company pays for everything the oracles have. It pays their rent, pays all their bills, and pays for the sleek black cars that shuttle them everywhere. It provides excellent health benefits, with full coverage for dental and prescription drugs. Speaking of drugs, the Company pays for those, too, or rather, it supplies them. They’re the best Delphine has ever had, and you can get just about anything you ask for.
Delphine’s drug of choice is heroin, which she realizes is passé in terms of recreational drug use. She likes to think of it as retro-chic – hey, the 90s are back, right? – and has become an expert at finding out-of-the-way veins and contorting herself into strange shapes in order to shoot up. It goes without saying that she can’t have track marks on her arms; that would ruin the look.
Track marks are not a part of the Delphine that the Company is selling.
Delphine wasn’t always Delphine, of course. At some point, in the now-distant past, she was Veronica, a round-faced, well-scrubbed girl from a nice family. She lived in a small prairie town, did reasonably well in high school, and had a nice boyfriend. After graduation, Veronica and her nice boyfriend moved to Toronto, a two-and-a-half hour flight from home, and got a cute little apartment together. Things were great.
Except then the nice boyfriend turned out to be not-so-nice and it wasn’t long before Veronica had nowhere to live and no way of making money. Too proud to go crawling back to her parents and her armpit of a hometown, she was determined to make her way in the big city on her own.
Things were feeling dire for a while. She lived with a succession of terrible roommates in a succession of tiny, filthy apartments while working a slew of miserable, minimum wage jobs. She blew all her money on bad drugs, which were still better than no drugs, and started to feel like she was never going to get out of the trap she’d found herself in. Looking back, she has to admit that she wasn’t far from reaching the point where she would flee back to the prairies, tail between her legs, when one day she came across a cryptic Craigslist ad.
The rest is, well, history. The Company rechristened her Delphine and, at the age of 18, she began her career as an oracle.
Delphine’s phone buzzes, shaking her out of her reverie, and she picks it up, expecting to see a text from her driver. Instead, she sees that it’s Andrew calling her.
“Uh, hi Delphine. I was just calling because I wanted to make sure that you got the thing I sent you. You know, last night.”
Delphine picks up the little velvet box on her bedside table and flips it open.
“Yeah, I did, Andrew. They’re nice earrings. Really nice. Thank you.”
“Well,” Delphine hears his usual hesitancy, his funny shyness. “They’re not really from me. They’re from the Company. I wish I could say they were from me.”
“But you’re not allowed to give me stuff.”
Delphine walks back over to the window and sits on the ledge. Lou Reed is gone, replaced by The Smiths. She mouthes the words of the song and happily leans her head against the glass, that funny feeling that pot always gives her of being perfectly at home in her own body blossoming somewhere deep in her lower belly and hips. She feels good.
“Yeah,” laughs Andrew, “Yeah, I know. The Company is pretty strict about that kind of stuff. But it makes sense. I can’t let anybody think I have a favourite, right?”
“What were they for, though? I mean, I’m not complaining or anything. Just curious.”
Delphine knows exactly why the Company has given her a pair of expensive earrings, but she wants to hear Andrew say it, wants to have her ego stroked just a little.
“Just for being you. You’re the best that we’ve got, you know. The clients love you – some of them even ask for you by name. And your predictions are so clear that I barely have to do any translating.”
All of this is true. Delphine is doing three, sometimes even four Sessions a week now, and she knows that the Company is able to charge clients several hundred, maybe even a thousand dollars for a Session with her. They recently moved her to a new, more spacious apartment and gave her a healthy bonus.
The Company is never stingy when it comes to showing appreciation for the oracles.
“You’re really fantastic, you know,” Andrew continues. “I think half of your clients are in love with you. I almost am myself.”
Delphine smiles, staring out at the leaves on the tree bobbing gently in the still air.
“Anyway, I just wanted to make sure that you know that the Company is really happy with your work. Things are going great – in fact, one of the higher ups recently told me that you’re at the peak of your career.”
The last words out of Andrew’s mouth make Delphine’s skin prickle, as if it’s suddenly begun shrinking, shrivelling, drying and tightening across her bones.
She stands up quickly and walks away from the window, her necklaces swaying and clinking with the sudden movement. Her heart beats too loudly, too quickly. She struggles to think of what to say without giving away how panicked his words have made her.
“What do you mean?” she asks finally. “What does that mean, I’m at the peak of my career?”
“It – it just means that you’re doing really well. You’re the best.”
“It means that it’s all downhill from here. That’s what it means. It means I’m the best I’ll ever be, I’ve reached the peak of the mountain, and soon I’ll be over the hill. Right?”
“No, Delphine, of course not, I didn’t –”
“Sybil left. Did you hear about that?”
“Yeah, but what does that –”
Delphine can hear him fiddling with something nervous, his tie maybe, or else the collar of his shirt.
“What’s going to happen to me, Andrew?”
There’s a long pause before he replies.
“Nothing,” he says guardedly. “What do you mean by that?”
“I mean, what’s going to happen when I stop being an oracle?”
“Listen, Delphine, I can’t really talk right now, I –”
“I get that you might be someplace where you can’t say certain things, but just give me yes or no answers, all right?”
“I — fine, sure.” His tone is resigned. “Ask away.”
“I’ve been doing this for eight years now. Has anyone ever been an oracle as long as I have?”
“Have any of them even come close? Say, five or six years?”
“What’s the longest anyone else has ever lasted?”
“That’s not a yes or no question.”
Delphine exhales sharply through her nose, trying to contain her irritation.
“Just say a >number, Andrew, no one will be suspicious.”
Andrew hesitates, then quietly says,
“Has anyone ever gone on to work for the Company in another way, maybe in a clerical job or whatever, after they’ve stopped being an oracle.”
“Can I put this job on my resumé?”
Andrew’s voice is growing smaller, more unsure.
“Will you give me a reference?”
“No, you know that it’s against -”
Delphine is pacing now, her muscles tensing with anxious energy. She wishes she had time to roll another joint.
“Can I get clean and still be an oracle?”
“No, of course not, Delphine, don’t be silly.”
“Do you honestly think that living this kind of life is sustainable? Do you think I’ll be an oracle til I’m 50? How about 40? Andrew, what the fuck is going to happen to me when I can’t do this anymore?”
Delphine stops suddenly and stands in the middle of her bedroom. She takes a deep breath, and finds that she’s struggling not to cry.
“Listen Delphine, I — we can talk about this later, all right? I have to go.”
Andrew’s voice is gentle but firm. She’s not going to get anything else out of him.
“It doesn’t matter, I’ve already heard everything I needed to.”
Delphine misses the days when you could slam down the phone whenever you hung up on someone. It was so satisfying. Pressing the little square image that appears at the bottom of her phone’s smooth glass screen whenever she wants to end a call just doesn’t feel the same.
Delphine sits on her floor and draws her knees into her chest. Her hands are shaking. She takes a few deep breaths, wishing that she could take a hit of something, anything before the driver arrives.
Most days, Delphine is able to push aside her worries about the future and convince herself that she’s not walking along the edge of a cliff, liable to slip and fall at any moment. When she’s high (which is, admittedly, most of the time), Delphine truly believes that everything will work out fine. She tells herself that she’s not going to be fired, and even if she is, she’ll be able to find something else, something better.
But on cold, grey mornings when she wakes up feeling distressingly sober, she finds that she can’t outrun her fear any longer.
On those mornings, Delphine is forced to look the truth right in its cold, beady eyes:
She will not be able to do this forever. Not even for much longer, probably.
Delphine is a lot of things, but stupid isn’t one of them. She knows that this type of life isn’t sustainable. Sometimes she’s amazed that she’s been able to keep it up for this long. Sooner or later she’ll lose her youthful glow and the Company will decide that she’s too old, too used up to be an oracle. Or else the drugs, those wonderful drugs that allow her to float through her days, will finally take their toll and she’ll be forced to either get clean or die. And if she chooses to get clean, she’ll be out of a job, won’t she?
In the harsh light of those sober mornings, Delphine can see her future self clearly: an addict, homeless and out of a job, with absolutely no career prospects. No resumé, no references, no way to get free drugs.
The worst part is that there’s nothing she can do to change how this will play out. Sometimes it’s like she’s watching a slow, silent disaster, a train derailing and falling lightly, dreamily off a bridge and into the river below. And though to an onlooker it would seem like she has plenty of time to do something, anything to save the people onboard, the fact is that it’s impossible. The most she can do is try to forget about it for a little while.
Luckily, her lifestyle is very conducive to that.
Delphine soon hears her car pull up outside, sees her phone flash with a text from the driver, and, shutting her sleek silver laptop, walks down the stairs and out into the early autumn evening. It’s warm out, too warm for her coat, really, but Delphine doesn’t mind. The man holds the door open for her, and she slides into the car without saying a word. She forces herself to stop thinking about the future, and instead turns her thoughts to the upcoming Session.
Delphine settles back against the rich leather seats, straightening her skirt and pulling a pack of clove cigarettes out of her purse. The funny thing is that doesn’t even like tobacco, but she enjoys the act of smoking itself. She finds it soothing, calming. And the clove cigarettes are so pretty, with their thick gold paper and matte black filters. They smell good, too. Delphine lights one and takes a long drag, sucking the spicy-sweet smoke deep into her lungs, then exhales, admiring, as she does so, the bright red imprint her lips have left on the filter.
It’s not long before they arrive at the Royal York hotel, where the Company rents a suite of rooms. Delphine exits the car, coolly thanks her driver, and saunters nonchalantly into the lobby. None of the staff even bother to look twice at her. They all know her by now.
The suite has two large main rooms, one little side room and a bathroom. Delphine heads to what is commonly referred to as the Staging Area, the room where she will get ready for tonight’s Session. Kate, the makeup lady, and Sue, the woman who does her hair, have already arrived. Andrew isn’t there yet, but that’s fine – they won’t need him until later.
Tonight’s dress is a gauzy, white, semi-sheer affair, all plunging neckline and floating layers. Delphine strips naked and pulls the dress over her head; she’s not allowed to wear underclothes during a Session. Though the lights will be low enough that no one will be able to see through the dress, the Company wants her clients to be able to see the hint of a nipple, the vague shadow of what might be pubic hair. Suggestion is a big part of what they’re selling.
After getting dressed, Delphine settles into the chair by the mirror. Sue begins combing out her hair, making little tutting noises under her breath.
“What?” asks Delphine, already knowing what she’s going to say.
“You need to get your roots done. They’re showing, and it doesn’t look good.”
“But I like the way they look,” protests Delphine
“The Company won’t, though. And that’s what matters, isn’t it?”
Delphine knows that she’s right. That doesn’t stop her from putting up a bit of a fight before agreeing to come see her Saturday morning for a touch-up. Bickering with Sue makes her feel better, more normal.
Sue curls her hair, then piles it in an elaborate, vaguely Grecian-style on top of her head. She secures the mass of ringlets with a fistful of bobby pins, then begins carefully pulling out seemingly random strands of hair to frame Delphine’s face. She sprays the entire thing with several coats of hairspray before she begins adding the flowers, little pink and yellow ones stuck artfully here and there. Finally, she adds a beaten gold crown in the shape of laurel leaves. Although Delphine’s hair and clothing vary greatly from one Session to another, she always wear the gold crown.
Once Sue is done, Kate comes over and gets to work, spreading creamy foundation across Delphine’s face. She dabs highlighter on her cheeks and on her temples, skilfully applies false eyelashes and uses a multitude of brushes on her eyes, lips and brow.
Once her face has been adequately made up, Delphine looks a full ten years younger. Her skin is smooth, dewy; her eyes are soft and bright. She looks innocent and naïve, which is exactly what the Company is going for.
At that moment, as Delphine is admiring herself in the mirror with a vain little smile on her face, Andrew walks in. He’s wearing a suit – no elaborate costume for him – and his hair is, as always, parted neatly on the left. In his hand is the small vial of of liquid that will complete her transformation.
“Who is it tonight?” she asks him, trying to gauge where they stand after what happened earlier.
“James Vipond. A hedge fund manager, very rich, very successful. Wants to know about stock options.”
“A subject I’m intimately familiar with, naturally. This should go well.”
“It always goes well,” insists Andrew, “I told you before on the phone, I don’t know how you do it, but you always come up with top-notch stuff. I barely even have to bullshit it into something the client will understand. You’re gifted or something.”
Delphine just shrugs and looks past him, at her reflection of the mirror. She doesn’t want to be reminded of what they talked about on the phone. Not right now, not right before a Session.
“Oh, and,” Andrew says, lowering his voice, “I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to worry about what we talked about on the phone. We’ll figure something out. You’re the best we’ve got Delphine, honestly. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Delphine ignores him and drinks the liquid all in one gulp, gagging a little on the cloying sweetness. It’s the consistency of cough syrup, and just as vile.
She’s not sure what the liquid is, exactly. Ergot, maybe, processed and re-processed until all of the nasty side effects are gone. Or it maybe psylocybin mushrooms, their effects distilled and magnified a hundred times. It could even be some form of acid, too – the Company employs some of the country’s top chemists, and she wouldn’t put it past them to come up with a brilliant new type of LSD.
Whatever it is, it’s the best fucking high she’s ever had.
Whatever it is, it makes everything else worth it.
As Andrew leads her into the room they refer to as the Temple, Delphine can already feel the drug beginning to take effect. Nothing has ever felt as good as Andrew’s hand on her arm; the sensation makes her shiver with delight. She suddenly laughs out loud, for no reason other than that she feels so good. Delphine feels her body expand, warm and glowing, until it’s big enough to fill the room. She has never been so happy. She has never loved life so much.
The Temple is a large, dimly lit room, all candles and smoke and sheer, draped fabrics. There’s an enormous, opulent Persian rug on the floor, and huge, overstuffed cushions scattered here and there. Andrew leads Delphine over to her seat, a gilded three-legged stool set in front of a brazier. As she sits, he begins to light the richly-scented incense in the brazier, and Delphine, still maintaining a weak grip on reality, watches the smoke rise in front of her.
The clients are supposed to believe that it’s the smoke that gives her visions. That’s not true, of course, and anyone who really thought about it would be able to figure that out, but it’s what they want to think, which helps. They all want a little magic, a little mysticism. Delphine is convinced that, more than anything else, they come here for the show.
Andrew makes sure that she’s settled, then goes off to the little side room, from which he’ll watch the show through a two-way mirror. He’ll come out later, to interpret her ravings in a way that ensure that the client goes home happy. He’s the liaison between Delphine and her clients, the bridge between whatever world it is that she goes too and this gaudily-decorated hotel room in downtown Toronto. He’s there to monitor her and make sure that she does what she’s supposed to, but he’s also there to protect her. In theory.
Delphine leans back on her little seat and gives herself up to the drug. The high comes rushing over her, like a wave, and soon she’s lost in a world of fantastic visions. She feels herself floating up and up and up, feels her nerve-endings stretching outward, through her skin and into the world around her, hungry for pleasure. She feels every single one of her cells drinking up pure, distilled joy. She feels. She feels. She feels.
One minute she’s floating, suffused with joy, then the next she’s slammed back into her body, cold, trembling and breathing hard. There’s a moment of confusion – why isn’t she sprawled on the bed in the Staging Room? That’s where she’s always woken up before. Today, though, she’s lying in a crumpled heap on the floor of the Temple, her body aching and strange. The candles have been put out and the main lights turned on, turning the oracle’s exotic grotto into an expensive hotel room filled with tacky, pseudo-oriental decor.
Andrew is crouching by her side, his eyes wide, frightened.
“What happened?” asks Delphine, struggling to get up.
Because she knows that something must have happened.
As Andrew helps her to sit up, Delphine realizes that her dress has been torn down the front, exposing almost everything. Her arms, belly, and inner thighs are covered in red marks and bruises. Her left breast has a deep scratch on it. Her lips feel strange, and when she reaches a hand up to touch her mouth, she discovers that she’s bleeding. Something is wrong with her right eye; it won’t open all the way.
She makes a movement to cover herself up, then realizes that Andrew has already seen everything, has probably been sitting here staring at her body for hours. She folds her arms across her chest and looks at him, waiting for his answer.
“You … you said some things,” Andrew finally says, his voice shaking.
What do you mean, I said some things? I always say things. It’s my job to say things.”
“Different things. Frightening things.”
“What do you mean<!–?”
Andrew takes a deep breath.
“You were doing your usual thing, and everything was going fine, when all of the sudden the client reached over and grabbed you. He started kissing you, touching you. You — you didn’t really put up a fight at first, but he kept going. He tore your dress. I don’t even know why he did that, because he could have just pulled it off, but he took it in both hands and tore it all the way down the front. And then he undid his pants and -”
Andrew stops talking and just sits there, opening and closing his mouth as if he doesn’t know what to say.
“And where the fuck were you? You’re supposed to be watching me, you’re supposed to protect me.”
“I – I didn’t know,” Andrew’s voice is shaking, so he pauses for a moment, takes a deep breath. “I didn’t know that he was going to go so far. I thought he only wanted to cop a feel. That’s what most of them want.”
“And you let most of them do that? You just let them do that?”
“You know it’s not up to me, Delphine,” Andrew says feebly. “The Company -”
“Fuck you,” Delphine spits out. “Fuck you.”
Andrew just sits there, looking down at his hands, until finally Delphine says,
“Tell me the rest of the story.”
“He pushed you onto the floor and started to, um … you know.”
“He started to – to assault you,” says Andrew, struggling to pick out least damning term. “That’s when you started to fight back. As soon as I realized what was happening, I swear I came as fast as I could. I – I … ”
“And then what happened?” Delphine’s voice is cold, emotionless.
“As soon as I got in the room, you sat up, and pushed him off you. I mean, you pushed him so hard that he – he kind of went flying and hit the wall. There was no way you should’ve been able to do that. No way you could be strong enough to do that. But you did. And then – and then your eyes sort of rolled back into your head, like you were passing out or something, but you were still sitting up. And — and this strange voice came out of you, really deep, harsh. Not your voice at all. It was like you were possessed.”
What did I say?”
“You said that there were planes coming, planes that were going to bomb this city out of existence. You said we were all doomed, every single one of us in this room. Then you laughed. You laughed like it was the funnest thing ever. After that you sort of jerked and twitched a few times, like you were having a seizure or something, and then you fell back on the floor.”
Delphine and Andrew look at each other for a long time, neither of them saying anything. Both are trying to digest what’s just happened. Both are reassessing the other person and their relationship to them. Neither knows what to do now.
Delphine is the one who finally breaks the silence.
“So what happened to the client?”
“The client left after that. He was pretty freaked out. I’ll have to file a report.”
“No,” Delphine cries, scrambling over to him, her arms and legs tangling in the remains of her dress.
She places a hand on his arm and looks at him pathetically, appealingly. She tries to keep a grip on her panic, tries to tell herself that she’s not in danger of losing everything.
“Please don’t file a report. The Company doesn’t have to know. Please.”
“I have to. You know that. And anyway, what if the client files a report? It’s better to get our version in first, before he can put his own spin on what happened.”
“Why would the client file anything? What’s he going to say? That he raped me?”
“No,” Andrew says quietly. “He’ll say that you attacked him. Maybe tried to rob him. It’ll be his word against yours, and I already know whose will win. You know it, too.”
Yes. She does.
Delphine changes back into her own clothes, and then Andrew takes her home. They barely speak. When Delphine’s about to get out of the car, Andrew leans over and kisses her, hard. He’s shaking, and it takes her a moment to realize that he’s crying. As if he was the one who was attacked. As if he was the one in danger of losing everything he owned.
Delphine stumbles up her stairs, half-falling and catching herself on the railing several times. Her head is spinning, a side-effect of the drug that sometimes lasts several hours, and she’s more tired than she’d realized. Fortunately, she only lives on the fourth floor, so she’s soon safely locked inside her apartment. She looks in the mirror and determines that she’s going to have a nasty black eye. She touches herself between the legs, wondering if the client had time to come, if she needs the morning after pill, or an AIDS test. She washes the blood off her face, smokes half a joint, then burrows into her bed.
She sleeps deeply, without dreaming, until morning.
When Delphine gets up and turns on her computer, the first thing she sees is an email from the Company. She’s suspended, it says, until further notice. There will be a hearing, and at that time her case will be evaluated. Until then, she’s not to leave the apartment.
There’s a second email, from Andrew, saying that the client had contacted the Company as soon as he got home and lodged a formal complaint against her.
Delphine tries to log onto the oracle message board, but she’s locked out. This doesn’t surprise her.
She starts rummaging through drawer on her bedside table, pulling out vials and needles and packets of powder. How much will she need to take in order to make sure that she’s past all resuscitation efforts by the time someone finds her? What combination will grant her the fastest, most painless death?
She opens her computer, types the names of the various drugs that she has on hand into a search engine. She hesitates for a moment, wondering if she’s being too rash, then adds the words “suicide options” and hits enter. She has to be quick about this. Surely the Company is already increasing their surveillance of her; no doubt they saw what she’d typed the moment it went through. Maybe even before.
How long does she have before they cut off her internet, send someone over to take her to the nearest mental hospital? Or maybe they actually want her to die – maybe this all part of their plan.
Delphine’s hands are shaking; she feels panicked, paranoid. Her breath is coming fast and hard. She’s worried that she might faint. She scrolls through the search results, but nothing she’s reading seems to make sense. She understands the words well enough, but when she tries to put them together they start to lose all meaning.
Fuck it, she thinks to herself.
Delphine starts digging through her kitchen drawers, eventually pulling out an enormous, heavy silver soup spoon. She wipes it down with rubbing alcohol, then carefully takes a new syringe out of the plastic and paper packaging. She fills the syringe with water and squirts it out into the spoon. Then she adds the drug, five times as much as she would normally take. She strikes a match, breathes in the birthday cake smell of sulphur and smoke, then the thick, yellow beeswax candle she keeps on a kitchen shelf. She holds the spoon over the sputtering flame, and watches the fire lick and darken the metal. She takes the plunger out of the syringe and uses that to stir the mixture. Once all the heroin has dissolved, she slides the plunger back into the syringe and, placing the needle in the spoon, slowly draws mixture into it.
Now that she’s doing something familiar, Delphine’s hands are steady, sure. Her breathing returns to normal; her mind narrows, focusses.
Deciding to kill herself was the hard part. Actually doing it is, it turns out, quite easy.
Delphine finds a rubber medical tourniquet and, as she wraps it around and around her left arm, silently thanks the Company for taking the time to consider all of her drug-using needs. She expertly tucks the end of the tourniquet under itself, tugging at it to make sure that it’s not going to come loose. Then she turns her attention to her forearm, slapping it until the veins of her inner elbow start to bulge.
There’s a knock at the door.
Delphine jumps, accidentally knocking the syringe off the counter; it falls to the floor and rolls under the refrigerator. Her panic returns. It’s the Company, coming to stop her, or else coming to make sure that she finishes the job. Of course they’d want to be here while she offed herself; they need to somehow dispose of the body and get rid of the evidence, don’t they? She’d been so stupid to think that she could beat them at their own game.
“Fuck off!” she yells, hoping to buy herself some time. “I’m busy!”
She hears a key in the lock. She gets down on her hands and knees, peering under the fridge, looking for her lost syringe. She hears someone come into the room behind her, feels hands on her shoulders pulling her away from the fridge. She sits back, hard, against her kitchen cupboards, looks down at her hands and starts to cry. The Company has her now. Or rather, they’ve had her all along. She never had a chance. There’s no way out.
“Delphine,” the voice is familiar, though the tone isn’t.
Andrew’s usually hesitant, deferential demeanour has been replaced by a firmness that she’s never heard before.
He kneels next to her, takes her arm in his hands and begins to unwind the tourniquet.
“What are you doing?” he asks, almost sharply. “You don’t have time to get high. We need to figure out a plan.”
Delphine just shakes her head. She’s crying too hard to talk.
He helps her to her feet and leads her to the bedroom. He glances at her open computer and pauses, taking a moment to see what’s on the screen.
“Fucking stupid,” he grunts, slamming the computer closed. “Do you think that’s going to solve anything? I told you, we need to come up with a plan.”
Delphine stares at him, slowly realizing that he’s not here on official Company business.
“What happened?” she asks. “Why are you here?”
“I’ve been suspended too,” he says, starting to pace around the room. “It happened right after I sent you that email. They’re unhappy about the Session last night, but it’s more than that. They’re worried that I’m too close to you, too involved. They don’t think I’ve been able to maintain a professional distance.”
“So we’re both going down. We need to help each other if we’re going to make it through this.”
“Right. Like you helped me last night.”
Andrew stops short and, for a second, looks ashamed. Then his face hardens again, and he says,
“I told you that I tried to help you. It happened too fast for me to do anything, and anyway, you seemed to be able to take care of yourself.”
“Well, why don’t you leave me to take care of myself again? I was doing fine before you came. Leave me alone.”
Andrew comes over and sits beside her, taking her hand and softening his tone.
“You don’t know what we’re up against. You haven’t seen what I’ve seen. The Company – well, the Company could and would do both of us a lot of harm. And you know as well as I do that the inquiry isn’t going to go in our favour.”
“And you think there’s something we can do about that?”
“Let’s make a run for it. They haven’t frozen my bank account yet, and I’ve got plenty of savings. We could go somewhere else, somewhere they won’t find us. We could do the same oracle schtick, with me as your manager. We could make it work. I promise I would take care of you.”
Delphine’s chest starts to tighten again. She feels hemmed in, as if she’s running out of choices; either she leaves the country with Andrew, who proved last night just how trustworthy he is, or else she relies on the mercy of the Company.
Of course, she does have a third option.
She takes a deep breath, tries to shake off her panic, and says,
“All right, let’s sit down and talk about this. I’ll make us some coffee.”
If all else fails, the syringe is always there as a last resort.
She goes into the kitchen and grinds the beans, the light from the window gleaming off her sleek, vintage espresso machine. As she waits for the milk to steam, she looks around the room. This is her life. Her apartment. Her kitchen. Her espresso machine. Is she really ready to give all of this up and go live in some little backwater somewhere on the other side of the world?
Of course, the truth is that none of this is hers. Delphine doesn’t even belong to herself; she belongs to the Company, and if she agrees to go with Andrew, she’ll belong to him.
By the time Andrew comes into the kitchen to find her, she’s got the tourniquet wrapped around her arm again and she’s back on the floor, digging under the fridge. He grabs her, but it’s too late, she already has the syringe in her hand.
They fight over the syringe in a way that Delphine hasn’t fought since grade school, kicking, punching and screaming at each other. Andrew is red in the face, and Delphine’s cheeks are slick with sweat. Delphine grunts and spits at Andrew, trying to free herself from him. She feels as if she’s just about to get the upper hand and wrench herself out of his hands, when, suddenly, he throws himself on her, using his weight to pin her against to the ground.
A grin of exhausted triumph is plastered across his face as he tightens his grip on her wrist, finally forcing herself to drop the syringe.
The grin disappears a moment later. The loud drone of airplanes, many airplanes, distracts both of them from what’s just happened. In silence, Andrew helps Delphine to her feet and leads her over to the window. They stand there, watching aircraft in their tight military formation filling and darkening the Toronto sky. They hold hands.
The first bombs to fall are distant, down near the lakeshore. They float like snowflakes, and when they hit the ground they make a sound like fireworks. Delphine’s apartment shakes, and one of her pictures falls and smashes its glass on the floor, but otherwise they’re unharmed. For now. Both of them know that it won’t be long.
Andrew turns and looks at her, his face full of awe.
“You saw this,” he whispers. “You predicted this.”
Delphine smiles, squeezes his hand.
“I guess I’m a real oracle after all.”
They watch the destruction of their city in silence. Both of them know that there’s nothing that they can do, nowhere to run.
Somehow, there’s enough time between the moment when they hear bomber’s drone directly overhead and the instant of the brilliant, annihilating flash, for Delphine to have one, final thought.
It’s better this way.
The ending comes in a moment of pure, bright, unadulterated pleasure, a brilliant flash, a rush of warmth, and then nothing. It’s the best last moment that anyone could ever ask for.