The Watcher by Anna Ellam – 2nd Place Lockdown Short Story

Lisa couldn’t climax during intercourse because the Watcher would remind her how fat she looked lying down.

“Turn of the lights,” he would hiss at her before Phil and her got down to business. “Someone might see your hideous body through the windows.”

If she dropped any food on herself, the Watcher would call her a mess. If she cried, he called her a cry baby. He laughed along to Phil’s jokes, especially those that stung her sensibilities. Lisa had met Phil at work, in a large accounting practice. When he got out a calculator to split the bill on their first date, she knew he was the one. He was always late to meet her, mocked her clothes and hair and pointed out better looking women wherever they went. From the beginning, Lisa felt oddly comfortable with Phil, as though they had known each other for a very long time. Almost as long as she’d known the Watcher.

Her mum didn’t like Phil, so Lisa defended him by talking about his best qualities, like his skilled valuations of intangible assets, which was ironic, she thought to herself, perhaps one day he would value hers. The watcher said Phil was the best she could do, so she stayed.

After all, there’d only ever been one other suitor, back at university, who’d left her for a stunning girl. In the aftermath of the breakup Lisa spent all her earnings on waxing, filling, tinting, lifting and sculpting. Her friends and family oohed and aahed at her transformation. The Watcher only sniggered and, when Lisa looked in the mirror, all she could see was the same podgy spotty greasy-haired teenager.

She was relieved when Phil proposed, hoping that this would silence the Watcher at least for a time. He told her that Phil must have a good heart to marry someone out of pity.

Lying in bed on her own, with her husband smoking weed and playing the Xbox downstairs, Lisa wondered how to get rid of the Watcher. The beauty procedures she’d recently undergone would float up in her mind in the form of formulas and simultaneous equations. She could sense that there was some sort of common denominator to all her struggles, but she couldn’t quite work out what that was whilst falling asleep.

One day watering the plants on her balcony, Lisa noticed a lady doing the same in the block of flats opposite hers. Lisa nearly dropped the watering can, because the lady opposite was completely naked. Lisa began to watch that balcony a lot. She watched the lady read, tan and even perform some light yoga in Lisa’s full view without putting on any clothes whatsoever. She had an authoritative air about her as she folded up the yoga matt, which made Lisa admire her voluptuous frame. Due to the slight bopping of her head, Lisa though that she must be humming. Lisa felt certain that this lady could not have been bullied in school.

Lisa’s fascination with the lady opposite grew as she came to realise that the Watcher could not be talking to her. Or if he was, he was saying different things to those he said to Lisa.

“Oh, is it the fat naked woman again?” her husband said from behind his newspaper. Lisa half-heartedly nodded.

“Do you…” she started. “Do you sort of talk to yourself, in your mind?”

Phil put down the paper and brought a cup of coffee to his lips.

“Of course, everyone does,” he answered.

“What is it you say?” Lisa asked feeling that, to her embarrassment, water had already collected in the corners of her eyes.

“You praise yourself for the things you’ve done well and figure out how to improve in the things you didn’t do so well.” He sounded like he was talking to a child, but this time she didn’t care.

“What if you don’t have anything to praise yourself for?” she asked.

Phil smiled from behind the cup.

“That’s impossible,” he said. “Everyone’s got something to praise themselves for, even if it’s putting your clothes on in the morning.”

That was the first in-joke they shared and she smiled back.

After he left, Lisa walked around the block a few times to calm her nerves. The Sunday sky above her was luminous and she looked at the clouds for the first time in her adult life. Some were thin and see-through and reminded her of jellyfish with tendrils stretching behind them for miles, others billowed pompously, unashamed of their giant shadows. Lisa noticed that each cloud was unique in its arrangement and the speed of accumulating or losing mass. Yet all of them, every single one of them, were undeniably beautiful.

Back in her bedroom, she shut the curtains, dimmed the lights, took off all her clothes, took a breath and stepped in front of the mirror. Despite all the exercise, Lisa still saw her body as bulbous and the Watcher was usually quick on put-downs, but this time she was ready. She came up to her reflection as if wanting to walk through it and pressed her palm to the glass. She looked herself in the eyes and said out loud: “I hear you, Watcher. Hush now.”