By the time I get to work, R has cut the cord to the sprinkler head in his office and water is gushing out the door. He stands on his desk, scissors in hand. His shirt is sheer in its wetness, the flood as black as photocopier toner.

My office is bugged, he says.

I watch as he scrambles off his desk, his shirt half-tucked, his dress pants wrinkled like they were slept in. He flips through his day timer, stops at a page covered with license plate numbers and stabs at one with his wet finger, leaving a black smudge.

This guy, he says, blue F150. He followed me here today.

The water runs around my shoes like the tide coming in over rocks.

• • •

When I first work with R, we chainsmoke, take turns ashing in a coffee cup in the middle of his desk. He teaches me how to bifurcate a convertible debenture. How to compound interest monthly. How to accrete a bond discount.

I don’t go to post secondary school—I have R.

His pencil scratches the paper while he talks, as he explains these complexities like he’s giving instructions for making toast. We become fast friends even though he’s my boss. We go on double dates with my husband and R’s girlfriend-of-the-moment. He is refreshingly straight-edge. Normal and nerdish.

• • •

Do you have a brain tumor? I ask part-way through one of R’s hour-long diatribes about they and them and them them them.

Have you been to the doctor?

He shakes his head, his bangs swishing across his pallid forehead.

Can’t trust him, he says. They’re paying him to kill me.

• • •

I think everyone I know is living with an undiagnosed illness, that everyone is dying. This is the fallout from my dad passing away inexplicably when he was forty-six, and it is something R and I bond over—he lost his dad when he was young, too.

• • •

R doesn’t come to the office anymore. He telephones from the parkade, tells me which spot he’s waiting in. It’s always a different spot and he’s always backed in, ready to go. I meet him with files, with cheques to sign, with the growing stack of personal bills accumulating on his desk. I’m pissed he’s not around more, that I’m left doing all the work.

Fast food wrappers cover the floor of his car, post-it-notes with more license plate numbers stuck to his dash, a crack runs the length of his windshield.

What happened? I ask.

They tried to shoot me, he says.

It looks like a rock hit it.

He shakes his head. Bullet.

• • •

We join a pool league and play every Tuesday night. My husband and R carry the team, often running the table off the break. We share beers, we share wings, we share stories about how we grew up. R is a real mama’s boy. Has supper with her every Sunday night, cuts her grass, takes her to the doctor. He encourages me to reach out to my mum, to try and repair our relationship which has been strained since my dad died.

It’s never too late, he says. It’s never too late.

• • •

R gives me a lift home and drives so fast I am convinced I’m going to die. It is a blur of traffic lights, brakes, and horns horns horns.

They can’t catch me if they can’t see me, he says, as if we’re moving faster than the speed of light, and maybe we are.

He looks over and smiles like he used to, swishes his bangs out of his face, but his eyes are crazy and he is crazy, and that’s when I know. When I finally calculate the right answer, an answer I know I don’t need to do the proof for.

• • •

When I am in my late-teens, early-twenties, I smoke a lot of weed, eat a lot of mushrooms. I stay away from acid because someone once told me acid makes your brain bleed and if your brain is bleeding, you can’t go into space. As a girl, I dreamed about the kind of quiet the atmosphere held, the bigness of it all when viewed from a different vantage point.

What are you on? I ask R in the parking lot.

I’m shivering because of nerves and exhaustion and the dread of confrontation.

Crack, he whispers. It’s crack.

He looks so small, so defeated, when his eyes meet mine. Looks like he could float away.

That night, I read about crack—what it does to your brain, to your body—and I cry.

• • •

The first time I meet R, I’m tending a makeshift bar in an office building where he works. It is the Christmas season, and I’ve recently moved to this city on a whim with my soon-to-be husband. R orders a whiskey sour, asks what I’d rather be doing when I tell him I don’t normally bartend.

Numbers, I say. I’m into numbers.

So am I, he says. So am I.

I start working with R the following week.

• • •

R promises he’ll get better, he’ll get treatment, he’ll be clean clean clean. His aging mother spends tens of thousands of dollars she doesn’t have on rehab facilities he doesn’t stay at.

Late one night, R calls me from a payphone at the ferry terminal twelve hours after checking into the last center he’ll check into.

I can’t do this, he says.

I stare into the darkness of my bedroom, listen to my husband snoring, listen to R hyperventilating on the other end of the line.

How hard it is to separate yourself from someone once you get to know them. To reconcile who someone used to be with who they are now. That kind of bifurcation doesn’t come so easily.

Neither can I, I say.

And I hang up.

Jennifer Todhunter's stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, Necessary Fiction, CHEAP POP, and elsewhere. Her work has been selected for Best Small Fictions and Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Pidgeonholes. Find her at or @JenTod_.

© 2019 Jennifer Todhunter. Published by LITTLE FICTION | BIG TRUTHS, August 2019.

Images from The Noun Project (credits: ImageCatalog).




by Jennifer Todhunter
The Bifurcation of r