Knocking on the bathroom door made Norbert jump.
“Just a minute!” he called out. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
“No, no,” came a voice from the other side of the door. It was Stephanie, Norbert’s girlfriend. “There’s no rush. In fact, while I’ve got you in there, I thought perhaps we could have a talk.”
Uh-oh, thought Norbert. He could picture Stephanie’s pretty face scrunching into a frown.
“Norbert?” she prompted.
“Yes,” he called back. “Guess I’m a captive audience. What do you want to talk about?”
“Well—oh God, this is awkward.” Stephanie pressed her furrowed forehead against the door. “But we’ve been seeing each other for six months now.”
“Oh, dear!” Norbert wailed. “Have I missed some kind of anniversary? I’m so sorry. We’ll go out for dinner. Name the place!”
“No, that’s not it. I mean, dinner will be lovely. There’s that new Albanian place in the precinct.”
“Sounds delicious! Make a reservation.”
“Later. But there’s something I need to ask you. Perhaps it will be easier to answer me with this door between us. As I said, it’s been six months.”
“Yes, you did say that.” Norbert steeled himself. He knew what was coming. He combed beard oil in, massaging it to every hair, every curl.
“Six months and you’ve never laid a finger on me, never mind anything else. Is there something the matter? With me, I mean.”
Norbert gave his reflection a pained look.
“No, no! Not at all. You’re perfect. Look, you must be patient with me. That’s all I ask. Can you do that for me, Stephanie? Be patient?”
“Yes,” she said quietly, but Norbert could hear the sob thickening her voice. “I mean, you would tell me, wouldn’t you? I’d rather know the truth. I have a right to know the truth. If you’re…”
“If you’re gay.”
Norbert laughed. “Oh, no! No! Put that idea right out of your head! Gay is the last thing I’d be!”
“So, you’re not just using me as a cover? Arm candy so no one will guess the truth?”
“Of course not! Silly goose!” Norbert hoped Stephanie couldn’t hear the quiver in his voice.
“But it’s just that… six months! You’re not like other guys. And I like that about you, I do. You’re sweet and gentle and kind. There’s an innocence about you. You take delight in everything, like you’re seeing it for the first time. So yes, I can be patient. Take all the time you need. I’ll leave you to get ready. See if I can book that restaurant.”
Norbert listened to her move away from the door. He patted his face. The glue had better hold. The beard bristled as he sniffed. Something smelled bad. He applied half a stick of deodorant to his armpits, powdered his nether regions with talc and then drenched himself in after-shave.
That was the problem with having a reanimated corpse to get you around. High maintenance wasn’t the half of it!
He used his dead-man’s hands to fluff himself out. A quick appraisal of his reflection reassured him that he could pass as a normal human being. It was imperative to his mission. He must live among the humans, observing them, sending reports back to his home world, where everyone crawled around, their hirsute bodies like disembodied human beards.
If Stephanie were to discover the truth, she would have to go.
Then again, it might be a nice change to make use of a reanimated female body for once.
He could even join the circus.