Behind Her Eyes, p.10Sarah Pinborough
Thinking of her makes me cry once more as I sit in the kitchen, sunlight streaming through the back door and snot streaming from my nose. I haven’t even looked in a mirror today. I don’t want to see the beautiful face that’s failed me. My coffee sits on the table, cold and untouched, and I stare down through blurred vision at the mobile phone clutched in my hands. I take a deep breath and contain myself before quickly typing out the text prepared in my head.
I hope you’re okay and coping without Adam :-(. I’ve got a present for you to cheer you up! Shall we do the gym on Monday? And then lunch? Let’s get bikini body ready even if we’re not having holidays! A x
I don’t mention the fight I had with David last night, or how he stormed out, or how I’d pretended to be asleep when he finally crept in and went to the spare room. I don’t tell her how in the middle of the night he came into my room and stood over me, silently staring at me, and as I lay there with my eyes squeezed shut I could feel all his hate and anger radiating from his tense, clenched body, and I could barely breathe until he left. I don’t tell her that I didn’t even get up to see him off to work, but instead lay crying into my pillow and trying not to throw up, and that I’m still trying not to throw up.
I don’t tell her any of these things because, angry as I am, I don’t want her to feel any worse than she does already. I don’t want to lose my new friend even if she’s betrayed me and I’m filled with rage and envy of her. I need to crush that. It won’t do me any good and it won’t make David love me.
It’s just come as a surprise. I hadn’t expected their relationship to escalate quite so quickly. I’d forced the argument last night, but it hadn’t been difficult. We have too much simmering under the surface; the forest green bedroom walls, the cat, the thing that happened before we moved, and always, always, the secret in our past that binds us too tightly. I thought he would go out and get drunk somewhere, but I hadn’t expected him to go from a bar to Louise’s door. Not yet. Not last night.
Tears spill fresh. A bottomless well of them inside me, and I try deep breathing to get them under control. I knew this would be hard. I need to squash it. At least Louise tried to say no. She has a good heart. She’s a good person. She mentioned me and she tried to send him home. And she was drunk herself. It’s easy to lose control when you’re drunk; we’re all guilty of that. I hate that she slept with him, and I hate how it hurts me, but I can’t even blame her for that. She met him before she met me, and her lust had already been ignited. At least she hadn’t tried to take it further at work even though that first night in the bar must have made her feel special in her sad little life. I like her for that. Of course she’s smitten with him. How can I be angry with her for finding him fascinating, when I love him so much?
It’s been quicker than I expected. He likes her more than I thought, and it’s knocked the wind out of me.
I need to be strong. I’ve got soft over the years. Louise makes David happy and that’s all that matters even though I want to go to the clinic and drag her into the street by her hair and scream at her for being so weak – for spreading her legs so easily for my faithless husband. I remind myself that I need her to make him happy and I need to pull myself together and make a plan.
I sip my cold coffee and force myself out into the sunshine. The fresh air feels good on my burning face. It’s still early and the dawn chill is lingering in the sunshine. I hope I haven’t got it all wrong. I hope my faith in Louise isn’t misplaced. I hope she is everything I think she is. If not, this could all get very complicated. I don’t let myself linger on that. I have to be positive.
First of all I need to sleep. Properly sleep. I’m tired, emotionally and physically, but every time I close my eyes, they’re all I can see. His pathetic sadness sitting on her tatty couch. Their drunken fuck. The tears of self-pity in the shower after he flushed away the condom. The way he scrubbed at his skin with the travel-sized shower gel he’d had in his jacket pocket, one that matches his brand at home in case I smelt some lingering scent of her from across the hallway. Her guilt and longing. I feel sick all over again.
‘Why did you become a psychiatrist?’ I ask. I can’t actually believe that I’m lying in his arms. This is the first time he’s stayed and talked to me rather than rushing to shower away his guilt and then leave. Tonight we’ve really talked, about my divorce, my night terrors, the ridiculous dates Sophie has tried to set me up on over the years. We laughed, and it was a good sound to hear from him.
‘You really want to know?’ he says.
‘Yes.’ I nod against the warmth of his chest. Of course I want to know. I want to know everything about him. Despite having vowed that this would never happen again, this is the third time in ten days he’s turned up at my flat. Once was at the weekend – and even though I tell him every time to go home and we can’t keep doing it, I still let him through the front door and into my bed, and I can’t seem to stop myself. It’s as if my resolve melts when I see him. Worse than that, I actually long to see him. We drink, we fuck, he looks at me so wistfully that it breaks my heart. It’s stupid. It’s crazy. But it makes my heart race. It makes me throb. It lets me lose myself for a while. I try to pretend he’s the-man-from-the-bar so I don’t feel so bad, but I know I’m kidding myself. There’s something that draws me to them both.
I should have told David about knowing Adele, but the moment to say something passed long ago and if I told him now I’d look crazy. But neither can I bring myself to end the friendship with Adele. She’s so vulnerable. And she shows me another side of David that intrigues me almost as much as she herself does. Every day I decide that one or other of them has to go, and every day I avoid making the decision.
I’m already a bit in love with Adele in a strange way; she’s so beautiful and tragic and fascinating and kind to me. And then there’s David; a dark mystery. He’s gentle and passionate in bed, but never talks about his marriage, which I know is toxic on some level. I know I should give one of them up, but I can’t bring myself to. I feel as though I’m woven around both of them and they’re woven into me. The more I fall for David, the more fascinated I become with Adele. It’s a vicious circle.
I’ve started to try to compartmentalise, like he does. I’ve separated them. Adele is my friend and David is my lover, not her controlling husband. It’s not perfect, but for now it’s almost working. There are Adele days, and David nights. Maybe I even see more of him than she does. I don’t like how that makes me feel. Almost victorious.
‘When I was a teenager on the farm there was this little girl who used to follow me around. She was lonely. Her parents were rich – they owned the big estate – and they spoiled her but also ignored her, if you know what I mean. They were busy people. Sometimes too busy to really spend any time with her. Anyway, she’d chatter away while I worked, telling me about her night terrors that kept them all awake,‘ David says. ‘After I realised she was really quite worried about them, I found a book on sleep and dreaming in a charity shop and gave it to her.’ I stiffen slightly, as I recall Adele mentioning the book, and it’s obvious that she’s the little girl he’s talking about. I feel momentary guilt as well as curiosity. Why doesn’t he say that his wife used to have bad dreams? It’s not as if I don’t know he’s married. Why does he never reference her?
‘Did it help?’
‘I don’t think so. It was all very new age if I remember properly and full of crazy stuff. It was also way too old for her to understand properly. I think her parents took it away from her in the end, and sent her off for some therapy instead. She was only eight or nine at the time. My father was a farmer. Well, he was a better drinker than he was a farmer, and whenever he’d have an accident with the machinery I’d patch him up. I knew I wanted to be a doctor of some kind, even though it felt like a pipe dream at the time, but giving the little girl that dream book was the first time I wanted to help the inside of someone’s head. The
‘And it’s an interesting job,’ he continues. ‘Getting inside people’s heads and seeing what makes them tick.’ He looks down at me. ‘Why are you frowning?’
‘I’m not,’ I say.
‘You are. Either that or your forehead has aged very suddenly.’ He wrinkles his own comically, which lightens the moment that shouldn’t feel heavy, but somehow does.
‘I don’t know,’ I say. ‘I just think people’s heads, in the main, should be left alone. I don’t like the idea of anyone playing around in my mind.’ I do think that, but I’m also frowning because of Adele. How he’s telling her story at an angle. A little girl he used to know. It’s not a lie, but it’s not quite the truth.
He smiles at me, and I can’t help but enjoy the strength of his broad chest under my head as I look up. A farmer’s son. Maybe he avoids mentioning her to save my feelings, but it’s not as if I’m some ingénue who doesn’t get the situation. ‘Are you sure you’re working in the right place?’ he asks. ‘Head-tinkering is what we do.’
‘That’s why I stay behind my desk and don’t get on the couch.’
‘I bet I could persuade you onto my couch.’
‘Don’t get cocky, it doesn’t suit you.’ I poke him in the ribs and we both laugh.
‘But seriously,’ he says after a moment, ‘if you want help with your night terrors I can promise you I won’t give you a dodgy woo-woo book and send you on your way. I’m better trained now.’
‘That’s a relief,’ I say, trying to sound light-hearted, but I’m thinking of the notebook Adele gave me, and what David would think if he knew. I almost wish he had got up and left.
‘Maybe you should find that little girl,’ I murmur. ‘See if she still needs your help.’
He doesn’t say anything after that.
The rain hammers hard at the windows and it’s making Adele sleepy as she lies on her bed with Rob after his therapy session. She should be in the art room, but she’s bored of painting. She went to yoga to pacify the nurses – apparently it would help relax her, and it did, mainly from the dullness of it – but really she wants to be in the fresh air with Rob. Maybe out on the moors as a change from the lake. Even though they’re not supposed to go off the grounds without a ‘group leader’, they could probably sneak away and no one would notice. That’s the thing with hippies, as Rob says. They’re so full of trust. They don’t even lock the gates in the daytime.
‘I am awake,’ Rob says beside her, pinching himself. ‘Only just though. This is all so dreary.’
She giggles and sighs. She had hoped that the storm would clear the air entirely, but instead the fierceness has died down to this constant grey downpour, and he’s right, dreary is the word.
‘When is this going to work?’ he asks. ‘I’m so bored of counting my fingers. I half expect to see eleven one day.’
‘Good,’ she says. ‘If you do, you’ll know you’re dreaming. And then you can picture the door and open it to take you anywhere you imagine. Anyway, it’s only been a few days. Patience, young Jedi.’
‘If this is all a piss-take then my revenge will be sweet and terrible.’
‘Where will you take your dreams?’ she says. ‘When you can create the door?’ It’s comfortable lying here beside him. Not like with David, no heat of that passion, no pounding of her heart, but something different. Something calm and comforting. ‘Will you go home?’
He laughs then. Not his infectious warm laugh, but the short bark reserved for irony. She knows these things now.
‘Fuck no. Although I might dream of some decent food. This place really needs to learn to add some flavour to its lunches. Mmm.’
He’s trying to swerve the conversation, and she notices. She’s always thought he doesn’t talk about his family for her sake, because she no longer has one. Suddenly, she feels like a bad friend. So much has been about her, her loss, how to pick herself back up, how to move on, that she realises he’s never really opened up about his own world. He’s entertained her with tales from his drug-taking, but that’s about it. Nothing real. Nothing emotional.
‘That bad?’ They’ve been lying on their backs staring up at the ceiling, but now she rolls onto her side and up on one arm. ‘Is that why you took smack?’
‘No.’ He smiles. ‘I took smack because it feels good. As for family, well, I mainly live with my sister. Ailsa. She’s thirty.’ He sees her reaction to the age gap. ‘Yep, I was an afterthought, which is a really polite way of saying mistake. Anyway, I live with her now. And she’s a fuck-up, just in a different way to me, but thinks she’s God’s fucking gift. It’s all a bit shitty – you really don’t want to know about it.’
‘You’re my friend,’ she says, poking his skinny ribs. ‘Probably my only real friend other than David. Of course I want to know about it.’
‘Well, you, my tragic Sleeping Beauty princess, are far more fascinating than me.’
‘Obviously.’ She blushes slightly. She likes it when he calls her that, even though she shouldn’t, and her parents are dead, and it sounds almost mocking of them.
He sighs dramatically. ‘God, I want to get high.’
‘I’ve never taken drugs,’ she says. ‘Not even weed.’
It’s his turn to be surprised. ‘No shit.’
‘Yeah, literally no shit. We live – lived – in the middle of nowhere. Bus into school and bus back, and then when I had my problems I was home-schooled for a while.’
‘Every layer under your flawless skin gets more interesting. Home-schooled? God, no wonder you fell in love with country boy.’
She lets the small dig slide by. She knows he already thinks she’s too dependent on David. It’s as much in what he doesn’t say as what he does.
‘We’re probably going to have to rectify that,’ he says. ‘You would love it.’
She laughs aloud. Rob makes drugs sound like the most normal thing in the world. For him, she guesses, it kind of is. And he’s not so bad.
‘Some weed at least.’
‘Okay,’ she says, playing along. ‘I’m up for that.’ And in the moment she is, but she also knows that it’s not exactly likely to happen in Westlands. She can feel free and wild like Rob without actually having to do it. But maybe she should do it, she thinks, rebelliously. Maybe she should behave like a normal teenager for a while.
What would David think? She tries to squash the question. She knows the answer. David would not be happy. But should her first thought about every decision be to question what David would want her to do? That can’t be normal. Maybe she should be a bit more like Rob. Irreverent. Independent. Just thinking it feels like a betrayal. David loves her and she loves him. David saved her life.
Anyway, she thinks. Maybe she could do it and not tell him. It wouldn’t be a big secret. It would just be one moment of fun she’d keep to herself. She might not even like it. She looks down at David’s watch, dangling loose on her wrist. It’s gone two.
‘I’m going to hold you to that,’ Rob says. ‘We’re going to get mashed together. It’ll be brilliant.’ She can already see his mind ticking over, wondering how he can make this a reality. She wonders what he’d be like if he’d had her life. Maybe he’d have been at some great university now, on a scholarship. Maybe he’d have been the son her parents really wanted.
‘I have to go,’ she says, and he looks up, surprised.
‘Not another session?’
She shakes her head, awkward. She hasn’t told him about this. ‘No, it’s my lawyers. They’re coming in. I want to talk to them about some stuff. You know, all the inheritance things.’ She doesn’t know why she feels so flustered, but she does. ‘See how clearing out the damage on the house has gone. Getting security people to set up alarms and stuff around the land.’
She lets her hair hang over her face as she gets up. ‘Yeah. It’s complicated.’ Finally, she gives him a dazzling grin. A heart-melting grin. One that says everything is fine. ‘You concentrate on pinching yourself. If you don’t get the hang of this soon, I’m going to think you’re faking your nightmares.’
He smiles back. ‘Okay, Yoda. But only for you. I might have a wank first though.’
They’re both smiling as she leaves, and that makes her happy. She knows Rob worries. She knows he thinks David has too much control over her. And she knows that he absolutely wouldn’t be happy with what she is about to do.
It’s been ten days since Adele gave me the e-cig starter kit, and a week since I’ve smoked a real cigarette, and I can’t help the feeling of slightly smug pride as I tuck it into my bag and stroll in to work. I should have tried it earlier really. I’ve seen them everywhere, but like everything else on my personal to-do list, giving up smoking always ended up carrying over to the next day. But I could hardly not try it once Adele had spent the money on it, especially given everything. I didn’t expect to like it, I didn’t expect it to work, but it’s nice to wake up and not have my hair reeking of smoke. The same with my clothes. Adam will be happy too, and Ian, not that he really matters, but at the same time I don’t want to be the kind of mother who the second wife can judge for smoking even though she has a child. And now I’m not. True, I probably use it too much – it’s so easy to use in the flat – but I’ve made a vow that when Adam is home, I’ll treat it like a real cigarette and go out on the balcony when I want it.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes