Behind Her Eyes, p.11Sarah Pinborough
There’s a spring in my step as I breathe in the summer morning air, and I feel happy. I shouldn’t. Everything is, in so many ways, a total mess, and all my fault, but somehow I’m managing to ignore that. I’m even guiltily enjoying Adam being away a little bit. I miss him all the time, but I have more freedom now. I can be a woman of my own rather than just Adam’s mum.
This morning the scales had gone down over a kilo. Not only is it day ten of e-cig, it’s also day ten of no pasta, potatoes, or bread, and I can’t believe how much better I’m feeling for it already. Adele was right. Carbs are the devil’s work. Save them for treat days. It’s also so much easier to follow a diet while Adam’s not home. Plenty of steak and fish and salads. Eggs for breakfast. I don’t even feel all that hungry, but that’s also partly because my stomach is in knots of lust and guilt for most of the time. Maybe I will drop the half a stone after all. I’ve even cut down on the wine, and what I do drink, I factor into my calories for the day. Now I need the dream thing to kick in so I can have a decent night’s sleep. I need to do the routines every hour today instead of starting well and then letting it slide. I’m determined to try harder. I feel as if, after everything Adele’s helping me with, I’m letting her down. I know how crazy that sounds too.
I’m early – for once these days – and rather than going straight in, I decide to stroll around the block and enjoy the beautiful morning. It’ll also add to my step count, the new app on my phone quietly insisting I reach my ten thousand. Another Adele idea. She is a good friend to me. And the worst part is, that if any of this ever ended up on some tabloid TV chat show, I would be seen as such a bitch. Maybe I am one. I’m behaving like one anyway. I know that. But nothing is ever that clear cut, is it? I do really like Adele. She’s the best friend I’ve had in ages, and she’s so different from other people. So elegant and sweet and interested in me. With Sophie I feel like I’m begging to be fitted into her social calendar. It’s not like that with Adele. I’ve barely texted Sophie since Adele came along. Her friendship should be enough, I know. But it hasn’t been. I may not be eating so much these days, but I’m still greedy. Adele and David. I want them both. Another reason I haven’t spoken to Sophie. She’d give me an earful over it. I dig out the e-cig and puff on it as I walk.
Anyway, I tell myself as the clinic comes back into view, the sex can’t last. Adam’s only away for a couple more weeks or so, and I won’t be letting David in at night after that. What if Adam ever met Adele? What if he talked about David? And what kind of mother wants to set her son that example? To say that it’s okay for a married man to come around, fuck, and then leave? I try to tell myself that’s my main concern, but I’m kidding myself. My main worry is that Adam is too young to keep secrets, and if he ever gets dropped off at the clinic after school for some reason, the last thing I’d need is for him to recognise the man who visits Mummy some nights. It’s all so sordid. Worse than that, it’s a stupid, selfish thing to be doing. But when David touches me, I come alive. I love the smell of him on me. I love the feel of his skin. I love his smile. I’m like a teenager when he’s there. And then when I’m with Adele I feel like I matter. I’m important to her.
I can feel the waistband of my trousers moving slightly as I reach for my office keys. I’m definitely getting slimmer. Perhaps between the two of them, David and Adele, they’re bringing me back to life.
‘I wasn’t sure if you wanted one.’ Sue has the kettle boiling and is holding up a bacon roll. I can see the ketchup grease through the paper. ‘No problems if you don’t, I can always find a home elsewhere for it.’ She smiles. ‘Or, of course, eat it myself.’
‘No thanks,’ I say, happy to break another routine. ‘Tomorrow’s treat day.’ I’m hungry after last night’s sex, but I’ve got two hard-boiled eggs in a Tupperware pot, and I’ll have those instead. Preparation is key in a diet, Adele’s taught me that too, and I boil up the eggs six at a time and store them in the fridge. The bacon does smell good, but there’s a strange pleasure in refusing it. As if I have control, at least over something. The bacon isn’t the pleasure I should be saying no to, but it’s a start. ‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I should have texted you and said. I’ll give you the money.’
‘You’ll do no such thing.’ Sue puts my tea in front of me. ‘You’re looking well at the moment. Glowing almost.’ She looks at me curiously.
‘I’m not pregnant if that’s what you’re asking!’ Despite the recent lift in my mood, that pregnancy word is never far from my mind.
‘I was going to ask if there was a new man in your life actually.’
‘I should be so lucky.’ I laugh then, and concentrate on peeling my egg.
‘Well, carry on as you are and you’ll be fighting them off,’ she says. ‘A pretty woman like you shouldn’t be single. It’s time to get back out into the dating game.’
‘Maybe,’ I say. ‘Right now I’m just concentrating on me.’ I still smile, although I feel a little sick imagining trying to explain it all to Sue with her life-long marriage and settled ways. Sue would think I’m crazy and wrong, and I am. But I’m also happy for the first time in what feels like for ever, and is that really so terrible? As long as no one gets hurt? We’re all keeping secrets. Adele, me, and David. As long as it stays that way, can’t I have this? Can’t I have both of them?
Sue’s still looking at me, sure I’m hiding something, and I can’t blame her for it. I know that my eyes are sparkling and there’s a spring in my step that’s been missing for a while.
I finish my eggs and look down at my hands, counting my fingers. I hope Adele is okay. Did they fight last night? Is that why he came around? Or did he claim he was at his outreach to get out that way? I think about them more than I think about me sometimes. He’d been drinking, but he wasn’t drunk when he left. He could probably have covered it. I’m starting to think he’s pretty good at covering up his drinking. Maybe I should try and talk to him about it. His drinking. Maybe that’s what’s wrong in their marriage? Adele doesn’t really drink at all. When we’ve had lunch, I might have a glass of wine, but she doesn’t. I need to cut down more too. Less wine will definitely help drop my extra pounds more quickly.
I leave Sue to her second bacon roll and go to David’s office to set the coffee machine going. In a stupid way it’s like pretending to play house with him. I have butterflies in my stomach and I can’t stop the excitement. I’ve always liked my job, but now there is an added thrill to it. I find myself looking at his hands as he signs off on prescriptions and letters and remembering how they’ve touched me. Where they’ve been.
I still sometimes think about how panicked Adele was when she thought she’d miss a phone call, and all those pills in their cupboard, but maybe there’s nothing sinister in it really? Maybe she is nervy. Even she admitted she had problems in her past. Perhaps David’s behaviour is protective rather than controlling? Who really knows what goes on behind closed doors? I can’t ask him about it anyway, not without letting on that I know Adele, and then he really would think I’m a crazy stalker, and I would have betrayed Adele. It’s all so messy. I know it is, but that doesn’t stop my heart thundering in my chest when he appears in the doorway.
‘Morning,’ I say.
‘And a good morning to you.’ He looks tired, but his smile is warm and genuine, and his blue eyes twinkle just for me, and heat rushes in blotches to my face. It’s ridiculous. We work together every day. I should be used to the sight of him by now, but this morning is different. Something shifted last night when we lay in bed and talked. Of course it didn’t last – the familiar guilt soon settled in between our cooling bodies. Men are strange. As if the betrayal is in the laughter and the closeness rather than the sex. But then I guess it is. That thought hurt me most when Ian cheated, once I’d stopped obsessing about the sex. Maybe because laughter is harder to compartmentalise.
It’s all a terrible betrayal, that’s what I’d wanted to say to him when he left. All of it. But I couldn’t bring myself
‘You’re in a good mood,’ I say.
He’s about to answer, a half-smile on his open mouth, his hands stuffed into his trouser pockets in a way that totally makes my heart melt for some reason, when Dr Sykes comes in.
‘David? Can I have a word?’
I smile and disappear back to my desk, closing the door on them. The little almost-moment between us is gone and it’s probably best that way. I need to get a grip. Whatever this is, it can’t last, and I mustn’t get attached. It’s only lust. It will pass. It can’t turn into something more, and I won’t let it. The words feel hollow though. My heart’s beating too fast for them to be true.
By lunchtime I’m on my sixth call from Anthony Hawkins, and in each one he’s become more agitated and I’m trying very hard to stay calm while getting him off the phone.
‘As I said earlier, Mr Hawkins, I will pass your messages on to Dr Martin as soon as he’s free. If this is an emergency, can I recommend that you …’
‘I want to speak to David. I need to talk to him.’
‘Then I’ll make sure he calls you back as soon as he can.’
His breathing is fast in my ear. ‘And you definitely have my mobile number right? I don’t want him ringing the wrong number.’
I repeat the number on my screen back to him, and finally he hangs up. I add this final call to my list of messages for David and will him to come out of his practice meeting so he can take Anthony off my hands. I’m a bit concerned to be honest. As far as I’m aware their sessions have been going well, and Anthony’s booked in for another on Monday. He’s having three or more a week, at his own insistence, and I hope he hasn’t had some kind of relapse to cause this sudden need to speak to David before the weekend.
Finally, the doctors emerge and I pass the call list to David. ‘I know it’s lunchtime, but I think you should call him back. He sounded quite agitated.’
‘Was his speech slurred?’ David scans the times of the calls.
‘No. No, I don’t think so.’
‘I’ll call him now. And can you get me the numbers for his parents and his solicitor? And his medical doctor?’
I nod. We’re back to boss and secretary, which isn’t at all sexy despite the clichés. ‘I’ll email them to you.’
He’s still looking at the note when he goes into his office. I’m kind of hoping he’ll look back at me and smile or something, but he doesn’t. His mind is fully on Anthony. I like that about him. There are doctors here who – despite being excellent at their job – can fully disassociate themselves from their patients. Maybe that’s the best and most professional way to be, but I don’t think David is like that. But then I doubt those doctors drink every night either. He’s a strange one. I wonder, as I’m always wondering, what demons drive him. How someone so good at listening to others and drawing them out can be so shit at talking himself.
I eat my salad at my desk and then let the Friday afternoon quiet waft over me. Anthony calls twice more, even though he confirms he has just spoken to David. He says he forgot something and he needs to speak to him again. I politely cut him off, not wanting to get drawn into a conversation I’m not qualified to deal with.
At two thirty I see the light on David’s Line 1 telephone button come on. The call only lasts a minute or so, and I know it is to Adele. I’ve tried not to track his calls like this, but I can’t help it. Half past eleven and half past two every day. Short calls. Not long enough for the politenesses of a work conversation. Every day it reminds me of Adele’s panic to get back from the gym, and I’ve spent enough time with her now to have seen more of these calls from the other end, even though she always disappears to another room or the hallway to take them. Of all the things wrong with my situation, of all the ways I should be feeling terrible, it’s these calls that gnaw at me the most. What is it with these two? What kind of love do they have? Is it even love at all? A stab of envy hits my stomach.
At the end of the day, the last clients gone, and the weekend ready to claim us, David comes out of his office, jacket on and briefcase in hand. I don’t expect him to linger at the office – he never has and it would be weird – but I still feel a little pang of disappointment.
‘Is Anthony okay?’ I ask, part concern, part wanting to talk to him. He can’t give me details, I know that, but I still ask.
‘Keep any calls he makes brief,’ he says. ‘I’ve given him a direct line number for now as a stopgap, but if he can’t get through on it, he might ring your line. Don’t get into any personal discussions with him.’
I nod, a little confused. What the hell has gone on? ‘All right.’ My face is full of questions though, and he can see it.
‘He’s an obsessive. I imagine the heroin use gave him a release from it, but became an obsession in itself. I had hoped he wouldn’t get attached so quickly, but I was wrong.’
I think about all the calls. ‘He’s got a fixation on you?’
‘Possibly. But I don’t want it transferring to you if he can’t get hold of me. It’s not that he thinks I’m particularly special – he’s got a history of attaching to new people. I’m part of that pattern.’
‘I can manage the calls,’ I say. I want to point out that I’m actually quite good at my job, but I also like that he’s worried about me. I’m more concerned for him though. ‘Is he dangerous?’
‘I don’t think so,’ he says, and smiles. ‘He’s just a bit troubled. But it’s not your job to take those chances.’
Sue is in the kitchen, and she can see us from where she’s rinsing mugs for the dishwasher, and so I can’t ask him about his weekend plans – even though I don’t really want to know; Adele is always sitting between us even though she’s never mentioned – and now that the work chat is done, he awkwardly wishes me a good weekend and heads to the door.
He looks back as he leaves, a quick glance over his shoulder. A last look. It makes my stomach fizz with a surge of happiness, and then it twists in jealousy. He’s going home to her for the weekend. Does he think of me at all on those days? I know he must do sometimes because he’s turned up at my door on a Saturday before, but how does he think of me? Does he consider leaving her for me? I wish I knew what I am to him. Where this is leading, if anywhere at all. Surely he should be talking about that by now? It’s not as if we’re kids. I feel cheap all over again and I slump back in my chair. I should end it. I know I should.
I look at the clock. It’s coming up for five. I look away and look back again and the time remains the same. I need to clear out the coffee, finish some admin to leave for Monday, and then it’s time to go home myself.
I think about going for a jog this evening, but I’m so tired from my broken sleep that I know it’s not going to happen. I pinch myself. ‘I am awake,’ I mutter.
Even though we spent the evening at home like any other couple – dinner, TV, minimal conversation – David still slept in the spare room last night. He blamed it on the warm weather, but this is a big old house and the thick walls keep the airy rooms relatively cool. He didn’t look at me as he went up to bed. It wasn’t entirely unexpected but I still felt stabbed in the guts with a shard of my own broken heart.
When I heard him moving around this morning, I got up and went to the gym to avoid facing him across the invisible bitter split in our marriage. I had to let out some of my pent-up emotions and I ran hard on the treadmill and then did heavier reps on the machines than I’ve done before, but I didn’t take any pleasure in it. It all feels like a waste of time. What does it matter? What do I matter any more?
I got home in time to make us both a light lunch, and then he was gone. Off to his outreach work. Some badly-dressed lump of a man picked him up in an old car. They all look the same, do-gooders. That’s a thing that hasn’t changed si
After he’d left I thought about texting her myself to see if she fancied a coffee somewhere – I suddenly felt lonely in the house – but then decided against it. I don’t know where he goes on these days, and even though it’s a busy area we live in, coincidences do happen. I can’t risk everything on him spotting us from a car just because I’m feeling down.
Instead, I cleaned the house for an hour or two, scrubbing the bathrooms until they sparkled and I was breathless, and then I was interrupted by the Saturday post clattering – late as usual – through the letterbox.
When I saw the envelope, the familiar company stamp in the corner and neatly handwritten address, I was glad I hadn’t started an argument today. It would have been too much and it isn’t needed. This will be enough to unsettle him. In my mind’s eye the past is like quicksand and David’s stuck in it, slowly, slowly sinking. It makes me sad again.
I open the envelope and stare at the columns of description and expenditure and glance over the cover letter. Nothing unusual or surprising there, but then there never is. We don’t go back to Fairdale House and no one has lived there since the one wing burned. I reread the letter. A few repairs done on the main building. Fences maintained. Security cameras all working. No new damage to the property. Gas and electric still connected and fees paid. Drainage is fine. Rents are being paid on the outlying fields. The summer report is always cheaper than the winter one. No need to run the heating so much against the Scottish cold. To be honest, I think most people have forgotten the estate is even there: Sleeping Beauty’s castle behind the hedgerows.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes