Behind her eyes, p.12
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       Behind Her Eyes, p.12

           Sarah Pinborough
 
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I put the letter and the bill down on the kitchen side where David will see it. I place it so it looks as if I’ve casually tossed it there. That will annoy him too. I shouldn’t have opened it. I should have put it on his desk when I saw the company stamp. It’s addressed to both of us, but everyone knows he’s in charge of the money. I’m only the pretty puppet: the tragic wife who needs looking after.

  The solicitors have stopped asking us if we’re going to sell the estate. We could never sell it. Although, maybe, in the future … my stomach flips with the potential of everything. With the possibility of our secret being out in the open and allowed to crumble to dust and then nothing. To be free of it. The thought is dizzying, but it also strengthens me.

  I look at the clock. It’s eight thirty. Outside the summer day is beginning to fade. David will be out until ten. He didn’t want dinner waiting, so I don’t have that to worry about. I do have a place to go, however, and there’s no point in putting it off for longer. I need to be prepared. I need to be ready. In some ways I’m actually looking forward to it.

  I just have to be very, very careful.

  23

  LOUISE

  ‘Dude! Are you high or something? I mean, this is a real shit-fest you’ve got yourself into. Even I can see that, and you know how I like a good mess.’ Sophie’s disapproval comes through loud and clear on the phone, and I wish I hadn’t said anything.

  ‘What have you been thinking? And why didn’t you tell me already?’

  ‘I’ve been busy,’ I mutter. What gives her the right to be so judgemental? She’s in no position to be.

  ‘No shit. The boss thing aside, this is not good. As much as I’m happy you’re getting yourself out there, this isn’t quite what I had in mind.’ She’s trying to temper her point by being funny, but I still flush as I pace around the house. She’s only called me because her plans for the evening fell through and she’s stuck at home with Ella. She probably hasn’t even noticed that I haven’t been texting her.

  ‘I know, I know,’ I say. ‘And I will end it.’

  ‘End which? Her or him? I feel like you’re shagging both.’ She pauses. ‘Are you shagging both?’

  I smile a little at that even though I’m annoyed with her. ‘No, of course I’m not. It’s just … I don’t know – every time I try to end one or the other, I can’t.’

  ‘You want my advice?’ Sophie says, before a small voice interrupts in the background. ‘Hang on, Louise.’ Her voice quiets as she turns away from our call. ‘What?’ she says, irritated. ‘I told you Ella, Mummy’s on the phone. Go and ask Daddy. Well, ask him again.’ She comes back into my ear. ‘Sorry Lou. Bloody children …’

  My throat is tight. I’m not sure I do want her advice. What I really want is for her to laugh and tell me it’s all fine, and isn’t it so exciting? I have a feeling that’s not coming. I’m right.

  ‘If you want my advice, honey,’ she continues, ‘ditch them both. You can’t be her friend because you’ll always have shagged her husband and that’s shit, and you can’t be his lover because he’s married to a woman you’ve been friends with, and that’s also shit. Having an affair is a big enough secret and not one I think you’re really cut out for – and that’s a compliment. You’re better than this, Lou. Get on Tinder or something. There are lots of hot men out there – trust me. Single ones and everything. I swear to God, if you haven’t got a profile set up by the next time I see you, there’s going to be trouble. Okay?’

  ‘Okay,’ I say, lying through my teeth to make her happy and get rid of her.

  ‘I’ve got to go, Lou – Ella’s about to go into meltdown. But keep in touch. I’m here if you need me.’

  She hangs up, but I still hear her words echoing in my head. Ditch them both. That’s easy for her to say with her busy life and her family and her affairs. Sophie is never short of attention or company.

  I probably won’t even see her before Adam gets back, and then I’ll have to dump David, so it will all be resolved. Not that I need to do anything to please Sophie. When she tells me about her affairs, I listen and nod and keep my judgements to myself. Why couldn’t she do the same? She thinks she knows best, but she doesn’t. I can’t imagine Adele ever telling me what to do like that. Adele would listen and be supportive – like a proper friend.

  I realise how crazy that sounds, given the situation, and so I put Sophie firmly out of my head and pour my second glass of wine, adding some ice to make it last longer. I don’t feel too bad because I’ve allowed the calories for it, and to be honest I could have been worse today. Weekends are hard to diet on, but now I’m feeling the difference, it’s getting a bit easier. I didn’t jog because my sleep screwed me over and I couldn’t face it, but I did go for a long walk, and although I had a massive craving for bread, I just had fish and vegetables for dinner before calling Adam and Ian and hearing about all the delicious things they’d been eating, which made my stomach rumble more.

  So, I’m not going to beat myself up over the wine. You’ve got to have some fun and it’s not like getting tipsy can lead me down the dark path to overeating. The cupboards are bare and I’m too lazy to go out at this time of night. I need the wine to sleep anyway. I’m sure my night terrors have got worse, but then I guess that’s not surprising as I’m fucking my new friend’s husband. I say the word harshly in my head so that I flinch. Yeah, no wonder my sleep is so disturbed.

  I flick through the channels looking for some distraction. Some awful talent show is on, but that’s about it. An old episode of A Touch of Frost. Nothing to grab me. I drink more wine, and my mind drifts back to David and Adele. There’s always some part of my brain thinking about David and Adele. Is he thinking about me? Is she thinking about me? I almost laugh. How fucked up is that? I should get an early night. At least tomorrow I can lie in if my sleep is shit.

  I go to the kitchen and top up my glass. Still just under half a bottle left if I stop now, and that’s way better than normal. Is David drinking at home? Have they gone out for dinner? Are they having some kind of guilty make-up sex? Does he compare our bodies? God, I hope not. The questions hum away in my head and I give up fighting them.

  I get the notebook out of the kitchen drawer. It’s my link to them, and if they’re going to be in my head, then I may as well dip back into Adele’s past, even if it is a strain to figure out the scribbled, messy words. Also, I’ve been much better at the routines over the past couple of days. Maybe this will help me really grasp it.

  I switch off the TV and take my wine glass through to the bedroom. I’ve got a mellow, tired buzz on, even though I haven’t drunk all that much. Dieting is turning me into a cheap date. I try not to think about how cheap I already am, given everything.

  I keep my T-shirt on but ditch the rest of my clothes on the floor and get into bed. My eyes are already heavy and I take a big swallow of wine. I haven’t brushed my teeth. I’ll do it when I finish my drink – mint and wine are not a good mix – but the odds are on I’ll probably fall asleep first and then do it when my bad dreams wake me up in a few hours. I’m so rock ’n’ roll, I think, half smiling at how not rock ’n’ roll I am, in bed before ten, and then I flick on the bedside lamp and open the notebook. The small spiky writing hurts my eyes at first, but slowly I learn the shapes of it. Adele and David’s past. Your sleep, my inner voice tells me. You’re reading this to help your sleep. Yeah right, I answer myself. We both know that’s a lie.

  … It starts the same as usual. I’m running and they’re all coming after me. The dealers from the estate, my long-gone waste of space mother, Ailsa, that boy I beat up in the alley that time for no other reason than my skin itching, my lack of high and all my bubbling rage. They’re them, I know they’re them, but they’re also not them. Monstrous versions of themselves, how I see them really; sunken eyes, flabby skin, sharp teeth bloody from sucking me dry of everything with their constant existence. I’ve got marks in my arms where my mum and Ailsa have caught and bitten me before I’ve broken free. Don
’t need a head doctor to tell me what that’s about. They’d call it guilt. Guilt about my habit and the effect it has on my family. They have no idea what’s in my head. The marks and the biting and the sucking my blood are about them sending me to rehab and making me give up the one thing I actually enjoy in this dreary life.

  I’m running through the tower block. Not the one I live in with Ailsa, but the one my mum and ‘Shanks’, her paedo boyfriend, really named Terry, shared before he disappeared. It’s old and stinks so badly of piss in the lifts that even when they’re working it makes you think fuck that and take the stairs. I’m on the stairs in the dream and I can hear them behind me, calling after me, insulting me. ‘We know about you! Don’t think we don’t!’ my mum shrieks. Their voices are wet, too many sharp teeth in their mouths. I can hear metal clattering against the concrete steps and my legs feel as if they’re moving through treacle. I can’t get any speed up. I reach a landing and look back.

  They’re two flights down but moving fast in a crazy half-human, half-beast pack. Their hands have long, sharp knives where their fingers should be, dragging along behind them. They’re coming to slice and dice me and then eat me up. I’m too tired to keep running up the stairs and I look towards the door from the stairwell to the line of crappy flats. Hip hop music booms from somewhere. There’s a grimy glass panel in the door and through it I see Shanks, never one to be left out. He glares at me from the other side of the dirty glass and raises a finger-knife and wiggles it as if telling me off.

  I’m stuck. They’re going to catch me, I know it. Their fingers will tear me apart. This is normally where I freeze in the dream and only when Ailsa reaches me do I wake up. But not this time. This time, dream-me has a moment.

  Doors.

  Fingers.

  I look down at my hands. There’s an extra little finger on my right one. I stand there on the landing and almost laugh. I’m dreaming and I know it. The sound of scratching metal fades as I concentrate. I look at the landing door, but I know it’s not the door I want. I turn to the wall where some amateur ugly graffiti tags have been lazily sprayed. I mentally rearrange the lines to form a small door with a round handle like on a kid’s drawing.

  The monsters behind me are closing in, but I ignore them as I reach out to open my new door. I think of a beach. Not the one from the crappy holiday we had in Blackpool where it rained nearly every day and Ailsa had teenage tantrums all the time because she hadn’t been able to bring her spotty twat of a boyfriend, but a really posh beach like in travel agents’ windows.

  I twist the handle and step through.

  My night terror disappears, and I’m on a white beach, warm breeze in my hair, the sand hot between my toes as the warm water laps at them. I’m in shorts and a T-shirt. I’m calm. I want to laugh. I want Adele to see this and then suddenly she appears – a dream-Adele. The water is unnaturally blue but it’s how I’ve always imagined the ocean to be. I add dolphins. I add a waiter walking towards us with tall cocktails. They look odd. I’ve never had a cocktail, but it tastes of strawberry slush, how I think they should. I almost add a needle and a high, but I don’t. In the dream I laugh and then the dream-Adele laughs and then I can’t hold it any more and I wake up.

  BUT I DID IT. I can’t fucking believe I did it. I fucking did it! I can be the king of my own dreams. The next time will be better. I know it. I’m too pumped to go back to sleep. It’s four a.m. and everyone’s asleep but my heart is racing. I haven’t felt this good about anything in forever. It was like magic. Real magic, not a drug high. I’m itching to go and tell Adele but the girls are in the other half of the house and I can’t risk getting caught in there. They’d kick me out. When I got here I’d have welcomed that, but not now. I’m totally buzzing. I’m grinning like a twat just writing this. I won’t tell her that I imagined her on the beach with me, that she appeared straight away as if it were meant to be. As if I can’t imagine being happy without her. That freaks me out enough, fuck knows how she’d feel about it.

  Nearly halfway through our stay now. What will happen when we leave? Can’t imagine Doctor-David wanting me around. Adele says he’ll love me, but she doesn’t know people like I do and he seems like a control freak to me.

  I’m still wondering what that solicitor shit was all about. I haven’t pushed her on it, but she was weird after. She’ll tell me eventually. I’m good at getting people to talk. I do more listening than talking in the sessions now. Everyone wants to talk about themselves. Fundamental. Maybe I should get a fucking job here. (JOKES).

  The birds are waking up outside. I still can’t believe I did it. All that pinching and finger counting paid off. I controlled my fucking dream. David can’t do that. This is something that’s hers and mine …

  My eyes are blurring and I find myself reading the last sentence twice as the wine makes my head fuzzy. I close my eyes. Just for a second. The book slips from my hand. I need to brush my teeth, I think, vaguely, and then I’m asleep.

  24

  ADELE

  It’s just awful. Awful. There are no other words to describe this morning. The shouting has stopped, but this deathly quiet is worse. I feel sick. I’m shaking. I don’t actually know what to say, or if there’s anything I should say. Or can say. This is all my own doing.

  ‘I’m moving into the spare room. For now. For a while. I think that’s for the best. Until we decide what we’re going to do.’ His voice is professionally calm, but he’s livid. I know him. All I want to do is cry, but I don’t. I keep my face haughtily impassive. I don’t want him to know how much he’s hurting me.

  ‘Where’s the credit card?’ he asks, his eyes cold.

  The things I’ve ordered from the shopping channel started arriving at 8 a.m. and were all here by nine. I timed them all perfectly, paying extra for a specific time slot. The buying only took an hour or so of dedicated effort, but David’s American Express account is now hyperventilating at the cost of my random purchases. A new coffee machine – the finest model. A new bread maker – the same. Some jewellery. A very expensive camera. A slicer/dicer/steamer with all the accessories. And the pièce de résistance, a top of the range treadmill. Thousands of pounds gone.

  Like a child I take my handbag from the back of one of the kitchen chairs and pass it to him, and then watch as he pulls the precious card from my wallet and cuts it up.

  ‘I thought this was supposed to be a fresh start,’ he says, as he throws the plastic quarters into the bin. He looks so cold. I want to tell him that everything is going to be okay and to trust me, but I can’t. I’ve started down this path, doing things to push him away from me and towards her, and I have to stay on it. I can’t be weak. I have to have faith in Louise and me and David to make this work.

  ‘I thought all this was done with a long time ago,’ he mutters, and stares down the hallway where it looks as though we’ve just moved in again, boxes everywhere. ‘I’ll arrange to have everything sent back.’ He pauses. ‘You can keep the treadmill if you want.’

  I know what he’s thinking. He can trap me in the house for more of my time with that. ‘It can go back,’ I say. He can’t cancel the gym membership anyway. We’re paid up for the year. It was cheaper that way, and I was trying to please him at the time. Our fresh start.

  I stare at him. Does he still have even a tiny ember of love left for me? He must do. He must. He goes back into my bag and takes my house keys.

  ‘I have to go to the outreach centre. I don’t have any choice. They’ve arranged a clinic, but I’ll only be two hours.’

  Of course he has to go out. Work comes first. He always wants to help people. Except us. Except me. He’s given up there. For me it’s just pills, pills, and more pills. I don’t understand why he’s taken my keys until he goes to the kitchen door, locks it, and pockets the key, and then I bark out an unpleasant half-laugh. I can’t help it.

  ‘You’re locking me in?’ I’m incredulous. Our marriage has felt like a prison for some time, we both feel that, b
ut is he now becoming my gaoler?

  ‘It’s for your own good.’ At least he has the decency to redden and not meet my eyes. ‘Only for this morning. I can’t be … I can’t be …’ he struggles to find the words, ‘I can’t be distracted.’ He gestures feebly at the corridor and then at my face. ‘By all this.’ He looks away. He can’t bear to look at me. ‘Get some rest. Maybe we need to change your meds again. I’ll sort it out tomorrow.’

  I’m stuck on that word, distracted. What he means is he can’t be distracted by wondering where I am and what I’m doing. Even our little phone call routine isn’t enough for him.

  Maybe you should cut your distractions by not fucking your fat receptionist, is what I want to scream at him, but I don’t. The pills he made me take in front of him are kicking in, and I’m starting to feel a bit drowsy. I don’t actually mind. Some sleep will do me good.

  His phone beeps and his lift is here. He doesn’t take my phone from me – whether on purpose or because he’s still reeling with everything else and has forgotten about it – and I’m relieved. I’ve hidden it just in case, but I’m taking enough, probably premature, risks already. The phone is for another time.

  ‘We’ll talk more later,’ he says, heading for the door. His words are hollow. Talking is something we really don’t do. We don’t talk about us and we don’t talk about that. He pauses and looks back, and I think he’s going to say something more, but he doesn’t.

  We stare at each other for a long moment, once lovers, now silent combatants, and then he’s gone.

  I hear the key turning in the bottom lock and I feel entombed in our house. It’s very strange to know I can’t get out. I haven’t felt so helpless in a long time. What if there’s a fire? What if the house starts to burn while I sleep? I’m dozy on medication. What if I put a pan on to boil and forget about it? Has he considered any of these things? It’s not as if a fire hasn’t happened before. Perhaps he thinks I’m resourceful enough these days to get out by myself. And to be fair, the windows would be easy enough to break if I put my mind to it.

 
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