Behind Her Eyes, p.14Sarah Pinborough
But now, Adele in front of me, I can see why she didn’t want to meet up sooner. I feel a bit sick. She’s tried to cover the fading bruise with make-up, but it’s still visible. Dark brooding purples and greens on her perfect cheekbone. In some ways, the foundation almost makes it more noticeable, caked and flaking over the colour.
‘Oh, it’s nothing,’ she says, concentrating on driving – or pretending to concentrate so she doesn’t have to look at me. ‘A silly accident. I opened a cupboard door into my face. Like an idiot.’
She’s trying to sound light-hearted, but I don’t buy it, and my legs sweat on the hot car seat. Something’s happened. I look at her properly while she indicates and turns. She seems diminished, haunted even. Her hair has lost its lustre. For the first time I feel as if I’m the one who’s glowing, not her. A few good nights’ sleep have changed me. I’m refreshed and energised. I haven’t felt so well in years, if ever. I feel like a new me, and I want to celebrate it with my friend, but now, seeing her so small, I feel almost guilty for my joy.
‘I thought we could give the gym a miss today,’ she continues. ‘I’m not really in the mood for it. And it’s a lovely day. Let’s have lunch in the garden and you can tell me about the dreams.’ She smiles then and I see her flinch slightly. A tremor, but enough for me to know that the bruise still hurts.
‘Sure,’ I say. My mind is racing. Who opens a cupboard door into their own face? With that amount of force? Is it even possible? Phone calls. Pills. Bruises. All of it makes my stomach clench. All signs I’m so desperate to ignore that there might be something seriously wrong with David. Adele loves the gym. Why doesn’t she want to go? Has she got more bruises on her body that she’s afraid I’ll see in the changing room?
I want to say something, to check she’s okay, and then her mobile, sitting in the key well, rings. I don’t need to ask who it is.
‘I’m just going to the gym,’ she says after answering it. She sounds almost apologetic. ‘Yes, that’s right. No, I’m going straight home. I promise. Okay, I’ll speak to you then. Bye.’
‘Well that was romantic,’ I say, dryly, and open the window. It’s hot in the car and I feel slightly queasy after seeing the bruise and hearing their conversation. I feel awful. Angry. Upset. Confused. David hasn’t been avoiding my bed because he’s rekindling his marriage, that’s for sure.
‘Did you two have a row?’ I don’t use the word fight. I don’t want her to think I’m asking if David hit her, although that’s pretty much exactly what I’m asking, even though I can’t quite imagine it. Not my David anyway. Adele’s David is a stranger.
‘Oh no,’ she says, but she doesn’t look at me as she parks the car. ‘No, nothing like that. Just, you know, marriage.’
I don’t know, I realise. I know nothing about their marriage, but it seems very different to most, to what Ian and I had definitely. Ian and I rubbed along together, before his affair, like everyone else. The odd falling out, but I was never afraid of him. David and Adele’s is nothing like that. The phone calls, her nervousness, his moods, the pills, and now this. How much am I supposed to ignore because he seems different with me? I love Adele. She’s given me the ability to sleep properly at night, which is the best thing ever. I don’t want her to be unhappy and hurt. But my feelings for David are real too. Am I being an idiot? Is he an abuser? Will it be me with a black eye soon? It all feels surreal.
Could he have hit her? I think as I get out of the car. Really? Surely not. Maybe Adele is telling the truth and she just had a stupid accident at home. Maybe that’s why he hasn’t turned up at my door. He’s been looking after her. Feeling guilty? The tension seeps out of my stomach a bit as I cling to that explanation and follow Adele to the front door. An accident, that’s all.
There’s a boxed treadmill in the hallway, and Adele laughs when I see it, a tinkling broken glass sound. She says David bought it for her as a gift, but they’re sending it back. She didn’t want to stop going to the gym.
My mood sinks again as my head adds these new pieces to the puzzle. Was it meant to be a nice gift, or was there a more sinister motive? Was David trying to chain her to the house further? If she wasn’t going to the gym there was one less reason to go out and meet new people on her own? Maybe that caused a fight. Did she try to assert herself and then he punched her? And now, out of guilt at his own behaviour, he’s relented and is sending it back? But if he’s that jealous of how she spends her time when he’s at work, then why has he been sleeping with me? Why isn’t he at home with her all the time? And why isn’t he jealous of where I am when I’m not with him? Maybe it’s too early in our relationship for that. I’ve seen those films where the men are all charming at first, and then the violence comes. It feels weird to even think of David and violence in the same sentence. Maybe he simply doesn’t care enough about me to want to know my every move. Maybe, I try to tell myself, he didn’t hit her at all.
‘Which cupboard?’ I ask, when we’re in the kitchen. Part of my brain is telling me to shut up and let it go, but I’m too curious. I can’t help myself. She looks at me, confused, as she gets plates out and effortlessly starts preparing a tapas-style lunch that never seems to include leaving coleslaw or hummus in their tubs and dumping them on the table like normal people.
‘Which cupboard? You know …’ I wave my hand around my own cheek.
‘Oh!’ she says. ‘Oh, that.’ Her eyes frantically run along the row for a moment. ‘That one. Above the kettle. Silly really. I wanted an ibuprofen and the kettle was boiling and steam got in my eyes so I couldn’t see what I was doing. So stupid.’
I nod and smile, but my heart is thumping hard and I know she’s lying. She picked at random, and from where I’m standing I’m pretty sure she’d have to be crouching a little for the corner of the door to hit her cheekbone. I can’t see how it could have hit her directly in the face if she was the one opening it. Not with enough force to cause that injury. It’s a dying bruise, so it must have been there for a few days.
I very nearly ask the question that hums between us – Did David do it? – but I chicken out. I don’t think I want to know, not here and not now. Not where my own reaction can’t be tempered. My guilt would show. I’d end up telling her what I’ve been doing with him, and I can’t do that. I can’t. I’d lose them both. And anyway, she’s too fragile for that right now. It would probably break her.
Instead, still feeling sick, I grab the bottle of sparkling elderflower water and two glasses and take them out into the fresh air. For the first time in ages I’m craving a real cigarette and I can’t get my electronic one out of my bag fast enough.
‘So, tell me!’ she says, once she joins me with two full plates, which look wonderful even though I don’t feel at all like eating. ‘You actually did it?’
‘Yep.’ I breathe out a long stream of vapour, letting the nicotine calm me slightly. For the first time today I see proper happiness in her face, and she claps her hands together with joy like a child.
‘I knew you could do it. I just knew it.’
I smile. I can’t help myself, and I push David from my thoughts, for now. I compartmentalise. This is me and Adele. Her marriage is not my business. Also, selfishly, I’ve been dying to tell her since I woke up on Sunday morning.
‘I feel so good,’ I say. ‘I never knew how much difference a few good nights’ sleep could make to my life. I’ve got so much more energy.’
‘Well, come on, tell me! How did you do it?’
‘It just happened,’ I shrug. ‘It was really easy. I fell asleep reading the notebook you gave me, and in it Rob had found his dream door, so it must have filtered into my subconscious. So, I was in my usual nightmare, Adam lost in this big old abandoned house and calling for me and I’m trying to find him while these dark tendrils are breaking free of the walls and trying to get to my throat—’ I feel silly telling it because it sounds so stupid, but Adele is rapt. ‘And then I stopped running and thought, “I don’t have to be here. Th
‘A door?’ she says.
I nod. ‘The door from my old Wendy house when I was a kid. Pink and with butterflies painted on it. But it was bigger, like it had grown with me. And it was just there, out of nowhere. Seeing it made me think of the house I grew up in before my parents fucked off to Australia to try to save their shitty marriage, and then I crouched down, opened the door, and let myself drop in. I was there. Back in that house. Exactly like it was when I was a child.’
‘What happened to the door?’
‘I looked up and it wasn’t there any more. And then I knew I’d done it.’
‘And you didn’t wake up? When you realised you were controlling everything? It took Rob a couple of times before he could stay in the dream, I think.’
‘No, I was fine.’ My stomach is unknotting and I eat a ricotta-stuffed bell pepper, before continuing, enjoying sharing the experience. ‘I wandered through the house, ate some of my mum’s apple pie that was in the fridge, and then went up to my old room, got into bed and went to sleep.’
‘You went to bed?’ She looks at me, halfway between incredulous and laughing. ‘You could make up anywhere to go and you went to sleep? Oh, Louise.’ She shakes her head and laughs, and this time she doesn’t flinch. I’ve made her feel better too.
‘God, though, it was such a good sleep,’ I say. ‘The past few nights have been amazing. I think I can honestly say you’ve changed my life. I didn’t realise how tired I was all the time.’
She pops a small piece of pitta and hummus in her mouth and shakes her head while she chews, still amused. ‘You went to bed.’
‘I know.’ It’s my turn to laugh.
‘You’ll feel equally as rested no matter what you do,’ she says. ‘Trust me on that. You can go anywhere with anyone you want. It’s your dream. You’re in control.’
‘Hmm, anywhere with anyone you say?’ I wiggle an eyebrow. ‘Robert Downey Jr springs to mind. That would still involve a bed though.’ We both laugh then, and I feel a surge of affection for her. She’s my friend. I’m a bitch. She doesn’t have many friends, and the one she’s helping has been sleeping with her husband, who treats her badly enough as it is. Great. Her helping me makes me think of Rob from the notebook.
‘Rob went to a beach in his dream,’ I say. ‘He imagined you were there.’ I’m a bit worried about mentioning the notebook in case she remembers how much detail is in it and wants it back, but I’m doing so much wrong that I want to do at least one thing right. I don’t want to read any more unless it’s okay with her. ‘Are you sure you don’t mind me reading it? It seems quite personal. I feel a bit weird reading about your past from someone else.’
‘It was a long time ago,’ she says softly, and for a moment a cloud passes overhead and casts a dark shadow of something sad across her beautiful face, but she brightens quickly. ‘I knew reading about someone else doing it would be better than me trying to explain. I’m terrible at explaining things.’
I remember the first time I saw her before I ran and hid in the loo, and I thought she was so elegant and in control, so far from this nervous self-deprecating woman. It’s strange how different we all appear to who we really are. How does she see me? Am I a dumpy, scruffy blonde in her eyes, or am I something else?
‘So you don’t mind?’
‘No.’ She shakes her head. ‘Actually you can keep it. I should have thrown it away ages ago. It’s a time we try not to think about.’
I can understand that. She’d just lost her parents in a fire, and it must have been terrible. But I’m still intrigued about the life between those pages.
‘Are you still friends with Rob?’ I ask. She never mentions him, and it seems weird given how close they were at Westlands.
‘No,’ she says, looking down at her plate, no cloud needed to cast a shadow on her face this time. ‘No. David didn’t really like him. I don’t know where he is now.’
Inside, the doorbell goes, and Adele scurries off apologetically to see who it is, and the moment is broken. David didn’t really like him. Another sign of David’s controlling behaviour that I have to figure out a way for my brain to ignore. But then, maybe I don’t need to think about it any more. He hasn’t exactly been knocking my door down this week, or paying me any attention at work. Perhaps it’s over. I hate how much that hurts.
Adele comes back, mumbling something about a tea-towel seller and aren’t they everywhere at the moment, this awful economy, and I don’t push her about Rob. I don’t want to say anything that might make her take the notebook back. I understand these two people who’ve become so important to my life little enough without losing this glimpse into their past. And if Adele doesn’t mind, then there’s no harm in it, surely?
‘Oh, honestly,’ I say. ‘Really? Is that a serious question?’ My laugh is a delightful tinkle into the telephone and I can almost hear Dr Sykes relaxing slightly on the other end. ‘I’m sorry,’ I continue. ‘I know it’s not a funny subject and I’m not laughing at it, but David? That’s funny. Yes, I do have a bruise on my face, but it was my own silly fault. A clumsy moment in the kitchen. Surely David told you that?’
To be honest I do feel quite amused as Dr Sykes witters into my ear. How typical of a junkie to exaggerate, and of course Anthony wants to save me so he’s embellished what he saw. How wonderfully perfect. I told David about him turning up at our door on Sunday evening – of course I did. He was likely to find out anyway if the boy went to a session. But I didn’t tell him that I’d given the impression of being afraid. And I haven’t told him that Anthony’s been back, almost causing an awkward moment when Louise was here. I got rid of him quickly, but not without hinting that I was glad to see him. He was worried about me, apparently. Quite sweet.
Maybe I should start lunching with Louise in town instead of here in case he’s loitering at our door and she sees him.
David went into work on Monday and immediately recommended a new therapist for Anthony, quite disturbed that he must have followed David home at some point to find out where we lived. Maybe more than once. Perhaps he’d spent several evenings studying our home from the end of the road, trying to pluck up the courage to approach. According to David, Anthony is a junkie only because he’s an obsessive, and he’d developed a fixation on him. I could hardly blame the boy for that. I love David madly too, and have done since I first saw him, but it would seem Anthony’s obsessions are rather more fickle. One look at my beautiful, bruised face and his fixation shifted to me. And now here I am on the phone defending my poor husband against allegations of wife-battering.
Dr Sykes, to be fair, at least sounds hugely uncomfortable having to raise this with me. He’s got me on speakerphone; I can hear the slight echo in the call quality. Is David listening? I can only imagine his face when they decided to ring me. Quite panicked. He wouldn’t have wanted this to happen. He wouldn’t know what I was likely to say. That irritates me slightly. He should trust me more than that. I would never damage his career. Why would I? I want him to be successful. I know how important it is to him.
‘To be clear,’ I say. ‘There was no fight. And we would never have words in front of a stranger. And certainly not a patient.’ Have words. I sound just the right amount of indignant. We are all very middle-class after all, and Dr Sykes the most. He must be mortified by now. ‘The young man came to the door and asked for David while I was clearing the kitchen after dinner, and I told him that David had gone to bed with a headache and that was that. He must have seen my bruise and created a story around it. Perhaps he was feeling rejected by my husband and wanted to punish him in some way?’ I know exactly how that feels. That is something young Anthony Hawkins and I have in common.
‘That’s what I thought,’ Dr Sykes says. ‘But obviously when he told his parents that he’d seen … well, what he said he’d seen, they felt a moral obligation to follow it up.’
‘Of course,’ I say. ‘And please do thank them for their concern, but there really is nothing to worry about here. Except perhaps my clumsiness.’ I laugh a little again then, as if the whole thing is still amusing me. ‘Poor David,’ I say. ‘He’s the last man alive who would ever hit a woman. Please tell the boy’s family that I hope he gets the help he needs.’
This can work well for me, I think as we say our goodbyes and hang up. David will be relieved at how well I’ve handled it, and hopefully will give me a little more space and go back to his seedy evenings with duplicitous Louise. If he continues to suffocate me, I can always threaten to tell Dr Sykes I was lying and that he did hit me. It would be an empty threat – compared with others I can make – even if David wouldn’t realise it. Why would I ruin him? Yes, we have wealth, but David has always needed more than that, and I can’t take his career from him. Of all things, that would destroy him.
More importantly, however, I can use this with Anthony. He’ll feel terrible that his parents went to the clinic to report it. His guilt at potentially placing me in harm’s way with my violent husband is something I can use to make him get me what I want, and the icing on the cake is that even if he tells anyone, it will be dismissed as another fantasy. No one will listen to him.
I quickly send David a text.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes