Behind Her Eyes, p.15Sarah Pinborough
Are you okay? That boy needs help!! Xx
I know they’re probably all still in the same room, and it’s likely Sykes will see it. A further proof of innocence should it be required. And also a reminder to my husband that when the shit hits the fan we are a team and always will be. It won’t repair our marriage for him – even I know he’s too far gone for that – but it will soften him towards me.
The doorbell goes, three sharp rings. Frantic. The poor boy come to grovel, I imagine.
Everything is going so well.
I’ve got a glass of wine poured before I’ve even put my handbag down. My nerves jangle and I feel as if there are ants trapped in my head. I don’t know what to think.
I’d gone out at lunchtime for a walk to stretch my aching legs from last night’s jog and clear my thoughts a bit, tired of staring at David’s door and willing him to call me in to explain what the hell is going on. I’ve been on edge all day. He’s been ignoring me as if we were teenagers rather than grown adults, and I don’t understand why he can’t say if he doesn’t want to see me any more. He started all this, after all. Not me. Why can’t he just talk to me? My stomach is in such a tight knot I couldn’t eat even if I wanted to.
I decided that after my walk I was going to go and have it out with him – professional or not – but when I got back he wasn’t at his desk, and Sue, all aglow with excitement, told me that Anthony Hawkins’ parents had come in, and they and David were in with Dr Sykes.
‘Anthony says he saw Dr Martin hit his wife. Right in the face!’ Sue had said it with such whispered glee that I felt as if I’d been punched myself. Gossip for her, more head-fuckery for me. I didn’t see David after that. I sat at my desk, my mind a blur of half-formed thoughts and worries, wanting to get out of there, which I did, bang on five. I wanted a glass of wine. I wanted to think.
And yet I don’t know what to think. The wine is cool and crisp, and I take my e-cig and go and sit on the balcony, letting fresh air into the stuffy flat. Adele says she walked into a cupboard, but Anthony says David hit her. Why would Anthony lie? If it’s true though, how did Anthony see it? Was he peering through windows? David referred Anthony to a new doctor on Monday, and I figured that was because he’d got too attached. But maybe it was because Anthony had seen something David didn’t want him to.
I feel sick, and drink more wine, my head already buzzing slightly. I haven’t eaten much today and now my appetite is totally gone.
The doorbell goes twice before I hear it, I’m so lost in my own thoughts, and I scurry back inside.
It’s him. Barely 6 p.m. and he’s at my door for the first time this week. I’d thought he was never coming back, and I’m too surprised to say anything as I let him in. He’s brought wine and immediately opens it and gets another glass out of the cupboard.
‘Make yourself at home,’ I mutter, a whirl of conflicting emotions.
‘I wish I could,’ he says, with a sorrowful – or self-pitying, I can’t decide which – half-laugh. He drains his glass and then refills it. ‘What a fucking day,’ he says, tilting his head back and letting out a sigh. ‘What a fucking life.’
He drinks a lot; I’m realising that now that I’ve cut back so much. Is he a mean drunk? Is that what happens? I look at him. A fight, a fist, a face.
‘I can’t stay long,’ he says, and then reaches for me, pulling me into his chest. ‘But I had to see you. I keep telling myself to stop, promising myself I’ll stop, but I can’t.’
‘You see me all day.’ I’m stiff in his arms. Is that brandy I can smell? A terrible thought strikes me. Does he drink in the office? He kisses the top of my head, and under the booze and the aftershave I catch the scent of him, and I can’t help but like it. I crave it if I’m honest, when I’m alone at night. But if he thinks we’re going straight to bed now, or to bed at all, then he’s wrong. He’s hardly looked at me in days, and now he just breezes in. I pull back and take my drink. Screw him. I look at his hand on his wine glass. Strong. Big. I see the bruise on Adele’s face. For once, I’m going to be the friend she thinks I am.
‘But not like this,’ he says. ‘Not when we can be us.’
‘Us.’ The word sounds dead as I repeat it. ‘There’s hardly an us, is there?’ I lean against the kitchen counter rather than leading him into the sitting room or bedroom like usual. I haven’t spoken to Adam today, and I won’t miss that, not for a cheating-maybe-wife-beating man. I suddenly feel tired. Adam’s home in about a week, so all this craziness is going to have to stop anyway. Maybe it will be a relief.
He frowns slightly, realising my bad mood. ‘Are you okay?’
I shrug. My heart races. I hate conflict. I’m shit at it. I tend to revert to being a sullen, silent teenager rather than spitting out what’s wrong. I gulp my wine and then take a deep breath. Fuck it. This is the only chance I’m going to get to talk about their marriage. This is something I can legitimately know.
‘Sue told me what happened. With Anthony Hawkins’ parents. What they said?’
‘Thank God that’s cleared up,’ he says. ‘I didn’t need that today.’ He looks at me then, sees my questioning suspicion, and his face falls.
‘What?’ I sound defensive, and I feel it too. Now that he’s here in front of me I feel stupid for half believing he could do that. Even Adele didn’t say that he’d hit her. But there’s so much going on that doesn’t make sense, and I can’t figure any of it out.
‘You seriously don’t think I hit my wife?’
‘I don’t know what I think,’ I say. ‘You never talk about your marriage. Your wife. You’re doing this,’ I gesture around my pathetic little flat as if he’s fucking it and not me. ‘When it suits you at least. We talk, but you never talk about your marriage. You close down every time I try to ask you anything, and you always seem so fucking unhappy that I can’t understand why you’re still there. With her. Just get a fucking divorce!’
It’s pouring out of me, all my pent-up confusion and hurt, bubbling in hot rage from my lips. I’ve seen Adele’s bruise. I know how fragile she is. I know about the phone calls. I can say none of these things, however much I want him to explain them to me, so all I can do is bring it back to the mess that is us. The mess he only knows half of.
He’s staring at me as if I’ve stabbed him, but I keep going. ‘I mean, this isn’t exactly fair on her either, is it? What you’re doing?’
‘You really have to ask me if I hit her?’ He cuts through all my bullshit. ‘Do you know me at all?’
I almost laugh at that. ‘Know you? How could I possibly know you? You know me – I’m an open book. You know just about everything about me. We talk about me. But you? I don’t know what I’m supposed to make of you.’
‘Of course I didn’t bloody hit her.’ He slumps, the life gone out of him. ‘She says she opened a kitchen cupboard onto her face. I don’t even know if that is true, but I know I didn’t hit her.’
I tingle with a flood of relief. At least they’re both giving me the same explanation.
‘Anthony came to see me on Sunday night,’ he continues, ‘but I was in the shower. He must have seen her face and made up the story to get my attention, or hurt me or whatever.’
Maybe it’s true. It sounds true. And now I feel terrible for doubting him, for doubting her, but what am I supposed to do when there are all these questions trapped inside me? About them, about us, about where all this is going?
‘Why don’t you ever talk to me?’ I ask. ‘Properly talk to me. About your life.’
He stares into his wine glass. ‘I really wouldn’t know where to start,’ he says. ‘And it’s not your business. I don’t want it to be your business. I don’t want to …’ he hesitates, looking for the right word. ‘I don’t want to taint you with it all.’
‘What does that even mean?’ I ask. ‘Look, I don’t expect you to leave her for me. I know I’m
‘Not important to me?’ He cuts me off. ‘You’re the only good thing I have. That’s why I have to be so careful. That’s why I don’t want to talk to you about my marriage or my life. I don’t want any of that to be inside us.’
He drains his glass, several long mouthfuls. How can anyone drink like that and not want to throw up? Glass after glass, so fast. His self-pity isn’t attractive, but my neediness loves that he thinks I’m important. It makes me feel stronger.
‘Take me out of the picture for a minute,’ I say. ‘You’re obviously unhappy at home. So leave. That’s what my husband did, and it didn’t kill me. It hurt, but I got over it. Life moves on.’ And now Ian’s having a baby with my replacement, and I’m like a ghost in my own life. I keep that thought to myself. ‘I don’t see what the problem is.’
‘You can’t possibly see what the problem is. You’d have to know us. Really know us, for that. And I’m not even sure we know each other any more.’ He’s bitter. His words are sharp with it as he stares into his glass. ‘But something has to change,’ he says, eventually. His words slur slightly. ‘But I need to figure out how to do it. To get rid of her safely.’
‘Maybe talk to her,’ I say, trying to be as loyal as I can to Adele in this completely disloyal moment. ‘She’s your wife. She must love you.’
He laughs then, at first with sudden humour, but then the sound sours. ‘Oh, she loves me. For what that’s worth.’
I think of my fragile friend, running to answer calls and take pills and cook dinners, and I’m angry. How can he treat her like this? With such contempt? If he doesn’t love her then he should set her free to love someone else. Someone who’d treat her as well as she deserves.
‘Go home,’ I say, cold. ‘Go home and sort your shit out with your wife. I can’t deal with this right now.’ He doesn’t say a word, but stares at me, his eyes starting to glaze with alcohol. Is he driving? I don’t care, I decide. That’s his problem. Right now, I just want him gone. ‘Go,’ I repeat. ‘And stop drinking. You’re a fucking mess.’ I want to cry, for him, for Adele, and for me. Mainly for me. I don’t want to fight with him. I want to understand him.
I don’t look at him as he leaves, and I don’t return the squeeze he gives my hand as he passes.
‘I’ll fix it,’ he mumbles from the doorway. ‘Somehow. I promise.’
I don’t look up. I give him nothing. I may be a bitch and duplicitous, but enough is enough. I want him, but not like this. I can’t do this any more. I really can’t. Him and Adele are tearing me in two.
After he’s gone, I pour another glass of wine and fight the stupid urge to cry by calling Adam. Even his bubbly joy can’t lift my spirits and as he tells me about their day at the water park and the slides he went on with Ian, part of my mind is playing back the conversation with David. I make all the right sounds, and it’s lovely to hear my baby boy, but I’m also relieved when he says he has to go. I need the quiet. I feel empty and exhausted and sad and a whole heap of other stuff I don’t want to examine. It’s our first argument and maybe our last. I also realise, too late, that I don’t think he hit Adele. Not deep down. Not any more.
Even though it’s not yet nine o’clock, I take my wine and crawl under the duvet. I want to forget about it all for a while. Sleep it away. Maybe in the morning everything will somehow be better. I feel numb, but still part of me hates myself for sending him away when we could be in bed together. In bed with my David, not Adele’s. I keep seeing the look on his face when he realised I was wondering if he’d hit his wife. That awful disappointment. But then I also keep seeing the bruise on Adele’s face. All her fear and secrecy on display in those sickly greens and muted blues. Whether he hit her or not, something isn’t normal in their marriage. But then nothing about this is normal, and I’m probably the worst of the three of us.
I feel trapped. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I do the only thing I can and drain my wine glass, my head buzzing with the alcohol, and then close my eyes. Adam will be home soon and then I can cocoon myself in him, in the safety of us. I focus on thoughts of my boy. The one person I can love without guilt or recrimination. I sleep.
This time, as the sticky shadow tendrils reach for me and I open the Wendy-house door, I don’t go to my childhood home, but instead to the house that Ian and I lived in when we were first married. When we were both still happy. I’m in the garden and it’s a perfect sunny day – not too hot, but beautifully warm, and I’m playing with Adam. He’s six though, my Adam as he is now, not the tiny baby he was when we lived here, and we’re at the pond and trying to catch tadpoles. Our feet are muddy and wet, but we’re both laughing as we dip our nets and jam jars into the slimy surface of the water.
The smell of meat cooking on a barbecue drifts on the air, and even before I’ve consciously thought of him, I hear David calling out that the burgers are ready. We turn and smile, and Adam runs to him. I’m about to follow when I see something glitter in the pond from the corner of my eye. A shape under the surface. It shimmers at the edges as it forms, almost silver beneath the dark water. I frown, confused. This is my dream – I’m controlling it – and yet I don’t know what this is. I step out, onto the pond’s surface, and walk across it like Jesus – and almost laugh at that, I am the God of my dreams – until I can crouch beside it. I dip my hand into the liquid, rippling it, but the glowing shape beneath stays in place. It’s another door, I realise, and the edges glow brighter as if to confirm my thoughts. I look for the handle, but there isn’t one. A door without a handle that I haven’t purposely imagined. I don’t know why it’s here.
I stare for a moment longer, and then David calls for me again, and Adam too. They’re waiting for me before they start eating, and I want to be with them. The shining door fades, and then there’s nothing but pond beneath me.
I wake up early, just after five, dehydrated from the wine, and I’m disappointed with myself. The dream I created had been so perfect, the three of us playing happy families, and despite the thirst, I do feel rested, like Adele said I would. My self-disgust bites a little. I should have imagined Adele in the dream. My loyalty should lie with her. She’s been nothing but kind to me, whereas David is a cheating unreliable drunk and God knows what else, but still, if my dream is anything to go by, I want him madly. I might not have let him fuck me in my bed, but I certainly did in my head. Not just fuck me, either. In my dream I made him love me and I loved him and we were a family, no sign of Adele anywhere. I wiped her out of existence.
I groan and then get up for water and put the kettle on. I’m wide awake after my early night, and there’s no point in trying to go back to sleep just for an hour or so. As the kettle boils and I try to shake the vividness of my dream life away, I look into Adam’s bedroom and get a pang of excitement that he’ll be home soon, after which maybe I should ease myself out of my friendship with Adele. Take Sophie’s advice. Be free of both Adele and David and this stupid stupid mess I’ve got myself into.
I have a shower to wash away the dregs of my mild hangover, and then get dressed and ready for work, but by the time I sit down with a second cup of tea it’s still only 7 a.m. Sunlight glints on the dusty TV screen, and the second door in my dream, the shimmering one I saw in the pond, comes to mind. I get the notebook from its home in the kitchen drawer. Maybe Rob saw one too. My heart races. After last night I shouldn’t read any more. I’m doing enough damage here without delving into their pasts. But I can’t help it. I want to know about them. And the second door is my excuse.
It’s so easy. I can go wherever I want. Mainly I go to imagined places because I’ve never been fucking anywhere and there’s no fucking way I’d choose to go home. Wherever I am, Adele’s always there though. I don’t even really imagine her there but she just appears. Maybe that’s cos I’m always thinking about her. Not in a want-to-fuck-her way, something way better than that. Something purer. We get high a lot in my dreams. It’s kind of what I like best. I can g
Adele’s sleeping properly again. Everyone at Westlands fucking loves us now as if they had something to do with our recoveries – we’re like their wet dream patients. I’m happy about it though. That she’s sleeping. I know she’s not lying because I sneak to her room and look at her for a few minutes most nights. Man, I sound creepy reading that back. But she’s like Sleeping Beauty and I’m watching over her. It’s sort of peaceful and I don’t need to sleep so much now that I’m clean and what sleep I’m getting isn’t full of night terrors. Only at the beginning before I control them. Sometimes I choose to stay for a while for the thrill. Like going on a rollercoaster. I know they can’t harm me because I’m in charge.
Yeah, it’s good that she’s sleeping properly. She’s got a lot to catch up on after weeks of trying to stay awake and she needs to put all that shit behind her. It’s weird worrying about someone. I worry about Adele and I’ve never worried about anyone before. Not my shitty family, and barely myself. Everyone’s been grey before Adele. No one mattered. I never actually thought it was possible for someone to matter before. Is this what love is? Maybe I do love Adele in my own way.
Does she imagine me in her dreams, or is it always the legendary bore that is David? I worry most about David. I don’t know why she’s so caught up in him. I don’t think she can see what he’s really like. She TRUSTS him she says. Yeah right. I bet he loves that. She trusts him so much that she’s signed control over all her money and stuff to him. A fucking fortune and he’s in charge of it all. That’s what her solicitor was doing here. Finally she told me. I knew she would. She doesn’t like secrets. But what the actual fuck? So David’s off at unifuckingversity getting his endless degrees and living the high life while she’s in this mental home, and she’s given him control of all the estate and money and everything.
I can’t believe it. I nearly shouted at her but she looked so uncomfortable telling me that I couldn’t. And it’s done now. She said it was temporary because she didn’t want to think about it and they were getting married anyway, but who the hell gives all their money away to someone else? Even for a little while. I mean, why would she do that? There’s love and there’s stupidity. She doesn’t get people like I do. She’s been protected all her life. What she hasn’t figured out is that everyone’s out for themselves. I don’t even really blame David for taking the money – at least it’s something less DULL that he’s done, but I hate that she’s let him. Money fucks people over, and David’s one of those people who nearly had quite a bit of money from the farm – and then his dad pissed it all up the wall. Funny how now he’s got a lot of money anyway. Thanks to Adele.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes