Behind Her Eyes, p.16Sarah Pinborough
I bet he won’t sign it back to her when we get out of here. I bet he’ll come up with excuses. David, the poor farmer’s boy who now has a fortune at his fingertips. It actually makes me want to laugh because it’s so crazy. I get so angry that it stops me getting back to sleep when I wake up at night. It’s got me thinking too – what really happened to Adele’s parents. I mean, how was he driving by in time to save her in the middle of the night? Was he driving by in time to start the fire too?
This has worked out pretty well for him from where I’m sitting. Our time here is nearly done, but if Adele thinks that I’m going to forget her and all this, that’s not going to happen. I’m going to look out for her. Because I don’t for one fucking second think that David is …
‘I’m sorry,’ he says. We’re in his office, separated by his desk. I’m trembling. I’ve been trembling since putting the notebook down this morning.
‘I know I’d been drinking, but I meant it when I said I’ll sort things out,’ he continues. He’s quiet. Thoughtful. Probably hungover. ‘I know my marriage is bad. I know it. And I shouldn’t be messing you around like this. What you said last night—’
‘I didn’t come in here to talk about last night.’ I’m cold with him, cutting him off. I feel like I’ve been dunked in freezing water. I’m burning to see Adele and find out if my suspicions are true. ‘I need the afternoon off. My boiler’s playing up and the plumber just rang and said he could come out between two and six. Sue says she’s got a light afternoon so she can check your clients in and work at my desk.’ He’s got four appointments booked and I’m glad about that. I won’t have to worry about him coming home and seeing us together.
I texted Adele as soon as he got to work this morning, knowing she’d be alone and safe. I didn’t say what it was really about, I didn’t want her to feel defensive or worried, so I sent:
There was a weird second door in my dream last night. No handle? Couldn’t open it? You ever had that? I’ve got the afternoon off if you fancy lunch?
All light and easy, despite how my hands shook as I typed. She answered straight away with a yes, suggesting a little bistro place with outdoor seats not too close to the clinic and also slightly off the main roads in a more residential area. She doesn’t want to get caught either.
‘Sure,’ he says. My palms sweat as he looks at me, and for the first time he’s like a stranger. Not my David, not Adele’s David, but maybe David’s David, the one who always gets what he wants. I silently say my thousandth thanks that Adele has agreed to lunch. I couldn’t wait until Monday. I need to know, and she’s the only one who can tell me. I’m starting to complete the jigsaw of their crazy marriage and I don’t like the picture it’s revealing.
‘I hope it’s nothing too serious,’ he says. ‘Boilers can be expensive.’ He looks up then. ‘If you need any—’
‘I’ve got an insurance package.’ I cut him off again. Was he really going to offer me money? Whose? His or Adele’s?
‘Okay.’ He’s short, my constant coolness hitting a nerve. He looks hurt, but I’m not sure how much I care.
‘Thanks.’ I head for the door, my limbs moving awkwardly, knowing he’s watching me leave.
I turn and look at him. He’s stuffed his hands in his pockets and it reminds of the first time we spoke in this room, the electric tension between us. It’s still there, pulling me towards him, but now it’s shrouded in doubt and suspicion. It’s bruised like Adele’s face.
‘I really care about you, you know,’ he says. ‘Properly. I think about you all the time. I can’t help myself. It’s like I lead a separate life with you in my head.’ The words are spilling out of him and all I can think is that I don’t need this, not now, not until I know.
‘I think … I think I’m falling in love with you. And I know I have to get my life straight. I have to get this mess straight. It’s keeping me awake all night trying to figure out how, and I know you don’t understand that, and I’m not helping you understand that, but this is something I have to get sorted on my own. But I’m going to start. Today. And I know you’re right to be pissed off with me. I wanted to say that. That’s all.’
Blood rushes to my face and to my feet and to everywhere in between as if it’s racing around my veins trying to find a way to flee my body. Now? He says this now? My head is already fucked, and he’s throwing this at me. Falling in love with me? Oh God. I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to feel. But Adele is waiting and I need to know at least some truth from her before I can even contemplate this. I need to know what kind of man he is, he really is, under the skin. In his head.
I nod and swallow hard and then leave him standing there, grabbing my bag from under my desk and rushing out into the fresh air without even telling Sue I’m going.
I sit in the sunshine and sip a glass of cold, forbidden Sancerre and wait for Louise. Louise. It’s amazing how much this wonderful woman can affect my mood. Last night, when David went to her grubby little flat straight after work, I was so hurt I wanted to kill her, even if she had done her pathetic best to defend me and send him home. It was too little too late if I’m honest, and worse than that was David’s choice to go straight to her instead of me, after all I’d done for him on the phone with Dr Sykes. I could have ruined him, but he didn’t take that into account. There was no gratitude. Then he came home and got drunk in his study before stumbling to bed. Not so much as a thank you.
I love David. Truly, madly, deeply, however cheesy that may sound, but I’m stronger than he is. Yes, things have to change, but it’s me who will have to get my hands dirty doing it. I swallowed my hurt last night though. Pushed it deep down inside where it can’t touch me, because we can’t afford another argument. Not just yet. And then, like a miracle, I got Louise’s text. The second door. I smile as I sip my wine, even though I’m alone and probably look slightly mad to anyone passing. She’s seen the second door. Already. This changes everything. It all has to be in place before she opens it. Before she knows.
I tingle with excitement as I see her turn the corner and come down the street. She’s looking good, really good, and I feel very proud of her. She’s even walking taller now that she’s slimmer and fitter, and her cheekbones – while they’ll never be as feline sharp as mine – are soft highlights on her pretty face. My own muscles ache from lack of exercise, and my back is stiff from tension. I’m fading as she blooms. No wonder David is falling in love with her. The thought stings. The thought will always sting.
‘Wine?’ she says, and smiles. She’s flustered, and her bag slips to the ground as she tries to hang it on the back of her chair.
‘Why not? It’s a lovely day, and this is a nice surprise.’ I see her eyes on my face where the dregs of the bruise remain. It’s fading quickly now, as if it’s somehow aware that its work here is done. I signal to the waiter to bring another glass.
‘How come you’ve got time off?’
‘Oh, a problem with my boiler,’ she says airily. ‘The plumber is coming later, but I figured I’d take the afternoon. Be a devil.’
She’s a terrible liar. It’s really quite endearing, given how she’s been fucking my husband for our entire friendship. The waiter appears quickly with her drink and two menus, and we both pretend to scan it as she takes several quick sips of the wine.
‘So you saw another door?’ I ask, leaning in conspiratorially even though we’re the only al fresco diners. I want her to feel close to me. ‘Where? What was it like?’
‘In the pond of my old house. I was there’ – she flushes slightly – ‘with Adam, playing, and then as I was turning to go back, it appeared under the surface. It was glowing.’
She’s not telling me the whole truth of her dream – David must have been there, I can see that in the blush – but I don’t give a shit. If she’d imagined three Davids gangbanging her I wouldn’t care. It’s the door. That’s what matters.
I shake my head, puzzled. ‘No. How weird. I wonder what it’s for.’
She shrugs. ‘Maybe it was my brain having a glitch.’
‘Maybe.’ My heart is racing though. Already thinking ahead to what I have to get done before she opens it.
The waiter comes back to take our orders, and I make a big fuss about not being hungry, I just wanted to get out of the house, and then I see her face, the thoughtful worry in it, and I know how far she’s got in the notebook. I know what this lunch is really about. I have to concentrate hard not to smile and laugh at the brilliant perfection of today and how well I’ve planned everything.
‘You’ve got to eat something, Adele. You’re getting too skinny. Anyway,’ she adds, too nonchalantly. ‘It’s my treat.’
‘Oh, thank you,’ I gush. ‘I’m so awfully embarrassed, but when I got here I realised I’ve come out without my wallet. I’m such a scatterbrain.’
She orders us two plates of mushroom ravioli – taking the lead in a way she never would have done when we first met – and then waits until the waiter has gone before speaking.
‘Did you really come out without money, or does David control what you spend?’
She’s blunt, Louise, I’ll give her that. I fluster, as if trying to cover something, murmuring how ridiculous that suggestion is, until she reaches across and takes one of my flapping hands in hers. A gesture of solidarity, of friendship, of love. I do believe she loves me. Not as much as she wants my husband, but she does love me.
‘I read something in the notebook that worried me slightly,’ she continues. ‘And feel free to tell me to bugger off and it’s not my business and everything, but did you really sign over all your inheritance to him? After the fire? And if you did, please, for the love of God, tell me that it was only temporary.’
‘Oh, don’t worry about that,’ I say, and I know I look like a wounded deer staring into a marksman’s rifle sight. The classic victim defending her abuser. ‘David’s much better with money than me, and it was such a lot to manage, and oh God, this is so embarrassing …’
She squeezes my hand. ‘Don’t be silly. Don’t be embarrassed. I worry about you. He signed it back over, though right? After you got out of Westlands and were back on your feet?’
Her hand is clammy. She has a vested interest here, and I know it.
‘He was going to,’ I mumble. ‘He really was. But then I had another little breakdown a few months later, and he decided – we decided – that it was better if he just stayed in charge of everything. And then we got married and so it was our money anyway.’
‘Wow.’ She sits back in her chair and takes a long swallow of wine as it sinks in and her suspicions are confirmed.
‘It sounds worse than it is,’ I say, soft and protective. ‘He gives me an allowance and a food budget, and I’ve never really cared for money that much anyway.’
‘A food budget?’ Her eyes are wide. ‘An allowance? What is this, nineteen fifty-something?’ She pauses. ‘Now the shitty phone makes sense.’
‘I don’t care about phones either. Really Louise, it doesn’t matter. I’m happy. I want David to be happy.’ It might be a step too far into the pathetic, but the truth is always believable, and I have been pathetic in my wanting to keep him happy.
‘You don’t even have joint accounts or anything?’
‘Really, Louise. It doesn’t matter. It’s fine. If I want something he gets it for me. It’s the way our marriage has turned out. Don’t worry. He’s always looked after me.’ I push a strand of hair out of my face and let my fingers linger momentarily over my bruise. A tiny gesture, but enough for her to register it and file the bruise and the money together in her head.
‘Like you’re a child,’ she says. And I know her head is filled with our secret friendship, the phone calls, the pills, the bruise, and now the money, locking it all into place. Right now she loves me far more than David. Right now I think she hates David. I could never hate David. Maybe that’s the biggest difference between us.
‘Please, just leave it. It’s fine. When does Adam get back?’ I ask, using her comment on children to change the subject. ‘You must be so looking forward to seeing him. He’s probably grown a little. They grow fast at that age, don’t they?’
Our food comes and she orders us a second glass of wine each as she silently adds my regret at not having a child of my own to her list of David’s shortcomings. Fuel for her growing fire. The ravioli is perfect, but she pushes it around her plate, not touching it. I should probably do the same to maintain my nervous appearance, but I’m tired of good food going to waste and so I eat it – delicately, but still eat it all the same – as she tells me about Adam’s holiday and how glorious a time it sounds like he’s had.
Neither of us is really paying attention to the stories. Her head is filled with rage and disappointment, and mine with excitement at her discovery of the second door. I make the right noises and smile, and she forces words out, but I want this lunch over now. I have things to do.
‘Is that …?’ She pauses mid-sentence, and frowns, staring at somewhere over my shoulder.
‘What?’ I turn.
‘It is.’ She’s still staring and half rises out of her chair. ‘It’s Anthony Hawkins.’
Now I see him, and as useful as he’s been, my irritation rises. He’s following me. Of course he is. ‘Maybe he lives around here,’ I say.
‘Or maybe he’s following you.’ There she is, my great protector. My husband’s lover.
‘Oh, I doubt it.’ I laugh it off, but my eyes are fierce on Anthony and, realising that he’s making me uncomfortable, he has the brains to turn and go into a small corner shop. ‘He’s probably buying cigarettes.’ His adoration of me has been useful, but following me is simply not acceptable.
‘Maybe,’ she says, unconvinced. We both watch the doorway until he comes out, and I hope Louise doesn’t see the glance back of longing he gives me as he walks away, but she’s squinting in the sun and so I’m probably safe. Not that it matters. By tomorrow the last thing she’ll be worrying about is Anthony.
Once our lunch is over and I’ve hurried her back to her fictional broken boiler, I go to the gym. I’m there just before David makes his next call, but I’m not working out as I claim to be; I’m putting the next wheels of my plan in motion. David says he’s coming straight home after work because we have to talk, and then I speak to the receptionist about what I need and claim to be too busy to wait, but tell them to call us at home after six to confirm my request. I don’t doubt they will. This is a very exclusive health club, we pay for the full package, and more than that, I’m always polite and sweet. Polite and sweet is what I do when I’m not at home, and it always pays to be nice to service staff. Some of the other members here could learn that.
I’m breathless with excitement and my nerves are jangling with what’s to come. By the time I’m home and preparing dinner, my hands are trembling and I can barely focus. My face is hot, as if I’ve got the start of a fever. I try to take deep breaths, but they’re shallow and shaky. I keep focused on that second door and remind myself that I will probably never get a chance like this again in my entire life.
My sweaty fingers slide on the onion I’m attempting to dice and I nearly cut myself. I don’t know why I’m taking so much care with this dish. It’s all going to end up in the bin anyway, but I have to make things look as normal as possible, and cooking has become a surprising area of pride for me since I’ve been married. Careless onion slices could be a possible clue that I know what’s coming, and David is nothing if not suspicious of me these days.
I hear his key in the lock and my whole body fizzes with tension, and the kitchen lights are suddenly almost too bright. This time I do manage a deep breath. I see my mobile phone on the counter by the sink, sitting in no man’s land between where I am and the landline phone holstered on the wall. I look at t
‘Hi,’ I say. He’s in the hallway and I know he wants to go and hide in his study. ‘I bought you a bottle of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Come and open it so it can breathe.’
He walks towards the kitchen like a reluctant wild dog being offered scraps of meat. How has our love come to this?
‘So, we’re still pretending everything is fine,’ he says, wearily.
‘No,’ I answer, wounded. ‘But we can at least be civil. We can be friends, surely, while we work on our problems? We owe each other that, don’t we?’
The phone rings and, although it’s expected, I still nearly jump, and my hand tightens around the chopping knife. I step towards the phone, but David blocks me as I knew he would.
‘It’ll be the clinic,’ he says. ‘I’ll get it.’
I keep my eyes down, chopping at the onion, my skin burning with nerves, as I listen. It’s time for his blissful little secret relationship to get as fucked up as this marriage.
‘Hello? Yes, this is David Martin. Oh hi … You wanted to confirm what? I’m sorry, I’m not sure I’m following. An extended guest membership?’
I turn to face him then, I have to, my face all innocent worry that he’ll be angry at my spending, that I have a friend I haven’t told him about. He’s not looking at me. Not yet.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes