Behind her eyes, p.18
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       Behind Her Eyes, p.18

           Sarah Pinborough
 
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  And then there is the click of the front door, and I’m alone.

  I dissolve, crumpling to the floor, curling in on myself, weeping like a child, long, hard, uncontrollable sobs.

  David is so angry. And I can’t even text Adele to warn her.

  33

  ADELE

  He goes for a drink before he comes home. Always the need for a drink with David, but this time I don’t mind. I’d rather he gave himself time to calm down. I make sure that when I hear the front door open I’m sitting at the kitchen table, evidence of tears on my face. I’m not crying, though. He’s had enough of crying women for one night, I imagine.

  I maintain my confusion about Louise. I apologise, over and over, for not telling him about my new friend, but I was lonely and I was worried he’d stop me seeing her, and that I was trying to be normal. I thought she’d be good for me. I ask where he went. I ask who she is to him, and why her name made him storm off like that. Of course he doesn’t tell me the truth, although he should really know better by now.

  He says she’s one of his patients and watches me carefully for my reaction, testing me. He doesn’t quite buy my innocence here, he knows me too well for that. I let my mouth fall open into a slightly confused, ‘oh’. To be honest, I’m mildly disappointed in him. Even if I didn’t already know he’d been fucking Louise and she was his secretary, surely this would make me suspicious. Much as I adore David, having one obsessive patient is believable, but two somewhat stretches the boundaries of credibility. Still, all I have to do is play along, so I do.

  I ask all the right questions, and he bats answers at me. He doesn’t give the phone back, but his own guilt reeks from his lack of inquisition over our friendship. I feel sorry for Louise – he clearly took most of his anger out on her. But then he’s not used to being angry with her. I’m a whole different story. He doesn’t have the energy to stay in a rage with me any more. It would exhaust him.

  ‘We should maybe go away for a couple of weeks,’ he says. His shoulders slump as he looks down at the floor. He’s tired. So very, very tired. Of everything. Of me.

  ‘We can’t do that,’ I say. And, to be frank, we can’t. That doesn’t fit in with my plans at all. ‘You’ve only been at the practice for a few weeks. How would that look? Just move this Louise patient on like you did with that boy.’

  ‘Maybe for a few days then. So we can talk properly.’ He glances at me then. Suspicion. Nerves. All in that brief look. ‘Decide what we’re going to do.’

  Good little Louise has kept our secret, but she mentioned the pills and the phone calls, and he’s wondering how much of that was accidental or whether I orchestrated it somehow.

  ‘We can’t keep running away,’ I say, all soft reason. ‘Whatever our problems, we should stay and face them.’

  He nods, but he’s watching me, thoughtful. It’s Louise who deceived him, but he doesn’t trust me one little bit. Constantly trying to analyse my mood, my thinking, my actions. He’s not convinced I didn’t know who Louise was, but with her lack of confirmation, he can’t prove anything. I can feel the battle lines being firmly marked out between us on our expensive kitchen tiles.

  He’s a man on the edge, and he’ll do something soon. Divorce me at the very least, regardless of my threats to destroy him. I think he’s almost past caring about that, and I’ve known for some time that my hold over him was waning. He’d be relieved it was all over and done with. For a while at least, before the realisation that he’d totally fucked up his otherwise perfect life for something that happened a long time ago kicked in.

  I’ll act quicker than him though. I’m braver that way. I’ve always been one step ahead. My resolve hardens. David will never be happy until he’s free of the past, and I can never be happy until David’s happy.

  When we finally leave the kitchen, him first, to his study for a while to avoid the awkwardness of our walk to separate bedrooms, and then me heading upstairs to our big empty bed, I lie awake awhile, staring into the darkness and thinking about it all. More precisely, thinking about them, us, him.

  The course of true love never did run smooth.

  34

  LOUISE

  From having felt so refreshed, I’m now exhausted. I’ve barely slept in two days, the fight with David playing around and around on a loop in my head, and I’ve only left the flat to shuffle to the local shop for wine and bad food, my hair pulled up in a ponytail as a poor disguise for the fact I haven’t even showered. Sophie sent me a ‘how’s it going?’ text, which I deleted without answering. I don’t need any smug ‘I told you so’ coming from her right now.

  I nearly threw up when I sent my resignation email. I typed it out four times through tears of self-pity before I finally pressed send. I cc’d David into it, and seeing his name there in the email made me want to cry some more. Dr Sykes rang straight away, full of concern, and that made me cry again, which backed up my ‘personal family business’ story.

  I didn’t give details and he didn’t press for any. He told me to reconsider in a month and he’d consider it a hiatus. They could get a temp in to cover my days. I didn’t fight that. Maybe in a month things would be different. Maybe David would have calmed down. Maybe they’ll move away. I don’t really understand either of them, so I don’t know what they’ll do. The polite and courteous email I got from David – with Dr Sykes cc’d in – was as if from a stranger, not a man who’d raged at me in my sitting room the night before. I was right. I don’t know him at all. Adele is the only one who has been my friend. He’s damaged us both.

  I’m worried about Adele though. I’d half-hoped that she’d show up at my door at some point, but so far she hasn’t, and I’m not surprised. She’s so scared of upsetting David, she probably wouldn’t take the risk. I’ve seen him angry now. I’ve felt that awful loathing coming off him. I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of that for years. Maybe he’s even working from home and claiming illness or something. When I’m not completely absorbed in my pity party for one, my mind is on fire with it, imagining him as some Hannibal Lecter type monster. Mainly I need to know Adele’s okay. I promised to stay away from her, but how can I? David was so cold at the end of our fight. What did she face when he got home? I can still see that bruise on her face, and despite his insistence he didn’t hit her, don’t all abusive husbands deny their actions?

  I’m so tired and emotional, all logical thinking has gone out of the window. All I know is that I have to check on Adele and I’m running out of time to do it. Adam comes back the day after tomorrow, and then who knows what spare time I’ll have? It’ll definitely be more limited, and I don’t want Adam dragged into this mess. I need to close a door on it. It still feels surreal, the thought of no David and no Adele. And no job. I bite back more tears. Even I’m getting bored of my crying. It’s your mess, I keep telling myself. Suck it up.

  Tomorrow. I’ll see her tomorrow if I can, but how, without risking more trouble for both of us? I pour a glass of wine, not caring that it’s barely two in the afternoon – these are exceptional circumstances – and slump on the sofa. I also need to clean the flat. I don’t need Ian judging me when he gets back. I take in the disarray, and my eyes fall on my laptop, discarded on the floor by the TV where I tossed it after sending my email to Dr Sykes, and then the thought comes to me.

  Dr Sykes told me to take a month. This isn’t like I’ve been fired – even though you wanted to fire me thank you very much Mr-bastard-from-the-bar – and so they won’t have deleted my remote log-in.

  I sit cross-legged on the carpet, my wine beside me, and, with my heart racing as if somehow they can see me, I log into the clinic server. My palms are sweating, and even though I’m not technically breaking any rules, I feel like I’m going through a lover’s emails and text messages. I bring up David’s diary for tomorrow. His afternoon is pretty fully booked. He won’t be leaving work until at least five. Even if he goes home for lunch, he’ll have to be back by one thirty. I log out and sip my
wine, making my plan.

  In the morning I’ll double check his diary and make sure he hasn’t cancelled any appointments last minute. I’ll go to Carphone Warehouse on the Broadway and buy a cheap pre-paid phone. Adele needs to have a phone, and I don’t know if David’s kept that crappy one she had. At least if I give her one to hide somewhere I’ll know that if she’s in serious trouble she can call me. I’ll feel more relaxed about letting them both go then. I have to be. I have no choice.

  I feel better for having a plan, and as I take my wine out to the balcony and the afternoon sunshine, I realise I also feel better for defying David. Screw you, I think. Who the hell do you think you are, anyway?

  I try not to think about how it felt having him in my bed and how I miss that closeness even though I hate myself for it. I don’t think about how he’s always there in my constructed dreams playing happy families through that first door. Instead, I think about how hurt I feel and how he’s to blame and I’m fucked if he’s going to tell me what to do like I’m a little nervous Adele.

  Tomorrow. I can put it all behind me tomorrow.

  35

  ADELE

  It takes several rings before I even realise it’s the doorbell. At first, in my blissful haze, I think some exotic bird has got into the house, and then I wonder if I’m even in the house at all, and then I hear it again. The doorbell. Definitely the doorbell. It irritates me, and my head feels heavy as I sit up straight on the sofa.

  ‘Adele?’ The disembodied voice drifts into the room, and I frown. Is that really her? I’ve been thinking about her so much I don’t know if I’m really hearing her or if she’s in my head. It’s so hard to focus, and she feels so constantly entwined with me that right now, in this state, I don’t know where I end and she begins.

  ‘Adele, it’s me. Louise! Please let me in. I’ll only stay a moment. I just want to know you’re okay.’

  Louise. It is her. My saviour. I smile, although it feels like I’m gurning and I probably am. There’s some drool on my chin and I clumsily wipe it away before hauling myself to my unsteady feet. I knew she’d be back, but I wasn’t expecting her so soon.

  I take a deep breath to try to clear my head a little while I decide whether to answer the door. It may be a risk, but still I hide the things I need to in the little teak ornate box on the side table. I don’t know where I bought it from or why, but at least it finally has a use.

  She calls my name once more, and I catch my reflection in the mirror. I look like a mess. I’m sweaty pale, and my pupils are so dilated that my eyes are almost black. My lips twitch. I don’t recognise myself. That makes me giggle, a sudden sound that almost spooks me. To let her in, or not to let her in, that is the question. But then, in the part of my brain that’s functioning properly, I realise how I can work this to my advantage. I was going to have to fake this behaviour at some point, but now I don’t. My plan marches on. But then my plans always do.

  I shamble towards the front door and open it, flinching in the bright sunlight. An hour ago I wouldn’t have been able to move, but now that I’m concentrating, my limbs are doing what I tell them. I’m feeling quite proud of myself, but Louise looks shocked. It takes a second before I realise I’m the one who’s swaying slightly, not her, or the pavement outside.

  ‘Shit, Adele,’ she says, quickly coming inside and gently taking my arm. ‘You’re in a right state.’ She leads me towards the kitchen. ‘Are you drunk? Let’s get some coffee on. I’ve been so worried about you.’

  ‘I’m so sorry about my phone,’ I slur. ‘So sorry.’ She lowers me into a chair. It’s a relief to be sitting down. One less thing to concentrate on.

  ‘You have nothing to be sorry about,’ she says, as she fills the kettle and searches for mugs and instant coffee. I’m glad there’s a small ‘in case of emergencies’ jar in the cupboard. I may be semi-focused now, but I don’t have the energy to explain the coffee machine.

  ‘You’re allowed to have friends, Adele. Everyone’s allowed to have friends.’ Her eyes scan the room for evidence of booze, but see nothing. ‘What’s the matter with you? Are you sick? Has he done something?’

  I shake my head slowly, keeping the world in place. ‘The pills. I maybe took more than I should.’

  She goes to the cupboard and as she opens it I know she’s calculating whether it would be possible to give yourself a black eye when doing so.

  ‘Really, don’t worry, it’s fine, they’re prescription,’ I mutter. She doesn’t stop though, of course not. She ignores the little defensive line of ibuprofen and antacid tablets, and reaches to the packets beyond, spreading them out on the counter. The kettle clicks off, but she doesn’t move. She’s studying the labels. All neatly printed with my name and dosage instructions, as prescribed by my husband.

  ‘Fuck,’ she says, eventually. ‘David prescribed these for you?’

  I nod. ‘For my nerves.’

  ‘These aren’t for your nerves, Adele. These are strong anti-psychotics. I mean, really strong. All of them to one degree or another.’

  ‘No, you must be wrong, they’re for my nerves,’ I repeat.

  She doesn’t say anything to that, but continues to stare at the packets, many with strips of half-empty blisters hanging out where I’ve flushed the pills down the sink. She rummages inside one box.

  ‘No information sheet. Does David bring these prescriptions home for you, or do you collect them yourself?’

  ‘He brings them,’ I say quietly. ‘Can I have some coffee please? I feel so tired.’ Actually, I’m surprised at how quickly I’m straightening out, given that this is only my second time practising this.

  She finally makes the coffee and comes to sit opposite me. There’s nothing ditzy about chubby little Louise any more. In fact, there’s nothing chubby about Louise any more. These past couple of days of heartache have knocked the last difficult pounds off.

  ‘How long has he been making you take these?’ she asks.

  I shrug. ‘For a while. But he’s always trying different ones.’ I stare into my coffee, enjoying the burning sensation of the hot mug on my over-sensitive fingers. ‘I don’t always take them. But sometimes he watches me.’

  I lean my head against the wall behind me, tired of holding it up. My mind might be straightening out, but the rest of me has a way to go. ‘I said I wanted control of my money back,’ I mumble, as if this seed of information isn’t important. ‘Before we moved. After what happened in Blackheath. But he said no. He said I had to take the pills for a while first to calm me down, then we’d talk about it. He’d been trying to get me to take them for a while, and I’d always said no, but then I thought after all that, I’d try. For him. For us.’

  ‘What happened at Blackheath?’ Her self-pity is gone now and she’s drawn back into our story. I pause for a long moment before speaking.

  ‘I think he had an affair.’ The words are barely a whisper, but she leans back slightly when she hears them, and her face flushes. Yeah, that hurts, doesn’t it? Now you know how it feels.

  ‘Are you sure?’ she asks.

  I shrug. ‘I think so. The woman who owned the little cafe around the corner from the clinic of all people. Marianne, her name was.’ The pretty name is still bitter on my tongue.

  ‘Wow.’

  Yeah, wow, Louise. Suck that up. You don’t feel so special now, do you? I want to giggle, and for a horrifying moment I think I will, so instead I cover my mouth and look away as if I’m fighting back tears.

  ‘This was supposed to be our fresh start. This house. This job. I asked for my money back again, just to be in control of it more, and he went mad. He … he …’ My breath hitches and Louise’s eyes widen.

  ‘He what, Adele?’

  ‘You know I said our cat died after we moved in?’ I pause. ‘Well, he kicked it. Really hard. And then, when she was dazed, he stamped on her.’ I stare towards the back door and the garden beyond where I buried it. ‘He killed her.’

  Louise says nothing. Wha
t is there to say? She’s too horrified to speak.

  ‘That’s the thing with David,’ I continue, tired and still slurring slightly. ‘He can be so charming. So wonderfully funny and kind. But then when he’s angry he’s like a different person. I always seem to make him angry these days. I don’t understand why he doesn’t leave me if he’s so unhappy,’ I say. ‘I wish he’d love me again.’ And I do. I really, really do.

  ‘If he divorces you, he’ll have to give your estate back,’ she says. Her face hardens as the jigsaw puzzle pieces I’ve carefully laid out for her fall into place, and then she rummages in her bag and pulls out a mobile phone.

  ‘It’s pre-paid, and my number is in it. Hide it somewhere. But if you need me just text or call, okay?’

  I nod.

  ‘You promise?’

  ‘I promise.’ I sip my cooling coffee, my hand still trembling.

  ‘And stop taking those pills if you can. They’re no good for you. You’re not sick. Fuck knows what they’re doing to your brain chemistry. Now let’s get you to bed. You can sleep this off before he gets home.’

  ‘What are you going to do, Louise?’ I ask, my arm draped around her shoulder as she helps me upstairs. ‘Don’t do anything silly, will you? Don’t confront David, will you?’

  She laughs, slightly bitterly. ‘Unlikely, given that he’s fired me.’

  ‘He what?’ I feign surprise. ‘Oh Louise, this is all my fault. I’m so sorry.’

  ‘It’s not your fault. Don’t ever think that. You haven’t done anything wrong.’

  Her body feels strong, firmer and tighter than when we first met. I’ve created this new Louise, and I feel a moment of pride as I sink down onto my comfortable bed.

  ‘Oh, Louise,’ I say sleepily, as if it’s an afterthought. ‘The plant pot at the front door. The right side.’

 
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