Behind her eyes, p.19
Behind Her Eyes, p.19Sarah Pinborough
‘What about it?’
‘I hid a spare key in it in case I locked myself out. I want you to know that.’ I pause. ‘He locked me in once. I was scared.’
‘If he does that again, call me straight away.’ She’s almost growling, this fierce tiger of a woman.
‘I don’t know what I’d do without you,’ I murmur as she covers me with a blanket and then gently pushes my hair out of my face. ‘I really don’t.’
And it’s the truth.
He’s a little brown nut, my baby boy. Maybe not so little. He’s grown. Even though it’s late and he’s barely awake I can see how tanned and healthy he is, and I very nearly cry as he runs into my arms and hugs me tightly. My one good thing.
‘I got you this, Mummy.’ He holds up a key ring with a small shell trapped in clear resin adorning it. It’s a cheap seaside souvenir, but I love it. I love that he chose it for me.
‘Oh my gosh, thank you! It’s beautiful. I’ll put my keys on it first thing in the morning. Now why don’t you take your bag into your bedroom while I say goodnight to Daddy?’
‘See you soon, soldier,’ Ian says, and then, when Adam’s wheeled his little Buzz Lightyear suitcase away, he smiles at me. ‘You’re looking good, Lou. Have you lost some weight?’
‘A bit.’ I’m glad he’s noticed, but although I may be looking slimmer, I’m not sure good is a word I’d have chosen for how I appear today. A night of no sleep while tossing and turning and thinking about David and Adele’s fucked-up lives, my own hurt heart and my self-pity, and my lack of a job, has left me looking washed out.
‘Ah, I probably shouldn’t have brought you these then.’ He holds up a bag. Two bottles of French red wine and several cheeses.
‘Always welcome,’ I say with a tired grin as I take it. I don’t tell him I’ve lost my job. That can wait for a while, and I’m going to have to make up some lie to cover it. There’s no way I can tell him the truth. I don’t want to make him think we’re now on some even moral ground. He cheated on me, and now I’ve slept with a married man. I’m definitely not giving him that. I’ll say my new boss had his own secretary or something. That’s the thing I’m learning about affairs. They breed lies.
‘You’d better get off, shouldn’t you?’ I say. ‘Lisa must be knackered in the car.’ Their delayed Eurostar has meant it’s nearly midnight. They should have been home by nine.
‘Yeah, she is.’ He looks momentarily awkward, and then adds, ‘Thanks for this, Louise. I know it’s not easy.’
‘It’s fine, honestly,’ I say, waving him away, ‘I’m happy for you. Really.’ I can’t decide if that’s a lie or not, and I find that it’s part-lie, part-truth. It’s complicated. I do want him to leave though. After the intensity of the past few weeks and days I don’t really have small talk in me, and this invading return of normality feels surreal.
When he’s gone, I get Adam into his pyjamas and squeeze him tightly, relishing the gorgeous smell of him while he sleepily mumbles tales of his time away, most of which I’ve heard on the phone. I don’t mind. I feel as if I could listen to his chatter all night. I put a big plastic cup of water by his bed and we talk for a little while as he gets drowsier and drowsier.
‘I missed you, Mummy,’ he says. ‘I’m glad I’m home.’
My heart melts then. I do have a life of my own. It might all be wrapped up in the package of this little boy, but I love him with all my heart, and that love is pure and clean and perfect.
‘I missed you too,’ I say. Those words don’t cover how I feel. ‘Let’s go up to Highgate Woods tomorrow if the weather’s nice. Get some ice creams. Have some pretend adventures. Would you like that?’
He smiles and nods, but he’s drifting off to his own world of sleep. I kiss him goodnight and watch him for a moment or two longer before turning the light out and leaving him.
I feel utterly exhausted. Having Adam back has calmed me, and now there’s just tiredness weighing me down. I pour a glass of the rich red wine Ian brought and it eases the final dregs of my tension until I can’t stop yawning. I try to let Adele and David float away. Adele has a phone. If she’s in any real trouble she can call. Unless, of course, she’s too smashed off her face on whatever concoction of pills David has given her. But there’s nothing I can really do. I’ve thought about calling Dr Sykes, but who’s he going to believe? And I’m pretty sure that Adele would lie to protect David – and herself. I can’t understand why she still loves him, which she clearly does, when it seems pretty obvious to me that he’s only there for her money. How much is she worth? How much has he spent? Maybe they’ve been together so long Adele is mistaking dependency for love.
It stings too, that Adele said David had a thing with someone where they used to live. So much for all his I don’t do this angst. It hurts, and I keep replaying how he was that awful night, so cold in what he said. A stranger. The other side to him, like Adele said.
I let out a long sigh as if I can somehow expel them both from me. Adam is home now. I have to focus on him. Him, and trying to get another job. Whatever Dr Sykes says, I can’t go back to the clinic. Even if David left, the place is too full of him now – too full of all this – for me ever to want to work there any more. It wouldn’t be the same. I do a half-hearted job search on the net, but there’s nothing suitable for me, and it makes me more miserable. Thank God I’ve got some savings in the bank to give me a few months’ breathing space, but they won’t last for ever, and then I’ll be back on Ian’s charity. I want to curl up in a ball until it’s all gone away. Instead, I drain the glass and then head to bed. Adam’s back and there’ll be no more lie-ins for me.
I fall asleep quickly. These days the night terrors are barely there, I’m in for a second or two, check my fingers, and then the Wendy door appears and I’m gone. As has become habit, I’m in the garden by the pond, and Adam is there with me, and although we’re trying to have fun it’s a grey, drizzly day, as if, even in the dream I’m controlling, my emotional mood has a say. I know the dream is all only a fantasy, and the fantasy isn’t living up to much with just the two of us here. David is not barbecuing tonight. I don’t want him here. Not with his if you know what’s good for you, you’ll stay away from both of us so clear in my head.
I’m by the pond, but Adam has got distracted from the abundance of tadpoles and fish by the toy cars and trucks that are strewn over the lawn, and he barely looks up. I know that I’m putting him there – if I want Adam by the pond with me fishing for treasure then I only have to will it – but this also isn’t the real Adam, merely an imaginary creation of him, and tonight that’s not enough.
The real Adam is fast asleep in his own bed, tucked up under his duvet and cuddling Paddington. I think of him, sleeping so close to me, and picturing him there back in his room makes my heart glow, and I want to see him and hug him until he can barely breathe. I feel it with a mother’s ferocity, and then, suddenly, there it is again.
The second door.
It’s glowing under the pond’s surface like before, but this time it moves, rising up to stand vertically, and although the edges are still shimmering mercurial silver, the door itself is made of water. I stay still and it comes quickly towards me, and for a second I think I can see tadpoles and goldfish swimming on the surface, and then I’m touching the liquid warmth and passing through it and then I’m—
—standing by Adam’s bed. I feel momentarily dizzy with the change, but then the world settles. I’m in his bedroom. I can hear him breathing, slow and steady, the breathing of the very old or the deeply sleeping. One arm is over his face, and I think about moving it but don’t want to disturb him. His duvet is half kicked off, and at some point he must have knocked his water over and it’s spilled all over poor Paddington, who’s fallen out of bed. I’m glad it’s a dream. Adam would hate that Paddington needs drying out. He won’t even let me put him in the washing machine. I bend over to pick the bear up, but my hand can’t g
—I wake up with a gasp, upright in my own bed, sucking in deep breaths of air. I feel jolted awake, like in those almost-dreams of falling you get when on the cusp of sleep. My eyes dart around in the gloom, trying to shake my complete disorientation. I look down at my hands and count my fingers. Ten. I do it twice before I’m sure that this time I truly am awake. My lungs feel raw, as if I’ve been out and smoked twenty cigarettes in the pub as in the days of old, but I don’t feel tired. If anything, I feel weirdly energised given how emotionally battered I am and how tired I was when I went to bed. I’m thirsty though. Desperately thirsty. Wine before bed. I’ll never learn.
I get up and creep to the kitchen and drain two glasses from the tap and then splash my face. My lungs return to normal, the rawness fading. Maybe it was just some echo of the dream.
It’s only 3 a.m. and so I head back to bed, even though I’m not sure I’ll go back to sleep, and I pause at Adam’s door and look in and smile. He’s definitely home. That part wasn’t a dream. I’m about to close the door when the bear on the floor catches my eye. Paddington. Fallen out of bed. I frown and come in closer. The plastic cup on the bedside table is on its side and empty. The bear is soaked. This time I can pick Paddington up, and he’s heavily sodden. I look at Adam, my heart starting to thump faster. One arm is over his face and his legs are sticking out from the half kicked-off duvet.
It’s like a moment of déjà vu. Everything is exactly as I saw it in my dream when I went through the second door. But that can’t be right. I can’t have seen it. I was in a dream. But I couldn’t have known that he’d spilled his water and soaked his bear and that his arm was over his face. I wouldn’t have imagined those things. Adam is the soundest sleeper I know. He normally barely even moves, but stays curled up on his side all night. None of this is anything I would have pictured if I was thinking of Adam sleeping.
I don’t know what to think. I can’t make any sense of it. And then it strikes me. I must have sleepwalked. It’s a small moment of relief, of logic, and I cling to it even though it doesn’t feel true. I haven’t done that once since I started the lucid dreaming. But that must be what happened. Maybe I was sleepwalking and half woke up or something. Saw the room, then went back to sleep and carried it into my dream.
When I realise there’s no point in standing there staring any longer, I go back to bed and look up at the ceiling for a while. The whole thing has unsettled me, although I’m not sure why. The way I couldn’t touch the bear. My invisibility. That never happens in my ‘new’ dreams. I can eat, drink, fuck, whatever. How come I couldn’t pick up Paddington? How come I didn’t have hands? It’s weird. And it wasn’t like the other dreams. Despite my lack of body, the dream itself felt more solid. More real.
I must have been sleepwalking, I tell myself over and over. I mean, what other explanation can there be?
We are two strangers in the house now, circling each other warily, and – at least on David’s part – there is very little pretence at anything else. We’re barely even civil. He grunts answers to my questions as if he’s devolved into some Neanderthal beast no longer capable of full sentences, and he avoids looking me in the eye. Maybe he doesn’t want me to see that he’s drunk most of the time. I think he’s saving all his ‘normality’ for work, and doesn’t have the energy for it at home.
He seems smaller – diminished. If I was the shrink I’d say he was a man on the edge of a nervous breakdown. My friendship with Louise has completely knocked him. No, that’s not quite right. Louise’s friendship with me has knocked him. She was his special secret thing and that’s been ruined. He’s been fooled.
Now that the initial shock of the discovery has passed, I know he blames me.
‘Are you sure you didn’t know who she was?’ he asked me last night, hovering in the doorway of our bedroom, not wanting to cross the threshold. ‘When you met her?’
‘How could I have possibly known she was a patient of yours?’ I answered, all wide-eyed innocence. A patient. His lie, not mine. He might have been drunk, but he didn’t buy my answer. He can’t put his finger on how I knew about her, but he knows I did. My behaviour’s confused him though – this isn’t my ‘form’. In Blackheath I was far more direct in my approach, except Marianne was nothing but a potential threat to my marriage. Louise is – well, Louise is the great white hope of our happiness. Louise is wonderful.
I hate acknowledging mistakes, but I have to admit I was probably too obvious in Blackheath. I shouldn’t have let my rage get the better of me – at least not so dramatically – but that was different. And anyway, it’s all in the past. I never care about the past unless I can use it for something in the present, and perhaps Blackheath will turn out to be useful, in which case it won’t have been a mistake at all. The past is as ephemeral as the future – it’s all perspective and smoke and mirrors. You can’t pin it down, can you? Let’s say two people experience exactly the same thing – ask them to recount the event later and, although their versions might be similar, there will always be differences. The truth is different to different people.
Poor David though. He’s consumed by the past. It’s concrete boots on him, weighing him down, drowning us. That one moment in the past has shaped him into this broken man. One night has led to the drink, the worry, the inability to let himself love me, the guilt. It’s been so fucking tiring living with it and trying to make it all right for both of us. Trying to make him see that it doesn’t matter. No one knows. No one was ever going to know. So in many ways, as no one knows, then it never even really happened. If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s around to hear it, blah, blah, blah.
Soon, however, our terrible guilty secret will be dragged out into the light and we shall be free of it. David is on the verge of telling, I know that. I imagine that prison seems a better option to him than this continued hell. It doesn’t hurt as much as it should, to think that the man I love so very very much considers life with me to be hellish, but then, this has been no picnic for me either of late.
Telling, though, will only be a momentary relief. He hasn’t grasped that yet. Telling won’t win him Louise. Telling won’t bring him trust and absolution. David deserves both. Some secrets need to be excavated, not just told, and our little sin is one of those.
I could have done all this much more easily. I could have left them well alone and maybe David would have eventually told Louise the truth of our marriage, and the event that has shaped it, and she’d have believed him, but he’d always wonder if she had a little doubt. He’d be constantly looking in her eyes for suspicion. There is nothing solid in a telling.
It all comes down to Louise. She has to uncover our sordid past herself. She needs to set us both free with her complete belief. I’m working hard for that. Even if he can’t bear to look at me, I’m doing it all for David.
I make a pot of peppermint tea and then, while it’s brewing, I fetch the little handset from the wardrobe, turn it on and text Louise, my little pretty puppet on a string.
Wanted to let you know all okay here. I’m trying to be normal. Emptied out capsule pills so just taking empty cases when he’s here. Not swallowing others, putting them under my tongue and spitting out. Looked in his study to see if he has a file on me but can’t find one:( Glad u know where spare key is. Feel crazy being worried about D – he’s always looked after me – but ur right, not enough that I love him. Maybe i’ll contact lawyer about divorce. Oh, I imagined us in my dream – on the Orient Express –
It’s a long text, but it shows how much I need her and miss her. I don’t bother putting the phone back yet – Louise always replies quickly, and this time is no exception.
So glad ur ok and good work with the pills! I’ve been worrying bout u. I had a dream and I went thru that second door I told you about. I ended up in Adam’s bedroom. Stuff was moved around. When I woke up and went in to check on him, it was all exactly like in my dream. Weird, huh? You really never get the second door? I think maybe I was sleepwalking. And YES TO ORIENT EXPRESS!
I reply how odd that is and that no, I don’t ever have a second door and I guess her brain must work differently to mine, but my hands are shaking with elation as I type. I can barely sit still with the sudden rush of adrenaline. She’s doing it already! She hasn’t figured out quite what she’s doing yet, but she’s so quick at this. Faster than I ever was. A natural. I have to get things moving more quickly now that it’s not entirely in my control.
Will check his study again for a file on me. Where can it be? Anyway, have to go. Take care. A xx
I can’t be bothered to get into a long chat with her now. I’m too excited. I’ve nudged her though, in that last text. Another little seed planted to get her synapses firing, even though the answer is so fucking obvious she’d have to be a retard not to have the solution. What must she really think of my intellectual capacities? Poor little Adele. So sweet and kind, and yet so simple and stupid. That’s what she must make of me.
If only she knew.
It’s been a great day out in the woods and then to the adventure playground and then a late lunch at the cafe, and both Adam and I are glowing from the fresh air, and giggling when we get back to the flat. I’m glad Adele texted this morning to let me know that at least things aren’t any worse, and I thank God she’s trying not to take those pills. Fuck knows what they’d do to a healthy mind.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes