Behind Her Eyes, p.20Sarah Pinborough
Having a few hours worry-free has done me the world of good, and I’m still smiling as I rummage in my bag for the keys. It might not have been France and snails and swimming pools, but I still know how to make my little boy laugh. We’d played Doctor Who amongst the trees. Adam was the Doctor, of course, and me his trusty companion. Apparently the trees were an alien race and at first they wanted to kill us, but somewhere along the way – I’m sure it made sense to Adam – we saved them and then peace was restored and we were ready to take our Tardis off to another adventure. After an ice cream fuel stop, obviously. Adam was convinced that ice cream was what the Doctor and his companion ate when travelling, and I didn’t argue. It totally broke my diet, but with the stress of everything that’s been going on while my baby’s been away, the pounds have been melting off. And God, it tasted good. My real life feels good.
‘Where’s my key ring?’ Adam asks, slightly put out. ‘You said you were going to use it today.’
‘Silly Mummy forgot,’ I say. It’s still on the coffee table where I left it last night. After the distraction of the weird dream it had slipped from my mind. ‘I’ll do it as soon as we’re inside.’ I ruffle his hair and smile, but I’m annoyed at myself. How could I have forgotten that? His present to me. A gift from the one person who loves me unconditionally, and I forgot about it.
Only when he’s settled in front of some games on his dad’s old iPad, with cartoons playing in the background, do I start transferring my bundle over, and I realise that I still have my keys to the clinic. My heart thumps faster. If David did have some kind of file on Adele then he wouldn’t keep it at home. It would be at work where she couldn’t inadvertently find it.
But somewhere I could. If I dared.
I stare at the keys. I could get in without anyone knowing. I know the alarm code. I could do it tonight. I feel slightly sick at what I’m suggesting to myself, but I also have a surge of adrenaline. I need to know. Adele needs to know. And I owe it to her after everything I’ve done, even if she’s blissfully unaware of what a truly shit friend I am.
Adam is absorbed in the film, watching dozily, still tired out after his holiday and then a day at the woods, and I sneak out and knock for Laura next door.
‘Hey,’ she says, all smiles, the sound from her huge TV wafting out to me. ‘Louise. What can I do for you? Do you want to come in?’ I like Laura, even though I haven’t seen much of her recently, and I have a moment of embarrassment at the thought that she probably heard David and me fighting the other night.
‘I can’t stop, I’ve left Adam. I was wondering, and I know it’s really short notice, but could you maybe babysit him tonight? I’m really sorry, it’s a last-minute thing.’
‘A date?’ she asks, grinning.
I nod, which is stupid. Now I’m going to have to get dressed up for a night out just to break into my old office. Thinking about it, the reality of actually doing it, I suddenly will her to say no.
‘Of course I can,’ she says, and I curse my impetuousness. ‘I’ll never stand in the way of potential true love or a good shag. What time?’
‘About eight?’ I’m going to have time to fill, but any later would sound odd. ‘Is that okay? He’ll be in bed by then, and you know what he’s like, he’ll never wake up.’
‘It’s no problem, honestly,’ she says. ‘I didn’t have anything planned.’
‘Thanks, Laura. You’re a star.’
That’s that then. I’m doing it.
I get more tense as the afternoon stretches into the evening, my mind filled with worries. What if they’ve changed the alarm code, is my main one, but I can’t see it. The code’s been the same for as long as I’ve worked there, and other members of staff have come and gone in that time. And as far as Dr Sykes is concerned I might come back to my job. Why would he worry about me having access? But still, by eight fifteen when Laura’s settled and I’m out of the flat, I’m still dithering as to whether I should go through with it. If anyone were to find out, I could get into serious trouble. I think about the pills. The state Adele was in at her house. She could be in worse trouble if I don’t do it.
I can’t go straight to the clinic, it’s way too early, so instead I go to an Italian restaurant on the Broadway, ensconce myself in a corner, and order a dinner I really don’t want to eat. My stomach’s fist-tight with anxiety, but I force half of the risotto down. I do, however, drink a large glass of red wine to steady me. It barely touches the sides and I feel stone cold sober.
By ten I’ve stayed as long as I can, and I wander through the town for an hour, puffing constantly on my e-cig until my mouth and throat are dry. I try to focus. I think about Adele. I know I have to do this. It’s important. And it’s not like I’m breaking in anyway. Not technically. I have keys. If anyone turns up – oh please fuck God don’t let anyone turn up – I can claim to be picking up something I’ve left there. Yeah right, Louise, because after eleven is always the time people innocently do stuff like that in business premises.
The road feels oppressively dark as I turn down it, and my footsteps are the sole ones disturbing the peace of the empty pavement. Most of the buildings here are solicitors’ or accountants’ offices, and although some of the higher floors are flats, barely any light filters out from under their heavy, wealthy curtains and designer blinds. I should be happy that I can’t be seen, but the hairs on the back of my neck still prickle as if something in the darkness is watching me. I glance back over my shoulder, momentarily convinced that someone is right there, but the road is clear.
My shaking hand pulls the keys from my bag. In and out. It’ll be easy. Pretend you’re James Bond. I don’t feel very much like James Bond as the keys slip from my fingers and clatter loudly on the top step, but within a moment I’ve got the door unlocked and am inside. My heart is in my mouth as I flick on the light and race to the alarm box which is beeping out its thirty seconds before all hell breaks loose.
I’ve done this a hundred times, and, my face flushing hot, I’m sure that this time I’ll punch in the wrong code, but my fingers fall into habit and fly over the keypad and then the beeps fall gloriously silent. I stand there, in the strange, gloomy emptiness, taking a few deep breaths, and forcing my racing heart to slow. I’m in. I’m safe.
I head towards David’s office, leaving as many lights off as possible. I’ve been here alone before, and in the dark on early winter mornings, but the building feels different tonight. Unwelcoming, as if I’ve woken it from sleep and it knows I should no longer be here.
The doctors rarely lock their offices – the cleaners need to get in, and there’s an air of middle-class complacency that hangs over the clinic; an old-school trust. Plus, on a more practical level, it’s not as if they have cabinets full of morphine to steal from, and as for information, most of the patients’ files are stored in passworded computer systems that only the doctors can access. If David has a file on Adele here though, it won’t be on the system. He won’t want it where any of the other practice partners could see it, even if they couldn’t access it. Questions would be raised, ethical ones if nothing else.
His door is indeed unlocked, and I flick on his desk light and start searching through the old filing cabinet in the corner, but it’s mainly filled with pamphlets from pharmaceutical companies and self-help guides to give out to patients. A lot of this crap must have been left over from Dr Cadigan. It’s all dry and bland. I take everything out and go through it, but there’s nothing hidden at the bottom of any of the drawers.
It’s been twenty minutes by the time I’ve got everything back in, hopefully in the right order, but my disappointment has made me more determined than ever to find what I’m looking for. I won’t have the nerve to come back again, but I also need to be home by one at the latest so that Laura doesn’t ask too many questions. I look around. Where else can it be? He must at least have notes somewhere – he’s prescribing for her. He’d need something to cover himself.
His desk is the only plac
I search the top drawer for the key, but it’s not there. He must keep it with him. Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit. What can I do? I stare for a long moment, and then my curiosity overwhelms me. I have to get inside. Screw the consequences. He might know someone’s broken into it, but he won’t know for sure it was me. I get a knife from the kitchen and jam it into the small gap at the drawer edge, trying to get some leverage to force it open. At first I don’t think I’m going to manage it, and then with a spat out mutter of, ‘Come on, you fucker’, I give one big shove and the wood splinters. The drawer slides open an inch. I’ve done it.
The first things I see are the brandy bottles. Two; one half empty. I should be shocked, or at least surprised, but I’m not. David’s drinking is perhaps the least well-kept of his secrets, from me and Adele anyway. There are also multiple packs of extra strong mints. How much does he drink in the day? I can almost picture him – a sip here, a sip there, not too much but just enough. Why does he drink? Guilt? Unhappiness? Who cares, I decide. I’m not here for him.
I’m tempted to go and empty the bottles down the sink, but I don’t, instead just taking them out and rummaging underneath. I’m on my knees and sweating beneath the make-up I’ve had to put on for Laura’s benefit as I paw through envelopes and folders of receipts and copies of medical articles he’s written.
Finally, right at the bottom, I see a large Manila envelope. Inside is a buff A4 folder. It’s lost that firm crisp newness, now soft to the touch, and the various pages inside are held together with treasury tags, a random collection of sheets of notes, not like a proper medical file at all. It’s what I’m looking for though. Her name is there, right on the front, in thick black marker. Adele Rutherford-Campbell/Martin.
I sit in his chair and run my fingers over the surface for a moment, before turning to the first page. It’s not a conventional medical file, that’s for certain, more a collection of random notes. Scratched-out scribbles in his poor doctor’s handwriting on various types of paper – seemingly whatever he had at hand at the time. I’d thought that whatever I found would go back a year or so, from whenever he’d started hatching this plan. Maybe when he met Marianne from the cafe in Blackheath, a thought that still stings my pride. But no, the first entry is from six years ago and it talks about things going back a decade. He’s infuriating in his lack of detail.
I pull the chair closer to the desk so the file can sit directly under the soft yellow glow of the desk light while I try to make some sense of his scribbles.
A minor breakdown three months after leaving Westlands during which time she had an abortion.
What was it Adele had said? At the start of their marriage he wanted kids and she didn’t. How would her choosing to have an abortion have made him feel? Must have hurt. The start of his resentment maybe? I flick through, further forward.
Suspicions of paranoia and extreme jealousy. She knows things she shouldn’t. Is she spying on me? How?
Now who sounds paranoid, David? is what I want to scribble under his jottings.
Adele claims incident at florist with Julia was not her fault, but too many similarities to the past? No action taken – no proof. Julia upset/afraid. Friendship over. Job over. Agreed no more work. Did she do it so she could stay at home?
The job Adele mentioned she once had. This must be it. But what happened? I think of the daily phone calls. Did David sabotage her work to make sure she stayed at home? But what was the incident? What actually happened? This file would never work to get her sectioned. There’s no detail and no official evaluations or sessions recorded. Maybe he’s relying on his reputation to be able to use this against her. A subtle damning of her rather than going big guns, so he can appear almost reluctant. I scan forward to the most recent entries, my eyes picking up on phrases that chill me.
Psychotic break. Sociopathic tendencies.
I see where he’s jotted down prescriptions, but everything is vague. Just alluded to. It’s all notes as if for a private record, but I still feel like he’s talking about a stranger – this isn’t Adele.
Marianne not pressing charges. No proof. Have agreed to move. Again.
Marianne was the name Adele gave of the woman in Blackheath. What really happened there? Adele obviously found out he was seeing her, and maybe there was a confrontation? I feel a wave of nausea, imagining myself in that situation. It could easily have been me. I hate the thought of Adele ever finding out what I did, and not because I think she’s crazy, whatever David wants the world to believe, but because she’s my friend. I would hate her to know how I betrayed her.
I look at that note. The Again after moving. How many times have they moved? Adele hasn’t said, and there are no clues here. Maybe when he finally presents all this shit to someone – Dr Sykes maybe – he wants it to look as though he was protecting her but can’t any longer. I study the most recent pages, but his writing is indecipherable. I pick out a couple of words that make my heart almost stop – parents … estate – and my eyes strain trying to make sense of the paragraph of broken sentences around them, but I can’t. This was written drunk, I’m pretty sure of it. I feel as if I’m looking into the mind of a mad person rather than reading a file on one.
The last two pages are virtually bare, but what’s written on them makes me freeze.
Rage out of the blue after the move. Kicked the cat. Stamped on it. Killed it. Too many coincidences.
Then, further down the page—
Was it a threat? Making a point? Medication changed. How many accidents can there be?? Have there ever actually been any?
There’s only one line used on the last page but I stare at it for a long time.
Louise. What to do about her?
She’s been at home alone for two days before David arrives, and she’s surprised at how much at peace she feels. The solitude has been strange after the constant company of Westlands, but it’s also been soothing to her soul. Even at night, in the silence of the countryside where it would be easy to believe she was the last person on earth, she’s felt calm. Not that she ever feels isolated from people and places. Not really. Not with what she can do.
But still, she thinks maybe they were all right, in a way. The young do heal fast. And Fairdale House now feels like a facsimile of her home. The same, but so different without her parents here. She’s even felt strong enough to look inside the charred remains of their rooms and pack up some bits and pieces – her mother’s filigree jewellery box, the silver candlesticks that had been her grandmother’s, other odds and ends that each hold memories for her. Some photographs that were in a box in her bottom drawer that somehow survived the blaze. All taken with her father’s expensive camera and developed in his own darkroom. One of the many hobbies he preferred to being a father. There’s one of her at around fifteen. One of her and David sitting on the kitchen table taken not so long ago. That had been a good evening. Her parents had been drinking and were less disapproving of him that night, a rare time they all spent together. She puts the first picture in one of the boxes, but keeps the second.
She gives it to David when they’re walking through the estate, the air fresh and damp but invigorating. ‘I found this,’ she says, her arm linked through his. He’s been quiet since he arrived, and their reunion was almost awkward. They’d thrown themselves at each other and kissed, both overjoyed to be reunited, but the month apart, and the fire, still sits between them, and after an hour of polite and stilted conversation about Westlands and whether she had everything she needed – even though it was clear she had, and anyway, being David he’d also brought a boot full of food with him – she suggested the walk.
It was the right thing. He was relaxin
‘I’ll take it back to uni and frame it,’ he says. ‘That was a good day.’
‘And we’re going to have loads more,’ she says, grinning up at him. ‘A lifetime of them. Once we’re married. Let’s do it at Christmas. Once you break up for the holidays and I’m eighteen and no one can frown at us.’ She pauses. ‘Not that there’s anyone left to frown at us.’
He squeezes her arm. He always gets tongue-tied when it comes to talking about the deep things, and she doesn’t mind that.
‘I was thinking maybe I should drop out of uni for a while,’ he says. ‘To look after you. You know, while you have to stay here.’
She laughs, and she still finds it strange that she can laugh, and she has an ache of missing Rob. She loves David with all her heart, but it’s Rob who gave her laughter back. ‘That would somewhat negate the point of me spending time alone here, wouldn’t it? And anyway, you can’t do that. This is what you’ve always dreamed of. And I’m so proud of you. I’m going to be a doctor’s wife.’
‘If I pass all the exams,’ he says.
‘Oh, you will. Because you’re brilliant.’ And he is. He has the most quietly brilliant mind of anyone she’s ever met.
They stop and kiss for a while, and his arms feel good around her, and she feels safe and settled and thinks that maybe their hearts are building solid foundations for their future.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes