Behind Her Eyes, p.22Sarah Pinborough
Things are starting to move apace. Louise is my little terrier and she’s gripped the bone I’ve given her and I know she won’t let go. I’m curious to see where she takes it, how she’ll play out my game. I can’t entirely control how everyone will behave in this set of circumstances, but that somehow only makes it all more interesting. I’m playing the odds with their personalities, and thus far neither David nor Louise have let me down. David might be the head doctor, but I know how people tick. And I adapt.
The kitchen smells delicious as he comes and stands in the doorway. I’ve made a fresh pasta carbonara and a peppery rocket salad, which I fully intend to eat even if he doesn’t. He stays on the other side of the threshold to me, leaning against the doorframe. He looks a mess. He won’t keep his reputation at the clinic if this goes on much longer.
‘Still playing Stepford Wife, I see.’ He smiles as he speaks, a twisted humour. He’s laughing at me; at my clothes, and my cooking, and all my effort. I look hurt. I am hurt. He’s not even pretending to love me any more.
‘You should eat something,’ I say. Instead of drinking all your calories.
‘What is it you want, Adele? Really?’ He looks at me with blurred contempt. ‘What is all this for? This prison we live in?’ He’s definitely drunk, and for the first time in a long time I see true, naked aggression in him.
‘I want to be with you.’ It’s the truth. It’s my eternal truth.
He stares at me for a long time, as if trying to figure out what’s going on inside me, who I really am, and what new label he can apply to make sense of it – schizophrenic, sociopath, obsessive, plain batshit-crazy – and then his shoulders slump with the effort and the lack of answer.
‘I want a divorce,’ he says. ‘I want this over. All of it.’
There’s no need to elaborate on the last point. We both know what he means. The past needs digging up and laying to rest properly. The past. The body. He’s said this before, but this time I’m not so sure he’ll change his mind when he sobers up, regardless of what I might do. Regardless of how I could ruin him if I tell.
‘Dinner will be ready in ten minutes if you want to freshen up,’ is all I say. My normality unsettles him more than any verbal threat.
‘You knew who she was, didn’t you?’ He loathes me. It drips from him even more heavily than his self-pity. ‘Louise. You knew when you met her?’
I frown, puzzled. ‘Where’s this coming from, David? How could I possibly have known she was your patient?’ His lie used against him again.
‘You always know things. How is that?’ He’s bitter, but he still sounds weak. Pathetic. Not my David at all.
‘You’re not making any sense.’ I frame my face into a picture of worried concern. ‘Have you been drinking? You’re supposed to be cutting down. You said you would.’
‘Play your games, Adele. Play your games. I’m done. I don’t care any more. And I don’t want any fucking dinner.’
He calls out the last line as he disappears upstairs, and I wonder what’s happened to the person I fell in love with. How far hidden is he inside that shambling embarrassment of a man? I know he’s been to see her. To warn her. He really does love her, which of course pleases me in one way, but in another I want to take one of our Sabatier knives and go upstairs and cut out his ungrateful fucking heart. I squash that urge. I could never hurt David, and I know it. That’s the cross I have to bear.
And anyway, Louise heard his warning as a threat, because she belongs to me. She sees my truths. For now, at any rate. I haven’t answered her text yet, and I won’t. I need her to come here tomorrow. I need her to find me. Another thing she has to understand before she can put all the pieces of our tale of woe together. Show don’t tell, that’s what they say, isn’t it? And that’s what I’m doing. Tomorrow will be another breadcrumb in the trail I’m leaving for her. She’s my little wind-up doll, walking in whatever direction I point her.
God, I love Louise. I love her almost as much as I love David. And after I’ve shared my story with her, she’s going to hate him. I can’t help but think he deserves that.
It’s pouring with rain, proper sheets of it falling from the sky, and the grey is thick overhead as I drop Adam off at Day Play. The dry spell is over, and although it’s not cold, and there’s no autumn wind to drive the rain into me, it feels like the death knell of summer. Nearly September already. He kisses me goodbye and runs inside, my confident friendly boy, used to this routine. I haven’t told him I’m not going to work. Instead, I told him I’d taken a couple of days off to spend with him, and now we’re back to normal. It doesn’t really register with him. He’s six, the days are all a blur, but he’ll be seeing his dad soon and I’m not ready for the ‘Oh, Mummy hasn’t been to work’ fall-out.
I stop at Costa Coffee and stand at the window bench, staring out through the steamy glass at people hurrying along the Broadway in the downpour, heads down, umbrellas clashing like antelope horns. My mouth burns with the hot drink and I impatiently clock-watch until I think it’s probably safe to go. I have no idea if David is in work at his usual time. I tried to check his diary, but my log-in no longer works. The bastard must have cancelled it. I’m going to the house anyway. I need to see Adele, and she still hasn’t answered my text, and I’m worried about her. Screw him, if he’s at home. Maybe I’ll tell her what we did. Maybe that will prompt her to do what she needs to do. I’ll lose her too, but at least she’ll be free.
At ten, I gird my loins and head over. Her car’s there, so she’s not left for the gym yet, if she’s even still going, and with my heart in my mouth, I press on the doorbell. I hear it ring out on the other side, heavy and dependable. I stand and wait, peering through the glass for any shadow of movement, but the house is still. I press again, for longer this time. Still nothing. Where is she? She can’t be in the garden in this weather, and I know she can hear the bell from there anyway. I give it a third go, holding the button down for nearly ten seconds. At least I know David’s not home. He’d have been shouting at me on the doorstep by now if he was.
The door stays firmly shut in front of me. Maybe she’s popped down to the shops. But in this rain? She’d take the car and go to the big Sainsbury’s if she needed anything surely? I leave my umbrella at the door and come down the few steps to cross to the big bay window; I frame my eyes with my hands and peer in. It’s David’s study, so I’m not expecting to see anything, but Adele is sitting in a wing-backed chair in the corner by the bookshelves. One arm is hanging down and she’s slid sideways, only the jutting edges of the old-fashioned leather chair holding her in. I bang on the glass. ‘Adele! It’s me! Wake up!’
She doesn’t move. Not even a twitch. How can she not hear me? I bang harder and repeat her name, one eye out for nosy neighbours who might mention seeing me to ‘that lovely doctor next door’. Still nothing. He must have made her take those pills before he went to work; it’s all I can think. Maybe she’s taken too many. Maybe she’s had an adverse reaction. Shit, shit, shit.
I look back at the front door, my hair now slick against my face, and drips of water running cold under the collar of my jacket making me flinch and shiver. I see the big planters. The keys. I rummage in the damp dirt until I find them, inches down, flashes of silver. The bottom lock is off, so at least David hasn’t locked her in, which was my first thought, and I slide the Yale key in and twist. I’m in.
My shoes leave wet footprints on their perfect floorboards as I rush through to the study, but I don’t care. I don’t care if David figures out that I’ve been here. I’m done with him.
‘Adele,’ I say, shaking her shoulder gently. ‘Adele, wake up. It’s me.’ Her head lolls forward and for an awful gut-wrenching moment I think she’s dead, and then I see the very gentle rise of breath in her chest. I grab her hand – her fingers are cold. How long has she been sitting here?
‘Adele!’ I bark her name out. ‘Wake up!’ Still nothing. I’m rubbing w
It’s so dramatic that I stumble backwards. ‘Shit, Adele.’
She stares at me like I’m a stranger, and then she blinks. The tension goes out of her spine and she looks around as she pants, her breath still ragged. ‘What are you doing here, Louise?’
‘I let myself in. You weren’t answering the doorbell and I could see you through the window. Are you okay?’
‘You’re soaked,’ she says, still disoriented. ‘You need a towel.’
‘I’m fine. It’s you I’m worried about. How many pills did you take this morning?’
‘Just one. I was …’ She frowns, collecting her thoughts, ‘I thought I’d look in here again, for, I don’t know, something. Anything. Then I felt really tired so I sat down.’
‘I thought you were flipping dead,’ I say, and then laugh, my nerves needing a release. ‘Anyway, his file on you isn’t in here.’ She focuses then.
‘It’s in his office. I went and looked. But first,’ I take her arm and help her out of the chair, ‘you need coffee.’
We stay in the kitchen, clutching mugs of coffee, the continuing downpour outside pattering against the windows as I tell her what I found, talking quietly and slowly so she can take it all in.
‘The thing is,’ I say, in a long pause after I’ve finished, ‘these notes he’s been keeping go back pretty much ten years. I thought maybe he was trying to get you sectioned to keep your money, but that would be a more recent thing, surely? He couldn’t have been planning that all this time. I mean, could he? It doesn’t make any sense.’
Adele stares straight ahead, her face filled with sadness. ‘It makes sense to me,’ she says eventually. ‘It’s an insurance policy.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘I did have some problems when I was younger, after my parents, after Westlands, but that’s not it. That’s not why he’s got this file. It’s about Rob.’
I frown, confused. ‘What about Rob?’
‘It’s insurance in case I decide to voice my suspicions about what happened to him. Who would anyone believe? The respectable doctor or his crazy lady wife?’
‘I don’t get it.’ This is a new twist in their crazy marriage. ‘What happened to Rob?’
‘Rob’s our unspoken secret,’ she says, and then lets out a long sigh. She looks small in the chair, narrower with her shoulders hunched, as if she’s trying to fold in on herself and disappear. She’s thinner too. Vanishing.
‘I want to show you something,’ she says. She gets up and I follow her as she leads me up the stairs.
My heart is racing. Am I finally going to learn what’s at the core of this marriage that’s entangled me? I follow her into the large master bedroom, high ceilinged and airy, with an en-suite in the corner. Everything in it is elegant, from the metal-framed bed, sturdy and wide and clearly from somewhere like Liberty’s rather than some lightweight chain-brand copy, to the Egyptian cotton duvet set, a deep brown off-setting the olive green of the walls and the rich worn wood of the floor. On a feature wall behind the chest of drawers, three thick stripes of varied greens run from floor to ceiling. I could never be this stylish.
‘It was all magnolia when we moved in,’ she says. ‘Some off-white shade anyway.’ She’s looking at the walls, thoughtful and reflective. ‘I chose these colours to test him. They’re the colours of the woods on my parents’ estate. We never go back there. Not since I was there after Westlands. Not since Rob came to visit.’ She brushes her fingers across the walls as if feeling the bark of a tree rather than cool plaster.
‘He refuses to sell it even though it’s just sitting there, empty and forgotten.’ She’s talking softly, as much to herself as to me. ‘I think that’s part of the reason he’d be reluctant to give control of my money back. He knows I’ll get rid of it. And that’s too much of a risk.’
‘What happened to Rob?’ I ask as my heart races. She turns to me then, wide-eyed and beautiful, and spills out her answer as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world to say.
‘I think David killed him.’
Hearing it out loud, rather than some almost suspicion in my own head, makes me reel. David. A killer? Is that even possible? I step backwards and find the bed, sitting down heavily.
I think David killed him. I feel like I did when Ian told me Lisa was pregnant, but everything is amplified.
‘Rob came to stay,’ Adele continues. ‘He was so unhappy with his awful sister and he texted me, and I insisted he come to Perth. He’d been so good to me. He’d brought me back to life. I wanted to help him in return. Maybe give him some money to set himself up somewhere away from that awful place he lived. I was happy to have him around. He did that for you, Rob. He made you happy. He made you feel special. I suggested to David that he could live with us for a bit when we were married. Just until he got himself sorted. David didn’t like the idea. He was jealous of Rob. David had always looked after me, but at Westlands Rob had taken on his role. He was suspicious that there was more than friendship going on, even though I kept telling him it wasn’t like that. I loved Rob, but not in that way. I don’t think he loved me in that way either. We were like brother and sister.’
I’m hanging on her every word with both anticipation and dread. ‘What happened?’ My mouth is tinder dry and I can barely get the words out.
‘David came for a weekend while Rob was staying. I thought that once they got to know each other they’d be fine. I thought that because I loved them both it would be enough for them to love each other even though they were very different. Looking back, I was so naïve. Rob was determined to make an effort – on his best behaviour for such a wild thing – but David was off with him. On the Saturday, David seemed to thaw a bit, so Rob told me to go to bed and leave them to it. He thought they could use some man-to-man time.’ She looks back at the walls, the forest colours, her eyes drifting over them as if the past was written there.
‘When I woke up, Rob was gone,’ she continues. ‘David said he’d decided to leave, and at first I thought maybe David had paid him off. But that didn’t make sense. I’d already offered Rob money, and he wouldn’t have taken a bribe not to be my friend. He wasn’t like that. He’d have laughed at that. Sometimes, when I play it over in my mind, I wonder if he decided to have it out with David about my money. Maybe he told him he had to give it back. He said he wouldn’t mention it, but who knows? Perhaps he did. Maybe that sent David over the edge into one of his terrible moods. Maybe they fought and it got out of hand. The one thing I do know is that Rob would never have left without saying goodbye.’
‘Are you sure?’ I ask, trying to find something rational here that doesn’t involve my married ex-lover having killed a rival. ‘I mean, maybe they had an argument or a fight, and Rob thought it was best to leave. That’s possible, isn’t it?’
She shakes her head. ‘Rob had hidden his stash of drugs and the notebook in the barn. I didn’t find them until after David and I were married, but Rob wouldn’t have left the drugs behind. Not if he was angry. He’d have wanted to get high.’
‘Did you ever confront David about it? Ask him?’
‘No. We got married very quickly, maybe a month or so after I last saw Rob, and David had changed by then. He was more reserved. Cooler with me. Then I found out I was pregnant.’ Her eyes fill with tears that don’t quite spill as I sink into the awfulness of it all with her.
‘I was so happy. So happy. But David made me have an abortion. He said he couldn’t be sure it was his. After that I had a little breakdown – I think I couldn’t face my fears about Rob, and I was still recovering from my parents’ deaths, and
‘You think Rob’s still there, don’t you?’ I say, lost in their past and terrified by our present. ‘Somewhere in the grounds?’
She stays very still for a long moment and then nods. ‘Rob would never have upped and vanished on me like that. Never. I was all he had. He’d have got in touch.’ She sits on the bed beside me. ‘If he was still alive.’
Neither of us says anything for a long time after that.
She insists on staying for a while and talking about it more, obviously. She’s shaken, I can see that, but her mind is whirring. That curious, busy head of hers. Tick tick tick. Always ticking over. When she asks why I never looked for Rob, I give my pathetic shrug and say I didn’t want to know. I loved David and I’d married him. I was young. He was my safe place. I’m impressed she doesn’t slap me hard around the face and tell me to pull myself together and face the music. I’d want to do it if I were her, listening to my spineless drivel. I tell her I’m tired and don’t want to talk about it, and I see her pity then. She quiets.
It doesn’t take much to get her to leave. I mention that David will call and then I’m going to lie down for a while, and she nods and hugs me, squeezing me so tightly in those slimmer, firmer arms, but I can see she’s already thinking about what to do next. How she can help me, or help herself, or whichever. As long as the outcome is the same, who cares?
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes