Behind Her Eyes, p.24Sarah Pinborough
I drink my wine and stare into space for a while, letting it all soak in. I can’t just go to the police with my suspicions about Rob – I’d look like a crazy jilted lover if I tried to explain it. But if there was someone who already had suspicions about David – this Angus Wignall for example – then maybe they’d pay attention to an anonymous letter and at least search the estate?
I Google him and find that he’s still in Perthshire and is now a detective chief inspector based at Perth Police Station. I scribble down the address. Would he take an anonymous letter seriously? Or would it go in the crackpot file? I guess it depends on how suspicious he was of David all those years ago. If he really thought David had something to do with the fire, but couldn’t prove, it then this might pique his interest. It’s better than doing nothing. It’s better than letting all these questions fester inside me for ever.
Maybe there’ll be no body. Maybe Ailsa’s right, and Rob’s just a junkie somewhere living off grid. Maybe David is innocent – of this at any rate – but at least it will bring it all out into the open and free Adele of her doubts. Should I tell Adele what I’m thinking of doing? I decide against it. She’d try and talk me out of it, I’m sure. For all her fears and worries, she’d be afraid of rocking the boat. She’s too subservient to David, and has been for far too long. She wouldn’t like me letting all her suspicions out into the world.
And anyway, this isn’t about them any more. It’s not about them or me or any combination of the three of us. This is about Rob. This is about justice for him. Although I feel slightly queasy at the thought of it, I’m going to write the letter now and send it before I can change my mind. Enough’s enough. Then I’m done.
It’s a warmth, that’s the best way she can describe it. Rob is here and she feels warm inside. Glowing. He’s her friend and he’s back. As much as the time alone has been good for her – surprisingly good for her – there is a joy in Rob being here. The house feels alive again. Rob has no memories of this place like she and David do. There’s nothing to weigh him down, and that frees her. She doesn’t have to be sad with Rob here.
He laughs over and over as she shows him the house. She’d already told him it was about the size of Westlands if not bigger, but it’s clear he hasn’t believed her, and by the end of the tour, even she’s smiling at the ridiculousness of one family owning so much. The only pause for quiet was when she showed him the charred rooms where her parents had died. His eyes were wide then, and they stood in hushed silence for a moment until he said, ‘Let’s get the fuck out of here. It’s stinks.’ She loved him for that. The lack of need to explore her feelings or make sure she was okay. Rob makes her feel strong because he thinks she is strong.
He hasn’t brought much with him, some clothes, his notebook, some beers, and a bag of drugs. They take some of the weed out and then Adele makes him hide the rest in one of the barns.
‘People do come to the house,’ she tells him. ‘A woman cleans a couple of times a week and brings food. My solicitor sometimes pops in. He worries about me being here on my own. Says he thinks this is inappropriate therapy. He says I’m too young.’ She rolls her eyes. Her life has been so pampered compared to Rob’s.
‘Yeah right,’ he says. ‘Like you’re going to set the place on fire or something.’
Her eyes widen with shock at what he’s said, and then she bursts into laughter.
‘God, you’re a dick.’ She links her arm in his.
‘Yeah, but I make you laugh.’ There’s a pause. ‘So be honest, is it really those people you’re worried about finding my stash, or your precious David?’
She says nothing for a moment and then sighs. ‘Yes, maybe David most. He’s not anti-drugs as such’ – she sees the cynical disbelief in Rob’s face – ‘he’s really not, but I doubt he’d think getting high would be good for me right now. He’d think I was using it as a crutch.’
‘It must be so hard to breathe with all these people worrying about you all the time,’ Rob says. ‘If only they could see you how I do.’
‘And how is that?’ she asks.
‘A phoenix rising from the flames, of course.’
She likes that. She likes it a lot. It reminds her that the world is her oyster now. They stay arm in arm as they walk through the grounds and out to the well where they make silent wishes even though Adele isn’t sure a dry well can work for wishes.
In the evening they cook frozen pizzas, and drink cans of the cheap strong beer Rob’s brought with him, and then they get high in front of a fire in the drawing room. They sit on cushions on the floor and talk and laugh about everything and nothing. Adele sucks deep on the grass joint, loving the mellow, giggly buzz of it. She’s missed it. Like she’s missed Rob.
She’s seen his stash bag, and she knows he’s got some heroin with him too, but he doesn’t mention it, and neither does she. That’s his business. She doesn’t want him to take it, but neither does she want to sound like one of the therapists at Westlands. She wants Rob to be happy, and if that’s what it takes to see him through for a while, then she’s not going to fight him over it. He’s clearly not a total addict anyway. If he was he’d be wasted, not sharp as a tack, and anyway, she can’t see any fresh track marks on his arms. Maybe he snorts it sometimes or however else people take that stuff. Maybe he’s brought it just in case of a dark day. Hopefully, they’ve both already had their share of dark days.
There are two spare bedrooms neatly made up, but they end up in her bed, stripped to their T-shirts and underwear, lying side by side and staring up at the ceiling. She wonders if David would see this as a betrayal, having another man in her bed, but close as she and Rob are, there’s nothing sexual happening. This is almost something purer.
‘I’m so glad you came,’ she says. ‘I’ve missed you.’
‘I’m glad you let me.’ He pauses. ‘It’s so quiet here. And so dark outside. It’s like we’re the last people on earth.’
‘Maybe we are. Maybe there’s been an apocalypse.’
‘As long as it’s not a fucking zombie one,’ Rob snorts. ‘People are dull enough when they’re alive.’
‘Do you think it’s wrong that I don’t miss my parents ever so much?’ she asks. It’s a thought that she worries about. What it says about her. If there’s something bad about her.
‘Nope,’ Rob answers. ‘There’s no right and wrong with feelings. There is only what there is.’
She thinks about that for a while. There is only what there is. That makes her feel better.
‘What do you want to do with your life?’ she asks.
‘You sound like a Westlands therapist.’
‘No, really.’ Rob is so good at answering questions with something funny, but this time she wants to get past the deflections. ‘There must be something.’
‘Don’t know.’ He stares up at the ceiling. ‘Never really thought about it. I don’t really come from a career family. Sign on and chill out was more their style. What about you? Other than marry dull David and make baby Davids.’
She slaps him and laughs, but inside she wonders if that’s so bad. That is what she wants to do. It’s what she’s always wanted to do.
‘You should stay with us for a while. As long as you like. While you figure out your future.’
‘It’s a nice idea, but I don’t think David’s going to want me hanging around once you’re married up.’
‘You shouldn’t judge him before you’ve met him. He’s training to be a doctor. Helping people is what he does.’
Their voices are disembodied in the darkness, but she takes Rob’s hand and squeezes it. ‘Anyway, I’m rich now, and I’m going to help you.’
‘I hate to remind you, darling, but unless you’ve got it all signed back over, technically it’s David who’s rich.’
‘Oh, shut up.’ She needs to get that sorted, but she’s not worried about it. David’s not out buying fast cars or living the
She’ll talk to him about it when he comes back in a couple of weeks. Tomorrow, she’ll tell him about Rob being here. She’s sure he won’t mind that she’s not following through the therapy plan like she’s supposed to, and anyway, Rob’s been the best therapy she’s had.
‘I love you, Rob,’ she whispers, when their chatter falls into sleepy silence. ‘You’re my best friend.’
‘I love you too, Adele,’ he replies. ‘My tragic Sleeping Beauty turned phoenix. I really do.’
The days drag by, each one feeling like a week, even though it’s only been forty-eight hours since my grand revelation to Louise. I ache from so much lying still, but watch and learn is all I can do. I hide in my room when David gets home, pleading headaches or tiredness, and he barely speaks, instead nodding with thinly veiled relief. I leave him food in the fridge that he sometimes nibbles on but doesn’t eat, as if he thinks maybe it’s poisoned or contaminated in some way. I should care more that he’s not interested in spending time with me, but I’m so much in Louise’s life that if he did it would be a hindrance.
I wish he’d work later, which is something I’ve never wanted before. But I’m waiting for one moment. The moment when I can turn everything on its head. I can’t miss it.
What if David decides he wants my attention at the moment when I need to be there? What then? I want to know when all the pieces of the puzzle have been thrown up in the air.
I lock the bedroom door just in case, but he doesn’t knock. He hasn’t been back to her either, which is a relief. I’ve needed them apart, and that has worked. I doubt that right now Louise would even open the door to him. Not now that she’s sent that letter. And now, after our sneaky texts of late last night, she has filled me with joy even though she doesn’t realise it. I know she’s feeling guilty about the letter she doesn’t know I know she’s sent. Her accusations about David. When I texted her that he was being very attentive and maybe I was over-thinking it all and we should forget it, she changed the subject. People always change the subject when they feel bad about something. But this time she changed the subject to mention her dreams. She told me about the weird second door, and how she found herself floating above her body in the sitting room for a moment. How she hadn’t been asleep, but trying to shift a headache with some deep breathing, and how it just happened.
Although that left me bursting with excitement, I replied that it had never happened to me, but I’ve been taking sleeping pills so I’m not even going through the first door at the moment. I tell her I’m enjoying the oblivion. The feeling of nothingness. Of non-existence. I text her that sometimes I think I’d like to be nothing. I wonder how she felt reading those words. A hint of what’s possibly to come. Words to haunt her later.
She ended our text chat after that when I mentioned David again. She feels like she’s betrayed me twice now, I imagine. She knows poor, fragile Adele wouldn’t want her secrets aired to the world. Not when dangerous David is in the house. But still, she thinks she’s strong enough for both of us. She thinks she knows best. I wonder whether the police will come before or after her doubts set in, or if they’ll come at all. I half expect the doorbell to go at any moment, even though I know it will take the police longer than the time passed to get their shit together if they decide to take her letter seriously. Perhaps they will just dismiss it. Perhaps I should send a letter of my own. It’s a deliciously dark thought, but I decide against it for now. I’ll see how things play out.
Secrets, secrets, secrets. People are filled to the brim with them if you look closely. Louise is collecting several of her own, this letter being the most recent. I feel a slight betrayal that she hasn’t told me about it. That she hasn’t considered my feelings in her actions when she’s supposed to be my best friend, but I keep my irritation in check. She’s doing exactly what I want from her, after all.
My feelings don’t really matter any more, just like maintaining my figure and fitness don’t matter any more.
After all, what’s the point? I’m going to be dead soon.
I don’t know why I feel so nervy; it’s not exactly as if the police are going to turn up at my door waving the letter at me and asking me to explain myself. I even got a bus to Crouch End and posted it there despite the fact they probably use the same sorting office as here. I wanted some distance between me and it. The envelope was damp from my clammy hands when I finally slipped it into the box.
Still, I constantly feel sick, and then David texted me last night. He said he wanted to meet up and talk. I stared at the words for an hour or so, my head pounding, but in the end I ignored it. What did he mean by talk? Threaten me some more? He was drunk anyway; even autocorrect had given up on some of his spelling. I don’t want to talk to either of them, if I’m honest. Adele texted with some simpering stuff about David being different and maybe she was over-thinking. I bet she’s regretting telling me everything about Rob. Sharing a secret always feels great in the moment, but then becomes a burden in itself. That gnawing in the pit of your stomach that something has been set free and you can’t call it back and now someone else has that power over your future. It’s why I’ve always hated secrets. They’re impossible to keep. I hate knowing Sophie’s secrets, always worrying that one day I’ll be wine-happy and something will slip out in front of Jay. Now, I’m in a mess of secrets and I’ve taken Adele’s into my own hands. She’d hate that I’ve sent that letter, and I wouldn’t blame her for that. But what else could I do? In the end, I changed the subject in our texts to my dreams. I told her about the weirdness of feeling like I’d left my body by going through the second door. It seemed a safer subject than the weirdness of their marriage and the very real possibility that David is a murderer.
My head still aches, a constant throb I can’t ignore, and even going out in the fresh air to collect Adam from a birthday party at the community centre doesn’t shake away the nausea. I haven’t even really slept. I lie in bed exhausted, but as soon as the light goes off the lights in my brain come on. I think maybe I preferred the night terrors to the complete insomnia. Back when life was simple. Back before the man-in-the-bar.
Adam is stuffed with sandwiches and sweets, so we put his wrapped piece of birthday cake in the fridge for later, and he runs off to his room to examine the contents of his ridiculously expensive party bag. I don’t even want to see what’s in it – Adam’s birthday is coming around fast and it’ll be my turn to spend money I can’t afford on expensive rubbish for children who don’t need it. It’s an unfair thought. Ian will help out. He’s nothing if not generous where Adam is concerned, but I’m tired and stressed and need everything to slow down.
‘I’ve got a headache,’ I say, popping my head around his bedroom door. ‘I’m going to lie down for a bit. Is that okay?’ He nods and smiles, today my perfect boy, and I remember how lucky I am to have him.
‘Wake me up if you need anything.’
I don’t think for a second that I’m going to sleep, I just want to close the curtains and lie in a darkened room and wish this headache away. I take a couple of pills and go to my room, relishing the cool pillow under my head, and let out a long sigh. A quiet half an hour is what I need. The headache is too invasive even to think much, and I focus on taking deep relaxing breaths. My heartbeat and the headache throb in unison like mad lovers. I try to let the tension out of my shoulders, hands, and feet, like they make you do in those endlessly dull yoga videos. I empty my body of breath and empty my mind of more clutter with each exhalation. The pain lessens a fraction as I relax, and my arms feel heavy by my sides as if they’re sinking into the bed beneath me. To escape for a while. That’s what I need.
I barely see the doo
—I’m looking down at myself. My mouth is half open. My eyes are closed. If I’m still taking deep breaths it doesn’t show. I look dead. Empty.
I am empty. The thought is like cold water running through me, whatever me is, right now. I’m up here. That’s just … a body. A machine. My machine. But no one’s at the controls. No one’s home.
I hover for a moment, resisting my panic of last time. I have no headache. I have no sense of any feeling; no arms, no legs, no tension, no breath. Maybe this is a dream. A different kind of dream. It’s something anyway. I move back towards my body and feel the immediate tug from it, and then I force myself to stop. I can go back if I want to – but do I want to?
I can see the line of dust on the top rim of the light shade, forgotten, grey and thick. I pull back slightly, towards the door, even though I’m terrified of losing sight of my body, as if I will somehow lose my way back completely. In the mirror I can see my frighteningly still figure behind me on the bed, but I have no reflection. Call me Count Dracula. I should be petrified, but it’s all so surreal I’m strangely entertained.
Now that my fear is fading, I feel something else. Free. Released. I have no weight. I almost go to Adam’s room, but worry that somehow he will see me. Where can I go? How far can I go?
Next door. Laura’s flat. I somehow expect to be there in a flash, as if I’m some kind of fairy godmother waving a magic wand, but nothing happens. I focus harder. I feel for Laura’s flat. The wholeness of it. The oversized TV that takes up most of one wall. Her awful pink faux leather sofa that I should hate but which makes me smile. Her cream carpet, the kind you can only have when you don’t have small children. The sofa, the carpet, her marshmallow colour scheme. I will myself into it. And then, as if propelled on a gust of wind, I’m there.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes