Behind her eyes, p.25
Behind Her Eyes, p.25Sarah Pinborough
Laura’s sitting on the sofa, in jeans and a baggy green fleece, watching TV. A re-run of Friends is on. Laura breaks off a chunk of Fruit and Nut chocolate and puts it in her mouth. She has a mug of coffee beside her – a mug with little pretty flowers on it. I wait for her to notice me, to look up in shock and ask me how the hell I got into her sitting room, but she doesn’t. I even stand – for want of a better word – right in front of her, but nothing. I want to laugh. This is crazy. Maybe I am crazy. Maybe David should be giving me some of those pills he’s trying to fill Adele up with.
David and Adele. Their kitchen. Could I go as far as that? I focus, and for a moment, as I picture their granite surfaces and expensive tiles, the unused calendar discreetly hung on the far side of the fridge so it doesn’t disturb the lines of the room, I feel something change, the breath of wind rising to carry me there, but nothing happens.
At the core of this strange invisible me I feel as if I’m at the end of a stretched elastic band. I try again, but I can go no further, as if my body is tugging me back like a toddler. I move more carefully this time, out into Laura’s kitchen, where I take note of the unwashed dishes on the side, not too many, but enough to prove she’s having a lazy day, and then I go through the door to the external walkway between our flats. I feel no temperature change, even though it was chilly outside when I collected Adam from his party.
You can’t feel it because you’re not actually here, I tell myself. You just walked through a door.
I feel wonderful, as if all the stresses and strains have been left behind and I am entirely liberated. No hormones, no tiredness, no chemicals adjusting my mood; I’m simply me, whatever that is.
I try once more to get to Adele’s house, to check that she’s okay, and although I find myself at the far end of the walkway this time, that’s it. The elastic feels stretched to breaking point and it’s slowly pulling me back, despite my resistance. I move back, enjoying the height, the almost flying of it, towards my own front door, and then I’m inside my home.
‘Mummy!’ I hear him before I see him.
In my bedroom, Adam is beside the bed, tugging at my arm, my mobile phone in one hand.
‘Wake up, Mummy! Wake up!’ He’s almost in tears as he shakes me. My head has lolled sideways, and my hand is dead in his. How long has he been here? How long have I been gone? Ten minutes at most, but enough to worry my baby boy trying to wake me. I’m alarmed to see him so upset and I panic and I—
—sit bolt upright with a huge gasp of breath, and my eyes fly open. I feel the sudden weight of every cell of my being, and my heart goes like a jackhammer with the shock. Adam has stumbled backwards, and I reach for him, my hands cold against his warmth.
‘Mummy’s here,’ I say, over and over, when the world and my body have settled back around me. ‘Mummy’s here.’
‘I couldn’t wake you up,’ he says into my shoulder. A tremor has run through his safe world, an almost-death he doesn’t understand. ‘You wouldn’t wake up. Your phone was ringing. A lady.’
‘It’s okay,’ I mutter. ‘Mummy’s here.’ I don’t know who I’m trying to convince; him or me. My head is spinning slightly as I settle back into the weight of my limbs, and although his bottom lip is still wobbling slightly, he holds out the phone to me. I take it.
It’s Adele. Her voice is soft in my ear, but it brings me back to the moment. Adele never calls.
Adam is still watching me, almost distrustful that I’m actually alive and well, and I smile at him and mouth to get some juice and put some cartoons on. He’s a good boy and he does what he’s told, even though he’s unsure.
‘Are you okay?’ I ask Adele. I shiver, cold from lack of movement.
‘I wanted – well, I wanted you to forget about all the stuff I told you the other day. It was stupid. Just ridiculous thoughts. Put them out of your head.’ She sounds cooler, the tone of someone who’s regretting sharing a secret and now wants some distance.
‘It didn’t sound stupid to me.’ I think of the letter slipping from my fingers into the post box, and my stomach squirms with guilt. I can’t tell her about that now.
‘Well it was.’ Sharp. I’ve never heard her sound like this before. ‘I’m sorry I involved you in my marital problems. But really, we’re fine. I’d appreciate it if you never mentioned it again.’
‘Has something happened?’ This isn’t like her. It doesn’t even sound like her. She’s always been so gentle. Have they fought? Has he threatened her?
‘Nothing’s happened. I can just be prone to over-imagination.’
‘I didn’t over-imagine that file he’s got on you.’ I almost snap the sentence out. I’m still vague from whatever it was that just happened, and for the first time she’s coming across as a bit pathetic. ‘And what about Rob?’
‘Forget about Rob,’ she says. ‘Forget about all of it.’ She doesn’t even say goodbye, but hangs up. That’s me told, then. I should feel hurt or angry, but I’m not. If anything, I’m confused. Has David done something to her?
I stare at the phone for a moment. What would I have seen if I could have got to her house rather than only next door? A fight? Threats? Tears? Sitting here, the thought of invisibly transporting myself there sounds crazy. Did I really go to Laura’s? While still in my bed? How is that even possible?
I find Adam in his room, looking tiny and woeful sitting on his bed half-heartedly playing with his plastic dinosaurs.
‘Why didn’t you wake up?’ he says. ‘I was shaking you for ages.’
‘I’m awake now!’ I grin and make light of it, but vow that this – whatever this is – will never happen again while he’s in the house. My headache has gone, I notice as I go to get him some juice and tell him we’ll watch some cartoons on the sofa together. The tension has left me, even after that call from Adele. I’ve sent the letter. I can’t unsend it. I actually feel a relief that she’s been cool with me. Maybe this is the break I need from them in order to get my life back on track, and this way, if the one in a thousand chance comes off and the police do search the estate, I can feel slightly less guilty about it. I feel awake and alert for the first time in days, as if exiting my body has given it time to repair itself without worrying about the inhabitant.
Is that what I did? Really? Leave my body? The thought alone is insane. But this isn’t the first time it’s happened. I know that now. There was Adam’s bedroom. And the time I floated above myself. And now this. All through the silver door. But is it real or was I dreaming?
When the cartoons are on, I slip out of the front door and go to Laura’s. I’m shaking as I knock on the door. This is crazy. I’m crazy.
‘Hey.’ She’s wearing jeans and a green fleece. ‘What’s up?’ I stare at her for a moment, and she frowns. ‘You okay?’
‘Yes!’ I force a smile. ‘I wondered if I could have a look at your TV? I’ve been promising Adam for ages that we’ll get a bigger one, and I’m looking at Argos online, but I’m rubbish at picturing sizes in the room. I’ll only be a second. Sorry to disturb you.’
‘Not a problem, just ignore the mess.’ She lets me in and I follow her through the flat. There are plates on the kitchen side, just as I saw them, the remnants of toast or a bacon sandwich littering one.
‘This is too big for the room really,’ she says, ‘but I love it. It’s a forty-six-inch screen, which at least means I can see it without my glasses on.’ She laughs and I laugh with her, but I’m not really listening. The bar of Fruit and Nut chocolate is on the arm of the sofa. The flowery coffee cup is on the table. Friends is on the TV.
‘Thanks,’ I mutter. ‘That’s a great help.’
‘No problem, any time.’ She tries to talk to me about dating and if there is any sign of true love on the cards, but I can’t wait to get out of there. My head is buzzing, Adele’s call virtually forgotten. I had been there. I had seen her. Just as I had been in Adam’s room that night when he’d spill
I go back to my own sofa where Adam snuggles into my chest, still feeling the echoes of his fear when he couldn’t wake me, and I stare at the cartoons as he becomes absorbed in them. How is what I did even possible?
It is only later, at night, when I’m alone in my bed in the dark, that a terrible thought strikes me. It curdles my blood with the possibilities.
Adam not able to wake me. Shaking my cold arms. Thinking something was wrong. Me, sitting bolt upright in bed, gasping as I wake. Not a natural wake-up at all.
It’s all exactly as it was when I was trying to wake Adele.
She lied about the second door.
The course of true love never did run smooth. I know that better than anyone. But still, I believe in it, I really do, even after everything. Sometimes true love needs a helping hand. And I’ve always been good at providing that.
By nine thirty on Monday I’ve dropped Adam off at Day Play and I’m waiting to catch a train to Blackheath. I should be exhausted – I’ve barely slept since Saturday – but my brain is filled with questions and fire ants of doubt. If Adele lied about having the second door then that changes everything. What else has she lied about?
Two questions burn brightest in my mind as I take a seat by the window, my back stiff with tension, my fingers picking at the skin around my nails. If Adele has the second door and can leave her body, how far can she go and what does she know? It sounds like a poem, and it goes around and around in my head in time with the steady rhythm of the engine lurching me across London Bridge.
Of course the bigger question is what does she know about me and David? Does she know about me and David? If she does, well, then … I feel sick contemplating that. I can’t take in that everything I’ve believed so readily might be wrong. How stupid I might have been. What I’ve done. The letter. All the detail I put into it about Rob and David and Adele – all guilt pointing at him. God, it’s so potentially awful. I think of Sophie sitting on my balcony. What was it she said? Fragile? Or crazy? Maybe she does have a screw loose? Oh God, oh God, oh God.
Rather than searching for a list of cafes in Blackheath, most of which probably don’t have websites anyway, I’ve looked for psychiatrists instead, and there are only three, which was a tiny wave of relief amidst my tsunami of panic. Even if there had been fifty though, I’m determined to find Marianne and talk to her. I need to know what happened between her and David and her and Adele. The notes in David’s file were so vague. Marianne not pressing charges – pressing charges against whom? Him or her? And for what?
It’s taken all my resolve not to buy a packet of Marlboro Lights at the station. Why should they drive me back to smoking? I’m not giving them that. Them. I can’t trust either of them right now. The tangles around me feel like barbed wire. Maybe my new panic is all for nothing. Maybe David is the bad guy here, just as Adele has made out. Maybe Adele doesn’t have the second door, and even if she does, maybe she still doesn’t know anything. Maybe, like me, she can’t go very far. She could still be telling the truth.
The thought feels hollow. I remember her cold hand and the gasp of her wakening in the chair in David’s study. If she can’t go very far, then why would she bother with the second door at all? I can’t imagine spending hours watching Laura and not being able to get past the end of our block’s walkway. It would be weird. And it would be dull, especially when the first door on its own allows you to dream anything you want.
She was through the second door that day when I found her in David’s study. I’m sure of it. But where was she? What was she watching? And why lie to me about it? My foot taps on the floor until we finally reach Blackheath and I rush from the train, as if trying to run from myself.
I walk quickly through the streets of the affluent suburb, mumbling the occasional apology as I barge through prams and strolling pedestrians, but not slowing my pace. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants here, but I focus on those closest to the clinics. If I’d been able to log into work then I probably could have checked which clinic David had come from, but he’s shut that avenue down, and if anyone ever told me, my brain has forgotten.
In one dead end, I order a bacon roll I don’t want, and when I find out there’s no Marianne there, I leave and dump it in the bin outside. Two take-away coffees follow and still no Marianne. I want to weep with frustration even though I’ve been here barely an hour. I have no patience left.
Finally, I find it. A small, chintzy, but on the right side of sweet rather than tasteless, cafe and tea shop down a quiet cobbled mews that you’d miss unless you knew it was there. I can see why David would come here. It’s homely looking. Welcoming. I know it’s the right place before I’ve even stepped inside. I can feel it. Just like I know when I see the earthy woman behind that counter that the answer to, ‘Are you Marianne?’ is going to be yes.
And it is. She’s older than me, maybe close to forty, and she has the tanned, toughened skin of someone who holidays in the sun maybe three or four times a year and relishes hours by the pool. She’s attractive, but not beautiful, and she has no wedding ring. Her eyes are kind though. I see that straight away.
‘I really need to talk to you,’ I say, my face flushing. ‘About David and Adele Martin. I think you knew them?’ The cafe isn’t busy, only a well turned-out older couple enjoying a full breakfast and the newspapers in one corner, and a businessman sipping a coffee and working on his laptop in another. She can’t use being too busy as an excuse.
She stiffens. ‘I have nothing to say about them,’ she says. The kindness has gone from her eyes. Now I see hurt and defensiveness and anger at someone forcing a memory of something wanted forgotten.
‘Please,’ I say. ‘I wouldn’t have come all this way to find you if it wasn’t important.’ I hope she can see the utter desperation in my own gaze. Woman to woman. Perhaps victim to victim.
She does. After a moment’s hesitation, she lets out a long sigh and says, ‘Take a seat. Tea or coffee?’
I choose a table by the window and she joins me with two mugs of tea. I start to try to explain myself, to tell her something of what’s brought me here, why I need to hear her story, but she cuts in, stopping me.
‘I’ll tell you what happened, but I don’t want to know anything more about them. About her. Okay?’
I nod. Her. Adele. Oh God, oh God, oh God.
‘There was never anything in it, David and me. He was too young for a start, and he was a nice, quiet man. He’d come in early, have a coffee and sit and stare out of the window. I always thought he looked sad, and I hate to see people sad, so I started chatting to him. Not much at first, just in the way I try to, but then slowly we started to talk more, and he was charming and funny. I was newly divorced and feeling raw and it was like having free therapy.’ She smiles, almost wistful. ‘We’d joke about that. How I was paying him in coffee. Anyway, that’s how it was. She came in once or twice too, before I knew who she was. Right at the beginning. I was struck by her beauty. She was the kind of woman you remember.’
‘Like a movie star,’ I mutter, and she nods.
‘Yes, that’s it. Almost too beautiful. I didn’t know she was his wife. She didn’t say. She just drank her peppermint tea and sat and studied the place. It made me feel slightly uncomfortable, as if I was being inspected by the health board. But that was in the early days, and she didn’t come back after that. Not here, anyway.’
It all sounds so innocent, I can’t imagine what went wrong. My heart, despite everything else, thumps in relief that there was no affair. David has not done what he did with me, before. Adele was wrong, about this woman at any rate. I trust Marianne. She has no reason to lie to me.
‘So what happened?’
‘He started to open up to me a little. He might have been the psychiatrist, but when you’ve worked in the service industry as long as I have you develop your own way with people. I say he opened
‘I think you should be a psychiatrist,’ I say. We’re warming to each other. A support group of two.
‘After that he started turning up half an hour or so before I opened, and I’d make us both breakfast. I’d probe him a bit more, and eventually, one day he said that he did a thing a long time ago that was wrong. He thought at the time that he was protecting the woman he loved, but it was always there between them and then, after a while, he began to worry that there was something very wrong with her. She wasn’t who he thought she was. He wanted to leave, but she was holding this thing he’d done against him as a threat. To keep him. She said she’d ruin him.’
She’s looking out of the window rather than at me, and I know she’s back in that time, those moments I’m making her relive. ‘I told him that the truth was always better out than in, and he should face this wrong thing he’d done, whatever it was. He said he’d thought about that a lot. It was all he thought about. But he was worried that if he did, and he had to go to prison, then there would be no one to stop her hurting someone else.’
My heart races and I barely feel my hands burning as they grip the hot mug. ‘Did he ever tell you what this wrong thing was?’ Rob. It’s something to do with Rob. I know it.
She shakes her head. ‘No, but I got the feeling it was something bad. Maybe he would have told me eventually, but then she turned up at my door.’
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes