Behind Her Eyes, p.27Sarah Pinborough
‘Maybe you should go to bed,’ he says. ‘Give us some boy time.’
‘Male bonding?’ she laughs.
‘Something like that.’ He smiles back. One day he might be handsome, she thinks. When his spots have gone, and the braces are off, and he’s filled out. He looks so young compared to David.
‘It might be good for us to talk without you here. No offence.’
‘None taken.’ A thought strikes her. ‘Don’t talk about my money though, will you?’ she says. ‘David would hate that I’ve told you about that. Please don’t mention it.’ Her words come out in a rush as David’s footfalls come back towards them.
‘Wouldn’t dream of it,’ Rob says, looking into the mesmerising flames. ‘Hadn’t crossed my mind.’
He looks like shit, but I probably don’t look much better. His eyes are bloodshot, and, although he’s wearing a suit, his shirt is crumpled. He hasn’t shaved. He’s given up, I think. He looks like a walking dead man. His eyes stray to the bar.
‘I’ve ordered us a pot of coffee,’ I say. ‘I think we both need clear heads now.’
‘Louise, whatever this is, whatever you think you know about Marianne,’ he’s standing by the table, and he barely looks at me, ‘I don’t have time for it.’
‘Sit down, David. Please.’ I take his hand, gently but firmly, keeping hold as he tries to pull away. It feels good to touch him. ‘Please. I have some things I need to say. Things you need to hear.’
A barmaid brings over the tray of hot coffee, putting the cups out for us, and pouring with a cheery smile, and David’s natural politeness kicks in and I let him go so he can take a seat opposite me.
‘I told you to stay away from us,’ he says, when she leaves.
‘I know. And I now know you were warning me, not threatening me. I know what happened with Marianne. I’ve been to see her.’
He stares at me. ‘Jesus, Louise. Why? Why would you do that?’ I can see the fear in his snappiness. I can see him properly now, and I’m filled with shame.
‘Because I’ve been an idiot,’ I say. ‘Worse than an idiot. I’ve been …’ I don’t have the right words to cover it. ‘I’ve been fooled and foolish. I’ve done a really bad thing, and I need to tell you about it.’ He’s listening now, a wary alertness. A fox during the hunt. ‘But first I’m going to tell you what I know, okay?’
He nods, slowly. This isn’t whatever confrontation he was expecting, and it’s taking a minute to sink in. How much has he drunk today? How much does he need to numb out the awfulness of his life?
‘Go on,’ he says.
‘Okay.’ I take a deep breath. ‘I think your wife is crazy, a sociopath or a psychopath or something. I think you give her the pills because you know she’s crazy. I think when you first realised, you were trying to help her, and now you’re trying to contain her. I think that’s why you call home so often – to check up on her. I think Adele knows we slept together and she became my friend to turn me against you – I haven’t figured out quite why yet – but she’s definitely been playing with me – with us. She killed your pet cat just like she killed Marianne’s, and you can’t do anything about it, because she’s got something over you and threatens you with telling the police what happened to Rob. How he’s still dead on her estate somewhere. She told me that you killed Rob—’
He leans forward to say something, but I hold my hands up, silencing him. ‘Let me finish.’ He slumps back in his chair, accepting the accusation. ‘She told me that you killed Rob,’ I repeat, ‘but I don’t believe that.’ He looks up, a first glimmer of hope. ‘I think whatever happened to Rob, she did it, and maybe you protected her in the aftermath because you loved her and she’d just lost her parents. I think you made a stupid, terrible mistake, and she’s been holding that against you forever, to keep you.’ Suddenly I feel weepy and I bite my tears back.
‘I have been so awful for believing her over you because you didn’t open up. I should have known. I should have trusted my feelings for you, but after Ian, I’ve forgotten how to trust a man, and I carried all that over into us.’
‘And it’s not easy to trust a man who’s cheating on his wife.’ He looks ashamed, and I don’t want us to dwell on that. Not right now. That’s not important.
‘When you were so angry, threatening me to make me stay away, I should have seen you were trying to protect me from her. But I didn’t. And she was so good at seeming fragile. She was so good at drawing me in. And I’m so sorry I let her.’ I lean across the table and take his hand. ‘I need you to tell me everything, David. I am on your side. I’ve been stupid, but now I really need to hear from you what’s going on because I’m so sick of Adele’s lies, and I’m going to end up crazy if I don’t hear the truth.’
He stares at me for a long time, and I hope he sees the trust in my eyes and the feelings I have for him.
‘Whatever it is, David. I believe in you,’ I say. ‘But I need you to explain it all to me. The money, what happened with Rob. I need to know. Because then I’m going to tell you about the bad thing I’ve done, and you’re probably going to hate me for it.’
‘I could never hate you,’ he says, and then I really do feel as if I’m going to cry. What a mess I’ve got myself into. We’ve got ourselves into. How could I ever have thought he was a killer? He sips his coffee and then clears his throat, his eyes drifting around the bar. Is he trying not to cry too?
‘Just tell me,’ I say. One of us needs to be tough now, and that person is me.
‘It all feels so sordid.’ He stares down at his coffee. I have a feeling he won’t look up until this infected cyst of a story inside him is burst and all the poison is out. ‘My whole life does. But it didn’t start out that way. At first it was … well it was wonderful. God, I loved her. Adele was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. But not just that. She was sweet and funny. Her parents didn’t approve. I was the poor farmer’s boy whose father had pissed everything away drinking, and I was nearly five years older than her, and I’d known her, on and off, for pretty much for ever. She used to follow me around while I was working the fields around school, sometimes telling me about her nightmares.’
‘She was the little girl you gave the dream book to.’
He nods. ‘Not that it helped much.’
If only he knew. It must have been that book that taught Adele about the lucid dreaming and the second door. I want to mention it – I should mention it – but I want to hear the rest of his story first, before distracting him with something so hard to believe.
‘But as she grew up,’ he continues, ‘well … it … it felt so right. She was this ethereal creature who didn’t care about my rough hands and my shitty dad – she just saw me. She had faith in me. If it hadn’t been for her, I’d probably never have scraped my way into medical school. We were so in love. I can’t describe it. That way you can love so fully when you’re young.’ He pauses. ‘And then there was the fire.’
‘You saved her,’ I say. ‘Your scars.’
‘Yeah. Yeah, I did. I didn’t even feel the burns at the time. I remember the terrible heat. I remember thinking my lungs were blistering as I breathed, but mainly I remember thinking she was dead. She was out cold. Fumes or smoke inhalation or something. I couldn’t wake her up.’
I remember thinking the same trying to wake Adele. Her cold hand. Shaking her. How long has she had the second door? I nod for him to continue.
‘Did she start the fire?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know. I didn’t even consider it at the time, but since then …’ He trails off. I imagine he’s wondered about it a lot. ‘There was talk of arson. The police thought it could have been me. And even though I thought maybe someone could have started it, I never thought it could be her. Some disgruntled employee maybe – and there were many – Adele was too young to really grasp her parents’ natures, but her dad hadn’t exactly made his money without damaging a few people on the way. But I never th
‘I think she likes taking risks,’ I say.
‘Perhaps. But she was so distraught. Wouldn’t sleep. It was like she was fading away. Maybe that was some form of guilt. She said she should have woken up. She could have saved them.’
Sleep. Dreams. Was Adele even there when her parents died? Had she set the fire and gone through the second door to make sure David was coming to save her? Or was she caught up in the smoke and passed out before she could escape herself?
‘And then she met Rob?’ I say. ‘At the therapy place?’
‘Westlands, yes. She really liked him, and being friends with him helped her. I hated it a bit at the time because I thought looking after her was my job, but I was still recovering from my burns, and I had uni. Adele insisted I go back – she even got her lawyers to sort out all my finances as soon as she could, which made me feel uncomfortable, but we were planning to get married anyway, and so she said I was being silly. Anyway, meeting Rob was good for her. I understood that. He was there and I wasn’t. I didn’t like that he was an ex-junkie though, and even though I never said it, I think she knew that. I sort of thought their friendship would be over when they left Westlands, but then she invited him to go and stay at the house. She was like that back then. Wanting to help people. Or at least that’s how it seemed.’
‘So what happened?’ Rob. The notebook boy. Finally, I’m going to find out his fate.
‘I only met him once. Well, I went up for a weekend so I guess it’s more accurate to say I knew him for a couple of days. He was a spotty, skinny kid with braces. Nothing special. I don’t know what I was expecting. More charisma, I guess. He seemed young to me, for eighteen. He didn’t speak a lot, at any rate not for most of the weekend. Just stared at me and muttered answers to my questions, and then would have these over-the-top moments of trying too hard. He did this terrible chef routine one morning that I went along with, but to be honest, it made me uncomfortable. Adele said he was shy. Not good with people, but I found him strange, not that I told her that. We ended up staying up chatting for a couple of hours on the Saturday night after Adele went to bed, but I couldn’t click with him at all. He kept asking me stuff about our relationship. I was pretty sure he was jealous. When I left on the Sunday I was quietly wishing their friendship would come to a natural end soon.’ He pauses and swallows. ‘My wish came true, but there wasn’t anything natural about it.’
‘Rob died,’ I say.
Eventually, he nods. ‘I wasn’t there when it happened. That was ten days later.’
For the first time he looks up, right into my eyes. ‘I know where Rob is, but I didn’t put him there.’
Rob is dead. There it is. Plain fact. It comes as no surprise, and I realise I’ve believed that to be the case for a while.
‘I know,’ I say, and it’s true. I absolutely believe him. Too late, perhaps, but I do. ‘I know you didn’t.’
‘She called me in a panic one morning,’ he continues, the story pouring out of him now. ‘She said that they’d been taking drugs, and she thought Rob had overdosed because when she straightened out, he was dead. I told her to call the police and an ambulance. She was crying. She said she couldn’t. When I asked her why, she said she’d panicked and pushed his body into the old dry well in the woods on the estate grounds. She was almost hysterical. I couldn’t believe it. It was just … just crazy I guess. I drove up there straight away thinking I could talk her into telling the truth to the police. But she wouldn’t. She said she was scared that after what happened to her parents and then this, they would lock her up. They’d think she had something to do with it all. She said she’d panicked, but she couldn’t undo it now. She said no one apart from us knew that Rob had even been there. No one else had seen him. His family didn’t even know. She begged me not to tell. She said we could move away from the house and no one would ever know what had happened.’
‘But you knew,’ I say.
He nods. ‘At first I thought I could do it – keep this secret for her. Protect her. And I tried. I tried so hard. We got married quickly, but the signs were already there that things were going wrong. I hated what we’d done, but I think I could have learned to live with it if I’d thought it haunted her too, but she seemed absolutely fine, as if she’d forgotten about it already. This boy’s whole life. Gone. His death hidden. I thought maybe her reaction was a coping mechanism – trying to blank it out – but it wasn’t. She really had breezed over it. She was joyful on our wedding day. As if we didn’t have a care in the world. Then she found out she was pregnant and I thought she’d be even happier, but she totally freaked out about it and insisted on getting an abortion – to get this alien thing out of her.’ He pauses, and his breathing is ragged. This is hard for him. Facing all this. Sharing it. ‘Love dies hard, you know?’ He looks at me, and I grip his hand tightly.
‘It took a lot of time for my love to die,’ he says. ‘I made excuses for her, and I had to finish my training and specialism, so I didn’t always see how much she’d changed. But she had. She was spending ridiculous amounts of money – even with her wealth—’
‘And that’s why you’ve now got control of it?’
He nods. ‘I’d signed it back to her at the end of that weekend I’d been up at the house in Scotland – I had never wanted control of her money. But neither did I now want her to fritter it all away. What if we eventually had children? What if this was all some emotional response to everything that she needed to get past? What if she came to regret her spending? She agreed to put me in charge. She said she knew she had a problem and needed someone to manage it. Looking back, I think that decision was yet another knot in the noose she kept ready to hang around my neck. Anyway, we continued on for three or four years pretending everything was okay, but I couldn’t forget about Rob. His body in the well. And I eventually realised that our love had died with him that night. I couldn’t forget about Rob, and I couldn’t accept how she could. I told her that it was over. That I was leaving, and that I didn’t love her any more.’
‘I presume she didn’t take that well,’ I say, and for the first time, he gives a half-smile. There’s no real humour in it, but it’s there. My David’s there.
‘You could put it that way. She was hysterical. She said she loved me and couldn’t live without me. She said she’d take all the money and I’d be penniless. I said I didn’t care about her money and never had. I didn’t want to hurt her, but I couldn’t live like this any more. She went very quiet after that. A stillness that scared me. That still scares me. I’ve come to recognise it as a sign of something dangerous inside her. She said if I left she’d tell the police what really happened with Rob. I was confused. I didn’t know what she meant. Then she said that truth was all relative. Truth often came down to what is the most believable version of events. She said she’d tell the police that Rob and I had fought, and that I’d killed him and thrown him in the well. I was shocked. That wasn’t true. She said it didn’t matter. She said the police would think it was jealousy and they’d already been suspicious of me about the fire at her parents’ house, so they’d definitely listen to her.’
I think about my letter. What I have to tell him when he’s finished. Oh God, Louise, what have you done?
‘And then she played her trump card. The piece of evidence that would place the police firmly on her side. Something she’s held over me for what seems like for ever.’
‘What?’ What could she possibly have done?
‘My watch,’ he says simply. He sees my confusion and continues. ‘When I was burned I couldn’t wear it. I gave it to Adele to wear, as a kind of keepsake. Even on the tightest link it was too big for her, but she liked having it and I liked her wearing it. I didn’t realise it would bind us together in this hell for ever.’
‘What happened to your watch?’
‘When she put Rob in the well, my watch slipped off her wrist. It got tangled in his cl
I stare at him. ‘Oh God.’ I feel slightly sick. Who’s going to believe David’s version with evidence like that there?
‘What I hate most is that I let her blackmail me like that. I was too weak. The thought of going to prison – worse, of no one believing me – of everyone thinking I did this terrible thing – froze me. What if Rob’s death hadn’t been an accident like she said? Had she killed him for some reason? Would it look like murder if the body was brought up? I couldn’t face it. I was trapped. She promised me she’d be good. She promised me we could be happy, that I could love her again. She said she wanted a child. All the things she thought would make me happy. It sounded crazy to me. I couldn’t imagine bringing a child into our marriage. Not any more. In the end, I made my peace with the fact that my punishment for my mistake and my weakness was to be trapped in my loveless marriage.’
God, they must have been long years he’s spent with Adele, living on that knife’s edge. I want a drink. I’m sure he does too, but our drinking days are done for now. He can’t hide in the bottom of a glass any longer, and I need a clear head.
‘But she couldn’t keep her mental illness under control for long. She played the perfect housewife, but then she’d have these uncontrollable rages over nothing.’
‘Like with Marianne,’ I say.
‘Yes, like that, but it started long ago. I was sure she was spying on me. She knew things she couldn’t possibly know. She’d ring co-workers she thought I was too close to and leave them hateful messages. She had a job for a while, but then when I made friends with the woman who ran the florist, there was a fire there. Nothing that could be pinned exactly on her, but enough for me to know it was her. Moving jobs every couple of years because of something she’d done. We’d make pacts. I’d promise to call her at least three times a day, and she’d give up her credit cards. I’d come straight home from work, and she’d give up her mobile phone. Anything to stop her wrecking our lives – or anyone else’s – with her madness. She’s an aggressive and disempathetic sociopath, I’m sure of it. She has a view of right and wrong, but it’s not like anyone else’s, and she only loves, if that’s what it is, me. She’ll do anything to stop someone coming between us, and she’s so convincing. Who would believe me?’ He looks at me. ‘You didn’t. You bought her stories hook, line and sinker.’
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes