Behind her eyes, p.29
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       Behind Her Eyes, p.29

           Sarah Pinborough
 
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  ‘But he can’t!’ I say eventually. ‘They won’t … He can’t … He wouldn’t …’

  ‘But he has. And no, they won’t believe him. You’re too good for that. They’ll arrest him.’

  I can hear her momentary joy at how aghast I am. At how we’re both hurting now. I see all that potential love for him that she’s denied for so long, burning brightly inside her.

  ‘We both know he didn’t kill Rob,’ she says. ‘Why can’t you just say that?’

  ‘They’ll put him in prison,’ I say so quietly it’s barely a whisper. ‘They’ll take him away from me.’ Tears spring from the corners of my eyes. Just the thought of being separated from David can cause a physical reaction in me, even now.

  ‘Why couldn’t you have hated him?’ It’s my turn to shout. ‘Why? Why would you do this?’

  She doesn’t answer, so I wail like an animal and sink to the ground. ‘You were just supposed to hate him,’ I cry into the handset. ‘You were supposed to choose me.’ I pull my knees up under my chin as I snivel snotty tears onto my silk sleeve, lost in my role. ‘What am I supposed to do now? He can’t leave me. He can’t. He won’t.’

  ‘He has,’ she says, Louise now the calm one, now the one in control. ‘But you can stop this, Adele. You’re the only one who can stop this. Tell the truth. At least tell me the truth, here and now.’

  Oh no, little goody-two-shoes, I want to hiss at her. It’s not going to be that easy.

  ‘You’re sick, Adele.’

  Oh bless you for that, Louise, you husband-stealing sorry excuse for a woman. We both know the word you’re actually thinking is ‘crazy’.

  ‘The pills you haven’t been taking will help you,’ she continues. ‘If you go to the police and tell them the truth – if what happened with Rob was an accident and you panicked – well, they’ll be easier on you. All you did was hide the body. With David they’ll think it was murder. They might think he murdered your parents too.’

  I note that she’s very carefully avoiding suggesting that perhaps I murdered all three – psycho crazy Adele.

  ‘They’ll be gentler on you. Mitigating circumstances. You’d lost your family and had been in therapy. They won’t put you in prison, I’m sure of it.’

  Oh, what a honey’d-tongue she has. No, they might not put me in prison, but I hear Broadmoor’s no walk in the park either, thank you very much.

  ‘Why would he do this?’ I moan. ‘Why?’

  ‘He doesn’t love you, Adele. He hasn’t for a long time. He’s just been trying to look after you. To do the best for you.’

  I want to punch her in the face for her false sympathy and her presumption to know so much about our marriage. I dig my fingernails into my knees instead as she continues.

  ‘Why make him suffer? If you really love him – and I think you do – you can save him from this. You can’t keep him, Adele. You can’t trap him with you. That’s no life, not for either of you. But maybe if you tell the truth, if you protect him now when he needs you, then maybe you can put something right.’

  ‘You’ve taken everything from me,’ I whisper again. I will not admit to any guilt. Not at this late stage in the game. ‘What am I supposed to do without him?’

  ‘You could do the right thing,’ she says. ‘Prove you love him. Let all this shit be over with. At least maybe that way he won’t hate you. Maybe you won’t hate you.’

  ‘Fuck off,’ I whisper, enjoying the crude language in my mouth. I sit there shaking for a moment until the rage bursts from me in a blaze of spit. ‘Fuck off!’ I shriek at her again, and then burst into tears.

  There’s a click and a dead tone in my ear and I’m alone again with the endless ticking of the clock. God, she’s a patronising bitch at times, I think, as I get to my feet, pocket the phone, and wipe my tears away. But she’s right though. It is time that I made everything better.

  53

  LOUISE

  I’m shaking as I hang up.

  Have any of my words sunk in? What will she do now? Call the clinic? Smash up the house when she realises I wasn’t lying? I think of how broken she sounded. No. She believed me. She knows he’s gone. I try to ring David, but his phone goes through to answerphone. He’ll be on the train already and the service must be bad. I curse under my breath, but then leave a message to tell him I’m safe.

  Safe.

  Adam. I’m supposed to pick him up in an hour. How can I play happy families with him tonight? With all this going on? Oh my baby boy, I love him so much, but I can’t deal with him today. I’m too distracted. Also, there’s Adele. She knows where I live. What if her awful upset turns to anger? Sociopath. That’s how David described her. What if she comes after me when all this sinks in? I consider checking us into a hotel as David suggested, but that would require too much explanation to Ian when Adam sees him. Also, part of me wants to know how crazy Adele is going to get. If she comes after me I want to be prepared. I think she’s going to lose control without David there. I almost hope she does. That would help support David’s version of events.

  I call Ian, silently promising that whatever else happens, tomorrow I’m taking Adam out for a special mother and son tea. ‘Hey,’ I say, when he answers, mildly concerned. I never ring him at work. Those days are long gone. ‘Nothing to worry about. I just wondered if you and Lisa could do me a favour. It’s a bit last minute though.’

  ‘What is it?’

  ‘Could you have Adam tonight? Collect him from Day Play? Something’s come up and I’m running late and I’ve also had an invitation out to dinner this evening.’

  ‘Sure!’ he says. ‘I’ll call Lisa, she’ll go and get him.’

  I can hear the enthusiasm in his voice. He thinks I’ve got a date. Finally, his ex-wife is moving on.

  ‘Thanks,’ I say. ‘You’re a star.’

  ‘No problem. And have fun!’

  We say our goodbyes and hang up. How strange it is that love can turn to hate and then to this mild friendship.

  I resist the urge to go and buy a bottle of wine on the way. As much as I tell myself I’d only have one glass, in the mood I’m in the bottle would be gone by the time David calls, and I don’t trust myself not to beg him to change his mind if I’m drunk.

  And then of course, there’s Adele. If she turns up and I’ve been drinking I’ll have no chance against her.

  54

  ADELE

  Time marches on, that’s what they say, isn’t it? Tick, tick, tick. It marches through today. This last day. I hadn’t expected it to be tonight. I hadn’t expected to be alone when the final hour came. I’d planned to do it at the weekend when Adam was away and when David was here. Drugged and asleep, perhaps, but here. The stars have aligned for me though, and Adam’s at his father’s and David, well, David is on his self-destruction mission to Scotland. Back to the homeland to clear his conscience. It’s far better this way. Less complicated for one, and this is all about me and Louise after all. David is just the prize in a tug of war. We’re both tired of pulling now. It’s time for the game to end. A loser and a winner must be decided.

  The stage is set and everything is ready. I prepare the bedroom and then write my letter and leave it in a sealed white envelope on David’s desk. It’s new stationery – expensive. Only my fingerprints on it. They won’t be able to say David put me up to it. I’ve thought of everything and it all has to be perfect. To look right.

  There are still hours to pass, and once I’ve practised everything over and over until I can’t face doing it again, I simply walk around our empty house bidding my farewell to it. My heart races and my mouth is dry. I need the toilet almost constantly. For the first time, I realise I’m afraid.

  The rain has stopped and I go out into the cool dusk of the evening and enjoy the prickle of goosebumps on my skin. It calms me. I must screw my courage to the sticking place and I will not fail. The tree branches hang low over the lawn and flowerbeds, but they’re full and alive, and the creeping autumn hasn’t clai
med the leaves yet. It’s like a tamed version of the woods on the estate. Left alone, how long would it be until all this trimmed and clipped nature was wild? I feel like this garden. A clipped wild thing. I stay there for a while, savouring the smells and the breeze and the sight of it all, and then, when the evening dips into night and my skin is shivering from the cold, I go back inside.

  I take a long, hot shower, forty minutes, maybe more. Time seems to be moving more quickly now, as if aware of my mounting terror, and toying with it. I take deep breaths in the steam to counter my nerves. I am in control. I have always been in control. I will not become a weeping, wailing, fearful woman now, at the end.

  I dry my hair, relishing its shiny thickness, and then study myself in the mirror before pulling on my best silk pyjamas. I feel like crying even though that’s absurd, and makes me hate myself a little. I check everything is where it should be, even though I only prepared the room a couple of hours ago and know that it’s all where I need it. Like David constantly checking his passport on the rare occasions we’ve gone away on holiday. I smile at that. The thought of David calms me. This is all for him. Everything has always been for him. I love him so very, very much.

  I look at the clock. Ten p.m. In half an hour or so, it’ll be time. I lie back on the bed and close my eyes.

  55

  LOUISE

  He doesn’t ring back until after ten, and I’m almost crawling up the walls by then. The reality of what he’s doing is slowly sinking in. The next time I see him it might be across a prison visiting table. I feel sick and jangly as if I’ve drunk too much strong coffee, and hearing his voice is a flood of relief. He’s in a hotel in Perth and waiting for Wignall, who’s driving over to meet him. I’m glad I didn’t drink. If he can be strong about this then so can I. I tell him about my call to Adele, blurting it out in a tidal wave of words.

  ‘I couldn’t get her to admit it. She sounded guilty and she was upset, but she didn’t actually say you were innocent. I’m so sorry. I wanted to make her see what she’d done. I hoped she’d be honest. I wanted to try to persuade her to tell the truth about the watch, about what happened.’

  ‘It’s okay, Lou,’ he says. He doesn’t sound angry at all, just tired and resigned. I like the shortening of my name coming from his mouth, though. It sounds intimate. ‘She doesn’t know how to tell the truth. But you have to be careful now. I don’t think you really get what she’s like. I couldn’t stand it if anything happened to you.’

  ‘Nothing’s going to happen to me. I promise. I’m going to be right here where you need me.’ I’m talking in clichés, but I don’t care.

  ‘I think that’s him,’ David mutters into the phone, someone hundreds of miles away having caught his eye across the room. ‘I’ll call you when I can,’ he says. ‘I promise. And please, get out of the flat tonight? Go to a neighbour at least?’

  ‘David, I …’ I don’t know what to say. I love you? Something with the potential for that anyway. I’ve never been more sure that I can love someone than I am about David. But I don’t get to finish my half-declaration of half-love. The phone clicks off in my ear, the policeman claiming him.

  The tension drains from me in an instant. There’s no going back now. No more time to change his mind. I feel hollow and empty and selfishly wish that Adam was here so I could go into his room and look at him sleeping and remind myself that I have had some good luck in the world. Instead, I go into the kitchen and reach for the gin bottle and the squash in the cupboard. It’ll be better than nothing. I’m in the middle of pouring a stupidly large measure when I hear my phone pinging. A text.

  I dart back into the sitting room, my heart in my mouth. Is it David? Has the policeman told him to go home and get his own head checked? Are they dismissing him without hearing him out? Thinking he’s a time-waster?

  It’s not David. It’s Adele. I was so sure it was going to be him that I stare at the phone for a moment before really registering the name, and then my stomach tightens with nerves. What now? What’s she going to do now? I press the button to read her message.

  You were right. I have to make things better. Be honest about everything that happened. I can’t live without David and they will take him away from me. But I can’t be locked up either. I can’t do that. I don’t want to be in some awful place with crazy people. It’s my head. I don’t want it messed with. I’m not strong enough for that, or to live without David beside me. So, I’m going to take the easy way out to save him. Maybe not easy but my only option. I suppose it’s the right way too, after everything. I hope you’re happy now. Maybe he’ll be happy now, with me gone. I was your friend, Louise, for a little while. Please remember that.

  I stare at the message, trying to make sense of it. What’s she going to do? What’s she saying here? Take the easy way out? What does that mean? The truth of it is screaming somewhere inside me while the rest of my brain tries to catch up. It’s so far from what I’m expecting from her. But then I think of how she was on the phone, broken and crying. She might be insane, but she does love David. She’s never been without him.

  The easy way out. She’s going to kill herself. I think of all the pills in their cupboard. Is she going to take them all? Is that it?

  I try to call her, but there’s no answer. Fuck, fuck, fuck. My ears hum with tension. What do I do? Call the police? And say what? What if it’s not even true? This is Adele, after all. Is this some kind of test? A trick? But what if it isn’t? Even after everything, I don’t want this on my conscience if I could have saved her. How can I know?

  There is one thing I can try, I realise. My own craziness that she’s opened up in me. My new ability.

  I neck half the gin and orange, and sit on the sofa. If I can see her, then I’ll know. I slow my breathing. I let my neck relax. I think of nothing but the door. I focus as I never have before, and there it is, the shimmering silver. I think of Adele’s house. Her bedroom. The expensive metal-framed bed. The feature wall with three green stripes. The feel of the cotton bed set underneath me. The floorboards. For a moment I think I can get there, but then the door pushes me back and vanishes. It’s too far. I can’t go that far. Not yet.

  Cursing myself and her and everything, I finally sit up and grab my phone. I click on the Uber app. Cars within two minutes.

  I was your friend, Louise, for a little while.

  Fuck it. Fuck, shit, fuck, I have to go. I have to. I don’t have any choice. I don’t even grab my coat before rushing out into the cold night.

  The cab is true to its word, arriving almost as soon as I’m on the street, and after barking an address at the driver, I leave a message on David’s phone telling him where I’m going and why. If it’s a trap and something goes wrong at least he’ll know what happened to me. Who happened to me. I try her phone again. Still no answer. My foot taps and I lean forward in the seat, urging more speed from the engine.

  How long has it been since that text came in? Ten minutes maximum I think. But maybe several minutes too long. Am I already too late?

  I’m out of the car before it’s fully stopped, calling back an absent goodnight. I fly up the thick stone steps and with a shaking hand press the buzzer hard. I hear the bell ringing out on the other side, but I can’t see any lights on downstairs. I push the buzzer again, holding it down for five seconds or more, but still nothing.

  I crouch and peer through the letterbox. ‘Adele? It’s me!’ An acrid smell wafts out towards me. Smoke? At the far end of the corridor, from inside the kitchen, I see an orange flicker. Oh shit. Oh fuck. A fire.

  What had Adele said? She was going to put things right? Was she talking about her parents more than Rob? A fire killed her family, and there was a fire at the florist where she worked. Is this her thing? Is killing herself by fire Adele’s way of somehow levelling things out? I ring the doorbell once more, my face flushing with panic, and then I remember the key and start to scrabble in the flowerpot, digging deep into the dirt before accepting that it’s not th
ere. She’s taken it back. No way in for me.

  I don’t know what to do. What if she isn’t inside? What if she’s trying to get me arrested for arson or something? But then, conversely, what if she’s upstairs in her room, drugged and waiting to burn or suffocate or however the hell else people can die in house fires? I bang on the door. She’s so close and yet so far away.

  So close.

  I think of the second door. I’m close now. Maybe I can do it from here. I sit on the top step and lean back against the porch, propping myself up in the corner. I take deep breaths, shaky at first and then smoothing out. I clear my mind, focussing on the silvery doorway. I’m getting better at this now that I’m not afraid of it. I can summon it now instead of it coming to me unbidden.

  When the edges are glittering brightly in the darkness behind my eyes, I picture Adele’s bedroom. The image is clear. The colours of the walls, the green of guilt-ridden woods. The en-suite in the corner. The coolness of air trapped in by old bricks. The mirror on the back of the wardrobe. I see it so clearly, and then suddenly I’m through the door and—

  —I’m there, hovering above the room. It’s dark, but I can see Adele, lying on the bed, still and perfect in cream silk pyjamas. There’s no sign of pills, or water to take them with, but I can feel a terrible emptiness coming from her as if she’s already dead. A grey dullness hangs in the air around her body as the first trails of smoke come up from the hallway below.

  She’s gone, I realise. Not dead, but she’s out of her body. She doesn’t want to feel herself die. She doesn’t want to be here when it happens. Is she scared she’d change her mind? Panic at the last minute? Is this what happened with her parents?

  I move closer towards her as I hear crackling coming from downstairs. Fires aren’t silent as they spread, and by the noises I can hear, this one is growing fast. I should have called the fire brigade. I should have called the police. I should have done something practical. Some neighbour will notice the blaze soon, but it’ll be too late. However Adele started the fire, it’s taking hold. I need to get her out of the house. I automatically reach for her, but I have no grip, I’m insubstantial, I’m nothing but energy. What can I do? How can I get her out of here?

 
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