Behind Her Eyes, p.30Sarah Pinborough
A thought comes to me, cool and clear, as if the lack of a body’s chemical reactions has subdued my panic. It’s a crazy thought and I don’t know if it’s even possible, but it might be my only chance to save her.
Her body is empty. I’m right here. It would only take three or four minutes to run down the stairs and out of the house and then we’d both be safe. It’s all I’ve got. Soon the stairs aren’t going to be passable. There are wooden floors everywhere. Varnished. How fast will they burn?
I stare at her body, still mildly surprised at how beautiful she is, and then I think of her eyes. Hazel brown. I imagine seeing out from behind them. How it would feel to be inside that skin, toned and firm and so slim. I imagine being Adele, of slipping into that body, of controlling it, and then – just as I feel a terrible jolt of shock somewhere in the core of me, a feeling that something is very, very wrong – I’m inside her.
‘She doesn’t mention the fire in her parents’ house in the letter she left,’ Inspector Pattison says, ‘but the reports state that it started in the fuse box.’ He’s a thick-set barrel of a man whose suit has seen better days, but he has a world- weariness in his eyes that speaks of a career policeman. He’s reliable. People trust him. He’s calm.
‘The fire she set in your home, Dr Martin,’ he continues, ‘also started in the fuse box cupboard in the kitchen, so perhaps there is some indication of guilt in that.’
‘Do they know what she used?’ David asks. He’s pale and looks gaunt in that way people in shock do, but also so much lighter in spirit. Of course he is. Ding dong, the witch is dead.
‘Turpentine and soaked tea towels.’
David nods. ‘That makes sense. She’d been decorating.’
‘We found the letter she wrote – her confession of sorts – on your desk. In it she confirms everything you said in your statement to DCI Wignall in Perth. She put Robert Hoyle’s body in the well on her estate, and she’d been wearing your watch at the time. We’ve had confirmation from Scotland that the body has been recovered. Obviously it’s in a state of extreme decomposition, but we expect dental records to confirm the identity. Also, given the manner of your wife’s death – the heroin overdose – the same cause of death she gives for Mr Hoyle – it would appear she was attempting to make some amends there. Perhaps she had a conscience to clear on both counts, her parents and Mr Hoyle.’
‘But where did she get the heroin from?’ David asks. ‘She was many things, but she really wasn’t that kind of person.’
‘Anthony,’ I say, as if the thought has just struck me. My throat is still quite raw from the smoke and I sound husky. ‘Anthony Hawkins. I saw him hanging around her a few times. Maybe she got him to get it?’
‘Hawkins?’ The inspector jots the name down.
‘A patient of mine,’ David says. ‘An ex-patient of mine I should say. Drug-user and obsessive. Turned up at the house.’ I see the light go on then. ‘Adele answered the door. Maybe his obsession transferred to her. Adele is – was – very beautiful.’
‘We’ll speak to him. As for your wife’s letter, it was in her handwriting and only had her fingerprints on it so there is no doubt she wrote it.’ He looks up. ‘Which is very good news for you. Although you’re lucky it didn’t go up in the fire.’
‘Typical Adele,’ David says, a bitter half-smile on his face. ‘Even in her last moments, she couldn’t entirely set me free.’
I’m barely listening. All I can think about is that David is holding my hand, squeezing it tightly. I haven’t felt that in such a long time. Last night, even though we were in day three of police purgatory, we made love and we laughed and smiled and held each other tightly. I feel as if I’m in a dream.
‘Will David have to go to prison?’ I ask, concerned.
‘I can’t comment on that until the investigation is over. Then if there are formal charges to be brought, your solicitor will be informed. There are mitigating circumstances, however. She was fragile at the time of Mr Hoyle’s death, and he was trying to protect her. Although even if the death was accidental, there is still the fact Adele hid the body and David was an accessory after the fact.’
‘I know,’ David says. ‘I won’t be fighting any charges on that count.’
‘And I imagine you won’t be practising psychiatry any time soon either?’ Pattison looks sympathetic. Of all the criminals he must have witnessed in his years on the force, David must be the least likely.
‘No,’ David says. ‘I imagine not. That’s another outcome I’m waiting on. I don’t actually mind too much. Perhaps I need a change all round.’ He looks at me then, and smiles, and I smile back so hard I think my face will burst. There’s no need for us to hide our feelings from the policeman. The affair, the love, was all there in the letter.
I should know. I wrote it.
I push unfamiliar blonde hair out of my face as we leave the police station. Louise’s body – my body – still feels strange. Suddenly to be carrying an extra stone of weight slows me down for a start, but I’m enjoying having more curves, and if David likes them then they’ll stay. She needs glasses for distance though. I don’t think she’d realised that yet.
Oh Louise, how perfect she was. How wonderfully she performed. And I have to give myself my due. My plan went perfectly. After my failed attempt to buy smack in that godawful underpass that resulted in a black eye and nearly losing my bag, Anthony Hawkins had fallen into my lap and was so pleased there was something he could do for me. Drugs, needles, everything I needed, he got.
I’d practised with the heroin, so I knew just how much I could inject myself with – between my toes and out of any track mark sight – and not fall into an immediate haze. I’d been practising that day when Louise turned up and then blamed my state on the pills. An unexpected bonus.
I prepared the fire, but didn’t light it. When it got late enough, I texted her my wordy intent to kill myself. I watched her. I saw her trying to see me and giving up. Just before the taxi pulled up outside, I lit the fire and ran upstairs. On the first doorbell ring, I injected just enough heroin, and then hid the remainder of the drugs under the bed where I’d already placed a pair of David’s surgical gloves. I went through the second door. I saw her outside. And here was the trickiest bit. Picking my time after she was empty to go into her. Waiting for the first tremble that something was wrong. A vibration in the air behind me to let me know she was going into my body. If she had pulled back to her body, then I was sure I’d be kicked out.
But fortune favours the brave, and her skin became mine. I grabbed the key from on top of the door lintel where I’d hidden it and raced up the stairs through the thickening smoke.
She was moaning slightly on the bed, her eyes glazed. Unexpected heroin will do that to a girl. She focused slightly when she saw me. Louise there, behind my eyes, looking at me in her body. She was afraid then, in spite of the high. I think she tried to say my name. She gurgled something, at any rate. I didn’t pause for goodbyes. We didn’t have the time for that. I snapped on the gloves and retrieved the rest of the syringe. I injected it between her/my toes. Then it was goodnight sweetheart and all over bar the shouting.
I dropped the syringe on the floor, stuffed the gloves in my pocket to get rid of later, and then hauled her up, thanking myself for having got so skinny, and thanking her for at least going to the gym a little bit. Then I half carried her down the stairs and out into the night. Sirens were wailing in the darkness by then, and the little old lady next door was standing in the street in her dressing gown clutching her yappy dog.
And that was that. When the fire engines turned up, I told them about the text and how I’d dug the spare key up from the plant pot and got in to try to save her. She was dead by then though. She’d probably died halfway down the stairs.
Goodbye Adele, hello Louise.
If you love someone, set them free. What a load of bollocks.
‘It started when I was little,’ she continues. ‘I read about lucid dreaming in this old book that David gave me, and then once I’d managed that, there was this whole other thing that started. At first I could only do it when I was sleeping. Maybe it was hormones or something. Maybe I didn’t have that mental control as a child. But God, it was always so wonderful. This secret skill. At first it was only places I could picture. And at first I couldn’t go very far at all. Then, as the years went by, I got better and better at it. Or it became more natural or something. Now I can do it at the drop of a hat, and soar. I tried to tell David about it once, but he just laughed at me. He thought I was joking or something. I knew then that he’d never believe it, not really. So I’ve kept it to myself. Until I met you.’
‘That’s why you wouldn’t sleep,’ Rob says. He takes her hand and squeezes it and it feels good. It feels good to be able to talk about this with someone. To share it all.
‘Yes,’ she says, softly. ‘It was my fault my parents died. The fire was accidental, whatever anyone says, but if I’d been there, even if I’d been normally asleep, I would have woken up. I could have done something. But I wasn’t. I was high up in the trees watching the owls and the woods and all the life that comes out at night.’
‘Sometimes shit happens,’ Rob says. ‘You have to put it behind you and get on with life.’
‘Agreed,’ she says. And then, more honestly, ‘And I don’t think I could give it up if I tried. It’s a part of me. Who I am.’
‘So that’s what the second door is all about,’ he says. ‘I’ve had it a few times already, but it weirded me out. I wrote about it in the notebook.’
‘Why didn’t you say anything before today?’
‘I didn’t want you to think I was a freak.’
She squeezes his hand back. She loves Rob, she really does. And David might not have liked him much – she could tell even if he didn’t say anything – but she’s sure he’ll grow to.
‘Well, if you’re a freak, then you’re a freak like me,’ she says, and then they laugh. She’s happy. He’s happy. And David’s wonderful. Her future looks so bright. ‘I love that you can do it too. It’s brilliant.’
‘Hey,’ Rob says, rolling on his side and pushing himself up on one elbow. ‘We should try something. Something really mindfuck crazy.’
We stand by the graveside, hand in hand. We’re laying the past to rest by being here. Saying our farewells. There is little to see, just a name and two dates. What else could David have carved there on that black marble headstone? Loving wife? Hardly. And, anyway, it might be Adele’s body, but it’s Louise who’s really buried in this patch of earth.
Poor, sweet Adele. My tragic Sleeping Beauty. So sweet and kind and yet so simple. I did love her in my own way, I really did. But it was like Romeo and Juliet. Romeo thought he loved Rosalind until he saw Juliet. Some love is so powerful it sweeps everything else away.
I remember everything about the moment I first saw David. Adele on the gravel, all girlish excitement, and me, lingering back in the shadows on the steps, full of resentment at his impending invasion of our paradise.
And then he got out of that battered old car and he was … a revelation. For a moment I couldn’t breathe. I felt blinded and enlightened all at once. It was love at first sight – a love that could never die. Adele and all her soft kindness paled in comparison. What I felt for her was simply dust on the wind. Gone in a second. David was strong. Clever. I loved the quiet way he had about him. All that calm. I finally understood why Adele loved him so much, but I could also in that instant see how she would hold him back. She was too damaged for someone as brilliant as David. He needed someone who was his equal. He needed me.
I could barely speak all weekend, just muttering answers to his questions, or making an absolute fool of myself trying to be funny, and wishing Adele would just fuck off with all her fussing and leave us alone together so I could revel in his presence. I knew then that I had to have him. I had to. It was fate.
I lay awake both nights listening to them laughing and fucking, and it burned at me. I wanted to feel those strong farmer’s hands on my skin. I thought of the blow job I’d given the nurse to get the weed at Westlands, and I wondered how brilliant it would be to do that with someone like David. Someone I adored. I wanted to touch David’s scars and remind him that if it weren’t for her he’d still be whole. I went through the second door and watched them for a while, torturing myself with the sight of his strong back over her as he thrust into her. I wanted to feel that passion. That love. That body pounding its lust into mine.
When he left to go back to university I felt as if my soul had been ripped out. I felt empty. I didn’t want to live if I couldn’t have him. Why should Adele have him? Simpering, weak Adele, who appreciated nothing? Who took his love for granted? Who had all this money and didn’t even care about it? If I had that, and David, I would make sure his life shone.
And that’s when it came to me. My simple and terrifying plan.
‘Shall we go?’ I say, and lean up to kiss him with Louise’s full lips.
He nods. ‘Adam must be bored by now.’
We stroll through the late sunshine back to the car, and I reflect on how wonderful life really is when you’re in love.
It’s easier to do a thing a second time. It was easier with Louise. My fear was all in the planning. The variables. With Adele, my fear was that it wouldn’t work even when she’d agreed to my crazy idea. ‘Let’s see if we can swap bodies! Just for a minute! Haven’t you ever wondered what it’s like to have a dick?’
Louise would never have gone along with that of course, but Adele was young, and the young are notoriously stupid, and she was stoned and glad finally to have someone to share her secret with. And, of course, she liked me. A perfect storm. I’d taken just enough smack, but not enough for her to notice if I concentrated. We went out into the woods laughing – what was it she’d said? If we’re going to do voodoo magic it should be in a clearing at night. That was it.
And then we swapped. Left our bodies, counted to three and went into each other’s. She didn’t know what had hit her. The odd puff on a joint was no preparation for the power of a smack high. And within seconds, the needle was in. Overdose delivered. Just like I did killing Louise.
Goodbye Rob, hello Adele.
It was exhausting getting the body to the well. Women’s bodies are so feeble, and I hadn’t been prepared for that. Dry leaves and mud were stuck to my jeans, and my weak body ached as my sweat cooled in the damp, chill air. I’d expected the world to be different afterwards, but everything looked the same. The only thing that was different was me. The watch falling in with her was a fortuitous accident. I didn’t care much. He’d given it to her, not me. I didn’t care much about leaving my body to rot there either. I’d never liked it. It never summed up what I was on the inside. I was far more glorious than that pasty, spotty shell. I kept the notebook though. My one link to my old life. I tore out the pages with the second door – couldn’t have David accidentally finding that – and then hid it in the box of remnants from Adele’s parents’ lives. I’m still keeping it. Who knew it would come in so handy? Maybe it will again.
I didn’t handle the switch with Adele brilliantly in the aftermath. I should have shown more remorse over the body in the well. That was the first red flag for David, I think. And then, of course, the horrendous discovery of the pregnancy. I was having enough trouble adjusting to all the other quirks of the female body even to remember that I should have had a period, and ther
This time is different. David didn’t know Louise that well, and I’ve watched and learned and memorised her life; her quirks, her tastes, her humour. He loves me now though, I can see it in his eyes. He’s free of the past. Maybe I’ll give him a baby this time. Make us a proper family.
‘Where do you want to go on our honeymoon?’ he asks, when we’re back in the car. ‘Pick anywhere you want.’
We married a week ago, just us in a registry office. The day Adele in my original body was buried in a crappy little cemetery in Edinburgh. But only now that we’re both officially free to do as we please have we started to think about what comes after. I pretend to consider his question for a moment. ‘The Orient Express,’ I say. ‘And then maybe a cruise.’
‘You hate boats.’ The small voice comes from the back seat, and I don’t have to turn around to see the dark look in Adam’s eyes. He knows something is wrong with me, he just can’t figure out what. ‘You always say you hate boats,’ he says, stubbornly.
‘He’s only being silly,’ I say, and squeeze David’s thigh. ‘I think he’s worried you’ll take me away from him.’
My teeth are gritted behind my smile. There is still one small obstacle to overcome for our happiness to be complete. David might not have known Louise well, but Ian does and Adam does. Those links need to be severed. It was easy to end the friendship with Sophie – a small mention to her husband of possible infidelities took care of that – but Adam’s departure from my life will need to be somewhat more dramatic. It shouldn’t be too difficult to arrange. Children are notoriously accident prone. And anyway, grief can bring people closer together, can’t it?
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes