Behind her eyes, p.6
Behind Her Eyes, p.6Sarah Pinborough
After that, it was simple.
Two strangers colliding.
She didn’t suspect a thing.
David had been waiting on the line for at least ten minutes by the time they find her, high up in the tree by the lake, laughing with Rob. Nurse Marjorie’s doughy face is aghast at their carefree balancing between branches as she shouts at them to come down right now. Adele doesn’t need any encouragement – her heart is leaping at the thought of speaking to David – and Rob mutters something wryly about insurance and clients falling to their deaths, before faux slipping from the thick rough bark and causing Marjorie to shriek in a way that is very much against the calm of the Westlands’ ethos.
They laugh at her like naughty schoolkids, but Adele is already shimmying eagerly down, not caring where her stomach is getting grazed as her T-shirt rides up. She runs fast across the grass and into the house, not slowing in the corridors. Her face is flushed and her eyes sparkle. David is waiting. It feels like forever since his last call.
No mobile phones are allowed at the centre, contact with the outside world must be controlled, and there’s probably no signal anyway, but David is good at calling regularly. This week, however, he’s been in hospital again for his arm. As she reaches the small office and grabs for the old handset attached to the wall, the watch he can’t wear dangles on her wrist like a thick bracelet. It’s too big and manly for her, but she doesn’t care. Wearing his watch makes it feel like he’s with her.
‘Hi!’ she says, breathless, pushing her wild hair out of her face.
‘Where were you?’ he asks. It’s a bad line and he sounds so distant. ‘I was getting worried that you’d run away or something.’ He’s making it sound like a joke, but there’s concern bubbling underneath. She laughs and hears his quiet breathy surprise at the other end. She hasn’t laughed with him since it happened.
‘Don’t be silly,’ she says. ‘Where would I run to out here? It’s all moors. And we’ve seen American Werewolf in London, remember? I’m not wandering across that endless heath on my own. Anything could be out there. How was the hospital?’ she asks. ‘Are they going to give you a skin graft?’
‘So they say. It doesn’t really hurt anyway. It was worst at the edges, and that’s calmed down a lot. Don’t worry about me. Concentrate on getting better and coming home. I miss you. We can have a fresh start. Away from it all if you want.’
‘And married,’ she says, smiling. ‘Let’s do it as soon as we can.’ As Rob says, why shouldn’t she be happy? Why should she feel so bad about being happy? You can’t get engaged at seventeen, her father had said. You don’t know what you want at seventeen. And he’s too old. What kind of twenty-two-year-old wants to be carrying on with a teenager?
Her dad had been wrong, though. She’d wanted David for as long as she could remember. Everything had been there in his blue eyes from the moment she’d first looked into them. Her mum had never said very much, only commenting that his farm was on the edge of repossession thanks to his drunk father who’d managed to make a pig’s ear of everything and an absent mother, and he wouldn’t have a penny to his name. He came from ‘bad stock’. There were so many ways to say not suitable for our perfect girl without actually saying them. Maybe all of what her mother had said was true, but Adele knows it had nothing to do with who David really was. It never did.
She’d loved him when she’d been a girl of eight playing in the fields and watching him work, and she loves him now. He’s going to be a doctor. He doesn’t need to worry about his student debts any more. He’s going to be her husband, and she’s inherited everything. Her parents’ disapproval no longer matters, and she won’t let herself feel guilty. Her parents are gone, and, as Rob says, wishing herself away with them isn’t going to change that. The only way to move is forward.
‘You sound good. Better.’ He’s quizzical. Slightly wary, as if he doesn’t quite trust this apparent upsurge in mood, and that’s not surprising. She barely spoke at all the last time he called, but that was ten days ago, and a lot has changed for her since then.
‘I am feeling better,’ she says. ‘I think you were right. This place will be good for me. Oh and,’ she adds, almost as if it is an afterthought, ‘I’ve made a friend. His name’s Rob. He’s my age. He’s very funny, he makes me laugh at the people here all the time. I think we’re helping each other.’ She’s gushing, but she can’t help it. She’s also a little bit nervous. As if, after everything that’s happened, Rob is a betrayal of David somehow. Which is stupid, because it’s entirely different. Just because she loves David doesn’t mean she can’t like Rob. ‘You’ll have to meet him some day. I think you’ll really like him too.’
I have more energy after his afternoon call. He says he’s going to be home late. He’s meeting two charity organisations apparently, through which he can help with some community recovery patients.
I murmur all the right things in response to his awkward broken sentences, but inside I’m thinking about exactly what those poverty-stricken junkies in shit-filled tower blocks will think when David – the faux middle-class exterior he worked so hard on during his medical training now soaked through his skin like a teak stain – turns up to talk through their problems with him. I can only imagine the laughs they’ll have at his expense when he’s gone. Still, it’s his personal flagellation, and it suits my plans. I have plans now. That realisation makes my stomach fizz.
For a moment I almost feel sorry for him, but then remember that it might not even be true. He could be going to get drunk, or going to meet someone, or anything. It wouldn’t be the first time, fresh starts or not. He’s had his secrets before. I have no time to check up on him. Not today anyway. My mind is too excited, too fixed on other things.
I tell him I’ve picked some colours for the bedroom and that I think he’ll like them. He pretends to care. I tell him I’ve taken my pills to save him having to ask. I think, if he could, he’d come home to watch me swallow them, but instead he has to accept my lie as truth. He wants me pliable. I’ve enjoyed our few days of almost contentment, but it can’t last. Not if I’m to save our love. But for now, I play along. I’m taking care of things. I just need to be brave. I’ve done it before. I can do it again.
Once the call is over, I go back up to the bedroom and paint the lines of colour thicker and longer on the bedroom wall. Sunlight dapples them, and from the other side of the room it looks like all the colours of a forest. Leaves, definitely. I should maybe have got some pale browns too, and yellows, but it’s too late now. The greens will suffice. I look at the wall and think of leaves and trees, and so will he. I think maybe it’s all he thinks about. Can’t see the wood for the trees.
I wash my hands, cleaning away irritating dried drips that cling to my skin, and then go down to the cellar. The movers, under David’s guidance, brought several boxes straight down here. He didn’t ask me where I wanted them, but then he knows that I wouldn’t care. Not really. The past is the past. Why unearth graves all the time? I haven’t looked in these boxes in years.
It’s chilly under the ground, away from the windows and sunlight, and a single yellow bulb shines on me as I peer at the boxes, trying to find the right one. No one cares what cellars look like. The grime and grit of bare walls is in some ways more honest about the soul of a house.
I tread cautiously, not wanting to get dust on my clothes. A paint spot is fine, but dust could be questionable. David knows I don’t like a dirty house. I don’t want him to ask where any dust came from. I don’t want to lie to him any more than I have to. I love him.
I find what I’m looking for against the furthest damp wall where the pale light struggles to reach it. A stack of four cartons, wearier than the brighter brown of others we’ve stored down here – extra books, old files, that sort of thing – with far more age in their creased, sagging sides. These boxes themselves are old, nothing in them ever unpacked, an
I move the top one carefully to the ground and peer in. Silver candlesticks I think. Some crockery. A delicate jewellery box. I move on. It takes me a while to find what I’m looking for. It’s hidden amongst the odds and ends of photographs and picture albums, and books that avoided the flames but still smell of charring. They don’t smell of smoke. Smoke is a pleasant smell. These smell of something destroyed; blackened and bitter. I push past the loose photos that flutter through my hands, but in one I catch a glimpse of my face; fuller, glowing with youth, and smiling. Fifteen maybe. It’s the face of a stranger. I ignore it and focus on my search. It’s in here somewhere. I hid it where I knew David wouldn’t look, amongst these relics that he knows are mine alone.
It’s right down at the bottom, under all the junk, but unharmed. The old notebook. The tricks of the trade as it were. It’s thin – I tore the last few pages out years ago because some things should stay secret – but it’s held together. I’m holding my breath as I open it, and the remaining pages are cool and warped slightly from years in the dark and damp, giving them a crisp, autumn leafy texture. The writing on the first page is careful – neat and underlined. Instructions from another life.
Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour.
As I look at them it feels as if those words were written only moments ago, and I can see us sitting under the tree, and the breeze is wonderful and the lake ripples. It’s vivid and present, not a memory from a decade ago, and a strange sharp pain stabs in my stomach. I take a deep breath and suppress it.
I replace the boxes exactly as I found them and take the notebook upstairs, holding it like some fragile ancient text that might crumble in my hands when light hits it, rather than a cheap exercise book scavenged from Westlands all those years ago. I hide it in the zipped-up outer section of my gym bag where it won’t be seen.
It’s what Louise needs. I can’t wait to share it with her. She is my secret, and soon we’ll have our secret.
He isn’t too late home after all, coming through the door at five past seven. With the kitchen filled with cooking smells – I’ve spent my time waiting for him making a delicious Thai curry – I drag him upstairs to look at the colours in the bedroom.
‘What do you think?’ I ask. ‘I can’t decide between the Summer Leaf Green on the left or the Forest Haze on the right.’ Neither of them are the real names, but he’ll never know. I’ve made them up on the spur of the moment. Perhaps it’s overkill or over-excitement. I’m not even sure he hears me anyway. He’s staring at the strips that shine in the dying sunlight. He can see everything in them that I saw.
‘Why these colours?’ he asks. His voice is flat. Level. Dead. He turns to look at me, and I see it all in his cold eyes. Everything that sits between us.
Good, I think, steeling myself against the rage or silence to come, preparing bitter barbs to battle with.
And now it begins.
David is in his office before I even get to work, and as I go to hang my coat up, Sue raises her eyebrows and shakes her head. ‘Someone got out of bed the wrong side this morning.’ For a moment I think she means me, because I must look tired and grumpy. My night terrors woke me, and then I lay in bed thinking of Lisa’s pregnancy – I can’t think of it as Ian’s new baby yet – and Adam’s month away, and by the time seven a.m. rolled around I’d had three coffees and two cigarettes and was moody as hell. Somehow this pregnancy of Lisa’s has brought back all those terrible emotions I went through when Ian left me, and his happiness feels like a fresh betrayal, which I know is stupid, but I still feel it. Sue doesn’t mean me, though, she means David.
‘He didn’t even say good morning,’ she continues, pouring me a tea. ‘And I thought he was quite charming until now.’
‘We all have off days,’ I say. ‘Maybe he’s not a morning person.’
‘Then he shouldn’t get here so early. He seems to have taken your place as the early bird.’
She has a point. I shrug and smile, but my heart is racing. Has Adele told him about her coffee with me? Is he sitting in there diagnosing me as some obsessive stalker and getting ready to fire me? I’m almost squirming with guilt. Regardless of whether she’s told him or not, I should. I’ve got too much other shit going on in my life to keep a secret for his wife. It’s not like I really know her, and he is my boss. And, I didn’t really have any choice but to go for coffee with her. She asked me. What was I supposed to say? I remember her face, worried and awkward, asking me not to mention anything about our meeting, and I have a moment of doubt. She was so vulnerable. But I have to tell him. I have to. He’ll understand. Of course he will.
I need to face the music and get it off my chest, so rather than scan Maria’s notes left from yesterday, neatly typed and printed as always, I go and knock on his door, my heart in my mouth. I open it without waiting for a reply and breeze in. Confidence. That’s the way to tackle this.
‘There’s something I need to …’
‘Shit!’ he barks, cutting me off. He’s tugging the thick foil lid from a can of expensive coffee – not the clinic standard but brought in from home – and as he turns, a spray of brown hits the surface of the coffee cabinet.
‘Jesus fucking hell, couldn’t you knock?’
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen someone glower before, but I have now. I feel like I’ve been slapped with the aggression and anger in his tone.
‘I did,’ I mutter. ‘Sorry. I’ll get a cloth.’
‘I’ll do it,’ he snaps at me, pulling some tissues from the box on his desk. ‘A wet cloth will make it worse.’
‘At least it didn’t get on the carpet.’ I try to sound cheery. ‘No use crying over spilt coffee.’
‘Did you want something?’ He stares at me then, and he’s like a stranger. Cold. Distant. None of that natural charm and warmth of before. My nerves jangle and my throat tightens. There’s no way I’m telling him about the coffee with Adele now. Not while he’s in this mood. I can’t remember the last time I made someone so angry by doing nothing at all. Is this another side to him? A worm of a thought slithers into my brain. Is this why Adele keeps her friends secret?
‘I was going to see if you wanted me to put the coffee on,’ I say, trying to stand tall. ‘But I see you’ve got that all under control.’ I turn and walk stiffly out, closing the door quietly behind me. It’s as close to storming out on him as I can do and keep my job, but by the time I sit down I’m trembling with anger. I haven’t done anything wrong. How dare he talk to me like that? Intimidate me like that?
Whatever guilt I’ve felt over having had coffee with Adele fades as I fume. What really went on with David anyway? A stupid kiss? That was all, and with each day it becomes more like a dream of something that never happened. A fantasy. And Adele and I would probably meet at some point. At the Christmas party or something. So what does it matter if I’ve accidentally met her already?
‘I told you,’ Sue says, as she comes past my desk and puts my forgotten tea down. ‘Don’t take it personally. You know what men are like. They’re all grumpy babies at heart.’ She leans in. ‘Especially the posh spoilt ones.’ I laugh, although I’m still hurt at his treatment of me.
Head down, Louise, I tell myself as I fire up the computer and start the day. And get on with your job. You’re never going to hear from Adele again anyway, and David is just your boss.
The Hawkins family arrives in the afternoon, and it’s obvious that the patient, twenty-one-year-old Anthony Hawkins, doesn’t want to be here. His parents are stoic middle to upper class, in their mid to late fifties, a cloud of scents accompanying them in; expensive face powder, cologne, perfume. They are well-dressed; he’s in a suit, and she’s wearing pearls with her designer blouse and skirt, but I can see the tiredness around her eyes. I take them into the waiting room, which is like t
Anthony Hawkins is thin, too thin, and he twitches and tics, and his eyes, full of some primal defensive anger, seem unsteady in his head. They’re like those jiggly eyes you get on some children’s toys, shaking slightly while not seeming to focus, at least not on anything the rest of us can see. He doesn’t look at me at all. Even if I didn’t already know he was a heroin user it wouldn’t take a genius to guess. Anthony Hawkins could be the poster child for addiction. He looks ready to explode, but I can tell it’s mainly fear. I keep my distance though. Fear is no barrier to violence, and I’m always warier with a court-referred patient.
‘I don’t want to do this,’ he mutters, when David comes out to call him into his office. ‘I haven’t got a fucking problem.’ Anthony Hawkins’ accent is pure public school.
‘Your parents can wait out here,’ David says. He’s gentle but firm. No sign of his earlier foul mood, but still, he doesn’t look at me at all. ‘It’s only an hour. It’s not going to hurt you.’ He shrugs a little and gives Anthony his disarming, charming smile. ‘And hopefully it will keep you out of jail.’ Anthony focuses on him then, his wary, trembling junkie eyes suspicious, but like a condemned man to the gallows, he follows him.
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes