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Behind Her Eyes: Part 1: Chapter 15

Louise

I try to make conversation in the car, telling her I can only stay an hour or so because Adam gets dropped home from after-school games at five and so I need to be back by 4.30, latest, but she’s not listening. She mutters the right sounds, but she keeps looking at the clock on the dashboard while driving too fast for the tight London roads. Why is she in such a hurry? What important call is she going to miss? Her brow is tight furrows of worry. Only when we’re through the front door does she relax. Which is ironic, because the act of stepping over the threshold makes me feel slightly sick. I shouldn’t be here. Not at all.

‘Ten minutes to spare,’ she says, smiling. ‘Come through.’

It’s a beautiful home. Absolutely gorgeous. Wooden floors – thick, rich oak slabs, not cheap laminate – stretch the length of the hallway, and the stairs rise elegantly to one side. It’s a house you can breathe in. The air is cool, the brick walls old and solid. This house has stood for over a century and will easily stand for a century more.

I peer into one room and see it’s a study. A desk by the window. A filing cabinet. A wing-backed chair. Books lining the shelves, all thick hardbacks, no holiday reads there. Then there’s a beautiful sitting room, stylish but not cluttered. Light and airy. And everything is pristine. My heart is thumping so hard it makes my head throb. I feel like an interloper. What would David think if he knew I’d been here? It’s one thing having coffee with his wife, but another to be in his house. Maybe he’d think both were equally crazy. Adele would too if she knew about what happened with David. She’d hate herself for inviting me into her home. She’d hate me. The worst part is that here, where I feel most out of place, I have a pang for the man-in-the-bar. I don’t want him to hate me. I’m going to have to tell him. I’m going to have to come clean.

God, I’m such an idiot. I should never have let things get this far with Adele. But what am I supposed to do about it now? I can’t just walk out. I need to stay for lunch as agreed. And I like her. She’s sweet. Not aloof or stuck-up at all.

‘Here it is!’

I follow her into the kitchen, which is about as big as my entire flat, and probably cost as much. The granite surfaces have a polished gleam, and I can’t see a single ring or stain from a coffee drip. Adele holds up the little black Nokia. It looks so wrong in this luxurious house. Why does she have such a crappy old phone? And why the panic to get home?

‘Are you okay?’ I ask. ‘What’s the big deal about missing a call? Is it something important?’

‘Oh, it’ll sound stupid.’ Her shoulders hunch in a little, and she focuses on filling the kettle from the filter jug to avoid looking at me. ‘It’s David. He worries if I don’t answer when he rings.’

I’m confused. ‘How do you know he’s going to ring?’

‘Because he calls at the same times every day. He worries, that’s all.’

My discomfort at being in their home, my pang of feelings for David, both evaporate as I stare at her. This beautiful, elegant young woman, rushing home in a panic to take a call from her husband? ‘You have to be at home when he calls you? How often is that?’

‘It’s not how it sounds,’ she says, her eyes pleading with me. ‘Just a couple of times a day. And I have the mobile, so now I don’t have to be at home.’ Is it panic she’s feeling or fear? It’s like a slap in the face. What do I really know about David anyway? One drunken evening, and from that I built a whole character for him. A fantasy. I remember his bad mood yesterday. That wasn’t part of how I imagined him either. But then neither was being married.

‘Good,’ I say, folding my arms. ‘Because it sounds more than a little bit crazy and controlling.’

She flushes and puts some peppermint teabags in a china pot. ‘He likes to know I’m okay, that’s all.’

‘Why?’ I ask. ‘You’re a grown woman.’ The phone peals out and we both start slightly. ‘Maybe you should ignore it. Call him back later.’

She looks at me then, a glare full of jittery nerves, and I feel bad. It’s not my business. I smile. ‘I’m only kidding. I’ll stay quiet.’

She rushes out into the corridor, the handset already pressed to her ear, and when the kettle finishes boiling I pour it into the pot. I can’t hear every word, but if I listen hard I can get some of it. Now I really do feel like an intruder, but I can’t help it. I’m too curious. It’s so weird. David may be a few years older than her, but not enough to turn him into some kind of father figure. Her voice drifts in to me.

‘I didn’t forget. I’ll take it now. I only just got back from the gym, that’s all. No, everything’s fine. I’m making tea. I love you.’

What’s in that voice? Is she fearful? Fine? Awkward? It’s so hard to tell. Maybe it’s the way they normally speak to each other. I’m contemplating opening the back door and going for a quick smoke when she comes back in. I haven’t heard one laugh while she’s been on the phone, but she looks more relaxed.

‘I filled the pot,’ I say.

‘Great.’ She’s not going to talk any more about the call, and I don’t ask. ‘Grab some plates from that cupboard there and there’s a bunch of hummus and cold meats and some wonderful stuffed peppers in the fridge.’

While I’m distracted by the wealth of deliciousness stacked in their huge stainless steel Smeg, she gets some pitta breads from the bread bin and then furtively opens the cupboard above. I glance over my shoulder and then stop.

‘Wow, that’s some pill cupboard.’

‘Oh, I have some anxiety issues.’ She shuts it quickly. ‘Naturally nervous, I guess. That’s why I like the gym so much. It helps me burn it all out.’

‘How many do you take a day?’ There were a lot of pill packets stacked up, and I can’t help but think that much medication doesn’t do anyone any good.

‘Only one or two. Whatever David prescribes. I’ll take them later. After some food.’

I’m making her feel uncomfortable, but my face has always been an open book. She seems pretty normal to me. What doesn’t seem normal are the phone calls and the pills. And prescribed by her husband? I’m not even sure what the ethics of that are. Suddenly I don’t want to be here at all. None of this has been a good idea. I’d imagined they lived in some wonderful perfect marriage, but now, even after seeing this beautiful home, I’m not envious. I’m not even envious of Adele with all her beauty and elegance. Not really. The house feels like a gilded cage. What can she possibly find to do all day? My life might be an exhausting round of routines, but at least I’m busy.

‘Let’s take this all outside and enjoy the sunshine,’ she says, and I figure the subject is closed for now.

The food is delicious, and I’m starving after the gym, and what’s even better is that Adele doesn’t eat as I’d imagined. I thought she’d be one of those ‘Oh I’m full’ after three mouthfuls of salad women, but instead she tucks in as heartily as I do. It doesn’t take long until we’ve demolished most of what we brought out, and Adele has to go in for more bread.

‘Why don’t you have children?’ I blurt the question out. I can’t see why they wouldn’t. They’ve got money, she doesn’t work, and they’ve been together a long time.

Adele sips her tea before answering. ‘We haven’t wanted them at the same time, I guess. David did, early on, and I wasn’t ready. Now it’s the other way around.’

‘The body clock kicking in?’ I ask.

‘Maybe. A little.’ She shrugs. ‘But we’re very focused on his career.’

‘He might be, but you must get bored.’ I don’t know why I’m asking all this. I don’t know why I want to help her, but I do. There’s something vulnerable about her.

‘I cook. I clean the house myself. I hate the idea of someone coming in and doing that. I like to be a traditional wife, I suppose. I just like to make him happy.’

I really don’t know what to say about that, and I feel sweat prickle under my thighs. While she’s at home cooking, cleaning, and going to the gym to keep herself perfect, he’s out getting drunk and snogging chubby single mums with baggage.

‘Oh God, I forgot!’ She’s up on her feet and darting inside, gazelle-swift, and I wonder What now? Some other David-instilled regime she’s missed? What the hell goes on in this house? But then she’s back outside, beaming, and clutching an old exercise book. ‘I meant to give it to you at the gym and then with the phone thing it slipped my mind. It’s to help with your night terrors.’

How the hell did she remember those? I mentioned them over coffee, sure, but only in passing.

‘I used to get them as well. Terrible ones. David tried to help in his own way, he gave me a book from a charity shop on the power of dreaming, but I ended up having to have therapy and everything.’

‘When your parents died?’ An awful prickle of understanding comes to me.

‘No, before that. When I was very young. After my parents died I had other sleep issues, but that’s a whole different story. How long have you had them? Have you seen anyone about it?’

I feel a bit gut-punched. God, look at me and Adele. Same night terrors. Same poor taste in men.

‘Since I was little,’ I say, forcing myself to be airy. ‘Like you I guess. My mum took me to the doctor, but apparently I was supposed to grow out of them. Instead, I just got used to them. Was a killer with boyfriends. I’d be wandering around with my eyes open like a crazy person from a horror film, and then when they tried to wake me up, I’d hit them and then burst into terrible bouts of tears.’ I smile, although the memories aren’t that funny. Ian found it so tiresome. I still think maybe that’s part of why we broke up. ‘I did go back to a doctor, but he said they couldn’t be proper night terrors because I remembered them, so I was left to kind of get on with it. Sleeping pills help a bit, but they make me feel like shit the next day, and I don’t like taking them if I’ve had some wine.’

I don’t add and I have some wine every night. She doesn’t need to know that. It’s not as if I get drunk every night. There’s no real harm in one or two glasses, whatever they say. It works for the French. I don’t want to think about France. Pregnant.

‘That doctor was wrong,’ Adele says. ‘Some people do remember their night terrors. People like you and me. Do you know how rare we are?’

I’ve never seen her this animated. She’s focused on me. Intent. Her back straight. I shake my head. I’ve never really given it much thought. It’s just part of who I am.

‘Less than one per cent of adults have night terrors, and only a tiny per cent of those remember them. People like you and me.’ She smiles, pure happiness. ‘How remarkable that two people in that tiny amount have found each other!’

She looks so joyful that I have another wave of guilt. I should get home. Back to my own life and out of hers. I don’t want her help. But I am curious. She said she had problems with anxiety, not sleep. If she’s like me, then I’d have thought sleep would be top of her list. I look at the thin notebook on the table between us.

‘So how will this help?’

‘You need to learn to control your dreams.’

I laugh then, I can’t help myself. It sounds like new age meditation shit, and I’m a born cynic. ‘Control them?’

‘It’s what I did. I know it sounds silly, but it changed my life. Take the notebook. Read it. Trust me, if you put the effort in then no more night terrors and just amazingly vivid dreams of your choosing. Lucid dreaming.’

I pick up the book and glance at the first page. The words are neatly printed and underlined.

Pinch myself and say I AM AWAKE once an hour.

Look at my hands. Count my fingers.

Look at clock (or watch), look away, look back.

Stay calm and focused.

Think of a door.

‘Is this yours?’ I flick through. There are some pages of scrawled writing, the neatness obviously lost after that first page, and then towards the back lots of sheets of paper have been torn out. It’s not exactly well-loved.

‘No,’ she says. ‘It belonged to someone I used to know. But it’s part me. I was there when he learned how to do it.’


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