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Behind Her Eyes: Part 1: Chapter 8


I’ve been awake since dawn, but haven’t moved. We’re both lying on our sides, and his arm has flopped over me and, despite my heartache, it feels good. The weight of it is protective. It reminds me of the early days. His skin is shiny smooth and hair-free where his scars run up his forearm. He keeps them hidden, but I like to see them. They remind me of who he really is, underneath everything. The man who braved fire to rescue the girl he loved.

Through the gaps in the blinds, the sun has been cutting rough lines across the wooden floor since before six, and I know already that it’s going to be another beautiful day. Outside, at least. Under the weight of David’s arm, I mull over yesterday. Last night’s dinner at Dr Sykes’ was a success. In the main I find psychiatrists dull and predictable, but I was charming and witty and I know that they all loved me. Even the wives told David how lucky he was to have me.

I’m proud of myself. Even though it had been hard to muster – I’d had to run five miles on the gym treadmill in the afternoon, and then hit the weights hard to calm myself down – I was in a visibly good mood when David had got home from work, and the exercise had added to that glow. The evening in company went triumphantly without a hitch, and our pretence at glorious happiness led us both to believe in it again for a short while. Last night we had sex for the first time in months, and even though it wasn’t quite the way I would like it, I made all the right noises and did my best to be warm and pliant. It felt so good to have him so close, to have him inside me, even if he didn’t meet my eyes once and was really quite drunk.

I’d stuck to the rule of one or two glasses, but David hadn’t, although he had stayed just to the right side of acceptably merry, until we got home, where he’d poured himself a very large brandy and drunk it quickly, probably hoping I wouldn’t notice. I did, but of course I didn’t say anything even though I’d have been well within my rights to do so.

He was supposed to cut down on that as part of our ‘fresh start’. Even he knows that you can’t be a psychiatrist who specialises in addictions and obsessions if you have a drink problem yourself. But then, I guess only one of us was really trying with our fresh start.

David is always in control in our marriage. He looks after me. Some, if they saw closely enough, would say he smothers me, and they’d be right, but there are times when I think I may be cleverer than he is. He’s hard against my back, and I move carefully, pressing against him, teasing myself, almost sliding him between my buttocks, squeezing him there and nudging him towards the illicit place where I like him best. Maybe sleeping he’ll be more conducive. It’s not to be, however, and he rolls away, onto his back, taking half the covers with him. He murmurs, soft and sweet, the fading echoes of his dream as he returns to the waking world, and I resist the urge to straddle him and kiss him and let all my passion out, and demand that he love me again.

Instead, I close my eyes and pretend to be asleep until he gets up and pads out to the corridor and to the bathroom. After a moment the boiler cranks into life as the shower starts running. This hurts a bit. I can’t help it, however much I have a new resolve to be strong. We have an en-suite with a power shower in our bedroom, but he’s chosen to be further away from me, and I have a good idea why. What he’s doing in there. I teased him awake, and now, rather than having sex with me, he’s ‘taking care of himself’. It’s a stupid phrase, but I’ve never liked the word masturbation. So clinical. Wanking is better, but language of that ilk doesn’t suit me apparently, so I trained myself out of crudeness long ago and now it just sounds odd in my head.

By the time he comes downstairs I have a pot of coffee made, and there are croissants warming. We smother each other in our own ways, and I know he’ll need something to soak up the dregs of the hangover he has. I turn away and fuss around the sink so he can get some ibuprofen from the cupboard without any silent judgement.

‘I’ve set the outside table,’ I say, all breezy and light, transferring the pastries to a plate. ‘It seems silly to waste such a beautiful morning.’ The back door is open and the air is warm even though it’s only just past nine thirty.

He looks warily out through the window, and I can see he’s trying to spot where in the flower beds I buried the cat after he left me to deal with it and went out to get drunk and whatever else. He’s still thinking about it. I’m trying to put it in the past. He clings to things he can’t change, but what’s done is done whether we like it or not.

‘Okay,’ he says, and gives me a half-smile. ‘The fresh air will wake me up.’ He’s meeting me in the middle, perhaps as a reward for how well I did last night.

We don’t say very much, but I enjoy our, for once amiable, quiet. I let my silk dressing gown slip so that the sun beats on a bare leg as I sip my coffee and eat my croissants, and then tilt my face back. At points I can feel him looking at me, and I know that he’s still drawn by my beauty. We are almost content in this instant. It won’t last – it can’t last – but for now I savour it. Perhaps all the more because of what might be to come.

When we’re done I go and shower, taking my time and luxuriating in the hot water. The day is an empty landscape, but it has its own unspoken routine. David will work for a few hours and then maybe we’ll both go to the gym – an activity that we can pretend is something we do together, but of course is done alone – before home, dinner, and TV, and probably an early night.

When I come downstairs he’s already in his study, and he calls me in. It’s a surprise. Normally, he wants to be left alone while he’s working, and I don’t mind that. He has patients’ information in there, and although he might drink too much, he is in all other regards consummately professional.

‘I’ve got some things for you,’ he says.

‘Oh.’ This is a divergence from our expected routine and I’m surprised. My heart sinks and hardens a little when the first thing he hands over is a packet of pills.

‘For your anxiety,’ he says. ‘I think these might be better than the others. One, three times a day. No side effects to worry about.’

I take them. The name on the front means nothing to me, simply another word I can’t pronounce. ‘Of course,’ I say, dismayed. More pills. Always with the pills.

‘But I also got you these.’ He sounds hopeful, and I look up.

A credit card and a mobile phone.

‘The card is linked to mine, but I thought it was time you had one again. The same with the phone.’

It’s an old handset, no Internet I imagine and only basic functions, but my heart leaps. No more relying on David giving me a housekeeping allowance. No more sitting in the house for each scheduled phone call. My grin is one hundred per cent real.

‘Are you sure?’ I say, not ready to believe my luck. I can almost forget the first blow of the medication.

‘I’m sure.’ He smiles, for now glad to have made me happy. ‘A fresh start, remember?’

‘Fresh start,’ I repeat, and then before I know it, I’ve run to the other side of the desk and wrapped my arms, my hands still full, around his neck. Maybe he does mean it. Maybe he will try harder from now on.

‘Thank you, David,’ I whisper. I suck in the scent of him as he hugs me back. His warmth. The feel of his arms. The broadness of his slim chest beneath his soft thin sweater. My heart could explode at his closeness.

When we break apart, I see the scribbled-on map he’s been looking at and the sheet of notes beside it. ‘What’s that?’ I ask, feigning interest. Continuing to be the good wife in this wonderful moment.

‘Oh, I’m thinking of doing some outreach work. Voluntary stuff. With a charity or something. I’m not sure yet. Part of why I thought you might need the phone.’ His eyes dart sideways at me, but I smile.

‘That’s a lovely idea,’ I say. ‘It really is.’

‘It means I might be out more. At the weekends and evenings. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.’

He’s talking in short phrases, and I know from this that he’s uncomfortable. You learn little tells in a long marriage.

‘It’s fine,’ I say. ‘I think it’s a very kind thing.’

‘You mean that?’

Now it’s his turn to be surprised. I’ve always liked him working as much as possible in the private sector. There’s a soothing sophistication about it, away from the grime and grit of hard living. I’ve pushed him for a Harley Street practice, where he belongs. Where there will be more time for us. He is brilliant. Everyone says so. He always has been, and he should be at the very top. But this suits me. It will suit both of us.

‘I was thinking of doing some redecorating anyway. It will be easier without you under my feet.’ I smile, making sure he knows I’m teasing. I don’t suggest that I get a job. Where would I start anyway? I haven’t had one in years and I certainly wouldn’t get a reference from there.

‘You’re a good man, David,’ I say, even though it’s hard and feels like a lie. ‘You really are.’

The atmosphere stills then, a momentary heaviness in the room, and we both feel the past cement itself between us once more.

‘I’ll go and take one of these then,’ I say. ‘Leave you to it.’ I keep my smile up as I leave, pretending not to notice the sudden awkwardness, but even with the pills I have no intention of taking in one hand, I have a renewed spring in my step. A phone and a credit card. Today is like Christmas.


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