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Behind Her Eyes: Part 3: Chapter 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 there. 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?

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.


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