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You'll be surprised by what horrors lurk around the bend. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She's even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect.
Not unlike the life she recently lost. It's only a minute until the train moves on, but it's enough. Now everything's changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved.
Has she done more harm than good? My head leaning against the carriage window, I watch these houses roll past me like a tracking shot in a film. Twice a day, I am offered a view into other lives, just for a moment. I can feel my fellow commuters shift in their seats, rustle their newspapers, tap at their computers. The train lurches and sways around the bend, slowing as it approaches a red signal.
I try not to look up, I try to read the free newspaper I was handed on my way into the station, but the words blur in front of my eyes, nothing holds my interest. In my head I can still see that little pile of clothes lying at the edge of the track, abandoned. Tangy and cold, the taste of my first-ever holiday with Tom, a fishing village on the Basque coast in The fun starts here.
Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies. In the old days we might have driven to Corly Wood with a picnic and the papers, spent all afternoon lying on a blanket in dappled sunlight, drinking wine.
We might have barbecued out back with friends, or gone to the Rose and sat in the beer garden, faces flushing with sun and alcohol as the afternoon went on, weaving home, arm in arm, falling asleep on the sofa.
Beautiful sunshine, cloudless skies, no one to play with, nothing to do. The weekend stretches out ahead of me, forty-eight empty hours to fill. I just want to lean back in the soft, sagging velour seat, feel the warmth of the sunshine streaming through the window, feel the carriage rock back and forth and back and forth, the comforting rhythm of wheels on tracks.
If I sit in carriage D, which I usually do, and the train stops at this signal, which it almost always does, I have a perfect view into my favourite trackside house: Number fifteen is much like the other houses along this stretch of track: I know this house by heart. I know every brick, I know the colour of the curtains in the upstairs bedroom beige, with a dark-blue print , I know that the paint is peeling off the bathroom window frame and that there are four tiles missing from a section of the roof over on the right-hand side.
I know that on warm summer evenings, the occupants of this house, Jason and Jess, sometimes climb out of the large sash window to sit on the makeshift terrace on top of the kitchen-extension roof. They are a perfect, golden couple. He is dark-haired and well built, strong, protective, kind. He has a great laugh. She is one of those tiny bird-women, a beauty, pale-skinned with blond hair cropped short.
She has the bone structure to carry that kind of thing off, sharp cheekbones dappled with a sprinkling of freckles, a fine jaw. Jess is often out there in the mornings, especially in the summer, drinking her coffee. Sometimes, when I see her there, I feel as though she sees me, too, I feel as though she looks right back at me, and I want to wave.
Tom and I used to run together on Sundays, me going at slightly above my normal pace, him at about half his, just so we could run side by side.
I pour some into a plastic cup, screw the top back on and slip the bottle into my handbag. There are familiar faces on these trains, people I see every week, going to and fro. I recognize them and they probably recognize me. Sometimes, not often, I can see them from this side of the track. If not—like today—I can imagine them.
Jess will be sitting with her feet up on the table out on the terrace, a glass of wine in her hand, Jason standing behind her, his hands on her shoulders. I can imagine the feel of his hands, the weight of them, reassuring and protective. Sometimes I catch myself trying to remember the last time I had meaningful physical contact with another person, just a hug or a heartfelt squeeze of my hand, and my heart twitches.
I read somewhere that a train can rip the clothes right off you when it hits. Two to three hundred a year, they say, so at least one every couple of days. The train stops at the signal as usual. I can see Jess standing on the patio in front of the French doors.
I keep my eyes fixed on Jess, on her home, as the train starts to inch forward. I lived at number twenty-three Blenheim Road for five years, blissfully happy and utterly wretched. That was my first home. Every day I tell myself not to look, and every day I look.
Even though I remember so clearly how it felt that time I looked up and noticed that the cream linen blind in the upstairs bedroom was gone, replaced by something in soft baby pink; even though I still remember the pain I felt when I saw Anna watering the rosebushes near the fence, her T-shirt stretched tight over her bulging belly, and I bit my lip so hard, it bled.
I close my eyes tightly and count to ten, fifteen, twenty. We roll into Witney station and out again, the train starting to pick up pace as suburbia melts into grimy North London, terraced houses replaced by tagged bridges and empty buildings with broken windows.
The closer we get to Euston, the more anxious I feel; pressure builds; how will today be? On its side, someone has painted: I think about the bundle of clothes on the side of the track and I feel as though my throat is closing up. Life is not a paragraph, and death is no parenthesis. I live in a smart ish , new ish block situated at the point where the commercial heart of the place starts to bleed into the residential outskirts, but it is not my home. My home is the Victorian semi on the tracks, the one I part-owned.
Cathy and I were friends at university. Half friends, really, we were never that close. She lived across the hall from me in my first year, and we were both doing the same course, so we were natural allies in those first few daunting weeks, before we met people with whom we had more in common. But in my hour of need she happened to have a spare room going and it made sense.
And that was nearly two years ago. She makes you notice her niceness. Her niceness is writ large, it is her defining quality and she needs it acknowledged, often, daily almost, which can be tiring. I feel it in the kitchen, where we jostle for space when cooking our evening meals. I feel it when I sit beside her on the sofa, the remote control firmly within her grasp. The only space that feels like mine is my tiny bedroom, into which a double bed and a desk have been crammed, with barely enough space to walk between them.
I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head. I could wish for a storm, but the sky is an insolent blank, pale, watery blue. I wipe away the sweat on my top lip. Silly, I know. The curtains are open downstairs but the French doors are closed, sunlight reflecting off the glass.
The sash window upstairs is closed, too. Jason may be away working. Jess, with her bold prints and her Converse trainers and her beauty, her attitude, works in the fashion industry. Or perhaps in the music business, or in advertising—she might be a stylist or a photographer.
I can see her now, in the spare room upstairs, music blaring, window open, a brush in her hand, an enormous canvas leaning against the wall. I suppose I started noticing them about a year ago, and gradually, as the months went past, they became important to me.
And Jess just goes with Jason, and it goes with her. It fits her, pretty and carefree as she is. My eyes and throat itch. I look at the man in the seat opposite mine. Sallow skin. He has a MacBook, paper-thin, open in front of him. Or just thinking deeply. Writing an important email to a colleague at the office in New York, or a carefully worded break-up message to his girlfriend. He looks up suddenly and meets my eye; his glance travels over me, over the little bottle of wine on the table in front of me.
He looks away. He finds me distasteful. I am not the girl I used to be. One night last week, when I left my room to get myself a glass of water, I overheard Cathy talking to Damien, her boyfriend, in the living room. I stood in the hallway and listened. Cathy was out when I got home, so I went to the off-licence and bought two bottles of wine. A good, healthy meal. I sliced through the top of my finger while chopping the onions. I must have gone to the bathroom to clean it up and gone to lie down for a while and just forgotten all about it, because I woke up around ten and I could hear Cathy and Damien talking and he was saying how disgusting it was that I would leave the kitchen like that.
Cathy came upstairs to see me, she knocked softly on my door and opened it a fraction. She cocked her head to one side and asked if I was OK. I apologized without being sure what I was apologizing for. She said it was all right, but would I mind cleaning up a bit? There was blood on the chopping board, the room smelled of raw meat, the steak was still sitting out on the countertop, turning grey. The need for contact must have been overwhelming, and there was no one I could call except for Tom.
The call log on my phone says I rang four times: Judging from the length of the calls, I left two messages. The train shudders to a standstill at the red signal and I look up. Jess is sitting on her patio, drinking a cup of coffee. She has her feet up against the table and her head back, sunning herself. Behind her, I think I can see a shadow, someone moving: I long to see him, to catch a glimpse of his handsome face.
I want him to come outside, to stand behind her the way he does, to kiss the top of her head. There is something about the way she is moving today that seems different; she is heavier, weighed down. The French doors are flung open, light streaming into the kitchen. Is there a little girl sitting in one of those bouncy baby chairs up there on the kitchen table? I close my eyes and let the darkness grow and spread until it morphs from a feeling of sadness into something worse: I remember now, I was crying.
I told him that I still loved him, that I always would. Please, Tom, please, I need to talk to you. I miss you. No no no no no no no. This is where the bar is set. What was it that made me think that something was wrong? More than alone—lonely.
And she misses him, and she worries, although she knows he has to go. Of course she misses him, just as I do. He is kind and strong, everything a husband should be. And they are a partnership. I can see it, I know how they are. She can cut to the nub of a problem, dissect and analyse it in the time it takes other people to say good morning. I feel exhausted this evening. I am sober, stone-cold. Today, the thought of alcohol turns my stomach.
A film of sweat covers every inch of my skin, the inside of my mouth prickles, my eyes itch, mascara rubbed into their corners. My phone buzzes in my handbag, making me jump. Two girls sitting across the carriage look at me and then at each other, with a sly exchange of smiles. My heart is pounding in my chest as I reach for the phone. I know this will be nothing good, either: I look at the screen. I hesitate for just a second and then I answer it.
The train is slowing, and we are almost opposite the house, my old house. I want to say to him, Come outside, go and stand on the lawn. Let me see you. I cannot swallow. I cannot speak. Are you there? Go to AA or something. Please, Rachel. Go to an AA meeting after work today.
I press the thumbnail of my right hand into the centre of the cut and feel it open up, the pain sharp and hot. I catch my breath. Blood starts to ooze from the wound. The girls on the other side of the carriage are watching me, their faces blank. It picks up speed as it accelerates out of Northcote station and then, after rattling round the bend, it starts to slow down, from a rattle to a rumble, and then sometimes a screech of brakes as it stops at the signal a couple hundred yards from the house.
Sitting here in the morning, eyes closed and the hot sun orange on my eyelids, I could be anywhere. I could be in the south of Spain, at the beach; I could be in Italy, the Cinque Terre, all those pretty coloured houses and the trains ferrying the tourists back and forth. I could be back in Holkham, with the screech of gulls in my ears and salt on my tongue and a ghost train passing on the rusted track half a mile away.
I can hear the wheels clacking over the points, can almost feel it rocking. The wind in the grass, the big slate sky over the dunes, the house infested with mice and falling down, full of candles and dirt and music. I feel my heart beating just a little too fast. I can hear his footfall on the stairs, he calls my name. Martins; I did start it, I was working downstairs in the kitchen when I heard a woman screaming, making a horrible noise, I thought someone was being murdered.
I could still hear her, though, it was nasty, it went right through me, her voice really shrill and desperate. What are you doing with her? Give her to me, give her to me. I ran upstairs and climbed out onto the terrace and I could see, through the trees, two women down by the fence a few gardens over.
One of them was crying—maybe they both were—and there was a child bawling its head off, too. I thought about calling the police, but it all seemed to calm down then. The other one stayed out there. She ran up towards the house, she stumbled and got to her feet and then just sort of wandered round the garden in circles.
Really weird. God knows what was going on. I really miss it. I miss talking to the artists. I even miss dealing with all those tedious yummy mummies who used to drop by, Starbucks in hand, to gawk at the pictures, telling their friends that little Jessie did better pictures than that at nursery school.
Sometimes I feel like seeing if I can track down anybody from the old days, but then I think, what would I talk to them about now? It seems like a shame to waste these long summer days. I put on jeans and a T-shirt, scrape my hair back. I flounce downstairs, half spoiling for a fight. He turns to me with a grin, and my mood lifts instantly. I rearrange my pout to a smile. He hands me a coffee and kisses me. I volunteered to do it, to become a childminder for the people down the road.
At the time, I thought it might be fun. Completely insane, really, I must have been mad. Bored, mad, curious. I wanted to see. I think I got the idea after I heard her yelling out in the garden and I wanted to know what was going on. Scott encouraged me—he was over the moon when I suggested it. He thinks spending time around babies will make me broody. I long for my days at the gallery, prettied up, hair done, talking to adults about art or films or nothing at all.
Nothing at all would be a step up from my conversations with Anna. You get the feeling that she probably had something to say for herself once upon a time, but now everything is about the child: Is she warm enough?
Is she too warm? How much milk did she take? My job is to watch the child while Anna rests, to give her a break. A break from what, exactly?
She flinches every time a train passes, jumps when the phone rings. I leave the house and walk, leaden-legged, the fifty yards along Blenheim Road to their house. No skip in my step. Tom, suited and booted, off to work. I feel so much better, as if anything is possible.
The sky is black above me, swallows looping and diving, the air thick with moisture. I could do a photography course, or set up a market stall, sell jewellery.
I could learn to cook. I had a teacher at school who told me once that I was a mistress of self-reinvention. Runaway, lover, wife, waitress, gallery manager, nanny, and a few more in between. So who do I want to be tomorrow? We were sitting there, around the kitchen table, Anna with the baby on her lap, and Tom had popped back to pick something up, so he was there, too, drinking a cup of coffee, and it just seemed ridiculous, there was absolutely no point in my being there.
Worse than that, I felt uncomfortable, as if I was intruding. She looked relieved. Tom looked mildly surprised. I hate this, hate insomnia more than anything, just lying there, brain going round, tick, tick, tick, tick. I itch all over.
I want to shave my head. I want to run. I want to take a road trip, in a convertible, with the top down. I want to drive to the coast—any coast. I want to walk on a beach. Me and my big brother were going to be road trippers. We had such plans, Ben and I. He died on the A10, his skull crushed beneath the wheels of an articulated lorry. I miss him every day. More than anyone, I think. Or maybe he was just the beginning of it. Which could be weird, but it could be a laugh, too. This is not quite the same thing, of course.
I told him I find it difficult enough talking to people I know about this stuff—I can barely even talk to him about it. Poor Scott. He loves me so much, it makes me ache. I would drive me mad. But I have to do something, and at least this feels like action. I need to find something that I must do, something undeniable.
Wait for a man to come home and love you. Either that or look around for something to distract you. Soft and low. Slightly accented, which I was expecting, because his name is Dr. Kamal Abdic. I guess he must be midthirties, although he looks very young with his incredible dark honey skin.
He has hands I could imagine on me, long and delicate fingers, I can almost feel them on my skin. He asks me whether I take drugs, drink alcohol. I tell him I have other vices these days, and I catch his eye and I think he knows what I mean. Then I feel as if I ought to be taking this a bit more seriously, so I tell him about the gallery closing and that I feel at a loose end all the time, my lack of direction, the fact that I spend too much time in my head.
But I moved to Corly a few years back. Scott is waiting for me when I get home, he thrusts a drink into my hand, he wants to know all about it. I say it was OK. He asks me about the therapist: He asks me whether we talked about Ben. Scott thinks everything is about Ben. He may be right. He may know me better than I think he does. I felt almost refreshed when I got out of bed, so instead of sitting on the terrace I decided to go for a walk.
The only places I seem to go these days are to the shops, my Pilates classes and the therapist. I walk out of the house, turn right and then left onto Kingly Road. Past the pub, the Rose. Past the pub, past the shops. I turn left again, walk down to the little playground, the only rather poor excuse for green space we have. Half the Pilates girls will be here, head to toe in Sweaty Betty, competitively stretching, manicured hands wrapped around their Starbucks.
I carry on past the park and down towards Roseberry Avenue. I tried so hard to make a success of it. Wrong place, wrong time—no call for art in suburbia, not in this economy. Instead, I turn right, past the Tesco Express, past the other pub, the one where people from the estate go, and back towards home.
Tom just ignores me. But Anna seems to take things personally. She obviously thinks that my short-lived career as a nanny came to an end because of her or because of her child. I stop at the corner and peer into the underpass. It reminds me of playing in the garden as a child, looking for frogs by the pond with Ben. I walk on. I slip my flip-flops on and go downstairs, out of the front door and on to Blenheim Road. I walk down the road, towards the station. I stop for a moment outside number twenty-three and think about ringing the doorbell.
What would I say? Ran out of sugar? Just fancied a chat? I carry on towards the corner and, without really thinking about it, I continue down into the underpass. Dropped by a runner, probably, but something about it gives me the creeps and I want to get out of there quickly, back into the sunshine.
On the way back down the road, he passes me in his car, our eyes meet for just a second and he smiles at me. When I drink, I hardly sleep at all. I pass out cold for an hour or two, then I wake, sick with fear, sick with myself. There is just a handful of people in my carriage today, none in my immediate vicinity.
There is no one watching me, so I lean my head against the window and close my eyes. At this time of morning, at this time of year, the sun shines directly onto the back of the trackside houses, flooding them with light.
I can feel him smiling at me, the blush spreading from my chest to my neck, the way it always did when he looked at me a certain way. I can see Jess in her garden, and behind her a man walking out of the house. This man is taller, slender, darker. He bends down, placing the mugs on the metal table on their patio. Jess walks towards him, she puts her hands around his waist and she kisses him, long and deep.
The train moves. Why would she do that? I feel a real sense of disappointment, I feel as though I have been cheated on. A familiar ache fills my chest. I have felt this way before. On a larger scale, to a more intense degree, of course, but I remember the quality of the pain. I found out the way everyone seems to find out these days: I wanted it to be a surprise, so I had to check his work schedule secretly, I had to look.
Once, I answered his phone when he was in the shower and he got quite upset and accused me of not trusting him. I felt awful because he seemed so hurt.
It was the perfect opportunity, so I had a look at his calendar, noted down some dates. When I closed down the browser window with his calendar in it, there was his email account, logged in, laid bare.
There was a message at the top from aboyd cinnamon. I clicked. That was it, just a line of Xs. I thought it was spam at first, until I realized that they were kisses. I fell asleep last night thinking of you, I was dreaming about kissing your mouth, your breasts, the inside of your thighs. I woke this morning with my head full of you, desperate to touch you. I read through his messages: He told her so, often.
I feel a flash of intense anger. I feel as though something has been taken away from me. How could she? How could Jess do this? What is wrong with her? Look at the life they have, look at how beautiful it is!
I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts. Who was it said that following your heart is a good thing? It is pure egotism, a selfishness to conquer all. Hatred floods me. If I saw that woman now, if I saw Jess, I would spit in her face. I would scratch her eyes out. The 5: I, fortunately, have a seat, but by the aisle, not next to the window, and there are bodies pressed against my shoulder, my knee, invading my space.
I have an urge to push back, to get up and shove. I cannot get enough oxygen into my lungs. I feel sick. I blame Jess. I was walking around in a daze, not concentrating on where I was going. Without thinking, I went into the coffee shop that everyone from Huntingdon Whitely uses. Martin Miles with Sasha and Harriet, a triumvirate of awkwardness, beckoning, waving me over.
Sasha and Harriet smiled, gave me tentative air- kisses, trying not to get too close. Not one. Harriet and Sasha were looking over my shoulder at the door, they were embarrassed for me, they wanted a way out. I walked to the very far end, next to the zoo. I must have been there for less than half an hour when my mobile rang. It was Tom again, calling from the home phone.
I tried to picture him, working at his laptop in our sunny kitchen, but the image was spoilt by encroachments from his new life. She would be there somewhere, in the background, making tea or feeding the little girl, her shadow falling over him. I let the call go to voice mail. I put the phone back into my bag and tried to ignore it. I held out for about three minutes before I retrieved the phone and dialled into voice mail.
I opened the first one and drank it as fast as I could, and then opened the second. I called my voice mail again. Our little family. With our problems and our routines. Fucking bitch.
She has taken everything from me. She has taken everything and now she calls me to tell me that my distress is inconvenient for her?
I finish the second can and make a start on the third. The blissful rush of alcohol hitting my bloodstream lasts only a few minutes, and then I feel sick. Everything she has is secondhand. I want to know how that makes her feel. I want to call her back and ask her, What does it feel like, Anna, to live in my house, surrounded by the furniture I bought, to sleep in the bed that I shared with him for years, to feed your child at the kitchen table he fucked me on? I still find it extraordinary that they chose to stay there, in that house, in my house.
I loved that house. I was the one who insisted we download it, despite its location. I liked being down there on the tracks, I liked watching the trains go by, I enjoyed the sound of them, not the scream of an inner-city express but the old-fashioned trundling of ancient rolling stock.
But he never found the right downloader, instead he moved her in, and she loved the house like I did, and they decided to stay.
She must be very secure in herself, I suppose, in them, for it not to bother her, to walk where another woman has walked before.
I want to ring Anna up and remind her that Assia ended up with her head in the oven, just like Sylvia did. I must have fallen asleep, the gin and the hot sun lulling me. I woke with a start, scrabbling around desperately for my handbag. It was still there. My skin was prickling, I was alive with ants, they were in my hair and on my neck and chest and I leaped to my feet, clawing them away. Two teenage boys, kicking a football back and forth twenty yards away, stopped to watch, bent double with laughter.
The train stops. I know from the quality of the light, from the sounds of the street outside my window, from the sound of Cathy vacuuming the hallway right outside my room. Cathy gets up early to clean the house every Saturday, no matter what. It could be her birthday, it could be the morning of the Rapture—Cathy will get up early on Saturday to clean. I cannot sleep in the mornings; I cannot snooze peacefully until midday.
The more I want to be oblivious, the less I can be. Life and light will not let me be. The day stretches out in front of me, not a minute of it filled. I could sit on the sofa with a cup of tea and Saturday Kitchen on TV. I could go to the gym. I could rewrite my CV.
I could wait for Cathy to leave the house, go to the off-licence and download two bottles of sauvignon blanc.
In another life, I woke early, too, the sound of the 8: I felt him behind me, sleepy, warm, hard. Afterwards, he went to get the papers and I made scrambled eggs, we sat in the kitchen drinking tea, we went to the pub for a late lunch, we fell asleep, tangled up together in front of the TV.
The pain is solid and heavy, it sits in the middle of my chest. I cannot wait for Cathy to leave the house. I spent all day in my bedroom, waiting for Cathy to go out so that I could have a drink.
I went to the Wheatsheaf, the big, anonymous pub just off High Street, and I drank three large glasses of wine. Then I walked to the station, bought a couple of cans of gin and tonic and got onto the train. I am going to see Jason. Nothing like that. Nothing crazy. I just want to go past the house, roll by on the train. I just want to see him.
I want to see them. But what harm can it do? Trains are wonderful. Before, when I was still myself, I used to dream of taking romantic train journeys with Tom. The Bergen Line for our fifth anniversary, the Blue Train for his fortieth. Vision doubling. Close one eye. There they are! Is that him? Is that Jason? Is that Jess? I want to be closer to them. This is not a good idea. This is a very bad idea. I want to say something to him, but the words keep evaporating, vanishing off my tongue before I have the chance to say them.
Is he smiling at me, or is he sneering? My mouth is dry, it hurts to swallow. I roll onto my side, my face turned to the window. The curtains are drawn, but what light there is hurts my eyes.
I bring my hand up to my face; I press my fingers against my eyelids, trying to rub away the ache. My fingernails are filthy. Something is wrong. Last night. Something happened. The breath comes sharply into my lungs and I sit up, too quickly, heart racing, head throbbing.
I wait for the memory to come. Sometimes it takes a while. Something happened, something bad. There was an argument. Voices were raised. I went to the pub, I got onto the train, I was at the station, I was on the street. Blenheim Road. I went to Blenheim Road. It comes over me like a wave: Something happened, I know it did. I feel nauseated, dizzy. I run my hands through my hair, over my scalp. I flinch. My hair is matted with blood. On the stairs at Witney station. Did I hit my head?
I remember being on the train, but after that there is a gulf of blackness, a void. What did I do? I went to the pub, I got on the train. There was a man there—I remember now, reddish hair. He smiled at me. I look around the room. My phone is not on the bedside table. I get out of bed. I catch sight of myself in the full-length mirror on the wardrobe.
My hands are trembling. Mascara is smeared over my cheekbones, and I have a cut on my lower lip. There are bruises on my legs. I sit back down on the bed and put my head between my knees, waiting for the wave of nausea to pass.
I get to my feet, grab my dressing gown and open the bedroom door just a crack. The flat is quiet. Before I went out? Or did I speak to her later? I walk as quietly as I can out into the hallway.
I peer into her room. Her bed is made. At the top of the stairs I feel dizzy again and grip the banister tightly.
It is one of my great fears along with bleeding into my belly when my liver finally packs up that I will fall down the stairs and break my neck. Thinking about this makes me feel ill again.
I want to lie down, but I need to find my bag, check my phone.
My handbag has been dumped in the hallway, just inside the front door. My jeans and underwear sit next to it in a crumpled pile; I can smell the urine from the bottom of the stairs.
I have to lie down. Upstairs, I plug in my phone and lie down on the bed. I raise my limbs, gently, gingerly, to inspect them. There are bruises on my legs, above the knees, standard drink-related stuff, the sort of bruises you get from walking into things. My upper arms bear more worrying marks, dark, oval impressions that look like fingerprints.
The crack on my head feels bad, but it could be from something as innocuous as getting into a car. I might have taken a taxi home. I pick up my phone. There are two messages. The second is from Tom, received at ten fifteen. I have had enough of this, all right? She thought you were going to. Leave us alone. Stop calling me, stop hanging around, just leave us alone.
Do you understand me? Not anymore.
Just stay away from us. Why was Tom looking for me? What did I do to Anna? I pull the duvet over my head, close my eyes tightly. I think about sliding open the glass doors, stealthily creeping into the kitchen. I grab her from behind, I wind my hand into her long blond hair, I jerk her head backwards, I pull her to the floor and I smash her head against the cool blue tiles.
From the angle of the light streaming in through my bedroom window I can tell I have been sleeping a long time; it must be late afternoon, early evening. My head hurts. I can hear someone yelling downstairs. And my clothes in the hallway. Oh God, oh God.
I pull on a pair of tracksuit bottoms and a T-shirt. Cathy is standing right outside my bedroom door when I open it. She looks horrified when she sees me. I cannot have this in my house. I cannot have. You were drunk. You were hungover. I cannot live like this. You have to go, OK? I sit down on the bed and flip open my laptop, log in to my email account and start to compose a note to my mother. I think, finally, the time has come. I have to ask her for help. I can picture her face as she reads my plea for help, the sour disappointment, the exasperation.
I can almost hear her sigh. My phone beeps. My heartbeat quickens as I dial into my voice mail, bracing myself for the worst. You were in some state last night. I do feel sorry for you, Rachel, I really do, but this has just got to stop.
I will never begrudge him happiness—I only wish it could be with me. I lie down on the bed and crawl under the duvet. I want to know what happened; I wish I knew what I had to be sorry for. I try desperately to make sense of an elusive fragment of memory. I feel certain that I was in an argument, or that I witnessed an argument. Was that with Anna?