Afternoon


The matter should be closed for me now. All this time, I’ve been thinking that there was something to remember, something I was missing. But there isn’t. I didn’t see anything important or do anything terrible. I just happened to be on the same street. I know this now, courtesy of the red-haired man. And yet there’s an itch at the back of my brain that I just can’t scratch.

Neither Gaskill nor Riley was at the police station; I gave my statement to a bored-looking uniformed officer. It will be filed and forgotten about, I assume, unless I turn up dead in a ditch somewhere. My interview was on the opposite side of town to where Scott lives, but I took a taxi from the police station. I’m not taking any chances. It went as well as it could: the job itself is utterly beneath me, but then I seem to have become beneath me over the past year or two. I need to reset the scale. The big drawback (other than the crappy pay and the lowliness of the job itself) will be having to come to Witney all the time, to walk these streets and risk running into Scott or Anna and her child.

Because bumping into people is all I seem to do in this neck of the woods. It’s one of the things I used to like about the place: the village-on-the-edge-of-London feel. You might not know everyone, but faces are familiar.

I’m almost at the station, just passing the Crown when I feel a hand on my arm and I wheel around, slipping off the pavement and into the road.

‘Hey, hey, I’m sorry. I’m sorry.’ It’s him again, the red-haired man, pint in one hand, the other raised in supplication. ‘You’re jumpy, aren’t you?’ he grins. I must look really frightened, because the grin fades. ‘Are you all right? I didn’t mean to scare you.’

He’s knocked off early, he says, and invites me to have a drink with him. I say no, and then I change my mind.

‘I owe you an apology,’ I say, when he – Andy, as it turns out – brings me my gin and tonic, ‘for the way I behaved on the train. Last time, I mean. I was having a bad day.’

‘S’all right,’ Andy says. His smile is slow and lazy, I don’t think this is his first pint. We’re sitting opposite each other in the beer garden at the back of the pub; it feels safer here than on the street side. Perhaps it’s the safe feeling that emboldens me. I take my chance.

‘I wanted to ask you about what happened,’ I say. ‘The night that I met you. The night that Meg— The night that woman disappeared.’

‘Oh. Right. Why? What d’you mean?’

I take a deep breath. I can feel my face reddening. No matter how many times you have to admit this, it’s always embarrassing, it always makes you cringe. ‘I was very drunk and I don’t remember. There are some things I need to sort out. I just want to know if you saw anything, if you saw me talking to anyone else, anything like that …’ I’m staring down at the table, I can’t meet his eye.

He nudges my foot with his. ‘It’s all right, you didn’t do anything bad.’ I look up and he’s smiling. ‘I was pissed, too. We had a bit of a chat on the train, I can’t remember what about. Then we both got off here, at Witney, and you were a bit unsteady on your feet. You slipped on the steps. You remember? I helped you up and you were all embarrassed, blushing like you are now.’ He laughs. ‘We walked out together, and I asked you if you wanted to go to the pub. But you said you had to go and meet your husband.’

‘That’s it?’

‘No. Do you really not remember? It was a while later – I don’t know, half an hour, maybe? I’d been to the Crown, but a mate rang and said he was drinking in a bar over on the other side of the railway track, so I was heading down to the underpass. You’d fallen over. You were in a bit of a mess then. You’d cut yourself. I was a bit worried, I said I’d see you home if you wanted, but you wouldn’t hear of it. You were … well, you were very upset. I think there’d been a row with your bloke. He was heading off down the street, and I said I’d go after him if you wanted me to, but you said not to. He drove off somewhere after that. He was … er … he was with someone.’

‘A woman?’

He nods, ducks his head a bit. ‘Yeah, they got into a car together. I assumed that was what the argument was about.’

‘And then?’

‘Then you walked off. You seemed a little … confused or something, and you walked off. You kept saying you didn’t need any help. As I said, I was a bit wasted myself, so I just left it. I went down through the underpass and met my mate in the pub. That was it.’

Climbing the stairs to the apartment, I feel sure that I can see shadows above me, hear footsteps ahead. Someone waiting on the landing above. There’s no one there, of course, and the flat is empty, too: it feels untouched, it smells empty, but that doesn’t stop me checking every room – under my bed and under Cathy’s, in the wardrobes and the closet in the kitchen that couldn’t conceal a child.

Finally, after about three tours of the flat, I can stop. I go upstairs and sit on the bed and think about the conversation I had with Andy, the fact that it tallies with what I remember. There is no great revelation: Tom and I argued in the street, I slipped and hurt myself, he stormed off and got into his car with Anna. Later he came back looking for me, but I’d already gone. I got into a taxi, I assume, or back on to the train.

I sit on my bed looking out of the window and wonder why I don’t feel better. Perhaps it’s simply because I still don’t have any answers. Perhaps it’s because although what I remember tallies with what other people remember, something still feels off. Then it strikes me: Anna. It’s not just that Tom never mentioned going anywhere in the car with her, it’s the fact that when I saw her, walking away, getting into the car, she wasn’t carrying the baby. Where was Evie while all this was going on?

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Evening

I need to speak to Tom, to get things straight in my head, because the more I go over it, the less sense it makes, and I can’t stop going over it. I’m worried, in any case, because it’s two days since I left him that note and he hasn’t got back to me. He didn’t answer his phone last night, he’s not been answering it all day. Something’s not right, and I can’t shake the feeling that it has to do with Anna.

I know that he’ll want to talk to me, too, after he hears about what happened with Scott. I know that he’ll want to help. I can’t stop thinking about the way he was that day in the car, about how things felt between us. So I pick up the phone and dial his number, butterflies in my stomach, just the way it always used to be, the anticipation of hearing his voice as acute now as it was years ago.

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