Times and dates, mostly. Not dates. Days. Monday at 3? Friday, 4.30. Sometimes, a refusal. Can’t tomorrow. Not Weds. There’s nothing else: no declarations of love, no explicit suggestions. Just text messages, about a dozen of them, all from a withheld number. There are no contacts in the phone book and the call log has been erased.


I don’t need dates, because the phone records them. The meetings go back months. They go back almost a year. When I realized this, when I saw that the first one was from September last year, a hard lump formed in my throat. September! Evie was six months old. I was still fat, exhausted, raw, off sex. But then I start to laugh, because this is just ridiculous, it can’t be true. We were blissfully happy in September, in love with each other and with our new baby. There is no way he was sneaking around with her, no way in hell that he’s been seeing her all this time. I would have known. It can’t be true. The phone isn’t his.

Still. I get my harassment log from the bedside table and look at the calls, comparing them with the meetings arranged on the phone. Some of them coincide. Some calls are a day or two before, some a day or two after. Some don’t correlate at all.

Could he really have been seeing her all this time, telling me that she was hassling him, harassing him, when in reality they were making plans to meet up, to sneak around behind my back? But why would she be calling him on the landline if she had this phone to call? It doesn’t make sense. Unless she wanted me to know. Unless she was trying to provoke trouble between us?

Tom has been gone almost two hours now, he’ll be back soon from wherever he’s been. I make the bed, put the log and the phone back in the bedside table, go downstairs, pour myself one final glass of wine and drink it quickly. I could call her. I could confront her. But what would I say? There’s no moral high ground for me to take. And I’m not sure I could bear it, the delight she would take in telling me that all this time, I’ve been the fool. If he does it with you, he’ll do it to you.

I hear footsteps on the pavement outside and I know it’s him, I know his gait. I shove the wine glass into the sink and I stand there, leaning against the kitchen counter, the blood pounding in my ears.

‘Hello,’ he says when he sees me. He looks sheepish, he’s weaving just a little.

‘They serve beer at the gym now, do they?’

He grins. ‘I forgot my stuff. I went to the pub.’

Just as I thought. Or just as he thought I would think?

He comes a little closer. ‘What have you been up to?’ he asks me, a smile on his lips. ‘You look guilty.’ He slips his arms around my waist and pulls me close. I can smell the beer on his breath. ‘Have you been up to no good?’

‘Tom …’

‘Shhh,’ he says and he kisses my mouth, starts unbuttoning my jeans. He turns me around. I don’t want to, but I don’t know how to say no, so I close my eyes and try not to think of him with her, I try to think of the early days, running round to the empty house on Cranham Street, breathless, desperate, hungry.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Early morning

I wake with a fright; it’s still dark. I think I can hear Evie crying, but when I go through to check on her, she’s sleeping deeply, her blanket clutched tightly between closed fists. I go back to bed, but I can’t fall asleep again. All I can think about is the phone in the bedside drawer. I glance over at Tom, lying with his left arm flung out, his head thrown back. I can tell from the cadence of his breathing that he’s far from consciousness. I slip out of bed, open the drawer and take out the phone.

Downstairs in the kitchen, I turn the phone over and over in my hand, preparing myself. I want to know, but I don’t. I want to be sure, but I want so desperately to be wrong. I turn it on. I press ‘one’ and hold it, I hear the voicemail welcome. I hear that I have no new messages and no saved messages. Would I like to change my greeting? I end the call, but am suddenly gripped by the completely irrational fear that the phone could ring, that Tom would hear it from upstairs, so I slide the French doors open and step outside.

The grass is damp beneath my feet, the air cool, heavy with the scent of rain and roses. I can hear a train in the distance, a slow growl, it’s a long way off. I walk almost as far as the fence before I dial the voicemail again: would I like to change my greeting? Yes, I would. There’s a beep and a pause and then I hear her voice. Her voice, not his. Hi, it’s me, leave a message.

My heart has stopped beating.

It’s not his phone, it’s hers.

I play it again.

Hi, it’s me, leave a message.

It’s her voice.

I can’t move, can’t breathe. I play it again, and again. My throat is closed, I feel as though I’m going to faint, and then the light comes on upstairs.

RACHEL

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Early morning

ONE PIECE OF THE memory led to the next. It’s as though I’d been blundering about in the dark for days, weeks, months, then finally caught hold of something. Like running my hand along a wall to find my way from one room to the next. Shifting shadows started at last to coalesce and after a while my eyes became accustomed to the gloom, and I could see.

Not at first. At first, although it felt like a memory, I thought it must be a dream. I sat there, on the sofa, almost paralysed with shock, telling myself that it wouldn’t be the first time I’d misremembered something, wouldn’t be the first time that I’d thought things went a certain way when in fact they had played out differently.

Like that time we went to a party thrown by a colleague of Tom’s, and I was very drunk, but we’d had a good night. I remember kissing Clara goodbye. Clara was the colleague’s wife, a lovely woman, warm and kind. I remember her saying that we should get together again; I remember her holding my hand in hers.

I remembered that so clearly, but it wasn’t true. I knew it wasn’t true the next morning when Tom turned his back on me when I tried to speak to him. I know it isn’t true because he told me how disappointed and embarrassed he was, that I’d accused Clara of flirting with him, that I’d been hysterical and abusive.

When I closed my eyes I could feel her hand, warm against my skin, but that didn’t actually happen. What really happened is that Tom had to half-carry me out of the house, me crying and shouting all the way, while poor Clara cowered in the kitchen.

So when I closed my eyes, when I drifted into a half-dream and found myself in that underpass, I may have been able to feel the cold and smell the rank, stale air, I may have been able to see a figure walking towards me, spitting rage, fist raised, but it wasn’t true. The terror I felt wasn’t real. And when the shadow struck, leaving me there on the ground, crying and bleeding, that wasn’t real either.

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