‘I needed to make you understand that I didn’t want you anywhere near me – near us. So I took you back up the road into the underpass so that you wouldn’t be making a scene in the street. And I told you to stay away. And you cried and whined, so I gave you a smack to shut you up, and you cried and whined some more.’ He’s talking through gritted teeth; I can see the muscle tensing in his jaw. ‘I was so pissed off, I just wanted you to go away and leave us alone, you and Megan. I have my family. I have a good life.’ He glances over at Anna, who is trying to get the child to sit down in the high chair. Her face is completely expressionless. ‘I’ve made a good life for myself, despite you, despite Megan – despite everything.
‘It was after I’d seen you that Megan came along. She was heading down towards Blenheim Road. I couldn’t let her go to the house. I couldn’t let her talk to Anna, could I? I told her that we could go somewhere and talk, and I meant it – that was all I was going to do. So we got into the car and drove to Corly, to the wood. It was a place we sometimes used to go, if we hadn’t got a room. Do it in the car.’
From my seat on the sofa, I can feel Anna flinch.
‘You have to believe me, Anna, I didn’t intend for things to go the way they did.’ Tom looks at her, then hunches over, looking down at the palms of his hands. ‘She started going on about the baby – she didn’t know if it was mine or his. She wanted everything out in the open, and if it was mine she’d be OK with me seeing it … I was saying, I’m not interested in your baby, it’s got nothing to do with me.’ He shakes his head. ‘She got all upset, but when Megan gets upset … she’s not like Rachel. There’s no crying and whining. She was screaming at me, swearing, saying all sorts of shit, telling me she’d go straight to Anna, she wasn’t going to be ignored, her child wasn’t going to be neglected … Christ, she just wouldn’t fucking shut up. So … I don’t know, I just needed her to stop. So I picked up a rock …’ – he stares down at his right hand, as though he can see it now – ‘and I just …’ He closes his eyes and sighs deeply. ‘It was just one hit, but she was …’ He puffs out his cheeks, exhales slowly. ‘I didn’t mean for this. I just wanted her to stop. She was bleeding a lot. She was crying, making a horrible noise. She tried to crawl away from me. There was nothing I could do. I had to finish it.’
The sun is gone, the room is dark. It’s quiet, save for the sound of Tom’s breathing, ragged and shallow. There’s no street noise. I can’t remember the last time I heard a train.
‘I put her in the boot of the car,’ he says. ‘I drove a bit further into the wood, off the road. There was no one around. I had to dig …’ His breathing is shallower still, quickening. ‘I had to dig with my bare hands. I was afraid.’ He looks up at me, his pupils huge. ‘Afraid that someone would come. And it was painful, my fingernails ripped in the soil. It took a long time. I had to stop to phone Anna, to tell her I was out looking for you.’
He clears his throat. ‘The ground was actually quite soft, but I still couldn’t go down as deep as I wanted. I was so afraid that someone would come. I thought there would be a chance to go back, later on, when things had all died down. I thought I would be able to move her, put her somewhere … better. But then it started raining and I never got the chance.’
He looks up at me with a frown. ‘I was almost sure that the police would go for Scott. She told me how paranoid he was about her screwing around, that he used to read her emails, check up on her. I thought … well, I was planning to put her phone in his house at some point. I don’t know. I thought I might go round there for a beer or something, a friendly neighbour kind of thing. I don’t know. I didn’t have a plan. I hadn’t thought it all through. It wasn’t like a premeditated thing. It was just a terrible accident.’
But then his demeanour changes again. It’s like clouds scudding across the sky, now dark, now light. He gets to his feet and walks slowly over to the kitchen, where Anna is now sitting at the table, feeding Evie. He kisses her on the top of the head, then lifts his daughter out of the chair.
‘Tom …’ Anna starts to protest.
‘It’s OK.’ He smiles at his wife. ‘I just want a cuddle. Don’t I, darling?’ He goes over to the fridge with his daughter in his arms and pulls out a beer. He looks over at me. ‘You want one?’
I shake my head.
‘No, best not, I suppose.’
I hardly hear him. I’m calculating whether I can reach the front door from here before he can get hold of me. If it’s just on the latch, I reckon I could make it. If he’s locked it, then I’d be in trouble. I pitch myself forward and run. I get into the hallway – my hand is almost on the door handle when I feel the bottle hit the back of my skull. There’s an explosion of pain, white before my eyes, and I crumple to my knees. His fingers twist into my hair as he grabs a fistful and pulls, dragging me back into the living room, where he lets go. He stands above me, straddling me, one foot on either side of my hips. His daughter is still in his arms but Anna is at his side, tugging at her.
‘Give her to me, Tom, please. You’re going to hurt her. Please, give her to me.’
He hands the wailing Evie over to Anna.
I can hear Tom talking, but it seems like he’s a long way away, or as though I’m hearing him through water. I can make out the words but they somehow don’t seem to apply to me, to what’s happening to me. Everything is happening at one remove.
‘Go upstairs,’ he says. ‘Go into the bedroom and shut the door. You mustn’t call anyone, OK? I mean it, Anna. You don’t want to call anyone. Not with Evie here. We don’t want things to turn nasty.’ Anna doesn’t look down at me. She clutches the child to her chest, steps over me and hurries away.
Tom bends down, slips his hands into the waistband of my jeans, grabs hold of them and drags me along the floor into the kitchen. I’m kicking out with my legs, trying to get a hold of something, but I can’t. I can’t see properly – tears are stinging my eyes, everything is a blur. The pain in my head is excruciating as I bump along the floor and I feel a wave of nausea come over me. There’s hot, white pain as something connects with my temple. Then nothing.