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Authors: Frances Fyfield

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BOOK: Staring At The Light
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On the fifth or sixth of January, she could not recall which, since the days were blurred, punctuated by nothing more than
darkness and light and the obliteration of messages on the answer-machine, she walked down the road in the early morning dark
and put the remainder of the Valium prescription into a rubbish bin. Shoved some noxious household rubbish on top, so that
she would not be tempted to return and fish through it later, wiped her hands on her trousers and went home and washed her
hair. Took every single picture off the walls, dusted them and propped them in layers in doorways, according to size. It took
brute strength and hammer blows to dislodge the nails supporting the lifelong friends. Then she sorted out the contents of
her wardrobe, preserving only what she loved best and putting the rest into sacks. Her labelling of these was precise, laborious
and clear. There were good clothes, not so good clothes, and clothes so mistaken, so shrunken, so far too well worn no-one
would benefit from their existence, kept out of sentiment or laziness. She piled the
last category on the kitchen floor and systematically cut them into very small pieces with a pair of sharp scissors. Then
she threw the kitchen plates she had always disliked out of the window at the back, listened to them break in the back garden.
Good
.

Tomorrow she would go and see if she could find that red dress in the sale. She knew it would be there. Opened the wine; wrote
notes in a small, crabbed hand.

William is one of the nicest men you could ever meet. You can’t stand the fact that he hurt you, even though it was a situation
where you knew, and he knew, that there was no choice
.

He couldn’t love me and do what he did. Yes, he could. He saved you from worse. What do you think you’ve done to him? What
does it feel like to be a torturer? Is it worse than being tortured
?

It achieved something … didn’t it
? YES. The survival of a partnership; the possible survival of a child.

No matter which child.

Earlier in the afternoon she had taken the painting Cannon had lifted from the exhibition to the post office. Sent it, carefully
overwrapped, to the dealers described on the label on the back.

That was the day before Julie came round, cool on the heels of the policeman who wanted to check with her what the fat man
had said and then retracted. Spoke a whole lot of rubbish and then took it back, troubled first by conscience, then by fear
of the consequences. Julie, sitting in the corner of the barren
living room, looking at the ragged holes in the walls where the pictures had been. Julie, hell-bent on the survival of what
was hers and knowing beyond doubt that the pursuit of love justified everything and anything, wanting co-operation, looking
at Sarah as if she was an
it
. Thanking her as if she was a stranger, relieved to see she looked
normal
. Asking odd, airy questions about inheritance between brothers, DNA between twins and a mixed bag of queries that showed
an overburdened mind in an anxiously pregnant body and making her final announcement on leaving. They were the same height
when they stood up to say goodbye, like actresses paired for a part. Julie made the final announcement.

Cannon says William loves you. He’ll never stop, Cannon says. You mustn’t let Johnnyboy win with him too, you know.

In the silence, Sarah lit another of the cigarettes which were bad for her teeth, blew a defiant smoke ring into an empty
room.

If William thought he loved her, he had better fight for it. She could not quite stop crying and she was not going to try
any more. If he could not recognize her from closer than three paces, no-one could. And in the absence of that close scrutiny
of love, liking would suffice. It was recognition that mattered.

Yes
, it was worth it. Even with the lies.

They were all safe. If there were any thanks, she had not asked for them anyway. She would keep the secrets. Begin all over
again, with an empty slate.

*

Julie found a church on the way home. A silent place, empty of people. She needed to pray.

Listen, Lord, forget it. He raped me, right? Got that? He came round with his fat mate and his pillow-case, put that over
my head, no lie about
that
, told me to get lost and I told him get lost too. Stood three yards away and told me Cannon would never be able to get a
kid, said he tried hard enough with all those other girls when he was younger, never stopped trying, if you get my meaning.
Obsessed with babies. Nothing happened. That’s what Johnny said. You want one, better be mine, be mine, be mine … that’s what
he would want … you aren’t enough to keep him. Who do you think you are?

And I believed him, Lord, for a minute. Let him take me from behind so he didn’t have to look. Then he went mad with disgust
and I went mad too, because I must have been insane to think Cannon would never stay with me without a baby. Or think there
had been other girls. Anyone with Cannon for a second would know there were never any other girls. I dived over the stairs;
I threw myself against walls; I clawed at my skin, long after they hit me. I screamed at him and he laughed. I
know
whose baby this is. Does it matter, Lord? Blood tests wouldn’t tell, because the blood will be the same, and even You don’t
know, do you? Fine God you are. Cannon wanted something to remember him by. Now he has it. And I love him.

Is that all right, Lord?

*

The bubble of happiness blew as large as a balloon and drifted away. She does not want to see me, or maybe she does. She forgives
me, or maybe she doesn’t. The decorators come tomorrow and I shall
not
have the walls painted white. I am still wearing my gloves.

William reached the green across the road from her flat, sprinted across, rang the bell. No preliminary phone call, like other
men, he was simply
here
. Muttering under his breath the opening line, ‘Anything you want fixing, lady?’

Empty.
SOLD
written on the board outside. He was always slow.

She had said she was moving. She had said she had fallen in love with that new place, lovingly described. Street name? He
could not recall. Description, rough location …
YES
. He had nodded when she told him about it, got the idea. There were highly distinctive railings outside; he had a rough idea
where he had seen them.

He hailed a taxi to take him back to his own front door. After that, he had to stroll in a way which was precise and casual,
because if he was to see her in the headlights of a car, she might be running. He began to walk in slow concentric circles.

Looking for the other sign that said,
SOLD
.

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