What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller (3 page)

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
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‘I don’t understand why we need to have her living with us,’ Tom says. ‘Why not simply have someone in to clean a couple of times a week?’

‘Because we have the room and in the long run I think it saves us money.’

Tom doesn’t comment but his opinion is written all over his face. It’s that look, the one I first noticed when we’d been seeing each other for almost six months and I asked him why he hadn’t left his wife yet. It was our first argument and it had shaken my trust in him. I glimpsed a rigidity, an intractability that I didn’t like. We were having lunch in Harvey Nichols and he was already moody in case we bumped into people who knew him. His expression was cloudy and intense as if a storm was about to break. He moved his hand off the table when I stretched mine out to him. He told me that he was waiting until his son had completed his Highers and his father-in-law had recovered from an operation. The family didn’t need any more drama. ‘Any more drama’ – that’s exactly how he put it.

‘Maybe you’re right about Katarina.’ I kiss him, starting just beneath his ear and working towards his lips. I feel him relax and he kisses me back. He’s a better kisser than any man I’ve ever met. He makes me feel dizzy, heady, girlish even. ‘I can stop at the dry-cleaners,’ I say, pulling back for air. ‘I’ll have time.’

‘You’re an angel,’ he says. ‘It’s my dinner suit. I’ll need it for my trip to London.’ He slides his hand between my legs. I’m already wet from the kissing, the lining of my mouth tingles, my body is showing me it’s keen to keep going but my mind is already preoccupied with the day ahead.

‘Katarina might come in.’ I take his hand, kiss his fingers and stare down at my crotch and then his, lick my lips. ‘Let’s save ourselves for this evening.’

He groans as if wounded but I can see that in reality he enjoys being denied. He stands up and I follow him to the front door. ‘Please have a word with her, Leila.’ He trails his index finger along the length of my spine from my neck to my arse. ‘It’s surely only a matter of time before she crashes the Mini or breaks something expensive.’

‘You’re right. I will.’ I wait until he’s climbed into his car and I wave him off before walking through the house, into the back garden. The sun is weak, obstinate grey clouds obscuring the heat and light. I walk across the patio and onto the wet grass that’s cold on my bare feet; I shiver but don’t stop walking.

The garden is divided into three distinct sections, which I like because it means I can’t be seen smoking from the house. People perceive smoking as a weakness because any intelligent, informed adult would give up if she could, wouldn’t she? Ergo, if such an adult continues to smoke, she must be weak, addicted, needy, and all the bad things that those traits imply.

Bollocks.

At the bottom of the garden, behind the wild rose bushes, is a well-placed garden hut, and inside the hut, paint pots and varnish hide my stash of tobacco and cigarette papers. I’m not succumbing to temptation. I’m succumbing to want. Some people would say there’s no point in drinking kale and avocado smoothies if I ruin it with a cigarette. My internal sensor tells me different. My internal sensor tells me that smoking is nothing. Smoking is the lesser of all the evils. Better to be a smoker than an alcoholic or a sex addict. You don’t do my job and get hysterical about a minuscule dose of nicotine and a pinch of tar. Everyone is entitled to kindness. I say that to my clients often enough and it’s true. A life of strict denial is no life at all.

So be kind to yourself – smoke the hell out of a cigarette if that’s what you want to do and fuck the naysayers.

I roll two cigarettes expertly between thumb and forefinger, then light the end and inhale.

Bliss.

I smoke one after the other and spend a prolonged minute relishing the rush of nicotine before I refocus my mind for the day ahead.

Clients first. The appointments are scheduled on the hour and are fifty minutes long; the ten minutes in between I spend writing notes on the previous client and then reminding myself of the needs of the client who is about to arrive. I enjoy my job. I’d even go so far as to say I love my job because I’m able to make a difference. If that sounds trite then I make no apologies for that. The fact of the matter is that I am skilled in my work. I’m able to guide my clients from a point of distress to a point of resolution. How can that not be special?

I stroll back through the garden, running my fingers over bushes and flowers, and think about Tom’s wife Ellen, a woman I’ve never met and don’t care to. I lack curiosity where she is concerned. I’m clear in my own mind that Ellen is part of Tom’s past and not part of our future. Tom has told me very little about her and I haven’t asked because the details aren’t for me to know.

That said, occasionally I can’t help but consider Ellen, because it was Ellen who designed and maintained the garden. Chloe and Ben told me this on Sunday when they noticed the changes their father and I are making. Ben seemed disappointed, but Chloe was visibly angry, even when I assured her that we are simply tidying the garden up, pruning back some of the wildness to introduce more light. Chloe’s mood remained surly throughout the meal and she left early – Ben went with her, saying he needed to ‘be somewhere’ – and Tom asked me to ‘just leave them be’.

I didn’t want to leave them be. I would have preferred to talk it over. Chloe and Ben are adults, and they need to understand that their dad has moved on and that perhaps they should move on too. I held my tongue though, because Tom has been careful where Alex is concerned, not often interfering in my relationship with my son even though Alex is frequently rude to him. Alex hasn’t taken to Tom, just as Tom’s children haven’t taken to me. We are becoming a blended family and there will be teething problems. It’s only to be expected.

I clear the breakfast dishes off the table just as Katarina comes into the kitchen wearing her garish dressing gown and an expression of benign self-pity.

‘Good morning, Katarina,’ I say.

‘Good morning, Leila.’ She gives me a weak smile.

‘I need you to do something for me today.’

‘I am cleaning the bathrooms today,’ she says, dropping bread into the toaster. ‘I am washing the floors.’

‘That’s great. Thank you.’ I smile. ‘But I’d also like you to walk to the dry-cleaners in the high street and collect Tom’s suit.’

A suspicious frown brings her prominent eyebrows into collision. ‘I don’t know this.’

‘Yes, you do!’ I encourage. ‘You came with me last week. We stopped at the bank and then we went into the baker – the one with the green lettering across the glass.’ I pause to make space for her to reply. She fills it with a weighty silence. ‘Do you know where I mean?’ I say.

Her face is completely blank. She isn’t even trying to remember. I don’t have time to walk to the dry-cleaners myself and it’s impossible to park in the high street. Double yellow lines stretch along its length and further, into the side streets where traffic wardens swoop out of nowhere like pigeons to a picnic. What’s more, the walk would do Katarina good. There is more than one layer of puppy fat hiding in the folds of the dressing gown.

‘Katarina?’

She doesn’t reply. She’s busy helping herself to a large dollop of butter to spread over her toast. If Katarina were my daughter, I’m sure I’d have developed strategies to cope with her, but three months isn’t time enough for a full-scale assault on the girl’s personality. I grab a pen and paper. ‘This is the address,’ I tell her, writing quickly. ‘If you really can’t remember where it is then use the map icon on your phone.’ I push the paper across the breakfast bar towards her. ‘Clean up the kitchen. I’ll be in my consulting room. My first client arrives in twenty minutes.’

I can feel her watching me as I leave the room. I expect that if I had eyes in the back of my head I would see her scowling.

The space I’ve remodelled for my therapy rooms is not part of the original house but an extension built on in the nineties. There is a connecting door from the kitchen that leads into the waiting area, also accessible from the outside so that my clients don’t need to come through the house. The waiting area leads into a large room with windows overlooking the back garden. I can’t help but smile whenever I walk in here. This space used to be Tom’s study and it was a dark, arguably dismal room with magnolia walls, patterned curtains in three tones of beige and ugly, mismatched furniture. As soon as I moved in I asked Tom whether he would be willing to relinquish the space. ‘It’s everything I’ve ever wanted,’ I told him. ‘A perfect space to see clients.’

‘Not possible I’m afraid, darling,’ he told me. ‘It’s been my study for ever. I couldn’t move from here.’

It took me three months of persuading, most of which took place in the bedroom – roleplay, massages, handcuffs and vibrators, attending to his every desire like a high-class hooker – before he softened towards the idea.

‘Well … I guess I could let you have the room,’ he said. ‘Chloe doesn’t need a bedroom here any more. I can move my study in there. It’s important for you to get your business off the ground.’

Result.

I had Tom’s study completely redecorated in a lilac shade, transforming the walls from dead and dirty to warm and inviting. The carpets are now a cappuccino woollen blend. The curtains were replaced by swish, modern blinds, and concealed lighting has replaced an old standard lamp. Two chairs and a sofa are covered in a rich yellow fabric that reminds me of a Tuscan orchard, branches bending under the weight of ripe lemons.

The answermachine light is flashing and I play back the message that was left in the small hours.

‘Hello, my name is Mary, Mary McNeil, and I need to see a therapist.’ Short pause. ‘I was given your name by Sharon, a police liaison officer. I have been attending her group therapy for victims of crime but … And well …’ Longer pause. ‘I have developed … anxiety. I was mugged. But it didn’t start there.’ A nervous cough. ‘I wonder whether you might give me a call back?’

2. Ellen

I wake up in the morning and instantly remember – last night, the phone call. Recollection has me covering my face with the duvet. I called Leila Henrikson. I left a message on the answermachine. I’d been doing my checks – again – the front door lock, every socket in the house, the hob. I was sneaking about in the dark, frustrated with myself and my inability to control my compulsion, when I decided to act. (Okay, so I’d been drinking – a very large gin and tonic – no ice, no lemon and more gin than tonic.) It was two in the morning but that didn’t stop me. I lifted the phone and I called her. As I was keying in the numbers, I knew I was calling the separate phone line into Tom’s study but that didn’t stop me either. I didn’t try to disguise my voice but I did use my middle and my maiden name. And I remember everything I said with a startling clarity. I told her I was anxious and that I’d been mugged. I asked her to call me back and then I returned to bed feeling powerful, feeling like I was taking the battle right to her door.

Now I’m not so sure. I shower and get dressed, my anxiety levels climbing with the passing of every minute. It’s barely a year since Leila Henrikson took my husband and my home, and I’m still trying to get my head and my heart around it, and to have some cockamamie idea that I can seize back control?

‘Jesus, Ellen,’ I say out loud. ‘Talk about making things more difficult for yourself.’

I picture Tom and Leila listening to the answermachine message and having a laugh. ‘What’s she playing at?’ they’ll say to one another. ‘Is she for real?’

I try to put a lid on my anxiety by losing myself in more checking – the front door, every socket in the house, the knobs on the cooker – over and over again. This preoccupies me, soothes me even, as it silences the ever-critical, ever-fearful voice inside my head.

I now live in a house a third of the size of Maybanks, a property that has been rented out for fifteen years and is desperately in need of a facelift. Most of the paintwork is chipped, the carpets intermittently stained, and the kitchen units are seventies Formica in a lurid shade of orange. I signed the lease for a year with an option for another year, a reasonably priced, interim solution until the divorce is finalised, but I’m not sure I can live here for much longer. There is a fusty, mouldy smell about the place and no matter how much I clean, I can’t get the smell out of the air. I’ve spoken to the landlord but he refuses to acknowledge it, despite the fact that everyone else who comes here smells it too. I’ve even had my dad investigate the drains but the job was beyond him.

I check and recheck for over an hour and then I decide to bake. Ben is home for the university holidays – still asleep in his room – and school’s broken up, so I now have eight weeks off teaching. Almost two months without having to cope with reluctant teenagers and overworked colleagues. I’m left to my own devices and the thought is terrifying. Keeping busy is the answer. I’d set aside this time for tackling my anxiety and for trying to get to grips with the divorce paperwork – who knew how much time that would take up? Certainly not me. The paperwork I will get round to, but fixing my psyche is tougher and so in the meantime, I’ll bake.

Twenty-eight years of marriage means that I’ve accumulated more kitchen equipment than I know what to do with. I packed up what I needed – Tom had neither shopped nor cooked, nor, in fact, taken much of an interest in anything I bought for the house – and brought it with me. I also took every photograph, and everything the children had made and given to us, from knitted egg cosies to misshapen pots. (Most of it is still in boxes in the hallway.) Tom made no objection – he was never the photographer and because his profession occupied most of his waking hours, we were used to him missing family occasions. For weeks at a time he flew down to London on the early-Monday morning plane and returned late Friday evening, only to spend the weekend reading through briefs and catching up on sleep. Often my parents were greater players in the children’s lives than he was. That’s not to say we didn’t have more than our share of good times – we did – but remembering those times only makes me sad for what I no longer have.

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
8.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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