What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller (5 page)

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
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And what do I feel about Tom now? It’s a question I often ask myself, and as time goes by my feelings change. At first, I loved him still, I even hoped he might come back to me, but as the weeks rolled into months, love has been replaced with anger. It’s not a hot, fiery anger. It’s a simmering anger. Dispassionate. Patient.

Broken hearts mend and mine is well on the way to being whole again but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hit back at him, at them, at her – mostly her. I read somewhere that women are especially good at two things: love and revenge. Well, now that the love has died, I’m left with the revenge. I’ll go to see Leila, the therapist, the woman he loves, the woman I hate. I’ll make myself heard. I might even do more than that. What better way to get back at Tom than to target his new woman?

2. Leila

‘Is there anything to eat?’

I’ve finished with my morning clients and have come into the kitchen. Alex looks as if he has just rolled out of bed. His eyes are puffy and his hair is sticking up. He’s wearing boxer shorts and a T-shirt that says, ‘Go F**k Yourself.’ The fridge door is open and he’s staring inside.

‘Have you had a shower?’ I say.

‘Katarina’s cleaning the bathroom.’ He scratches his crotch. ‘She says she’ll be a while yet.’

‘You could use the en suite.’

‘Tom had a go at me last time I did that.’ He reaches for the milk.

‘That’s because you left such a mess.’ When he moves to one side, I pull open the vegetable drawer and take out an avocado and a bag of spinach. ‘Would you like a smoothie?’

‘Not if it’s green.’

‘You’d be doing your body a favour.’ I peel and stone the avocado and drop it into the blender. ‘I haven’t heard you playing your guitar for a couple of days.’

‘Yeah, well …’ He’s staring at the cereal boxes – a choice of two equally healthy mixes; I can see that neither appeals. ‘Why can’t you buy sugary cereals like normal people?’

‘You were doing really well with your guitar.’

‘And you would know?’

‘Didn’t I hear you playing a Bon Jovi song last week? Sounded good to me.’

‘It’s four chords. A monkey could play it.’ He gives a heavy sigh. ‘Both these cereals taste like shit.’

‘Alex …’

‘Yeah, I know. Sugar is evil.’ He takes a bowl from the cupboard and bangs it down on the work surface. ‘Long live maple syrup.’

I cram handfuls of baby spinach into the blender and top it up with coconut water. ‘Have you signed up for summer tuition?’ I say. ‘You just scraped a pass in economics, remember.’

‘Like I could forget with you going on about it every five minutes.’ He finally chooses a cereal and tips a huge portion into a bowl. ‘There’s loads of time.’

‘Until there isn’t.’

‘Don’t start nagging me.’

‘I’m not nagging you.’ While the blender motor runs, I look through the window and see next door’s cat walking along the brick wall that separates our properties. The cat has a bird in his mouth and when he reaches the magnolia tree he steps daintily down through the branches and drops onto the ground. He starts to chew on the bird. He is holding the body with one paw and ripping it to pieces with his teeth, his movements economical and skilful. I stop the motor and bang on the window but he doesn’t even look up.

‘What’s going on?’ Alex says.

‘Next door’s cat.’ I join Alex at the breakfast bar with my smoothie. ‘Killing birds again. I’m going to speak to Tom about cutting down the magnolia tree, might stop the cat coming into our garden.’

‘Uh-oh!’ He widens his eyes. ‘Ben and Chloe won’t like that.’ He adds milk into his bowl. ‘You’ll have a repeat of Tom’s birthday.’ He snorts into his cereal. ‘Hashtag mystepchildrenhateme.’

‘You could learn a lot from Tom’s children, Alex.’ I swallow a mouthful of smoothie. ‘They are focused on their studies.’

He doesn’t reply but his body language is indignant and his wrist knocks against the bowl, hard enough for toasted oats and splashes of milk to spill over the edge.

‘You don’t agree?’ I say.

He leans back in his seat and crosses his arms. ‘Well, Chloe was pregnant at eighteen so you can’t be talking about her. So it must be the mighty
. With his A stars and his eighty per cent average.’

‘He works hard,’ I say.

‘Unlike me, you mean?’ He throws his spoon down and it skids across the breakfast bar. ‘Never quite good enough for you, Mum, am I?’

‘You know how much I love you, Alex. And that means I want what’s best for you.’

He stands up. ‘You’re full of shit, Mum.’ He stares at me, his expression hateful. ‘You really are.’

I follow him into the hallway. ‘Don’t walk away when we’re talking!’

not talking.’ He takes the stairs two at a time ‘

slam the—’

He slams his door and at once Katarina appears at the top of the stairs. She’s wearing yellow rubber gloves and is holding the toilet brush. ‘I am sorry. I am finished nearly.’

‘It doesn’t matter. I’m going out now,’ I tell her. ‘Don’t forget Tom’s suit.’

I take my bag and umbrella from the porch and walk round the side of the house. The cat is still there. He glances up at me, blinking clear, green eyes. We stare at each other; he breaks eye contact first and then he uses his paw to pull the dead, dismembered bird in towards him. I step forward, slowly. He is preoccupied with his kill and makes the mistake of letting me get close enough to extend my foot and kick his huge, furry body up into the air. He gives a startled, shrieking meow and claws his way up the wall, grabbing for a branch on the magnolia tree and finding enough purchase to scrape his way to the top and back over the wall into his own garden. The remains of the bird are scattered across the flagstones; tiny, bloody intestines gleam scarlet as they drape across a broken wing.

I revolve the ankle of my kicking foot; the sudden exertion has set up an ache in the muscle. When I turn round Katarina is standing there, toilet brush still in her hand. ‘What?’ I say.

‘I was …’ She dithers, staring up at the sky and then back at the ground, frowning. I’ve a feeling she wants to tell me off and it makes me smile.

‘Another job for you,’ I tell her, pointing to the bird and then walking past her to my car. ‘Use the outside brush and dustpan. They’re kept in the garden hut. Not the ones from the kitchen!’ I call back to her.

She’s standing at the front of the house staring at me as I drive away. Tom’s right; she really is quite gormless. But she is also an excellent cleaner, and she’s cheap, so I can forgive her anything. She keeps the house clean and fresh and, literally, smelling of roses and that is important to me. Godliness I can do without, but cleanliness is a must. I know it’s a hangover from my childhood; I hate all signs of death and decay even if it’s only drooping buds in a vase or a yellowed leaf hanging from the stem of a plant.

As I drive up Dundas Street, my thoughts move on to my brother David. He’ll be on his way to meet me at the gallery cafe. He’s my only sibling – and half-sibling at that. I was six when he was born and within days of his birth, I was enchanted by him. He was a dreamy-eyed, sweet-cheeked boy who didn’t so much cry as squeak, and only when he was hungry. He loved me talking to him. His eyes would widen and sometimes he would gasp as if everything I told him he then imagined and lived along with me. He was my right-hand man, my go-to, my confidant.

My father was long gone but David’s dad stuck around for that first year. His name was Mal and he was a loud, cheery layabout, often drunk, but essentially good-natured. He had time for me. He would scoop me up onto his shoulders, make me scream and grab for his hair, which was thick and lush as a bear’s pelt.

For a short time we were a proper family and I felt proud to be out in the park, the four of us – mother, father, girl and baby boy just like in the storybooks.

I watched my mother lose Mal’s interest, piece by painful piece when a few months after David was born she took to her bed like an invalid. I tried to persuade her up and out of bed, but she turned her face away from me and no amount of cuddling or enthusiasm could persuade her downstairs. I knew what she had to do to keep us all together – she had to get up and get on with it, get dressed, shop, make a meal, wear lipstick, smile at Mal and let him join her in bed instead of shouting at him to sleep on the sofa.

This had been going on for two months when I made a passing comment to my teacher. ‘My mum doesn’t get up any more,’ I said.

‘Why’s that, Leila?’

‘She’s not well, Miss Foster, so I look after baby David. I can make scrambled eggs and mashed potatoes.’

‘By yourself?’

‘Yes, Miss Foster.’ I was painting a picture and I remember finishing off the sun with a flourish before adding, ‘Sometimes I can’t get baby David out of the bath because he’s too slippy.’

By the time I returned home from school my mother was downstairs, sitting on the sofa. Our family doctor, Dr Morgan, and a social worker were there too. I don’t remember anything they said to me because in my chest there was a flutter of happy butterflies. Mummy was up and about! She was smiling and talking normally. She had baby David on her knee and was giving him a bottle. She loved us again!

When the doctor and the social worker left, my mother smacked me so hard that the tops of my legs stung for days. She dragged me upstairs to my bedroom and threw me on the bed, then she dropped baby David into his cot. He got such a fright that he started screaming and it took me ages to settle him. She wedged a chair against the door so that I couldn’t get out, not even when I needed to pee, so I tried to wee in one of David’s empty bottles and it made a mess on the carpet.

When Mal came home from work, after my mum had gone to bed, I listened at the bedroom door. I heard him switch on the television and then I heard the sizzle of frying bacon, the smell drifting upstairs and making my mouth water. I tried to shout to him but the sound that came out of my mouth was barely a whisper because I didn’t want to wake baby David and I certainly didn’t want to wake my mum.

When I woke up in the morning, I was lying on the floor by the door. The chair was gone, so I was able to get to the bathroom and press a flannel on my stinging legs. At school, Miss Foster asked me if everything was better at home and I said, ‘Yes, Miss Foster,’ smiling so that all of my teeth showed and I looked like the happy girl in the advert for Fairy Liquid. ‘Thank you, Miss Foster.’

Mal left us before David was even walking. He went off with Cathy, the woman from the corner shop, who had puffy hair and kissy lips. I stole from her shop for a year after that – usually just penny sweets, but often I was bold enough to stand in front of her and show her the milk bottle and the loaf of bread – hold them up, one in each hand like two prize-winning cups – and then walk out the door. She never stopped me. She didn’t bloody dare. She knew I occupied the moral high ground, not just because she’d stolen Mal but because the whole neighbourhood knew about my mother. They knew she didn’t get out of bed. They knew I was the person doing all the looking after. Some of the neighbours helped me. They would carry the heavy shopping bags or buy David and me ice creams. When Dr Morgan came back to visit us I told him that Mummy was getting up now and that she was cooking proper meals. I knew he didn’t believe me, but if he left a message for the social worker to come back again then she never received it.

Mal came round every so often but Mum would shout abuse from upstairs. I’d make him a mug of tea, find a saved biscuit from the cupboard and encourage David to show off his latest skills, but Mum’s voice was insistent – a bellowing of swear words, creatively strung together – and after ten minutes Mal would look apologetic and say, ‘Sorry, Leila Mae and little Dave.’ He’d kiss us on our foreheads and walk backwards through the door, waving as he went.

Soon after David’s second birthday Mal and Cathy emigrated to Benidorm to run an English pub. Postcards and Christmas cards told us they had found their calling. We had an open invitation to stay with them. I imagined David and me getting on a plane – he’d have to be out of nappies – and when we arrived in Spain Mal would be waiting for us, suntanned and grinning. We’d stay in a whitewashed apartment above the pub and the sound of happy drunks would lull us to sleep. After a few days Mal would tell us that we were never going home. Mum would be okay with that because we’d be by the seaside and that’s what she wanted for us, and before long we’d be speaking Spanish and calling Mal and Cathy Mum and Dad.

Needless to say, we never made it out there. When Gareth, Mum’s third and final live-in partner, came to stay with us the postcards stopped and we forgot all about Mal and his out-of-this-world promises. Gareth filled all the free spaces in our lives with his weirdness and cruelty, but to this day I make no effort to recall any of those memories – not because I can’t but because I deliberately choose not to.

I have a quick meeting at the university to discuss the class I’ll be teaching over the coming year (Crisis, Meaning and Failure) and then I find a parking space close to the Portrait Gallery and hurry along the pavement. I’m smiling as I walk and when I spot David my heart lifts. He’s sitting at a corner table, reading a newspaper. ‘Hello you,’ I say.

‘Sis.’ He stands up and stretches across the table to hug me. He feels thinner than he did the last time we hugged. I feel the edges of bone, shoulder blades and collarbone and strips of rib.

‘Are you eating enough?’ I say.

‘I am.’ He puffs out his chest. ‘No need for you to worry on that score.’

‘You’re growing a beard?’

‘Isn’t everyone?’

Tom isn’t, but I’m not about to mention that. David knows very little about Tom and Tom knows absolutely nothing about David.

‘Control is an illusion, Sis,’ he says as if he can read my thoughts.

‘Shall I get us some afternoon tea?’

‘Just a scone for me.’

‘Coming up.’ I go to the counter and choose a couple of scones, some butter and jam and two pots of tea. I feel David’s eyes on me. He is watching me walk, interact with the staff, hand over my debit card. When I return to the table he has cleared his newspaper away and is sitting with his hands clasped. He means business. But first there’s the small talk: the weather, the throng of tourists, the posters for this year’s festival.

BOOK: What Goes Around: A chilling psychological thriller
3.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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