The Girl on the Train


Chapter 27


RACHEL

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Morning

CATHY HAS GOT me a job interview. A friend of hers has set up her own public relations firm and she needs an assistant. It's basically a glorified secretarial job and it pays next to nothing, but I don't care. This woman is prepared to see me without references – Cathy's told her some story about me having a breakdown but being fully recovered now. The interview's tomorrow afternoon at this woman's home – she runs her business from one of those office sheds in the back garden – which just happens to be in Witney. So I was supposed to be spending the day polishing up my CV and my interviewing skills. I was – only Scott phoned me.

'I was hoping we could talk,' he said.

'We don't need ... I mean, you don't need to say anything. It was ... we both know it was a mistake.'

'I know,' he said, and he sounded so sad, not like the angry Scott of my nightmares, more the broken one that sat on my bed and told me about his dead child. 'But I really want to talk to you.'

'Of course,' I said. 'Of course we can talk.'

'In person?'

'Oh,' I said. The last thing I wanted was to have to go back to that house. 'I'm sorry, I can't today.'

'Please, Rachel? It's important.' He sounded desperate and, despite myself, I felt bad for him. I was trying to think of an excuse when he said it again. 'Please?' So I said yes, and I regretted it the second the word came out of my mouth.

There's a story about Megan's child – her first dead child – in the newspapers. Well, it's about the child's father, actually. They tracked him down. His name's Craig McKenzie, and he died of a heroin overdose in Spain four years ago. So that rules him out. It never sounded to me like a likely motive in any case – if someone wanted to punish her for what she'd done back then, they'd have done it years ago.

So who does that leave? It leaves the usual suspects: the husband, the lover. Scott, Kamal. Or some random man who snatched her from the street – a serial killer just starting out? Will she be the first of a series, a Wilma McCann, a Pauline Reade? And who said, after all, that the killer had to be a man? She was a small woman, Megan Hipwell. Tiny, birdlike. It wouldn't take much force to take her down.

Afternoon

The first thing I notice when he opens the door is the smell. Sweat and beer, rank and sour, and under that something else, something worse. Something rotting. He's wearing tracksuit bottoms and a stained grey T-shirt, his hair is greasy, his skin slick, as though with fever.

'Are you all right?' I ask him, and he grins at me. He's been drinking.

'I'm fine, come in, come in.' I don't want to, but I do.

The curtains on the street side of the house are closed, and the living room is cast in a reddish hue which seems to suit the heat and the smell.

Scott wanders into the kitchen, opens the fridge and takes a beer out.

'Come and sit down,' he says. 'Have a drink.' The grin on his face is fixed, joyless, grim. There's something unkind about the set of his face. The contempt that I saw on Saturday morning, after we slept together, it's still there.

'I can't stay long,' I tell him. 'I have a job interview tomorrow, I need to prepare.'

'Really?' He raises his eyebrows. He sits down and kicks a chair out towards me. 'Sit down and have a drink,' he says, an order not an invitation. I sit down opposite him and he pushes the beer bottle towards me. I pick it up and take a sip. Outside, I can hear shrieking – children playing in a back garden somewhere – and beyond that, the faint and familiar rumble of the train.

'They got the DNA results yesterday,' Scott says to me. 'Detective Sergeant Riley came to see me last night.' He waits for me to say something, but I'm frightened of saying the wrong thing, so I stay silent. 'It's not mine. It wasn't mine. The funny thing is, it wasn't Kamal's either.' He laughs. 'So she had someone else on the go. Can you believe it?' He's smiling that horrible smile. 'You didn't know anything about that, did you? About another bloke? She didn't confide in you about another man, did she?' The smile is slipping from his face and I'm getting a bad feeling about this, a very bad feeling. I get to my feet and take a step towards the door, but he's there in front of me, his hands gripping my arms, and he pushes me back into the chair.

'Sit the fuck down.' He grabs my handbag from my shoulder and throws it into the corner of the room.

'Scott, I don't know what's going on-'

'Come on!' he shouts, leaning over me. 'You and Megan were such good friends! You must have known about all her lovers!'

He knows. And as the thought comes to me, he must see it in my face because he leans in closer, his breath rancid in my face, and says, 'Come on, Rachel. Tell me.'

I shake my head and he swings a hand out, catching the beer bottle in front of me. It rolls off the table and smashes on the tiled floor.

'You never even fucking met her!' he yells. 'Everything you said to me – everything was a lie.'

Ducking my head, I get to my feet, mumbling, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' I'm trying to get round the table, to retrieve my handbag, my phone, but he grabs my arm again.

'Why did you do this?' he asks. 'What made you do this? What is wrong with you?'




He's looking at me, his eyes locked on mine, and I'm terrified of him, but at the same time I know that his question isn't unreasonable. I owe him an explanation. So I don't pull my arm away, I let his fingers dig into my flesh, and I try to speak clearly and calmly. I try not to cry. I try not to panic.

'I wanted you to know about Kamal,' I tell him. 'I saw them together, like I told you, but you wouldn't have taken me seriously if I'd just been some girl on the train. I needed-'

'You needed!' He lets go of me, turning away. 'You're telling me what you needed ...' His voice is softer, he's calming down. I breathe deeply, trying to slow my heart.

'I wanted to help you,' I say. 'I knew that the police always suspect the husband, and I wanted you to know – to know there was someone else ...'

'So you made up a story about knowing my wife? Do you have any idea how insane you sound?'

'I do.'

I walk over to the kitchen counter to pick up a dishcloth, then get down on my hands and knees and clean up the spilled beer. Scott sits, elbows on knees, head hanging down. 'She wasn't who I thought she was,' he says. 'I have no idea who she was.'

I wring the cloth out over the sink and run cold water over my hands. My handbag is a couple of feet away, in the corner of the room. I make a move towards it, but Scott looks up at me, so I stop. I stand there, my back to the counter, my hands gripping the edge for stability. For comfort.

'Detective Sergeant Riley told me,' he says. 'She was asking me about you. Whether I was in a relationship with you.' He laughs. 'A relationship with you! Jesus. I asked her, have you seen what my wife looked like? Standards haven't fallen that fast.' My face is hot, there is cold sweat under my armpits and at the base of my spine. 'Apparently Anna's been complaining about you. She's seen you hanging around. So that's how it all came out. I said, we're not in a relationship, she's just an old friend of Megan's, she's helping me out ...' He laughs again, low and mirthless. 'She said, she doesn't know Megan. She's just a sad little liar with no life.' The smile faded from his face. 'You're all liars. Every last one of you.'

My phone beeps. I take a step towards the bag, but Scott gets there before me.

'Hang on a minute,' he says, picking it up. 'We're not finished yet.' He tips the contents of my handbag on to the table: phone, purse, keys, lipstick, Tampax, credit-card receipts. 'I want to know exactly how much of what you told me was total bullshit.' Idly, he picks up the phone and looks at the screen. He raises his eyes to mine and they are suddenly cold. He reads aloud: 'This is to confirm your appointment with Dr Abdic at 4.30pm on Monday 19 August. If you are unable to make this appointment, please be advised that we require 24 hours' notice.'

'Scott ...'

'What the hell is going on?' he asks, his voice little more than a rasp. 'What have you been doing? What have you been saying to him?'

'I haven't been saying anything ...' He's dropped the phone on the table and is coming towards me, his hands balled into fists. I'm backing away into the corner of the room, pressing myself between the wall and the glass door. 'I was trying to find out ... I was trying to help.' He raises his hand and I cringe, ducking my head, waiting for the pain, and in that moment I know that I've done this before, felt this before, but I can't remember when and I don't have time to think about it now, because although he hasn't hit me, he's placed his hands on my shoulders and he's gripping them tightly, his thumbs digging into my clavicles, and it hurts so much I cry out.

'All this time,' he says through gritted teeth, 'all this time I thought you were on my side, but you were working against me. You were giving him information, weren't you? Telling him things about me, about Megs. It was you, trying to make the police come after me. It was you-'

'No. Please don't. It wasn't like that. I wanted to help you.' His right hand slides up, he grabs hold of my hair at the nape of my neck and he twists. 'Scott, please don't. Please. You're hurting me. Please.' He's dragging me now, towards the front door. I'm flooded with relief. He's going to throw me out into the street. Thank God.

Only he doesn't throw me out, he keeps dragging me, spitting and cursing. He's taking me upstairs and I'm trying to resist, but he's so strong, I can't. I'm crying, 'Please don't. Please,' and I know that something terrible is about to happen. I try to scream, but I can't, the noise won't come.

I'm blind with tears and terror. He shoves me into a room and slams the door behind me. The key twists in the lock. Hot bile rises to my throat and I throw up on to the carpet. I wait, I listen. Nothing happens, and no one comes.

I'm in the spare room. In my house, this room used to be Tom's study. Now it's their baby's nursery, the room with the soft pink blind. Here, it's a box room, filled with papers and files, a fold-up treadmill and an ancient Apple Mac. There is a box of papers lined with figures – accounts, perhaps from Scott's business – and another filled with old postcards – blank ones, with bits of Blu-tack on the back, as though they were once stuck on to a wall: the roofs of Paris, children skateboarding in an alley, old railway sleepers covered in moss, a view of the sea from inside a cave. I delve through the postcards – I don't know why or what I'm looking for, I'm just trying to keep panic at bay. I'm trying not to think about that news report, Megan's body being dragged out of the mud. I'm trying not to think of her injuries, of how frightened she must have been when she saw it coming.

I'm scrabbling around in the postcards and then something bites me and I rock back on my heels with a yelp. The tip of my forefinger is sliced neatly across the top, and blood is dripping on to my jeans. I stop the blood with the hem of my T-shirt and sort more carefully through the cards. I spot the culprit immediately: a framed picture, smashed, with a piece of glass missing from the top, the exposed edge smeared with my blood.

It's not a photo I've seen before. It's a picture of Megan and Scott together, their faces close to the camera. She's laughing and he's looking at her adoringly. Jealously? The glass is shattered in a star radiating from the corner of Scott's eye, so it's difficult to read his expression. I sit there on the floor with the picture in front of me and think about how things get broken all the time by accident, and how sometimes you just don't get round to getting them fixed. I think about all the plates that were smashed when I fought with Tom, about that hole in the plaster in the corridor upstairs.




Somewhere on the other side of the locked door, I can hear Scott laughing and my entire body goes cold. I scrabble to my feet and go to the window, open it and lean right out, then with just the very tips of my toes on the floor, I cry out for help. I call out for Tom. It's hopeless. Pathetic. Even if he was, by some chance, out in the garden a few doors down, he wouldn't hear me, it's too far away. I look down and lose my balance, then pull myself back inside, bowels loosening, sobs catching in my throat.

'Please, Scott!' I call out. 'Please ...' I hate the sound of my voice, the wheedling note, the desperation. I look down at my bloodstained T-shirt and I'm reminded that I am not without options. I pick up the photo frame and tip it over on to the carpet. I select the longest of the glass shards and slip it carefully into my back pocket.

I can hear footsteps coming up the stairs. I back myself up against the wall opposite the door. The key turns in the lock.

Scott has my handbag in one hand and tosses it at my feet. In the other hand he is holding a scrap of paper. 'Well, if it isn't Nancy Drew!' he says with a smile. He puts on a girly voice and reads aloud: 'Megan has run off with her boyfriend, who from here on in, I shall refer to as B.' He snickers. 'B has harmed her ... Scott has harmed her ...' He crumples up the paper and throws it at my feet. 'Jesus Christ. You really are pathetic, aren't you?' He looks around, taking in the puke on the floor, the blood on my T-shirt. 'Fucking hell, what have you been doing? Trying to top yourself? Going to do my job for me?' He laughs again. 'I should break your fucking neck, but you know what, you're just not worth the hassle.' He stands to one side. 'Get out of my house.'

I grab my bag and make for the door, but just as I do, he steps out in front of me with a boxer's feint, and for a moment I think he's going to stop me, put his hands on me again. There must be terror in my eyes because he starts to laugh, he roars with laughter. I can still hear him when I slam the front door behind me.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Morning

I've barely slept. I drank a bottle and a half of wine in an attempt to get off to sleep, to stop my hands shaking, to quieten my startle reflex, but it didn't really work. Every time I started to drop off, I'd jolt awake. I felt sure I could feel him in the room with me. I turned the light on and sat there, listening to the sounds of the street outside, to people moving around in the building. It was only when it started to get light that I relaxed enough to sleep. I dreamed I was in the woods again. Tom was with me but still I felt afraid.

I left Tom a note last night. After I left Scott's, I ran down to number twenty-three and banged on the door. I was in such a panic I didn't even care whether Anna was there, whether she'd be pissed off with me for showing up. No one came to the door, so I scribbled a note on a scrap of paper and shoved it through the letter box. I don't care if she sees it – I think a part of me actually wants her to see it. I kept the note vague – I told him we needed to talk about the other day. I didn't mention Scott by name, because I didn't want Tom to go round there and confront him – God knows what might happen.

I rang the police almost as soon as I got home. I had a couple of glasses of wine first, to calm me down. I asked to speak to Detective Inspector Gaskill, but they said he wasn't available, so I ended up talking to Riley. It wasn't what I wanted – I know Gaskill would have been kinder.

'He imprisoned me in his home,' I told her. 'He threatened me.'

She asked how long I was 'imprisoned' for. I could hear the air quotes over the line.

'I don't know,' I said. 'Half an hour, maybe.'

There was a long silence.

'And he threatened you. Can you tell me the exact nature of the threat?'

'He said he'd break my neck. He said ... he said he ought to break my neck ...'

'He ought to break your neck?'

'He said that he would if he could be bothered.'

Silence. Then, 'Did he hit you? Did he injure you in any way?'

'Bruising. Just bruising.'

'He hit you?'

'No, he grabbed me.'

More silence.

Then: 'Ms Watson, why were you in Scott Hipwell's house?'

'He asked me to go to see him. He said he needed to talk to me.'

She gave a long sigh. 'You were warned to stay out of this. You've been lying to him, telling him you were a friend of his wife's, you've been telling all sorts of stories and – let me finish – this is a person who, at best, is under a great deal of strain and is extremely distressed. At best. At worst, he might be dangerous.'

'He is dangerous, that's what I'm telling you, for God's sake.'

'This is not helpful – you going round there, lying to him, provoking him. We're in the middle of a murder investigation here. You need to understand that. You could jeopardize our progress, you could-'

'What progress?' I snapped. 'You haven't made any bloody progress. He killed his wife, I'm telling you. There's a picture, a photograph of the two of them – it's smashed. He's angry, he's unstable-'

'Yes, we saw the photograph. The house has been searched. It's hardly evidence of murder.'

'So you're not going to arrest him?'

She gave a long sigh. 'Come to the station tomorrow. Make a statement. We'll take it from there. And Ms Watson? Stay away from Scott Hipwell.'

Cathy came home and found me drinking. She wasn't happy. What could I tell her? There was no way to explain it. I just said I was sorry and went upstairs to my room, like a teenager in a sulk. And then I lay awake, trying to sleep, waiting for Tom to call. He didn't.

I wake early, check my phone (no calls), wash my hair and dress for my interview, hands trembling, stomach in knots. I'm leaving early because I have to stop off at the police station first, to give them my statement. Not that I'm expecting it to do any good. They never took me seriously and they certainly aren't going to start now. I wonder what it would take for them to see me as anything other than a fantasist.

On the way to the station I can't stop looking over my shoulder; the sudden scream of a police siren has me literally leaping into the air in fright. On the station platform I walk as close to the railings as I can, my fingers trailing against the iron fence, just in case I need to hold on tight. I realize it's ridiculous, but I feel so horribly vulnerable now that I've seen what he is; now that there are no secrets between us.




Afternoon

The matter should be closed for me now. All this time, I've been thinking that there was something to remember, something I was missing. But there isn't. I didn't see anything important or do anything terrible. I just happened to be on the same street. I know this now, courtesy of the red-haired man. And yet there's an itch at the back of my brain that I just can't scratch.

Neither Gaskill nor Riley was at the police station; I gave my statement to a bored-looking uniformed officer. It will be filed and forgotten about, I assume, unless I turn up dead in a ditch somewhere. My interview was on the opposite side of town to where Scott lives, but I took a taxi from the police station. I'm not taking any chances. It went as well as it could: the job itself is utterly beneath me, but then I seem to have become beneath me over the past year or two. I need to reset the scale. The big drawback (other than the crappy pay and the lowliness of the job itself) will be having to come to Witney all the time, to walk these streets and risk running into Scott or Anna and her child.

Because bumping into people is all I seem to do in this neck of the woods. It's one of the things I used to like about the place: the village-on-the-edge-of-London feel. You might not know everyone, but faces are familiar.

I'm almost at the station, just passing the Crown when I feel a hand on my arm and I wheel around, slipping off the pavement and into the road.

'Hey, hey, I'm sorry. I'm sorry.' It's him again, the red-haired man, pint in one hand, the other raised in supplication. 'You're jumpy, aren't you?' he grins. I must look really frightened, because the grin fades. 'Are you all right? I didn't mean to scare you.'

He's knocked off early, he says, and invites me to have a drink with him. I say no, and then I change my mind.

'I owe you an apology,' I say, when he – Andy, as it turns out – brings me my gin and tonic, 'for the way I behaved on the train. Last time, I mean. I was having a bad day.'

'S'all right,' Andy says. His smile is slow and lazy, I don't think this is his first pint. We're sitting opposite each other in the beer garden at the back of the pub; it feels safer here than on the street side. Perhaps it's the safe feeling that emboldens me. I take my chance.

'I wanted to ask you about what happened,' I say. 'The night that I met you. The night that Meg- The night that woman disappeared.'

'Oh. Right. Why? What d'you mean?'

I take a deep breath. I can feel my face reddening. No matter how many times you have to admit this, it's always embarrassing, it always makes you cringe. 'I was very drunk and I don't remember. There are some things I need to sort out. I just want to know if you saw anything, if you saw me talking to anyone else, anything like that ...' I'm staring down at the table, I can't meet his eye.

He nudges my foot with his. 'It's all right, you didn't do anything bad.' I look up and he's smiling. 'I was pissed, too. We had a bit of a chat on the train, I can't remember what about. Then we both got off here, at Witney, and you were a bit unsteady on your feet. You slipped on the steps. You remember? I helped you up and you were all embarrassed, blushing like you are now.' He laughs. 'We walked out together, and I asked you if you wanted to go to the pub. But you said you had to go and meet your husband.'

'That's it?'

'No. Do you really not remember? It was a while later – I don't know, half an hour, maybe? I'd been to the Crown, but a mate rang and said he was drinking in a bar over on the other side of the railway track, so I was heading down to the underpass. You'd fallen over. You were in a bit of a mess then. You'd cut yourself. I was a bit worried, I said I'd see you home if you wanted, but you wouldn't hear of it. You were ... well, you were very upset. I think there'd been a row with your bloke. He was heading off down the street, and I said I'd go after him if you wanted me to, but you said not to. He drove off somewhere after that. He was ... er ... he was with someone.'

'A woman?'

He nods, ducks his head a bit. 'Yeah, they got into a car together. I assumed that was what the argument was about.'

'And then?'

'Then you walked off. You seemed a little ... confused or something, and you walked off. You kept saying you didn't need any help. As I said, I was a bit wasted myself, so I just left it. I went down through the underpass and met my mate in the pub. That was it.'

Climbing the stairs to the apartment, I feel sure that I can see shadows above me, hear footsteps ahead. Someone waiting on the landing above. There's no one there, of course, and the flat is empty, too: it feels untouched, it smells empty, but that doesn't stop me checking every room – under my bed and under Cathy's, in the wardrobes and the closet in the kitchen that couldn't conceal a child.

Finally, after about three tours of the flat, I can stop. I go upstairs and sit on the bed and think about the conversation I had with Andy, the fact that it tallies with what I remember. There is no great revelation: Tom and I argued in the street, I slipped and hurt myself, he stormed off and got into his car with Anna. Later he came back looking for me, but I'd already gone. I got into a taxi, I assume, or back on to the train.

I sit on my bed looking out of the window and wonder why I don't feel better. Perhaps it's simply because I still don't have any answers. Perhaps it's because although what I remember tallies with what other people remember, something still feels off. Then it strikes me: Anna. It's not just that Tom never mentioned going anywhere in the car with her, it's the fact that when I saw her, walking away, getting into the car, she wasn't carrying the baby. Where was Evie while all this was going on?

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Evening

I need to speak to Tom, to get things straight in my head, because the more I go over it, the less sense it makes, and I can't stop going over it. I'm worried, in any case, because it's two days since I left him that note and he hasn't got back to me. He didn't answer his phone last night, he's not been answering it all day. Something's not right, and I can't shake the feeling that it has to do with Anna.

I know that he'll want to talk to me, too, after he hears about what happened with Scott. I know that he'll want to help. I can't stop thinking about the way he was that day in the car, about how things felt between us. So I pick up the phone and dial his number, butterflies in my stomach, just the way it always used to be, the anticipation of hearing his voice as acute now as it was years ago.




'Yeah?'

'Tom, it's me.'

'Yes.'

Anna must be there with him, he doesn't want to say my name. I wait for a moment, to give him time to move to another room, to get away from her. I hear him sigh. 'What is it?'

'Um, I wanted to talk to you ... As I said in my note, I-'

'What?' He sounds irritated.

'I left you a note a couple of days ago. I thought we should talk ...'

'I didn't get a note.' Another heavier sigh. 'Fuck's sake. That's why she's pissed off with me.' Anna must have taken it, she didn't give it him. 'What do you need?'

I want to hang up, dial again, start over. Tell him how good it was to see him on Monday, when we went to the lake.

'I just wanted to ask you something.'

'What?' he snaps. He sounds really annoyed.

'Is everything OK?'

'What do you want, Rachel?' It's gone, all the tenderness that was there a week ago. I curse myself for leaving that note, I've obviously got him into trouble at home.

'I wanted to ask you about that night – the night Megan Hipwell went missing.'

'Oh, Jesus. We've talked about this – you can't have forgotten already.'

'I just-'

'You were drunk,' he says, his voice loud, harsh. 'I told you to go home. You wouldn't listen. You wandered off. I drove around looking for you, but I couldn't find you.'

'Where was Anna?'

'She was at home.'

'With the baby?'

'With Evie, yes.'

'She wasn't in the car with you?'

'No.'

'But-'

'Oh for God's sake. She was supposed to be going out, I was going to babysit. Then you came along, so she came and cancelled her plans. And I wasted yet more hours of my life running around after you.'

I wish I hadn't called. To have my hopes raised and dashed again, it's like cold steel twisting in my gut.

'OK,' I say. 'It's just, I remember it differently ... Tom, when you saw me, was I hurt? Was I ... Did I have a cut on my head?'

Another heavy sigh. 'I'm surprised you remember anything at all, Rachel. You were blind drunk. Filthy, stinking drunk. Staggering all over the place.' My throat starts to close up, hearing him say these words. I've heard him say these sorts of things before, in the bad old days, the very worst days, when he was tired of me, sick of me, disgusted by me. Wearily, he goes on. 'You'd fallen over in the street, you were crying, you were a total mess. Why is this important?' I can't find the words right away, I take too long to answer. He goes on: 'Look, I have to go. Don't call any more, please. We've been through this. How many times do I have to ask you? Don't call, don't leave notes, don't come here. It upsets Anna. All right?'

The phone goes dead.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Early morning

I've been downstairs in the living room all night, with the television on for company, fear ebbing and flowing. Strength ebbing and flowing. It feels a bit like I've gone back in time, the wound he made years ago ripped open again, new and fresh. It's silly, I know. I was an idiot to think that I had a chance with him again, just on the basis of one conversation, a few moments which I took for tenderness and which were probably nothing more than sentimentality and guilt. Still, it hurts. And I've just got to let myself feel the pain, because if I don't, if I keep numbing it, it'll never really go away.

And I was an idiot to let myself think that there was a connection between me and Scott, that I could help him. So, I'm an idiot. I'm used to that. I don't have to continue to be one, do I? Not any longer. I lay here all night and I promised myself that I'll get a handle on things. I'll move away from here, far away. I'll get a new job. I'll go back to my maiden name, sever ties with Tom, make it harder for anyone to find me. Should anyone come looking.

I haven't had much sleep. Lying here on the sofa, making plans, every time I started drifting off to sleep I heard Tom's voice in my head, as clear as if he were right there, right next to me, his lips against my ear – You were blind drunk. Filthy, stinking drunk – and I jolted awake, shame washing over me like a wave. Shame, but also the strongest sense of déjà vu, because I've heard those words before, those exact words.

And then I couldn't stop running the scenes through my head: waking with blood on the pillow, the inside of my mouth hurting, as though I'd bitten my cheek, fingernails dirty, terrible head, Tom coming out of the bathroom, that expression he wore – half hurt, half angry – dread rising in me like floodwater.

'What happened?'

Tom, showing me the bruises on his arm, on his chest, where I'd hit him.

'I don't believe it, Tom. I'd never hit you. I've never hit anyone in my life.'

'You were blind drunk, Rachel. Do you remember anything you did last night? Anything you said?' And then he'd tell me, and I still couldn't believe it, because nothing he said sounded like me, none of it. And the thing with the golf club, that hole in the plaster, grey and blank like a blinded eye trained on me every time I passed it, and I couldn't reconcile the violence that he talked about with the fear that I remembered.

Or thought that I remembered. After a while I learned not to ask what I had done, or to argue when he volunteered the information, because I didn't want to know the details, I didn't want to hear the worst of it, the things I said and did when I was like that, filthy, stinking drunk. Sometimes he threatened to record me, he told me he'd play it back for me. He never did. Small mercies.

After a while, I learned that when you wake up like that, you don't ask what happened, you just say that you're sorry: you're sorry for what you did and who you are and you're never, ever going to behave like that again.

And now I'm not, I'm really not. I can be thankful to Scott for this: I'm too afraid, now, to go out in the middle of the night to buy booze. I'm too afraid to let myself slip, because that's when I make myself vulnerable.

I'm going to have to be strong, that's all there is to it.

My eyelids start to feel heavy again and my head nods against my chest. I turn the TV down so there's almost no sound at all, roll over so that I'm facing the sofa back, snuggle down and pull the duvet over me, and I'm drifting off, I can feel it, I'm going to sleep, and then – bang, the ground is rushing up at me and I jerk upright, my heart in my throat. I saw it. I saw it.




I was in the underpass and he was coming towards me, one slap across the mouth and then his fist raised, keys in his hand, searing pain as the serrated metal smashed down against my skull.