Sabine Dur­rant

The au­thor of page-turn­ing thriller Lie With Me, which was a top 10 best­seller, shares this ex­clu­sive short story

Good Housekeeping (UK) - - Summer Reading Treat -

THE OTHER WOMAN

Adam’s key rat­tles in the door, his shout fills the hall­way. I don’t leave my po­si­tion by the bed­room win­dow and I don’t re­ply, though I move my weight and the board be­neath my foot creaks. If he senses my pres­ence, he’ll be sur­prised that I don’t come down­stairs to greet him. I al­ways do these days.

I read some­where how im­por­tant it is in a mar­riage to go through the mo­tions. It’s the lit­tle things, the ar­ti­cle said, that make all the dif­fer­ence. ‘Fake it to make it,’ the writer had writ­ten.

I can’t tear my eyes away, that’s the prob­lem. She’s still out there, wait­ing, at the gate out­side her house, in all her usual bohemian glam­our – long blonde hair and strappy top and in­ap­pro­pri­ately tiny shorts.

I watched Adam spot her. He had the de­cency not to stop, just a con­fir­ma­tory nod and a raised palm in farewell: a ges­ture of re­gret and em­bar­rass­ment, and a sort of muted re­spect.

Her bags are piled up next to her. They look like bits of old car­pet, a de­cep­tively stu­dent-eth­nic pile, but they were bought for a for­tune in that shop she told me about, ‘one of my old haunts’ in Hol­land Park. I can al­most make out the shape of the con­tents: her salon-qual­ity hair straight­en­ers, her Jo Malone bath oils, her eight pairs of £250 jeans. ‘Jeans,’ she once said to me, ‘that’s what you need. Enough dowdy slacks. Let’s get you some­thing to wear that doesn’t have an elas­ti­cated waist.’

Per­haps I let out a noise. Per­haps I have pressed my fore­head too hard against the win­dow. Per­haps when I brought my hand to my mouth the clasp of the friend­ship bracelet she gave me, a gold feather fash­ioned like a dag­ger, tapped against the glass. Or does she sim­ply see the cur­tain twitch? What­ever the rea­son, she glances up.

I stand very still. I should pull the drapes back, smooth the lin­ing as if that was what I had been do­ing all along. But she stares at me and I stare back. Adam is in the kitchen now, help­ing him­self to a glass of wine. I can hear the milk bot­tles jan­gle in the fridge door. I have this strange hot sen­sa­tion. It starts in my toes and it rises.

She has taken a step off the pave­ment into the gut­ter. She’s tip­ping her chin up to me, and she flut­ters her fin­gers in the air. She wants me to open the win­dow. She ac­tu­ally wants to talk to me. What a nerve. Still. It’s in­ter­est­ing how lit­tle time I give to con­sid­er­a­tion. My hands scrape across the sill un­til I find the pointy win­dow key and I screw it into the lock, jog­gle the case­ment up. The sash sticks half way and I have to bend to fit my head out of the open­ing, which puts me at a dis­ad­van­tage. That was al­ways the prob­lem with our friend­ship: even when I was the vic­tim of her charm, I’d felt at a dis­ad­van­tage.

She is smil­ing, her head cocked to one side, as if to mock my own con­tor­tions. ‘Bye then,’ she calls sweetly. ‘I’m off.’

‘I’m sorry it didn’t work out,’ I an­swer.

‘I don’t re­ally know what went wrong be­tween us. Why you cooled.’

‘We were al­ways a bit dull for you round here, a bit too “subur­ban”; isn’t that what I heard you say?’

She laughs then, a trill that bounces off the car roofs. ‘I’m not go­ing vol­un­tar­ily. Didn’t you know? Dun­can’s kick­ing me out.’

‘I had heard.’ What I meant is, I heard. Last week­end when the shit hit the fan, ex­cuse my lan­guage, through Au­gust’s open win­dows, the shout­ing and yelling, the hoarse strain of his ac­cu­sa­tions, the soar of her de­nials. I’m amazed the row didn’t wake the twins. Adam and I were sit­ting next to each other on the sofa, pre­tend­ing to watch an old episode of

Mid­somer Mur­ders. Across the road, a shriek was fol­lowed by a clat­ter­ing thud: some­thing – shoes? – thrown against a hard sur­face. ‘At least they don’t have chil­dren,’ I said. Adam made an as­sent­ing noise deep in his throat.

‘Nice man, Dun­can,’ I added. ‘He de­serves bet­ter. Some­one who’ll look af­ter him prop­erly. I’m not sure I’ve once seen her cook a proper meal.’ He swal­lowed and mut­tered agree­ment. ‘I’ll take a nice dish round when she’s gone. Delia’s chicken basque. He couldn’t get enough of it when they came to din­ner here.’

Adam emit­ted another stran­gu­lated sound. It was all he could man­age. He has been too scared to en­gage in any topic con­cern­ing her – tone of voice can be so treach­er­ous – since I caught them to­gether at the Win­shaws’ sum­mer party. The bosky glow at the back of the gar­den, midges whirling in the light thrown from the kitchen. She’d been snagged, ap­par­ently, by the Cean­othus; all he was do­ing was un­tan­gling hu­man hair from veg­e­ta­tive frond. So I was wrong. They weren’t kiss­ing, but her throat gleamed; he was drink­ing her in.

The win­dow key is coiled in my hand, the jagged point dig­ging into my palm. I feel a snag in the fleshy part of my thumb. The pain is al­most sweet.

‘Per­haps if you’d kept your hands off other peo­ple’s hus­bands,’ I say, ‘you’d have kept your own.’

She looks up at me with in­ter­est, noth­ing else, noth­ing worse. ‘I liked you when we met,’ she says. ‘I thought you were trapped. But it turns out you’re as up­tight, and yes, subur­ban, as ev­ery­one else around here.’

And it’s her lack of emo­tion that hurts, the sense of my own in­signif­i­cance, and I have that hot, fren­zied feel­ing again, but this time it comes with a buzzing in my ears, a de­sire to show her my true colours, and I twist my­self back, bash­ing my chin in my haste. And I am out of the bed­room, and down the stairs.

The key is clutched in my fist, and I open the front door and in my head I hurl my­self on to her, and I am stab­bing her in the throat with it, watch­ing the blood bur­ble, her eyes plead­ing. But when I open the door, she is back on the other side of the street. Her Uber has ar­rived, and there is a man, a hairy brawn in a cap-sleeved T-shirt, load­ing her bags into the boot.

When she sees me stand­ing there, breath­less on my own doorstep, some­thing catches in her face. ‘Of course,’ she says. ‘I see now.’

I’m cu­ri­ous enough to walk to­wards her. What does she see? ‘It was you, wasn’t it?’ she says when I reach her. ‘It was you who sent him the pho­tos.’

I don’t an­swer. Per­haps I smile. It leaks out. I can’t help my­self.

Her eyes search mine. She is a good foot taller than me, and she has to bend to do so. She care­fully tucks a loose lock of blonde hair, an up­side-down ques­tion mark, be­hind her ear. ‘Did you Pho­to­shop them? I wouldn’t have thought you knew how.’ My mouth twists. I think I shrug. ‘He was just a friend.’ She says it as if she thinks I care. ‘It looked like an af­fair to me.’ ‘Peo­ple see what they want to see.’ She takes a step back and her mouth turns down at the cor­ners. I’m wear­ing my comfy Foot­glove san­dals and her eyes seem to linger on them.

And then she turns away, and be­gins to walk to­wards the car. Her hand is on the pas­sen­ger door when she says over her shoul­der, ‘I un­der­es­ti­mated you.’

The brawn has got into the driver’s seat and is check­ing his phone. I think she might say more, but she doesn’t.

She climbs into the back seat and pulls the door shut. The en­gine turns, and in sec­onds the driver is in­di­cat­ing and pulling out, and I watch as the Prius glides slowly to the end of the street. It pauses for a mo­ment there, un­til there is a gap in the traf­fic, and then the wheels spin and it’s gone.

I have a sud­den sense of loss, watch­ing the empty road, a feel­ing that the sky has dark­ened.

I pull my­self to­gether and turn back. Her house looks shut­tered up and aban­doned. But it’s an il­lu­sion. Dun­can is due home any minute.

My phone is in the side pocket of my slacks. Adam will be on his sec­ond glass of wine. He’ll be nod­ding off. Er­rands – that’s what I’ll tell him. I’ve got an hour un­til the twins are dropped home from ten­nis. I text quickly: ‘Coast’s clear. She’s gone. X.’ Only a few sec­onds un­til his an­swer pings: ‘Let your­self in. You know where to find the key.’

My breath is com­ing quickly now. My fin­gers dart: ‘I’ll be wait­ing. Basque and all (and no I don’t mean Delia’s) x.’ One word in re­ply: ‘Groan.’ What was the last thing she said to me? I un­der­es­ti­mated you. Well. Funny that. Peo­ple of­ten do.

‘That was al­ways the prob­lem with our friend­ship: even when I was the vic­tim of her charm, I’d felt at a dis­ad­van­tage’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.