This is a book I've been working on. I haven't shown it to anyone yet and would appreciate any comments.
Chapter 01 The Lie
Sunday, 8 July 2018
11.08 pm Hiya. You arrived yet?
11:14 pm Yeah. You OK?
11:14 pm Strange
11:14 pm Why?
11:17 pm Strange that you would think I’m so stupid.
I get to my feet and rush to the bathroom just in time to reach the toilet bowl. I vomit. My throat burns. A cold feeling spreads across me. Time stands still. The outside world evaporates away and suddenly there’s a stranger inside my head. I can feel the blood pulsing through my temples. Gracie is upstairs thankfully. Blissfully unaware of what’s just occurred.
I move back to the sofa and sit down again. Suddenly an old man. Something is still playing on the television. The sound is turned off. Did I do that? Was it me who turned it down? Was it only ten minutes ago that my daughter and I were watching TV together? My arm around her shoulders. Her body heat warming my side. Together in a totally different universe. My fingers prod at my iPad:
11:28 pm The silence is deafening. So sorry to ruin your evening.
I’m angry now. But it’s a sterile kind of self-righteous anger that I can’t remember feeling before. As if somehow I’m clever and I’ve got one over on her. As if I’m in total control. I double-tap on the home button and relaunch Find My Phone.
She’s still in Battersea.
She left the house at nine o’clock this morning dragging a trolley case behind her with a smile on her face and a cheery wave. But she’s still in Battersea. Ten minutes ago Gracie and I were sitting on the sofa watching Love Island. A horrible programme. When Gracie had asked me a week or so ago if we could follow the entire series I’d shaken my head in mock disgust. ‘If you have to watch it,’ I’d groaned, ‘then I’m going to go to the pub every night between the hours of nine and ten.’ Nevertheless we were watching it together only ten minutes ago, me and my lovely, beautiful, damaged little daughter, when I’d suddenly turned to her and absent-mindedly said: ‘I wonder if mummy’s landed yet?’.
Sarah always complained that I had Find My Phone turned on. She didn’t like it. She said it was as if I was spying on her. But I’d only turned it on just in case she’d lost her phone or had it stolen. It had happened to me a few months ago at some bar in Brixton and I was able to track its progress, watch it slowly traverse London until somebody decided it was a good idea to turn the phone off. The only other times I ever checked on Sarah was for closeness: a kind of weird closeness that meant that we were always connected wherever she was. When she was in Germany or Italy or wherever her job took her I could trace the line that divided us on the screen and somehow we were always connected. It felt reassuring.
But she’s in Battersea now instead of New York. Why is she in Battersea?
At first I’d thought it was an error. ‘Weird,’ I’d mumbled to Gracie, who’d immediately stiffened with interest. I’d quit the app and tried again and felt a frown creep across my forehead when I’d got the same result. Then I’d gone downstairs to the bedroom and picked up an old iPhone that I only used these days for audiobooks at night but the result was the same. Find My Phone was adamant that Sarah was in Battersea. Sarah never goes to Battersea. What was she doing there when she was supposed to be in New York? Then I’d gone back to the sofa with Gracie still sitting there and pretended that nothing was wrong. Already my radar was flashing furiously but I didn’t want to risk worrying our daughter: 15-years-old, eating disorder, self-harming, suicide attempt last January. I’d lied and said Sarah had landed in New York.
I send another text:
11:23 pm Still waiting for a response. I’ve got plenty of time. I’m here all night.
Still angry. Gracie has retreated upstairs to her bedroom without a word but I’m still angry. Raging angry. But again a cold sort of anger, a frosty kind of anger. My forehead is dry. No sweat at all. I’m suddenly picturing Sarah sitting next to some guy in a pub or in bed with him. Both looking at each other. Mouths agape. Eyes wide open. Wine glasses hanging in the air. Suddenly there’s a stranger in our life. A stranger in our comfortable little trio: me and Sarah and Gracie. An interloper. What the fuck is she doing in Battersea? She never goes to Battersea. And how could I be picturing her with anybody else? It’s an absurd thought. Get a grip. It’s Sarah. We’ve been together for 17 years. We love each other. We have great sex. We have a great social life. How could I be doubting Sarah? It’s a mistake. Hardly a week goes by without us both telling each other how lucky we are to be together, that we’re the love of each other’s lives. Surely it’s a mistake? It has to be a mistake. Apple has fucked things up.
I check Find My Phone again, this time zooming in as close as I can to where she is sitting in Battersea. I take screen shots. Then I go on to Google Street View and take a look around the area. It’s run down. Shabby. She appears to be located somewhere within a really dilapidated looking block of council flats. I note down the address: Parkham Street. Suddenly there’s a response:
11:44 pm I’m flying Monday. I needed my space to talk and think.
11:44 pm You’ve had half an hour to think of. Better response than that. Stop lying to me. I deserve better than that.
11:45 pm It’s true
11:45 pm Why would I believe a word you say?
11:45 pm I’m in Battersea with a friend. I’m on an 11:30 BA flight tomorrow.
11:45 pm You’re a liar. And I know where you are so tell me the truth.
11:46 pm Spent the day in the pub talking
11:46 pm Liar.
11:46 pm You said you know where I am.
11:47 pm I may be an ‘older man’ and have ‘no power’ but most of my brain is still intact.
11:48 pm What are you thinking?
11:48 pm Anyway. NOo more talking. Enjoy the rest of your night with your ‘friend’ while I look after our daughter. Good night.
11:50 pm I need my space.
I am working Monday to Thursday I can’t talk to anyone then
I needed half a day.
11:50 pm Sorry. One more thing. We are now officially finished. I’m not willing to be lied to and treated like a fool. Let battle commence. Enjoy the sex. I really hope it’s worth it.
11:52 pm It’s not sex.
I can’t tell you I need time alone when I’m traveling
11:52 pm Good night. See you in court.
11:53 pm We talk when I’m back on Friday. Don’t do anything stupid. If you hurt me you hurt yourself. The same if I hurt you
I don’t want to hurt you
Gracie comes before us
11:54 pm No more talking. I’ve caught you blatantly lying to me. You even lied to your ‘friends’ on WhatsApp. We’re finished.
11:54 pm What did I lie to them about. I’m going to NY. Just not today. Tomorrow morning.
11:54 pm You’re a liar.
11:55 pm Yes I lied but only because I needed space
11:55 pm You just told me you’ve arrived in NY
11:56 pm Yes I lied to you about going today and not tomorrow but only because I needed space
11:56 pm I’m sure you’ll have lots of time to think up some elaborate stories. I’m not angry. Just now resigned to what happens next. You’re a liar. I can’t live with someone who lies to me.
And lies to our daughter. Which is far worse.
11:57 pm Context. I lied because I needed space
You took her phone and pretended to be her. That’s lying too
11:57 pm I did no such thing!
11:57 pm She sent me strange messages
‘Send me a picture of the view’
She’s never done that. Come on.
If you told her to say that. If that’s the case that’s bad.
11:59 pm I know nothing whatsoeverabout that. I messaged you. She’s a smart girl. Perhaps she smelled a rat too.
Just done ever delude yourself that I’m as Dumas you think. I’m not.
11:50 pm How can I tell her and you I need time away from you both
Monday, 9 July 2018
12:00 am you’re going to get plenty of time away from us now I have the evidence
12:00 am Evidence of what??
12:00 am Of your lies.
12:01 am What me leaving a day early for NU.
12:01 am Lies.
12:01 am It’s true. You only see things through your own eyes.
12:01 am Just make sure you use a condom. You don’t want two kids when you’re happy to abandon one.
12:02 am What???
Honestly you need to stop
You look foolish now
12:03 am I’ve stopped. I’m going to bed now. Have a nice time. And don’t worry. I won’t tell Gracie that you lied to her to get away from her. She doesn’t need that. See you in court. I mean it.
12:07 am You’re the last person I would want to fight with. I have nothing but live for you.
12:08 am Liar. Good night.
12:09 am It’s true.
I put my phone and iPad to charge on the arm of the sofa and head for the bathroom. Is this what being cheated on feels like? My head is thumping. I lean over the sink and clean my teeth but I don’t really know why I’m doing it. A tiny oasis of normality, perhaps, in a world suddenly stubbed out like a cigarette butt. I notice that the blood has drained from my face. I’ve aged about 40 years in an hour. There are sharp wrinkles all around my eyes. I can hardly breathe. I’m shaking. I can’t stop my foot from twitching. I understand nothing. Nothing at all. My brain has been injected with ketamine and the numbness seeps into me.
I lie in bed and try to sleep. Impossible of course. I keep running things over in my head: Sarah. Sarah lied to me about travelling to New York and she’s actually in Battersea! Sarah did this to me. Sarah, whom I know better than anyone on earth. Sarah, whom I married all those years ago. Sarah, with whom I had a child. Sarah, who is my best friend. Sarah did this to me.
Then something suddenly occurs to me. There was an email. An email a few weeks ago. A cheerful, nondescript email in which Sarah gave me the dates of her upcoming flights. It’s a particularly busy period for her: she’s travelling to New York for a week then home for the weekend; Berlin the next week and another weekend home; finally, Canada. How long ago did she plan all this?
I head back upstairs and reawaken my iPad. I go to the VIP section of the Mail app and find this:
Sarah Lane 27/06/2018
To: John Cc: Sarah
My upcoming travel for July L
New York: Sunday 8th July – Friday 13th
Berlin: Sun 15th July – back wed 18th home 6pm ish
Canada: Mon 23rd – Friday 27th
I’ll try and do no travel in August.
21st /22nd July is free to celebrate your birthday x
Bluebell climbs on to the sofa beside me and rubs my thigh. Another wave of shock hits me. There is silence in the flat. Total silence except for the purring of the cat. I can hear my heart beat. I can feel the heat rise from my body.
This was planned. Sarah planned this. Almost two weeks ago Sarah had planned those dates and sent them to me with her customary loving ‘x’. She had planned to see whomever her secret ‘friend’ was almost two weeks ago.
I tap out a final message and head off to bed. I take a sleeping pill, a Zopliclone, prescribed to me on account of a thyroid problem; for those occasional nights when sleep is beyond me:
1:04 am Yes it must be true because you are such an astonishing Clairvoyant that when you emailed me your travel dates on 27 June ‘Hey babe my travel dates…’ you anticipated that you would need time alone from your daughter and I so that you could talk to a ‘friend’. That’s astonishing prescience, Sarah. You’re a remarkable woman. You’re already scheming almost two weeks in advance.
1:10 am And how many other times have you done this? The mind boggles.