Rachel let herself into the house and picked up the mail, while Rex bounded towards the kitchen, as always ready for food. It felt like a million years since she left the house that morning, when she was filled with rare optimism. Going through to the kitchen, she watched Rex drinking water as though taps were running dry. His tail wagged with the pleasure of it. Oh, to be a dog, she thought, as she doled out a further repast of tripe. Food and drink was all it took to make him content. She opened the back door so that he could go out, folded the woolly she'd been carrying round all morning, then hung her keys on the hook in the hall and began to sort the mail. Bills, every one! She stuffed them in the letter rack for
The telephone did its usual ping before letting rip its demanding peal. Unwilling to respond she stared at it, as if doing so would gag it once and for all. If it was
‘Good day. Is that Rachel?’
The lilting tone was familiar.
‘It's Terry Marshall. Is
He's with you, screamed Rachel's brain. For the second time that day she suffered an uneasy dread.
Terry said: ‘I've only just got back.’
‘Got back?’ Rachel whispered the words.
So where was
The need for answers was like a heavy weight pressing down on Rachel's crown; the onset of palpitations in her chest was fierce. An urgent confrontation was crucial otherwise her doubts would drive her insane. A confrontation for three: Gary, Terry and her, would disentangle the jumble of falsehoods. That is, if Terry would agree to visit. If he did, it would instantly prove who the liar was; there would be no need then for him to come.
The idea of accusing
‘Would you like to come to dinner?’ she said. ‘Say, Friday evening?’ She chose Friday, because that was when
Without hesitation, Terry accepted the invitation and they agreed a time. She would cook something appetising for the occasion, she told him, which she privately considered would be unusually special.
RACHEL spent the evening with Rex at her feet and the whisky bottle in her lap. She held a glass brimming over with undiluted spirit and tried to focus on it as she brought it to her lips, spilling an ample quota in the process. She was drained, having spent hours mulling over the problem of
Rex flicked an ear, then wandered out of the living room door.
Senselessly intoxicated, Rachel followed the dog upstairs, kicked off her slippers, and climbed into bed, fully clothed. She hugged and stroked the pillow, and chuckled, vowing to behave herself if it made love to her three times before daybreak. She felt sick and rolled onto her side, hoping the queasiness would go away. Before long she fell into a troubled sleep.
She dreamed Mario was chasing
The best defence strategy is attack.
‘Oh, did I,’ she said, matter-of-factly. ‘It's as well, otherwise you wouldn't have got in.’
Fuming, she trekked into the kitchen and hunted in the drawer for a packet of aspirin. How dare he criticise her when there was so much to condemn him for. Furiously, she seized the kettle and stuck it under the tap. She needed an injection of caffeine to deal with the forthcoming cross-examination. After taking three aspirin tablets, she sat on the stool to wait for the water to boil. Her knees felt singularly weak, her stomach decidedly indisposed, though she couldn't be sure if it was the effect of too much whisky or the prospect of conflict. She brushed the back of her hand across her brow and blinked hard to dismiss the gathering tears. Weeping wouldn't help. She needed to be astute when facing
Rustling newspaper in the next room presented her with a sense of urgency.
Feeling in complete control, Rachel drank her tea. For the first time in their relationship she had the upper hand. She was no longer bewitched. ‘I invited him to dinner,’ she said. ‘I thought Friday might be good, since that's your night in.’
Rachel walked to the table and put down her mug. ‘So,’ she said, her face deadpan and her voice flat. ‘Where were you last night?’
Friday and Saturday!
Nausea returned to the pit of Rachel's gut. She clenched her hands at her sides. ‘What for?’
‘I told you when I rang.’
Rachel exploded. ‘The truth,’ she shouted. ‘You surely haven't been moving furniture non-stop since Friday night.’
A guarded expression masked
Leaving his chair,
This is it, Rachel thought, idiotically noticing that the landscape picture was askew. This then was the end. She had gone too far, asking for honesty. She felt
‘Amy and I are lovers.’
The trepidation didn’t pass. It grew, slowly, to a ghastly height, in keeping with the enormity of the confession. Icy tentacles crept up to strangle Rachel's heart. A surge of vomit filled her gullet. She raced to the bathroom, falling up the stairs in her haste. She made it in time, dropping to her knees and disgorging sour smelling, whisky laden sick into the toilet pan.
In between bouts of biliousness, she lay curled on the bathroom floor, holding a blue towel to her mouth, one hand pressed against her abdomen, repeatedly enunciating the word Lovers, LOVERS, L-O-V-E-R-S. But none of the utterances diminished the immensity of the shocking revelation. She knew the situation was here to stay. Had she sufficient mettle to fight back?
LATER ON, Rachel conversed with Gary as though they were two sensible adults dealing with a tricky but solvable quandary. ‘Why did you marry me?’ she asked. She really wanted the answer to that one.
‘I needed a permanent excuse to be near Amy.’
She shivered with nerves. ‘You didn't love me then.’
‘I did. I do,’
‘But only as a friend?’ Her nails dug into her palms.
‘What about Dad? Did he know?’ Rachel would kill him there and then if the answer was yes.
‘Good Lord, no.’
Slowly, she exhaled. ‘And that's why you married me, to take heat away?’
NOW that she knew the facts, the questions that flew into her mind were no longer important. Not any more. She felt bathed in a healing balm. Picking up the fairy-mug, she traced the outline of a flower-petal skirt. She still possessed a desire to inflict the same agonies on Gary as he had on her but the longing to escape, to proceed to the next stage of her life was too overpowering. What that stage was, she had no idea; nor, surprisingly, did she care.