Authors: Louise Jensen
Orange and scarlet ribbons streak the sky as the sun begins to rise. In the eight hours since Ben left, my anger hasn’t abated, although my determination to track down Ewan is, admittedly, now tempered with fear. Ben eventually accepted my decision not to call the police, putting
it down to my reluctance to relive the past. Of course I couldn’t tell him about the video, the bloodied gloves, the damage to my car. The threat that I might have done something terrible and been filmed doing it. Although it may seem foolish to want to track down a man I know is clearly dangerous, I can’t just sit and do nothing. After last night’s attack on Ben it seems personal in a way it
hadn’t before – again I feel that red hot burn in my veins when I think of the bruising on Ben’s face – and I almost, almost wish the blood on my gloves is Ewan’s. That I have hurt him. This idea takes shape until its edges are pointed and sharp. Perhaps that is what happened? Perhaps Ewan attacked me and I fought back. Fought back hard. Perhaps all this is nothing but hurt pride intent on scaring
me. If so he’ll get bored soon, surely. He has to. I tell myself this, but it doesn’t ring true. The video doesn’t show me protesting and again I wonder if I was drugged. Feeling dirty once more as I think of the footage, I shower for the third time since watching it, and dress.
I am chiselling two slices of bread from the loaf out of the freezer when the doorbell rings. I hover
in the doorway, knife still in hand, when the letterbox rattles.
‘Ali,’ shouts Matt, and instinctively I pat my hair as I hurry to let him in, as though that will make me more presentable.
‘This is a surprise.’ I’m not sure what to say. Matt has never come here before. Branwell squeezes between my legs, tail wagging so fast it’s a blur.
‘Thought I’d better come and walk him
with your ankle and all.’ He crouches down, and Branwell rests his front paws on Matt’s knees as he licks his face. ‘I’ve had a wash, thanks.’ Matt holds him at bay as he raises his head and, flustered, I step back and pull Branwell’s lead from the cupboard along with his treats and some poo bags. I can’t bring myself to look at Matt, almost as though he’ll be able to read my expression and know
I’ve had sex with another man. Regret crawls across my skin.
‘Are you okay? Have you remembered something?’ Matt asks, as he snaps the lead onto Branwell’s collar.
‘Why does everyone keep asking me that?’ I say, sharper than intended.
‘Okay.’ He straightens up. ‘Perhaps a coffee when I come back then?’ he says and, embarrassed by my brusqueness, I offer to have a cooked breakfast
Sausages and bacon sizzle as I think how odd it is the way things work out. Matt is being nicer to me than he has been in ages. I slice mushrooms, quarter
tomatoes – an edible version of the olive branch I am offering – and I’ve just laid out plates when Matt returns. He washes his hands and drops bread into the toaster, buttering the slices after they pop.
‘You’ve become domesticated,’ I say to fill the space between us.
‘Don’t believe everything you see!’
We fall into an awkward silence once more when I don’t answer. I can’t.
I can’t believe anything I see.
It feels odd to have Matt here, and I think he feels as uncomfortable as me as he sips from the mug of tea I have pushed towards him and makes a face, looking around for the sugar I have forgotten to add.
‘What have you been up to then?’ he asks, and my guilt rises before I realise he is fumbling for conversation too. We’re both at a loss to know how
to be with each other. Who to be with each other. ‘Silly question,’ he says, filling the silence when I don’t. ‘How are you feeling?’
‘My head’s still sore but I’m getting better. The painkillers make me woozy though. I keep napping.’
‘And your memory? The proso thing?’
‘No change.’ I stab at a mushroom. ‘An appointment letter came this morning, though, for the research programme
into prosopagnosia at Stonehill University, for next Thursday.’
‘That’s great, although it’s a bit of a trek. What happened to your car, by the way?’ Matt asks. ‘I didn’t notice the damage at the front when you picked Branwell up.’
I chew slowly while I formulate an answer. ‘Someone clipped it in a car park.’
‘Probably not worth an insurance claim but you shouldn’t be driving
with only one mirror. I’ll take it in and get a new one, and get the bumper replaced.’
‘You don’t have to.’
‘I want to. You need looking after, Ali. Keeping out of trouble.’ He nudges me with his elbow to prove he’s joking, but the bacon sits greasy and heavy in my stomach. I push my plate away. Why now? Why is he being so nice when I’ve slept with somebody else and potentially ruined
any chance we might have had at getting back together? Momentarily, I consider whether I should tell him, but then I think how I’d feel if I knew he’d touched someone else and I know this is a secret I must keep. Another one.
Matt mops up the last of his egg yolk before he stands and pulls on his coat.
‘Stay.’ One word, though there are a thousand ‘I’m sorrys’ and ‘I need yous’ hidden
under the surface.
‘I can’t. I’ve somewhere to be.’ He doesn’t elaborate. ‘Where are your car keys?’
I fetch my spare set and drop them into his outstretched palm, and as my finger brushes his, a jolt of electricity shoots through me.
He drags his heels as he ambles down the hallway, as though he’s reluctant to leave, and he turns to face me when he reaches the door, and I
am sixteen again with first-date-first-kiss flutters.
‘Matt, I have something to tell you.’ My words fall out in a gibbering rush. ‘I’ve been thinking since the hospital and—’
‘Me too.’ I fall silent and study him but his expression is unreadable. ‘I could have lost you. I mean properly lost you. Alison.’ My name is warm and soft as it falls from his tongue. My heart racing again
but this time it isn’t through fear. Matt takes my hand in his, kissing my palm before drawing me against him for a hug. His body is still familiar to me and I allow my rigid frame to relax into him. My head fits perfectly in that hollow between his head and shoulder. I feel the warmth of his arms wrapped around me, and despite the shame that crashes over me in sickening waves every time I think
of that video, I am disappointed when he lets me go.
‘We’ll talk soon, I promise, Ali. There’s things you should probably know.’
‘What things? Why can’t we discuss them now?’
‘Because I have somewhere I need to be. Sorry.’
I feel a pricking sensation at the back of my eyes and I will myself not to cry as he leaves. He’s
not putting me first. In the kitchen, I
carry our plates over to the sink to wash up and find a Terry’s Chocolate Orange next to the taps, and I don’t know what to think, but I don’t have time to dwell. I need to get changed. It’s exactly a week after my date.
Mr Henderson had said: ‘It’s possible going back to Prism could trigger your memories.’
That’s exactly what I’m going to do.
Normally if I’m going out on a Saturday night I take care over my make-up, my hair, my outfit, checking out my reflection from all angles. Tonight, I’ve pulled on plain black trousers and a long-sleeved T-shirt that covers my bruises. I can’t bear to look in the mirror still,
but even if I could, I wouldn’t be contouring my cheeks, darkening my brows. The thought of another man even looking at me, let alone touching me, makes me feel sick to my stomach. The taxi beeps its horn outside, and I wish I had my car so I could make a quick getaway if tonight gets too much for me.
I lock up and hurry down the path, tell the driver I won’t be a minute, and I stride towards
Jules’s front door. She must have heard the horn. Through the lounge window I see her and James. She’s gesturing with her hands as she speaks, and her voice is raised, but I can’t hear what she’s saying. I rap sharply on the window and point at the cab behind me.
‘Sorry.’ She’s breathless, seconds later, as she opens the door, slams it shut behind her.
‘Where’s James?’ He had said
he’d come with us.
‘He has a migraine.’
I glimpse through the window again, he’s sitting with his head in his hands. I feel a lurch of trepidation. I’m apprehensive about returning to the bar – having James there would have settled my nerves.
‘Look, Ali,’ Jules still hasn’t moved, keys dangle from her finger, ‘do you think this is really a good idea? Especially as James can’t
‘I don’t know what else to do.’ I shrug. ‘It’s exactly a week later, so I’m hopeful the bar staff will be the same. Somebody must have seen me. Remember me. Maybe know who Ewan is.’
‘It’s turning into an obsession. I don’t mean to be blunt, but so what if you find out who he is? He’s hardly likely to tell the truth about that night, and it’s all over now. Can’t you just
‘No.’ I don’t elaborate. I can’t tell her about the gloves, the car. My vague, amorphous suspicions that I might have done something terrible and Ewan might have filmed me doing it. She’d definitely try to talk me out of going then, and in this game of cat and mouse I’m sick of being the mouse.
‘What if he’s there?’ she asks. ‘You wouldn’t know him if you saw him. He could—’
‘He won’t.’ I cut her off, already nervous enough. ‘Besides you’ll be by my side all night. Please, Jules. I’m going with or without you. I’d rather you came.’
She sighs. ‘Okay but I’m getting bladdered and you’re paying.’
It crosses my mind that if I was honest with Jules about all the things Ewan has done she might not drink, remain vigilant, but then again she might change
her mind about coming with me and I don’t want to be alone. I stride towards the taxi, telling myself that even if she doesn’t know the full story there’s safety in numbers, but even before that thought has properly formed I know I am deluding myself.
The freezing air stings my lungs as the taxi drops us off outside Prism, but as soon as we step inside heat hits me. There’s a girl
handing out leaflets for cut-price pitchers, and I study her but I’ve no way of knowing if I’ve seen her before. I remember the tips Dr Saunders gave me and I search for distinguishing marks, tattoos, distinctive jewellery, but last week I probably wouldn’t have been looking for any of those things and she remains unfamiliar to me.
‘Was she working last Saturday?’ Jules asks. I shrug helplessly
and notice Jules raise her eyebrows as she too begins to realise how fruitless this could be.
‘Have you seen me before?’ I ask the girl as I take a leaflet.
‘No,’ she says, but she’s barely glanced at me.
Two bouncers flank the double doors leading into the bar.
‘Do you remember me?’ I ask one. He shakes his head.
‘Ooh is he your baby’s daddy?’ asks the other,
and I feel a flush creep around my neck as I scuttle through the entrance. In front of me, bodies: a couple writhe to the music, alcohol loosening stiff joints and inhibitions.
‘Drink?’ Jules shouts over the music and, although I don’t want one, I need to talk to the bar staff and so I nod. Jules orders me a spritzer and herself a double JD and Coke, which she downs before she’s paid. ‘God
it’s depressing being single,’ she says as she signals to the barman for another. ‘I feel too old for places like this.’ She doesn’t usually drink much, and I wish she’d slow down. I’ve enough to worry about tonight without adding her to the mix.
‘Were you working last Saturday?’ I say, as the barman sloshes another shot of amber liquid into Jules’s glass.
‘Yep. I work every weekend.
Got to pay my way through uni somehow.’
Jules throws back her second double and asks for a refill.
‘This is an odd question,’ I say. ‘But do you remember me being here last weekend?’
‘Had too much to drink, did you?’ He flashes a smile. ‘Got up to something you shouldn’t? With someone you shouldn’t?’
Why would he say that? The features stiffen on my face as I try to
keep my tone light.
‘Just trying to piece together a few things. You know how it is.’
‘You look kind of familiar. Did I serve you?’
‘You can serve me.’ Jules slaps another twenty on the bar. ‘Another two doubles. What?’ She catches my look. ‘It saves queuing.’
‘I was here with a man. And my friend, blonde, about my build. Chrissy.’
‘Oh, I know Chrissy!’
‘Doesn’t everyone?’ Jules mutters under her breath.
‘I remember seeing her. Not you though. Or the guy. Sorry.’ He turns to serve someone else.
Dejected I carry the white wine spritzer he poured for me over to the booth in the corner. As I slide onto its sticky, plastic seat I’ve a strong sense of déjà vu.
A thigh pressed against mine, a hand on my knee. A prickly, uncomfortable feeling.
I scan the room. There’s a man leaning against the bar watching me. I tear my gaze away, and see another man awkwardly moving his body to the beat, and he stares in my direction. Panic wells as my eyes flit back to the bar. The man has changed position, standing tall now, and I think it’s not the same person, looking my way, or is it? It’s impossible to tell. His features have rearranged once
‘I think I’m being watched,’ I say to Jules, discreetly signalling with my eyes. Trying to appear casual as she steals a glance, I pick up my drink and pretend to take a sip, but my hands are shaking and wine trickles down the side of the glass. Two men hover by our booth, one whispers something to the other and he looks at me over his shoulder before turning back to his friend. They
take a step nearer.
‘Jules.’ My heart is galloping now.
‘Ali, it’s a meat market. What did you expect, two women out alone on a Saturday night? Men are going to look. Usually that’s kind of the point.’
My eyes scan the crowd. You’d think it would be easy to identify people you know by their clothes, their hair, the way they carry themselves but it’s our features that make
us unique. Recognisable. Take those away and it’s like pebbles on a beach, too many similarities, and it takes patience and time to tell them apart. I don’t have much of either.
‘We shouldn’t have come.’ The music grows louder in my ears. Despite the fact I probably know a good few people here tonight, everyone is a stranger. It’s busier now. The drinks half price until midnight.
‘I’m sure if Chrissy was here you’d be having a good time.’ Jules knocks back her fourth double. There’s a slur to her words.
‘What does that mean?’
‘It means that ever since you moved in with her you’ve dumped me.’
‘Even tonight you’re looking for her.’
‘It’s odd we’re not Facebook friends anymore. I want to know why. I’m worried about her, Jules.
‘Not particularly. You drinking that?’ She nods towards my wine and when I shake my head she picks it up. ‘She’ll turn up Monday, when the shop reopens, and regale us all with some big adventure.’ She tips her head back and drains the glass.
‘Steady,’ I say. There’s a tension between us I don’t quite understand and part of me wishes I hadn’t coerced her into coming.
‘Why?’ Jules says and there’s confrontation in her tone. ‘I might want to get pissed and shag a stranger, the way Chrissy does.’
‘Just because Chrissy had a fling with a married man once doesn’t make her a slag.’
‘And just because Craig slept around it doesn’t mean you have to.’ The words are out of my mouth before I can stop them.
? I thought there was only one? How many?’ Even in the green and red flash of the lights I can see the colour has drained from her face.
‘I don’t know.’
‘How many women, Ali?’ She thumps the table with her fist.
‘Honestly, Matt didn’t say…’
‘Matt’s a tosser too.’
‘Don’t call him that,’ I say quietly.
‘Why?’ She studies me. ‘Fuck. You’re not thinking of
taking him back, are you?’
I am forming the word ‘no’, but I can’t bring myself to say it.
‘Christ, Ali. Seriously. After the way he’s treated you?’
‘It’s been hard, yes, but marriage is hard, isn’t it? We’ve been talking, today. What happened to me has been a wake-up call to us both. He’s been different since I was in hospital. Nicer.’
‘Fucking brilliant. So you think
couples should work through their problems? You hypocrite. You lost me my husband and now you’re…’ The bitterness streams from her lips, where it sits on the table between us, toxic and thick, while I cut in, my voice shaking with anger.
‘I didn’t “lose” you your husband. You left of your own free will when you found out he was a shit.’
‘At least he was
shit. You go around ruining
‘Ruining whose life?’ I’m shouting now. Again I can feel eyes on me but this time I don’t care.
All of a sudden it’s as if someone has deflated her. ‘Sorry. Sorry.’ She starts crying. Rubs her nose with the back of her hand. ‘I don’t feel good, Ali.’
‘You shouldn’t have mixed your drinks. You always were a lightweight.’
‘I didn’t mean it. I just miss Craig.
I miss being married. You understand that, don’t you?’ She’s crying harder now, and I slide around her side of the booth, put my arm around her shoulders and make soothing noises that I do understand, but inside I am reeling. Alcohol coaxes out the truth, Mum used to say. The truth is she is lonely. The truth is she blames me.
It’s almost midnight and we’re more than ready to go
home. I’m coming out of the toilets, a wad of loo roll in my hand for Jules. All the emotions she’s felt since she found out about Craig’s affair have tumbled out tonight, and there’s a taxi on the way to pick us up. Before turning left to head back to the main section I glance to my right. At the bottom of the darkened corridor the fire exit sign glows a dull green, and the sight of it stops me in
my tracks. That was what I’d remembered during my hypnotherapy session.
I don’t want to
. Being dragged outside. The rain. The cold. The door slamming shut. Every cell in my body is screaming at me to walk away but, tentatively, I take a step forward, and then another. I’m shrouded in fear but I can’t turn back. I have to know if it will trigger more memories. The corridor is longer than I thought.
The music fading behind me.
Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.
My skin is crawling with recognition now, I’m almost at the door. Another step. I stop. Stretch out my fingers and touch the cool metal bar.
‘I’ve been looking for you.’ Hot breath against my neck. The hairs on my arms stand on end. Slowly, slowly, I turn around.
‘Leave me alone,’ I say to the man in front of me. My eyes flicker
to the right. My hands ball into fists.
My feet pound but before my mind registers I’m moving I’m being yanked backwards by the strap of my handbag. I fall against his chest.
‘You’re coming with me.’ Onions on his breath. Fingers clamp around my elbow. He drags me further into the blackened corridor, away from the crowd, where no one will hear me scream.