Louise – Chapter 8
Louise arrived through the door looking red faced and breathless, having almost jogged the walk back from the station for reasons she didn’t really understand. Whatever awaited her wouldn’t change regardless of whether she got home 5 minutes earlier than normal. She swung first her handbag, and then her coat through the kitchen door and clattered them down on to the kitchen table. David looked up with his usual “Hi love” greeting which immediately calmed her nerves. Nothing about his manner seemed untoward. She desperately wanted to ask if a parcel had come for her but also didn’t want to draw attention to it. An almost agonising wait ensued while she boiled the kettle as he bent over his laptop making seemingly last minute changes to his presentation. “Tea?” she asked a little too brightly, trying to seem outwardly cheerful in a way that felt immediately conspicuous. She tried to cover it up by following it with “Good day?” but then quickly realised that she rarely asked that question anymore and winced. “Mmmm” he replied, which told her absolutely nothing. She turned back to the kettle when he suddenly interjected “Oh! I think a parcel came for you. I think it needs signed for. I’d popped out when they came, typical.”
Her heart jumped, and though he’d barely finished speaking, she was already re-running his sentences in her head searching for any sign of accusation. It was ridiculous, she thought, as she knew it was simply the guilt talking, but she satisfied herself nonetheless and stated that she’d try and pick it up before work tomorrow. She braced herself for him to ask her what it was, but the question never came. She took her tea in to the living room, noting the red card on the console table, picking it up and putting it carefully in her handbag before heading up to bed.
When she awoke the next morning, she remembered with a groan that the lie-in she had fantastised about would imply that she wasn’t getting up for work that morning and so she would have to go through her morning routine as normal while David finished his last minute packing. She spent longer in the shower than normal, conscious that she wanted to be as fresh as possible for Paul, but also that she couldn’t look like she was making herself late. David was making repeated trips backwards and forwards to the car. She got more and more irritable each time she heard the front door open again. “What the hell is the matter?” she muttered to herself under her breath, turning the shower off and reaching for her towel. She suddenly realised he was likely stalling, waiting for her to come out so that they could say goodbye and cursed herself for not realising. She felt that there was enough of a buffer between David leaving and Paul arriving under his ruse of an Uber but she didn’t want to push it. As she opened the door, enveloped by a cloud of steam, she heard David’s footsteps coming up the stairs. He jokingly waved his arms in front of his face as if clearing smoke from his path “You drowned?” he laughed. He recognised that the joke had landed flatly, then quickly uttered “bye love” with a peck on the cheek, a quick jog down the stairs and he was gone.
She stood wrapped in her towel on the landing and immediately wanted to cry. She knew she still loved him, deep down, but she also knew it was so deep down that she could no longer say that she was in love with him. She recognised that she had piled more and more distance on to that love as the months had gone on in order to justify the thrill of the affair with Paul. She felt constantly cruel, something which had hardened her heart even further, desperately trying to protect herself from her own actions and thoughts. Her shoulders started to shake as she wept in to her hands, wondering how she had gone this far, so far as to push a perfectly kind and loving man so far away from her than he practically ran out of the door, but who could blame him. She dragged in a lungful of air, willing herself to pull it together as she remembered that she still had to get to the post office depot before Paul arrived.
Louise turned her thoughts from the grief she still felt for her marriage and tried to remember her earlier excitement at seeing Paul. As much as she had laughed at Paul’s ‘poncey’ black Lexus when they first started seeing each other, it made for the perfect taxi disguise and so long as she put her own luggage in the boot of the car and got in the rear seat behind the passenger seat, no one would question it. Paul had ridiculed her suggestion of setting his phone up in a cradle, wires protruding and stuck to the dash. “It makes it look more authentic!” she had insisted “All the Uber drivers have them!” Once again, Paul poked fun at her need to cover her tracks with almost military precision and Louise had suddenly wondered how she had become so calculating, dismissing the thought with speed so as to keep the guilt at bay.
She always found it hard to pick an outfit for these occasions. She couldn’t look too dressy in case the neighbours wondered why she had suddenly put so much effort in on a Tuesday, but she couldn’t look too casual and risk Mary next door nosily asking David why she had been off sick and “was everything alright?” She usually found that wearing a shift dress with a jacket and heels rather than flats towed the delicate line, as she would take the stuffy jacket off as soon as they got out of the estate, using the awkward extreme leaning to release her arms as an excuse to simultaneous lean in for a kiss.
Still in her underwear, she pulled together her wardrobe for the night away that had been carefully folded in various drawers so as not to draw attention. She neatly slid the clothes in to her case before pulling on a short black shift dress and trotting downstairs. She headed to the boot of her car where, under 3 Tesco bag-for-life’s and an old waterproof, lay the Camille dress, still safe in its box. She slammed the boot lid shut, returning to the bedroom and laying the dress out across her case to fully admire it. The lighting was better here than the stark blue light emitted in the ladies toilets, and she was able to properly stand back to take it in. She didn’t want to risk crumpling it just yet so decided to leave it laid out in all its deep scarlet glory across her selection of shoes and pretty dresses that she had chosen for the trip. She slid a pair of ballet pumps on to her feet, grabbing her coat and handbag as she made for the door starting the car and reasoning that she had 15 minutes max to get to the depot and back provided there was no traffic and no queue. She double checked her handbag for the little red card before revving the engine and pulling out of the drive, a slight spray of gravel in her wake.
“Come on, come on” she moaned through gritted teeth as she waited for the bin lorry to finally pull up in to the next street. She was almost at the depot and could see through the fence that the car park was quiet. It had taken her almost the full 15 minutes just to get to the depot thanks to an almost constant stream of school run traffic in the other direction pinning her behind the bin lorry for what felt like eternity. She heard the bright ‘PING!’ of her phone receiving a message and hurriedly pulled in to the first parking bay available despite it being some distance from the door. “That’ll be Paul” she thought with immediate annoyance, noting that he was 10 minutes early. She threw off the seatbelt and rummaged in her bag for her phone, calculating which corner she would tell him to wait around until she got back when he would have to go around the block again before picking her up. To her surprise, her phone screen was lit up with David’s name. He had sent a picture. He never sends pictures, she thought, a cold, clammy feeling starting to creep up her torso and clasp her around the throat. She messed the pin code up twice in her panic to get in to the message, her breath now rasping through her as if she were breathing in sand. It was just one picture, with a small message underneath. The cold feeling suddenly shot down her body, releasing her throat from its grip, an immediate cold sweat forming on her top lip. Her fingers tingled as she scrolled up, then back down, double checking in vain that it was definitely the right David. Her red dress lay exactly where she had left it, gently cloaking her weekend bag. She could see the photograph was taken from inside the bedroom, a hint of a finger obscuring the edge of the image. The message at the bottom simply read “I forgot my pass”.