I imagine Rachel must have passed a hand over her face as she reached up to the machine on the wall. Without a knock the door opened and a senior colleague joined her. He would have looked at me then at her. I could hear underwater sounds.
'How long's he been like this?'
' About five minutes now. Reckon we need to get a doctor in?'
'Nah, it's just nerves'
He waved a hand in front of my unfocused eyes. I could see underwater shapes.
'Fucking middle classes get involved in pathetic, sordid domestic problems and then they can't handle the shit. This the one where his girlfriend cheated on him and when he found out he slapped her a couple of times so she calls the cops?'
'See what I mean? Pathetic. And a waste of police time too'.
Rachel sighs. It's her perspective too.
Just then normal breathing service is resumed. What happened? What the fuck happened?
Senior colleague dashes out the door with a wink to Rachel who turns the machine back on.
'I was asking what happened that day?'
‘We went to Brighton. We’d been meaning to go there for ages. She was at university there and it was a kind of guided tour of her student highlights. The weather was great and we had a really good time. When we got back she went out for a run, took the dog with her and I was supposed to be preparing our meal.
The prawns were defrosting and I was checking my own emails when I noticed that the emails I’d sent to her weren’t in the inbox. She usually let the inbox pile up and I’d always seen the stuff I’d sent her. So, just out of curiosity I opened the deleted items file.
The air bubbled up in my chest as the recollection reassembled itself. The air was jumping into my mouth in big gulps: the memory suddenly fresh as milk. The tape rolled. Rachel listened.
‘I opened the file and that’s when I saw them……………………..’
‘What did you see, Gary?’
‘Emails. Emails from him’
That does it. You can’t even say his name. The tears are rolling down your face. Say his name. Go on. Say it.
‘From Dale. From that fucking social worker!’
I had checked out his profile on the website. Cropped hair. Bit of an action man. Regular at the gym. Decent enough looking if you like that sort of thing. And he was probably shagging her at that precise moment: the Sunday morning shag, with the papers and the tray of coffee and orange juice on the floor and the duvet in a mess….. I sniffed back the tears and pushed on.
‘She said she’s really like to see him again. Again! She said it would be great. She said ‘great’ twice. How it would be ‘great’ to see him. And she said that she was ‘still seeing Gary’ but if he was ok with that it would be great to see him again.
She went to see him once, that I knew about. She said she just wanted to see him as a friend. What could I say? If I said no then it was like I was being defensive and didn’t trust her. And she’d have gone anyway; how could I stop her from here?
So she said she’s phone me as soon as she got back. It was about half eleven when the phone rang. I felt sick. She said she’s had a good time. She told me that they’d planned to go out for a meal but in the end she went to his house……(more sobs interrupted the narrative at this point and I wondered how this was transcribed, if there was an accepted protocol) ……and it was all very nice, very friendly and she told me he hadn’t tried anything and she came home…….’
That’s right. She phoned late that night. I was just so grateful to hear the story the relief sent me straight to sleep.
‘And then I read an email where she was talking about that night. She said to him that she’d told Gary, well, ‘the edited highlights’. She said she hadn’t told me about the snog and how that was a secret.
At that point I ran out into the garden crying but the neighbours on either side were out enjoying the weather so I ran back in to the house and went upstairs. There was a picture of us on the chest of drawers and I just smashed it with my arm and it shattered. I did the same to a picture on the wall. Then I took the drawers out and tipped the contents all over the floor. I grabbed the mattress and flipped it off the bed. I picked up the broken picture frame and threw it at the wall. Then I sat on the floor and looked at the room and cried for ages. Then I heard her park the car outside and I didn’t know what to do’.
Rachel looked at me evenly and asked me to carry on.
She was coming up the stairs calling my name. And I was sitting there thinking back to all the suspicions I’d had, all the worries, all the fears and concerns. And I’d dismissed them all. Choked them back and swallowed them like medicine, because I wanted to believe it would do me good. I dismissed them all because she said I had to trust her because she loved me. Yeah, yeah, yeah. She said she loved me. She said she loved me that morning in bed. Well, maybe she really did love me. Pity she fancied someone else too. Shame she was making plans to see someone else.
And I remembered back to the day, early on in the relationship when she told me that she’d been unfaithful in every relationship she’d ever had, except her marriage, when she was the one to get dumped on. The warning signs should have been clear to see. But I was blind. Love is blind and I was in love.
And now it’s all too clear; all in black and white. All the narrative contained in those emails; all there to see. All the fucking sordid details, all the endearments and pet names, all the sickly cloying tone and the nauseating whirling sensation that accompanies a world falling down. My girlfriend fancies someone else and she’s been lying to me for months.
She was coming up the stairs and she was going to walk into the room and I was going to….
‘Gary’, says Rachel. ‘What happened next?’
What happened next? The projector in my head stalled momentarily then flickered brightly. What happened next?
She walked into the room and did a standard double-take. Her hands went up to her face and she looked so appalled and vulnerable I wanted to hold her. I reached out and hit her instead. I slapped her. Short and fast. Bang. Side of the face. I pushed her to the floor. She landed on the mattress. Stunned. If I knew what I was doing I’d have stopped. If I knew what I was doing I’d never have started.
Her eyes went up to the wall above the bed where I'd daubed the word ‘LIAR!’ in red paint. The letters were a foot tall. When did that happen?
I took my cue from the writing on the wall.
‘Liar!’ I screamed at her.
‘Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar! Liar!’
She said meekly, ‘You’ve hit me’.
So I hit her again. Bang. For emphasis.
‘I’ve spoken to him on the phone’.
Yeah. So I did. It seems like ages ago now. It felt like an event from another lifetime then.
The phone rang for a bit and I had that disappointed sensation that perhaps he wasn’t at home and I would be denied my moment in the light. But no, he picked up. I hoped I had interrupted something important.
‘Hi, is that Dale?’
‘Yes’. There were no signs of caution in his voice, yet.
‘Hi. It’s Gary’.
There was a measurable pause. I could hear the machinery turning. I prompted him.
A longer pause.
Hesitant, he was wondering how to play this, how much to reveal, conceal…..
Well, the conversation could have gone several ways at that point but then it spilled out. The dam had burst.
'Have you been shagging my girlfriend, you bastard'?
‘I know what happened when she came down to visit. I know what happened. You were fucking snogging her. Don’t deny it, you bastard! You’ve been asking her out.
‘Well, I can always ask….’
‘Yeah, well, let me ask you something…’
‘I’m not sure why we’re having this conversation….’
I told him his address. Right down to the postcode.
‘Is that right?’
‘Because I know where you live!’
And with that I hung up.
‘You haven’t’. She sounded exhausted. But this was more in hope than expectation.
‘So check your fucking phone then. I know! I know what happened!
‘Oh for God’s sake, it was just a snog!’ He put his arm round me…’
‘And you had to fucking snog him?! You lying fucking cheating cow. Why have you done this to me? Why did you lie?’
‘Because I didn’t want you to find out, that’s why people tell lies’.
The sheer cool utter panache defeated me. It’s all over now, baby blue. I fell to the floor and apologised over and over and over again. I sobbed and cried and clung onto her legs. I begged forgiveness but forgiveness was gone. She took charge.
‘I want you out of the house. I’m going to take a shower. Pack your things and go’.
She surveyed the debris as she quit the room. ‘A spectacular end to a relationship’, she observed.
‘And did you tell me any more lies, any other lies, Caroline?’
I asked her quietly. She hesitated. So it was true.
‘Yes! Ok! Happy now? I shagged the bloke that runs the pub because we got a lock in and the people next door came round with some weed and we had a nice time and we ended up in bed. He stayed over. I can't even remember it properly. We listened to music, I think. I shagged him! Ok? So fucking what? It was nothing. I’ve never seen him since and I don’t want to.
The effect of this intelligence was like tunnel vision. The rooms pulsed and grew darker at the edges. But she wasn't finished.
And when you were in Vancouver I shagged one of the guys I met on Soulmates. I went up to London to meet him and I missed the train home. I genuinely missed the fucking train so he suggested I stay at his place and I shagged him. When I got home the next day I got the message you’d left on the answerphone and I cried. So I told you I’d been to my mum’s because I didn’t want to tell you the truth because it would have hurt you. I loved you and I didn’t want to hurt you. Can you understand that? Why can’t you understand that?
She screamed this in my face.
'And before you ask, no, I haven’t shagged Dale and yes, I think he wants to. He won’t want me now though, will he'?
I'd never felt so tired in my life. I scarcely had the strength to draw breath. But she still hadn't done. All that running was making her strong.
‘And that night you turned up out of the blue….well, he’d been here that night. Why do you think I said 'Oh don’t'. I didn’t want you to come down because he was here. We were just talking…………..’
She spun round and slammed the door with a parting riposte.
'I don't need to justify myself to you!'
A broken piece of picture frame fell to the floor. The shower started up.
She re-appeared moments later. Naked.
‘Oh, I almost forgot. I shagged an ex in the Grand Hotel in Brighton, but that was ages ago’.
It all started to make sense. It wasn’t the lonely lump of pillows in the bed. It was the bloke from the pub.
I stopped and looked at my inquisitor.
‘You ever listen to the Beach Boys, Rachel? There's an old song called 'Caroline No'. It was running through my head at the time.
'What was I supposed to do?'
Rachel replied by asking another question.
'When did you leave?'
'Maybe about forty minutes later. I helped clear up the worst of the mess. It was mostly superficial. She braided my hair. I got in the car. I drove home. That's it'.
Rachel switched off the machine.
'I'm not going to prolong the agony any further. But we have a few more formalities to get through'.
'Being fingerprinted, having a DNA sample taken, and a photograph for the record'.
Ten minutes later and I was standing outside with the car keys in my hand and a lot of bad ideas in my head. A lot of bad ideas and just one word. Criminal.