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Guess the Song -Here's a clue
He didn’t know I had a key. It had been easy to ‘borrow’ it when he was at the football, rush to B&Q and get it copied – by laser, no less – and put it back where he’d left it. I had been there, amusing myself while he was at the match, so he hadn’t taken it.
‘One less thing for Security to find,’ he’d said at the time.
The door opened smoothly and I closed it unhurriedly behind me. The neighbours had seen me before so my presence wasn’t that strange. I walked down the hallway of the flat, to the bedroom at the far end. Dario’s flat was the ground floor of a Victorian town house, all long and narrow with rooms off this one hallway. A step down, and past the bathroom, and there. The bed. The one we’d shared. He was very good at making it, neat as if my mum had done it.
The smell was unmistakable – it was him. His car smelled the same, his scent, the eau de whatever he used, something old fashioned and elegant. He left a trace of himself in his most intimate places. I breathed it in, span around to revel in the perfumed space.
His robe, the only thing out of place, draped across the bed where he’d left it that morning. I picked it up, sniffed it, like a parody of a fabric softener advert. There was the soft whisp of clean soap there as well, from his last bath.
As I had done the last time I was here – with permission that time – I took off my clothes, folded them and placed them on the bedcovers. Then I pulled the robe on, grinning as its great volume enveloped me in a cloud of him. I closed my eyes and imagined he was hugging me.
What next? I had all afternoon, the match was on the other side of London, he’d be hours yet. His red and white shirt was not in the wardrobe and I smiled and shook my head, fondly disapproving at such a tribal habit of wearing one’s colours to the game.
The living room was at the front of the flat, looking on to the street. The CD player was still in the corner, though the sofa was new. He hadn’t said he was thinking of changing the sofa. It made me want to laugh – huge, deep, royal blue velvet with golden feet only a few inches high. It was something like a square bed, room to snuggle in front of the TV.
I pushed the CD player’s power button and then pressed ‘play’, giving myself a few moments to guess what he’d been listening to. The smooth contralto of Joni Mitchell slid into the room, flowing into the highest corners and over the floor. Dario only listened to Joni when he was feeling unsettled. I must do something nice, send something in the post, to cheer him up. None of my cards were on display around the high bookshelves. I wondered where they were. My confidence wobbled, just a little, not enough to make me want to leave. Not yet.
I left Joni to swirl through the air and returned to the hallway, back to the bathroom. I ran a bath, like old times, except, of course, he wasn’t in it. I added some of the bath oil, the one he got from Liberty, and filled the air with steam and the green scent of bergamot. The windows were quickly coated, preventing any peering neighbours from seeing me.
The water pressure in this part of London wasn’t good and the bath would take some time to fill. I wandered back to the living room. The CD had ended and the only sound in the flat was the deep chunter of the water.
The CD collection was behind the player. I’d laughed at him – a CD collection! – but he said he’d inherited it from his mum and that was why it was heavy on the Enya and light on the heavy metal. What was wrong with Spotify? I’d said.
‘Why lose everything if you lose one device?’ he’d argued. He didn’t understand the concept of streaming.
There was a certain satisfaction in picking up a plastic case and reading the song list on the back. And sometimes, on a little card insert on the inside with the cover art on it, the words could be printed. I’d danced around the little carpeted room, a hairbrush in one hand, the CD insert in the other, wearing, well, not a lot sometimes, while Dario rolled around laughing on the old sofa. My version of Orinoco Flow was not as good as the original.
I chose that Enya album, the memories flooding back as each song played through while I lounged on the new sofa. I turned my head and caught sight of the desk, now pushed against a different wall to make way for the royal blue daybed. Less desk, more escritoire, another inheritance from his mum. It was open, the flap that should fold over to close it, flat and resting on the pull-outs with their brass knobs in the shadow underneath.
I pulled myself off the sofa and shuffled to it, pushed a few bits of paper around; dull stuff, a few bills (he’d upgraded his phone) and an old greetings card. And a sheet of pink paper with a border of flowers. A faint whiff of roses drifted from it when I picked it up.
“You know how much I love you, Dario. Meet me, you know where.”
I choked on a sob that ended in a coughing fit. I dropped the pink scrap and ran to the bathroom and dry retched into the toilet. The bath was still filling, nearly full now, and I crawled to turn off the taps. The steam coated my skin and mingled with my tears. I pulled the plug out before I went back to the bedroom. His essence now gave only pain but I had to go back in – my clothes were there.
My eyes streamed and I couldn’t stop them. Tiny wet spots appeared on the floor, then the duvet cover. I climbed on the bed, on the pristine bedclothes, and I cried silently, my pain too visceral to be allowed a voice. The neighbours would hear.
But I had to leave. I had to get out.
I dressed, smoothed the covers as he had shown me, roughly dragged my short sleeve over my face awkwardly, blotting the tears and smearing the snot. I never could cry prettily. I dried the bath with a towel that I shoved into the laundry basket, hoping he’d not notice. I replaced the Joni Mitchell, slotted the Enya away and re-arranged the papers on the desk.
I closed the door behind me quietly and pushed the key far down in my jeans pocket and stomped down the street, away from the direction of the tube station in case he was on his way home.
Dan was right, as usual. The football distracted me and for an hour and half, with a bit extra for the pub, when the lads stopped ribbing me – and it really is no laughing matter – and I could relax and not be looking over my shoulder all the time.
That’s the thing about having a stalker. No one takes you seriously. I’m approaching thirty, I don’t look like I can be threatened, but I felt uneasy even in broad daylight and in a crowd. Especially in a crowd.
My stalker was a girl, a girl I knew, and my friends thought I should have been flattered.
I was horrified.
Filled with dread all the time, not knowing where she’d turn up next – the stadium, my office, my favourite coffee shop. I felt responsible, I should have been firmer with her when I told her it was over, but she chose to hear something else.
It was ruining my life.
I feared to go home. It was that bad by the time I left the pub after the match. And it wasn’t even dark yet. The lift and joy I had felt at winning the game dissolved soon after leaving the pub.
I stared at everyone on the tube, hunched like I was the one with something to hide. I kept my head down when I left the station, hands stuffed into my pockets.
My steps slowed as I approached my flat. I did a reccy, saw no one unusual, and finally stepped through the front door.
Someone had been here. I was sure of it. The air felt damp and smelled of my bath oil, the bergamot one I saved for special occasions. Now that was denied me.
The bed was rumpled. Oh god. I wanted to be sick. But I didn’t want to go into the bathroom. I compromised and threw up in the sink in the kitchen.
The lounge, the new blue sofa, something to cheer me up, back and sides high enough that I could hunker down and not been seen if someone peered through the front window. I felt a little safer.
I pressed the power button and then ‘play’ on the CD player. Joni joined me as she had so often on the long, fearful evenings I had spent in here. I frowned. I had definitely left it half way through a song, not at the beginning. Maybe the player was messing round. Wouldn’t be the first time.
I was drawn to my desk and my hand hovered over the pink letter, hesitated to touch it.
Mad cow. She’d destroyed everything. I’d had to push Flora away to protect her, to hide the cards she’d sent me over the months because my stalker could see them through the window. And then this letter.
I didn’t touch it. I huddled back on my blue sofa. At least I now had evidence, proof that I could take to the police. And maybe I could finally ask Flora to forgive me.
Song: Your House by Alanis Morissette