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Authors: Daniela Sacerdoti

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BOOK: Don't Be Afraid
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33
When I'm not with you
In the shell of a laughter
A world of sunshine and life

 

Angus

“And here's the CD I was telling you about. I loved it.”

“Oh, great. It'll fill the nights I'm away from home. Thank you.”

We were in Manchester, on a break from rehearsal. Kyoko and Malcolm, who were on trial with me, were chatting with the conductor, and Bibi and I were left alone. Again.

She was wearing a woollen dress the colour of mist, and her hair was tied back. But why would I notice what she was wearing? I don't even notice what
I'm
wearing.

“It must be hard, to have a family and leave it behind.”

“It is, I suppose. But Bell understands. She's used to it.”

“She must miss you.”

“She does, yes, and I miss her. But I couldn't do anything else.”

“I know what you mean. I'm the same. I could never stop playing, never.”

“Do you have a family back in Tennessee?”

“My mom and a little brother. I also had a boyfriend, but hey, with the ocean between us . . . it ended.”

“Right.”

“I saw someone else for a while, another musician. He was more understanding, but we kept missing each other, I was always travelling, he was always travelling and . . . Well, it fizzled out. We're good friends.”

“I see.”

“When you're on the road so often, you tend to lean on the people around you. It's just the way it works.”

I say nothing.

“Maybe we could try to get away for dinner tonight.”

“I . . . I think I'm going to have an early night. Thanks anyway.”

She looked down with a smile, but I could see her disappointment.

34
Other people's lives
Late-night pictures
Of other people's lives
Reflected like a stranger in a shop window

 

Isabel

Angus was home, at last, after a few days away. I was so happy to finally spend some time with him.

He was in the shower when his phone beeped. There was a message. Before I knew it, I picked it up, then I put it down again. I'd never been jealous before, never – the thought of it used to make me cringe, like something pathetic, ridiculous. Checking his phone, checking his pockets. That was something only paranoid women did, certainly not me. I was sure of his love. There was no fear in my heart at all, and just as well, because with his job he was bound to meet many other girls, and a lot of them would find him fascinating. People on a stage always seem to have a halo, some sort of mystique, maybe a kind of musical spell. It had certainly worked on me. But I was never worried. The bond Angus and I had was so deep, I couldn't imagine that anyone would be able to break it. Jealousy just didn't seem necessary.

Until now.

My illness had made me far removed, had taken me away from the ones I love, including Angus.

So I looked at the phone, and it said:

It was lovely seeing
you, Bibi x

A kiss.

Well, a kiss means nothing
,
I thought. Friends send each other kisses all the time in emails and texts. But he had never mentioned this girl. And anyway, what kind of name was
Bibi
?

I googled her name, hating myself for it. I know, I know, pathetic. And I regretted it the moment her website came up, full of lovely pictures of her and her gigs, and listings of all the wonderful things she did, her travels, the accounts of her adventures. While I was stuck in my house, frozen at the kitchen table and pouring medicines down the sink, or sleeping my days away, she lived. Bibi's passion for music shone through every picture, every word on her website – and it was a passion she could share with my husband. My non-existent musical talent had always been an inside joke between us, something endearing, and it had never seemed a problem to me. Just the opposite, actually. Angus always said he preferred to be with someone who didn't work in music. He said he was like a balloon with his music, floating in the sky, always on the verge of running away forever – but I held on to him, so he could never get lost. He said I was
serene
, and this serenity kept him grounded.

So much
for serene,
I thought as I pressed play on a YouTube video, watching Bibi's beautiful, animated face as she played.
Why am I doing this to myself?
It was just torture.

And anyway, there was nothing I could do to prevent
it
from happening, if it had to happen. I could not stop my husband looking for life somewhere else, when all he got from me was despair. I couldn't do anything: except get better, get my life back, share happiness with Angus instead of just misery. Find again all the things we used to do, simple things like sharing a bottle of wine in front of the fire and chatting about our day. Listening to him playing, showing him my work. Walking slowly around the loch, going for coffee, or just
being
. Being that girl he'd fallen for again, being serene again.

If only I knew how to do that.

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

Do you think I should
take up the fiddle?

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

No, I think you should
stick to the paints. One musician per family is enough
anyway. Why are you asking?

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

Nothing . . . just . . . I don't
know. Angus has a colleague who's very pretty and
very talented. And who manages to get out of the
house, which is more than can be said about me
.

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

Angus only has eyes for you, my dear. Honestly,
don't worry about him. He loves you so much
that no pretty colleague will ever turn his head. By
the way, are you talking about Bibi Gifford?

 

The fact that Emer had heard of her alarmed me even more. My heart was pounding as I replied.

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

How did
you know?

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

Well, my friend who works with the RSNO
saw her a while ago in a coffee shop, and
Angus was there, or so she told me, but I
didn't think of telling you because I thought nothing
of it. Oh God, I've made things worse now
, haven't I? But honestly, Angus only has eyes for
you. And you know that. So forget this whole conversation
because it means nothing!

 

To [email protected]

From [email protected]

Of course. Don't worry.
Signing off now x

 

That night I couldn't sleep. Maybe Angus still only had eyes for me. But imagine, just imagine how his life could be if he wasn't burdened with me. If he had someone like Bibi by his side. From the pictures, from the tone of her writing, she seemed breezy, happy, full of life. She seemed all that I used to be, or at least a part of me – a part I had lost.

For a moment, I wondered if I should ask Angus about Bibi. And then I rejected the thought. I'd never been jealous before. Angus would only take offence, if I didn't trust him.

Also, I didn't want to know.

If you don't want to hear the answer, don't ask the question.

35
Deception
If I could swap these walls
For the sky above

 

Isabel

I had forgotten to “take” my medicines. Clara and Angus checked them regularly, so every day I poured a bit in the sink and threw a pill away.

Angus had been away for a few days now and was due back that night; I was counting the hours. Clara was upstairs folding some laundry. The coast seemed clear, so I took the blister pack and the bottle out as quickly as I could. As usual, seeing the medicines lined up, salvation so close and so out of reach, brought tears to my eyes. The litany of guilt began again. If only I could find the strength in myself to forget my father's voice . . . If only I could allow myself to start therapy, to give myself a chance . . .

Helpless tears rolled down my cheeks as I opened the bin and threw my daily pill inside, and then began to drip drip drip the medicine down the sink. Just as I was doing that, I heard my name being called. Clara was coming. I hadn't heard her footsteps in the hall – how was that possible? My hands shook – I had to be quick and put everything away.

“Isabel?”

I jerked around, the bottle in one hand, the dripper in the other, the small of my back against the sink. Clara was there, standing in the kitchen. She'd come into the room without a sound – how did she do that?

“Isabel,” she repeated, in the saddest tone I'd ever heard. She
knew
. There was no way I could rescue this; there was no way I could pretend I was actually taking those medicines.

I could only say, “I'm sorry.”

Clara's face was the picture of disappointment. “Have you been throwing them away all this time?” she asked, in a sad, sad voice. I couldn't take it.

“I . . .” For a second, I contemplated the idea of lying, of arguing my way out of it. But I couldn't. There was no point. I could never convince her not to believe her own eyes.

“Why?”

“Because they're poison. If I take them, I'll get worse. I'll die.”

“You can't possibly believe that! You can't possibly believe that your husband would want you to take something poisonous, can you? You think that we want you dead?”

“I don't. I don't believe that. I can't explain . . .”

My hands were shaking so much that the dripper and the bottle fell on the floor and shattered into a million pieces.

“My father always said that's what killed my mum!”

There. I'd said it. In all its absurdity, in all its toxicity, there it was, out into the light. I sat down heavily, shards of glass under my slippers, and took my face in my hands. Clara came to sit beside me and wrapped an arm around my shoulders.

“Oh, Isabel. That's not true. That's not what happened to your mother.”

“How do you know?” My face was wet with tears, which were flowing out of my eyes as if they had a will of their own. Sobs clutched at my chest. Clara did not have an answer for me. She knew nothing. Nobody knew the way my father was. The things he said.

What happened to my mum.

Hardly anybody knew.

What had been passed off as an accident, and wasn't.

“You don't understand, Clara. You really don't. My mum left us.
By
choice
.” And then it just came out, each word a blade in my heart. “She drowned herself.”

I couldn't believe I'd said that.

I couldn't believe I'd given my mum away, revealed her secret,
our
secret, like that. For a moment, Clara felt like a stranger and I felt like a traitor. Why was the sun not darkening? Why did the shards of glass on the floor not embed themselves in my heart? When I had spoken what could never be spoken.

“I'm sorry . . .” Clara whispered. I shook my head.

I'm sorry
. How many times have I heard
I'm sorry
since it happened? Said to me, to my sister, to my father – by friends and by the priest and by teachers and by neighbours and by the doctor and by well-intentioned people all around. As if words could ever, ever make it better. As if pretending it had been an accident could ever change the truth.

Nothing could make it better. Not even time, not even growing up.

“You can't possibly
believe
that those medicines are poison.”

I was still hiding my face in my hands. I could not speak.

“Isabel. Please. Please tell me what's in your mind. I can help you . . .”

“I don't believe they're
really
poison, but they're bad for me! I tried to take them, but they made me shake, and I was always sleepy, and I had terrible nightmares . . .”

“Those are just side effects. If you work through them—”

“How do you know? Have you ever taken them?”

“No, but I wish I had.”

And then it all fell into place in my mind. Clara's stories about her friend in distress. The Chinese pills. I looked her in the eye. “It's you, isn't it?”

Silence. And then, “I . . . How . . .”

“The friend you told me about. It's you!”

I saw her taking a breath and her features seemed to relax – for some reason. She nodded.

“Yes. It's me. It
was
me, anyway. And I was on my own, and the doctor just said to take walks in the fresh air, and all I had were those stupid little Chinese pills that did nothing! I wish I'd had proper medication,” she said, pointing to the evil little bottle smashed on the floor. “
Please
take your medicines, Isabel. Not for Angus, or for me. Take them for yourself.”

“I tried! And I failed every single time, I can't even put them in my mouth! And you can't physically make me,” I said, and I cringed at how I sounded like a ten-year-old.

“I have to tell Angus about this. I have to.”

“You are blackmailing me now.”

“Don't be silly! He deserves to know, Isabel.”

“Please don't tell him, he'll just worry!”

“Oh, okay. Because he's perfectly relaxed about the whole thing, isn't he? With you stuck in here,” she said, and there was a hint of steel in her voice. It wasn't like her, and I trembled.

“Please, don't tell him,” I repeated.

“Oh, Isabel,” Clara said, rising from the table and opening the cupboard where I kept the broom and shovel. She began to sweep up the shards. “If only you were a little child and I could
make
you take your medicines.”

“But I'm not,” I said, my voice now equally steely. “You couldn't ground me, anyway,” I added bitterly. “I've grounded myself.”

She sighed and dropped the remains of the bottle into the bin. And then she stood there, looking out of the window. I followed her gaze, and we were silent for a while. She looked so weary and her eyes were shiny. I felt so guilty – for a change.

“Look, I . . .”

But she didn't want to talk about it any more. She stopped me with a wave of the hand. “I'll go and get you some more tonight. I know where Angus keeps the prescription,” she said curtly, and went to sit in the conservatory.

As soon as Angus arrived, she left without a word. I was afraid she would never come back.

“What's wrong?” Angus asked that night, as we were having dinner. “You are very quiet. And Clara looked strange when I came in.”

“Nothing.”

“Did you two have an argument?”

“No, no. I'm just tired.”

Angus kept studying my face throughout the meal, but he didn't ask again. He went into the study to practise, and I was left alone to think and to berate myself, the music of his violin, for once, failing to soothe me. I was strangely satisfied when, stepping into the kitchen for some tea, I felt a tiny, overlooked shard of glass pierce my bare foot.

BOOK: Don't Be Afraid
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