|I’ll Call You
How did she get here? Just a little while ago she’d been in the bar with her friends, having a drink and a laugh, shaking off the week and its pressures. Then Rob had walked in, and caught her eye – just as she’d caught his. The rest of the evening was a blur of loud voices, laughter, drink, and Rob’s lips on hers when he walked her home. Her head was spinning. She put the key in the lock and opened the door a little, turned to kiss him goodnight.
His hands were in her hair, pulling her close as he kissed her. He started to inch forward, manoeuvring his way into the flat. She almost let him. At the last moment, she managed to get her hands between them and push him back a little, retreat into her hall and shut the door. It was too soon; she didn’t normally act like this. She leaned against the door, shaking.
“Liz?” Rob’s voice came from the other side of the door. “I’ll call you. Okay?”
She muttered, “Okay,” and made her way to the bathroom. Twenty minutes later she hopped under the duvet and played the events of the evening over in her head. She fell asleep trying to get them in some sort of order.
The next day, Liz couldn’t concentrate. Her characters stood sullenly in the shadows, unwilling to show themselves. There was a dull heat in her belly that dialled all the way up to nausea every time she so much as thought about the phone, and in the end she heaved a sigh of disgust , giving herself permission to wallow.
“I’ll call you,” he’d said. It hadn’t sounded like a line. She’d had her fair share of those. There was ‘you would if you loved me,’ closely followed by ‘you don’t understand me’. The annoying thing was that it quite often worked, playing on her innate sense of inadequacy and making her feel guilty. The hours ticked by, and still no call. Maybe tomorrow would be more productive.
Monday morning dawned dull and grey. Liz felt much the same, she could hardly move. The phone rang, and she jumped.
“Liz, it’s Rob. I’ve just got back. Miss me?”
“Back? I didn’t know you were going anywhere.”
“Didn’t you? I thought I’d told you. Had some business to attend to.” She didn’t remember. “…. dinner?”
“I said could I see you tonight? I could take you to dinner.”
“Sure, that would be great.” They chatted for a few more minutes, about nothing in particular, but the important stuff was over.
Dinner was great, although afterwards Liz could never quite remember what they had eaten or talked about. It seemed like one moment they were in the restaurant, and the next they were in bed. In between was a blank.
She woke the next morning feeling groggy, and slightly sick. Her head was thumping. Rob was gone. There was just the smell of his aftershave, and a folded over note on the pillow beside her. She picked it up, smelling him on the paper. ‘Last night was fantastic. Had to leave, didn’t want to disturb you. I’ll call you.’
She put the note on the bedside table, and went slowly into the bathroom, thinking about the events of the night before. They were a little too blurred for her liking, it wasn’t like her to blank out like that. She stepped into the bath and gasped as it stung. She was covered in little red patches that looked nipped. Snatches of the night’s lovemaking came back to her, and she blushed, embarrassed. “I want to kiss you all over,” he’d said, that much she could remember. Apparently he hadn’t stopped at kissing. There were sore areas on her palms, the soles of her feet, the insides of her thighs and her buttocks. She felt worn out. No, that wasn’t right. She felt used. She finished her bath and gently towelled herself dry. Looking in the mirror, she was relieved to see that her face and neck were untouched. She appeared pale, and a little puffy. Other than that, she looked just fine.
She could remember watching Rob, drinking in the details, but most of what he said was gone now. He wrote, but she couldn’t remember what. She could recall that they shared a love of darker fiction, thrillers or horror, or what fell between. She knew he worked. She couldn’t remember what it was that he’d said he did. Just that it was tedious – drudge work, he had called it. But it paid the bills. Liz was lucky enough to be able to support herself, just, with her writing. Articles, reviews and the odd short story sale boosted what was left of the advance she had received for her first novel, published the year before. It had done well enough for her to earn back her advance and for the publishers to commission another.
Which was where she found herself now. Slap bang two thirds of the way through her second book. She had introduced all the characters and plot strands, everything was at the point where she had to tie it all together and resolve everything. And she was well and truly stuck.
Except this morning she wasn’t. Last night seemed to have cleared the decks for her to move forward. She dressed quickly, made a hot chocolate, and set it next to the computer screen. As she waited impatiently for it to go through its start up procedure, she forgot all about Rob. Her characters were finally talking, to her and to each other.
And she knew where they wanted to go.
Much later, she sat back and smiled as the computer set about saving her latest masterpiece; the first draft of it, anyway. It was good, she thought. More to the point, it satisfied her. She just hoped her agent felt the same. She groaned as she pushed her chair back and stood up. How long had she been sitting there? It had been ten thirty or so when she sat down. Now, away from the glare of the monitor, the light had that dark brittle quality Liz always associated with dusk. So it had to be, what, seven, seven thirty?
A glance at the clock on the mantel convinced her. It was seven fifteen; she’d been at it for more than eight hours. No wonder she had a headache.
She went to the drawer in the kitchen where she kept her take-away menus and phoned through an order for a pizza and coke. While she was waiting for it to arrive she set the computer to print her new pages, and searched for some paracetamol. Grimacing, she headed back into the living room, turned on the TV and flopped onto the sofa.
She flicked through the channels, and settled on a movie she’d seen before; grateful that she wouldn’t have to think too much. The door buzzed, and she dragged herself down the hall.
The pizza guy was Rob. Her eyes widened in shock, and she fumbled in her purse for the money.
“I do this two nights a week, remember? Then I do weekends as a motorcycle courier, leaves me time to write.”
Embarrassed, Liz laughed.
“Of course. I’m sorry, I forgot. I’ve been writing all day, everything else just sort of gets…”
“Pushed to one side, I know. So how’s the great work doing?”
“It’s finished. At least the first draft is, but I don’t think it’s going to need too much tweaking, somehow.” She smiled more easily now. Rob handed over the pizza, cleared his throat.
“I’d better go. Enjoy your meal, I’ll call you.”
“What time do you get off work?” Liz froze, aware of how corny that had sounded. Rob grinned, and let her off the hook.
“I’m finished now. You were my last call of the night.”
“Don’t you have to take the bike back?”
“Nope, your call came in just as I was about to leave. I put your pizza in my backpack and used my bike.”
“Well, then,” she grinned. “You’d better come in.”
She opened her eyes once more to bright sunshine, and found another note on the pillow: ‘I’ll call you.’
It became the pattern of things. He’d show up, or call, and they’d arrange a date, which she could only remember in flashes. Everything seemed dreamlike when she was with him, and the sex was surreal. She could never remember the details; just that it had driven her wild. She always woke feeling wrung out, and there was a note every time.
It disturbed her that she couldn’t remember any details, she was supposed to remember. She didn’t like what she saw in the mirror. She was way too pale, and twitchy, jumping at the slightest sound. There were dark circles under her eyes, and she had lost weight. She could count her ribs, now. Her appetite had fallen off lately, too – she always felt slightly queasy.
She looked like a junkie.
And then there was Rob. She was desperate for him to show up each night, but he was always gone in the morning. She couldn’t remember the last time they had actually gone out, or spent much more than a few minutes indulging in chitchat and a glass of the wine he invariably brought with him; she didn’t know that much more about him than she had after their first date, and she’d been too wiped out to leave the flat for weeks. Her thoughts went back to the wine. Something was stirring, deep in her mind, but she couldn’t grasp it. Something about… No matter. It would come to her. Next time he came, she’d refuse the wine, even if she wasn’t quite sure why. She realised as she went to the fridge that she had no idea what was in it, or even if there was anything. Rob had taken to bringing her bags of groceries every night, filled with her favourite stuff, and her milk and newspaper were delivered every morning. She tried to remember the last time she’d actually left the flat.
She tried for quite a while.
Seven o’clock, and the bell rang. She looked at herself in the mirror, and went to let him in. She didn’t want to give the wrong message tonight, she wanted him to leave her alone, so she hadn’t bothered with make up, and she wore a shapeless grey sweatshirt and baggy jeans. Her hair was scraped back into a ponytail. He was smiling as she opened the door, and to his credit, the smile remained. But she noticed it dimmed a little. He bent to kiss her and she ducked her head, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“Better not, I’ve got a cold starting, I think.”
“I’ve brought dinner, so you don’t have to cook.” He wrapped an arm around her shoulder and walked her toward the kitchen. “We have to look after you, don’t we?”
She smiled, but said nothing. He didn’t seem to notice, just set about preparing dinner, moving around her kitchen with an easy familiarity that she found disquieting. She watched as he took food out of containers and dished it onto plates, carried them to the table. He took a bottle of wine out of the bag and went to the counter. She could only see his back as he took the bottle opener out of the drawer then opened the wine, and she found herself wondering what was taking him so long. Turning, he smiled and took her arm, walked her to the table, sat her down. She watched the wine pouring into her glass, but still couldn't bring herself to say anything.
“Come on, love, you have to eat.” She nodded slightly, and started pushing food around on her plate, pretended to nibble at a few mouthfuls. His gaze narrowed, his voice grew slightly sharper. “Perhaps you should see a doctor.”
“No, no, it’s fine. Honest, I’m just tired, I expect.” He said nothing, just watched, so she crammed a forkful of food into her mouth and started to chew. She nearly choked when she tried to swallow it, the lump in her throat making her gag. He was there, glass of wine in hand, and she took a huge gulp to wash the food down.
“Okay?” He was watching her, concerned, and she tried to set his mind at rest. Warmth was spreading through her, and she started to relax. “I’m fine, see? It just went down the wrong way.” She took another sip of the wine, and ate some more, her appetite returning. He watched for a little longer, then smiled. Satisfied, he started to eat his own dinner.
This morning there had been something else. She had looked in the mirror to see bruises on her breasts, her thighs, and the skin on parts of her chest and face was actually abraded, as was the flesh on her knees. Her wrists were cut, as if they had been tied together with rope, and she was sore inside. When she examined herself in the bath she was dismayed to see what looked like teeth marks. The whole area had a raw, swollen look. What had he done to her?
She suddenly didn’t want to be here any more. Today was what, Friday? Two quick phone calls and she was in a cab, heading for her parents’ home in Sussex. She left no note for Rob. She had no idea what his phone number was, and had never, as far as she could recall, given him a key.
For a few days, she did nothing. She told her parents she just needed some space, and they didn’t press her. Her mother spent the days feeding her all her favourites, as well as the local gossip. She let it all wash over her.
Liz felt alive again. Things happened at their normal pace, and she remembered them. Now that she could think, she remembered researching an article for a woman’s magazine about date rape. There was a drug, GBH, which made a victim compliant, uninhibited. When the drug wore off, the victim knew something had happened, but had very little memory of it.
So that was it. He’d been virtually raping her. He’d been doctoring her food so that she’d let him do what he wanted to her. And she’d been too doped to question it.
Well, no more. She hadn’t told him everything about her life, she was sure. She looked at the picture of her father on the living room wall, in uniform. She took a deep breath, dried her eyes, and went to find him.
An hour later she was sitting in the village pub, watching her father. He’d gone very quiet, and apart from the tic just below his left eye, he could have been carved in stone. She looked at the table, embarrassed. For just a moment, when she had shown him the fading rope marks on her wrists, she had thought he would erupt right there. Finally, he spoke, almost in a monotone.
“If you go to the police, love, nothing will happen. You know it and I know it.” She nodded. They would say it was a relationship that had gone bad, and at most they would recommend a shelter. “So it’s up to us to get the bastard, right?” Again, she nodded. She just hoped they could handle it. “Give me a few days to talk to some people, make a few enquiries.”
A week later, her father drove her back home. When they walked through the front door, Liz gasped. A trail of notes littered the hallway, each bearing the legend. ‘I’ll call you.’ So he did have a key. Her father pushed her behind him and pressed himself against the wall, began to edge silently along the hallway. Her eyes widened when she saw him draw a truncheon out of his coat.
“Dad!” she hissed. He looked back at her and grinned, amused at her outrage.
“What? What did you think I was going to do, breathe on him?” He examined the truncheon, hefted its weight. “Souvenir from the job, love. All those years as a copper, I got attached to it.”
She didn’t know what to say to that, so dropped her gaze. Her dad watched for a moment then nodded, and turned back to face forward, ready for Rob to appear at any moment..
He was gone, but had left his mark. Her bedroom door had been kicked off its hinges, and left hanging. The bed had been made with red satin sheets, a note, very white, lying on one pillow: ‘I’ll call you’. A bottle of champagne stood in an ice bucket on the bedside table; the ice was half melted.
In the living room, the answer-phone blinked. When Liz pressed the play button, the messages began. At first he sounded concerned, asking if she was okay. After that they got darker. He threatened to hurt her, hurt her family. Then there were a couple of messages where all he could do was scream.
It was the last message that scared them. “Guess where I am, Liz.” There was a sharp slap, and her mother started to cry. “Did you really think I didn’t know where you were? I watched you the whole time. Your mother’s a remarkably good-looking woman. Well-preserved.” There was a scream, then, that cut off sharply.
They heard a click, followed by a double beep. Final message.
Her dad grabbed her hand, pulling her backwards, and Rob erupted from behind the long curtains, screaming as he brought the axe down.
Liz was still holding her father’s hand, but that was all she had. There was blood everywhere. Rob turned towards her, and everything slowed down. She saw the axe above his head, saw him bring it down. Then the world turned red, it seemed, and it went dark.
The police brought Liz up to date. Her father was in hospital, recovering from the loss of his hand, and associated blood loss. Her mother was dead. In view of the circumstances, they were prepared to overlook the matter of her father carrying a weapon , especially as the only trace of Rob left behind when they got there was the bloodstain on the floor. The detective assigned to the case remembered her father, and wasn’t inclined to ruin his record without very good reason.
Life settled into a new routine for both of them. She left her flat, and her father sold the house in Sussex. They bought a two bedroom flat in a security conscious block of flats overlooking the sea. She finished her novel, and her publishers loved it.
On the first of September her book was released, and they attended the launch party. Her publishers had optioned a further two novels, at greatly increased advances, and life was beginning to look better. They made their way home after the party pleasantly tired, and security buzzed them in, watching their progress upstairs on the CCTV in the elevator.
Liz woke up early the next morning looking forward to starting work on her next book. She had what looked like a good idea and couldn’t wait to run it by her father. This was another habit that had developed over the last year which seemed to work well for both of them.
She sat up in bed and time stood still.
Her dad stared sightlessly at her from the armchair at the foot of the bed; a note pinned to his shirt. The front of his shirt was saturated with blood – a white square of paper gleaming brightly against it. She inched closer, shaking, trying hard not to cry, because if she cried then this was all true, and her dad was gone.
He couldn’t be gone.
Then she saw what was written on the paper, and the tears finally fell.
‘I’ll call you.’
©2006 Marie O'Regan
© Marie O'Regan - 2001 - 2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.