Naomi’s Room, Chapter 12…
Laura did not want to leave. She was frightened, of course she was; who wouldn’t have been? But not in the way that Lewis and I were frightened. I think she wanted . . . I think that, having met the little girls, she guessed about Naomi. So I showed her the photograph, the one of her and myself, and Naomi in the background, watching us walking down the path. I wonder now, if I had not shown her that photograph, might things have turned out differently? I might have persuaded her to leave, if not that night, then the next day or the next. But I showed her the photograph and she said she wanted to stay.
The rest of that evening was spent leafing through old family photographs. We started with the snaps of our honeymoon, but that led to others, and finally to the photographs taken the previous Christmas. Instead of upsetting her, those last pictures of Naomi seemed to give Laura a sort of peace. Not even the presence in them of the man and woman or the two girls could alter the fact that Naomi appeared, laughing, smiling, happy. I think Laura would have accepted anything just to see Naomi again.
We went to bed late and, for the first time in over two months, we made love. It was the saddest lovemaking we had ever known, an affirmation of the flesh, an unmaking of Naomi’s death. It lasted a long time. Afterwards, Laura wept, the first time she had cried properly since hearing of Naomi’s murder. I held her until she fell asleep. Then I fell asleep myself, still holding her, drifting into darkness, naked, unable to dream.
I was wakened by Laura shaking me by the shoulder.
‘Wake up, Charles. Wake up for God’s sake.’
‘What is it?’
It was pitch-dark. I remember feeling groggy, as though I had had too much to drink. Laura was sitting bolt upright on the bed beside me.
‘Listen,’ she whispered. ‘Listen.’
I felt the room grow quiet as her voice faded.
‘What . . . ?’
I listened. The quietness grew around me. I could hear my own breathing, the thudding of my heart. Deep down in my stomach, I could feel the start of fear. And then I heard it, the sound Laura had been waiting for. A child crying. In the room. In the darkness, unseen but perfectly audible. The sobbing of a child.
Laura’s hand tightened on my arm. Before I could stop her – and what did I know, why would I have stopped her? – she spoke.
‘Naomi? Is that you, Naomi? Speak to me, darling. Is that you?’
The crying stopped. I had never felt so terrible a silence. I wanted the crying to stop, I did not want to think what it meant.
‘Naomi? Speak to me if you can hear me.’
The silence stretched into minutes. Every hair on my body was standing on end. I did not know which was worse, the crying or the silence it had left behind.
‘Naomi, darling, there’s nothing to be frightened of, I’m here.’
A sound of stifled sobs, someone breathing heavily, the darkness so full I could have screamed for air.
I switched on the light. It was sudden and white and harsh. All my life I had dreamed of a light that would take away darkness as that light did. I breathed it in, deep into my lungs like air, it was almost scented, I wanted all of it.
There was no one there. The room was empty. Facing us, Laura’s dressing-table with its bottles and jars sat immobile. In its round mirror, I saw my face reflected. Our clothes lay scattered across the floor where we had left them in the quickness of our embrace an hour or two earlier.
Suddenly, I felt a blow, then a second, then a third. Before I had time to catch my breath, Laura was astride me, her arms flailing, pummelling my face and chest, her face contorted, her breasts swinging with the violence of her movements.
‘Fuck you!’ she was shouting. ‘Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!’
Her punches were heavy and painful. Her ferocity overwhelmed me, I was powerless to stop her hurting me.
‘She was here!’ she screamed. ‘Here in this room! And you frightened her away. You little fuck, I could kill you! Just like you killed her.’
In desperation, I grabbed for her arms, and with an effort forced her sideways, making her topple. The bedclothes pinned me in, making it impossible to squirm out from under her, to use my superior weight and strength as counterbalances to her frenzy. She seemed to have enough strength for two women, or three. I am not a strong man, not an athlete; it was all I could do to keep her blows from my face, much less overpower her. My nose was bleeding, and my lower lip. I felt blood on my tongue and cheeks.
At last, I freed my legs from the bedding and succeeded in getting my right knee against her hip. As I pushed her on to her back, she began to kick, then tried to knee me in the groin. I could hear myself screaming, ‘Stop it! Stop it!’ But she went on struggling, as though she were possessed.
And then, as I straddled her, something awful happened. Like a blow on my already battered body, I felt a rush of lust. In a matter of seconds, I was no longer trying to calm Laura, but to make her submit while I made love to her again.
No, that’s wrong, there was no love in it. These sudden feelings bore no relation to those I had known earlier that night, no resemblance to anything I had ever experienced. I wanted to possess her, that was all.
No, not quite all. In the same instant I knew I would kill her too. It was a double lust, and I could scarcely distinguish between the two. I took such strength from it, such rage, such arrogant perfection. Laura was weakening now. Her own passion had left her as quickly as mine had come, as though one had given way to the other.
‘Charles! You’re hurting me! Let me go! I won’t touch you, let me go.’
But I forced her down, using my body like a weapon, forcing her legs apart with my knees.
‘Please don’t!’ she cried. The terror in her voice roused me more than ever. ‘You’re hurting me!’
At that moment, there was a terrible crash, as though something had exploded. Instantly, the rage and the lust left me. It was as though the explosion had been caused by its bursting out of my body.
I fell forward on top of Laura, sobbing. We lay like that for a long, long time, like spent lovers, aching from the bruises we had just inflicted on each other. Eventually, I rolled over on the bed.
‘What happened?’ I asked.
Laura had pulled herself upright.
‘Look,’ she whispered.
I dragged myself to a sitting position beside her and followed her pointing finger.
Everything on the dressing-table – perfume bottles, jars of oil, cosmetic boxes – had been swept off the top and flung with incredible force against one wall. The mirror was smashed. Not cracked, but broken beyond repair into tiny fragments. There was glass everywhere.
We clung together tightly, needing each other more at that moment than we had ever done, more even than at the time of Naomi’s death. Neither of us said a word. Perhaps we feared our own voices. We fell asleep like that, worn out by love and anger and an upsurge of lust that I could not begin to understand.
I must have turned off the light before falling asleep. I remember waking in the darkness, cold and apprehensive. I had a feeling of weight, as though something were pressing on my chest, like an iron band. Laura had rolled away from me, taking most of the bedclothes with her. I could not feel the warmth or weight of her body beside me. A voice was whispering in my ear. A man’s voice, gentle, very gentle, sweet as honey, but the most hateful voice I had ever heard.
‘I cannot be calm, sir. Your wife is most delightful, sir, but she must be stopped. You will have to stop her any way you can. Then you may have all the flesh you want. Quantities, sir, quantities. I will see they disrobe for you, sir. But you must stop her first, if not with words, then the old way. We’ve done it before. Doing it’s not the worst.’
It was not a dream, though I thought at first it was, that I was only part awake. But the voice continued, insinuating itself into my consciousness as clearly and as distinctly as though it were passing through my ears. And all the time the pressure on my chest kept up, choking me, making it impossible for me to move.
Abruptly, the voice stopped. I heard a sound like a hissing in my ears, then nothing. Simultaneous with the return of silence, the weight left me. I lay for several moments, catching my breath, then turned to rouse Laura. My hand encountered sheets and blankets, but not my wife.
‘Laura?’ I sat up, feeling a sudden sense of panic. My hand reached out clumsily for the light, fumbling and slipping in the darkness. When I pressed the switch and looked, I saw that the bed was indeed empty. Laura was nowhere to be seen.
At that moment, I heard a sound above me. A sound of feet, moving in the attic. And with them, something else. The sound of a heavy object being dragged along the floor.
End, Chapter 12.