Lasting Damage - By Sophie Hannah

Saturday 24 July 2010

I’m going to be killed because of a family called the Gilpatricks.

There are four of them: mother, father, son and daughter. Elise, Donal, Riordan and Tilly. Kit tells me their first names, as if I’m keen to dispense with the formalities and get to know them better, when all I want is to run screaming from the room. Riordan’s seven, he says. Tilly’s five.

Shut up, I want to yell in his face, but I’m too scared to open my mouth. It’s as if someone’s clamped and locked it; no more words will come out, not ever.

This is it. This is where and how and when and why I’m going to die. At least I understand the why, finally.

Kit’s as frightened as I am. More. That’s why he keeps talking, because he knows, as all those who wait in terror know, that when silence and fear combine, they form a compound a thousand times more horrifying than the sum of its parts.

The Gilpatricks, he says, tears streaking his face.

I watch the door in the mirror above the fireplace. It looks smaller and further away than it would if I turned and looked at it directly. The mirror is shaped like a fat gravestone: three straight sides and an arch at the top.

I didn’t believe in them. The name sounded made up. Kit laughs, chokes on a sob. All of him is shaking, even his voice. Gilpatrick’s the sort of name you’d make up if you were inventing a person. Mr Gilpatrick. If only I’d believed in him, none of this would have happened. We’d have been safe. If I’d only . . .

He stops, backs away from the locked door. He hears the same footsteps I hear – rushing, a stampede. They’re here.

One week earlier

Chapter 1

Saturday 17 July 2010

I lie on my back with my eyes closed, waiting for Kit’s breathing to change. I fake the deep, slow sleep-breaths I need to hear from him before I can get out of bed – in and hold, out and hold – and try to convince myself that it’s a harmless deception. Am I the only woman who has ever done this, or does it happen all the time in houses all over the world? If it does, then it must be for different reasons, more common ones than mine: a cheating wife or girlfriend wanting to text a lover undetected, or sneak one last guilty glass of wine on top of the five she’s had already. Normal things. Ordinary urgencies.

No woman on earth has ever been in the situation I’m in now.

You’re being ridiculous. You’re not ‘in a situation’, apart from the one you’ve brewed in your imagination. Ingredients: coincidence and paranoia.

Nothing I tell myself works. That’s why I need to check, to put my mind at rest. Checking isn’t crazy; missing the opportunity to check would be crazy. And once I’ve looked and found nothing, I’ll be able to forget about it and accept that it’s all in my head.

Will you?

It shouldn’t be too long before I can move. Kit’s usually dead to the world within seconds of the light going out. If I count to a hundred . . . but I can’t. Can’t make myself focus on something that doesn’t interest me. If I could, I’d be able to do the reverse: banish 11 Bentley Grove from my mind. Will I ever be able to do that?

While I wait, I rehearse for the task ahead. What would this bedroom tell me about Kit and me, if I didn’t know us? Huge bed, cast-iron fireplace, identical alcoves on either side of the chimney breast where our two identical wardrobes stand. Kit likes symmetry. One of his reservations, when I proposed buying the biggest bed we could find to replace our ordinary double, was that it might not leave room for our matching bedside cabinets. When I said I’d be happy to lose mine, Kit looked at me as if I was an anarchist agitator plotting to demolish his well-ordered world. ‘You can’t have a cabinet on one side and not the other,’ he said. Both ended up going in the end; having first made me promise not to tell anyone, Kit admitted that, however inconvenient it was to have to lean down and put his book, watch, glasses and mobile phone under the bed, he would find it more irritating to have a bedroom that didn’t ‘look right’.

‘Are you sure you’re a genuine, bona fide heterosexual?’ I teased