The Girl on the Train

3 Books Donated Listen 15 min

WEDNESDAY, 17 JULY 2013

 

MORNING

 

Megan is still missing, and I have lied—repeatedly—to the police.

 

I was in a panic by the time I got back to the flat last night. I tried to convince myself that they’d come to see me about my accident with the taxi, but that didn’t make sense. I’d spoken to police at the scene—it was clearly my fault. It had to be something to do with Saturday night. I must have done something. I must have committed some terrible act and blacked it out.

 

I know it sounds unlikely. What could I have done? Gone to Blenheim Road, attacked Megan Hipwell, disposed of her body somewhere and then forgotten all about it? It sounds ridiculous. It is ridiculous. But I know something happened on Saturday. I knew it when I looked into that dark tunnel under the railway line, my blood turning to ice water in my veins.

 

Blackouts happen, and it isn’t just a matter of being a bit hazy about getting home from the club or forgetting what it was that was so funny when you were chatting in the pub. It’s different. Total black; hours lost, never to be retrieved.

 

Jst added 15 min to #ProjectReadathon w. @PenguinRandom by reading @PaulaHWrites 2 supp @SavetheChildren #ReadWell

 

Tom bought me a book about it. Not very romantic, but he was tired of listening to me tell him how sorry I was in the morning when I didn’t even know what I was sorry for. I think he wanted me to see the damage I was doing, the kind of things I might be capable of. It was written by a doctor, but I’ve no idea whether it was ac- curate: the author claimed that blacking out wasn’t simply a matter of forgetting what had happened, but having no memories to forget in the first place. His theory was that you get into a state where your brain no longer makes short-term memories. And while you’re there, in deepest black, you don’t behave as you usually would, because you’re simply reacting to the very last thing that you think happened, because—since you aren’t making memories—you might not actually know what the last thing that happened really was. He had anecdotes, too, cautionary tales for the blacked-out drinker: There was a guy in New Jersey who got drunk at a fourth of July party. Afterwards, he got into his car, drove several miles in the wrong direction on the motorway and ploughed into a van carrying seven people. The van burst into flames and six people died. The drunk guy was fine. They always are. He had no memory of getting into his car.

 

There was another man, in New York this time, who left a bar, drove to the house he’d grown up in, stabbed its occupants to death, took off all his clothes, got back into his car, drove home and went to bed. He got up the next morning feeling terrible, wondering where his clothes were and how he’d got home, but it wasn’t until the police came to get him that he discovered he had brutally slain two people for no apparent reason whatsoever.

 

So it sound ridiculous, but it’s not impossible, and by the time I got home last night I had convinced myself that I was in some way involved in Megan’s disappearance.

 

The police officers were sitting on the sofa in the living room, a fortysomething man in plain clothes and a younger one in uniform with acne on his neck. Cathy was standing next to the window, wringing her hands. She looked terrified. The policemen got up. The plainclothes one, very tall and slightly stooped, shook my hand and introduced himself as Detective Inspector Gaskill. He told me the other officer’s name as well, but I don’t remember it. I wasn’t concentrating. I was barely breathing.

 

“What’s this about?” I barked at them. “Has something happened? Is it my mother? Is it Tom?”

 

“Everyone’s all right, Ms. Watson, we just need to talk to you about what you did on Saturday evening,” Gaskill said. It’s the sort of thing they say on television; it didn’t seem real. They want to know what I did on Saturday evening. What the did I do on Saturday evening?

 

“I need to sit down,” I said, and the detective motioned for me to take his place on the sofa, next to Neck Acne. Cathy was shifting from one foot to another, chewing on her lower lip. She looked frantic.

 

“Are you all right, Ms. Watson?” Gaskill asked me. He motioned to the cut above my eye.

 

“I was knocked down by a taxi,” I said. “Yesterday afternoon, in London. I went to the hospital. You can check.”

 

“OK,” he said, with a slight shake of his head. “So. Saturday evening?”

 

“I went to Witney,” I said, trying to keep the waver out of my voice.

 

“To do what?”

 

Neck Acne had a notebook out, pencil raised. “I wanted to see my husband,” I said.

 

“Oh, Rachel,” Cathy said.

 

The detective ignored her. “Your husband?” he said. “You mean your ex-husband? Tom Watson?” Yes, I still bear his name. It was just more convenient. I didn’t have to change my credit cards, email address, get a new passport, things like that.

 

“That’s right. I wanted to see him, but then I decided that it wasn’t a good idea, so I came home.”

 

“What time was this?” Gaskill’s voice was even, his face com- pletely blank. His lips barely moved when he spoke. I could hear the scratch of Neck Acne’s pencil on paper, I could hear the blood pounding in my ears.

 

“It was . . . um . . . I think it was around six thirty. I mean, I think I got the train at around six o’clock.”

 

“And you came home . . . ?”

 

“Maybe seven thirty?” I glanced up and caught Cathy’s eye and I could see from the look on her face that she knew I was lying. “Maybe a bit later than that. Maybe it was closer to eight. Yes, actually, I remember now—I think I got home just after eight.” I could feel the colour rising to my cheeks; if this man didn’t know I was lying then, he didn’t deserve to be on the police force.

 

The detective turned around, grabbed one of the chairs pushed under the table in the corner and pulled it towards him in a swift, almost violent movement. He placed it directly opposite me, a couple of feet away. He sat down, his hands on his knees, head cocked to one side. “OK,” he said. “So you left at around six, meaning you’d be in Witney by six thirty. And you were back here around eight, which means you must have left Witney at around seven thirty. Does that sound about right?”

 

“Yes, that seems right,” I said, that wobble back in my voice, betraying me. In a second or two he was going to ask me what I’d been doing for an hour, and I had no answer to give him.

 

“And you didn’t actually go to see your ex-husband. So what did you do during that hour in Witney?”

 

“I walked around for a bit.”

 

He waited, to see if I was going to elaborate. I thought about telling him I went to a pub, but that would be stupid—that’s verifiable. He’d ask me which pub, he’d ask me whether I’d spoken to anyone. As I was thinking about what I should tell him, I realized that I hadn’t actually thought to ask him to explain why he wanted to know where I was on Saturday evening, and that that in itself must have seemed odd. That must have made me look guilty of something.

 

“Did you speak to anyone?” he asked me, reading my mind. “Go into any shops, bars . . . ?”

 

“I spoke to a man in the station!” I blurted this out loudly, triumphantly almost, as though it meant something. “Why do you need to know this? What is going on?”

 

Detective Inspector Gaskill leaned back in the chair. “You may have heard that a woman from Witney—a woman who lives on Blenheim Road, just a few doors along from your ex-husband—is missing. We have been going door-to-door, asking people if they re- member seeing her that night, or if they remember seeing or hear- ing anything unusual. And during the course of our enquiries, your name came up.” He fell silent for a bit, letting this sink in. “You were seen on Blenheim Road that evening, around the time that Mrs. Hipwell, the missing woman, left her home. Mrs. Anna Watson told us that she saw you in the street, near Mrs. Hipwell’s home, not very far from her own property. She said that you were acting strangely, and that she was worried. So worried, in fact, that she considered calling the police.”

 

My heart was fluttering like a trapped bird. I couldn’t speak, be- cause all I could see at that moment was myself, slouched in the underpass, blood on my hands. Blood on my hands. Mine, surely? It had to be mine. I looked up at Gaskill, saw his eyes on mine and knew that I had to say something quickly to stop him reading my mind. “I didn’t do anything.” I said. “I didn’t. I just . . . I just wanted to see my husband . . .”

 

“Your ex-husband,” Gaskill corrected me again. He pulled a photograph out of his jacket pocket and showed it to me. It was a picture of Megan. “Did you see this woman on Saturday night?” he asked. I stared at it for a long time. It felt so surreal having her pre- sented to me like that, the perfect blonde I’d watched, whose life I’d constructed and deconstructed in my head. It was a close-up head shot, a professional job. Her features were a little heavier than I’d imagined, not quite so fine as those of the Jess in my head. “Ms. Watson? Did you see her?”

 

I didn’t know if I’d seen her. I honestly didn’t know. I still don’t. “I don’t think so,” I said.

 

“You don’t think so? So you might have seen her?”

 

“I . . . I’m not sure.”

 

“Had you been drinking on Saturday evening?” he asked. “Before you went to Witney, had you been drinking?”

 

The heat came rushing back to my face. “Yes,” I said.

 

“Mrs. Watson—Anna Watson—said that she thought you were drunk when she saw you outside her home. Were you drunk?”

 

“No,” I said, keeping my eyes firmly on the detective so that I didn’t catch Cathy’s eye. “I’d had a couple of drinks in the afternoon, but I wasn’t drunk.”

 

Gaskill sighed. He seemed disappointed in me. He glanced over at Neck Acne, then back at me. Slowly, deliberately, he got to his feet and pushed the chair back to its position under the table. “If you remember anything about Saturday night, anything that might be helpful to us, would you please call me?” he said, handing me a business card.

 

As Gaskill nodded sombrely at Cathy, preparing to leave, I slumped back into the sofa. I could feel my heart rate starting to slow, and then it raced again as I heard him ask me, “You work in public relations, is that correct? Huntingdon Whitely?”

 

“That’s right,” I said. “Huntingdon Whitely.”

 

He is going to check, and he is going to know I lied. I can’t let him find out for himself, I have to tell him.

 

So that’s what I’m going to do this morning. I’m going to go round to the police station to come clean. I’m going to tell him everything: that I lost my job months ago, that I was very drunk on Saturday night and I have no idea what time I came home. I’m going to say what I should have said last night: that he’s looking in the wrong direction. I’m going to tell him that I believe Megan Hipwell was having an affair.

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