22 Chapters
Medium 9781782202738

One

Adams, Marie Karnac Books ePub

On the last day of my old life I closed and locked the office door behind me, handbag knocking hard against my hip while I turned the key, that one extra click to ensure it was double bolted. There was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to indicate a breach in the predictable pattern of life except that I was in a rush, and now I don't know what for, or why. To meet someone important, or to catch a train?

I've always been good at closing doors, those invisible portals between one stage of life and another. I suppose this particular talent of mine, this ability to effect closure, at least within my own mind, is what helped me to shut the door behind me and move back into my own life at the end of every working day. Not to do so would mean drowning in the sorrows of others, and I have a horror of death. The transition isn't always easy. To sit for hours listening to patients, to witness raw grief and withstand the hot tip of molten anger are the everyday fodder of my profession. Now I know I was hiding behind their misery—behind that door again, where I could pretend they were all so much worse off than me, and where I truly believed that I could be of some use.

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Nineteen

Adams, Marie Karnac Books ePub

The smell of death was everywhere: on my hands, my clothes, in my hair.

Tom strode across the parking lot towards his truck like it was the open range, his cattle loose beyond the gate. He had friends in town and an ex-wife. He didn't say where he was going and I didn't ask. We both needed time on our own. I watched the truck move down the road, turning left at the corner away from the hotel, a blast of Emmylou from his sound system floating mournfully over the distance between us. I pushed a lock of hair behind my ear, shoved the gearstick into reverse and pointed the car in the opposite direction. I needed to freshen up.

In my room, I ignored the message light on my hotel phone. Frank, doing his best, reaching out. Soon. Soon.

My shower was quick, time enough to slough off the scent of death. I slipped on a dress and a change of shoes, open-toed pumps to ensure my elevation, fresh make-up and lipstick, another purchase from duty free. I stood tall in front of the full-length mirror, one final check to ensure I was fully armed. Every muscle was taut, my jawline set like an axe. I was on a mission—nothing could stop me now. Stuffed my computer into my bag—there could be more time to kill—and headed out the door.

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Twenty-One

Adams, Marie Karnac Books ePub

I woke with a nosebleed, leaking a trail like a murder victim before noticing in the bathroom mirror that blood was smeared all down the bottom half of my face. I shouted out in horror. This was to be my first morning back at the office.

Frank bounded up the stairs. He flipped the toilet seat closed and pushed me by the shoulders to sit down, “Hold your head back!” Pulling at a wad of toilet paper he rolled two little bits of paper into nose plugs and pressed them gently up both my nostrils before wiping my face clean with a damp, warm cloth. Finished, he crouched down, knees bent and balanced on the tip of his toes. Three days back in London, he should have been over his jet lag. Instead, he was exhausted. The past few weeks in the mountains had given him nothing but worry.

The plugs in my nose were already sodden. Frank rolled up a few more and gently exchanged old for new. Funny how Frank's tenderness had never quite cut through before. I had always taken it for granted, hunted it out but not valued it, as if I was entitled. I demanded his care and attention without ever appreciating that it was a choice he made every single time he extended it. Was this my personal road to Damascus? On that toilet seat, boiling with blood spilling into everything, I finally understood something fundamental. For once I didn't retch, but I wanted to, and I wanted my old complacency back, my old energy and the familiar, implacable belief that I could cope with anything.

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Nine

Adams, Marie Karnac Books ePub

The self-help books only deepened my bad mood. I shuffled though my pile. I couldn't bear to sit down and read through any of them completely. I hated the language they used, continually encouraging the reader to share, or forgive, or to move on, and they were particularly fond of closure. The notion of “controlling your feelings” was particularly distasteful, with the implication that personal salvation is a disciplinary issue, like giving up drink or drugs. It was the simplicity of it all I so disliked.

I could rant to myself all I wanted, but whenever I sat down to write on the computer my ideas inevitably dissolved into irretrievable particles.

Are you someone who wants a quick fix, are you someone who imagines there is a short and easy answer to everything, and there is a snake oil salesman somewhere who really will have the solution.

Scribbled by hand in another feeble attempt to begin, Addiction and self-medication are a defence against pain. Are you addicted to self-help books, imagining that they can provide a solution to whatever ails you?

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Seven

Adams, Marie Karnac Books ePub

I don't get nearly so nervous as I used to before giving a talk. In the old days I would vanish into the loo beforehand, letting go all my anxieties in one almighty heave. Afterwards I was lightheaded, a bit on edge and once-removed from myself. Only then could I go out in front of an audience and it was almost as if someone else was addressing the crowd; I was simply the vehicle through which the information was being served. Purging myself beforehand was the way I coped.

Frank noticed my anxiety on Friday morning before I did. I spilled coffee all over the kitchen counter. What I actually did was forget to install the pot in its slot beneath the filter and the freshly brewed coffee poured out everywhere.

I was in the bedroom, blow-drying my hair and even above the racket of the machine I heard the thump, thumping of Frank down below attempting to contain the spillage. He must have tipped the whole contraption into the sink because when I came down to see what was going on, it was lying on its side like a capsized ocean liner. Brown gunk was everywhere, seeping underneath the toaster and the cereal packets and dripping down over the counter into the barely opened cutlery drawer, overflowing onto the floor. Frank looked beside himself, clutching a roll of kitchen towel in one hand and a scrunched-up wad of paper in the other in a frantic effort to mop up the mess.

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