It was still just about light as I trudged slowly home. My feet hurt, my cheek ached, and I wanted to go home and sink into a long, hot bath.
The door of my basement flat was bathed in shadow as it always was, and I thought once again that I must get a security light, if only so that I could see my own keys in my handbag, but even in the dimness I could see the splintered wood where he’d forced the lock. The miracle was that I hadn’t heard him. Well, what do you expect, you were drunk, after all, said the nasty little voice in my head.
But the new deadlock felt reassuringly solid as it clunked back, and inside I locked it shut again, kicked off my shoes, and walked wearily down the hall to the bathroom, stifling a yawn as I set the taps running and slumped onto the toilet to pull off my tights. Next I began to unbutton my top . . . but then I stopped.
Normally I leave the bathroom door open—it’s only me and Delilah, and the walls are prone to damp, being under ground level. I’m also not great with enclosed spaces, and the room feels very small when the window blinds are down.
The front door was locked, and the new London bar was in place, but I still checked the window and closed and locked the bathroom door before I finished peeling off my clothes. I was tired—God, I was so tired. I had an image of falling asleep in the tub, slipping below the water, Judah finding my naked bloated body a week later . . . I shook myself. I needed to stop being so bloody dramatic. The tub was barely four feet long. I had trouble contorting myself so I could rinse my hair, let alone drown.
The bath was hot enough to make the cut on my cheek sting, and I shut my eyes and tried to imagine myself somewhere else, somewhere quite different from this chilly, claustrophobic little space, far away from sordid, crime-ridden London. Walking on a cool Nordic shore, perhaps, in my ears the soothing sound of the . . . er . . . would it be the Baltic? For a travel journalist I’m worryingly bad at geography.
But unwanted images kept intruding. The locksmith saying “a quarter of all burglaries are repeats.” Me, cowering in my own bedroom, feet braced against the floorboards. The sight of strong hands encased in pale latex, the black hairs just showing through . . .
I opened my eyes, but for once the reality check didn’t help. Instead, I saw the damp bathroom walls looming over me, shutting me in. . . .
You’re losing it again, my internal voice sniped. You can feel it, can’t you?
Shut up. Shut up, shut up, shut up. I squeezed my eyes closed again and began to count, deliberately, trying to force the pictures out of my head. One. Two. Three. Breathe in. Four. Five. Six. Breathe out. One. Two. Three. Breathe in. Four. Five. Six. Breathe out.
At last the pictures receded, but the bath was spoiled, and the need to get out of the airless little room was suddenly overwhelming. I got up, wrapped a towel around myself and another around my hair, and went into the bedroom, where my laptop was still lying on the bed from earlier.
I opened it, fired up Google, and typed: What % burglars return.
A page of links came up and I clicked on one at random and scanned down it until I came to a paragraph that read:
WHEN BURGLARS RETURN . . .
A nationwide survey indicated that, over a twelve-month period, approximately 25 to 50 percent of burglaries are repeat incidents; and between 25 and 35 percent of victims are repeat victims. Figures gathered by UK police forces suggest that 28 to 51 percent of repeat burglaries occur within one month, 11 to 25 percent within a week.
Great. So it seemed like my friendly doom-and-gloom merchant, the locksmith, had actually been understating the problem, not winding me up. Although the maths involved in up to 50 percent repeat offenses but only 35 percent repeat victims made my head hurt. Either way, I didn’t relish the idea of being among their number.
I had promised myself I wouldn’t drink tonight, so after I had checked the front door, back door, window locks, and front door for the second—or maybe even the third—time, and put the pay-as-you-go phone on to charge beside my bed, I made myself a cup of chamomile tea.
I took it back through to the bedroom with my laptop, the press file for the trip, and a packet of chocolate cookies. It was only eight o’clock and I hadn’t had any supper, but I was suddenly exhausted—too exhausted to cook, too exhausted even to phone for takeaway. I opened up the Nordic cruise press pack and huddled down into my duvet, and waited for sleep to claim me.
Except it didn’t. I dunked my way through the whole packet of cookies and read page after page of facts and figures on the Aurora—just ten luxuriously appointed cabins . . . maximum of twenty passengers at any one time . . . handpicked staff from the world’s top hotels and restaurants . . . Even the technical specifications of the boat’s draft and tonnage weren’t enough to lull me to sleep. I stayed awake, shattered yet somehow, at the same time, wired.
As I lay there in my cocoon I tried not to think about the burglar. I thought, very deliberately, about work, about all the practicalities I had to sort out before Sunday. Pick up my new bank cards. I had to pack and do my research for the trip. Would I see Jude before I left? He’d be trying my old phone.
I put down the press pack and pulled up my e-mails.
“Hi, love,” I typed, and then I paused and bit the side of my nail. What to say? No point in telling him about the burglary, not yet. He’d just feel bad about not being here when I needed him. “I’ve lost my phone,” I wrote instead. “Long story, I’ll explain when you get back. But if you need me, e-mail, don’t text. What’s your ETA on Sunday? I’m off to Hull early, for this Nordic thing. Hope we can see each other before I leave—otherwise, see you next week? Lo x”
I pressed send, hoping he didn’t wonder what I was doing up and e-mailing at 12:45 a.m., and then shut down the computer, picked up my book, and tried to read myself to sleep.
It didn’t work.
At 3:35 a.m. I staggered through to the kitchen, picked up the bottle of gin, and poured myself the stiffest gin and tonic I could bring myself to drink. I gulped it down like medicine, shuddering at the harsh taste, and then poured a second and drank that, too, more slowly this time. I stood for a moment, feeling the alcohol tingling through my veins, relaxing my muscles, damping down my jangled nerves.
I poured the dregs of the gin into the glass and took it back to the bedroom, where I lay down, stiff and anxious, my eyes on the glowing face of the clock, and waited for the alcohol to take effect.