The Girl on the Train: Chapter 38




I can hear something, a hissing sound. There’s a flash of light and I realize it’s the rain, pouring down. It’s dark outside, there’s a storm. Lightning. I don’t remember when it got dark. The pain in my head brings me back to myself, my heart crawls into my throat. I’m on the floor. In the kitchen. With difficulty, I manage to lift my head and raise myself onto one elbow. He’s sitting at the kitchen table, looking out at the storm, a beer bottle between his hands.

“What am I going to do, Rach?” he asks when he sees me raise my head. “I’ve been sitting here for . . . almost half an hour now, just asking myself that question. What am I supposed to do with you? What choice are you giving me?” He takes a long draught of beer and regards me thoughtfully. I pull myself up to a sitting position, my back to the kitchen cupboards. My head swims, my mouth floods with saliva. I feel as though I’m going to throw up. I bite my lip and dig my fingernails into my palms. I need to bring myself out of this stupor, I can’t afford to be weak. I can’t rely on anyone else. I know that. Anna isn’t going to call the police. She isn’t going to risk her daughter’s safety for me.

“You have to admit it,” Tom is saying. “You’ve brought this upon yourself. Think about it: if you’d just left us alone, you’d never be in this situation. I wouldn’t be in this situation. None of us would. If you hadn’t been there that night, if Anna hadn’t come running back here after she saw you at the station, then I’d probably have just been able to sort things out with Megan. I wouldn’t have been so . . . riled up. I wouldn’t have lost my temper. I wouldn’t have hurt her. None of this would have happened.”

I can feel a sob building in the back of my throat, but I swallow it down. This is what he does—this is what he always does. He’s a master at it, making me feel as though everything is my fault, making me feel worthless.

He finishes his beer and rolls the empty bottle across the table. With a sad shake of his head, he gets to his feet, comes over to me and holds out his hands. “Come on,” he says. “Grab hold. Come on, Rach, up you come.”

I let him pull me to my feet. My back is to the kitchen counter, he is standing in front of me, against me, his hips pressing against mine. He reaches up to my face, wipes the tears off my cheekbones with his thumb. “What am I supposed to do with you, Rach? What do you think I should do?”

“You don’t have to do anything,” I say to him, and I try to smile. “You know that I love you. I still do. You know that I wouldn’t tell anyone . . . I couldn’t do that to you.”

He smiles—that wide, beautiful smile that used to make me melt—and I start to sob. I can’t believe it, can’t believe we are brought to this, that the greatest happiness I have ever known—my life with him—was an illusion.

He lets me cry for a while, but it must bore him, because the dazzling smile disappears and now his lip is twisted into a sneer.

“Come on, Rach, that’s enough,” he says. “Stop snivelling.” He steps away and grabs a handful of Kleenex from a box on the kitchen table. “Blow your nose,” he says, and I do what I’m told.

He watches me, his face a study in contempt. “That day when we went to the lake,” he says. “You thought you had a chance, didn’t you?” He starts to laugh. “You did, didn’t you? Looking up at me, all doe-eyed and pleading . . . I could have had you, couldn’t I? You’re so easy.” I bite down hard on my lip. He steps closer to me again. “You’re like one of those dogs, the unwanted ones that have been mistreated all their lives. You can kick them and kick them, but they’ll still come back to you, cringing and wagging their tails. Begging. Hoping that this time it’ll be different, that this time they’ll do something right and you’ll love them. You’re just like that, aren’t you, Rach? You’re a dog.” He slips his hand around my waist and puts his mouth on mine. I let his tongue slip between my lips and press my hips against his. I can feel him getting hard.

I don’t know if everything’s in the same place that it was when I lived here. I don’t know whether Anna rearranged the cupboards, put the spaghetti in a different jar, moved the weighing scales from bottom left to bottom right. I don’t know. I just hope, as I slip my hand into the drawer behind me, that she didn’t.

“You could be right, you know,” I say when the kiss breaks. I tilt my face up to his. “Maybe if I hadn’t come to Blenheim Road that night, Megan would still be alive.”

He nods and my right hand closes around a familiar object. I smile and lean in to him, closer, closer, snaking my left hand around his waist. I whisper into his ear, “But do you honestly think, given you’re the one who smashed her skull, that I’m responsible?”

He jerks his head away from me and it’s then that I lunge forward, pressing all my weight against him, throwing him off balance so that he stumbles back against the kitchen table. I raise my foot and stamp down on his as hard as I can, and as he pitches forward in pain, I grab a fistful of hair at the back of his head and pull him towards me, while at the same time driving my knee up into his face. I feel a crunch of cartilage as he cries out. I push him to the floor, grab the keys from the kitchen table and am out of the French doors before he’s able to get to his knees.

I head for the fence, but I slip in the mud and lose my footing, and he’s on top of me before I get there, dragging me backwards, pulling my hair, clawing at my face, spitting curses through blood—“You stupid, stupid bitch, why can’t you stay away from us? Why can’t you leave me alone?” I get away from him again, but there’s nowhere to go. I won’t make it back through the house and I won’t make it over the fence. I cry out, but no one’s going to hear me, not over the rain and the thunder and the sound of the approaching train. I run to the bottom of the garden, down towards the tracks. Dead end. I stand on the spot where, a year or more ago, I stood with his child in my arms. I turn, my back to the fence, and watch him striding purposefully towards me. He wipes his mouth with his forearm, spitting blood to the ground. I can feel the vibrations from the tracks in the fence behind me—the train is almost upon us, its sound like a scream. Tom’s lips are moving, he’s saying something to me, but I can’t hear him. I watch him come, I watch him, and I don’t move until he’s almost upon me, and then I swing. I jam the vicious twist of the corkscrew into his neck.

His eyes widen as he falls without a sound. He raises his hands to his throat, his eyes on mine. He looks as though he’s crying. I watch until I can’t look any longer, then I turn my back on him. As the train goes past I can see faces in brightly lit windows, heads bent over books and phones, travellers warm and safe on their way home.



You can feel it: it’s like the hum of electric lights, the change in atmosphere as the train pulls up to the red signal. I’m not the only one who looks now. I don’t suppose I ever was. I suppose that everyone does it—looks out at the houses they pass—only we all see them differently. All saw them differently. Now, everyone else is seeing the same thing. Sometimes you can hear people talk about it.

“There, it’s that one. No, no, that one, on the left—there. With the roses by the fence. That’s where it happened.”

The houses themselves are empty, number fifteen and number twenty-three. They don’t look it—the blinds are up and the doors open, but I know that’s because they’re being shown. They’re both on the market now, though it may be a while before either gets a serious buyer. I imagine the estate agents mostly escorting ghouls around those rooms, rubberneckers desperate to see it up close, the place where he fell and his blood soaked the earth.

It hurts to think of them walking through the house—my house, where I once had hope. I try not to think about what came after. I try not to think about that night. I try and I fail.

Side by side, drenched in his blood, we sat on the sofa, Anna and I. The wives, waiting for the ambulance. Anna called them—she called the police, she did everything. She took care of everything. The paramedics arrived, too late for Tom, and on their heels came uniformed police, then the detectives, Gaskill and Riley. Their mouths literally fell open when they saw us. They asked questions, but I couldn’t make out their words. I could barely move, barely breathe. Anna spoke, calm and assured.

“It was self-defence,” she told them. “I saw the whole thing. From the window. He went for her with the corkscrew. He would have killed her. She had no choice. I tried . . .” It was the only time she faltered, the only time I saw her cry. “I tried to stop the bleeding, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t.”

One of the uniformed police fetched Evie, who miraculously had slept soundly through the whole thing, and they took us all to the police station. They sat Anna and me in separate rooms and asked yet more questions that I don’t remember. I struggled to answer, to concentrate. I struggled to form words at all. I told them he attacked me, hit me with a bottle. I said that he came at me with the corkscrew. I said that I managed to take the weapon from him, that I used it to defend myself. They examined me: they looked at the wound on my head, at my hands, at my fingernails.

“Not much in the way of defensive wounds,” Riley said doubtfully. They went away and left me there, with a uniformed officer—the one with the neck acne who came to Cathy’s flat in Ashbury a lifetime ago—standing at the door, avoiding my eye. Later, Riley came back. “Mrs. Watson confirms your story, Rachel,” she said. “You can go now.” She couldn’t meet my gaze, either. A uniformed policeman took me to the hospital, where they stitched up the wound on my scalp.

There’s been a lot of stuff about Tom in the papers. I found out that he was never in the army. He tried to get in, but he was rejected twice. The story about his father was a lie, too—he’d twisted it all round. He took his parents’ savings and lost it all. They forgave him, but he cut all ties with them when his father declined to remortgage their house in order to lend him more money. He lied all the time, about everything. Even when he didn’t need to, even when there was no point.

I have the clearest memory of Scott talking about Megan, saying I don’t even know who she was, and I feel exactly the same way. Tom’s whole life was constructed on lies—falsehoods and half-truths told to make him look better, stronger, more interesting than he was. And I bought them, I fell for them all. Anna, too. We loved him. I wonder whether we would have loved the weaker, flawed, unembellished version. I think that I would. I would have forgiven his mistakes and his failures. I have committed enough of my own.


I’m at a hotel in a little town on the Norfolk coast. Tomorrow, I go farther north. Edinburgh, maybe, perhaps farther still. I haven’t made my mind up yet. I just want to make sure I put plenty of distance behind me. I have some money. Mum was quite generous when she discovered everything I’d been through, so I don’t have to worry. Not for a while.

I hired a car and drove to Holkham this afternoon. There’s a church just outside the village where Megan’s ashes are buried, next to the bones of her daughter, Libby. I read about it in the papers. There was some controversy over the burial, because of Megan’s supposed role in the child’s death. But it was allowed, in the end, and it seems right that it was. Whatever she did, she’s been punished enough.

It was just starting to rain when I got there, with not a soul in sight, but I parked the car and walked around the graveyard anyway. I found her grave right in the furthermost corner, almost hidden under a line of firs. You would never know that she was there, unless you knew to go looking. The headstone marker bears her name and the dates of her life—no “loving memory,” no “beloved wife,” or “daughter,” or “mother.” Her child’s stone just says Libby. At least now her grave is properly marked; she’s not all alone by the train tracks.

The rain started to fall harder, and when I walked back through the churchyard I saw a man standing in the doorway of the chapel, and for just a second I imagined that he was Scott. My heart in my mouth, I wiped the rain from my eyes and looked again and saw that it was a priest. He raised a hand to me in greeting.

I half ran back to the car, feeling needlessly afraid. I was thinking of the violence of my last meeting with Scott, of the way he was at the end—wild and paranoiac, on the edge of madness. There’ll be no peace for him now. How can there be? I think about that, and the way he used to be—the way they used to be, the way I imagined them to be—and I feel bereft. I feel their loss, too.

I sent an email to Scott, apologizing for all the lies I told him. I wanted to say sorry about Tom, too, because I should have known. If I’d been sober all those years, would I have known? Maybe there will be no peace for me, either.

He didn’t reply to my message. I didn’t expect him to.

I drive to the hotel and check in, and to stop myself thinking about how nice it would be to sit in a leather armchair in their cosy, low-lit bar with a glass of wine in my hand, I go for a walk out to the harbour instead.

I can imagine exactly how good I would feel halfway through my first drink. To push away the feeling, I count the days since I last had a drink: twenty. Twenty-one, if you include today. Three weeks exactly: my longest dry spell in years.

It was Cathy, oddly enough, who served me my last drink. When the police brought me home, grimly pale and bloody, and told her what happened, she fetched a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from her room and poured us each a large measure. She couldn’t stop crying, saying how sorry she was, as though it was in some way her fault. I drank the whisky and then I vomited it straight back up; I haven’t touched a drop since. Doesn’t stop me wanting to.

When I reach the harbour, I turn left and walk around its edge towards the stretch of beach along which I could walk, if I wanted to, all the way back to Holkham. It’s almost dark now, and cold down by the water, but I keep going. I want to walk until I’m exhausted, until I’m so tired I can’t think, and maybe then I will be able to sleep.

The beach is deserted, and it’s so cold, I have to clench my jaw to stop my teeth chattering. I walk quickly along the shingle, past the beach huts, so pretty in daylight but now sinister, each one of them a hiding place. When the wind picks up they come alive, their wooden boards creaking against one another, and under the sound of the sea there are murmurs of movement: someone or something, coming closer.

I turn back, I start to run.

I know there’s nothing out here, there’s nothing to be afraid of, but it doesn’t stop the fear rising from my stomach to my chest and into my throat. I run as fast as I can. I don’t stop until I’m back on the harbour, in bright street light.

Back in my room I sit on my bed, sitting on my hands until they stop shaking. I open the minibar and take out the bottled water and the macadamia nuts. I leave the wine and the little bottles of gin, even though they would help me sleep, even though they would let me slide, warm and loose, into oblivion. Even though they would let me forget, for a while, the look on his face when I turned back to watch him die.

The train had passed. I heard a noise behind me and saw Anna coming out of the house. She walked quickly towards us and, reaching his side, she fell to her knees and put her hands on his throat.

He had this look on his face of shock, of hurt. I wanted to say to her, It’s no good, you won’t be able to help him now, but then I realized she wasn’t trying to stop the bleeding. She was making sure. Twisting the corkscrew in, farther and farther, ripping into his throat, and all the time she was talking to him softly, softly. I couldn’t hear what she was saying.

The last time I saw her was in the police station, when they took us to give our statements. She was led to one room and I to another, but just before she parted, she touched my arm. “You take care of yourself, Rachel,” she said, and there was something about the way she said it that made it feel like a warning. We are tied together, forever bound by the stories we told: that I had no choice but to stab him in the neck; that Anna tried her best to save him.

I get into bed and turn the lights out. I won’t be able to sleep, but I have to try. Eventually, I suppose, the nightmares will stop and I’ll stop replaying it over and over and over in my head, but right now I know that there’s a long night ahead. And I have to get up early tomorrow morning to catch the train.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


not work with dark mode