My muscles are on fire. I’m determined to prepare myself as well as I can for D-Day. Apart from anything else, that means physical training. If I’m to stand a chance of holding out in a situation of extreme stress, I must prepare myself physically as well as mentally. A well-trained body can cope better, so I’m working out. For years there’s been a fitness studio in my basement that I hardly ever use. I was plagued with backache for a time, and got the better of it with the help of a personal trainer and disciplined weight training. Apart from that, I have never had much reason to bother about my body. I’m pretty slim and relatively fit and I couldn’t care less about my bikini figure. In my world, there are no beaches.
It feels good working out. It’s only now that I’m beginning to reinhabit my body that I realise how much I’ve neglected it over the past years. I have been living in my head, forgetting that I also have arms, legs, shoulders, back, hands and feet.
I work out hard. I enjoy the pain during the last round of weight-lifting—that burning, screeching feeling that tells me that I am still alive, after all. It does something to me. My body remembers different things from my brain: walks in woods and aching calves; nights of dancing and sore feet; jumping in a pool on a hot day and the way your heart seizes up before it decides to carry on beating. My body reminds me what pain feels like. And it reminds me what love feels like—dark and crimson and confusing. I realise what a long time it is since I last touched anyone, or since anyone touched me.
I wish I could run away from this raw, yearning feeling I’ve come up against. But I’m jogging on a treadmill and I can’t run away, no matter how fast I am. I shake off the thought and ratchet up the speed a notch or two.
My pulse quickens; I gasp for air. All of a sudden I remember last night and the horrific nightmare from which I had such trouble extricating myself, and from which I finally awoke thrashing about and breathless. It wasn’t my first nightmare about the meeting with Lenzen, but it was by far the worst. Everything had gone so terribly wrong. It all felt so real—my fear, Lenzen’s grin, Charlotte’s blood on his hands.
But at least the nightmare was good for something. I now know that I have to keep Charlotte out of everything. I don’t want to, but I must. Subconsciously, I’ve known that for a long time, but my fears had made me selfish. Because I hadn’t wanted to face Lenzen without someone familiar at my side, I ignored the fact that I would be exposing Charlotte to incalculable danger by bringing her into contact with a murderer.
I don’t know why Lenzen murdered Anna. I don’t know whether he is calculating or impulsive. I don’t know whether he killed anyone before or has done so since. I know nothing. I’ll make sure Charlotte doesn’t meet him. A physical attack may be unlikely, but I’m not taking any risks.
First thing this morning, I took my telephone off charge and rang Charlotte to tell her to take the day of the interview off. So I’ll be alone with Lenzen.
I finish my work out and stop the treadmill, drenched in sweat. My body is exhausted and I relish the feeling. On the way to the bathroom I pass my old, wilting orchid on the hall windowsill, shy and unprepossessing. I don’t know why, but I feel the need to take it into the house and coddle it up—maybe because I’ve started to coddle myself up. I reach the bathroom and can hardly get my T-shirt over my head, it’s clinging to my body. I get under the shower, turn on the warm water and enjoy the feel of it running down my shoulders, back and thighs. My body is waking up after years of numbness.
I have the urge to feel more: for loud rock music and the buzz in my ears afterwards, for alcohol-induced dizziness, painfully spicy food. For love.
My body makes a list of the things that don’t exist in my world: other people’s cats that take a sudden liking to you, coins you find on the street, awkward silences in lifts, messages on lampposts—‘I saw you at the Coldplay concert last Thursday and lost you in the crowd. You’re called Myriam with a Y and have brown hair and green eyes. Please contact me on 0176…’ The smell of hot tar in the summer, wasp stings, train strikes, emergency stops, open-air theatres, spontaneous concerts, and love.
I turn off the water and brush these thoughts aside. There’s so much to do.
Less than ten minutes later, I’m sitting in my study, writing, while on my window the first ice flowers blossom.
The perfect moment came between waking and dreaming.
As soon as Sophie fell asleep, the same unvarying nightmare would fall upon her, and as she woke, the painful reality would break over her. But the brief instant in between was perfect.
Today, like every day, it passed in the wink of an eye, and everything came flooding back. Britta was dead. That was the reason for the despair in her heart. Britta was dead, Britta was dead. Nothing would ever be right again.
Sophie had lain awake in bed for hours until the previous sleepless nights had caught up with her and she had at last dropped off. Now she lay there blinking, trying to make out the digits displayed in luminous red on the radio alarm clock. A little before four. She had slept barely two hours, but she knew there was no point staying in bed a moment longer.
She swung her legs over the edge of the bed, then stopped mid-movement. A snapshot image of Britta’s flat flashed through her head. There was something wrong; something had been bugging her ever since that evening. For nights on end she had lain awake trying to work it out, but the thought had been slippery, impossible to get a hold on. Now it seemed to her that the crucial detail had come to her in a dream.
Sophie closed her eyes and held her breath, but it was gone. She got up, noiselessly, so as not to wake Paul, and closed the door behind her. She heaved a sigh of relief at having left the room without rousing him. Nothing would be worse right now than her fiancé smothering her with his gooey care and concern. The last thing she needed was for Paul to ask her how she was again.
Sophie went into the bathroom, undressed and stood under the shower. She could feel her legs trembling as if she’d run a marathon; it was ages since she’d last eaten. She turned on the water. It oozed out of the showerhead, viscous, like jelly that hasn’t quite set. Sophie closed her eyes and held her face under the jet. The water bubbled over her slowly, sticky as honey. No, not quite like honey, Sophie thought—more like blood. She opened her eyes and saw that she was right. Blood, everywhere. It ran down her body, forming a small pool in her belly button and dripping onto her toes. Sophie gasped, closed her eyes again, and counted. Twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four, twenty-five. Forced herself to open her eyes again. The water was its usual consistency; the red had vanished.
Less than five minutes later, Sophie was in her studio, dried and dressed. The room was full of painted canvases and the smell of dried oils and acrylics. She’d been prolific lately; her studio was getting too small; the whole flat was. They’d been able to afford more space for quite some time—a lot more space, if they wanted. Sophie’s new gallerist was selling her pictures like hot cakes and at prices Sophie had never imagined in her wildest dreams. Paul’s solicitor’s office was doing well too. If Sophie hung onto the flat, it was only out of laziness, because she didn’t feel like getting involved with estate agents. But it was time she did.
She went over to the easel, mixed colours, dipped in the brush and began to paint, quickly and unthinkingly, going for it with big brushstrokes. When she’d finished, and stood back from the canvas out of breath, Britta stared out from behind dead eyes. Sophie backed away a step, and then another. Then she turned and staggered from the studio.
Painting had always been her refuge, a place of relief, but in the past weeks it had given her nothing but blood and pain.
Sophie went into the kitchen and tried to open the fridge, but the handle wobbled like custard. Stars danced before her eyes. She drew up a chair and sat down, struggling to remain on the surface of her consciousness.
She couldn’t eat. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t paint. She couldn’t talk to anyone. Somewhere out there was Britta’s murderer. As long as that was the case, there was only one good reason to get out of bed in the morning: to find him.
Sophie struggled to her feet. She went into her study, dug out a blank notebook, booted up her laptop and began her investigations.