Naomi’s Room, Chapter 7
Everything is quiet now. I have the biscuit tin in front of me. Inside are the photographs, the other photographs, the ones we looked at after Lewis’s visit.
I could do nothing to reassure him. He could tell by my face that I was as shaken as he.
‘I’m not superstitious,’ he repeated, as though his probity of mind made things any better. Had he been, had I myself been prone to a belief in the supernatural, it might have allowed us a niche of sorts in which to take refuge. We might have tendered explanations, nodded agreement, made some cryptic sense of what the pictures showed. But such a route was not available to us, we had no way out but stark admission of what was before our eyes.
‘You say you never saw them?’ I asked.
‘Never. Save in the photographs. I thought you might have done. Living here. Being in the house.’
‘You think they’re connected to the house?’
‘They have to be. It’s all that makes sense.’
And I thought he was right, but how right I did not then know or guess.
When Laura came home from Town, Lewis had gone. I thought it best not to tell her anything.
‘Did that man come?’ she asked. ‘The photographer.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘He came.’
‘What did he want?’
‘Oh, just a back way into our affections. He had photographs of the house, thought I might like them, agree to be photographed with you.’
‘I should have thought it had gone stale by now. Public interest.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Until they make an arrest.’
‘Do you think they ever will?’
‘Of course,’ I said, not really thinking it. ‘Why shouldn’t they?’
‘It was so random, Charles. Most murders are committed by someone close to the victim. A relative mostly, or a friend. There’s nothing like that to go on.’
‘Ruthven said the forensic lab had come up with a few things. Fibres left on Naomi’s clothes. Traces of some sort of resin.’ I had not told her this before, not wanting to upset her.
‘Did he say that?’
‘Perhaps they’ll find her coat,’ she said. ‘Her scarf.’
‘Perhaps,’ I said. Sometimes we could not stop talking about it, about the murder. It was always on our minds, pulling us away from all other topics. People were visiting us less frequently. We were so heavy, it was such hard work to be with us.
That night, the first of the troubles happened. We called them ‘troubles’, but they were more than that. A spiritualist would have called them manifestations, I think. They started in a small way, as though the house were slowly waking up. By the end . . . No, that isn’t right. There has never been an end.
We had gone to bed. The nights were times of great stress to us. The doctor had given us both sleeping tablets, but tranquillizers quickly become ineffective and, if anything, exacerbate sleeplessness. I had given mine up and managed periods of deep sleep interspersed with long episodes of wakefulness. During these spells, I would go over in my mind everything that had happened during that day in London and the days following. It was like a tape that played itself over and over, that could not be stopped, however hard I tried.
Laura would lie awake beside me, never achieving more than a light doze. Sometimes, she tossed and turned in a half-sleep, dreaming dreams that she refused to talk about on waking. She was losing weight.
I had a small battery-operated reading lamp that allowed me some respite. Sometimes I read long into the night, falling asleep at four or five o’clock, sometimes not at all. We never made love. Desire had left us both, even the desire to touch, the will to take comfort from another’s physical presence.
It was almost three o’clock when the sound came. According to the post mortem, that must have been around the time Naomi was finally killed. What we heard was a single, high-pitched scream, a child’s scream, loud, frantic, full of an indescribable fear. It was suddenly cut off. I sat up and switched on the bedside lamp. Laura was sitting up beside me, her eyes wide open, a look of terror on her face. Instinctively, we both knew where the scream had come from. The nursery.
I stumbled out of bed, shivering in the cold of early morning. At the door, I hesitated. Lewis’s visit had unsettled me, and in bed my darkness had already been haunted by images of pale, staring children and a tall woman in a grey dress.
The landing was pitch-dark. There was a switch just to my left. I remember reaching out with a trembling hand, terrified at what I thought I might see. But there was nothing. The scream had been followed by a thick, hazy silence, the sort of silence in which you can imagine there is someone sitting facing you, mouthing words you cannot hear or understand.
I made my way along the short corridor to Naomi’s bedroom. Her name was on the door, white painted letters on a blue tile. She had chosen the tile in Primavera on King’s Parade earlier that year. For a long time, I stood at the door listening. Reason told me not to be afraid. But I had seen the photographs, I had seen Naomi where she should not have been.
I opened the door. For a moment, I expected to see the nightlight burning, as it had always burned when I went in to check on Naomi at night. But the room was dark. Dark and still and very, very cold. Colder than anywhere else in the house. I shivered and reached a fumbling hand for the light switch.
As soon as I looked, I knew she had been there. Her presents lay on the floor, the wrappings torn and tossed aside. I recognized the crying doll, the doll’s cradle, the doll’s pram. On the bed was the box of Lego I had promised her. It had been opened, and the pieces scattered over the counterpane. A box of crayons had been opened and its contents spilled across the floor. Someone had taken a few of them and drawn on a large sheet of paper on the little desk.
I bent down and looked at the drawing. She had used several colours. On the paper, in a child’s hand, she had drawn three figures. Underneath them, in her imperfect block letters, she had written their names: Mummy, Daddy, and Naomi. The figures were very crude, but one thing was certain: she had never drawn Laura or me like that before. The Daddy figure was drawn all in black and wore on his head something that might have been meant as a stovepipe hat. Naomi was dressed in yellow and had red scribbles at her throat, doubtless to indicate her scarf. But the mother figure struck the greatest dread in me: it depicted a tall woman in a long dress. A long grey dress.
There was a sound behind me. I turned and saw Laura standing outside the nursery door, her hair dishevelled, her eyes red and staring.
‘It’s nothing,’ I started to say. ‘A cat or something . . .’ But my voice trailed away as I looked at her. She had not come after me to investigate the sounds from the nursery.
‘Charles,’ she said. Her voice was trembling. ‘There’s someone walking about upstairs. I heard footsteps. Above our bedroom.’
‘But there’s nothing . . .’
‘In the attic, Charles. There’s someone walking about in the attic.
End, Chapter 7.