|Three Cheers and a Tiger ~ Gold
The Woman in the Attic
Photo Credit: Darren W
"You dare speak to him again, and I'll stick you!"
Mrs Campbell put her keys down next to the answerphone, and frowned. She pressed play again.
"You dare speak to him again, and I'll stick you!"
She wondered if it were one of her girls playing a joke on her. They'd been studying Brighton Rock recently and the message had an air of Graham Greene to it.
She pressed delete and thought no more about it.
She took off her beige jacket, hung it next to her red one, and went into the sitting room. Her cat, Jones, was sitting near the window, planning his escape.
"Jones, how was your day, you furry beast?" she scratched his head, and he purred, almost smiling.
Mrs Campbell sat down in her armchair, and looked through her post. Nothing very interesting. The usual bills and bumph, telling her she had to buy her new sofa now as there was 25% OFF ONLY FOR TODAY! She tore it up—she didn't like flyers that shouted.
She didn't really like shouting in general. It was why she had left her husband—he shouted at the television, on the phone, at the postman, in the train. She found it embarrassing to be with someone who made other people embarrassed on your behalf. She saw them looking at her and wondering if she realised her husband spoke at the same volume as a ranting two-year-old. She did realise of course. She had realised when he shouted "I do" in the church so loudly that the candelabras wobbled and she thought Father Williams might faint.
It was one of those things that she thought she would get over, that her ears would adjust to. Instead they became more and more sensitive until the only solution she had was to ask for a divorce.
"Divorce?" he bellowed. "Why?"
Mrs Campbell looked over at Jones, who was still staring out of the window, frowning at something that mere humans couldn't see. She glanced out of the window to see if anyone or anything was there, but there was nothing. Just the silence of the suburbs on a Saturday evening.
She had just finished dinner and was washing up her plate when the telephone rang again. She didn't answer, preferring to let the answerphone take her place.
"This is Whyteleafe 7813. Please leave a message."
"I'm telling you! You stay away from him! …" The line sizzled as the person stayed there, waiting.
Mrs Campbell looked at the phone, rather perplexed. She started as the phone spoke again, a different voice this time. Calm. Patient.
"Who are talking to, darling?"
"Well, if it's no one you can hang up, can't you?"
Clearly not one of her students then. She didn't recognise either voice. She dried her hands, went to the phone. The number was a local one.
She tried to think of some slight she could have done to someone, but apart from her students and Jones she didn't talk to that many people, certainly no one who would leave this type of message.
She had had an affair with a maths teacher many moons ago, but he had been a widower, and their affair had ended when he decided to take early retirement and go overseas with the VSO. Since then, there hadn't been much passion in her life. Certainly not enough to warrant having someone stick her.
The phone rang again.
"Don't think you'll get away with it! Bitch!"
Now Mrs Campbell started to get irritated. Being threatened à la Greene was one thing. Being insulted in her home by some unknown woman was something else. Her teacher hormones kicked in.
She picked up the phone.
"How dare you speak to me like that!"
There was a pause.
"Are you still there? Not so easy when there's a voice, is it?"
She could hear the woman breathing.
"Now, I'm only going to say this once—stop calling here. You have the wrong number. Is that clear?"
She didn't wait for an answer and hung up.
She stared at the phone, daring it to ring again, but it stayed silent.
"Good decision," Mrs Campbell said, and went back to her washing up.
Three days later and Mrs Campbell had heard no more from the woman. She assumed that was the end of it.
That evening, when she arrived home from work, the light of the answerphone was flashing.
"Hello? I'm phoning about my wife. I believe you spoke to her. Could you call me back? My number is—"
Mrs Campbell picked up the phone.
"Oh, hello. I was leaving a message, but then you know that."
"I heard. What can I do for you?"
"My name is James Thomas. I wanted to check if my wife had called you again."
"Your wife being the woman who called and threatened me?"
He sighed. "Yes, that would be her."
"No, she hasn't. And I hope she doesn't either!" Mrs Campbell added.
"She's a little disturbed. She gets it into her head that I'm having an affair—"
The man laughed. "I wasn't expecting that question. No, I'm not. Not right now."
Mrs Campbell could still hear the laughter in his voice.
"Perhaps you should. Seeing as your wife thinks you are already," she suggested.
"I did consider it, but she takes up rather a lot of my time. I don't think I could find the time for an affair as well. Anyway, the reason I was calling was to ask if we could meet. It's about my wife."
"How does she even know me?" Mrs Campbell asked.
"That's what I would like to explain."
Mrs Campbell thought about it for a moment. This could be a scam that the couple ran to target vulnerable women. Perhaps they had been watching her for weeks without her knowledge, planning and scheming, waiting until she was at her weakest. She didn't feel especially weak, but then perhaps that was a sign of weakness.
On the other hand, she didn't fancy spending another evening alone with Jones and the television.
"Do you know The Fox and Hounds?" she asked.
"I can meet you there in half an hour."
"Perfect. I'll have Schuster with me."
"He's a Great Dane. You can't miss us."
She hung up and glanced at herself in the hall mirror. Perhaps she should wear some lipstick.
Half an hour later Mrs Campbell was in the pub with a glass of white wine. She didn't usually drink, but then she didn't usually meet unknown men with Great Danes and mad wives either.
She saw Schuster first, an enormous dog that lumbered through the door, followed by a wiry man with a wisp of a moustache. She wondered how it resisted the wind.
"Mr Thomas?" she said, making room for the dog.
"Mrs Campbell?" He held out his hand which she shook.
"I thought people and animals were supposed to look alike. I pity you if Schuster looks like your wife." She smiled.
"But no pity for the fact that she calls strangers and threatens them. Interesting logic." He signalled to the barman to bring him a half. "You don't beat about the busy, do you?"
"Too much time with teenagers. I'm sorry."
Don't worry. I just thought I should explain what the situation was. How she got your number. Why she chose you."
"She does it every three months or so. I had an affair years ago, and since then she's been insanely jealous. Any woman I mention she assumes I'm seeing on the sly."
"But I don't know you."
"Yes, but I know you."
Mrs Campbell raised her eyebrows.
"You teach my daugher, Janine."
Mrs Campbell's brain flicked through her directory of students. "Janine Thomas. Third year."
He nodded. "She likes your lessons and has spoken about you. I picked her up from school a few weeks ago and she pointed you out."
"So I must've met your wife. At Parents' Evening."
"Yes. That's how she knew who you were. She followed you, and then got the number from the directory. You really should go ex-directory you know."
"To protect myself from people like your wife?"
"Perhaps she should get help. Speak to someone," Mrs Campbell suggested.
"Probably, but she's a stubborn woman and doesn't like to think she needs help."
"But you agree that she does."
"Oh yes. Clearly." He frowned. "Are you married, Mrs Campbell?"
"Good choice. I thought about it but I'm worried it would push her over the edge, slipping from cranky to insane."
"If she's really insane, she'll get there all by herself, no matter what you do." Mrs Campbell had finished her wine, and her tongue felt looser than usual. She could see her lipstick, red smeared on the edge of her glass and wondered what Mr Campbell thought of her.
"Perhaps. But I don't know if I can take that risk of pushing her there before she's ready to go. Maybe I should just lock her in the attic."
"Very Jane Eyre," Mrs Campbell remarked.
He smiled. "Unfortunately I don't have an attic."
He ordered another round of drinks.
A few weeks later Mrs Campbell's phone rang again. She stood in the hallway, touching up her lipstick, the red the colour of a bullfighter's cape. She let the machine do its job.
"I warned you! I'm going to stick you. And then him!"
The speaker slammed the phone down.
Mrs Campbell sighed. She leant over and pressed the delete button, wiping the message clean away. The messages came every day now, but she didn't really care. She hadn't been stuck by the wife, and she doubted she was going to be.
Jones walked past her, slithering between her legs, on his way to the kitchen. She checked he had enough food and went into the sitting room, and turned on the television.
Mr Thomas came into the sitting room and she smiled up at him. He sat down next her, slipping his arm around her shoulders.
"Who was that?" he asked.
"The woman in the attic," she smiled.
Tara Kenway is a Paris-based writer. Email: tkenway[at]gmail.com