Extract: Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall
Mike and Verity play a secret game to prove their love. If Mike watches Verity and tracks her every move, he’ll see her give the signal and come to her rescue. But after two years abroad, Mike returns to find Verity’s marrying another man. Surely this is just a new, more intricate version of the game – a sign that Verity wants Mike to prove himself. The stakes have never been higher – and this time, if someone gets in Mike’s way, they’ll have to die…
Our Kind of Cruelty
The rules of the Crave were simple. V and I went to a nightclub in a predetermined place a good way from where we lived. We travelled there together, but entered separately. We made our way to the bar and stood far enough apart for it to seem like we weren’t together, but close enough that I could always keep her in vision. Then we waited. It never took long, but why would it when V shone as brightly as she did? Some hapless man would approach and offer to buy her a drink or ask her to dance. She would begin a mild flirtation. And I would wait, my eyes never leaving her, my body ready to pounce at all times. We have a signal: as soon as she raises her hand and pulls on the silver eagle she always wears round her neck I must act. In those dark throbbing rooms I would push through the mass of people, pulling at the useless man drooling over her, and ask him what he thought he was doing talking to my girlfriend. And because I am useful-looking in that tall, broad way and because V likes me to lift weights and start all my days with a run, they would invariably back off with their hands in front of their faces, looking scared and timid. Sometimes we couldn’t wait to start kissing; sometimes we went to the loos and fucked in the stalls, V calling out so anyone could hear. Sometimes we made it home. Either way both our kisses tasted of Southern Comfort, V’s favourite drink.
It was V who named our game, on one of those dark, freezing nights where the rain looks like grease on your windows. V was wearing a black T- shirt which felt like velvet to touch. It skimmed over her round breasts and I knew she wasn’t wearing a bra. My body responded to her as it always did. She laughed as I stood up and put her hand against my hot chest. ‘That’s all any of us are ever doing, you know, Mikey. Everyone out there. All craving something.’
It is true to say that the Crave always belonged to V.
Part of me doesn’t want to write it all down but my lawyer says I must because he needs to get a clear handle on the situation. He says my story feels like something he can’t grab hold of. He also thinks it might do me good, so I better understand where we are. I think he’s an idiot. But I have nothing else to do all day as I sit in this godforsaken cell with only the company of Fat Terry, a man with a neck bigger than most people’s thighs, listening to him masturbating to pictures of celebrities I don’t recognise. ‘Cat still got your tongue? My banter not good enough for you?’ he says to me most mornings as I lie silently on my bunk, the words like unexploded bombs on his tongue. I don’t reply, but it never goes further than that because in here, when you’ve killed someone, you appear to get a grudging respect.
It is hard to believe that it isn’t even a year since I returned from America. It feels more like a lifetime, two lifetimes even. But the fact is I arrived home at the end of May and as I sit here now writing in this tiny, dark cell it is December. December can be warm and full of goodness, but this one is cold and flat, with days which never seem to brighten and a fog which never seems to lift. The papers talk of a smog blanketing London, returned from the dead as if a million Victorian souls were floating over the Thames. But really we all know it is a trillion tiny chemical particles polluting our air and our bodies, mutating and changing the very essence of who we are.
I think America might have been the beginning of the mess. V and I were never meant to be apart and yet we were seduced by the promise of money and speeding up time. I remember her encouraging me to go; how she said it would take me five years in London to earn what I could in two in New York. She was right of course, but I’m not sure now that the money was worth it. It feels like we lost something of ourselves in those years. Like we stretched ourselves so thin we stopped being real.
But our house is real and maybe that is the point? The equation could make me feel dizzy: two years in hell equals a four-bedroomed house in Clapham. It sounds like a joke when you put it like that. Sounds like nothing anyone sane would sell their soul for. But the fact remains that it exists. It will wait for us without judgement. It will remain.
I employed a house-hunter when I knew I was coming home, whom I always pictured stalking the streets of London with a gun in one hand and a few houses slung over her shoulder, blood dripping from their wounds. She sent me endless photos and details as I sat at my desk in New York which I would scroll through until the images blurred before my eyes. I found I didn’t much care what I bought, but I was very specific in my requests because I knew that was what V would want. I was careful with the location and also the orientation. I remembered that the garden had to be south east-facing and I insisted on it being double-fronted because V always thought they were much friendlier-looking. There are rooms on either side of the hall, rooms which as a child I simply didn’t know existed, but which V taught me have peculiar names: a drawing room and library. Although I’ve yet to fill the bookcases and I have no plans to become an artist. The kitchen/diner, as estate agents love to refer to any large room containing cooking equipment, runs the entire back length of the house. The previous owners pushed the whole house out into the garden by five feet and encased it all in glass, with massive bifold doors which you can open and shut as easily as running your hand through water.
Underfloor-heated Yorkshire stone runs throughout this room and into the garden, so when the doors are open you can step from inside to out without a change in texture. ‘Bringing the outside in,’ Toby the estate agent said, making my hands itch with the desire to punch him. ‘And really, they’ve extended the floor space by the whole garden area,’ he said meaninglessly, pointing to the sunken fire pit and hot tub, the inbuilt barbeque, the tasteful water feature. He was lucky that I could already imagine V loving all those details, otherwise I would have turned and walked out of the house there and then. And that would have been a shame, as upstairs is the part I like best. I’ve had all the back rooms knocked together and then re-partitioned so we have what Toby would no doubt call a master suite, but is actually a large bedroom, a walk-in wardrobe and a luxurious bathroom. I chose sumptuous materials for all the fittings: silks and velvets; marbles and flints, the most beggingly tactile of all the elements. I have heavy drapes at the windows and clever lighting, so it’s dark and sensuous and bright and light in all the right places. At the front of the house are two smaller bedrooms and in the roof is another bedroom and ensuite, leading to a roof terrace at the back. Fantastic for guests, as Toby said.
I’ve also taken great care over the furnishings. A tasteful mix of modern and antique, I think you’d say. Modern for all the useful things like the kitchen and bathroom and sound system and lighting and all that. Antique for all the totems. I have become a bit of an expert at trawling shops and sounding like I know what I’m talking about. And I found a field in Sussex which four or five times a year is transformed into a giant antiques market. People from Eastern Europe drive over huge lorries filled with pieces from their past and laugh at all of us prepared to part with hundreds of pounds for things which would be burnt in their country. You’re meant to bargain with them, but often I can’t be bothered, often I get swept away with it all. Because there is something amazing about running your hand along the back of a chair and finding grooves and ridges and realising that yours is only one of so many hands which must have done exactly this.
I bought a cupboard last time and when I got it home and opened it there were loads of telephone numbers written in pencil inside the door. ‘Marta 03201’, ‘Cossi 98231’, and so on and so on. It felt like a story without a beginning, middle or end. They struck me as possible workings of a private investigator, or even clues in a murder case. I had imagined having it stripped and painted a dark grey, but after I found the numbers I left it exactly as it was, with flaking green paint and an internal drawer which sticks whenever you try to open it. I’ve become attached to the rootlessness of the numbers. I like the thought that none of us will ever know what really happened to these women, or to the person who wrote down their numbers. But I’m not sure what V will think about the cupboard. Perhaps she will want to smooth the numbers away.
The colours on the walls all belong to V. Lots of navy blues and dark greys, even black in places, which the interior designer assured me wasn’t depressing any more. She encouraged me to have the outside of the cupboards in the walk-in wardrobe painted a shining black and the insides a deep scarlet. She told me it was opulent, but I’m not sure she was right because all I see when I walk into the room is leather and dried blood.
Almost the first piece of post I received after I moved in was an invitation to V’s wedding. It came in a cream envelope and felt heavy in my hand, my not yet familiar address calligraphed in a fine ink. The same flowery hand had emblazoned my name across the top of the card, which was thick and soft, the black lettering raised and tactile. I stared at my name for a long time, so long I could imagine the hand holding the pen, see the delicate strokes used. There was a slight smudge against the ‘i’, but apart from that it was perfect. I took the invitation into the drawing room and rested it on the mantelpiece, underneath the gilt mirror, behind the tall silver candlesticks. My hand, I noticed, was shaking slightly and I knew I was hotter than the day allowed. I kept my hand against the cool marble of the fire surround and concentrated on the intricate curls holding up the perfect flatness of the shelf. It reminded me that pure, flawless marble is one of the most desired materials known to man, but also one of the hardest to find. If it’s easy it’s probably not worth having, V said to me once, and that made me smile, standing in my drawing room with my hand against the marble.
I knew what she was doing; it was all fine.
I had emailed V from New York to let her know I was coming home. That was when she replied to say she was getting married. It was the first piece of correspondence we’d had since Christmas and it shook me very badly. I had only stopped trying to contact her in February and I emailed with my news at the end of April, which meant she’d only had a couple of months to meet someone and agree to marry him. I know you’ll be surprised… she wrote:
…but also I think your silence these past few months means you’ve accepted that we are over and want to move on as much as me. Who knows, perhaps you already have! And I know it seems quick, but I also know I’m doing the right thing. I feel like I owe you an apology for the way I reacted to what happened at Christmas. Perhaps you just realised before I did that we were over and I shouldn’t have behaved as I did, I should have sat down and spoken properly to you. I hope you’ll be happy for me and I also hope that we’ll be able to be friends. You were and are very special to me and I couldn’t bear the thought of not having you in my life.
For a few days I felt simply numb, as if an explosion had gone off next to me and shattered my body. But I quickly realised how pedestrian this reaction was. Apart from all the love she clearly still had for me, V seemed to be under the impression that I had wanted the relationship to end. Her breezy tone was so far removed from the V I knew, I wondered for a moment if she had been kidnapped and someone else was writing her emails. The much more plausible explanations were that V was not herself, or she was using her tone to send me a covert message. There were two options at play: either she had lost her mind with the distress I had caused her at Christmas and jumped into the arms of the nearest fool, or she needed me to pay for what I’d done. The latter seemed by far the most likely; this was V after all and she would need me to witness my own remorse. It was as if the lines of her email dissolved and behind them were her true words. This was a game, our favourite game. It was obvious that we were beginning a new, more intricate Crave.
I left it a few days before replying to V’s email and then I chose my words carefully. I adopted her upbeat tone and told her I was very happy for her and of course we would still be friends. I also told her I would be in touch with my address when I got back to London, but after the invitation landed on my mat I knew I needn’t bother. It meant she had called Elaine and that in itself meant something. It also meant that she probably wasn’t as angry as she had been any more. I quickly came to see the invitation for what it was: the first hand in an elaborate apology, a dance only V and I could ever master. I even felt sorry for Angus Metcalf, as the ridiculous invitation revealed him to be.
MR AND MRS COLIN WALTON
REQUEST THE PLEASURE OF
YOUR COMPANY AT THE MARRIAGE
OF THEIR DAUGHTER
MR ANGUS METCALF
AT STEEPLE CHAPEL, SUSSEX
ON SATURDAY 14TH SEPTEMBER
AT 3 O’CLOCK
I woke sometimes with the invitation lying next to me in bed, not that I ever remembered taking it up with me. Once, it was under my cheek and when I peeled it from me I felt the indentations it had left. In the mirror I could see the words, branded on to my skin.
I left it a few days and then sent a short note to V’s mother saying I would be delighted to attend. Not, I knew, that she would share my delight.
I have spent a lot of time with Colin and Suzi over the years and there was a time when I imagined them coming to see me as a sort of son. Sometimes at Christmas it was hard to shake the feeling that V and I were siblings sitting with our parents over a turkey carcass. ‘We make a funny pair,’ she said to me once, ‘you with no parents, me with no siblings. There’s so little of us to go around. We have to keep a tight hold of each other to stop the other from floating away.’ Which was fine by me. I loved nothing more than encircling V’s tiny waist and pulling her towards me in bed, feeling her buttocks slip like a jigsaw into my groin, as our legs mirrored each other in a perfect outline, her head resting neatly under my chin.
Sometimes I think I liked V best when she slept. When I felt her go heavy in my arms and her breath would thicken and slow. I would open my mouth so that my jaw was able to run along the top of her head and I could feel all the ridges and markings on her skull. It didn’t feel like it would be hard to go further than the bone, to delve into the pulpy mixture protecting the grey mass of twisted ropes which formed her brain. To feel the electric currents surging, which kept her alive and alert. Often I would feel jealous of those currents and all the information they held. I would want to wrap them around myself so she would only dream of me, so that I filled her as much as she filled me.
I wonder if V had to argue with her mother to invite me, or if Suzi thought it would serve me right to see her daughter happily married to someone else. I wonder if she planned to look at me during the ceremony and smile.
But in retrospect Suzi was always a stupid woman, always pretending she wanted to be different when really she wanted to be exactly like the people who had surrounded her all her life. I should have realised this sooner, as soon really as I heard her name. ‘I’m Susan,’ she said to me on our first meeting, ‘but call me Suzi,’ which wasn’t too bad until I discovered she spelt it with an ‘i’. A ‘y’ would have been too cosy for Suzi, too normal, too close to who she actually is. And you should never trust people who yearn to be something other than who they are.
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