I slide into the back seat and Officer Welsh closes the door on me.
Ridley is dead. I formally identified his body. The divers pulled him from the canal yesterday afternoon. I opened the front door to Officers Welsh and Drummond and their carefully arranged faces. They gave the game away of course, but I didn’t tell them that. Two coppers on your doorstep are enough to drive terror into anyone’s heart, but I was waiting for them.
They think he fell in, with the absence of a suicide note and no sign of violence to tell them otherwise. Ridley did jump in on purpose, but he wasn’t trying to do himself in. He was looking for the key. A key to unlock his heart from mine. Stupid man. Each time I told him to go, that he was free, he came back.
“We made a pact, Sadie. It binds our hearts and you can’t set me free.”
I don’t recall which one of us came up with the idea. It might have been Ridley, something he found on the internet about lovers and bridges in Italy, Korea, France. The whole world was at it. I took the idea one step further.
“Let’s put a drop each of our blood inside them.”
“Bloody hell, Sadie. Why don’t we just get married?”
“Come on, it’ll be a laugh. It’ll be different from everyone else.”
Ridley bought heart-shaped padlocks and I bought razor blades.
We took them to the canal bridge, where we’d had our first date feeding a pair of swans.
I sliced into the pad of my index finger, the incision invisible and the sting lagging seconds behind. I squeezed a perfect ruby bead of me. It slid, reluctantly, from my finger into the keyhole of my padlock. I squeezed another drop into Ridley’s.
“Your turn, Ridley.” I held the blade out to him.
Ridley thrust his finger toward me and turned his head away. “Make it quick.”
I added Ridley’s blood to the locks. I looped them together and Ridley fastened them to the railing. They slid to the bottom of the post and hung above the water. We threw the keys into the oily canal without any special words. I’d forgotten to bring plasters and we walked home holding hands, sucking our fingers.
When he started to glaze over if I recounted my dreams, and I could no longer bear his toothbrush to touch mine in the cup on the bathroom window sill, we invented ways to be apart when we were together. Ridley left but he always came back.
Last week he returned after his longest absence. His blond hair was unwashed and stuck up from his head in clumps, as though he’d been tearing at it. The stubble on his face was flecked with grey I had never noticed before, and his eyes didn’t stay on one thing for longer than a second or two. His hands shook.
“I bought another set of locks, for the keys. But they won’t work, Sadie.”
“Ridley. The locks don’t matter. You’re being ridiculous.”
Ridley the Ridiculous. He didn’t crack a smile. I sighed. I was tired of trying to move forward only for him to walk through the door and drag me back.
“Give me your door keys, please.”
“Can’t you hear it, Sadie?” Tears brimmed in his eyes and I turned away in disgust.
“Hear what? I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Ridley.”
“The heartbeat. It’s so loud. Ba-dum, ba-dum, ba-dum…”
“Ridley! Stop. I don’t hear a thing. Please leave, now.”
“I can’t sleep. It keeps me awake at night, ba-dum. Inside my skull. Behind my eyes. It’s getting louder every day. It’s in the walls, pulsing. Pumping clotted blood. It’s starting to seep through the wallpaper in the flat. Can’t you see my footprints? Can’t you hear it?” His quick, half-glances darted around the room. “If I can’t unlock them, I’ll have to come home. We’re bound, Sadie. Forever.”
This statement alarmed me more than anything else he’d said.
“Well, have you tried bolt-cutters?”
“Too tight. Can’t get the blades around them.”
“I’ve tried!” he screamed. My stomach clenched.
“Get out, or I’m calling the police. I mean it, Ridley. Don’t come back.”
“You’ll be sorry, Sadie. When it comes, you’ll wish you were dead.” He jabbed a finger into my chest, just above my heart. Then he left.
He never came back.
Officer Welsh pulls the car up to the kerb outside my house.
“Are you sure there isn’t someone I can call for you?”
“No. Thank you, but I’m fine.”
I think I might be getting a headache. I feel as though I’m wearing a swimming cap. My jaw throbs around its hinges.
Lying on the sofa with a cold cloth on my head is a good idea, I think.
I have slept because darkness presses against the front window. The headache has receded to a distant pulse. I sit up and place my feet on the floor and the beat thrums up my legs.
Hmm, that’s a bit odd.
I go into the kitchen to get a glass of water. The tap judders and somewhere in the pipes, air grumbles. Water splutters out of the tap, as it sometimes does because Ridley was quite useless at DIY, but instead of gushing into a steady stream, short freshets of murky water pumps out and the pipes knock rhythmically. A glass of milk will do. Except the light inside the fridge pulsates in time with the throb of the headache in my legs.
I climb the stairs and the handrail vibrates beneath my palm. In the bedroom I lie on the bed and listen to the discordant palpitations of my heart. I hear a damp, sanguineous echo on the stairs, ba-dum, and along the hall, ba-dum.
Ba-dum ba-dum fills the world and beats a crimson tattoo behind my closed eyes.
Jayne Thickett writes between homeschooling her son and the day job. She’s been working on a novel since time began, and has published a few little stories online.