Richard was dead. It’s something Maddy knew as soon as she let herself in the flat, sloshed through the pool of water seeping out from under the bathroom door; knew when she saw him lying in the bath, one arm and one leg crooked over the side, his head lolling back, like he’d been trying to climb out when he died; knew as she turned off the taps, scalding her arms on the hot water as she reached down to pull the plug. It was a struggle to haul Richard out of the bath, but desperation gave her strength. On the flooded bathroom floor Maddy started pressing up and down on his chest like they said on the phone, but she had to crook it between her shoulder and her ear and it kept slipping off. And through it all, through her tears and the steam and the sweat and the shock of it all, really, she knew it was hopeless, she knew he was dead.
We were planning a life together.
I’m so sorry.
That’s why he hadn’t answered the door when she rang, on time (as usual) for their dinner date. That’s why he hadn’t answered when she called him on her mobile, standing out on the pavement looking up at his window. Something was wrong but who could she ask? His neighbours were out. Normally she had a spare set of keys but today she’d brought her new bag with her and she’d forgotten to transfer everything, so she had to go back to her flat. Ten minutes, but still. Would it have mattered? Would ten minutes have made any difference?
No. I don’t think so.
She should have had the keys on her. Why didn’t she have the keys on her? It was stupid, stupid. Ten minutes was a long time. Did I think it was her fault?
No. Absolutely not. She’s been incredibly brave. She did all she could and more. How on earth she managed to get him out of the bath like that. It was amazing – really, she did an amazing job. Is there anyone who could come and be with her?
She stares at the mobile phone in her hand. Takes a breath. Presses a number.
Rachel? It’s Maddy, she says. Can you call me back? Richard’s died. I found him in the bath.She presses the phone off again, lays it down carefully on the sofa next to her, then puts a hand on the cat that’s stretched out on her other side. An ancient long-haired tabby, twenty years at least, its rheumy eyes blissfully closing as Maddy starts to stroke it, long, firm, methodical strokes, like she wasn’t feeling the cat at all but smoothing something else, something she could see through the opposite wall, over and over and over, start to finish, again and again, trying to make it right.