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The Lies We Told
Author:Camilla Way

The Lies We Told

Camilla Way


For Albert and Sidney


Cambridgeshire, 1986

At first I mistook the severed head for something else. It wasn’t until I was very close that I realized it was Lucy. To begin with I thought the splash of yellow against the white of my pillow was a discarded sock, a balled-up handkerchief perhaps. It was only when I drew nearer and saw the delicate crest of feathers, the tiny, silent beak, that I fully understood. And suddenly I understood so much more: everything in that moment became absolutely clear.

‘Hannah?’ I whispered. A floorboard creaked in the hall beyond my bedroom door. My scalp tightened. ‘Hannah,’ louder now, yet with the same, fearful tremor in my voice, ‘is that you?’ No answer, but I felt her there, somewhere near; could feel her waiting, listening.

I didn’t want to touch my little bird’s head, could hardly bear to look at the thin, brown line of congealed blood where it had been sliced clean from the body, the half-open, staring eyes. I wondered if she’d been alive or dead when it happened, and started to feel sick.

When I went to Hannah’s bedroom she was standing by her window, looking down at the garden below. I said her name and she turned and regarded me, her beautiful dark eyes sombre, just a trace of a smile on her lips. ‘Yes, Mummy?’ she said. ‘What’s wrong?’


London, 2017

Clara woke to the sound of rain, to a distant siren wailing somewhere along Old Street, and the low, steady thump of bass from her neighbour’s speakers. She knew instantly that Luke wasn’t home – not just absent from their bed but from the flat itself – and for a moment she lay staring into the darkness before reaching for her phone: 04:12. No missed calls, no text messages. Through the gaps of her curtains she could see the falling rain caught in a streetlamp’s orange glare. Below her window on Hoxton Square came the sudden sharp peal of female laughter, followed by the clattering stumble of high heels.

Another hour passed before she gave up on sleep. Beyond their bedroom door the first blue light had begun to seep into the flat’s dark corners, the furniture gradually taking shape around her, its colours and edges looming like ships out of the darkness. The square’s bars and clubs were silent now, the last stragglers long gone. Soon the sweep and trundle of the street cleaners’ truck would come to wash the night away, people would emerge from their buildings heading for buses and trains; the day would begin.

Above her, the repetitive beat continued to pound and, sitting on the sofa wrapped in her duvet now, she stared down at her phone, her tired mind flicking through various explanations. They hadn’t had a chance to speak yesterday at work, and she’d left without asking him his plans. Later, she’d met a friend for drinks before going to bed early, assuming he’d be back before too long. Should she call him now? She hesitated. They’d only moved in together six months before, and she didn’t want to be that girlfriend – nagging and needy, issuing demands and curfews – it was not the way things worked between them. He was out having fun. No big deal. It had happened before, after all – a few drinks that had turned into a few more, then sleeping it off on someone’s sofa.

Yet it was strange, wasn’t it? To not even text – to just not come home at all?

It wasn’t until she was in the shower that she remembered the importance of the day’s date. Wednesday the twenty-sixth. Luke’s interview. The realization made her stand stock-still, the shampoo bottle poised in mid-air. Today was the big interview for his promotion at work. He’d been preparing for it for weeks; there was no way he would stay out all night before something so important. Quickly she turned the water off and, wrapping herself in a towel, went back to the living room to find her phone. Clicking on his number she waited impatiently for the ringtone to kick in. And then she heard the buzzing vibration coming from beneath the sofa. Crouching down she saw it, lying on the dusty expanse of floor, forgotten and abandoned: Luke’s mobile. ‘Shit,’ she said out loud, and as though surprised, the pounding music above her head ended in abrupt silence.

She clicked open her emails and sure enough there it was, a message from Luke, sent last night at 18.23 from his work address.

Hey darling, left my phone at home again. I’m going to stay and work on stuff for the interview, probably be here til eight, then coming home – want to have an early night for tomorrow. You’re out with Zoe, aren’t you? See you when I do, Lx

An hour later, as she made her way up Old Street, she told herself to get a grip. He’d changed his mind, that was all. Decided to go for a pint with his team, then ended up carrying the night on. He couldn’t let her know because he was phoneless – nothing else to it. She would see him soon enough at work, hung-over and sheepish, full of apologies. So why was her stomach twisting and turning like this? Beneath the April sky, grey and damp like old chewing gum, she walked the ugly thoroughfare, already gnarled with traffic, the brutal hulking buildings of the roundabout ahead, the wide pavements filled with commuters pressing on and on, clutching coffee, earbuds in, staring down at phones or else inward-looking, unseeing, as they moved as one towards the white tiled station entrance, to be sucked in then hurtled forward, and spat out again the other end.

The magazine publishers where they both worked was in the centre of Soho. Though they were on separate magazines – she a writer on a finance title, he heading the design desk of an architectural quarterly – it’s where they’d met three years ago, shortly before they’d started going out.

It had been her first day at Brindle Press and, eager to make a good impression, she’d offered to make the first round of teas. Anxiously running through everyone’s names as she’d sloshed water on to teabags and stirred in milk and sugar, she’d piled too many mugs on the tray before she’d hurried out of the kitchen. The mess when it slipped from her hands and came crashing to the floor had been spectacular; scattered shards of broken crockery, rivers of brown steaming liquid, her carefully chosen ‘first-day’ dress soaked through.

Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck. It was only then that she’d looked up and seen him, the tall, good-looking man standing in the doorway, watching her with amusement. ‘Oops,’ he’d said, crouching down to help her.

‘Christ, I’m an idiot,’ she’d wailed.

He’d laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it,’ he said, then added, ‘I’m Luke.’

That evening, when her new team had taken her out for welcome drinks she’d spotted him at the bar, her heart quickening as she met his gaze, his dark eyes holding her there, as though he’d reached out his hand and touched her.

Now, as she approached her desk the phone rang, its tone signalling an internal line and she snatched it up eagerly. ‘Luke?’

But it was his deputy, Lauren. ‘Clara? Where the fuck is he?’

She felt herself flush. ‘I don’t know.’

There was a short, surprised silence. ‘Right. What, you don’t … you haven’t seen him this morning?’

‘He didn’t come home last night,’ she admitted.