Chapter no 6

Then She Was Gone

The world looked loaded with portent as Laurel drove as close to the speed limit as she could manage toward the police station in Finsbury Park. People on the streets looked sinister and suggestive, as if each were on the verge of committing a dark crime. Awnings flapping in a brisk wind looked like the wings of birds of prey; billboards looked set to fall into the road and obliterate her.

Adrenaline blasted a path through her tiredness. Laurel hadn’t slept properly since 2005.

She’d lived alone for seven years—first in the family home and then in the flat she moved into three years ago when Paul put the final nail in any chance of a reconciliation by somehow managing to meet a woman. The woman had invited him to live with her and he’d accepted. She’d never worked out how he’d done it, how he’d found that healthy pink part of himself among the wreckage of everything else. But she didn’t blame him. Not in the least. She wished she could do the same; she wished she could pack a couple of large suitcases and say goodbye to herself, wish herself a good life, thank herself for all the memories, look fondly upon herself for just one long, lingering moment and then shut the door quietly, chin up, morning sun playing hopefully on the crown of her head, a bright new future awaiting her. She would do it in a flash. She really would.

Jake and Hanna had moved away too, of course. Faster, she suspected, and earlier than they would have if life hadn’t come off its rails ten years ago. She had friends whose children were the same age as Jake and Hanna and who were still at home. Her friends moaned about it, about the empty orange-juice cartons in the fridge, the appalling sex noises and the noisy, drunken returns from nightclubs at four in the morning that set the dog off and disturbed their sleep. How she would love to hear one of her children stumbling about in the early hours of the morning. How she would love the trail of used crockery and the

rumpled joggers, still embedded with underwear, left pooled all over the floor. But no, her two had not looked backward once they’d seen their escapes. Jake lived in Devon with a girl called Blue who didn’t let him out of her sight and was already talking about babies only a year into their relationship, and Hanna lived a mile away from Laurel in her tiny, gloomy flat, working fourteen-hour days and weekends in the City for no apparent reason other than financial reward. Neither of them were setting the world alight but then whose children did? All those hopes and dreams and talk of ballerinas and pop stars, concert pianists and boundary-breaking scientists. They all ended up in an office. All of them.

Laurel lived in a new-build flat in Barnet, one bedroom for her, one for a visitor, a balcony big enough for some planters and a table and chairs, shiny red kitchen units, and a reserved parking space. It was not the sort of home she’d ever envisaged for herself, but it was easy and it was safe.

And how did she fill her days, now that her children were gone? Now that her husband was gone? Now that even the cat was gone, though he’d made a big effort to stay alive for her and lasted until he was almost twenty-one. Laurel filled three days a week with a job. She worked in the marketing department of the shopping center in High Barnet. Once a week she went to see her mother in an old people’s home in Enfield. Once a week she cleaned Hanna’s flat. The rest of the time she did things that she pretended were important to her, like buying plants from garden centers to decorate her balcony with, like visiting friends she no longer really cared about to drink coffee she didn’t enjoy and talk about things she had no interest in. She went for a swim once a week. Not to keep fit but just because it was something she’d always done and she’d never found a good enough reason to stop doing it.

So it was strange after so many years to be leaving the house with a sense of urgency, a mission, something genuinely important to do.

She was about to be shown something. A piece of bone, maybe, a shred of bloodied fabric, a photo of a swollen corpse floating in dense hidden waters. She was about to know something after ten years of knowing nothing. She might be shown evidence that her daughter was alive. Or evidence that she was dead. The weight on her soul betrayed a belief that it would be the latter.

Her heart beat hard and heavy beneath her ribs as she drove toward Finsbury Park.

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