October had been miserable. The leaves in Regent’s Park were sodden through, leaving an unpleasant wetness to the soles of my shoes. I walk Socrates here most mornings. We called him that because he’s an idiot. I couldn’t see to the end of the path, as a low fog blunted the trees ahead. It drifted down the hill towards me, and for a few short seconds, I walked on blindly. Behind me, I thought I could hear someone breathing. A man. Then nothing.
I considered it my imagination at first; the window I didn’t remember opening, the footsteps always a little too fast behind my own, the stare of someone I could feel at the nape of my neck. Perhaps I didn’t put two and two together, I was so wrapped up in the final stages of planning. Peter was short with me, considering my obsession with the minor to be ridiculous. We argued over the pettiest of things. He’d bury his head in a sea of papers and ask me if it really mattered. I’d reply tearfully that it mattered to me, and so the cycle went on, until we lay untouching in bed in the middle of the night. I loved him. I still do. But the stress was getting to me.
We went down the pub with some of his friends later that month. I’d met some of them before: Oliver, smug Arsenal type, Jamie, face like a laborador, and Mark. Mark frightened me. I don’t know what Peter liked about him. He was quiet, sullen, staring. He never said anything. I don’t think he likes me, I whispered to Jamie. Oh, don’t worry, he replied. Mark doesn’t like anyone. I looked over to him, and he stared at me, he thin mouth filled with quiet rage.
Then things began to get unsettling. A person would call me at work from phone boxes, only to hang up after hearing my voice. Someone took my cardigan from the washing line, but none of my expensive dresses. As November drew in, and so did the snow, I noticed a man’s footprints coming up to our door, then going away, then coming back. Peter said I was being ridiculous, it was probably a postman who found a second letter for us in his bag. Or a guy looking for directions. Nothing.
The wedding was in early December, and went without anything so much as a drunken aunt or weeping bridesmaid. But something still was present, something watching, staring, hating. I glanced around from the aisle. Nothing.
It all made sense a few days later. Peter had flu, so I had to chase up the wedding tape. Begrudgingly, I went up to Mark’s dingy apartment, putting on my best cheerful act to avoid him taking the opportunity to be unpleasant. He was clearly drunk, silent, with blood red eyes and that hating sneer on his lips. He showed me the tape. My exclamations of approval gave way to shock. The camera followed my face. Watching. Staring. Obsessively. I tried to hide my fear, but he saw it in me. You better go, he said. He knew. He knew I knew.
As I left, I glimpsed into the side room. Like a macabre festival display, my face lined the walls, the flowers blooming in the wallpaper through the cracks. And my cardigan, hung over the doorknob like some goulish trophy. Stumbling back, I pretended I hadn’t seen. I hadn’t seen this shrine to obsession, ownership, self flagellation. I ran down the stairs, sliding on the ice in the street, until my lungs were raw. Until I knew he couldn’t have come after me. Until I knew other people could see me, until I knew someone could cry out ‘why are you following her’ and make my predator run.
I told Peter. He was sharp with disbelief. I must be tired. The room was probably just filled with our wedding photos. I was imagining things. I must have left my cardigan there from when we visited in May and forgotten. Yes, that is what had happened. I was the hysterical, obsessive wife. I didn’t bother to reply. I glanced back into the sitting room, and he was already absorbed into the blue glare of the television.
He came to our door and didn’t walk away. I opened to see him there, staring. I played along to what he wanted. I didn’t want him to get worse. He revealed in cardboard signs that he loved me. No, not love. Was jealous of my ownership to another man. Was angry I didn’t want him. Could not accept that to me, he was a shadow that existed in subconscious terror, following every waking moment.
“How could I ever love you?” I said suddenly, filled with anger. “Leave me alone. Leave me and my husband alone. I’ll call the police.” He stared, the black anger of his pupil swelling. “Go away!” I said, my voice trembling. The dog growled at my feet. That seemed to wake him up.
“You’ll regret this, Jules. You’ll regret this.”
I did. He told Peter I had kissed him there, in the street, on Christmas Eve. That we had been making love behind his back for months, and that he had come around to call it off, but I couldn’t accept his rejection. He couldn’t do that to his best friend, he had told me. But I was obsessed with him. I followed him everywhere, while Peter worked late. Now I had realised that he didn’t love me, I had been spreading rumours that he had been stalking me. Revenge. Trying to ruin his friendship with Peter.
Peter believed him. We broke up a month later, separated in 2008.
But at least no one follows me in the park, anymore.