‘I’m here to see Gareth Drew.’
The receptionist deigned to raise his eyes from his phone screen. ‘Yes ma’am. And you are?’
‘I’m Mrs. Drew.’
He looked hard at me. ‘Are you indeed?’
‘Yes. So, can I see him? Now?’
‘Well, the odd thing is, ma’am, that I just showed Mrs. Drew upstairs twenty minutes ago.’
I stared. ‘Are you suggesting my husband’s a bigamist? Don’t be silly.’
‘It’s either that, ma’am, or one of you is not Mrs. Drew.’
‘Then who is this other woman?’
‘Mrs. Drew, according to her.’
‘Yes, but she’s clearly not, because I am.’
He was silent.
‘Don’t you believe me?’ My voice was rising.
‘It’s just that she was here first, you see. It makes her more credible.’
‘Nonsense. It’s the other way round. If you know you’re making a false claim and the person you’re pretending to be is likely to turn up, you’d make damn sure you were first. If you didn’t know, then you’d be second.’
‘If you say so, ma’am.’
‘Oh, this is ridiculous! Get my husband down here at once. He will be able to identify me.’
‘Mr. Drew is not here, ma’am.’
‘Not here? Why not?’
‘That’s the other funny thing. Mr. Drew resigned yesterday. The other Mrs. Drew, she knew. She’s up there getting his things.’
‘Whoever she is, she has no right to his things! I see it all now. This is an elaborate plan to steal something he has! Call her down!’
‘I insist you call her down. Or I shall phone the police.’
He sighed. ‘One moment.’
Ten minutes later the lift opposite me pinged. The doors slid open like curtains on a stage. ‘Veronica!’ I exclaimed. The impeccably turned out blonde raised an eyebrow. ‘Heidi? What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since college.’
I laughed. ‘And how long ago it seems. What are you doing here?’
The receptionist coughed. I expect he meant to be discreet. ‘This is Mrs. Drew, ma’am.’
‘So you finally admit it,’ I sighed.
‘I mean that this lady is Mrs. Drew.’
‘Veronica? Veronica isn’t Mrs. Drew. She’s Veronica Blake. An old friend from college.’
‘Don’t you remember that I married Gareth?’ asked Veronica. I recoiled.
‘You’re not married to Gareth. You’re not Mrs. Drew. I did. I am.’
‘Heidi? What are you talking about? You came to our wedding.’
‘No. No! You came to our wedding. Why are you doing this? Is this some kind of joke?’ Veronica turned to the receptionist. ‘She’s always been obsessed with my husband.’
‘Where’s Gareth? I want to see him!’
‘I’ll call him.’ The bitch even had my husband on speed dial. ‘Maybe you need to hear this from him.’
Veronica walked away and the receptionist and I were left avoiding one another’s eyes. I went over to an abstract metal chair and sat, drumming my fingers on the polished surface. At length, Veronica came back.
‘He’s coming over.’
By now, I had an inkling that this wasn’t to go my way. Veronica evidently had an understanding with Gareth. I guessed I no longer needed to demand the identity of the blonde I’d seen him with yesterday. Was she going to steal my life? Tomorrow morning would it be she who made Gareth his sandwiches and kissed him goodbye at the door? Would she be waiting to share dinner and wine with him when he got home? Would it be her who spent the day vacuuming dog hairs from our cream carpet and unnecessarily watering cacti? Is that what he wanted?
When Gareth walked in I knew it was true. He looked right past me, as though we hadn’t just shared five years of our lives, his gaze resting on Veronica. ‘What’s going on?’
Veronica gestured in my direction. ‘It’s Heidi. You remember? From college? She thinks she’s married to you.’
‘I am,’ I choked. ‘You may choose deny it, but it will still be the truth.’
‘Heidi, I had no idea…’
‘Oh, stop. I don’t want to hear any more lies.’
He and Veronica exchanged a glance. ‘This has gone way too far.’ He came over to me. I thought he was going to say it was okay. That it had all been a big joke. A game. But he said, ‘I think you need professional help.’ And, looking from one to the other, I knew there was no escape.
‘So that’s how I ended up here.’
‘And how does that make you feel?’ my psychiatrist asked, pen poised.
‘Like everything I knew was a lie.’
‘Yes. Ye-es. Now the question is, Heidi, was it Gareth and Veronica who lied to you? Or your own mind?’
I paused. I knew what she wanted me to say. And I so badly wanted to get my life back.
‘My own mind,’ I said.