“It’s as though I’m being watched”

Cressida Peever’s mystery explores the eery blankness of receiving anonymous postcards

Illustration by Niamh Simpson

On one side a black and white aerial photograph of the courts at Wimbledon; on the other just my name, address and a first class stamp. The space where you’re supposed to write the message is still a space. Empty, as always.

Perhaps she bought it on a whim from the gift shop at centre court whilst I had gone to fetch ice creams. Or maybe she saw it on her walk through town after I’d said goodbye at the station.

She has left the postcard blank. And now here it is, wonderfully naked, on my doormat. It overrides my thoughts with strawberries skimming red lips, the smell of freshly cut grass at my palms, bare legs casting long shadows over the lawn.

I stick it to the fridge with the others: Kensington Palace, Trafalgar Square, Borough Market, the Globe on a summer’s day – in actual fact it rained through the performance and we both huddled under my raincoat, laughing, and ignoring the drama.

I meet her, as arranged, at the Southbank Centre. She doesn’t have long – only half an hour. I pretend to look at the pictures, but really I am caught in the flicks of her hair as she turns her head from frame to frame.

Another card, as I’d hoped. It’s an abstract painting made up of blue and yellow blotches. I don’t like the picture. It seems sinister to me, the way two of the blue smears join together like furrowed eyebrows above a smeary yellow sneer. It’s disconcerting. It makes me feel as though I’m being watched. I think I said that to her at the time. I had thought she’d disliked it too, so it’s a surprise that this is her choice. But, thinking back, we didn’t agree on many of the pictures. Perhaps she selected it due to our mutual dislike of it.

Again, there is no message: just my name and address written neatly in black ink, with a first class stamp hovering above. I purr to imagine her going back to the gallery at the end of the day and choosing it, pressing a finger to her bottom lip as she considers which one, delicately licking the fresh stamp, holding it lightly between her fingertips as she slips it into the postbox… Before I can stop myself I’ve reached for the phone. She lets it ring so long that I almost hang up. Then her breath at my ear–

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You know you’re not to call. David could hear. 

I couldn’t help it. When can we meet?

Tomorrow he’s on business. I’ll come to you.

And she hangs up. I put the card on the fridge.

She arrives late, with plenty of red wine. She pours it out as I slice onions. We abandon it all and go upstairs.

I wake as the light filters into the bedroom – we didn’t spare the time to close the curtains before we sunk to sleep. She is buried beneath the duvet, face turned away from me. I’m starving. I roll out of bed and into my dressing gown, stumble downstairs. There is a card on the doormat. It’s a picture of the Emirates Stadium, just a few streets away. My name and address are written neatly on the right as per the previous ones. The left is blank as before. But this one has no stamp, of course. She must have picked it up when she got off the tube on the way here. I stick it to the fridge with the others and throw bread into the toaster. She comes down in my shirt and sits at the counter. I give her the first slice and offer strawberry jam from the fridge. She removes the lid and dips the corner of the toast straight into the jar. I make coffee.

You got postcards? She says, observing the fridge. I smile knowingly.

I didn’t think you liked that picture. She continues, casually, dipping her toast and gesturing to the blue and yellow splodges. I don’t say much.

Then why did you buy it?

I wait for her to break into a laugh. But she doesn’t. She takes her piece of toast back upstairs and I hear the shower being switched on. I prise the postcards from the fridge and study them afresh, unease brewing within me. It is unusual that I’ve never caught her buying one. In fact, I’ve never seen her even look at the postcards in a gift shop. I’d always thought she was being coy, playing a game, but now… Now that I look at them they seem strange choices – not the ones I’d have expected her to choose. And she doesn’t play games. That yellow sneer turns my stomach.

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Panicked, I march to the front door and throw them into the dust bin on the patio. I make more coffee. I drink it quickly, whilst it’s still too hot and it scolds my mouth. A metallic slap ricochets into the kitchen – the sound of the letter box clapping down on the outside. In the hall I discover the cards rehoused on the doormat. Waiting. Above them a shadow looms against the door, darkening the frosted glass. I can’t speak. I can’t move. I can’t think who. The shadow shifts outside, bending towards the letterbox, which lifts slowly to reveal a dark pair of eyes.

I’m David.