The Watcher Excerpt

 42 days till it comes.

HS—Passer domesticus—Wetland—Good vis., wind light, 54 deg.—Singular—2 leucistic patches, buffish, pale supercilium, rich dark streaks on mantle, female—16 cm. approx.—Social, dominant.

I THOUGHT I’D SEND MY FINDINGS OVER TO YOU in particular. As I hoped you of all people might understand. We haven’t seen a lot of each other recently of course, but I’ve had a think about it and there are a few things I want to say. Even if I’m not that keen to say them to your face exactly. Or on the phone. Or Skype, or the other platforms.

I’m not up for it. I don’t want a scene. I’m not keen to “have it out.” Woman to man.

I had thought I’d made everything pretty clear. Had said my piece. Is it piece or peace? I never know. But either way, I thought I’d said it. And I thought that was it. Forever. Between me and you.

But now I think about it, there are a few more things I want to touch on. Want to prod at maybe. Without having to look at you and feel guilty or inhibited while I’m saying them. With­out you butting in or anything.

It’s probably all my fault. I know. I know you think it is. I know that’s why you think we’re not talking. But hear me out, okay? I want to say a few things and be heard. That’s all. A friendly ear, without the glare of your eyes. Without any judg­ments.

I hope this doesn’t sound too severe! It’s not meant to be. You know, it might be fun. To help you remember a few things. Maybe hear some new things, too. Things you don’t know. I had this sudden urge to tell you. So much has happened since I made my decision.

I know the notation isn’t always right but cut me some slack, okay? This is how I’ve always done it and you know I like to do things my way. Also, don’t get all “the way you do” if I’m telling you things you already know, you’re never too old for a refresher. I don’t mean to chastise, you are always so patient with me. You always have been. I just need someone to talk to. Someone at a distance to share my findings and the way I’m feeling so maybe we can make sense of it all. Together. Some­one levelheaded. I know you’re not a trained therapist! But we used to talk, when we were out there. Look. I think I might be getting myself into some trouble.

I don’t know. Aiden thinks I’m stuck in a rut. Mentally that is. That’s what he says. Mentally and emotionally. And finan­cially. And creatively and career-wise. Which is always nice to hear. I didn’t ask, he just volunteered this information. Apropos of nothing. He wasn’t just being a dick. But he wasn’t joking, either. He’s almost definitely right.

Aiden told me all these things this afternoon. God, he’s a clever arsehole, isn’t he? It’s like he can see the inside of my head. He’s staring at me now, grinning slightly as he leans against the window. He looks handsome as the light streams in around him. We’re both tapping away opposite each other on our celluloid keys. A proper modern, alienated couple.

He’s on his laptop and I’m on Mom’s old typewriter. Maybe you remember the typeface. The font. I found it in the move and thought it’d be nice to get the old thing out. Aren’t I retro? I feel like the woman from Murder, She Wrote. Only problem is I can’t make any mistakes on this thing or I’ll need Wite-Out and I hate Wite-Out It stinks. So I type carefully. And if I say things I regret. Well, they just have to stay.

He shoots me a look and a smile that says Make me a latte, would you? and I will, because that’s always my job now for some reason. We’ve got this new machine, it’s like we live in a cof­fee shop. I’ve bought some hazelnut syrup, to add some defini­tion to our flat whites. And some sprinkles to lightly dust over our cappuccinos and cortados. It’s all very middle-class. We’re Cameron’s children, you’d wince.

I don’t move a muscle. If he wants a coffee he can ask, like a normal person would. He looks away again. But even though his eyes are down, he knows I’m looking. I can tell. His face lit by his screen. Smiling so smugly it’s practically demonic. Cross-legged like I am, as if we’re each other’s reflection. He’s silently trying to get a rise out of me.

Coffee, please, ducky, his look says.

He can tickle me by barely moving a muscle. Make me giggle with the way he sits or the rise of a single eyebrow.

He can clear his throat and it feels like a jab in the ribs. A soft hum can be a gentle hug. That’s how close we are. We send each other our thoughts by the smallest vibrations.

He’s found a new way to make me laugh. He uses this stupid voice he’s been practicing. I can tell when he’s going to do it. I see the thought drop in. Then I see him smile when he’s about to do it. I see right through him. He looks up now to give me the full force of it. Here it comes.

“You tapping avay your leetle thoughts, huh? Using zee lee­tle gray cells?”

I smirk despite myself. Cheeky bastard.

“I am zinking about the brown mark, above your elbow, on the back of your arm.”

He’s decided it’s time to stop for a moment, for one of our micro chats. A tiny ellipsis before we dive back into our wor­ries and fears. A wry smile envelops my face.

“My birthmark?”

“Yez. Your mole.”


“Your tea stain. Yes.”

He’s dropped the voice now. He’s gotten serious. Or as close as he gets anyway.

In the silence, his eyes wander over me.

“I was just thinking about how it’s like a small button. I’ve always thought of it like that. Then I remembered I had a dream where I could press it and it would make you lose your memory. What do you think about that?”

I pause, breathe in through my nose and consider this.

“I think you’re a very strange individual.”

“Interesting you should say that. Very interesting,” he says. Nodding, narrowing his eyes and archly taking me in as if he’s some sort of Buddha-Yoda, enlightening me with his abstract bullshit. He strokes my ankle, then makes to go back to his work.

“Did you, then?” I say.

“Did I what?” he says.

“Did you press it?”

“It was just a funny dream. I thought I’d tell you.”

“You pressed it! And now you’re being evasive,” I say, throw­ing my shoe at him. It’s meant to be playful but I hit him in the head quite hard.

“Ow. Oh, God. Oh, my God. My eye. I think it’s going to have to come out,” he says, overreacting wildly in search of a laugh. Which somehow he gets out of me.

“Oh, my God. Tell me what happened next in your lame old dream?”

“It’s not a lame old dream. It’s a nice dream,” he says.

I hum to myself. Then breathe audibly. Rolling a bowling ball of disdain between us.

“It’s not a nice dream. Is it? It’s not lovely, is it? It’s actually quite horrible.”

“I think “horrible” is a tad extreme, honeybear,” he says. This is one in a line of creative love names he’s taken to calling me. He uses them because we’re not the kind of people who would use them.

“Well, I only say that because it’s a controlling, manipula­tive, latently sexist dream, in which I am essentially a doll-like creature to be played with at your whim. But, now I say it out loud, maybe you’re right, maybe that’s fine.”

His face contorts in thought. Then pauses. Then gives me a look like he’s about to cut through this whole conversation with something utterly brilliant. A real showstopper.

“Don’t let anyone else’s dreams control you, Lily. For you are the master of your dreams,” he mumbles with a degree of earnestness.

The room cringes.

“Wow, that’s great, Aid. You should put that in front of some clip art of a sunset and whack it on the internet. People love that sort of shit.”

“Well, laugh it up, Lil. But your reaction to all this is very telling. You care too much about weird signifiers of what you are to others. You are the master of your fate and your—”

“Yep, got it. Don’t worry, I’m fine as I am. But thanks for the pop psychology, Pops.”

I’m irked but it soon turns to flirtation. It always does in the end.

“That’s okay, honey…badger,” he says.

He absorbs my mocking. It’s one of the many things I like about him. His discretion. His lightness of touch. He’s self-ef­facing and utterly pretentious at the same time. And somehow I’m still intrigued as to how exactly he does it. It’s a puzzle. The sort of thing that keeps a relationship going. He glances back at his screen again. Six, eight, ten taps.

“Oh, one more thing. What happened when you pushed the button?”

“Ah. Hmm,” he mutters. “Dunno. As soon as I pressed it, I woke up.”

Without formal ending, Aiden’s gaze falls back to his com­puter. I am to consider this conversational cul-de-sac over, as we segue seamlessly back to our own worlds. Then he peers up over his device and smiles at me for a second. Full beam. All of him there, without any side.

Then he disappears behind it again. And the tap-tapping goes on.

As I look at him, I see the binoculars sitting at his side and I get up and grab them in an instant and see what I can catch. I’m limiting myself to two sightings a day; I don’t want to get obses­sive. You know how I get. That’s why I’m writing to you above anybody else. Because you know me, what I’m like. I fancy see­ing one more bird while there’s still a little light. A wood pigeon or a goldfinch. Just a little one. You know. Just for a bit of fun.

  • She’s watching you. But who’s watching her?

    Lily Gullick lives with her husband, Aiden, in a brand-new apartment opposite a building that has been marked for demolition. A keen bird-watcher, she can’t help spying on her neighbors.

    Until one day Lily sees something suspicious through her binoculars, and soon her elderly neighbor Jean is found dead. Lily, ...

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Ross Armstrong

ROSS ARMSTRONG is a British stage and screen actor who has performed in the West End of London, on Broadway and in theatres throughout the UK. Among others, he has acted opposite Jude Law (Hamlet), Joseph Fiennes (Cyrano de Bergerac), Kim Cattrall (Antony and Cleopatra) and Maxine Peake (The Deep Blue Sea). His TV appearances include Foyle’s War, Jonathan Creek, Mr. Selfridge, DCI Banks and most recently, Ripper Street.

After gaining a BA in English Literature and Theatre at Warwick University, Ross joined the National Youth Theatre where his contemporaries included Matt Smith and Rafe Spall. A three year course at RADA followed and while there he won the RADA Poetry Writing Award. The idea for his debut novel The Watcher came to him when he moved into a new apartment block and discovered while looking at the moon through binoculars that he could see into his neighbors’ homes. Thankfully for them, he put down his binoculars and picked up his pen.

He is an avid cricket fan and hosts a regular podcast for All Out Cricket magazine. He also has a monthly column in You and Your Wedding magazine as he prepares for his own wedding in 2017.

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