Friday Night Book Club: Read an exclusive, first-look excerpt from Gail Schimmel’s new thriller Two Months!
More about the book!
The Friday Night Book Club: Exclusive excerpts from Pan Macmillan every weekend.
Staying in this evening? Get comfortable with a glass of wine and this extract from Two Months by Gail Schimmel – out from Pan Macmillan in April 2020!
‘A must-read psychological thriller that will have you questioning every angle of “reality”. Unpredictable and compelling.’ – Angela Makholwa, bestselling author
About the book
From the bestselling author of The Park and The Accident comes a new domestic thriller that will keep you turning the pages until the very end.
When Erica wakes up to discover that she can’t remember two months of her life, she wants to know what she’s missed. She soon realises that she’s lost more than two months.
She’s lost her job and her friends. And her husband won’t tell her why.
As Erica starts to put together the clues and pieces, a picture emerges of what has happened. A picture that is fatally flawed …
Read the excerpt:
Saturday, 21 April
The alarm hasn’t gone off and my sleeping mind is trying to make sense of it. I’ve been woken by a stream of sunlight and a stir of a breeze coming through my bedroom curtains.
Is it the weekend? No, it’s a Thursday. I’m pretty sure about that. Is it school holidays? I smile without opening my eyes. No, it’s definitely a work day. But I do have a lunch arrangement that I’m excited about, so I should get up. But why hasn’t the alarm gone off? I open my eyes, and the scene isn’t exactly what I expected. Kenneth has drawn my dressing-table chair up to the edge of our bed, and is sitting on it, watching me. He looks terrible. Like he hasn’t slept for months. And he hasn’t shaved, which isn’t at all like him. He looks worried.
‘What?’ I say, sitting up. ‘What’s wrong?’
Kenneth looks at me like I’m speaking another language.
‘What do you mean, what’s wrong?’ he says. ‘We need to talk. Obviously. We need to decide things … after what happened.’
I search my brain. Clearly, I’m forgetting something, but what would have him so worked up?
‘Have they cut off the power?’ I ask.
This is the worst thing I can think of that would be my fault. I only paid it yesterday, which was a bit late. Kenneth gets annoyed that I always leave it till the last minute – he’s always complaining that one day we’ll get cut off. That must be what’s happened. Except that I can see a light on in our en-suite bathroom. Kenneth stares at me.
‘Are you okay, Erica?’ he says.
‘I’m fine. You’re just freaking me out a bit. Sitting there looking at me, like someone’s died or something.’
I push aside the pink duvet and shift over to the side of the bed that Kenneth isn’t blocking, but he stands up and walks around to me.
‘Erica,’ he says, taking me by the shoulders and sitting down next to me, ‘do you remember what happened yesterday?’
Once, when I was a child, we had a car accident. A really bad one – my dad broke his leg and my sister broke both arms. But afterwards I couldn’t remember it, and I couldn’t even remember anything about the week leading up to it.
‘Did we have a car accident?’ I ask, checking my body.
Kenneth frowns. He knows about the accident, so he’ll get the reference.
‘What day do you think it is, Erica?’
Oh shit. We did have an accident. That accounts for his weird behaviour. Maybe I’ve had concussion and that’s why he was watching me sleep.
‘It’s the fifteenth of February,’ I say. ‘Do I have concussion?’
‘The … fifteenth … of February.’
Kenneth repeats the date slowly, like he’s tasting the words.
‘Erica, what do you have planned for today?’ he asks after a pause. ‘Today, the fifteenth of February.’
‘Work,’ I say. ‘And I’m having lunch with Caitlin. Remember, I told you – my best friend from high school who got in touch on Facebook.’
I stop speaking. That description of Caitlin comes nowhere near describing what she was to me. Doesn’t scratch the surface. But Kenneth knows my story – I don’t have to explain it to him.
Kenneth gets up and walks towards the window. I watch his face as he looks at our beautiful garden below him, at our swimming pool, which will be sparkling in the morning sun. I love our home. I love that it’s small and narrow, but also tall (it’s a double storey) and big enough for the two of us. We bought it just before we got married – a typical Parkhurst fixer-upper. For a few years we put up with the original house, and then we did a huge renovation, making it into this house: the house of our dreams. It’s like a really small French farmhouse, both inside and out, and it reminds us of our honeymoon, spent in a farmhouse in Provence. I particularly love the view from our bedroom window.
Kenneth’s back is broad; his swimmer’s shoulders are blocking my view. But that’s okay – I’m pretty crazy about the view of Kenneth too. He stands there for what feels like ages, and I begin to wonder what to do. What I really want is to get up and prepare for the day, but obviously something has happened to upset Kenneth.
‘What?’ I say eventually. ‘What is it? Did we have an accident?’
He doesn’t move immediately, but when he does, he looks different. I can’t put my finger on it.
‘Yes,’ he says, coming over and sitting down again. He takes my hand. ‘That’s exactly what happened. We had an accident. Yesterday. It wasn’t serious. You … you bumped your head. Not too badly, but they said I should watch you. That’s why I was watching you. And why I haven’t slept … Probably doesn’t even hurt though. Although you might have some bruises.’
‘I don’t remember that,’ I say, feeling my head.
‘No, you don’t seem to.’ He pauses, as if wondering what to say next. Then his eyes meet mine. ‘Today is actually the twenty-first of April. It’s a Saturday. You’ve lost about two months.’
I’m about to speak again when he carries on.
‘They said this might happen. Especially when I told them your history.’ He pauses, I presume as he recalls yesterday’s accident. ‘Well, actually, you told them yourself. Obviously you gave them your own medical history. And they said that even though the bump was very mild, it might trigger a memory loss. But we didn’t expect it to be quite so long – they thought you might lose a few hours, not months. But they said we mustn’t worry, even if it was longer. We don’t even need to go and see them again. Quite normal, they said.’
‘It’s quite normal for me to have forgotten two months?’
Kenneth is making me anxious; more anxious than the memory loss. He sounds like he’s trying to sell me something.
‘Yes,’ he says. ‘They said if you lose your memory, we must just get on with things … even if the memory loss is bad. You know, carry on, pick up where you left off. And maybe your memory will come back.’
I’m trying to process all of this. It’s a lot to take in. A car accident. Memory loss. Two months gone. And apparently nothing to worry about.
‘Maybe I should just go and chat to them just to make sure,’ I suggest. ‘Have a check-up?’
Kenneth grunts. ‘They were pretty clear that we mustn’t worry. Let’s see how it goes, okay?’
‘Um … okay.’
I know this makes me sound like some sort of doormat, but I usually do agree with Kenneth. The thing is, he’s usually right. And he would never risk my health. Once, I got a splinter and couldn’t get it out, and he made me go to hospital. Not just to the doctor the next day – he made me go to the emergency unit at the hospital. He was worried about infection, said he once had a colleague who lost a leg because of an infection caused by a splinter he got while pruning. The people at the hospital thought we were nuts. So if Kenneth says there’s nothing to worry about health wise, he’s probably very sure. My mind feels unmoored, unable to hook onto anything. And then I think about work.
‘How am I going to go back to work,’ I say, ‘if I don’t know what’s been happening or what I’m doing? I don’t know where we are in the syllabus.’
‘Ah, yes, work,’ says Kenneth. ‘As it happens, that won’t be a problem.’
‘And why is that?’
‘Because you … You resigned a month ago,’ he eventually says.
‘Yes, you resigned.’
‘Kenneth, I love my job,’ I say. ‘Why would I resign? That can’t be right. It can’t.’
I want to cry. I’m a primary-school teacher, I teach seven-year-old boys, and I love it. I love everything about it – the kids, the school, my colleagues, the headmaster. I cannot imagine any circumstance that would make me resign from my job. This cannot be happening. I’ve gone from feeling unmoored to drowning. I’m flailing in Kenneth’s words, unable to breathe. Kenneth takes a deep breath.
‘Pie.’ (He calls me ‘Pie’, which is short for Sweetie Pie.) ‘Pie, I think we need to go for lunch and I’ll catch you up on everything and we can relax and you can just absorb what has happened recently.’
‘I want to understand about work now,’ I say, and I can hear that I sound petulant.
But I don’t care. There is nothing that would have made me resign. Two months’ lost memory is one shock; this is quite another. Kenneth reaches out to touch my arm and I push him away.
‘No,’ I say. ‘I am not going for lunch and you are not going to pat my arm and tell me not to worry. I want to know now.’
I’m not used to shouting at Kenneth (we’re not that sort of couple) and my head starts to throb – must be where I hit it. I give it a tentative rub and I think I can feel a small bump. I must have slammed it against the dashboard or steering wheel. Depending on whether I was driving or he was. I try to picture what happened, but I can’t come up with anything.
‘Whose car?’ I ask.
‘Whose car were we in? When we had the accident?’
‘Mine,’ says Kenneth after a moment. ‘I was driving.’
That would explain how weird he’s being. Kenneth prides himself on his driving, and on the fact that he’s never had an accident. If I’m honest, he can get a bit sanctimonious about it. I hope the accident was someone else’s fault entirely so that Kenneth can keep his good opinion of himself. He’s generally not a conceited man – I want him to maintain this one area of pride.
‘What happened?’ I ask.
Kenneth rubs his whole face with his hands, something he does when he’s stressed or upset.
‘I don’t mean to upset you, love,’ I say. ‘I just need to know. Remember, I’ve lost my memory.’
And my job, it seems. But I drop that for now – I’ll come back to it.
‘I know, Pie,’ says Kenneth. ‘I can’t really believe it. That you’ve lost your memory of … of the accident. And I’m embarrassed.’
‘I’m sure it wasn’t your fault,’ I say. ‘You’re a great driver.’
‘No,’ he says. ‘No, it definitely wasn’t my fault. We were rearended. Hard. So we swerved and hit a wall. Your head bounced off the dashboard, I think. The driver drove off. I didn’t get his
details. No number plate, nothing.’
‘Oh no,’ I say. ‘Is your car very damaged? Is it a write-off?’
I try to picture Kenneth’s huge double-cab bakkie as a wrangled wreck. I can’t.
‘My car …’ Kenneth sounds momentarily confused; it must be a write-off.
‘Yes … No, it’s not too bad, actually. In fact, it’s here. But I need to drive it to … the garage. To get it repaired. This morning, first thing. I was just waiting for you to wake up.’
I swing my legs over the side of the bed, my feet resting on the bare wooden floorboards that we sanded ourselves, and stand up. I feel slightly woozy, but I ignore it. ‘Let me see,’ I say, walking towards the door.
‘No!’ Kenneth reaches for me.
‘First,’ he says, sounding calmer, ‘the doctor said you should stay in bed all day. All day in bed. And also, he said the sight of the car might upset you. You were very upset yesterday.’
‘I thought you wanted us to go to lunch? And talk about what I’ve forgotten. Like my resigning from a job I love.’ I feel another wave of incredulity as I say these words. I want to vomit.
‘Yes, but I forgot about the staying-in-bed thing.’ Kenneth pauses. ‘Listen, Pie, I’m trying to be the strong one, but I also got a big fright yesterday. And I’m a bit hurt too – nothing major, but I’m aching. I’m also not quite myself.’
‘But you haven’t forgotten two months.’ I’m not trying to score points or upset him, I’m just saying it.
‘No,’ he says. ‘No, I haven’t. And I’m going to help you and look after you, I promise you that. But first, I need to take the car. And I need you to stay right here and rest. Then we’ll talk.’
I like to think that I’m not an unreasonable woman. That I can be calm in the face of a crisis and that I’m not the sort of person who makes her partner feel bad just because I feel like I’m drowning. I’d characterise myself as a ‘coper’ – so I nod, and decide to cope.
‘Okay, love,’ I say. ‘That sounds fine.’
‘Pie,’ says Kenneth, standing up. ‘Just rest. Don’t worry, okay?’
He helps me back into bed, and passes me a novel that’s on my nightstand. I’ve never seen it before, but there’s a bookmark halfway through. The cover looks like something I might have chosen, but its presence here, without my memory of it, makes it feel like a turd in my hands. I drop it, trying to look like I’m just putting it aside.
‘Read and relax,’ he says.
He goes into the bathroom and I hear water running and the sound of him splashing his face. When he comes back, his hairline is damp. He fusses around on the bedside table, taking his phone and his wallet and keys. He’s about to walk out the door when I call to him.
‘Kenneth,’ I say, ‘my lunch with Caitlin – that would’ve been back in February. The one I thought was today. Did I tell you about it? How did it go? I was really looking forward to it.’
Kenneth stops, his back to me.
‘Um,’ he says, turning around. ‘You mentioned it, I think. You said it was boring or something to that effect. That you had nothing in common anymore.’
He scratches his head. ‘I don’t think you were in touch again after that.’
‘Oh.’ I feel deflated. And my head hurts. And I want to cry.
I turn my back on Kenneth, pulling the bedclothes around me. I notice now that I’m wearing my winter pyjamas, when the last thing I remember is putting on my summer ones.
‘See you later, babe,’ I say, but my eyes are already closing.
By the time he carefully closes the door, I’m asleep.