Excerpt from I See You by Clare Mackintosh, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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I See You

by Clare Mackintosh

I See You by Clare Mackintosh X
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2017, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Nov 2017, 400 pages

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1

The man behind me is standing close enough to moisten the skin on my neck with his breath. I move my feet forward an inch and press myself into a gray overcoat that smells of wet dog. It feels as if it hasn't stopped raining since the start of November, and a light steam rises from the hot bodies jammed against one another. A briefcase jabs into my thigh. As the train judders around a corner I'm held upright by the weight of people surrounding me, one unwilling hand against the gray overcoat for temporary support. At Tower Hill the carriage spits out a dozen commuters and swallows two dozen more, all hell-bent on getting home for the weekend.

"Use the whole carriage!" comes the announcement. Nobody moves.

The gray overcoat has gone, and I've shuffled into its place, preferable because I can now reach the handrail, and because I no longer have a stranger's DNA on my neck. My handbag has swung round behind my body, and I tug it in front of me. Two Japanese tourists are wearing gigantic rucksacks on their chests, taking up the space of another two people. A woman across the carriage sees me looking at them; she catches my eye and grimaces in solidarity. I accept the eye contact fleetingly, then look down at my feet. The shoes around me vary: the men's are large and shiny, beneath pinstriped hems; the women's heeled and colorful, toes crammed into impossible points. Among the legs I see a pair of sleek stockings; opaque black nylon ending in stark white trainers. The owner is hidden but I imagine her to be in her twenties, a pair of vertiginous office heels stashed in a capacious handbag, or in a drawer at work.

I've never worn heels during the day. I was barely out of my Clarks lace-ups when I fell pregnant with Justin, and there was no place for heels on a Tesco checkout, or coaxing a toddler up the main street. Now I'm old enough to know better. An hour on the train on the way into work; another hour on the way home. Tripping up broken escalators. Run over by strollers and bikes. And for what? For eight hours behind a desk. I'll save my heels for high days and holidays. I wear a self-imposed uniform of black trousers and an array of stretchy tops that don't need ironing, and are just smart enough to pass as office-wear; with a cardigan kept in my bottom drawer for busy days when the door's forever opening and the heat disappears with every prospective client.

The train stops and I push my way onto the platform. I take the Overground from here, and although it's often as busy, I prefer it. Being underground makes me feel uneasy; unable to breathe, even though I know it's all in my head. I dream of working somewhere close enough to walk to, but it's never going to happen: the only jobs worth taking are in zone one; the only affordable mortgages in zone four.

I have to wait for my train and at the rack by the ticket machine I pick up a copy of the London Gazette, its headlines appropriately grim for today's date: Friday, November 13. The police have foiled another terrorism plot: the front three pages are rammed with images of explosives they've seized from a flat in North London. I flick through photos of bearded men, and move to find the crack in the tarmac beneath the platform sign, where the carriage door will open. My careful positioning means I can slide into my favorite spot before the carriage fills up: on the end of the row, where I can lean against the glass barrier. The rest of the carriage fills quickly, and I glance at the people still standing, guiltily relieved to see no one old, or obviously pregnant. Despite the flat shoes, my feet ache, thanks to standing by the filing cabinets for most of the day. I'm not supposed to do the filing. There's a girl who comes in to photocopy property details and keep the cabinets in order, but she's in Mallorca for a fortnight and from what I saw today she can't have done any filing for weeks. I found residential mixed up with commercial, and rentals muddled up with sales, and I made the mistake of saying so.

Excerpted from I See You by Clare Mackintosh. Copyright © 2017 by Clare Mackintosh. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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