Exhibit Alexandra by Natasha Bell

Alexandra Southwood has vanished . . . and she knows they will never find her. Read an extract from Natasha Bell's gripping psychological debut thriller, Exhibit Alexandra

Exhibit Alexandra

'I should come clean about something before I go any further. A lot of what I’m writing almost definitely never happened.'

I should come clean about something before I go any further. A lot of what I’m writing almost definitely never happened. I wasn’t there, obviously. I was missing. Gone. So I can’t know Marc put the kettle on, then never poured a cup of tea. I can’t tell what thoughts went through his mind the night I never came home.

But I don’t know how to tell this story without imagining certain details. And I do know my husband. He’s a knowable type of man. Just as I’ve been described as flighty and impulsive, Marc is a good, honest man whom one can rely on to do and think certain things. He’s a man who never deserved to go through everything he has.

So I hope you’ll forgive my indulgence. I don’t wish to deceive. I’m allowed to listen to the tapes. It’s unclear if this is an act of kindness or a form of punishment. But the knowable facts are known to me. I’ve heard the recording of Marc’s phone call to Officer Jones, for instance. And I’ve seen the credit card statement showing his takeaway purchase at Monkey King. I’ve sat them in every chair in our house, imagined every combination of crockery they might have used, seen Charlotte animating her chopsticks and Lizzie picking out the onions until I can bear it no more.

I have little choice, though. I’m asked constant questions, prodded to remember and imagine what has occurred beyond these four walls. His motives are unclear. Perhaps he’s fucking with me, hoping to turn me crazy by forcing me to bear my family’s torture as well as my own. I’m making him do this, he tells me.

‘Everyone has a limit,’ he says and I see his smile. He gets off on this. ‘I’m trying to help you come to terms with your situation,’ he says. The situation he is responsible for.

I resisted at the start, told him to get lost. But there’s nothing else to do and no one else to talk to. I’ve started answering his questions. Whatever his motives, I’m ready to throw myself into this narrative of partial truths and things I wish were fictions. I’ll walk my way through Marc’s life since my disappearance. I have little hope it might save me, but the distraction is a comfort. If I could climb inside this story and stay there, I would.

Some things I know first-hand. That my husband was wearing a creased, lightly striped, off-white shirt with one too many buttons left undone that day. He has two that are similar, but this was the one with brown stripes. I watched him button it that morning, contemplating the stripe of dark hairs trailing from his navel to his belt. I’d tried to keep him in bed, but his mind was already on the day ahead. An ironing board lived between the wardrobe and wall, but as normal Marc failed to notice his crumpled attire and I didn’t offer.

He also wore dark blue jeans and brown loafers, though I imagine he switched those for slippers when he arrived home. I’d never owned slippers before I met Marc, but he’d grown up in a shoes-off-at-the-door, slippers-warmed-by-the-radiator kind of house and a part of me loved turning ours into the same.

His hair was freshly washed that morning, so would have still smelled of raspberry shampoo, but it hung slightly too long after yet another week had passed without his getting around to booking an appointment. If things had continued as normal, I’d have marched him to the barbers on Saturday morning and demanded they buzz it far shorter than he liked, arguing that this way he could leave it the extra weeks without my nagging. It was only half a joke. He would roll his eyes but acquiesce and later I’d run my hand through his stunted locks and kiss him on the mouth, freshly amazed by how attractive I found him after a little grooming.

This story I have to tell is more than a collection of basic facts, though. It’s more than the ‘real-life’ shockers you read in the papers and the tell-all exposés of glossy magazines. I have no reason to paint a better or worse picture than what really happened. I’ve already lost everything. I live within four walls. I’ve been tied up and drugged. I have no hope of salvation. I’ve realized I have only this. So despite my ignorance of events I cannot possibly have witnessed, the story recorded here is more honest than the police reports and newspaper articles. If it is not an actual truth, it is very much a human one.

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