For fans of Gone Girl and Misery, Number 47 is a short, sharp, sensually immersive thriller that explores themes of love, obsession and longing.
"This is a fantastic debut novel that is both terrifying and addictive in equal measure. The immediacy of the narrative grabs the reader and thrusts them into the centre of Sarah's skewed version of reality which is quite an uncomfortable place to be. The descriptions of touch and smell etc make you feel as though you are actually in that basement flat looking at either the mouldy plates or the stock photos in the picture frames. The tension is kept up throughout the story. Sarah is a strong character who dominates in more ways than one."
Jane, Amazon Reviewer
If you'd like to get more of a feel for Number 47 before purchasing, check out the prologue and first chapter below.
My knees are wet. Cold water is lifting from the sodden earth, penetrating the denim of my hand-me-down jeans, climbing up my thighs. The dark blue fabric becomes stiff and abrasive; coarse against my small, knobbly knees. “Footballers knees”, a familiar voice from way back reminds me. The water is seeping, bleeding into my flesh, coursing along my shins. The droplets are there, floating and weaving between the woven fabric of my trousers. They find a new place to take a breather, a new place to crawl between and hide. I bet they feel safe.
The weight of my body pushes into the soil beneath my legs, cradling my calves in the soft clay. It’s making a mould of me, a way to remember the shape of my body, a way to preserve my memory.
I’m kneeling on his grave. My body hovering above his, my hands feet away from him, separated only by earth. He’s resting down there, his hands crossed on his chest like a mummy. He’s so peaceful, I think - so calm and so still. And I’m still here, still stuck above ground paying for this - whatever this is. I lay my trembling palm on the headstone to remind myself of the permanence of his absence, to remind myself that there’s no coming back - there’s no waking up. The cold, wet marble shocks my palm, awakens my fingertips.
I trace over his name, running my finger through the deep grooves in the headstone, sliding dark green, algae-like grime away from the grey marble and onto my fingertip. I spell his name. I say it out loud to remind myself. He was such a gentle boy, such a loving boy. I feel so much older than my years.
A voice cracks the silence above my head.
‘Time to go’, it says. Emotionless, very matter-of-fact. The voice’s hand is on my shoulder, pressing into old bruises, pulling me up off the floor.
I wince and obey, rising slowly and smudging mud from my knees, smearing it across the light denim. I don’t question the voice’s command anymore.
‘Goodbye, Noah,’ I whisper.
I’m staring again. Gazing at the back of his head, eyes drifting down to the nape of his neck, just above the collar of his shirt as he hovers in the queue. My eyes slip like a droplet of water gliding over the dips and troughs of his clear, olive skin. He’s beautiful. I can’t allow it to sink in—how perfect he is. I could list all of the perfections this man possesses, all of the many powers he has up his pristinely pressed shirtsleeves. But let’s be honest, that would be boring. I’ve sat here and had days, weeks, maybe even a month's worth of hours to meticulously study this creature - every inch of his skin, every crease in his face, his hands, his eyes. Maybe I’m not willing to share that much of him just yet.
He pays the barista with a warm smile. Two gentle creases form at the corner of his mouth as he drops the loose change into a mug marked ‘tips’ by the till. He waits, makes small talk with the staff. He’s slipped his hands into his back pockets the way I like, standing relaxed but strong. He’s in control; I feel protected by him. I worry that if I look away, I’ll realise he’s really a figure of my imagination and he’ll disappear altogether. If I break eye contact with him, he’ll realise I’m a fraud and he couldn’t possibly be in love with someone like me. And without him, I’m nothing. I know a lot of people say that sort of thing and generally speaking I’m not an old romantic, but it’s how I feel. It’s how he makes me feel. He gives me a purpose–gives me a reason to get up in the morning and come here at 11 a.m. on the dot for a latte and a read of the tabloids. To make him smile is the purpose of my day and not being in love with him would destroy me. Our veins are intertwined, our arteries plaited, our lives hooked together in a way I simply can’t explain.
The barista thuds the metal jug on the worktop, the milk jumping and turning over on itself until smooth white glossy waves of cream rest on the surface. Her arms flex as she bangs out the air holes, crashing the metal container against the faux-marble counter with a thud. Details are what make the scene; details are what I remember most. I watch as he walks the fresh coffee over to the table, nestling my own in front of me as I wait, letting the heat radiate through my palms. Speaking would spoil the moment, so I leave the room to be quiet, bar the hustle and bustle of shoppers and other workers on their breaks. The aroma of the coffee is soothing and aromatic. I’m happy - he’s happy. We only have twenty minutes or so together before we return to work, but that’s plenty of time to just be thankful for each other’s company and I’m blissfully ignorant of the passing of time.
The daily crossword has lost my attention. I’d given up a while ago anyway, given up on the clues and the hints and started jamming any old word that would fit into the grey boxes. My attention span is short, unless it concerns him - he has my attention 100%, any time of the day. I watch him, study him, memorise every little thing there is to know about him. Two lumps of brown sugar in his coffee, three stirs clockwise with the teaspoon which is placed delicately on the saucer once used, leaving the tiniest bit of pale brown liquid cradled amongst the polished steel. He grabs the mug by the smooth white body of the cup–never through the handle.
It’s the little things, the reassurance of routine that reminds me over and over again just how truly lucky I am—how perfect being in love is. How sickeningly happy I feel. How jealous my mother would be of my own happiness. How much I want to brag about it to her, to rub it in her face, to hold her head down in my happiness until she drowns. I sip my coffee and the warmth of the sweet liquid bolsters my euphoria. I can’t imagine life any other way.
The minute hand of the old clock behind the till slips further down, falling closer to the floor. He licks a fleck of white foam from his top lip, a flash of pink tongue against his rough-shaven face. He has a meeting this afternoon, I can tell. He only ever carries his briefcase here if he needs to dash to a meeting straight after our daily coffee. And just like that, as the clock behind the till reads 11:30, he slides the empty mug away, stands up and leaves. He’s so predictable. I follow until we reach the door, holding it open for him as we go our separate ways.
‘Goodbye,’ I mouth the words after him and watch for a few seconds as he walks away.
He works for a local banking firm–has done since we met in school. Worked his way up from intern to some fancy title or other that I can’t quite remember. He does well for himself, I know that much. I work for a charity a few minutes down the road and do slightly less well for myself, but I’m not bitter about that. I’m happy where I am; close enough to smell his cologne in the air but without treading on each other’s toes. I value our space. The café is the perfect spot for us to meet during our breaks. We work so closely together that I can see into his office from my desk. I can see him work, see him eat his lunch alone, and see the exact moment that he leaves. I never have to take my eyes off him.
A quick glance at my watch breaks me out of my usual daydream. I’ve been standing in the same spot watching him walk away for minutes without even realising it. He consumes me. I swing my satchel back over my shoulder and work my way through the bustling streets to my own office.
The warm, midday sun presses against my window, heating the office to an unbearable clammy temperature. Sweat rests on my top lip, the occasional bead slipping over the edge and spreading its salty taste on my tongue. The white light from my computer screen adds to the stifling heat, its low, droning hum buzzing around the room. I can’t concentrate–I rarely can. I click my pen on and off a few times, type a few lines into an email with the sole purpose of deleting them seconds later–anything to appear busy enough to warrant my paycheque. The humming seems to be getting louder, the drone upgrading itself to a steady crackle of white noise that fills my ears like cotton wool. It gets louder until there’s nothing else I can focus on. It crescendos and intensifies and makes me feel hopelessly dizzy. I look down to see the notes I was taking smeared across the page in a sweaty smudge, the remnants of the words transferred onto the heel of my palm. The noise fills my head–the incessant buzzing of the wasp tapping and crashing against my skull, scratching and itching behind my eyes.
‘Meet him again, Sarah?’
I swing around in my chair. I know who’s speaking without looking; there’s no mistaking that nasally voice. Ellis is full of herself, but I know how important it is to play her game, to go through the motions. She’s quite a poisonous character, whether intentionally or not. It doesn’t bother me, actually. I quite like it. I’m happy someone is showing interest in me and I’m even happier that she’s too dim to realise how much I take advantage of her. I want her to know about him, to spread how happy I am. I want to show him off and parade him around the office. It’s flattering, her showing such an interest in me. I love the idea of making her jealous so I play up to it.
‘Maybe,’ I say, with a coquettish grin. She’s envious, I know it, but frankly, I enjoy it. I love having power over her. She’s always so smug and yet I’m the one sat here toying with her, dangling my perfect relationship in her face and teasing her with it. I can see she’s desperate for more and who am I to deny her that privilege? She thinks she’s the one with the power, but really I’m the one manipulating her. I want her to know, I want her to watch me from the other side of the office. I want her to want me.
‘He was wearing the most perfect, crisp white polo shirt today. Looked like some kind of model, no word of a lie. I’m really lucky to have him.’
I over-enunciate my words, flicking them between my teeth like a dog with a cheap chew toy, my eyes never leaving hers. I could do this to her all day. It’s so easy to make her radiate green I’ve become almost addicted to it. Seeing the pang of envy dart across her eyes gives me an unmistakable hit of endorphins. She’s pathetic and I relish it. I hover the heel of my stiletto over her pathetic throat, threatening to push my weight down and drive the spike deeper and deeper.
‘Well, glad to hear you’re happy.’ Her words could not sound less sincere. She throws a forced smile across her face and walks off back to her end of the corridor. Honestly, it’s like she doesn’t know how to be happy for anyone else. I almost feel sorry for her, in a way, sashaying back to her tiny desk in her tiny tight skirt in search of more information to amuse her for the day. How small minded and unhappy she must be on the inside.
The rest of the afternoon is horribly uneventful. All I can focus on is the promise of walking home with him. Bumping into him outside the coffee shop and taking the short walk to our separate homes to spend the night. Maybe tonight will be the night he asks me inside to stay. Maybe it won’t be. I’m not going to set my heart on it. Everything is going so well, so according to plan that I wouldn’t dare ask in case I made the situation awkward. In case he wasn’t ready or thought I was moving too fast. No, I’ll let him make that move. I shuffle some papers across my desk, file a few things and fire off a handful of important looking emails to various benefactors. I consider teasing Ellis some more and figure she can wait until tomorrow. I’ll be seeing him again then anyway.
My eyes start drifting around four o’clock, sliding away from the computer screen and up to the corner of the ceiling. The noises of the office get louder, the words of each email blurrier. I’ve lost all interest in my job for this afternoon. There’s nowhere less inspiring than an office block. My mind wanders out of the window, down a few floors and through the open blinds of the building next door. His offices back onto mine in a coincidence that was effectively written in the stars. He’s just walking in. I watch as he barrels through the door and dumps his briefcase on the floor. He throws himself into the nearest leather armchair, swinging his feet up onto the desk in front of him. He’s small and slightly obscured from my vantage point, but I can make out what he’s doing and just about interpret his facial expressions.
His chest heaves in an exasperated sigh, so over pronounced I can make it out even from here. That must have been some meeting. I lean forward, resting my head on my hands as he grabs a bottle of water from the small fridge by his desk. He unscrews the cap and pours the crystal liquid into a tumbler, raising it to his lips. It’s all so methodical and purposeful. I find his every move mesmerizing. I imagine the droplets of water perched on his full, pink lips, resting there, waiting for me. I can’t take my eyes off him. He’s done so well for himself, in that grand, rich looking office, sitting behind his mahogany desk, perched in his perfected position of power. He’s strong and affluent and his office reaffirms that. My humble office, in stark comparison, could fit into his twice over at least. Truth be told, my office is more of a broom cupboard. I actually share it with multiple shelves of disorganised paperwork and stationary and occasionally an abandoned mop and bucket. The wilting office plant in the corner by the window is the closest thing to a decent conversation or interesting colleague I’ll get all day.
I’m chewing my pen lid again, gnawing on the cheap blue plastic, semi-consciously hoping it doesn’t explode and bleed blue ink all down my chin. How I’d love to build up the courage to go over there, to the bank. Oh, how I’d love to pluck up the confidence to surprise him. I could pretend I’m there to see him for business reasons - I’m sure I could make something up. I could do what all the lustful women do in the movies. I would slip on the most expensive, most extravagant underwear I could find, rolling the luxurious stockings over my knees and up my thighs, shrug on a mac just a few sizes too big so no one would know what I was concealing and cinch it in at the waist to cascade over my hips. I would allow myself in past his receptionist, pretending to be there as a representative of the charity–“a strictly business meeting,” I’d assure her. It’d be quite easy, I think. I’d make my way in perched on my stilettos, close the door behind me and feel the heat and the chemistry burn as our eyes met over the polished mahogany of his desk. I could slip off the mac and walk seductively over and--
I fling my head around and catch a glimpse of her face. She’s been standing there the entire time, watching me staring at him. Was it obvious? Could she see what I was thinking? Was it that obvious - were my thoughts written on my face? I feel like she’s walked in on me. Blood rushes up to my cheeks and I gather my things together in a frantic rush. I can feel how hot my face must look. I’m embarrassed to the point where I consider chasing after her, putting her straight, telling her I’m not feeling well, that maybe I’ve caught whatever has been going around the building lately. But she’s already gone. And though I can’t even see the back of her head, I’m livid that I’ve let her get the better of me. I’m better than this. I’m better than her. I know it.
I hurl my bag over my shoulder and jog out of the office. The heels of my court shoes snag on the doorframe on my way out, and I shunt across the floor just about managing to retain my balance. Everything seems to be adding to my embarrassment, mounting up and making my face hotter and hotter. I’m overthinking it, overworking Ellis’s reaction, I know I am, but I can’t shift her smug face from my mind. She knows something, she must do. She knows what I’m up to. I grab the doorframe to steady myself, forcing air slowly into my lungs and slowly back out again. The rhythm of my breathing grounds me and soon the palpitations slide away. I remember him, his face and his smile and soon enough all annoyance at Ellis seems to drift from my shoulders. I’ll be meeting him for the walk home.
I march the rest of the way out of the office, holding my head down and studying the floor. My cheeks are holding the heat of embarrassment, and I can feel eyes crawling over the back of my head as I leave. It only takes me a few minutes to get out of the building and onto the corner of the street. By the time I reach the coffee shop, I’ve caught up with him. His face is pulled quite taut. He’s making no effort to hide the stress that the afternoon’s meetings and appointments have clearly caused him. His expression is tired and worn, and I try to feel sorry for him, but all I feel is annoyance. My afternoon has been full of nothing but embarrassment, and he can’t even pluck up the energy to ask me what’s wrong.
‘No, no. I’ve just had the afternoon from hell–you wouldn’t believe it if I told you,” I hiss under my breath. ‘Ellis is really testing me; my job is less exciting than the Oxford dictionary, I’ve got no career prospects, I live in a hovel, and you can’t even look me in the eye and ask me what’s wrong? No, no. Never mind, it’s too late now, anyway. I might as well be speaking to myself.’
Oh, and now he’s making me feel guilty. I’ve had a slightly less than positive afternoon, and he looks like he might well be on the verge of a serious breakdown. I bite down on my bottom lip and stare, somewhat ashamedly, at the floor. I decide not to push him too far for details right now, but whatever it is that has happened clearly isn’t good. I offer a warm smile of apology but it isn’t readily received, so I leave it at that, and we walk home in silence. Not the uncomfortable kind, just the mutual kind. The kind that says, “I have had a really hard day, let’s just enjoy each other’s presence.” I’m fine with that. Honestly.
We part ways at the corner of the road. I watch him walking away towards his high-end apartment, his head still hanging towards the floor. I watch for a few moments before turning the opposite direction towards my far more modest flat. The second I turn around it hits me again. The light, relaxed mood I’d experienced only minutes earlier seeped away, crashing to the floor and leaving behind a heavy, leaden lump in my chest. I should be used to this by now; my mood dips whenever I’m away from him. I’ve never discussed this with him–I think it would be too much pressure on our relationship. It’s a physical, visual change, like a switch flicking over in my mind. Not just emotional, not something I can govern, but an uncontrollable wave that crashes over my torso. My chest drops, my eyebrows furrow into my forehead, my thoughts become greyer and more legato, kind of strung together and drawn out in a drunken daze. This is how I feel when I’m alone, surrounded by nothing but myself. I hollow out. I’m terrible at being lonely. As my energy levels sink, my mood is dragged down, plummeting, falling, and collapsing into lethargy. I drag my feet, my arms hanging limply by my side. It’s not sadness; it’s not a feeling–it courses through my whole body, dragging its way slowly through my arteries and pulling me down. It’s like attempting every day, boring tasks whilst wading through water, heaving my limbs through feet of slick, thick treacle. It lingers the whole way home, forcing me to walk slower and suffer alone in the late afternoon sunlight.