(An extract from the novel.)
This in the doorway, inside the dress, is Alice. Look. These are boots that are her shoes. These are curls that are her hair.
This is her room, smelling of scented candles and wilted flowers. Alice always forgets the flowers, waters them once, twice, no more – lets them wilt and rot. Just as she always forgets to eat the food she buys, stuffs the fridge with special offers, has the beef or the poultry – lets the rest go off. It is so hard to go to the shops and plan your meals for a whole week, when your desires are so utterly unpredictable. It may be that you will not want soup on Thursday after all. It may be that on Thursday, someone will suggest you order Chinese just as you craved Chinese, and you will let the soup go off. But on the Sunday you still buy the soup, for soup is healthy, and you hope you will want it on Thursday.
And so the flowers have wilted, the candles have burnt and melted, and Alice is opening her curtains onto a patch of grass and a range of trees. Look. This is the garden where she read The Dangerous Liaisons last year, where she smoked herself silly, drank herself sick, and her mother once slapped her. This is where she kissed a boy three years ago, and bit a girl the next spring. This is the deckchair in which she dreams too much and works too little. And this corner in the shadow is where she undressed a girl – the same pale, awkward girl – and discussed science, the impossibility of science (the miracle of electricity, the magic of atoms). And in this room she is looking from, she once drew the Earth and line-shaped people all around it, some upside down, with their heads in the abyss; and she wondered about gravity, then! And look! in this bed she was penetrated by many men, men who acquired godly powers and heard none of the words she spoke.
It is but a garden, but a room. Ah, but this room and this garden!
(Soon Alice will lose her youth and everything that is included in the package of youth: nonchalance, naivety, enthusiasm, and the ability to marvel; and even the blondness of her hair will seem to pale slightly, giving way to a duller shade of brown that will henceforth seriously affect her power to mesmerize. And when this happens, you, like Tiresias, will be able to say ‘I knew it’, for you will have been warned.)
But look! Now a colony of sparrows is streaking the sky and Alice’s pupil: loveliness! Perfect timing!
At the sight of sparrows, Alice thought of sparrows. There was a time when she would have thought of fleeing, of balloons, of islands – of Chinatown, perhaps. Now when Alice saw something, she could rarely think beyond what she saw.
That was a handicap. For instance, what would happen if she were to be psychoanalysed?
‘Blue’, the psychoanalyst would say.
‘Blue’, Alice would say.
‘Whales’, the psychoanalyst would say.
‘Whales’, Alice would say.
‘Fridge’, the psychoanalyst would say.
‘Fridge’, Alice would say.
This would not lead very far, and Alice could never fall in love with her therapist, and no transfer would occur, and she could never be cured.
After thinking about sparrows, Alice turns to business. She closes the curtains, adjusts her glasses, breathes in, breathes out, in and out, and her heartbeat accelerates in the run-up to the most decisive move of her day: and she reads her emails. And instantly, a knot forms in her trachea:
NOTHING AGAIN NOTHING
Defeated, Alice falls back on her bed. Her pulse is thumping as maniacally as an electro club at 3am and she wants to scream at the top of her lungs. She feels like lying in bed indefinitely, melting in her Deauville-printed duvet and her American-perfect lawn sheets, letting her mind focus entirely on this gore, letting it debilitate her body and annihilate her will.
But there is no time – next week, perhaps, she will dedicate a whole day to indulging in her misery. (For, if at all, these things must be done well: one does not deal with crushing disappointment in a series of 5 minute long sessions, in-between stuffing the washing machine and lacing one’s shoes. No; one should take an entire day off to wallow in one’s pain uninterrupted, to be able to masturbate the horror and exhaust the sadness until it becomes too sweet and too unbearable and one’s instinct of survival decides to erase it, to save one).
With a feeling of great anticipation therefore (it would be such a good day!), Alice makes a mental note of arranging such a session, and applies a third layer of mascara onto her lashes.
Two applications of lipstick and a clothes change later, Alice, now in trousers and hat, steps into the living room. (Look: this is the boy she could have been, but for a Y).