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What Alice Forgot, Page 2

Liane Moriarty

  "Although, you shouldn't really be doing exercise that gets your heart rate up too high if you're pregnant," said another woman.

  "But I don't do any exercise," said Alice. "I should do more exercise."

  "You, my girl, couldn't do any more exercise if you tried," said Jane.

  "I don't know what you're talking about." She looked around at the strange faces surrounding her. This was all so ... silly. "I don't know where I am."

  "She's probably got a concussion," said somebody excitedly. "Concussed people are dazed and disoriented."

  Spin Crazy Girl looked frightened and stroked Alice's arm. "Oh dear, sweetie, YOU MIGHT BE JUST A LITTLE BIT CONCUSSED," she yelled.

  "Yes, but I don't think that makes her deaf," said Jane tersely. She lowered her voice and bent her head toward Alice. "Everything is fine. You're at the gym, you were doing your Friday spin class, the one you've been wanting to drag me along to for ages, remember? Can't quite see the attraction, actually. Anyway, you must have got dizzy, or fainted or something, because one minute you were riding like a madwoman and next thing you were crashing to the floor. You're going to be fine. More importantly, why didn't you tell me you were pregnant?"

  "What's a Friday spin class?" asked Alice.

  "Oh, this is bad," said Jane excitedly.

  "The ambulance is here!" someone said.

  Spin Crazy Girl became goofy with relief. She bounded to her feet and shooed at the ladies like an energetic housewife with a broom. "Right, gang, let's give them some space, shall we?"

  Jane stayed kneeling on the floor next to Alice, patting her distractedly on the shoulder. Then she stopped patting. "Oh, my. Why do you get all the fun?"

  Alice twisted her head and saw two handsome men in blue overalls striding toward them, carrying first aid equipment. Embarrassed, she struggled to sit up.

  "Stay there, honey," called out the taller one.

  "He looks just like George Clooney," breathed Jane in her ear. He did, too. Alice couldn't help but feel cheerier. It seemed she'd woken up in an episode of ER.

  "Hey, there." George Clooney squatted down next to them, big hands resting between his knees. "What's your name?"

  "Jane," said Jane. "Oh. Her name is Alice."

  "What's your full name, Alice?" George gently took her wrist and pushed two fingers against her pulse.

  "Alice Mary Love."

  "Had a bit of a fall did you, Alice?"

  "Apparently I did. I don't remember it." Alice felt teary and special, as she generally did when she talked to any health professional, even a chemist. She blamed her mother for making too much of a fuss over her when she was sick as a child. She and Elisabeth were both terrible hypochondriacs.

  "Do you know where you are?" asked George.

  "Not really," said Alice. "Apparently I'm in a gym."

  "She fell off her bike during the spin class." Jane adjusted her bra strap beneath her top. "I saw it happen. I'm pretty sure she fainted. Her head smashed against the handlebars of the bike next to her. She's been unconscious for about ten minutes."

  Spin Crazy Girl reappeared, ponytail swinging, and Alice stared up at her smooth long legs and hard flat stomach. It looked like a pretend stomach. "She can't have had her feet strapped to the pedals properly. I do make a point of reminding everyone about that at the beginning of the class. It's a safety issue," said Spin Crazy Girl to George Clooney in the confidential tone of one professional talking to another. "Also, I really don't recommend spin classes to pregnant women. I did ask if anyone was pregnant."

  "Don't worry, we'll sue if necessary," said Jane quietly to Alice.

  "How many weeks are you, Alice?" asked George.

  Alice went to answer and to her surprise found a blank space in her head.

  "Thirteen," she said, after a second. "I mean, fourteen. Fourteen weeks." They'd had the twelve-week ultrasound at least two weeks ago. The Sultana had done a peculiar little jump, like a disco dance move, as if someone had poked it in the back, and afterward Nick and Alice had kept trying to replicate the movement for people. Everyone had been polite and said it was remarkable.

  She put a hand to her stomach again and for the first time she noticed what she was wearing. Sneakers and white socks. Black shorts and a yellow sleeveless top with a shiny gold-foil sticker stuck to her top. It seemed to be a picture of a dinosaur with a balloon coming out of its mouth saying, "ROCK ON." Rock on?

  "Where did these clothes come from?" she asked Jane accusingly. "These aren't my clothes."

  Jane raised a meaningful eyebrow at George.

  "There's a dinosaur stuck to my shirt," said Alice, awestruck.

  "What day of the week is it today, Alice?" asked George.

  "Friday," answered Alice. She was cheating, because Jane had told her they were doing a "Friday spin class." Whatever that was.

  "Remember what you had for breakfast?" George gently examined the side of her head while he talked. The other paramedic strapped a blood-pressure monitor to her upper arm and pumped it up.

  "Peanut butter on toast?"

  That was what she generally had for breakfast. It seemed a safe bet.

  "He doesn't actually know what you had for breakfast," said Jane. "He's trying to see if you remember what you had for breakfast."

  The blood-pressure monitor squeezed hard around Alice's arm.

  George sat back on his haunches and said, "Humor me, Alice, and tell me the name of our illustrious prime minister."

  "John Howard," answered Alice obediently. She hoped there wouldn't be any more questions about politics. It wasn't her forte. She could never get appalled enough.

  Jane made a strange explosive sound of derision and mirth.

  "Oh. Ah. But he's still the prime minister, isn't he?" Alice was mortified. People were going to tease her about this for years to come. Oh, Alice, you don't know the prime minister! Had she missed an election? "But I'm sure he's the prime minister."

  "And what year is it?" George didn't seem too concerned.

  "It's 1998," Alice answered promptly. She felt confident about that one. The baby would be born next year, in 1999.

  Jane pressed her hand over her mouth. George went to speak, but Jane interrupted him. She put her hand on Alice's shoulder and stared at her intently. Her eyes were wide with excitement. Tiny balls of mascara hovered on the ends of her eyelashes. The combination of her lavender deodorant and garlic breath was quite overpowering.

  "How old are you, Alice?"

  "I'm twenty-nine, Jane." Alice was irritated by Jane's dramatic tone. What was she getting at? "Same age as you."

  Jane sat back up and looked at George Clooney triumphantly.

  She said, "I just got an invitation to her fortieth birthday."

  That was the day Alice Mary Love went to the gym and carelessly misplaced a decade of her life.

  Chapter 2

  Jane said of course she would have come to the hospital with her but she had to be in court at two o'clock.

  "What are you going to court for?" asked Alice, who was perfectly happy not to have Jane come to the hospital. That was quite enough of Jane for one day. "An invitation to her fortieth birthday." What exactly did she mean by that?

  Jane smiled oddly and didn't answer Alice's question about court. "I'll call someone to be there at the hospital waiting for you."

  "Not someone." Alice watched the paramedics set up a stretcher for her. It looked a bit flimsy. "Nick."

  "Yes, of course, I'll call Nick." Jane enunciated her words carefully, as if she were acting in a children's pantomime.

  "Actually, I'm sure I can walk," Alice said to George Clooney. She never liked the idea of being lifted by people, even Nick, who was pretty strong. She worried about her weight. What if the paramedics grunted and grimaced like furniture removalists when they lifted the stretcher? "I feel fine. Just my head."

  "You're suffering from a pretty serious concussion there," said George. "We can't muck around with head injuries."

nbsp; "Come on now, our favorite part of the job is carrying attractive women around on stretchers," said the other paramedic. "Don't deprive us."

  "Yes, don't deprive them, Alice," said Jane. "Your brain is damaged. You think you're twenty-nine."

  What did that mean, exactly?

  Alice lay back and allowed the two men to efficiently lift her onto the stretcher. As her head rolled to one side, the pain made her dizzy.

  "Oh, here's her bag." Jane picked up a rucksack from the side of the room and squashed it next to Alice.

  "That's not mine," said Alice.

  "Yes it is."

  Alice stared at the red canvas bag. There was a row of three shiny dinosaur stickers like the one on her shirt stuck across the top flap. She wondered if she was about to be sick.

  The two paramedics lifted up the stretcher. They didn't seem to have a problem carrying it. She guessed it was their job to lift all-sized people.

  "Work!" said Alice in a sudden panic. "You'd better call work for me. Why aren't we at work if it's a Friday?"

  "Well, I really don't know! Why aren't we at work?" repeated Jane in that pantomime voice again. "But don't you worry a thing about it, I'll call 'Nick,' and then I'll call 'work.' So by work I assume you mean, ah, ABR Bricks?"

  "Yes, Jane, I do," said Alice carefully. They'd been working at ABR for three years now. Could the poor girl have some sort of mental illness?

  Alice said, "You'd better let Sue know I won't be in today."

  "Sue," repeated Jane slowly. "And by Sue, I take it you mean Sue Mason."

  "Yes, Jane. Sue Mason." (Definitely loopy.)

  Sue Mason was their boss. She was a stickler for punctuality and medical certificates and appropriate work attire. Alice couldn't wait for her maternity leave to start so she could get out of the place.

  "Get better soon, Alice!" Spin Crazy Girl called out from the front of the room, her voice amplified by a microphone strapped to her head. She was sitting astride a bike up on a small raised platform, facing the class. There was a television screen flickering above her head and a huge rotating fan next to her. All of the women except for Jane had climbed back onto their bikes and were pedaling slowly, their eyes fixed on some invisible horizon. As Alice's stretcher reached the door, there was a burst of loud throbbing music and the lights in the room suddenly went out, plunging them into darkness. "Let's go, team!" shouted Spin Crazy Girl. "We've got to make up for lost time! Where were we?"

  "Stuck behind a semi-trailer halfway up the mountain!" shouted one of the women.

  "That's right! Let's push it up a notch! Push it, push it, push it ... and out of the saddle!"

  The women's bottoms lifted simultaneously in the air as they stood up on their pedals, their strong legs pumping like pistons.

  Goodness, thought Alice.

  Jane propped a heavy glass door open with her foot, and Alice clutched the sides of the stretcher, worried that they'd have to turn her on an angle, like a sofa, but the paramedics carried her smoothly through.

  "You'll be fine," said Jane, giving one of Alice's sneakers a jaunty pat.

  The glass door closed, and the music's volume was suddenly reduced to the sound of a distant party. Alice could see Jane's face through the glass, watching them go. She was pinching her lower lip together with her finger and thumb, so she looked like a fish.

  She must remember every moment of this freaky day to tell Nick. He'd think it was hilarious. Yes, this whole day was quite a hoot.

  Now she was being carried through another, much larger, blue-carpeted room, with rows of complicated-looking machinery being operated by men and women who all seemed to be straining to lift, pull, or push things that were far too heavy for them. The place had the studious, muted feel of a library. Nobody stopped what they were doing as the stretcher went by. Only their eyes followed with blank, impersonal interest, as if she were a news event on TV.


  A man stepped off a treadmill, pushing his headphones down from his ears and onto his shoulders. "What happened to you?"

  His face--bright red and beaded with sweat--meant nothing to her. Alice stared up at him, groping for something polite to say. It was surreal, making conversation with a stranger while lying flat on her back on a stretcher. She was in one of those dreams where she turned up at a cocktail party in her pajamas.

  "Fell off her bike and got a bit of a bump on the noggin," George Clooney answered for her, sounding not at all medical.

  "Oh no!" The man smeared a towel across his forehead. "Just what you need, with the big day coming up!"

  Alice attempted to pull a rueful face about the big day coming up. Perhaps he was one of Nick's colleagues and it was some work function she was meant to know about?

  "Well, that'll teach you to be such a gym addict, eh, Alice?"

  "Ho," said Alice. She wasn't sure what she'd been trying to say, but that's what it came out as: "Ho."

  As the paramedics kept walking, the man climbed back onto his treadmill and started running, calling out after her, "Take care, Alice! I'll get Maggie to call!" He held up his thumb and little finger to his ear.

  Alice closed her eyes. Her stomach churned.

  "You doing okay there, Alice?" asked George Clooney.

  Alice opened her eyes. "I feel a bit sick," she said.

  "That's to be expected."

  They stopped in front of a lift.

  "I really don't know where I am," she reminded George. She felt like it was worth mentioning again.

  "Don't worry about it for now," said George.

  The lift doors hissed open and a woman with sleek bobbed hair stepped out. "Alice! Are you okay? What happened?" She had one of those "How now, brown cow" accents. "What a coincidence! I was just thinking about you! I was going to call you about the--ahh, the little incident--at school, Chloe told me about it, you poor thing! Oh dear, this is all you need! What with tomorrow night, and the big day coming up!"

  As she kept talking, the paramedics maneuvered the stretcher into the lift and pressed the "G" button. The doors slid shut on the woman lifting a pretend phone to her ear just like the treadmill guy, while at the same time a voice cried out, "Is that Alice Love I just saw on that stretcher?"

  George said, "You know a lot of people."

  "No," said Alice. "No, I really don't."

  She thought about Jane saying, "I just got an invitation to her fortieth birthday."

  She turned her head and was sick all over George Clooney's nice, shiny black shoes.

  Elisabeth's Homework for Dr. Hodges It was just toward the end of the lunch break when I got the call. I only had five minutes before I was back on and I should have been in the bathroom checking I didn't have food between my teeth. She said, "Elisabeth, oh, hi, it's Jane, I've got a problem here," as if there was only one Jane in the whole world (you would think somebody named Jane would be in the habit of giving their last name) and I was thinking Jane, Jane, a Jane with a problem, and then I realized it was Jane Turner. Alice's Jane.

  She said that Alice had fallen over at the gym during her spin class.

  So there I was with 143 people all sitting back behind their tables, pouring their ice water, eating their mints, looking expectantly at the podium with pens poised, who had each paid $2,950 to see me speak, or $2,500 if they took advantage of the Early Bird discount.

  That's how much people pay me to teach them how to write a successful direct-mail campaign. I know! That nasty commercial world out there is entirely foreign to you, isn't it, Dr. Hodges? I could tell you were just politely nodding your head when I tried to explain my job. I'm sure it has never occurred to you that those letters and brochures you receive in the mail are actually written by real people. Real people like me. I bet you have a "NO JUNK MAIL" sticker on your letterbox. Don't worry. I won't hold it against you.

  Anyway, it wasn't exactly the most convenient time for me to go rushing off to see my sister because she'd had a gym accident (some of us have jobs; some of us don't have
time to go to the gym in the middle of the day). Especially when I wasn't talking to her since the banana muffins incident. I know we talked at length about trying to see her actions from a more "rational perspective," but I'm still not talking to her. (Of course she doesn't actually KNOW I'm not talking to her, but allow me my childish satisfaction.)

  I said to Jane (somewhat irritably and self-importantly, I admit), "Is it serious?" For some reason it never occurred to me that it really could be serious.

  Jane said, "She thinks it's 1998 and she's twenty-nine and we're still working together at ABR Bricks, so it's seriously weird, that's for sure."

  Then she said, "Oh, and I assume you know she's pregnant?"

  I am deeply ashamed of my reaction. All I can say, Dr. Hodges, is that it was as involuntary and unstoppable as a huge hay-fevery sneeze.

  It was a feeling of trembly rage and it went from my stomach to my head in a WHOOSH, and I said, "I'm sorry, Jane, I have to go now," and hung up.

  George Clooney was very nice about his shoes. Alice was appalled and tried to climb out of the stretcher so she could somehow help clean them, if she could have just found a tissue from somewhere, perhaps in that strange canvas bag, but both paramedics got stern with her and insisted that she stay still.

  Her stomach felt better when she was buckled into the back of the ambulance. The chunky clean white plastic all around her was reassuring; everything felt sensible and sterile.

  It seemed to be quite a sedate trip to the hospital, like catching a cab. As far as Alice could tell, they weren't screeching through the streets, flashing their lights at other cars to get out of the way.

  "So I guess I'm not dying, then?" she asked George. The other guy was driving and George Clooney was in the back with Alice. He had hairy eyebrows, she noticed. Nick had big bushy eyebrows, too. Late one night Alice had tried to pluck them for him and he'd yelled so loud, she was worried Mrs. Bergen from next door would do her neighborhood-watch duty and call the police.

  "You'll be back at the gym in no time," answered George.

  "I don't go to the gym," said Alice. "I don't believe in gyms."

  "I'm with you." George smiled and patted her arm.