The tragic paradox of being clever, said Alice, is that you understand enough about the world to know it’s broken but know you don’t understand enough to fix it.
The paradox with being Alice, Maya thought, was that you understand enough to know she’s clever, but you also know enough about Alice to know she has an immense facility for utter bullshit.
Maya just smiled indulgently at her oldest friend. They’d been at school together. Alice had been the first girl to kiss a boy, get a period, grow boobs, have sex. As such, she’d always been free with her advice, developing the ability to deliver it in great swathes of malapropian aphorism.
The grain of the pub table was rough-smooth on Maya’s bare legs, the sun was hot and she was well into her third pint of the afternoon. On the fourth, she’d allow herself a cigarette. It was Saturday. Paradise. Now she just had to get Alice pissed enough that she’d go into her quiet, happy rosé-induced fug. Maya’s filled Alice’s glass from the condensation-ridden bottle beside her.
I mean, continued Alice, take me and Tony. Me and Tony have been together for years. Like years and years. I know that it’s never going to be perfect. But I know that we can only keep trying to work out how to fix it. We will always be a work in progress.
Maya could feel a trickle of sweat down the back of her neck. She shifted in her seat. As Alice babbled away about the intricacies of her and Tony, Maya reached into the pocket of her flabby denim shorts and hooked out a hair band. God she should really invest in some new summer clothes, she thought. She piled her thick dark hair on top of her head, wrapping the band, all the while ‘umming’ and ‘ahhhing’ in appreciatively at the remarkable insights experience had bequeathed on Alice.
Alice never once broke for breath.
So, that’s why I think a shared bank account is important, finished Alice. Because you know, it’s about trust and transparency. Showing (okay, maybe Alice hadn’t finished, Maya thought) that if you are really serious with about each other, and I mean really giving it a go, you have to open yourselves up to the one another. Financially, sexually, spiritually. Tony and I are even doing yoga together once a week.
Maya realised she was sweating now. Maybe the third pint in this heat had been a bad idea, given the circumstances.
So, said Alice, you wanted to get my advice?
Well, it was more to tell you something really. Some news, stumbled Maya.
Oooooo, exciting, pray tell, gloated Alice. Maya could see the fire-fuelled by gossip glow in her friend’s eyes.
Well, you remember that guy I told you about? The one I’ve been seeing for a while? Well, it’s Tony. We’ve actually been fucking for five years.
Unusually for Alice, what followed was total silence. She just sat there, her face puffed up like a blowfish, eyes goggling. Maya shifted in her seat again. Sweat pooled on her upper lip. She didn’t want to see her friend but she looked so suddenly alien that Maya couldn’t tear her eyes away. Was she inflating? Maya would swear Alice was getting bigger before her eyes. Muscles bugling and twitching. Alice’s face was convulsing, like there was something alive beneath the skin, trying to burrow out from beneath the skin. Alice was suddenly hideous to behold; bloated and mutant. Guilt, thought Maya, had a funny way of manifesting itself.
Suddenly, there was The Scream. The sound to wipe all other sounds from memory. The sound that would cause birds to fall from the sky and induce the end of days. The sounds that would oscillate in your ears for the rest of your life, leaving no room for rest or respite. Alice’s mouth opened, wider than any human mouth had the right. Maya swore she could hear the crack as both Alice and her jaw unhinged. It was like the Munch painting, but set in a bustling Peckham pub garden as opposed to a volcanic eruption on Krakatoa.
The last thing that Maya heard before the darkness swathed her, was that scream and the melodic chime of glass, as the bottle shattered over her head.