"So where are we off to next?"
"Is it Edinburgh?"
"Could be. That's your taxi."
"Bye, partner. You're the best."
"So are you."
They kissed again.
Later, over her boiled egg, Alice found her mind drifting from the cultural pages to Derek. Yes, he had been an oaf, but one with such an appetite for her that it had all seemed not worth questioning. And at the time Jane didn't appear to mind; only later did she start to become resentful. Alice wondered if this was something to do with Jane, or with the nature of time; but she failed to reach a conclusion, and went back to the newspaper.
Jane, meanwhile, in another part of London, was watching television, and picking up cheese on toast with her fingers, not caring where the crumbs fell. Her hand occasionally slipped a little on the wineglass. Some female Euro-politician on the news reminded her of Alice, and she thought about their long friendship, and how, when they were onstage together, Alice always played the senior partner, and she always acquiesced. Was this because she had a subservient nature, or because she thought it made her, Jane, come across as nicer? Unlike Alice, she never minded owning up to weaknesses. So maybe it was time to admit the gaps in her reading. She could start in Edinburgh. That was a trip to look forward to. She imagined these jaunts of theirs going on into the future until... what? The television screen was replaced by an image of herself dropping dead on a near-empty train coming back from somewhere. What did they do when that happened? Stop the train - at Swindon, say - and take the body off, or just prop her up in the seat as if she was asleep or drunk and continue on to London? There must be a protocol written down somewhere. But how could they give a place of death if she was on a moving train at the time? And what would Alice do, if her body was taken off? Would she loyally accompany her dead friend, or find some high-minded argument for staying on the train? It suddenly seemed very important to be reassured that Alice wouldn't abandon her. She looked across at the telephone, wondering what Alice was doing at that moment. But then she imagined the small, disapproving silence before Alice answered her question, a silence which would somehow imply that her friend was needy, self-dramatising and overweight. Jane sighed, reached for the remote, and changed the channel.
Excerpted from Pulse by Julian Barnes. Copyright © 2011 by Julian Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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