Jane flinched as a great wind blast from a train going in the opposite direction suddenly rocked them. Why on earth did they put the tracks so close together? And instantly her head was full of helicopter news footage: carriages jackknifed - they always used that verb, making it sound the more violent - trains strewn at the bottom of embankments, flashing lights, stretcher crews and, in the background, one carriage mounting another like mating metal. Quickly her mind ran on to plane crashes, mass slaughter, cancer, the strangling of old ladies who lived alone, and the probable absence of immortality. The God Who Approved of Things was powerless against such visions. She tipped the last of the cognac into her tea. She must get Alice to distract her.
"What are you thinking about?" she asked, timid as a firsttimer in a book-signing queue.
"Actually, I was wondering if you'd ever been jealous of me."
"Why were you wondering that?"
"I don't know. Just one of those stray thoughts that arrive."
"Good. Because it's hardly kind."
"Well, if I admit I've been jealous of you, that makes me a mean-spirited friend. And if I say I haven't, it sounds as if I'm so smug I can't find anything in your life or your books worthy of jealousy."
"Jane, I'm sorry. Put like that - I'm a bitch. Apologies."
"Accepted. But since you ask..."
"Are you sure I want to hear this now?" Strange how there were still times when she underestimated Jane.
"...I don't know if 'jealous' is the right word. But I was envious as hell about the Mike Nichols thing - until it went away. And I was pretty furious when you slept with my husband, but that was anger not jealousy, I think."
"I suppose that was tactless of me. But he was your ex-husband by then. And back in those days everyone slept with everyone, didn't they?" Beneath such worldliness, Alice felt pressing irritation. This again? It wasn't as if they hadn't discussed it to death at the time. And afterwards. And Jane had written that bloody novel about it, claiming that "David" was just about to return to "Jill" when "Angela" intervened. What it didn't say in the novel was that it was two years, not two months, on, and by that time "David" was fucking half of west London as well as "Angela."
"It was tactless of you to tell me."
"Yes. I suppose I hoped you'd make me stop. I needed someone to make me stop. I was a mess at the time, wasn't I?" And they'd discussed that too. Why did some people forget what they needed to remember, and remember what was best forgotten?
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.
Blood at the Root
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