"He only twinkled at me."
"Alice! I saw you with my own eyes perched on his knee."
Alice gave a tight smile. She could remember it all quite clearly: someone's flat in Little Venice, the usual faces, a Byrds LP playing, a background smell of dope, the famous visiting writer, her own sudden forwardness. "I perched, as you put it, on his knee. And he twinkled at me. End of story."
"But you told me..."
"No I didn't."
"But you let me understand..."
"Well, one has one's pride."
"I mean he said he had an early start the next day. Paris, Copenhagen, wherever. Book tour. You know."
"The headache excuse."
"Well," said Jane, trying to hide a sudden surge of jauntiness, "I've always believed that writers get more out of things going wrong than things going right. It's the only profession in which failure can be put to good use."
"I don't think failure' exactly describes my moment with John Updike."
"Of course not, darling."
"And you are, if you don't mind my saying so, coming on a little like a self-help book. Or like you sound on Woman's Hour, brightly telling others how to live."
"The point is, even if personal failure can be properly transformed into art, it still leaves you where you were when you started."
"And where's that?"
"Not having slept with John Updike."
"Well, if it's any consolation, I'm jealous of him twinkling at you."
"You're a friend," Alice replied, but her tone betrayed her.
They fell silent. Some large station went by.
"Was that Swindon?" Jane asked, to make it sound as if they weren't quarrelling.
"Do you think we have many readers in Swindon?" Oh, come on, Alice, don't get huffy on me. Or rather, don't let's get huffy on one another.
"What do you think?"
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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