Excerpt from 'The Past'
By Tessa Hadley
All rights reserved.
ALICE WAS THE first to arrive, but she discovered as she stood at the front door that she had forgotten her key. The noise of their taxi receding, like an insect burrowing between the hills, was the only sound at first in the still afternoon, until their ears got used to other sounds: the jostling of water in the stream that ran at the bottom of the garden, a tickle of tiny movements in the hedgerows and grasses. At least it was an afternoon of balmy warmth, its sunlight diffused because the air was dense with seed floss, transparent-winged midges, pollen; light flickered on the grass, and under the silver birch leaf-shadows shifted, blotting their penny-shapes upon one another. Searching through her bag Alice put on a show of amusement and scatty self-deprecation. She was famously hopeless with keys. She had come with a young man who was her ex-boyfriend's son and on the train she had been preoccupied with the question of what stage of life she was at, whether people seeing them would think Kasim was her lover, or her child – though he wasn't either. Now he walked away from her around the house without saying anything, and she thought that this mishap with the keys had shrivelled her in his opinion, he was bored already. They were in the country, in the middle of nowhere, with no way back; the house was set behind a cluster of houses on a no through road where there was no café or pub or even shop where they could pass the time.
Behind her smiles she raged at Kasim for a moment. She wished now that she hadn't brought him. It had been a careless suggestion in a moment of feeling bountiful, having this place to offer; she hadn't really expected him to take her up on it and had been flattered when he did. But if she had been alone the keys wouldn't have mattered. It would have been a kind of bliss, even, to be shut out from the responsibility of opening up the house and making it ready for the others. She could have dropped onto the grass in the sunshine. She could have let go her eternal vigilance and fallen deep down here, in this place, Kington, of all places, into sleep, the real thing, the sleep that she was always seeking for and could never quite get. Alice was forty-six, dark, soft, concentrated yet indefinite – she could look like a different person in different photographs. Her complex personality was diffuse, always flying away in different directions, like her fine hair, which a man had once described as prune-coloured; it was soft and brown like the inside of prunes, and she wore it curling loose on her shoulders.
Excerpted from The Past by Tessa Hadley. Copyright © 2016 Tessa Hadley. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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