*What Alice Forgot*

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
An exclusive extract from the Great Read in the May issue of The Australian Women's Weekly: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (Pan McMillan)
Was that talkback radio she could hear? She hated talkback radio. The callers were so cranky and nasal. They were always appalled by something. Alice said that she'd never been appalled by something. Alice once said she'd never been appalled by anything. Elisabeth had said that was appalling.
She kept her eyes closed and said out loud, 'Have you got the radio on, Nick? Because I think I have a headache.' Her voice came out petulant, which wasn't like her but after all, she was pregnant and her head hurt and she was cold and she didn't feel quite…right.
Maybe this was morning sickness? Was it even morning? Oh, Alice.
'Alice, can you hear me? Can you hear me Alice?' 'Sultana, can you hear me? Can you hear me, Sultana?'
Every night before they went to sleep, Nick talked to the baby through an empty toilet roll pressed to Alice's stomach. He'd heard this idea on some radio show. They said that way the baby would learn to recognise the father's voice as well as the mother's.
'Ahoy' he'd call. 'Can you hear me, Sultana? This is your father speaking!'
They'd read that the baby was the size of a sultana by now. So that's what they called it. Only in private of course, they were cool parents-to-be. No sappiness in public.
The sultana said he was fine thanks Dad, bit bored at times, but doing OK. Apparently he wished his mum would stop eating all that boring green shit and have a pizza for a change.
'Enough with the rabbit food!' he demanded.
It seemed the sultana was most likely a boy. He just seemed to have a masculine personality. The little rogue. They both agreeded on this. Alice would lie back and look at the top of Nick's head. There were a few shiny silvery strands. She didn't mention them. He was thirty-two. The silver strands made her eyes blur. All those wacky pregnancy hormones.
Alice never talked out loud to the baby. She spoke to it in her mind, shyly, when she was in the bath (not too hot – so many rules). Hey there, Baby, she'd think to herself, and then she'd be so overwhelmed by the wonder of it she's splash the water with the flat of her palms like a kid thinking about Christmas. She was turning thirty soon, with a terrifying mortgage and a husband and a baby on the way but she didn't feel that different from when she was fifteen.
Except there were no moments of bliss after grocery shopping when she was fifteen. She hadn't met Nick yet. Her heart still had to be broken a few times before he could turn up and superglue it together with words like 'besotted'.
'Alice? Are you OK? Please open your eyes.'
It was a woman's voice. Too loud and strident to ignore. It dragged her into consciousness and wouldn't let her go. It was a voice that gave Alice a familiar irritated itch of a feeling, like too-tight stockings.This person did not belong in her bedroom.
She rolled her head to one side. 'Ow!'
She opened her eyes.
There was a blur of unrecognizable colours and shapes. She couldn't even see the bedside cabinet to reach for her glasses. Her eyes must be getting worse. She blinked and blinked again and then, like a sharpening telescope everything came into focus. She was looking at someone's knees. How funny.
Knobbly pale knees.
She lifted her chin a fraction. 'There you are!'
It was Jane Turner of all people, from work, kneeling next to her. Her face was flushed and she had strands of sweaty hair pasted to her forehead. Her eyes looked tired. She had a soft, pudgy neck Alice had never noticed before. She was wearing a T-shirt with huge sweat marks and shorts and her arms were thin and white with dark freckles. Alice had never seen so much of Jane’s body before. It was embarrassing. Poor old Jane.
'Listeria, wisteria,' said Jane. 'Don’t try and sit up.' 'Hmmmph,' said Alice. 'Don't want to sit up.' She had a feeling she wasn't in bed; she seemed to be lying flat on her back on a cool laminated floor. Was she drunk? Had she forgotten she was pregnant and got deliriously drunk?
Her obstetrician was an urbane man who wore a bow tie and had a round face disconcertingly similar to one of Alice's exboyfriends. He said he'd have a problem with 'say, an aperitif followed by one glass of wine with dinner.' Alice thought an aperitif must be a particular brand of drink. ('Oh Alice,' said Elisabeth.) Nick explained that an aperitif was a pre-dinner drink.
Nick came from a aperitif-drinking family. Alice came from a family with one dusty bottle of Bailey’s sittng hopefully in the back of the pantry behind the tins of spaghetti. In spite of what the obstertrician said, she'd only had half a glass of champagne since she'd done the pregnancy test and she'd felt guilty about that even though everybody kept saying it was fine.
'Where am I?' asked Alice, terrified of the answer. Was she in some seedy nightclub? How could she explain to Nick that she had forgotten she was pregnant?
'You're at the gym,' said Jane. 'You fell and knocked yourself out. Gave me an absolute heart attack, although I was sort of glad because it gave me a chance to stop.'
The gym? Alice didn't go to gyms. Had she woken up drunk in a gym?
'You lose your balance,' said a sharp, jolly voice. 'It was quite a fall! Gave us all a shock, you silly sausage! We've called an ambulance, so don't you worry, we've got professional help on the way!'
Kneeling next to Jane was a thin, coffee-tanned girl with a bleached blonde ponytail, shiny lycra shorts and a cropped red top with the words STEP CRAZY emblazoned across it. Alice felt instant dislike to her. She didn't like being called a sily sausage. It offended her dignity. One of Alice's faults, according to her sister Elisabeth, was a tendency to take herself too seriously.
'Did I faint?' asked Alice hopefully. Pregnant women fainted. She had never fainted in her life, although she spent most of fourth grade practicing, in the hope that she could be one of those luck girls who fainted during church and had to be carries out, draped across the muscly arms of their PE teacher, Mr Gillespie. 'It's just that I'm pregnant,' she said. Let her see who she was calling a silly sausage.
Jane's mouth dropped. 'Jesus, Alice, you're not!'
Step Crazy Girl pursed her mouth as if she'd caught Alice out being naughty. 'Oh dear, sweetie, I did ask at the beginning of the class if anyone was pregnant. You shouldn't have been so shy. I would have suggested modifications.'
Alice's head thumped. Nothing anybody said was making sense.


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