Home > Big Little Lies(3)

Big Little Lies(3)
Liane Moriarty

Forty-year-old woman found dead. Oh dear.

Twenty-year-old woman found dead. Tragedy! Sadness! Find that murderer!

Madeline had recently been forced to do a minor shift in her head when she heard something on the news about a woman dying in her forties. But, wait, that could be me! That would be sad! People would be sad if I was dead! Devastated, even. So there, age-obsessed world. I might be forty, but I am cherished.

On the other hand, it was probably perfectly natural to feel sadder over the death of a twenty-year-old than a forty-year-old. The forty-year-old had enjoyed twenty years more of life. That’s why, if there was a gunman on the loose, Madeline would feel obligated to throw her middle-aged self in front of the twenty-year-old. Take a bullet for youth. It was only fair.

Well, she would, if she could be sure it was a nice young person. Not one of those insufferable ones, like the child driving the little blue Mitsubishi in front of Madeline. She wasn’t even bothering to hide the fact that she was using her mobile phone while she drove, probably texting or updating her Facebook status.

See! This kid wouldn’t have even noticed the loose gunman! She would have been staring vacantly at her phone, while Madeline sacrificed her life for her! It was infuriating.

The little car appeared to be jammed with young people. At least three in the back, their heads bobbing about, hands gesticulating. Was that somebody’s foot waving about? It was a tragedy waiting to happen. They all needed to concentrate. Just last week, Madeline had been having a quick coffee after her ShockWave class and was reading a story in the paper about how all the young people were killing themselves by sending texts while they drove. On my way. Nearly there! These were their last foolish (and often misspelled) words. Madeline had cried over the picture of one teenager’s grief-stricken mother, absurdly holding up her daughter’s mobile phone to the camera as a warning to readers.

“Silly little idiots,” she said out loud as the car weaved dangerously into the next lane.

“Who is an idiot?” said her daughter from the backseat.

“The girl driving the car in front of me is an idiot because she’s driving her car and using her phone at the same time,” said Madeline.

“Like when you need to call Daddy when we’re running late?” said Chloe.

“I only did that one time!” protested Madeline. “And I was very careful and very quick! And I’m forty years old!”

“Today,” said Chloe knowledgeably. “You’re forty years old today.”

“Yes! Also, I made a quick call, I didn’t send a text! You have to take your eyes off the road to text. Texting while driving is illegal and naughty, and you must promise to never ever do it when you’re a teenager.”

Her voice quivered at the thought of Chloe being a teenager and driving a car.

“But you’re allowed to make a quick phone call?” checked Chloe.

“No! That’s illegal too,” said Madeline.

“So that means you broke the law,” said Chloe with satisfaction. “Like a robber.”

Chloe was currently in love with the idea of robbers. She was definitely going to date bad boys one day. Bad boys on motorcycles.

“Stick with the nice boys, Chloe!” said Madeline after a moment. “Like Daddy. Bad boys don’t bring you coffee in bed, I’ll tell you that for free.”

“What are you babbling on about, woman?” sighed Chloe. She’d picked this phrase up from her father and imitated his weary tone perfectly. They’d made the mistake of laughing the first time she did it, so she’d kept it up, and said it just often enough, and with perfect timing, so that they couldn’t help but keep laughing.

This time Madeline managed not to laugh. Chloe currently trod a very fine line between adorable and obnoxious. Madeline probably trod the same line herself.

Madeline pulled up behind the little blue Mitsubishi at a red light. The young driver was still looking at her mobile phone. Madeline banged on her car horn. She saw the driver glance in her rearview mirror, while all her passengers craned around to look.

“Put down your phone!” she yelled. She mimicked texting by jabbing her finger in her palm. “It’s illegal! It’s dangerous!”

The girl stuck her finger up in the classic up-yours gesture.

“Right!” Madeline pulled on her emergency brake and put on her hazard lights.

“What are you doing?” said Chloe.

Madeline undid her seat belt and threw open the car door.

“But we’ve got to go to orientation!” said Chloe in a panic. “We’ll be late! Oh, calamity!”

“Oh, calamity” was a line from a children’s book that they used to read to Fred when he was little. The whole family said it now. Even Madeline’s parents had picked it up, and some of Madeline’s friends. It was a very contagious phrase.

“It’s all right,” said Madeline. “This will only take a second. I’m saving young lives.”

She stalked up to the girl’s car on her new stilettos and banged on the window.

The window slid down, and the driver metamorphosed from a shadowy silhouette into a real young girl with white skin, sparkly nose ring and badly applied, clumpy mascara. She looked up at Madeline with a mixture of aggression and fear. “What is your problem?” Her mobile phone was still held casually in her left hand.

“Put down that phone! You could kill yourself and your friends!” Madeline used the exact same tone she used on Chloe when she was being extremely naughty. She reached in the car, grabbed the phone and tossed it to the openmouthed girl in the passenger seat. “OK? Just stop it!”

She could hear their gales of laughter as she walked back to her SUV. She didn’t care. She felt pleasantly stimulated. A car pulled up behind hers. Madeline smiled, lifted her hand apologetically and hurried back to be in her car before the lights changed.

Her ankle turned. One second it was doing what an ankle was meant to do, and the next it was flipping out at a sickeningly wrong angle. She fell heavily on one side. Oh, calamity.

That was almost certainly the moment the story began.

With the ungainly flip of an ankle.

3.

Jane pulled up at a red light behind a big shiny SUV with its hazard lights blinking and watched a dark-haired woman hurry along the side of the road back to it. She wore a floaty, blue summer dress and high strappy heels, and she waved apologetically, charmingly at Jane. The morning sun caught one of the woman’s earrings, and it shone as if she’d been touched by something celestial.

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