Home > Big Little Lies(7)

Big Little Lies(7)
Liane Moriarty

Jane cleared her throat.

“I guess it was fun,” she said.

“Sorry,” said Madeline. “I was being frivolous. It was because I was thinking of my own frivolous youth. Or maybe because you’re so young and I’m so old, and I’m trying to be cool. How old are you? Do you mind my asking?”

“Twenty-four,” said Jane.

“Twenty-four,” breathed Madeline. “I’m forty today. I told you that already, didn’t I? You probably think you’ll never be forty, right?”

“Well, I hope I’ll be forty,” said Jane. She’d noticed before how middle-aged women were obsessed with the topic of age, always laughing about it, moaning about it, going on and on about it, as if the process of aging were a tricky puzzle they were trying to solve. Why were they so mystified by it? Jane’s mother’s friends seemed to literally have no other topic of conversation, or they didn’t when they spoke to Jane. “Oh, you’re so young and beautiful, Jane.” (When she clearly wasn’t; it was like they thought one followed the other: If you were young, you were automatically beautiful!) “Oh, you’re so young, Jane, you’ll be able to fix my phone/computer/camera.” (When in fact a lot of her mother’s friends were more technologically savvy than Jane.) “Oh, you’re so young, Jane, you have so much energy.” (When she was so tired, so very, very tired.)

“And listen, how do you support yourself?” said Madeline worriedly, sitting up straight, as if this were a problem she needed to solve right this minute. “Do you work?”

Jane nodded at her. “I work for myself as a freelance bookkeeper. I’ve got a good client base now, lots of small businesses. I’m fast. So I turn the work over fast. It pays the rent.”

“Clever girl,” said Madeline approvingly. “I supported myself too when Abigail was little. For the most part anyway. Every now and then Nathan would rouse himself to send a check. It was hard, but it was also sort of satisfying, in a f**k-you kind of way. You know what I mean.”

“Sure,” said Jane. Jane’s life as a single mother wasn’t making a f**k-you point to anyone. Or at least not in the way that Madeline meant.

“You’ll definitely be one of the younger kindergarten mums,” mused Madeline. She took a sip of her coffee and grinned wickedly. “You’re even younger than my ex-husband’s delightful new wife. Promise me you won’t make friends with her, will you? I got you first.”

“I’m sure I won’t even meet her,” said Jane, confused.

“Oh, you will,” grimaced Madeline. “Her daughter is starting kindergarten at the same time as Chloe. Can you imagine?”

Jane couldn’t imagine.

“The kindy mums will all have coffee, and there will be my ex-husband’s wife sitting across the table, sipping her herbal tea. Don’t worry, there won’t be any punch-ups. Unfortunately it’s all very boring and amicable and terribly grown-up. Bonnie even kisses me hello. She’s into yoga and chakras and all that shit. You know how you’re meant to hate your wicked stepmother? My daughter adores her. Bonnie is so ‘calm,’ you see. The opposite of me. She speaks in one of those soft . . . low . . . melodious voices that make you want to punch a wall.”

Jane laughed at Madeline’s imitation of a low, melodious voice.

“You probably will make friends with Bonnie,” said Madeline. “She’s impossible to hate. I’m very good at hating people, and even I find it difficult. I really have to put my heart and soul into it.”

She shifted the ice again on her ankle.

“When Bonnie hears I’ve hurt my ankle, she’ll bring me a meal. She just loves any excuse to bring me a home-cooked meal. Probably because Nathan told her I’m a terrible cook, so she wants to make a point. Although the worst thing about Bonnie is that she’s probably not actually making a point. She’s just freakishly nice. I’d love to throw her meals straight in the bin, but they’re too damned delicious. My husband and children would kill me.”

Madeline’s expression changed. She beamed and waved. “Oh! She’s here at last! Celeste! Over here! Come and see what I’ve done!”

Jane looked up and her heart sank.

It shouldn’t matter. She knew it shouldn’t matter. But the fact was that some people were so unacceptably, hurtfully beautiful, it made you feel ashamed. Your inferiority was right there on display for the world to see. This was what a woman was meant to look like. Exactly this. She was right, and Jane was wrong.

You’re a very fat, ugly little girl, a voice said insistently in her ear with hot, fetid breath.

She shuddered and tried to smile at the horribly beautiful woman walking toward them.

Thea: I assume you’ve heard by now that Bonnie is married to Madeline’s ex-husband, Nathan? So that was complicated. You might want to explore that. I’m not telling you how to do your job, of course.

Bonnie: That had absolutely nothing to do with anything. Our relationship was completely amicable. Just this morning I left a vegetarian lasagna on their doorstep for her poor husband.

Gabrielle: I was new to the school. I didn’t know a soul. “Oh, we’re such a caring school,” the principal told me. Blah, blah, blah. Let me tell you, the first thing I thought when I walked into that playground on that kindergarten orientation day was cliquey. Cliquey, cliquey, cliquey. I’m not surprised someone ended up dead. Oh, all right. I guess that’s overstating it. I was a little surprised.

5.

Celeste pushed open the glass door of Blue Blues and saw Madeline straightaway. She was sharing a table with a small, thin young girl wearing a blue denim skirt and a plain white V-necked T-shirt. Celeste didn’t recognize the girl. She felt an instant, sharp sense of disappointment. “Just the two of us,” Madeline had said.

Celeste readjusted her expectations of the morning. She took a deep breath. Recently, she’d noticed something strange happening when she talked to people in groups. She couldn’t quite remember how to be. She’d find herself thinking: Did I just laugh too loudly? Did I forget to laugh? Did I just repeat myself?

For some reason when it was just her and Madeline, it was OK. It was because she’d known Madeline for such a long time. Her personality felt intact when it was just the two of them.

Maybe she needed a tonic. That’s what her grandmother would have said. What was a tonic?

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