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In her third novel, Riley charts the peculiar final reckoning of a highly charged romance, exploring the possibility of human connection as two young people try to reconcile themselves to all of life’s bad endings, and give some meaning to their mayfly existences.
sure you don’t.’ ‘I don’t like to sleep alone, is my basic fix. I can take or leave sex. I don’t care about that so much. But I don’t like being in bed on my own. Sometimes I more or less refuse to do it, actually. I’ll hold myself upright on the mantelpiece, and drink and just not go to bed. I’ll watch any kind of TV, drink until I’m asleep . . .’ He shrugged. What he was saying was familiar, but compelling, and he looked very attractive, tucked up there, musing to himself. ‘Like I was at my
face sagging off, my flesh being like spaghetti dough. Another fear I have is that when I go for a smear test the nurse will look up me and scream; she’ll just start screaming. I’m in a constant, low-level, vivid panic about these things.’ ‘See, now I’m getting scared, too,’ Joshua said. ‘I’m sorry,’ I said. I looked down between us. ‘We are both in these semi-serviceable young bodies now, I suppose.’ Joshua shook his head. I reached over him to click the lights off, and we adjusted ourselves
put headphones on my Mum’s bump to play me his records. He was so pleased with himself about that, but it made me furious every time he told me, like, Christ, couldn’t you ever leave me alone? Couldn’t you ever keep your hands off ? I was in the womb, for God’s sake!’ Joshua was laughing. His eyes were wide. ‘Well, I was inchoate,’ I said. ‘It’s a bit much. I sound callous, I know, but it’s how I feel, so . . . I’m just telling you. I mean, speaking of emotional pornography, I used to picture
was in the grip of her amour fou and I’d been enlisted as an unbeliever. I watched her look furtively around the empty room, smooth her hair again. Of course she looked at me with a quaint kind of pity as she said, ‘Oh, I’m not afraid to die, Natalie.’ I left that job soon afterwards. For a year or so I just spent my time being poor. There were more forms to fill in, but all in all, I preferred it, reading and writing, falling into debt. It put a funny smile on my face, anyway. Nathan left
Again he picked up his drink and sat back, tucked a fallen lick of hair behind his ear. I did wonder about him. He’d come all this way. He was sitting out there with an orange juice, rolling the glass along his forehead, now, closing his eyes. I paid for another drink and took it out with me, put it on the table. I didn’t sit down, though, I just stood behind my chair, leant on its iron back, heavily, so the front legs lifted up, an inch or so off the concrete. I turned on the spot and leant