Extract from : What Alice Forgot

She was floating, arms outspread, water lapping her body, breathing in a summery fragrance of salt and coconut. There was a pleasantly satisfied breakfast taste in her mouth of bacon and coffee and possibly croissants. She lifted her chin and the morning sun shone so brightly on the water she had to squint through spangles of light to see her feet in front of her. Her toenails were each painted a different colour. Red. Gold. Purple. Funny. The nail polish hadn’t been applied very well. Blobby and messy. Someone else was floating in the water right next to her. Someone she liked a lot, who made her laugh, with toenails painted the same way. The other person waggled their multicoloured toes at her companionably, and she was filled with sleepy contentment. Somewhere in the distance a man’s voice shouted, ‘Marco?’
and a chorus of children’s voices cried back, ‘Polo!’ The man called out again, ‘Marco, Marco, Marco?’ and the voices answered, ‘Polo, Polo, Polo!’ A child laughed; a long, gurgling giggle, like a stream of soap bubbles. A voice said quietly and insistently in her ear, ‘Alice?’ and she tipped back her head and let the cool water slide silently over her face. Tiny dots of light danced before her eyes. Was it a dream or a memory?

‘I don’t know!’ said a frightened voice. ‘I didn’t see it happen!’

No need to get your knickers in a knot.

The dream or memory or whatever it was dissolved and vanished like a reflection on water and instead fragments of thought began to drift through her head, as if she was waking up from a long, deep sleep, late on a Sunday morning.

Is cream cheese considered a soft cheese?
It’s not a hard cheese.
It’s not . . .
. . . hard at all.
So, logically, you would think . . .
. . . something.
Something logical.
Lavender is lovely.
Logically lovely.
Must prune back the lavender!
I can smell lavender.
No, I can’t.
Yes, I can.


That’s when she noticed the pain in her head for the first time. It hurt on one side, a lot, as if someone had given her a good solid thwack with a hammer. Her thoughts sharpened. What was this pain in the head all about? Nobody had warned her about pain in her head. She had a whole list of peculiar symptoms to be prepared
for: heartburn, a taste like aluminium foil in your mouth, dizziness, extreme tiredness – but nothing about a hammering ache at the side of your head. That one should really have been mentioned, because it was very painful. Of course, if she couldn’t handle a run-of-the-mill headache, well then . . .

The scent of lavender seemed to be coming and going, like a gentle breeze.

She let herself drift again. 

The best thing would be to fall back asleep and return to that lovely dream with the water and the multicoloured toenails.

Actually, maybe someone had mentioned headaches and she forgot? Yes, they had! Headaches, for heaven’s sake! Really bad ones. Fabulous. So much to remember. No soft cheeses or smoked salmon or sushi because of the risk of that disease she had never even known existed. Listeria. Something to do with bacteria. Hurts the baby. That’s why you weren’t allowed to eat leftovers. One bite of a leftover chicken drumstick could kill the baby. The brutal responsibilities of parenthood. For now, she would just go back to sleep. That was the best thing.

Listeria.
Wisteria.
The wisteria over the side fence is going to look stunning if it ever gets
round to flowering.
Listeria, wisteria.
Ha. Funny words.

She smiled, but her head really did hurt a lot. She was trying to be brave.

‘Alice? Can you hear me?’

The lavender smell got stronger again. A bit sickly-sweet. Cream cheese is a spreadable cheese. Not too soft, not too hard, just right. Like the baby bear’s bed.

‘Her eyelids are fluttering. Like she’s dreaming.’

It was no use. She couldn’t get back to sleep, even though she felt exhausted, as if she could sleep for ever. Were all pregnant women walking around with aching heads like this? Was the idea to toughen them up for labour pains? When she got up she would check it out in one of the baby books.

She always forgot how pain was so upsetting. Cruel. It hurt your feelings. You just wanted it to stop, please, right now. Epidurals were the way to go. One epidural for my headache, please. Thank you. 

‘Alice, try to open your eyes.’

Was cream cheese even cheese? You didn’t put a dollop of cream cheese on a cheese platter. Maybe cheese didn’t actually mean cheese in the context of cream cheese. She wouldn’t ask the doctor about it, just in case it was an embarrassing ‘Oh, Alice’ mistake.

She couldn’t get comfortable. The mattress felt like cold concrete. If she wriggled across, she could nudge Nick with her foot until he sleepily rolled over and pulled her to him in a big warm bear hug. Her human hot-water bottle. Where was Nick? Had he already got up? Maybe he was making her a cup of tea.

‘Don’t try to move, Alice. Just stay still and open your eyes, sweetie.’

Elisabeth would know about the cream cheese. She’d snort in her big-sisterly way and be precise. Mum wouldn’t have a clue. She’d be stricken. She’d say, ‘Oh dear, oh no! I’m sure I ate soft cheeses when I was pregnant with you girls! They didn’t know about that sort of thing back then.’ She’d talk on and on and worry that Alice had accidentally broken a rule. Mum believed in rules. So did Alice, actually. Frannie wouldn’t know, but she’d research it proudly, using her new computer, in the same way that she used to help Alice and Elisabeth find information for school projects in her Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Her head really did hurt.

Presumably this was only the squidgiest fraction of how much labour would hurt. So that was just great. It was not as if she’d actually eaten any cream cheese that she could remember.

‘Alice? Alice!’

She didn’t even really like cream cheese.

‘Has someone called an ambulance?’

There was that smell of lavender again.