What if a decade just vanished from your memory? For Alice Love that's exactly what happened. One day, she thinks she's a 29-year-old in love with her husband and pregnant with their first child. Then she wakes up on the gym floor and discovers, instead, that she is 39 with three kids and going through a messy divorce. Here's an excerpt from Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, which has already been optioned for a film.
Interested in food, family and travel? Read an excerpt from How to Eat a Small Country.
“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 lucky girls who fainted during church and had to be carried 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 are not!”
Spin 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. I would have put you up front near the fan. You shouldn’t have been so shy.”
Alice’s head thumped. Nothing anybody said was making sense.
“Pregnant,” said Jane. “At this time. What a disaster.”
“It is not!” Alice put a protective hand to her stomach, so the Sultana wouldn’t hear and be offended. Their financial situation was none of Jane’s business. People were meant to be delighted when you announced a pregnancy.
“I mean, what are you going to do?” asked Jane.
For heaven’s sake! “Do? What do you mean, what am I going to do? I’m going to have a baby.” She sniffed. “You smell of lavender. I knew I could smell lavender.” Her sense of smell had been extra strong because of the pregnancy.
“It’s my deodorant.” Jane really didn’t look like herself. Her eyes didn’t look right. It was quite noticeable. Maybe she needed to start using some sort of eye cream.
“Are you all right, Jane?”
Jane snorted. “I’m fine. Worry about yourself, woman. You’re the pregnant one knocking yourself out.”
The baby! She’d been selfishly thinking about her sore head when she should have been worrying about the poor little Sultana. What sort of a mother was she going to be?
She said, “I hope I didn’t hurt the baby when I fell.”
“Oh, babies are pretty tough, I wouldn’t worry about that.”
It was another woman’s voice. For the first time Alice looked up and realized a crowd of red-faced, middle-aged women in sports gear surrounded her. Some of them were leaning forward, staring at her with avid road-accident interest, while others had their hands on their hips and were chatting to one another as if they were at a party. They seemed to be in a small, fluorescent-lit room. She could hear tinny music somewhere in the distance, clanking metal sounds, and a sudden burst of loud masculine laughter. As she lifted her head, she saw that the room was filled with stationary bikes, all crammed together and facing the same direction.
“Although, you shouldn’t really be doing exercise that gets your heart rate up too high if you’re pregnant,” said another woman.
“But I don’t do any exercise,” said Alice. “I should do more exercise.”
“You, my girl, couldn’t do any more exercise if you tried,” said Jane.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She looked around at the strange faces surrounding her. This was all so…silly. “I don’t know where I am.”
“She’s probably got a concussion,” said somebody excitedly. “Concussed people are dazed and disoriented.”
Spin Crazy Girl looked frightened and stroked Alice’s arm. “Oh dear, sweetie, YOU MIGHT BE JUST A LITTLE BIT CONCUSSED,” she yelled.
“Yes, but I don’t think that makes her deaf,” said Jane tersely. She lowered her voice and bent her head toward Alice. “Everything is fine. You’re at the gym, you were doing your Friday spin class, the one you’ve been wanting to drag me along to for ages, remember? Can’t quite see the attraction, actually. Anyway, you must have got dizzy, or fainted or something, because one minute you were riding like a madwoman and next thing you were crashing to the floor. You’re going to be fine. More importantly, why didn’t you tell me you were pregnant?”
“What’s a Friday spin class?” asked Alice.
“Oh, this is bad,” said Jane excitedly.
“The ambulance is here!” someone said.
Spin Crazy Girl became goofy with relief. She bounded to her feet and shooed at the ladies like an energetic housewife with a broom. “Right, gang, let’s give them some space, shall we?”
Jane stayed kneeling on the floor next to Alice, patting her distractedly on the shoulder. Then she stopped patting. “Oh, my. Why do you get all the fun?”
Alice twisted her head and saw two handsome men in blue overalls striding toward them, carrying first aid equipment. Embarrassed, she struggled to sit up.
“Stay there, honey,” called out the taller one.
“He looks just like George Clooney,” breathed Jane in her ear. He did, too. Alice couldn’t help but feel cheerier. It seemed she’d woken up in an episode of ER.
“Hey, there.” George Clooney squatted down next to them, big hands resting between his knees. “What’s your name?”
“Jane,” said Jane. “Oh. Her name is Alice.”
“What’s your full name, Alice?” George gently took her wrist and pushed two fingers against her pulse.
“Alice Mary Love.”
“Had a bit of a fall did you, Alice?”
“Apparently I did. I don’t remember it.” Alice felt teary and special, as she generally did when she talked to any health professional, even a chemist. She blamed her mother for making too much of a fuss over her when she was sick as a child. She and Elisabeth were both terrible hypochondriacs.
“Do you know where you are?” asked George.
“Not really,” said Alice. “Apparently I’m in a gym.”
“She fell off her bike during the spin class.” Jane adjusted her bra strap beneath her top. “I saw it happen. I’m pretty sure she fainted. Her head smashed against the handlebars of the bike next to her. She’s been unconscious for about ten minutes.”
Spin Crazy Girl reappeared, ponytail swinging, and Alice stared up at her smooth long legs and hard flat stomach. It looked like a pretend stomach. “She can’t have had her feet strapped to the pedals properly. I do make a point of reminding everyone about that at the beginning of the class. It’s a safety issue,” said Spin Crazy Girl to George Clooney in the confidential tone of one professional talking to another. “Also, I really don’t recommend spin classes to pregnant women. I did ask if anyone was pregnant.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll sue if necessary,” said Jane quietly to Alice.
“How many weeks are you, Alice?” asked George.
Alice went to answer and to her surprise found a blank space in her head.
“Thirteen,” she said, after a second. “I mean, fourteen. Fourteen weeks.” They’d had the twelve-week ultrasound at least two weeks ago. The Sultana had done a peculiar little jump, like a disco dance move, as if someone had poked it in the back, and afterward Nick and Alice had kept trying to replicate the movement for people. Everyone had been polite and said it was remarkable.
She put a hand to her stomach again and for the first time she noticed what she was wearing. Sneakers and white socks. Black shorts and a yellow sleeveless top with a shiny gold-foil sticker stuck to her top. It seemed to be a picture of a dinosaur with a balloon coming out of its mouth saying, “ROCK ON.” Rock on?
“Where did these clothes come from?” she asked Jane accusingly. “These aren’t my clothes.”
Jane raised a meaningful eyebrow at George.
“There’s a dinosaur stuck to my shirt,” said Alice, awestruck.
“What day of the week is it today, Alice?” asked George.
“Friday,” answered Alice. She was cheating, because Jane had told her they were doing a “Friday spin class.” Whatever that was.
“Remember what you had for breakfast?” George gently examined the side of her head while he talked. The other paramedic strapped a blood-pressure monitor to her upper arm and pumped it up.
“Peanut butter on toast?”
That was what she generally had for breakfast. It seemed a safe bet.
“He doesn’t actually know what you had for breakfast,” said Jane. “He’s trying to see if you remember what you had for breakfast.”
The blood-pressure monitor squeezed hard around Alice’s arm.
George sat back on his haunches and said, “Humor me, Alice, and tell me the name of our illustrious prime minister.”
“John Howard,” answered Alice obediently. She hoped there wouldn’t be any more questions about politics. It wasn’t her forte. She could never get appalled enough.
Jane made a strange explosive sound of derision and mirth.
“Oh. Ah. But he’s still the prime minister, isn’t he?” Alice was mortified. People were going to tease her about this for years to come. Oh, Alice, you don’t know the prime minister! Had she missed an election? “But I’m sure he’s the prime minister.”
“And what year is it?” George didn’t seem too concerned.
“It’s 1998,” Alice answered promptly. She felt confident about that one. The baby would be born next year, in 1999.
Jane pressed her hand over her mouth. George went to speak, but Jane interrupted him. She put her hand on Alice’s shoulder and stared at her intently. Her eyes were wide with excitement. Tiny balls of mascara hovered on the ends of her eyelashes. The combination of her lavender deodorant and garlic breath was quite overpowering.
“How old are you, Alice?”
“I’m twenty-nine, Jane.” Alice was irritated by Jane’s dramatic tone. What was she getting at? “Same age as you.”
Jane sat back up and looked at George Clooney triumphantly.
She said, “I just got an invitation to her fortieth birthday.”
That was the day Alice Mary Love went to the gym and carelessly misplaced a decade of her life.Reprinted from What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty by arrangement with Amy Einhorn Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA), Inc., Copyright © 2011 by Liane Moriarty.