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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.
‘Incidentally, what’s all this about?’ I said, picking up the underpants that were on the bedside table. They were faded to a charcoal grey, and they were very small. ‘Yeah,’ he said, ‘I guess those should go in the garbage. They’re pretty stinky, right?’ ‘They’re pretty skimpy. You’re a man of extremes.’ ‘You think I should get some new ones?’ ‘I can’t tell you what to do.’ He took the pants off me then, stretched them back on his thumb and sent them shooting towards the corner of the
cuddle. I looked at his face, his drink-tinctured face, blinking back at me. Under his right eye, burst vessels made a pink patch that never disappeared any more. I put my hand over his eyes for a moment, then pressed it down on his curling-up hair. Soon he started prodding at my boobs again. ‘What’s this?’ he said, shaking his head. ‘Looks like – double trouble.’ Some more time passed. We’d moved the pillows and were lying the other way up in the bed, facing the gilt-framed Smoky Mountain
situation up,’ I said, ‘quite accurately. That’s Dads, I think, sadly, overbearing, ineffectual, exercising their infantile tyrannies until everyone’s bored and tired out. It is tragic. It’s terrifying. But they have to go. When Mum died, that was different, much more frightening. I’m glad she was cremated, at least. If I had to think of her body, boxed-up, underground – that might be too much.’ Joshua took his arm from around me again then, and he held it in the air, spread his fingers and
drink was set down on a green napkin. It came with a plastic stirrer and a brisk smile. This place wasn’t too busy, it was hopsy-smelling, gently lit, and I felt okay, sitting up on a stool, prodding the ice cubes about in my glass. I hadn’t been in a bar in a year, that was the thing. The girl who’d served me was leaning forward on the counter. Her frayed blonde curls fell to her shoulders. Another girl, also in the uniform black T-shirt gone grey, and shiny black trousers, came over and stood
‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘I’m just looking for my friend, actually. He’s working around here somewhere. Rehearsing? Where would that be?’ The boy cocked his head, but didn’t answer me. He was thinking. I put my hands back in my coat pockets and looked around. ‘Oh,’ the boy said. ‘Hold on. Here’s someone who’ll know.’ A woman with curly hair and glasses had appeared from another door. She did look official. I asked her, and she smiled absently at me, said, ‘Joshua. Yes,’ and told me to go straight