A tragedy

Of three parts and two continents

This is a story a friend told me, and has given me permission to retell. I think there are a couple of ways to tell it, and I’m going to try them out. It’s an exercise in writing, but also an opportunity to share a very good story. I am deeply grateful to her for the opportunity to retell it.

Alice is a 20-something professional living in London. Work life is going great; all other aspects of life are in the bin. So when a friend offers her the chance to go to a party she seizes it. At the party they’ve hired a fortune teller, and although Alice is basically cynical she’s also had a couple of drinks so she steps up when the fortune teller asks who’s next.

The fortune teller is your basic Barnum effect generator, and lists off things that everyone already knows about people in their 20s in London: stressed, living in cramped quarters, looking for love.

-Everyone’s looking for love, says Alice.

-You’re going to find it, though. The fortune teller gives her a conspiratorial wink, and declares that Alice will go on holiday and be introduced to a tall, dark man by a female friend. They’ll fall in love, but –


-But there’ll be a period of separation. You’ll end up happy in the end though.

That was it. Forty quid’s worth of fortune telling, and it’s that she’ll be introduced to someone by a female friend. I don’t know if you’ve ever been introduced to your partner — I hope you have — but it’s highly likely you were introduced to them by a female friend. So Alice goes away feeling not entirely convinced. All the same, she’s going on a short break to New Zealand. Maybe there’ll be something in it after all.

She goes on the break. She meets up with some old friends, and one of them introduces her to Max. And they get along like a house on fire. The whole group goes out to lunch, but for Alice and Max the rest of the table doesn’t exist. After lunch they keep drinking, because let’s be honest: millenials fresh out of university with too much disposable income drink like there’s no tomorrow.

There’s a good chance that our tomorrows are running out anyway, so who’s to judge?

Anyway: after an afternoon of day drinking they go to a club, they drink a little more, Alice ends up at Max’s flat. Things happen. Artistic fade to black, etc.

The morning is embarrassment and hunting for clothes. In a flat in New Zealand there is a little piece of Britain; a sock that managed somehow to escape behind the dresser and is holding out for the return of its owner. A few words are exchanged and Alice flees into the glorious sunshine and the embrace of her friends. The rest of the week she puts Max out of her mind and sees the sights; goes to Hobbiton, hikes over the beautiful countryside.

At this point it’s a funny story about the clumsiness of being young and attracted to someone, when it’s easier to have sex than talk about feelings. Then Alice gets a text: Does she want to come for dinner? -Max

So she does. And it’s just the two of them, but it could have been a dinner party of every person ever born and it still would’ve just been the two of them. They had a single drink each and then, just as she was leaving, he grabbed her and kissed her.

Again: people are bad at talking about their feelings.

So they’re kissing, and in the background fireworks are going off and the earth is shaking and I hope someone’s filming this because it is literally straight out of a movie. And then they stop, and his face is flushed and her lips are tingling and he looks like he’s about to say something, and then he doesn’t. And then she gets in a taxi and goes to the airport and flies away.

On the way back she nurses a broken heart and a gin and tonic — how is it that gin at 30,000ft is so much stronger than at sea level? — and thinks about that fortune teller. How she got everything right so far, so maybe there’s a chance that she’ll be right about the last part. That there’ll be a separation, but then they’ll live happily ever after.

She thinks about this for two weeks after she comes back. For the two weeks after that she thinks about it less.

They never saw each other again.

Look, I think that fortune tellers are frauds. Nobody can predict the future because everyone can change the future. Finding a person with whom you’ve got chemistry is pretty rare, and quite frankly I suspect it happens at the wrong time for a lot of people. (Let us put aside for a moment the tragedy of there being a wrong time to find a person with whom you have immense chemistry).

Actions are easier than words. Love is more than chemistry. All the same, if you’re reading this and it remind you of a woman who might not be called Alice; if it reminds you of yourself even though your name isn’t Max, maybe you should reflect that a story about what might have been is the realm of authors. A story of how the two of you fell in love and made it work across six thousand miles of air and sea is a better story, and one that really only you can write and tell.

Maybe you should do that.

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