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‘So you can hear me, then?’ the Englishwoman asked, when they were standing in the corner, sheltered by tall green plants and a glass windbreak.
‘Sorry,’ said Tina, accepting her glass of wine back. ‘You were telling me about the new restaurant . . .?’
‘I was talking about running.’
‘I’m sorry,’ Tina repeated.
Helena’s words were brusque but her eyes were full of kindness.
‘How’re things with you?’ she asked.
‘Fine,’ Tina smiled. Then she seemed to smile again, but for real. ‘No, I mean they’re wonderful, I . . .’ Her voice seemed to catch a little. ‘I feel very lucky.’
Tears sprang to her eyes. Helena knit her brow and moved closer, glancing to see they weren’t going to be disturbed.
‘Tina?’ she said softly.
‘I’m fine,’ Tina insisted.
‘Is it work?’
Tina’s eyes widened just enough for Helena to realise what a stupid question that was, and the look on her face made Tina laugh.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, touching Helena’s arm, ‘I just . . .’ She wished with all her heart that she could tell her old friend about the show, how unsettling it was, but then suddenly she had an idea. ‘There’s this script. We started developing it a few weeks ago. One of those “what if?” things.’
‘Oh, I love those!’ Helena’s blue eyes sparkled. ‘What if The Beatles never broke up, what if Hitler got into art school – that kind of thing?’
‘Sort of. This one isn’t historical, it’s just one person’s life.’
‘There’s a film—’
‘Yes! Gwyneth’s in it.’
‘I went to see it with Bette.’
‘She catches a train or doesn’t catch a train and everything forks off from that moment.’
Helena ran her eyes over Tina’s face, reading her, and Tina felt it, and there arose one of those rare moments when they each remembered that they had once been lovers. Time opening and closing. For Tina, the memory arrived as a feeling of warmth, of her body swollen in pregnancy but buoyant, floating in a nightlit pool, this woman’s mouth on her and her heart, shattered yet beating hard, the confusion of her animal lust . . .
She looked down into her wine glass. ‘D’you think everyone’s life is like that?’