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Under the Influence, страница 1


Under the Influence

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Under the Influence

  Jacqueline Lunn was born in Brisbane. She began her journalism career in Sydney and has worked as a feature writer and editor for The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian and Marie Claire magazine.

  She has lived in London and New York and calls Sydney home, where she lives with her husband, three children and a dog. She is working on her second novel.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including printing, photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

  Under The Influence

  ePub ISBN 9781742743288

  Kindle ISBN 9781742743295

  A Vintage book

  Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd

  Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060

  First published by Vintage in 2011

  Copyright © Jacqueline Lunn 2011

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the Australian Copyright Act 1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.

  Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at

  National Library of Australia

  Cataloguing-in-Publication Entry

  Lunn, Jacqueline

  Under the influence

  ISBN 978 1 86471 005 2 (pbk)

  Boarding school students – Fiction

  Boarding schools – Fiction


  Cover design by Christabella Designs

  Cover image by artparadigm/Getty Images

  For my mum



  About the Author

  Title Page


  Imprint Page


  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter Twenty-Three

  Chapter Twenty-Four

  Chapter Twenty-Five

  Chapter Twenty-Six

  Chapter Twenty-Seven

  Chapter Twenty-Eight

  Chapter Twenty-Nine

  Chapter Thirty

  Chapter Thirty-One

  Chapter Thirty-Two

  Chapter Thirty-Three

  Chapter Thirty-Four

  Chapter Thirty-Five

  Chapter Thirty-Six

  Special Thanks

  Random House


  London, England

  Monday evening in December

  Twelve minutes before 8 pm, Eve Hardy is standing by the rubbish bin in her Hamptons-inspired kitchen. The radiator on the wall near the dining-room table hisses occasionally like a grumpy old man at a bus stop, lessening the bite from the chilly air stealing in under doors and the cold pushing through the glass windows.

  Outside, people are shuffling under streetlights on their way home from work. A VW Golf beeps angrily at a pedestrian running across the street. Three revellers run for cover into the Pig and Whistle on the corner. A young couple still acutely aware of where each other’s hands are stroll side by side in the cold night air, both mulling over the evening’s potential outcomes. It is grey outside on the wet London streets: tips of fingers are grey, rubbish in the gutter is grey, Eve’s front door is a shade of blue-grey that the manufacturers call Night Sea. A man buying a packet of cigarettes looks up to the sky, past the sagging green Christmas tinsel on a food-store awning, past Eve’s window. The weather doesn’t know what it is.

  Inside, behind high-gloss white plantation shutters, parts of Eve begin to shake. She can’t get the white plastic bin liner into her stainless-steel bin. First her hands shake, then her chest, finally her thighs. She pushes and pushes the bin liner down into the bin, trying to tuck it in tightly so its ugliness becomes invisible. It looks so messy having to see that white trickle flowing out beneath the crisp steel lid.

  She can’t do this. She can’t put the stupid thing in properly. Her breath becomes short. Shorter. Hands clutch the linen-coloured granite kitchen bench. Knees lose their strength. Her head becomes light and she swears it floats up, up, up, like a helium balloon and gets stuck bouncing in the corner of the living-room ceiling by the front door. The smell of Greek-style marinated roast lamb with a reckless sprinkle of oregano smothers the flat. She walks doubled over to the couch, grabs its back and tries to force air out of her lungs.

  With one hand on the hard spine of the couch, her fingers sliding behind the plump cushions, Eve hits her ribcage to push the air out. This is ridiculous. She looks over at the kitchen: two saucepans in the sink; half a used lemon and three bottles of herbs, lids scattered on the counter; potato and onion peels fornicating around the saucepans; used spoons and knives lying sluggishly around the hotplate, leaving oil slicks. The yellow dishcloth is folded neatly over the neck of the tap. Dinner is still roasting, bubbling away, pretending she doesn’t exist.

  Eve’s breath is stuck somewhere in her body. Maybe it’s caught on the sharp end of one of her ribs. Maybe her breath is playing hide and seek and won’t come out. Eve can feel her face turning white, the same colour as the plastic bag behind her in the bin.


  Tallow, New South Wales, Australia

  Tuesday, three weeks later

  It was almost a pleasure to watch the sun rise this morning, to watch a shudder on the horizon far, far away turn into the sun, full and warm and certain, climbing the sky. Eve had been on the verandah of her hotel since before dawn, curled up in a chair, her limbs poking out at odd angles from her blue nightie, a cup of tea resting on her knees, waiting for it.

  She could only follow the sun’s progress in pieces; even this early it was so bright that she had to look away every now and then. Look down at the straight bitumen road running out of town, at the tips of the overgrown grass by the highway being touched by the light, or close her eyes altogether, blinking fiercely to remove the sting, take a sip of her cup of tea and then feel herself swallow it. She didn’t mind that her tea was tepid. A crisp early-morning breeze spread goosebumps across her shoulders and down her bare arms. Eve shuddered, enjoying them, for a moment enjoying this. She had forgotten how watching the sun rise made her feel so small and so comforted at the same time. It made the world and everyone in it even, equal: for three, maybe even four, minutes of the day, she was no bett
er, no worse than anyone else.

  A car door slammed down the street and a flock of white birds took flight from the red-tiled roof in front. They zigzagged up into the sky on their way somewhere for breakfast. Eve stretched and tiptoed back into her room, being careful with the door when she shut it behind her so as not to wake the other guests down the verandah. She rummaged through her suitcase, looking for her running shoes.

  Not that she ran. She walked. Whenever someone asked her what she did for exercise – in small talk with the receptionist at the dentist, the guy taking her order at a cafe – the reaction when she answered was one of disappointment, deflation, she always felt. Walking wasn’t anything; people walk to get milk from the corner shop, to take the Tube in the morning. She should be running, swimming, going to the gym, partaking in serious, real exercise. Richard had a habit of asking her whether she’d enjoyed her walk as though she was out picking daisies.

  Eve found her ‘running’ shoes in a plastic bag at the bottom of her suitcase. Maybe she should become a runner. It was a much more time-efficient form of exercise. Especially today. Out there on the streets, she needed a runner’s face, marked with suffering and discipline and commitment. Red and inflamed and glistening with holy sweat. A walker’s face didn’t cut it. But Eve liked to walk, without an iPod or iPhone or anything else that carried voices and music and a life in a thin piece of metal. Again inefficient: she could be catching up on the news or making sure pop culture didn’t slip by. She was thirty-four, and she liked walking with nothing pushed into her ears. Just walking and looking. Was that one of the first signs of getting old, she wondered as she laced up her shoes. Wanting to walk in silence.

  Without warning, the main street of Tallow went from a handful of shops – chemist, post office, two pubs, newsagency, general store and three boarded-up stores that went out of business years ago – to an overgrown nature strip that ran beside a two-lane highway. Eve didn’t think it wise to continue walking on the side of a highway in this delicate morning light and turned right to head into the few back streets of Tallow, making her way past single-storey brick-veneer houses dotted with the odd yellow glowing window and a few Christmas fir trees, mostly brown now, on the footpath. Someone had the legs of a life-size blow-up Santa sticking out the side of a shut garage door. The town jester.

  Eve was back at the front door of her hotel-cum-pub, The Crown, faster than she’d anticipated. A public notice was still pinned to the noticeboard about purchasing takeaway alcohol in Tallow for New Year’s Eve. Remember one carton of beer per customer. Please do not drink in public places – it is against the law. Have fun. Drink responsibly. Eve imagined what New Year’s Eve would have been like at the pub just five days before. The beginning of a new year, a new start. She flicked the public notice with her finger and said to the stairwell as she took off her cap, ‘Tallow is fucked. What a shithole.’

  She had arrived in Tallow the night before after three planes and a two-and-a-half-hour drive and checked in around 6.30 pm, clammy, with dirty fingernails, feeling like she had the flu or was about to get it. London to Singapore, Singapore to Sydney, Sydney to Dubbo; white hire car with brakes that squealed, driving on too many long, straight roads, watching flat paddocks become flatter paddocks, brown earth turn to dust. It was not a landscape she was familiar with. It was not a landscape she thought anyone would put on his or her top-ten list to become familiar with. It was flat and cracked and it ate things. She could see that as she drove through it. She could see things falling into this earth and the earth covering it up straight away, as though the eucalypt guarding the hill, the fence that needed mending, the bright-green garage she passed in her car had never existed in the first place. She did laugh when she had to stop her car on the highway. No one would believe she had to pull over to let a camel pass.

  Eve showered quickly after her morning walk, remembering all the dust and the insects that bit her calves, and emerged from the bathroom with hair washed, smelling of lavender. She didn’t bother to dry herself properly, and water dripped down her back and legs. Her feet left behind wet footprints on the worn, shiny carpet. She opened the crack in the curtains further and surveyed the nothing outside. Two cars drove by, and up a side street straight in front of her she could see a man checking out a pile of discarded furniture on the footpath. He had a long, grey beard and was wearing a heavy, green cargo jacket. He walked around the pile, touching and lifting and examining bits and pieces. He pushed his red Coca-Cola baseball cap up on his forehead and made his decision, hoisting two chairs efficiently onto the back of his ute. They landed on top of pieces of metal, flyscreens, cupboard doors and bicycle wheels. The man in town who collected junk because one day he was going to make something out of it. Maybe a helicopter or a self-tanning machine.

  Eve watched the old man drive away and let herself fall straight back onto the bed, feeling a tremor of naughtiness for wetting the sheets in a halo around her head. On this day, the act was almost carefree.

  She was meeting Sarah at 11 am and lay naked on the bed with no idea what to do until then. Eve didn’t have the command to schedule her grief to come through the door right now, when she had a few hours to kill and some privacy. The constant travel, the distance, the heat conspired to make her feel like she had left half of herself in London. Her good half.

  She pulled out some silver sandals and slid them onto her long feet. The person in the next room flushed a toilet. Bed was made, bag neatly packed in corner, suitably subdued navy dress put on. It was 8.04 am, three hours until she would see Sarah.

  It had been three years since she had spoken to Sarah face to face. There had been the occasional phone call and a handful of emails keeping up to date with major life events – babies, boyfriends, holidays, bad haircuts – but geography, life, laziness had got in the way of contact. It was hard being friends when you had no knowledge of the insignificant and everyday: the snarky remark from the dry-cleaner, the man at the pizza shop who let his fingers linger in your palm when he deposited change, the colleague who raised an eyebrow in a meeting while you were speaking – all the too-small-to-bother moments that ended up being the building blocks of life.

  Six years ago, she was at Sarah’s wedding with two hundred other people, half of whom were trying to work out how to walk in heels on grass, but the conversation never went past ‘You look beautiful’, ‘Congratulations’, ‘Have you met Edward?’, ‘What a beautiful ceremony – it was so you’. Eve and Meg were the only bridesmaids and sat partnered up with groomsmen at their official table. By the main course, the two women in matching lilac had managed to trade places so they were sitting next to each other, and they spent the rest of the evening weaving in and out of other people’s conversations but mostly keeping to themselves. Sarah was busy being cooed over and didn’t notice their force field go up.

  Eve and Meg made plans for Meg to come to London and visit and rolled around locations for a holiday together. That was before Meg drank too much and challenged one of Andrew’s groomsmen after he’d joked to the table that ‘most brides lose weight before a wedding’. ‘Working in finance,’ Meg said, leaning towards him, her chin in her hand, her wrist corsage dangling by a thread, ‘is that triangle of hair on your chin where you park all your creativity in the morning?’

  He muttered ‘cow’ under his breath, and Meg and Eve compared the pros and cons of the chicken and lamb main course.

  Between the eight speeches, the mother-in-law being distressed with the way the pastel icing flowers on the three-tiered cake looked like sucked lollies, the aerated lawn, the table-hopping and the eulogising over how happy Sarah and Andrew were, Eve’s and Meg’s attempts to talk to Sarah flew away with the thousand butterflies they released when they cut the cake.

  The last long, winding, real conversation between Sarah and Eve was four years ago over yellow drinks at a Kings Cross bar. They talked about Sarah’s growing family, about the fact she was twenty-nine when she had her first baby and was trying f
or another. They talked about circumcision and breastfeeding, and women who kiss you on the cheek when they don’t know you. Sarah grabbed Eve’s arm and said she couldn’t believe Eve had been there when she first got her periods, she had been there at her wedding and she was there for her children. They discussed Eve’s job in London and how she managed to lug that cello around Europe and when she would come home, when she would get a boyfriend. They talked about Meg being late for these drinks, about Meg being lost. She was never late, and they wondered if she had written down the name of the bar correctly.

  ‘She spends too much time by herself out there,’ Sarah said, picking grains of salt from her margarita off her lip gloss. The bar was getting crowded, and they were beginning to yell and lip-read. Eve didn’t answer but kept her eyes on the door across the room; she had to concentrate hard because of the dim light inside the bar, sure the next person to come through the door would be Meg, all harried and a bit messy and waving unselfconsciously as soon as she spotted them.

  ‘It’s not natural,’ Sarah said, following Eve’s gaze towards the door. ‘She’s not even thirty and she … she goes missing out there. Where is she this year? Some bloody town near the border of South Australia. It’s not in the middle of nowhere, it is the nowhere.’

  The door swung open, and this time it was Meg, her handbag across her chest like a satchel, her smile bigger than her face, her tan deep. Someone bumped her from behind as she stopped on the threshold of the bar, and she stumbled forwards and began to laugh, flashing big white teeth. Sarah and Eve jumped up from their stools, thinking they could catch her from afar. A guy walking past with a beer in each hand turned around to get another look at the woman laughing in the doorway.

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