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IN A BASEMENT bar on a university campus, a boy and a girl hold each other, their limbs loose with alcohol.

The dance floor hums and throbs around them. But the laughter and the phone camera flashes and the hands that reach around to clap his back are elsewhere—far away from their tongue-fumbling embrace. His hands cup her bottom, which feels pert and perfect, and his rising erection bumps her where their hips meet.

For a moment they pull apart. The boy is wearing a cap, which the girl removes. She puts it on her head backwards, because she thinks that this is a flirty, endearing thing to do. Except when she puts it on, the rim licks her forehead—wet with sweat—and she feels for the first time that the music is oppressive, and the air is choked with smoke. She puts the cap back on his head and smiles. She yells—her voice distant and empty—that she wants to go outside.

He can’t hear her. He turns his ear towards her mouth and she yells again. She can almost feel the force of it reverberate, brushing back up against her lips. He nods.

They make their way through the dance floor, emerging in the courtyard, where the noise is no longer poured directly into their ears but is somehow louder. The air is clean and liberating. They feel weightless. The girl sways more. She says she wants to leave together.

They walk hand in hand to the boy’s room. She takes the stairs with a wild, loping gait, and when she leans on him, he leans against the wall, because he too can barely stand.

In his room they pull at each other’s clothes with an urgency they’ve learned from television. A few drinks ago, either one of them would have been just as happy to make out for a bit, or smoke in the courtyard, or go to 7-Eleven for a sausage roll. But now there is tugging and even sighing.

Abandon floats like debris in their drunken minds, and their world takes on a liquid reckless colour, where actions are impulsive, and tongues are down throats, and clothes are on the floor.

When the drink dissipates, the girl’s senses return to her one by one. The sight of a roof with a slow-revolving ceiling fan.

The ashen, mint-tangy taste of menthol cigarettes. She is not sure whether it’s coming from his mouth or hers.

A smell both animal and chemical: the alcohol in heavy breaths sticking to unfamiliar sweat.

The slippery touch of his back, clammy beneath her hands. And pain, not sharp but steady, where he thrusts inside her.

Sound joins much later, when the heaving, sticky vacuum of the room is punctuated by a too-loud voice—her voice—that says, in an almost business-like fashion: ‘I think I’m going to vomit.’

In one movement, the boy pulls out and, one knee on the bed and one foot on the floor, reaches under his desk for his metal bin. It smells like a pile of coins, and the vomit makes a clanging splash where it hits the sides.

The boy cloaks her bent and bare body in an academic gown, which hangs on the back of his door underneath a permanently damp towel. She folds into it, and he retreats under the covers, asking if she is okay.

She does not remain in his room for long. She limps out, leaning on another girl, who appears, faceless and timely like a paramedic, in her hour of need. He stays, and makes an unpopular decision to leave his bin in the hall.

The whole evening seems suspended in a giddy, consequenceless haze: a night projected on a screen, and reduced to darkness when they tumble into sleep. The clutch of their bodies, the immediacy of it all—for now—fades to black.


Although  it  has  been years since Eve and I were friends, I despair that I will ever shake her. This is because she has been selfish enough to take up a place, however minor, in public life. No matter how exhaustively I block her on social media, and distance myself from her friends, and avoid talking about her with mine, she refuses to live malleably in my memory. Instead, she crops up: in bookshop windows; on the Explore function on my Instagram; profiled for the weekend paper.

In photos she looks radiantly intelligent. It’s her cheekbones, as I always told her. High, prominent cheekbones that assert themselves like convictions. In these photos, the kinds of photos that also appear on the jackets of her books, her face is engaged and alert, but basically passive. Like the photographer caught her when she was not quite thinking—just letting clever ideas rest in her brain.

Whenever I say I was at university with Eve, people ask me what she was like, sceptical perhaps that she could have always been as whole and self-assured as she now appears. To which I say something like: ‘People are infinitely complex.’ But I say it in such a way—so pregnant with misanthropy—that it’s obvious I hate her.

It’s a big claim, I know. To hate a person. What would Eve say? She’d be methodical, as always, starting with the universal and then moving to the particular. She’d ask: What does it mean to hate? I hear her voice in my head, bouncing the idea around. I can’t hate someone unless I know them intimately, she tells me. Hate is very personal. It requires care.

A thought experiment: Eve, angular face and pliant hair, crosses a road. I choose a place I know to make it as vivid as possible. The road is King Street, Newtown. Eve crosses where there is no intersection, talking to me over her shoulder as she goes. Looking at me, she doesn’t see the oncoming traffic. With a thud so flat it sounds fake, she rolls up onto a car’s windscreen. To my surprise, the windscreen doesn’t shatter. The car, braking on impact, swerves, and the passenger side hits a streetlamp. Eve rolls, limp, back onto the bitumen. I imagine this taking place in summer, so the bitumen is hot and the smoke from the car feels like it emanates from the earth. There’s crunchy glass everywhere, and, as I approach, I see it smattered across her pale chest like breadcrumbs.

How do I feel? When I see her face—that equilateral triangle of nose and chin and cheekbones—blood-specked and ravaged. How does that make me feel? Amid the heat and the rubbery smoke and the sirens, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t feel the tiniest flash of glee. That I still feel so much—that her suffering thrills me, and her success cruels me; that I cannot just get over it, but insist instead on resenting her—it all suggests to me that, in spite of everything, I’m still a little bit in love with her.

This is an extract from Love & Virtue by Diana Reid (Ultimo Press), available now at your local independent bookseller.