It was not planned, things like this rarely are. Alice was not one to question the universe when it sent her a blessing though, she took it and ran with. She had no time to muse about all the mathematical equations and abstract theories of Physics that had brought her to this place and time. She was sure there were many of them, all of them involving an unholy amount of x’s and y’s. The really good ones would involve some superscript numbers and a Greek letter or three. Oh, and some would definitely have a lost hieroglyph or two – that is how you knew you had a genius equation. Alice did not really care how all of the science added up though, she was just thrilled it had all come together in the way that it had. She could live peacefully the rest of her life not knowing whether the moment was mere coincidence or the sum total of many good things that had added up along the way; Alice suspended the academics and lived for the moment.
Another certainty was that there were any number of Nobel Prize winning writers who could have conjured up a more romantic plot than a film, some wine and two biologically tuned individuals on a red couch. She was convinced there was some kind of theme at play, some hidden message a university professor could write a boring paper on. Alice knew she was worth at least one minor thesis. The lack of romantic jabberwocky did not trouble her too much; she had a feeling anyone who tried to involve her in text-book romances would run into a problem by the third paragraph.
[Insert problem here.]
Alice believed that when people focused on the romance too much, they lost the plot and overburdened the moment. The joy and rush of spontaneity shrivelled up and died as people filled the small space between hello and declothing each other with all of the strange expectations that virgin poets had created in tomes of literature in wrinkly and dry books. It was much easier to let the moment flow to its natural conclusion, whatever it might be. Alice had come to the reasonable sequitur that all of the commercial depictions of romance were what had people fretting about the moment. Am I overdressed? Should I pay the bill? Is the lighting perfect? Is Marvin Gaye too much, too soon?
The films didn’t help either. One thought that held sway in Alice’s head was that anyone who played Marvin Gaye at the allotted moment had either tried the move too many times or not tried it enough to realise it did not or would not work. Alice’s preferred to keep it simple. She had invented the All-Purpose Romantic Moment Fixer TM comprising of 80% pure good conversation and 10% awesome company. The remaining ten 10% was Alice’s best kept secret.
The recipe had not failed her yet.
It also helped that she generally had good taste in men. She never found herself in situations with someone who did not believe that cupcakes should be a fundamental human right. Although she could forgive poor conversations, she drew the line at cupcakes. Anyone who disagreed found to first base the equivalent of surviving Normandy.
When it came to moments such as these, there was always one party who desperately wanted it to happen more than the other. At any given point in time there was one person who had consulted tarot cards and the celestial alignment of the stars. Some people even paid a small fortune to a wizened charlatan for a potion which would guarantee the moment went off without a hitch. The potions never worked. Alice had tried quite a few in her time. It’s what had inspired her to create her All-Purpose Romantic Moment Fixer TM.
Despite the nearly fool proof formula, the APRMF could not work by itself. It needed a little help from the universe. No amount of make-up, new dresses, perfume or charm could rescue someone from the Karma Delivery Truck, some good vibes from the universe were vital for everything to work. Otherwise you’d just force the moment and wake up in the morning next to a regret who knew your number. Alice knew better. You had to make sure you were trading profitably on the Good Deeds Exchange before engaging in such activities.
Alice had done enough good deeds that day to warrant her feeling of optimism. She had helped an old lady cross the street, saved a cat from a tree and picked up a discarded tin can here and there. She’d also resisted the urge to slap a rude cashier and had profusely sworn at a punk driver who did not understand the basic workings of a pedestrian crossing. All in all, it had been a good day for Alice.
She prayed that she had amassed enough good deeds to float this evening through. Since her break-up, good things had been happening to Alice. She’d put him behind her like a poor back pass and skipped the dangerous phase after it where most women pick up chronic cocoa-related addictions. She’d ploughed right through the depression and disappointment and focused all of her energy on doing better.
She’d been rewarded for it too. Her work had improved and she’d gotten a raise. She’d exercised and kept all of the Bridget Jonesy parts of her in shape — something she was immensely proud of — and managed to make some new friends too. It’s how she’d met the new him. It had amazed Alice to no end what a few outings could do to a person’s self-esteem after a horrible break-up. Alice was happy.
“No” she corrected herself. She had always been happy. “This time, I am happier.”
On the way there, Alice counted the number of good things that had happened since the break-up. She hoped she had not yet cashed all of them in. Alice was a staunch believer that the world allowed you a certain number of good deeds. As soon as you exhausted your store, you were put on the Karma Is Bitch list until your turn came around again. Alice carefully monitored all of the good things that happen to make sure she was never in the red too much. When more than five good things happened in a row, Alice got worried; something bad had to happen to balance it all out. That is when she became extra weary when doing the laundry. Socks were wont to disappear as retribution in order to balance the karma account.
When she’d been getting ready she had checked her account and made sure there were more pluses in the Nice column than there was in the Naughty one. She had been pleased with what she had seen. Quickly as she could, she had taken whatever positive vibes the universe had left her and withdrew everything in one go. Alice was not the kind to let good deeds lie idle; they never gained interest. She preferred to spend them as quickly as they came. Hoarding them served no one in general, her least of all. Even if it meant falling into the red, Alice would rather spend her good deeds than keep them under her mattress.
She knew people who were willing to spend a lifetime hoarding good deeds hoping they would triple in value as they grey older. It never happened that way. Good deeds were meant to be spent before they deteriorated; they were quite volatile commodities.
When she had withdrawn all of her good deeds and consolidated them, she had smiled to herself and then placed a bet on him. Alice loved a good gamble, and when she played she played to win. She had gone all in.
“The game of love doesn’t allow small blinds,” Alice said to herself, “only the high rollers win.” Alice had put down her cash without batting an eyelid and told him she’d meet him at his place.
After a knock she was let in. The perfunctory handshake cum hug cum sumo wrestling embrace cum awkward bumping of cheeks that such moments foster dispensed with, Alice decided to take control and carefully unpacked her APRMFTM and set it to autopilot. A few minutes of chatting, some laughs about the weekend sport – because it never hurts to know which team lost over the weekend – and then it was time to get some cooking done. The supper was light; the wine was from a good year. She rewarded it by having more than a medicinal amount.
Soon, they drifted to the couch; it was the cue to take the APRMFTM off autopilot. From then on, a good steady hand was needed to work the conversation’s tiller. One slip up from him or her and the boat would drift off on a romantic Styx, forever doomed to be listed on the Near Misses list all single people seem to carry around.
After about twenty minutes of conversation without a bad word being said about cupcakes, Alice became excited. So far she had made a good bet. Somewhere in the background, she could hear music playing but Alice’s ears were on mute. She was listening with her eyes, toes tingling. She would have sported a Cheshire Cat grin, but something deep inside her warned that in such situations, grins of that nature were frowned upon.
The conversation steered on for a while towards a mutual acme they couldn’t see but which both hoped was not too far on the horizon. The topics jumped from sport – again, Alice was immensely proud of the fact she knew what a wildcard draw was – to politics, to sport again – Go Kobe! –and finally to books and films.
When it strayed near food, Alice accidentally dropped her reins on the conversation and it steered itself to all things pastry-related. Normally she’d have been worried right then, but she decided to see where the road took her. If her good deeds amounted to nothing now, it would just be a sign that this wasn’t meant to be. It is what happens when you went all in; you either won big or lost big.
When he asked her what her foreign policy was on cupcakes because he knew a good shop a friend owned Alice’s small inner conscious, a boy whom she had christened Odd, did a small celebratory dance.
That’s when they attacked. Giggles. A whole army of them. She tried to curb them before they became something more potent, and less erotic, like a guffaw or worse a snort. Amidst all of this, the giggles ran riot, shooting at Alice’s ribs whenever they were given the chance. She stopped caring after a while and gave them a target. She let go and just enjoyed the moment.
And that’s when Alice whipped out the last 10% of the All-Purpose Romantic Moment Fixer TM; a healthy dose of Man-the-Fuck-Up. She took a slow breathe.
And then kissed him.
Author’s note: This story appeared on The Quill a few years ago when it was still hosted on Blogger. After much encouragement and persuasion from friends and family, I decided to serialise Alice and used this story as the basis of her second adventure. Hopefully, Alice made it through the giggles and will see it fit to star in another post. You’d think most writers control their characters. Not Alice though – she comes and goes as she pleases.