30. Vertigo

AT THE AGE OF 18, in the middle of her final year of high school, Alice's mother died of cancer. It was quite sudden - first she was diagnosed, then weeks later she was dead. A few months later, her father, grief-stricken, took his own life. Alice, their only child, inherited everything. She was suddenly, she realised, the wealthiest person she knew. She bought a small apartment by the beach, some distance away from the suburb she'd grown up in, which she had always openly loathed. She had specifically wanted an apartment in a block like the one Jimmy Stewart lives in in the film Rear Window. She bought a van and went to second-hand stores, and filled her flat with furniture from the 1950s, her favourite decade. She then bought herself an entirely new wardrobe of clothes, using as her model the great Hitchcock heroines: Kim Novak in Vertigo, of course, but also Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest and Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief. For many years she'd yearned for the end of high school, and now, despite her grief, which was too immense for her to comprehend, not now and perhaps not ever, her method was lucid and cool - she realised the chance she'd been given and she seized it. Although she had often been typecast, at home and at school, as a dreamer, she was not the type to sink into a depression. She knew she could not stop moving, for if she did she would fall into a hole so deep she might never climb out of it. Of course, Christmas was difficult. Alice very much wanted to get very drunk, and so she did, on French champagne. As she stood at the store counter to pay for the champagne, she looked at the pimply teenager serving her and considered asking him back to her apartment, but she decided against it. She took to smoking and to going down to the beach every day, sometimes several times a day. She saw and heard everything as if at the end of a long tunnel. There was something monumentally glacial about her. Occasionally a man would approach, and although she was maddened with solitude and desire she would reflexively dismiss him with a cool, wordless smile - the better looking he was, the more clinical her dispatch would be, much to her own dismay. But there was an intoxicating power to her frigidity - she was playing the part of the Hitchcock heroine to perfection.