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Words froze in my mouth as I attempted to match her outrage or enthusiasms. How could I share her boldness? After being largely ignored by my parents, it was daunting to spend time with someone who could read my innermost thoughts and who was unmoved by my emotional reserve. ‘That’s not good enough, Matthew,’ she would thunder when I showed her a derivative essay or ventured a juvenile platitude. ‘Say what you mean, not what you think the world wants you to say. You have decent brains, genes and an excellent mistress.

She and Candy were staying with us. My mother had organised a party to welcome them home. It was summer, blazing. Julia was about thirty: long-haired, barefoot, strikingly free. She wore languid pearly transparent dresses. Weirdly she took an interest in me, as if I was an adult or should try to behave like one. When we were alone she asked about my mother 39 Case of knives_FINAL 21/6/05 8:17 PM Page 40 (wanting to know if Babs was looking after me) and told me what books I should read. Somehow I knew she would be my mentor.

Last night I watched the local New Year’s Eve revels from my balcony. The crowd was impatient for something to happen. A plump tipsy woman danced on top of a Saab and fell off, several blokes pissed in the Eclipse rose garden, but that was about it. At midnight there was a queer silence — like rapture in the theatre — followed by woops and firecrackers. Then my telephone rang. I knew it couldn’t be 36 Case of knives_FINAL 21/6/05 8:17 PM Page 37 Julia. She’s still in Greece with Stella Anthem. It was Candy, ringing up to check on me.

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