Excerpt of On Beauty by Zadie Smith
(Page 7 of 8)
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You cant phone him, said Howard quietly. He moved tactically,
out of sight of his family to the left side of their awesome
refrigerator. His phones out of credit.
What did you say? asked Kiki. What are you saying? I cant
Suddenly she was behind him. Wheres the
number? she demanded, although they both knew the answer
to this one.
Howard said nothing.
Oh, yeah, thats right, said Kiki, its in the
diary, the diary
was left in Michigan,
during the famous conference
when you had
more important things on your mind than your wife and family.
Could we not do this right now? asked Howard. When you are
guilty, all you can ask for is a deferral of the judgement.
Whatever, Howard. Whatever either way its me whos going
to be dealing with it, with the consequences of your actions, as
Howard thumped their icebox with the side of his fist.
Howard, please dont do that. The doors swung, its . . .
defrost, push it properly,
properly, until it OK: its
Thats if it really has
happened, which we dont know. Were
just going to have to take it step by step until we know what
hell is going on. So lets leave it at that, and, I dont know .
discuss when we . . . well, when Jeromes here for one thing and
theres actually something to discuss, agreed? Agreed?
Stop arguing, complained Levi from the other side of the
kitchen, and then repeated it loudly.
Were not arguing, honey, said Kiki and bent her body at the
hips. She tipped her head forward and released her hair from its
flame-coloured headwrap. She wore it in two thick ropes of plait
that reached to her backside, like a rams unwound horns.
looking up, she evened out each side of the material, threw her
head back once more, spun the material twice round and retied it
in exactly the same manner but tighter. Everything lifted an
and, with this new, authoritative face, she leaned on the table
turned to her children.
OK, shows over. Zoor, there might be a few dollars in the pot
by the cactus. Give them to Levi. If not, just lend him some and
pay you back later. Im a little short this month. OK. Go forth
learn. Anything. Anything at all.
A few minutes later, with the door closed behind her children,
Kiki turned to her husband with a thesis for a face, of which
Howard could know every line and reference. Just for the hell of
Howard smiled. In return he received nothing at all. Howard
stopped smiling. If there was going to be a fight, no fool would
on him. Kiki whom Howard had once, twenty-eight years ago,
thrown over his shoulder like a light roll of carpet, to be laid
and laid upon, in their first house for the first time was
a solid two hundred and fifty pounds, and looked twenty years
junior. Her skin had that famous ethnic advantage of not
much, but, in Kikis case the weight gain had stretched it even
impressively. At fifty-two, her face was still a girls face. A
Now she crossed the room and pushed by him with such force
that he was muscled into an adjacent rocking chair. Back at
the kitchen table, she began violently to pack a bag with things
she did not need to take to work. She spoke without looking at
him. You know whats weird? Is that you can get someone who
is a professor of one thing and then is just so
everything else? Consult the ABC of parenting, Howie. Youll
that if you go about it this way, then the exact, but the exact
opposite, of what you want to happen will happen. The
Excerpted from On Beauty, (c) 2005 Zadie Smith. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved.