Excerpt of Day by A.L. Kennedy
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Alfred was growing a moustache.
An untrained observer might think he was idling, at a loose end in the
countryside, but this wasn't the case. In fact, he was concentrating, thinking
his way through every bristle, making sure they would align and be all right.
His progress so far was quite impressive: a respectable growth which already
suggested reliability and calm. There were disadvantages to him, certain
defects: the shortness, inelegant hands, possible thinning at his crown, habit
of swallowing words before they could leave him, habit of looking mainly at the
groundand those few extra pounds at his waist, a lack of conditionbut he
wasn't so terribly ugly, not such a bad lot.
Mainly his problem was tirednessor more an irritation with his tirednessor
more a tiredness that was caused by his irritationor possibly both. He could no
It wasn't that he was awkward, or peculiar, quite the reverse: he was biddable
and sensible and ordinary, nothing more: but even an ordinary person could
sometimes have enough and get browned off and, for example, want to be offered,
every now and then, a choice.
That was only reasonable, wasn't it? A man had to imagine he'd got a chance at
freedom, a bit of space. The interval between alternatives, that gave you space.
But sometimes you would consider yourself and all you could see were
obstructions and you'd be amazed that you ever were able to leave your
houseyour bed, never mind your house. You'd look in the mirror some mornings
and wonder why it didn't show; the way most of you was always yelling to get
Moustache or no moustache, that wouldn't change.
The trouble was, you had too much to do: breathing, sleeping, waking, eating:
you couldn't avoid them, were built to need them, and so they just went on and
on. Where were the other possibilities, the changes you might want to makelike
walking off beneath the oceannot being a fish, he bloody hated fish, but being
a man tucked away in the ocean, why couldn't he try that? Why couldn't he try
out whatever he thought?
And thinking itself, that wasn't helpful and yet you had to do it all the time.
It was there when you dreamed, when you spoke, when you carried out your very
many other compulsory tasks. If you couldn't keep control and stay wary, you
might think anything, which was exactly the one freedom you'd avoid. You could
dodge certain thoughts, corkscrew off and get yourself out of their way, but
they'd still hunt you.
You have to watch.
This morning he could feel them, inside and out, bad thoughts getting clever
with him, sly. They lapped like dirtied water behind his face and outside him
they thickened the breeze until the surface touching him, pressing his lips, was
far more quick and complex than only air. Today it had the smell of blue, warm
Air-Force blue: the stink of drizzle rising up from wool and everywhere the
smell of living blue: polish and hair oil and that sodding awful pinky-orange
soap and Woodbines and Sweet Caporal and those other cheap ones, the ones they
gave away after ops: Thames cigarettes, to flatten out the nerves.
"Hello, looks like London Fog again."
Pluckrose had started them calling it London Fog: the Thames smoke haze in the
briefing roomhim first and then everybody. One of the things they had between
them as a crew: "London Fog again."
But he wouldn't remember Pluckrose, wasn't going to ask him in.
Chop it. All right?
And this time I mean it. All right?
So the noise throttled back, obedient, let him be where he was.
Not that he was any too clear about thathis precise locationbeyond the fact
that he was sitting, sitting behind a young moustache.
They'd left the path an age ago, Alfred hadn't noticed when, and there was no
doubt they were lost now, if they ever had known where to go. And that had been
something of a pain, an irritation: arriving in nowhere, having to stumble and
tramp along on a track that divided and twisted and then abandoned them
completely: sent him sweating through ragged scrub behind a man who was a
strangerVasylsomeone you heard about: rumours of bad history and a knife.
Excerpted from Day by A. L. Kennedy Copyright © 2008 by A. L. Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.