Excerpt from What Becomes by A.L. Kennedy, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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What Becomes

Stories

By A.L. Kennedy

What Becomes
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2010,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2011,
    224 pages.

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He was still human and still here.

Little vents near the ceiling breathed and whispered occasionally, but that would be the wind outside disturbing them. The night was already roaring out there and set to turn worse, rain loping over the pavements, driven thick, and a bitterness underlying it that ached your teeth, your thinking. Warmth had drained from his shins where his trousers were soaked and the coat he was huddled into was only a fraction less damp.

Frank put on his hat.

The rattle of unattached film continued. And he believed he’d heard a chuckle, then a cough. Frank concentrated on his head which felt marginally warmer, because of the hat. Good hat: flat cap, proper tweed and not inexpensive. A man should have a hat, in his opinion. Beyond a certain age it will suit him and give him weight, become a welcome addition to his face, almost a trademark. People will look at his hat as it hangs on the back of a chair, or a coat hook, or rests on the edge of his desk and they will involuntarily assume—Frank’s here, then. That’s his hat. Frank’s old, familiar hat. Through time, there will be a small transfer of emotion and people who are fond of him will also like his hat, will see something in it: the mark of his atmosphere, his style: and they’ll be pleased.

His own transfers were largely negative. For example, he truly detested his travelling bag. This evening it would be waiting inside his hotel room, crouching by his bed like the guard dog in an unfamiliar house. It always was by his bed, no matter where he was sleeping, neatly packed for when he’d have to leave, fill it with his time and carry it the way he’d enjoy being carried, being lifted over every obstacle.

Never thought he would use it on his own account—the bag. Never thought he’d steal his days from everyone and run away.

Not his fault. He didn’t want this. She forced his hand.

He’d been in the kitchen, preparing soup. Each Friday he’d make them both a big vegetable soup: beans, leaves, potatoes, celery, lentils, tomatoes, bits of pasta, seasonal additions, the best of whatever he found available. Every week it would be slightly different—less cabbage, some butternut squash, more tamarind paste—but the soup itself would be a steady feature. If he was at home that evening he would cook. It would be for her. It would be what he quietly thought of as an offering—here I am and this is from me and a proof of me and a sign of reliable love. She could open some wine, maybe, and watch him slice: the way he rocked the knife, setting a comfy rhythm, and then the onions and garlic would go on the heat to soften and the whole house would start to smell domestic and comforting and he would smile at her, tuck his ingredients into the pan, all stripped and diced, and add good stock.

He’d been in the kitchen, slicing, no one to watch. French knives, he had, sharp ones, well balanced, strong, a pleasure to work with, and she’d been late home so he’d started off without her. The blade had slipped. With squash you’ve got to be careful because it’s always tough and can deflect you, slide you into an accident. But he hadn’t been paying attention and so he’d got what he deserved.

He’d been in the kitchen alone. Funny how he didn’t feel the pain until he saw the wound. Proximal phalanx, left ring finger, a gash that almost woke the bone. Blood.

He’d been in the kitchen and raised his hand, had made observations, considered his blood. It ran quickly to his wrist, gathered and then fell to the quarry tiles below, left large, symmetrically rounded drops indicative of low velocity and a perpendicular descent, and haloing every drop was a tiny flare of threads, of starring. The tiles were fairly smooth, but still confused his fluid into throwing out fine liquid spines. Glass would be better, holding his finger close over glass might give him perfect little circles: the blood, as it must, forming spheres when it left him and the width of each drop on impact being equal to each sphere’s diameter. You could count on that.

Excerpted from What Becomes by A. L. Kennedy Copyright © 2010 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.

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