Excerpt of The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
(Page 3 of 5)
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He is so taken aback that for a moment he is speechless (not something
to which he is accustomed) and he watches, fascinated, as the
woman stands up from her tree stump. The della Francesca madonna
morphs before his very eyes into a version of Marcel Duchamps Nude
Descending a Staircase. What a sight! The woman coming towards him
down the raised lawn echoes Duchamps effect exactly! Her anger
seems to spike the very air!
Innes has been steeped in the Dadaists of late, so much so that
two nights previously he had a dream entirely within one of their
paintings. My second favourite dream, he rates it. (The first is too
graphic to relate.)
It is also, the madonna is bearing down on him, jaw set, hands
on hips, and he has to say he is rather glad of the hedge between
them, illegal. I am perfectly within my rights to summon a policeman.
Im sorry, he manages to say. My car. It seems to have broken
down. Im looking for a garage.
Does this look like a garage to you? Her voice is not, as he might
have expected, smoothed with a Devonian burr but sharp and cut
like a diamond.
Um. No. It does not.
Well, then, she is advancing ever closer to her side of the hedge,
As she says this, Alexandra gets her first proper look at the peeping
Tom. He has hair quite a bit longer than she has ever seen on a man.
His shirt has an unusually high collar and is daffodil yellow. His suit
is light grey needle cord and has no collar at all; the tie he is wearing
is the colour of duck eggs. Alexandra comes two steps closer. Daffodils,
her mind reiterates, duck eggs.
I wasnt spying, the man is protesting, I assure you. Im seeking
aid. I find myself in a bit of a fix. My car has broken down. Would
you happen to know of a garage near here? I dont mean to tear you
away from your baby but I have to be back in London sharpish as I
have a print deadline. Nightmare upon nightmare. Any assistance
and Im your grateful slave.
She blinks. She has never heard anyone speak like this before.
Sharpish, fix, print deadline, nightmare upon nightmare, grateful slave. She would
like to ask him to say it all again. Then part of the speech filters
through to her. Its not my baby, she snaps. Its nothing to do with
me. Its my mothers.
Ah. The man inclines his head sideways. Im not sure I would
categorise that as nothing to do with you.
No. It must at least be acknowledged as your sibling.
There is a slight pause. Alexandra tries, without success, not to
examine his clothes again. The shirt, that tie. Daffodils and eggs.
Youre from London, then? she asks.
She sniffs. She adjusts the scarf across her forehead. She examines
the bristles on the mans chin and wonders why he hasnt shaved. And,
unfathomably, a half-formed plan of hers crystallises into a definite
desire. Im planning, she says, on going to live in London myself.
Is that so? The man starts to rummage animatedly in his pockets.
He brings out an enamelled green cigarette case, removes two cigarettes
and offers her one. She has to lean over the hedge to take it.
Thank you, she says. He lights it for her, cupping the match in
his hands, then uses the same match on his own cigarette. Close up,
she thinks, he smells of hair-oil, cologne and something else. But he
moves back before she can identify it.
Thanks, she says again, indicating the cigarette, and inhales.
And what, the man says, as he shakes out the match and tosses
it aside, may I ask, is holding you back?
Excerpted from Hand that First Held Mine
by Maggie O'Farrell. Copyright © 2010 by Maggie O'Farrell.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin. All rights
reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted
without permission in writing from the publisher.