He is a black man only the first time she sees him. She is at the high school track, jogging. She finishes and walks past the basketball court to watch a game. Elijah's name is called a lot by the other players. "Nice take, Elijah." "Fuck, man! Put a stop on Waddell, will you!" When the game is done, he stays and shoots on his own. His bare chest and stomach glisten with the sweat which ripples like hot oil poured down cobblestones. He shoots, retrieves, shoots again. Often the ball flies through the hoop and comes back to him as if it is on a tether. She walks beneath the basket to catch the ball after his shots. He says nothing but takes her bounce passes and shoots again. He makes eight in a row, never looking at her, only the ball and the rusty rim.
She knows he's trying to impress her. When he misses, she keeps the ball, as is protocol, and takes her own shots. She misses her first, but she is not yet warmed up so Elijah bounces her the ball. When she misses her third in a row, he keeps the ball and shoots again, making it. She knows he is telling her, You make it, you keep it. No special girl rules. Clare likes this, feeling equal, measured by the same standards that measure him. After he misses, she gets the ball and hits three in a row. The fourth rims out. It drops near Clare and she wants it, she is getting loose, but Elijah is quicker. He stabs a hand under hers and dribbles the ball away from her. He grins over his shoulder and Clare decides to guard him. He turns to shoot. She stays with him, she is almost as tall as he, she jumps and puts a hand in his face and he misses. She retrieves the basketball and looks at him. He stands hands on hips and smiles again. He nods and says only, "All right."She will remember this moment when Elijah's blackness became not something missing from what she has but a remarkable presence not bound or described by color. She opens her mouth in a moment of shame, fleeting but like a pinprick fast and sharp, for having ever felt whatever ugliness it was she has just said goodbye to. She stands with the ball pressed against her stomach, where Elijah's baby will be.
It is time for the baby.
Clare and Elijah stand in front of their bedroom mirror making love. Elijah is behind her, the child in front. She flattens her palms against the wall on both sides of the mirror to keep from rocking the baby too much. But she wants Elijah inside her badly, and with both the man and the child tucked up in her where she can warm and please and care for them, Clare is happy.
When they have finished they linger before the mirror. Her breasts are swollen almost twice their normal size but otherwise she has gained little girth about her shoulders and neck. Her skin and hair are infused and radiant. Elijah circles his open hands over her belly. There is something magical for Clare in this, like watching a black-robed sorcerer swirling his arms over a large white crystal ball. What is the future? she wonders: Tell me, Elijah. See it in my belly and tell me.
Clare lies on the bed in the waft of the air conditioner. He stretches beside her. She is on her back and, within minutes, a knob appears above her navel.
Elijah leans closer to inspect. He says, "It's a knee.
Clare does not lift her head from the pillow to look, she keeps her hands beside her. She lets Elijah have this alone.
The knob slowly disappears and is followed by other protrusions, each of which Elijah examines with his fingertips and identifies. An elbow. A shoulder.
Excerpted from Scorched Earth by David L. Robbins. Copyright 2002 by David L. Robbins. Excerpted by permission of Bantam, 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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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