I didn't tell her I didn't actually have the thought, even. I'd forgotten it was her birthday because I was so excited about mine and getting Mohammed the Third. Papa reminded me on the phone and told me to make a card but I was doing a Lego model of a rocket-launcher plus space capsule and I forgot about the card so in the end I just signed Papa's when he came in his new car that's a Volkswagen Passat. I used black wax crayon, which is for vampire bats and death stuff and the swastika.
My maman's very fragile like glass because her life's been very hard, Papa says. That's why she gets headaches and she cries and sometimes screams at me and then says sorry and cries more and hugs me and hugs me and kisses me and kisses me. But Papa's not fragile. He's one of the strongest men in the world. If you met him, he might punch you in the face and give you a bad headache called concussion. He's good at hitting, he could've been a boxer but he wouldn't ever fight dirty, like the man who killed the Great Houdini by punching him in the stomach before he got his muscles ready. Papa works on his muscles at the gym; Pectoral and Abdominal are just two of them but he's got others too, more than most dads. He could be a Killing Machine if he did the training. He just hasn't got time to do the training, that's all. He's too busy flying aeroplanes. It's a desk job, he says. The cockpit is a glorified desk. It's a frustrating life, not as glamorous as you think, mon petit loup.
Plus you have to be careful about how you drink beer and cognac, you have to do it in secret because nobody's allowed to know, especially if you've been drinking more ever since Disneyland Resort Paris and you've gone all weird and angry with your wife and your son who are innocent victims of your frustration and shouldn't be blamed for things that aren't their fault because they're no ones fault but your own and you need to face up to it.
-- We're all going away for the weekend, says Maman. - Out of Lyon, into the countryside. We'll go for a lovely spring picnic down in the Auvergne, you and me and Papa, we'll be a family again.
All smiley with lipstick that's pink.
Papa used to fly on international routes but now he just flies domestically. It's better to fly domestically because that way you don't jeopardise your family life, that's the most precious thing in the world. The birthday card I got, it said: To Our Darling Son. And the one him and me gave her, it said: To a Wonderful Mother. When she read it she did something sideways and twitchy with her mouth and she looked at Papa with a weird face and she said, I suppose Lucille chose this? And she put it next to the card from her maman who sent me one too but I've never met her cos Guadeloupe is far away where they grow mangoes and exotic fruit and blah blah blah.
-- There's a wild flower up there, you can find it in the mountains, near Ponteyrol, she says. -- It's called Spring Glory and it flowers in April. We can pick some.
-- What for?
-- To put in a vase. And to give to people, she says
-- Friends. And she smiles again.
Maman's friends keep changing. They keep changing because one day they have a Major Disagreement, and the Major Disagreement is always about me and she has to fire them because she's on my side, defending me from spiteful people who ask mean questions and say I'm Wacko Boy. That's what mums are for but it's very Isolating. My papa has colleagues. They're other Air France pilots and beautiful stewardesses from other airlines that are rival airlines. And maybe people from the gym. But I bet they think flowers suck. I bet they've never heard of Spring Glory. I've never heard of Spring Glory. Have you heard of Spring Glory?
Excerpted from The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen. © Liz Jensen, 2003. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.
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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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