Inside, I'm saying, Yes, I was talking to a boy, and so what, and do you have a problem with that? But I wouldn't dream of saying any of those things. Not to Biddy.
"Who is he?" she asks.
She turns on her new pointed toes and makes her way to the kitchen. "Dinner will be ready in half an hour. Daddy's coming home early tonight. I wasn't born yesterday, Kate. I know it was a boy you were talking to. I can tell."
Something tells me I haven't heard the end of this.
The boy isn't mentioned during the Irish stew with dumplings, thank the Lord. We gather around the Formica kitchen table, where my dad always sits to the left and Biddy to the right. My place is in the middle, facing the twirling teapot wallpaper.
Biddy starts the conversation rolling by describing an outpatient's genitalia and how embarrassing it was for her having to shave the bank manager "down there" today. And Mrs. Bootsby-Smythe, who does she think she is, with all her airs and pompous graces? Well, she was brought down a peg or two when she had to wait for Dr. Morrison, her legs in stirrups, her privates looking like a cockerel's comb.
I stifle a giggle, at the same time hoping I look okay "down there." Please, God, may I never have to go to the village hospital when my mother is the nurse on duty.
"Kate, now don't you let this get any further than the kitchen table, but Sophie Greengough is pregnant, and only sixteen years old."
Sophie is in the pudding club? She's going to have a baby? But I've never seen her with a boy, she's an A student, forever winning awards at school. She's brilliant at tennis and hockey and everything.
"God help her poor mother," says Biddy. "There was Mrs. Greengough, weeping in the waiting room while Sophie attended the antenatal clinic."
I try and imagine what it would be like doing it. Letting a boy touch you, and . . . God, I wouldn't even let Barry Finch do it. Moira has explained everything to me in great detailher married sister, Fiona, told her all she wanted to know.
"Kate, what are you thinking about?" asks Biddy. "Tom, please cover the butter."
The meal is over, and as per ritual, my parents light up their cigarettes. Dad must put the lid on the butter dish in case the smoke taints it, and I must remain seated. It wouldn't be polite to leave the table just yet.
"What's on your mind, Kate?" asks Dad, echoing Biddy. A wisp of smoke escapes from his nostrils, curls into his eyes. His hair is Brylcreem-shiny, black, combed flat, like one of those film stars in old movies.
"Nothing. Can I phone Moira?"
I want to tell her about Sophie Greengough.
"Sure. Didn't you talk with her as soon as you came home?" Biddy clicks her fingernails on the Formica. "I'm not stupid, my girlfar from it." She takes a long drag from her cigarette. "It wasn't Moira Murphy making your face beet red."
Dad makes a halfhearted move to stack plates. He always looks for something to do when he senses conflict. And as usual, Biddy tells him to sit down.
Reprinted from Cover the Butter by Carrie Kabak, pages 1-13, with permission from Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright © 20054 by Carrie Kabak. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced 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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