Like Peter and Michael Donnelly, Malachy was on his way to school when he decided to stop into Fadden's for his morning Lucozade. But unlike those of the devious twins, Malachy McGuire's soul was as old as the constellations themselves. To him, Layla's promising aroma was not a reminder of a long-lost boyhood or the instigator of teenage lust. No, for Malachy, the sight of Layla's exotic profile filling up a bag of white onions was a sign, a resounding yes to the age-old questions of the divine.
Yes, there was a God. Yes, there was life beyond the sleepy valleys of Ballinacroagh. Yes, there were undiscovered universes waiting just for him. And one of them was standing right before him, in all her astounding milky ways.
Malachy felt suddenly weak and dizzy. As his vision fuzzed over and his legs gave way, he grabbed the nearest stationary object a grocery shelf. Unfortunately for the star-gazing romantic, the shelf happened to hold a pyramid display of feminine hygiene products, and before Malachy knew it he was in a heap on the floor, covered to his mortification in specially priced, two-for-one boxes of super-size tampons.
The clatter awoke Layla to her surroundings, and as she turned to the front of the shop, a burning sensation instantly took hold of her body. There, down the aisle before her, was the most beautiful boy she had ever seen. Layla tried to breathe but found instead the start of debilitating hiccups catches of love-bitten air that would not end until she had taken a good swill of Marjan's famous dugh drink.
"Are you all right there, lad? Didn't hurt yerself now, did you?" Danny Fadden asked, rounding the corner of the beer aisle, his fishbowl eyes blinking behind thick glasses.
Poor Malachy. For the first time in his life his natural grace had forsaken him. Surrounded by such private tokens of femininity, all he could do was bow his red, tender face and make a run for it. He didn't dare look back at Layla as he pounded through the grocery's door; didn't acknowledge the twins' mocking calls of "I think ye forgot yer tail, McGuire", or even notice that he was running in the opposite direction from school, so lost was he in Layla's lovely perfume.
While her youngest sister was hiccuping romance in the mini-mart, Marjan was busy in the kitchen chopping her last onion, impatient for Layla to return with reinforcements. Frying the chopped onion with some olive oil, she flipped the pieces about until they were crunchy but not blackened, then set the fried charms aside for later, to be sprinkled on bowls of soup ordered by expectant customers. Marjan considered this sizzled garnish to be the best part of her red lentil soup, for after all, the humblest of moments can often be the most rewarding.
Layla would not appreciate the significance of this simple lesson until she had paid for her bag of white onions, smiled at Danny Fadden's dazed look, averted the loitering Donnelly twins' low whistles, and quickly returned to the warmth of her sisters' kitchen, hiccuping all the way. Only then did she realize that she was still holding an onion in her palm, the last one she had picked up before seeing Malachy McGuire's wondrous face. When she unclenched her tight fist, she found that, just like her heart, the little white vegetable was sautéed to a crisp.
Excerpted from Pomegranate Soup by Marsha Mehran. Copyright © 2005 by Marsha Mehran. Excerpted by permission of Random House, 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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