What is it?
Feebly he poked at the plastic wheel in the corner, looking for motion, hoping for escape or clarity. And the explanation never came. It was deeper than needing to know what the wheel was for, where the cage had come from and how he'd gotten there, or in the twins' case, the meaning of "expialidocious" or why their father liked Val Doonican. It was more of a What is Val Doonican? And therefore, What am I? The question that preceded all others.
The hamster was alone, which made it worse. Alone with a wheel on a wasteland of wood shavings and newspaper. Georgia and Bessi did everything they could: stuffed him with grapes and cleaned his mess, gave him a name. "Ham," Georgia said, her eyes level with Ham's because she was only seven, "be happy some days or you might not wake up in the morning, isn't it. Here's a present." She'd pulled a rose off the rosebush in the garden that was Her Responsibility (Aubrey had said so, and Ida had agreedso Kemy could shut up) and laid it, the ruby petals flat on one side, a single leaf asleep in the sun, on a saucer. She opened the cage and put the saucer next to Ham.
He sniffed it and then was still again, but with a thoughtful look on his face that wasn't there before. Georgia thought that sometimes flowers were better for people's health than food. She often spent entire afternoons in the garden with a cloth, a spade and a watering can, wiping dirt off leaves, spraying the lawn with vigor, and pulling away the harmful weeds.
The twins lived two floors above Ham, in the loft. It was their house. They lived at 26a Waifer Avenue and the other Hunters were 26, down the stairs where the house was darker, particularly in the cupboard under the stairs where Aubrey made them sit and "think about what you've done" when they misbehaved (which could involve breaking his stapler, using all the hot water, finishing the ginger nuts or scratching the car with the edge of a bicycle pedal). Other dark corners for thinking about what you've done were located at the rear of the dining room next to Aubrey's desk and outside in the garage with the dirty rags and turpentine.
On the outside of their front door Georgia and Bessi had written in chalk 26a and on the inside g + b, at eye level, just above the handle. This was the extra dimension. The one after sight, sound, smell, touch and taste where the world multiplied and exploded because it was the sum of two people. Bright was twice as bright. All the colors were extra. Girls with umbrellas skipped across the wallpaper and Georgia and Bessi could hear them laughing.
The loft had a separate flight of stairs leading up from the first floor landing and an en suite bathroom with a spaghetti-Western saloon door. Because of its intimacy with the roof, it was the only room in the house that had triangles and slanting walls. The ceiling sloped down over Bessi's bed and made her feel lucky. There was no other bed in the whole house that the ceiling, that God, was so close to, not even Bel's, who had the biggest room because she had breasts. That meant that Bessi's bed was the best. She wrote it down in yellow chalk: bessi best bed, on the wall where her eyes landed in the mornings, just by the attic cupboard where things could be hidden, whole people could be hidden and no one would know to look there because you couldn't stand up in it and it was full of old books and buckets and spades for the holidays.
At the end of Georgia's bed next to the windowa whole upper wall of window that gave them church bells and sunsets and an evergreen tree in the far distancewas another triangle, an alcove, for thinking. Two beanbags whose bubbles smelled of strawberry were tucked into the corners and that was where they sat. Not many people were allowed to sit there too, just Kemy and Ham. But absolutely no one was allowed to sit there with them when they were thinking, especially when they were making a decision.
From 26a by Diana Evans, pages 1-17. Copyright Diana Evans. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of William Morrow Publishing.
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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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