With the hose over her arm Georgia peered into Ham's cage. It smelled of dry wood and droppings. He blinked very slowly and looked at her chin. "Chocolate drop for brekky treat?" She rustled in the food tray under the table. "Cheer you up today." There was no noticeable response, not even a quicker breath or a quiet sneeze.
Georgia stepped out into the crispy sun and studied Bessi through the bushes that separated the front back garden from the back back garden. The back back garden was wild. Aubrey only mowed the lawn up there once a year because no one ever showed an interest in shaking out a mat and lying down. It had shadows. A hulk of old grass turning to straw by the back wall. A shack next to it full of incredible spiders. Bessi shone through the leaves like stained glass. Very still. She was waiting for thumps with her eyes closed but none had happened yet. She felt that if she concentrated hard enough something would, right in front of her.
The apple trees, who were very pregnant now, creaked and swayed into another long Wednesday. They were twins too. So far this year they'd released three unblushing apples between them. Not nearly enough for Bessi to say Apple Pie Time. There had to be at least four each, with rosy cheeks. And then the things could happen. The ceremonial march into the wild, the picking, peeling, boiling and baking, apple pies and applesauce with inside sugar and all of it up to her. Dear God, she thought, please help them drop the apples so that we can pick them up. Thank you. Amen.
Georgia went and stood next to Bessi and their knuckles brushed together. There was a shiver on the wind. Bessi opened her eyes.
"I think Ham's d'stressed," Georgia said, staring through the grass.
There was a pause. Sometimes, when Ida hadn't gotten enough sleep, she closed the bathroom door and locked it. She had a bath for five hours, during which time they would put their ears up against the door and hear her talking to someone in Edo (usually Nne-Nne, her mother, whom she missed). When the bathroom door finally shuddered open, Ida would wander out into the hall as if it were a dirt track into a whole new country and she'd arrived at the airport with nothing but her magic dressing gown and a toilet bag. Georgia asked Bel what it meant because being clean didn't usually take that much time. Usually it took twenty minutes, or an hour if they had bubble bath. Bel had lowered her voice and told her that Ida might have d'stression. When Georgia had asked her what that meant she'd said it had to do with being sad, that being sad could be like having a cold if there was enough of it.
And Ham had a cold.
"Is he in the bathroom?" asked Bessi.
"No. He's in his room."
Bessi frowned. "But if he's not in the bath, how can he be d'stressed?"
"You don't have to have a bath. You just have to have a cold."
They stared at the base of a thumpless apple tree. A sparrow who nested in its branches peeked down at them and waited.
"What shall we do?" said Bessi.
"Gave him a chocolate but he doesn't want it."
"What about Vicks? On his nose."|
"Have to ask Mummy."
Georgia went quiet. She fell into deep thought and put her hand on her stomach over her scar. She said, "What if he dies, Bess?"
"Don't know. We might have to put him in a box and have a funeral."
NEASDON WAS LIKE the high heel at the bottom of Italy. It was what the city stepped on to be sexy. London needed its Neasdens to make the Piccadilly lights, the dazzling Strand, the pigeons at Trafalgar Square and the Queen waving from her Buckingham balcony seem exciting, all that way away, over acres of rail track and miles and miles of traffic. The children of the city suburbs watched it all on TV. It was only very occasionally that the Hunters ventured past Kilburn because most of the things they needed could be bought from Brent Cross, which had all the shops. And when they did go into town the Little Ones (Kemy and the twins) bumped into things and someone always got lost (Kemy in the bedding department of the Oxford Street branch of Debenhams, Georgia at the Leicester Square fair one winter, underneath an orange polka-dot horse with wings).
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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