Georgia imagined it like this: She and Bessi would knock on the door of the house and one of Gladstone's great-grandchildren might open it, or better still, Gladstone himself looking sweetly ancient in a waistcoat. He'd ask them what he could do for them and it would be at this crucial point that Georgia would tell him that she and Bessi were in his class at school, green for Gladstone, and she'd show him her badge. He couldn't refuse. He'd say, Well, I was just serving tea to the haymakers, but do come in and make yourselves comfortable. And he'd let Ham in too. They'd all wake up the next day to the silver kitchen sounds of an oncoming party and wait for the ladies to arrive for their wine.
So that was a Yes. That was an Oh-yes. She nodded.
Aubrey, at this moment, was not in the best of moods. Last night he'd stayed up shouting about the boiler being broken and how his family were a bunch of ungrateful sods, especially Bel because she'd started to wear lipstick. No one had slept much; they all, regardless of age, had bags under their eyes. And to make things worse there was a traffic jam on Dollis Hill Lane, and there were never traffic jams on Dollis Hill Lane. It was "preposterous," "damnable" and "a flaming nuisance." That's what he said. Kemy, sitting on the other side of Ham, asked what pre-pos-ters meant, thinking it was possibly something to do with Michael Jackson, but Aubrey ignored her. Georgia stepped in, for she had been pondering this too, arriving at the conclusion that it was something to do with extra. Extra posters. Extra normal. Extra or-di-na-ry, which was the same as normal, she knew this, she was "a very clever girl" (her teacher Miss Reed had said only last week). So she said, "Extra posters and more ordinary." And Kemy looked at her for a while with her shiny brown eyes that throbbed for being so big.
The traffic had advanced and the car in front was failing to keep up. Aubrey beeped and raised his voice, "Come on, woman! What are you waiting for!" Bessi was stuck fast to the passenger seat by her seat belt, feeling sorry for herself after a fight with Kemy about not sitting in the front. She studied the outline of the head in front that Aubrey was come-on-ing. It definitely looked like a man to her, lots of grizzly hair and massive shoulders. "I think it's a man, Daddy," she said. Aubrey dug the end of his Benson furiously into the ashtray, blowing out smoke from the very back of his throat. When the smoke was fresh, when it drifted, it resembled the eventual color and texture of his hair, which was also fading away.
They stopped on a hill and Aubrey had to use the hand brake. He jerked it up with such force it shook the car and made a loud ugly squeak that made Kemy laugh. "Ha ha! do that again, Daddy!" Her skinny legs flippered and she kicked the back of Aubrey's seat. "Do it again!" He threw a glare over his shoulder. "Will you settle down, bloody hell, just settle down!"
Ham sneezed softly in his cage and closed his face.
THERE'D BEEN AN accident at the lights. The police were clearing the road and as they drove past they saw a red, ruined car smashed up against a lamppost. The hood was crumpled. The lamppost was leaning away from the windshield, away from the death, who was a woman, who was dying in the ambulance flashing toward the hospital. Georgia caught a wisp of her left in the front seat, a cloudy peach scarf touching the steering wheel, and a faint smell of regret.
FOR TWENTY YEARS Mr. Shaha had been the only vet in Neasden. He'd come to London from Bangladesh after the bombs of World War II. "They destroyed Willesden completely," he told people (his grandchildren, his wife's friends, his patientsthe dogs, hamsters, budgies, cats, gerbils, and the occasional snake), "terrible, terrible things. But life must always go on, that is the way of the Shaha." There were two framed documents on the wall of his waiting room, which radiated the permanent stench of animal hair and animal bowels: his creased veterinary certificate, and a misty black-and-white photograph of his mother, with a folded letter written in Bengali, hiding her neck.
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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