The Kippses? asked Zora loudly, coming back through the hallway. Whats going on did Jerome move in? How totally insane . . . its like: Jerome Monty Kipps, said Zora, moulding two imaginary men to the right and left of her and then repeating the exercise. Jerome . . . Monty Kipps. Living together. Zora shivered comically.
Kiki chucked back her juice and brought the empty glass down hard. Enough of Monty Kipps Im serious. I dont want to hear his name again this morning, I swear to God. She checked her watch. What times your first class? Whyre you even here, Zoor? You know? Why are you here? Oh, good morning, Monique, said Kiki in a quite different formal voice, stripped of its Florida music. Monique shut the front door behind her and came forward. Kiki gave Monique a frazzled smile. Were crazy today everybodys late, running late. How are you doing, Monique you OK? The new cleaner, Monique, was a squat Haitian woman, about Kikis age, darker still than Kiki. This was only her second visit to the house. She wore a US Navy bomber jacket with a turned-up furry collar and a look of apologetic apprehension, sorry for what would go wrong even before it had gone wrong. All this was made more poignant and difficult for Kiki by Moniques weave: a cheap, orange synthetic hairpiece that was in need of renewal, and today seemed further back than ever on her skull, attached by thin threads to her own sparse hair.
I start in here? asked Monique timidly. Her hand hovered near the high zip of her coat, but she did not undo it.
Actually, Monique, could you start in the study my study, said Kiki quickly and over something Howard was starting to say. Is that OK? Please dont move any papers just pile them up, if you can.
Monique stood where she was, clutching her zip. Kiki stayed in her strange moment, nervous of what this black woman thought of another black woman paying her to clean.
Zora will show you Zora, show Monique, please, just go on, show her where.
Zora began to vault up the stairs three at a time, Monique trudging behind her. Howard came out from behind the proscenium and into his marriage.
If this happens, said Howard levelly, between sips of coffee, Monty Kipps will be an in-law. Of ours. Not somebody elses in-law. Ours.
Howard, said Kiki with equal control, please, no routines. Were not on stage. Ive just said I dont want to talk about this now. I know you heard me.
Howard gave a little bow.
Levi needs money for a cab. If you want to worry about something, worry about that. Dont worry about the Kippses. Kippses? called Levi, from somewhere out of sight. Kippses who? Where they at?
This faux Brooklyn accent belonged to neither Howard nor Kiki, and had only arrived in Levis mouth three years earlier, as he turned twelve. Jerome and Zora had been born in England, Levi in America. But all their various American accents seemed, to Howard, in some way artificial not quite the products of this house of his wife. None, though, was as inexplicable as Levis. Brooklyn? The Belseys were located two hundred miles north of Brooklyn. Howard felt very close to commenting on it this morning (he had been warned by his wife not to comment on it), but now Levi appeared from the hallway and disarmed his father with a gappy smile before biting the top off a muffin he held in his hand.
Excerpted from On Beauty, (c) 2005 Zadie Smith. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved.
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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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