Levi, said Kiki, honey, Im interested do you know who I am? Pay any attention at all to anything that goes on around here? Remember Jerome? Your brother? Jerome no here? Jerome cross big sea to place called England?
Levi held a pair of sneakers in his hands. These he shook in the direction of his mothers sarcasm and, scowling, sat down to begin putting them on.
So? And what? I know about Kippses? I dont know nothing about no Kippses.
Jerome go to school.
Now Im Jerome too?
Levi go to school.
Man, why you gotta be all . . . I just ahks a question, thats all, and you gotta be all . . . Here Levi provided an inconclusive mime that gave no idea of the missing word.
Monty Kipps. The man your brothers been working for in England, conceded Kiki wearily. It was interesting to Howard to see how Levi had won this concession, by meeting Kikis corrosive irony with its opposite.
See? said Levi, as if it was only by his efforts that decency and sense could be arrived at. Was that hard?
So is that a letter from Kipps? asked Zora, coming back down the stairs and up behind her mothers shoulder. In this pose, the daughter bent over the mother, they reminded Howard of two of Picassos chubby water-carriers. Dad, please, Ive got to help with the reply this time were going to destroy him. Whos it for? The Republic?
No. No, its nothing to do with that its from Jerome, actually. Getting married, said Howard, letting his robe fall open, turning away. He wandered over to the glass doors that looked out on to their garden. To Kippss daughter. Apparently its funny. Your mother thinks its hilarious.
No, honey, said Kiki. I think we just established that I dont think its hilarious I dont think we know whats happening this is a seven-line e-mail. We dont know what that even means, and Im not gonna get all hepped up about
Is this serious? interrupted Zora. She yanked the paper from her mothers hands, bringing it very close to her myopic eyes. This is a fucking joke, right?
Howard rested his forehead on the thick glass pane and felt the condensation soak his eyebrows. Outside, the democratic East Coast snow was still falling, making the garden chairs the same as the garden tables and plants and mail-boxes and fence-posts. He breathed a mushroom cloud and then wiped it off with his sleeve. Zora, you need to get to class, OK? And you really need to not use that language in my house Hup! Hap! Nap! No! said Kiki, each time masking a word Zora was attempting to begin. OK? Take Levi to the cab rank. I cant drive him today you can ask Howard if hell drive him, but it doesnt look like thats gonna happen. Ill phone Jerome.
I dont need drivin, said Levi, and now Howard properly noticed Levi and the new thing about Levi: a womans stocking, thin and black, on his head, tied at the back in a knot, with a small inadvertent teat like a nipple, on top.
Excerpted from On Beauty, (c) 2005 Zadie Smith. Reproduced by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved.
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