But this is fine. I am still enjoying my situation. It doesn't worry me a bit. Because I am choosing to be happy. It's all so big and flat out here that I can have room for that.
And it's a fine day and good to get a rest, clear off out of it into the open. So I won't be downhearted: there's no need.
Plus, at least this is peaceful and I always did appreciate a little peace. You can have enough of crowds. They pester your head.
One at a time, you could deal with people, but not crowds, and these last weeks had been very much less than desertedbeing transported, lectured, ordered aboutjust like the old daystoo much like the old daysyou and the other volunteers. First rule of civilised lifenever volunteer. So it's sensible today, when you're not required, that you should go and catch your breath, get settled down, and nobody can do that with an audience: it's neither possible nor dignified.
Vasyl, of course, is not an audience and therefore doesn't count. Men you hear stories about take no interest in what you do. They let you carry on as you want to and pretend they haven't seen. They act the way they hope you will for them.
It must have been a while since they'd packed in the walking, settled themselves on a patch of turf scattered with small yellow flowers he couldn't name. His view of the moorland was gently shuddering with heat and he realised he'd kicked pale dust all over his boots, his trouser cuffs. Everything he wore was loaned to him, not truly his responsibility, but still in some part of himself it was kit he was used to maintaining. Why else keep wearing it? He didn't have duties today, it wasn't necessary.
Look at youfilthyall over the placeyou'd have been torn off one for this, Day. You'd have put up a black for this. A proper disgrace to everyone concerned.
Sod it now, though, eh? No more playing silly buggers over that.
Not to mention that King's Regulations no longer apply.
And the dust, you might say, was so distant there at the far end of his body and nothing to do with up here and the neat, clean secrecy of private thought, invited thought.
A good roast of sun, it slows you, lets you relaxand out here if there's anything wrong, you can see it coming with bags of time to do what's next. This is the place and the weather for peace, for the cultivation of a friendly mind.
He wriggled his fingers and focused on enjoying the well-trained, emptied murmur that mildly ran his brain inside his skull, circulated the blood, kept him smooth and defended and working, imagining a thrum against his hands where they cuddled the back of his head and kept him from the lumps and buttons in his folded jacket. Battledress made a lousy pillow. You might almost think it had been invented with some other purpose in mind.
The wiry grass was pricking through his shirt, but that was quite calming for some reason, as was the din of insects, singing out around him for mile upon tussocky mile. Lying down like this: it was very gooda long time since he'd known it be so satisfactory and really improved by having this stranger with him, this Vasyl, this silly basket who was sitting and rocking and shifting and messing about, flicking an American lighter constantly, sucking on stolen American cigarettes. Very possibly he stole the lighter, too.
"D'you have to smoke that loudly?"
"I do, yes. I do." Funny accent, as if his tongue had been damaged, or was numb. "These are good. Highest quality. You want one?" And a dry voice, dulledit made you feel some part of him had died, although you ignored thatnothing to do with you.
"I don't smoke."
"Everybody smokes, Mr. Alfred."
Excerpted from Day by A. L. Kennedy Copyright © 2008 by A. L. Kennedy. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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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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