"Then I must be nobody, Basil." Enjoying the thought of annoying a man it might be awkward to upset.
"Vasyl. Vasyl. Not a difficult name. A nice Ukrainian name. Also I can be called Slavko. This is another name I have. Better name.
You mean like a middle name? Like Basil Slavko.
I mean my other name. Other name for other things. Vasyl." That sounded as nettled as a dead voice could, but still was not satisfactorily upset.
"Where did you get the lighter?" And adding, "Vasyl," making sure to say it wearily and too loud, because nobody had to bother about people's names, not any moreinsisting on details was absurdand because maybe he wanted to pick a fight. Alfred wondered if this, in fact, was why he'd comemake a jaunt across the heath for exercise and education, have someone punch your lights out, then beetle off back. It would make a change.
But now Vasyl only giggled in a monotone that made Alfred feel slightly sickened and also ridiculous and, "You take one." The pack offered with a sharp little prod at his shoulder. "Have one. You would like." Vasyl leaning on his arm, breathing, sweating. "Real Chesterfields." His uniform possibly hotter than Alfred's.
Alfred waiting until the bleeder had retreated. "You have one for me. I'm nobody, remember? No other name. No other things."
Alfred flicked a look across, caught Vasyl lighting a second cigarette, holding one in each hand at this point and grinningdeepish eyes staying worried, or certainly busy with some type of calculation, an urgencybut the mouth apparently friendly and content. Funny skin he had, pittedmade Alfred think of shrapnel, explosions. Which didn't suit his mood.
"And what you look like, I can't say" Alfred subsided, realigned his head against his palms and stretched.
"I look like a man with a great many of cigarettes." An emphasis in this, sharp, and next a hacking laugh that funnelled quickly into coughing, silence, then a regular drag to the left, drag to the right.
I never did smoke, no matter what. They said that I would in the end, but I didn't. Ma told me not towouldn't see me spending all my money and then she'd go mithering herself about accidents I could havepetrol and engines and fires. I told her she needn't worry. But you do what your ma says anyway, don't you, cocker? Have to try and keep to that.
And I sent her a bit of my money. Not enough.
Not that she asked.
She would never have asked.
That's the thing. That I tried.
Oh, ar. I was a good boy. I've murdered and I stole and used big words, but I never smoked and I was a good boy. A grand lad, me.
The sky was staring down at Alfred, taking quite an interest suddenly, and he squinted up at it, felt a balance agreed between them, unwinding him, washing his limbs. "Must have been a storm somewhere." He was slow enough to stall completely, tip into a sweet, smooth drop.
High gauzes and drags of cloud, in where the blue was strongest: he'd learned what that meant. "Cirrostratus . . . moisture . . . It freezes up there. Everything freezes up there." Catching the idea before it pushed in any further and turned nasty. "There'll have been a storm somewhere. Earlier." And he was glad that he hadn't heard it, that no one had, because he was very much soothed at the minute, but you never knew what might become a strain, what might become a trouble for somebody. People were unpredictableeventually, being with them always showed you the same thing: there was nothing on which to rely. Anyone could splinter in your face.
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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