Prepubescent, more like it. Like pink latex, like a blowup fantasy doll, that sickly plastic smell of Barbie. The rip across the knee works like a quick, stinging, sobering slap to the face, finally waking you up.
'That'll do,' you hear yourself say.
'But we're only halfway through.' She stops, staring, rotating a glob of slipping yellow wax slowly on the hovering spatula.
'That's okay, I'll pay for the whole thing. I just that's it.'
'It's not hurting that much, is it?'
You swing your tingling legs off the table and reach for your jeans.
She's looking at you, moving the chewy around in her lip-glossed mouth.
'Okay, then,' she says with a shrug. And, half-finished shed, like someone released from custody, you're out of there.
Later that night, there'll be tiny dark patches on your bare legs when you take your jeans off, where wax has stuck spots of lint to the skin, but you will pull a sheet over your legs instead of jumping up instantly and washing it off in the shower. Your energy for subterfuge seems spent now; like the tank's empty. In the dark, all other senses are more acute; the brush of skin on skin, the scent of hair, a whisper blooming next to you on the pillow; risky secrets that cannot be taken back. You will feel things coast to a stop, sharpened into wakefulness, and steady yourself. You open your mouth and set whatever's coming next in motion.
'I'll be forty in a fortnight,' you say.
Impossible to gauge his real, unadorned reaction to that news. You'll have to turn the light on for that.
Excerpted from the short story "Dark Roots" in Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy. © 2006 by Cate Kennedy. Reprinted with the permission of Black Cat, an imprint of Grove/Atlantic Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced without written permission 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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