‘It’s Askild’s beer,’ I tell her stubbornly. ‘He left it in Stinna’s room.’ Askild can’t remember anything about a glass of beer in the other room. Quickly I grab the glass before Mum can pick it up. I put it down on the other side of Grandpa, where Mum can’t reach it.
‘Here you are, Grandpa,’ I say. ‘I’m sorry I called you an idiot.’
Askild’s face lights up. ‘That’s my boy!’ he says, pinching my cheek affectionately, which really hurts, but I don’t say a word.
‘All right then. Cheers!’ says Grandpa and he raises the glass to his lips. He’s just about to take a big gulp and the girls out in the kitchen are giggling loudly, when all of a sudden he stops. My whole body goes cold because I’m afraid that he can smell Mia’s pee.
Not a sound is heard from the kitchen.
Grandpa Askild gives me a solemn look.
‘How old are you now?’ he asks.
I tell him I am ten. He smiles sweetly, and then it comes. ‘Well, that means you’re old enough to taste your grandfather’s beer.’He puts the glass with Mia’s pee right under my nose, spilling a little on his fingers. ‘Come on, take a swig,’ he says, laughing.
‘Ugh, no! I don’t like beer,’ I shout, but before I know it, Grandpa grabs me by the scruff of the neck and forces the glass to my lips. When I take a breath, I get a big, warm mouthful of the stuff. It tastes salty and slightly bitter, and it makes me cough.
‘Askild!’ cries Mum, when she sees my expression. ‘That’s enough.’
Askild laughs out loud.
‘Stop tormenting the boy,’ exclaims Grandma Bjørk, but that only draws a scornful snort from Askild, who has no intention whatsoever of letting his wife dictate his actions. He leans back in his chair, raises the glass once again to his lips, and downs the whole beer in one gulp. Then the expression on his face changes; his smile freezes, and the furrows on his forehead deepen so that he ends up looking like a baboon. For a moment it seems as if he’s going to say something, but he changes his mind and sets the empty glass back on the table without a sound.
Two seconds later the girls out in the kitchen explode with laughter. They scream and howl and double over, holding on to each other. Grandpa Askild casts a puzzled glance towards the kitchen and has no idea what’s going on. He shouts to them that they should go to bed; it’s late, for God’s sake . . . The girls, still giggling, disappear into their room, while I stay where I am in the living room, completely stunned. I drank my cousin’s pee! I have no idea what to do with myself.
When I slink back to Stinna’s room, Mia puts her hand up to her mouth, trying to stifle a laughing fit.
‘Here he is!’ shouts Stinna with enthusiasm. They both collapse on to the floor, where they writhe with laughter, practically sobbing. ‘Blech! He actually drank it!’ I’m just about to leave when Mia sits up and snickers. ‘That was damn good, Asger. He didn’t notice a thing! Ha ha!’
I’ve turned out to be the hero of the day, although a rather unfortunate one, but still a hero who has sacrificed himself for the cause. ‘That’s what they did during the war too,’ says Stinna. And for the rest of the evening, the girls look at me with equal
parts awe and disgust – until two hours later, that is, when Grandpa Askild crashes to the living-room floor and we forget all about my heroism.
‘THEY WEREN’T REALLY that big,’ my sister Stinna says. But she’s not looking very carefully at the photographs that I’ve brought from Grandpa and Grandma’s house on Tunøvej, wanting to show her that I’m telling the truth.
Excerpted from Doghead by Morten Ramsland. Copyright © 2009 by Morten Ramsland. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St Martins Press, 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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