Will do, I said.
I took a deep inhalation of chill air and began pressing and releasing my suction cups, moving over the apex of the dome to tend to the bird stains. At the age of sixteen, I was already the same height my father had been when he passed away, and my lanky frame covered a surprising amount of space on the dome. When I adjusted myself perfectly on the top, every major landmark in town was visible with the naked eye.
If I looked to the east, for example, I could see the slanted water tower that read North Branch Beavers in rust-colored lettering. Farther north was the symmetrical row of small businesses in the town square. Then past the businesses, a little to the west, was the giant brick castle of James K. Polk High School, which I was not allowed to attend because Nana said their worldview was myopic and wrong. And finally, to the far west, I could see all four lanes of the expressway, including the exact exit that the tourists took to visit us. I couldnt see our garish billboards, but I knew they were there, facing the road, imploring every motorist to visit The House of Tomorrow.
I scraped my squeegee slowly over the last of the stains, and then pressed and released all the way down to the brittle grass of our lawn. I had seen on the World Wide Web once that a man from France climbed the Empire State Building with just his hands and feet. No cups. No harness. He was arrested, but he claimed it was worth it to know he was really alive. It was a secret goal of mine to one day scale our dome in this fashion, but for now I played it safe. My sneakers touched the ground with a satisfying crunch, and I undid my harness and let it drop to the ground. I walked around to the front yard and turned the knob on our clear front door. There sat Nana in our open dining room, imbibing one of her signature smoothies. Every day, she performed the morning ritual of dumping things in her Vita-Mix, a machine that pulverized her breakfast. Anything that could fit through the clear plastic shaft was fair game for one of these shakes. This morning, the concoction was the same color fuchsia as her tracksuit. She owned a rainbow of these sleek workout suits, and this particular one was made of pink, sweat-resistant fibers and had a matching headband for her shock of fl our-white hair.
Oh, Sebastian, she said, glancing up at me. You look like a cave dweller, or one of those horrible men who collect all the lumber.
Yes, she said. Exactly. One of those. I was wearing the same blue fl annel shirt and jeans that I always wore. But my dirty-blond hair had gotten a tad shaggy around the ears. I pushed it off my forehead and sat down. Nana leaned over and kissed the top of my head.
Is your room arranged to specification? she asked, her mouth hovering back over her straw.
Affirmative, I said.
Have you performed your toilet?
With startling success, I said.
A yes or no answer would be adequate, she said.
She sipped again on her smoothie, then frowned and let the straw rest against the lip of the glass. Well, enough idle chatter, she said. We need to have a conference.
I moved in closer and watched her face. It was inexplicably tight for a woman of her age. You had to stare at it closely before you could begin to find the thin wrinkles, like hairline cracks, in the firm skin around her mouth and eyes. And it was only when she glowered or furrowed her brow in the deepest of concentration that you could tell that she had lived nearly eighty years on this earth. Ill be direct with you, Sebastian, she said. The heating bill is going up this month, and we need to maximize all sales efforts in the gift shop. Do you read me?
Excerpted from House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni. Copyright © 2010 by Peter Bognanni. Excerpted by permission of Amy Einhorn Books. 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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