I didnt . . . and this was when hed remembered that his finger was really currently giving him grief, extremely painful. Hed felt confused. I didnt think you were bringing anyone.
At which point shed lifted up a small pot of thyme he kept growing near the sink and had thrown it towards his head and hed bobbed down out of the way so it had broken against a wall behind him and then hit the tiles and broken again. Peat and brownish ceramic fragments were distributed more widely than you might think and the plant lay near his feet, roots showing from a knot of earth as if it were signalling distress. Thyme was quite hardy, though, he thought it would weather the upset and come through fine in the end.
Its all right. Ill get it. Frank wondering whether the pan and brush was in the storm porch or the cupboard underneath the stairs. Itll be fine. He couldnt think where hed seen them last.
Its not all right. It wont be fine. And she walked towards him, sometimes treading on his track, her shoes taking his bloodstains, repeating them until she stopped where she was close enough to reach up with her hand and brush his forehead, his left cheek, his lips. This meant his blood was on her fingers, Frank softly aware of this while she met his eyes, kept them in the way she used to when hed just arrived back from a trip, a jobthis was how shed peered in at him then, seemed to be checking his mind, making sure he was still the man hed been before.
After the look shed slapped him. Fast. Both sides of his jaw. Its not all right. Leaving and going upstairs. He didnt follow because he was distracted and he shook his head and ran his tongue along against his teeth and felt he might have to accept that he no longer was the man hed been before.
Not that hed been anybody special.
And this evening he was apparently even less: the sort of man whod sit in a cinema but never be shown a film.
The projection box had quietened, the rattling stilled. There had been a few ill-defined thumps a while ago and then silence and the sensation of being watched. Frank was quite sure the projectionist had decided not to bother with the movie and was waiting for Frank to give up and go away.
But that wouldnt happen. Frank was going to get what he wanted and had paid for. Overhead, deep mumbles of amplified sound were leeching through the ceiling, so the other feature had begun. Still, he suspected that no one was watching upstairs, eitherhed not heard a soul in the foyer.
Half an hour, thoughif the comedy had started, that meant hed been stuck here for half an hour.
He removed his hat and then settled it back on again.
Being left for half an hour was disrespectful, irritating. Any longer and he would be justified in growing angry and then making his displeasure felt.
He coughed. He kicked one foot up onto the back of the chair in front, followed it with the other, crossed his legs at the ankle. He burrowed his shoulders deeper into the back of the seat. This was intended to suggest that he was fixed, in no hurry, willing to give matters all the time theyd take. The next step would involve conflict, tempers, variables it was difficult and unpleasant to predict.
Excerpted from What Becomes by A. L. Kennedy Copyright © 2010 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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